Ali Larijani, Iran's chief nuclear negotiator and the secretary of the Supreme National Security Council, has resigned. This is a big deal!
The fact that Larijani had threatened to resign several times was an open secret in Iran; a fact that was even acknowledged by the government spokesman, Gholam-hossein Elham, in his announcement of Larijani's resignation (Al Jazeera has good round up of some of Larijani's conflicts with Ahmadinejad).
What is surprising is Ayatollah Khamenei's agreement to this resignation and the reported replacement of Larijani by Saeed Jalili, a deputy foreign minister for European affairs who actually has very little diplomatic experience (Jalili's experience at the foreign Ministry prior to being assigned as deputy minister by Ahmadinejad was in personnel matters). What Jalili does have is a very close relationship with Ahmadinejad. As such, the move, if it is confirmed, reflects yet another enhancement of Ahmadinejad's fortunes in Iranian politics.
So far the Iranian system seems to be in a state of shock. Larijani was considered a successful handler of the Iranian nuclear file and his agreement with the IAEA regarding a work plan to resolve the remaining outstanding issues over Iran's nuclear program an important step forward.
His announced meeting with Europe's foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, for next Tuesday makes the timing of the resignation even stranger and suggests the extent to which this move might have been impromptu and really the result of intense personal as well as policy conflicts between Larijani and Ahmadinejad. The straw that broke the camel's back was probably Larijani's assertion that Putin had a special message about Iran's nuclear file and Ahmadinejad's public rejection of that assertion.
Several important politicians in Iran, including Ahmad Tavkoli, the head of Majles' Research Center, and Mohsen Rezaie, the Expediency Council's secretary, have already expressed their concern and unease about Larijani's resignation as well as his replacement by a novice. The deputy head of Majles' Foreign Relations Committee has promised an investigation.
The most unsettling aspect of this move from the insiders point of view may be questions raised regarding Ayatollah Khamenei's control over the nuclear file. Both of the possibilities - that he has either lost control or decided to throw his support for the most radical elements in the Iranian political system - are bound to unsettle the domestic political scene. For him, to be seen as being in one corner with Ahmadinejad against all the other heavyweights of Iranian politics, including Hashemi Rafsanjani, Khatami, Karrubi, Rezaie, Qalibaf, and now Larijani, is a predicament he has tried hard to avoid at least publicly.
Khamenei's reaction to and explanation of why and how this happened will be important for calming nerves inside Iran. But the mere fact that such an open and public split has occurred, as far as I know for the first time on the foreign policy front, will have important ramifications particularly with the nearing of parliamentary elections.