TEHRAN — A Foreign Ministry official said Sunday that Iran's former nuclear negotiator, considered a relative moderate, would attend talks in Rome this week even though he had left his post.
Officials on Saturday announced that Ali Larijani had resigned as Iran's top nuclear negotiator and would be replaced by a loyalist to hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
But Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammed Ali Hosseini told reporters Sunday that Larijani would nonetheless attend crucial talks in Rome on Tuesday with European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana.
"Ali Larijani will be in Rome on Tuesday as representative of the supreme leader," Hosseini said at a regularly scheduled weekly briefing, referring to supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's spiritual, political and military authority.
Larijani, though firmly within Iran's conservative camp, was considered a voice of pragmatism among those closely monitoring the crisis erupting around Tehran's nuclear enrichment program. The West accuses Iran of pursuing nuclear weapons technologies. Iran says its program is for generating electricity.
Larijani's resignation and replacement by Saeed Jalili, who is considered close to Ahmadinejad, has further soured hopes for a compromise between Tehran and the West. Larijani opposed Ahmadinejad's uncompromising stance, and his resignation has made diplomats working to broker a deal with Iran pessimistic.
"Jalili is the worst possible man for the job and his nomination is a sign of the influence of Ahmadinejad," said a Western diplomat in Tehran, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly.
Hosseini denied any rift between Larijani and Ahmadinejad, who ran against each other for the presidency in 2005.
"There is harmony among Iranian officials and between the people and Iranian officials," he said. "Nuclear policy will be the same as before."
The U.S. is spearheading an international drive to pressure Iran to stop enriching uranium, a process that can create fuel for power plants or material for atomic bombs. The U.S. has refused to rule out the possibility of military action against Iran to slow or halt its nuclear program.
On Sunday, Vice President Dick Cheney said that Iran's pursuit of technologies to build nuclear weapons was obvious and that the United States and other nations were "prepared to impose serious consequences" if Iran continues on that course. He made no specific reference to possible military action.
"Our country, and the entire international community, cannot stand by as a terror-supporting state fulfills its grandest ambitions," Cheney said in a speech to the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
Iran has threatened to retaliate against any military action. An Iranian military official said over the weekend that the country was prepared to launch 11,000 missiles into enemy bases within a minute after an attack.
Western officials and nonproliferation experts were hard-pressed to find any silver lining in Larijani's resignation.
"The optimists try to see this as a clever tactic by Larijani and other relatively pragmatist figures, who expect Jalili and Ahmadinejad to soon demonstrate their incompetence," said the Western diplomat. "There may be some truth in that, but it is too risky to be clever."
Special correspondent Mostaghim reported from Tehran and Times staff writer Daragahi from Amman, Jordan. The Associated Press was used in compiling this report.