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Rupture of the regime? Iran's nuclear chief quits

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JERUSALEM – The man who heads Iran's nuclear program has stepped down, the ISNA news agency reported on Thursday, prompting speculation that the key Iranian official's departure may be related to the turmoil following the contested presidential election last month.

Gholamreza Aghazadeh, who has led the country's nuclear program for more than a decade, tendered a resignation that was accepted by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, said ISNA (Iranian Students News Agency), a semi-official newswire. He also resigned his post as vice-president of the country.

Although no official reason was given for the resignation, which was apparently tendered more than two weeks ago, analysts say they see Mr. Aghazadeh's stepping down as a clear sign of ruptures in the upper levels of the Iranian regime.

"If he was a pro-Ahmedinejad man, he would have been happy, and he's obviously not," says Meir Javedanfar, an independent Iran analyst and coauthor of "The Nuclear Sphinx of Tehran."

"Judging by the decision and the timing, he's unhappy about the way nuclear program is being managed," says Mr. Javedanfar, an Iranian-born writer who specializes in relations between Israel and Iran.

"Without a shadow of the doubt, the legitimacy of the regime has been damaged after the recent presidential elections, and with it, so has the nuclear program's legitimacy," he says.

It's likely that Aghazadeh was partial to Mir Hossein Mousavi, whose supporters claimed victory in last month's election when he ran against Mr. Ahmedinejad. When Mr. Mousavi was prime minister in the 1980s, Aghazadeh served as deputy in charge of economic relations and finance.

Heightened Iran-Israel tensions
While Iranian authorities have quashed the post-election unrest, tensions of Iran's nuclear enrichment plans continue to simmer. On Tuesday, Israel deployed two warships through the Suez Canal, 10 days after it sent out a submarine capable of launching a nuclear missile strike.

The Times newspaper in London reported Thursday that this was “a clear signal that Israel was able to put its strike force within range of Iran at short notice."

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"It's not a military operation, it's a message," Javedanfar says of Israel's recent deployments. "If it were the groundwork for an attack, you'd hear about it later, after the fact. The missile boats are not the big danger, but the submarines," he adds, "which according to press, could be tipped with nuclear missiles."

The Iranian government's approach to the protesters following the June 12 presidential election has been causing something of a shift in the international community's sentiments towards Iran in the nuclear standoff, and that includes the stance of President Barack Obama, Javedanfar notes.

"Prior to this election, Obama didn't like Israel threatening Iran, and now it seems like Obama wants to delegate the sticks to Israel. It's a message they should take negotiations very seriously."


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