Iran admits nuclear reshuffle to pave way for 5+1 talks
President Hassan Rouhani's government confirmed rumours it had reshuffled the leadership of Iran's atomic agency to sideline nuclear experts opposed to talks on its atomic programme with the West.
Rouhani and his negotiators have been under intense pressure from Islamic hardliners opposed to the talks with the United States and five other powers seeking greater transparency in the programme in return for an end to sanctions against Iran.
As the talks move toward a possible deal by late July, the hardliners, many of them hold-outs from the administration of former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, have stepped up their campaign, accusing Rouhani of capitulating to the West on a question of national pride and revolutionary identity.
Among rumours circulating for weeks was the alleged expulsion of several nuclear scientists from Iran's Atomic Energy Organisation in connection with the 5+1 talks.
After long evading the sensitive issue, a spokesman for the agency finally offered an answer today.
"Only a limited number of people were concerned and they were neither scientists nor were they fired," said Behruz Kamalvandi, a liaison between the nuclear agency and national parliament. His comments, made to radical Islamic students in a Tehran University, was carried by the official news agency IRNA.
"If a boss doesn't have the authority to shuffle around a few among his 15,000-strong personnel, he shouldn't be called a boss," he added, accusing hardliners of exploiting the nuclear issue for "political gains and to win seats in parliament."
"Why do you politicise the issue? Let's stop nagging and avoid destroying each other so we can reach our goals on the international arena," said Kamalvandi, charging that "some people are taking the lead from the supreme leader," Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, on the nuclear issue.