- The Washington Times - Friday, July 17, 2009

TEHRAN | The head of Iran’s nuclear agency has resigned, the government said Thursday, a move that may have been connected to the country’s postelection turmoil.

Officials gave no reason for Gholam Reza Aghazadeh’s resignation, but he has long been close to opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi, who claims to be the victor in the June 12 presidential elections and says the government of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is illegitimate.

Mohsen Delaviz, a spokesman for Iran’s atomic energy department, said Mr. Aghazadeh was resigning “after years of efforts in the country’s nuclear industry” and would explain the decision himself.

Mr. Aghazadeh told the semiofficial Iranian Student’s News Agency that he submitted his resignation from Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization 20 days ago to Mr. Ahmadinejad, who accepted it. He also resigned from his other post as one of Mr. Ahmadinejad’s vice presidents, the agency said.

The departure is unlikely to have an impact the standoff between Iran and the West over the country’s nuclear program since Mr. Aghazadeh was not involved in negotiations, and ultimately all decisions on policy are made by the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

In his post, which he held for 12 years, Mr. Aghazadeh has pushed steadily ahead with Iran’s nuclear program, which the West fears is aimed at developing a nuclear weapon. Iran denies that charge, saying it wants only to generate electricity, and rejects U.N. demands it halt uranium enrichment.

It was not known whether Mr. Aghazadeh’s resignation was connected to the election dispute. Mr. Aghazadeh has made no public comment on the election turmoil, in which Mousavi supporters staged massive street demonstrations before the government crushed them in a crackdown.

Mr. Aghazadeh has been a close associate of Mr. Mousavi since Mr. Mousavi was prime minister in the 1980s. The outgoing nuclear chief is also close to Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a powerful cleric and former president who is a bitter rival of Mr. Ahmadinejad. Mr. Aghazadeh was among a group of pro-Rafsanjani officials who formed a political party, Kargozaran, in the mid-1990s.

There have also been hints of behind-the-scenes differences between Mr. Aghazadeh and Mr. Ahmadinejad’s energy minister over the planned opening of Iran’s first nuclear plant at Bushehr, whose opening has repeatedly been delayed.

On Wednesday, Energy Minister Parviz Fattah complained that despite plans to start up Bushehr this summer, “so far, [the] head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization has not provided any information” on inaugurating it. The comments could suggest that Mr. Aghazadeh was resisting a rushed start to the reactor, which is being built with Russian aid.

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