Iran’s former foreign minister, Ali Akbar Salehi, will now head the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) and join president Hassan Rouhani’s administration as a deputy to the president. Interestingly, earlier in the week, Salehi also addressed rumors that the AEOI would be transferred to the Ministry of Energy and operate as one of its branches.
The AEOI, which was established in 1973, is in charge of the operations of Iran’s nuclear program. Salehi, who is fluent in English and Arabic and has a PhD in nuclear engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, was appointed foreign minister by former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2010.
Yesterday morning, unofficial reports surfaced that Rouhani had appointed Salehi to head the organization, but he denied that there was a formal offer for the position. On July 15, a source close to Rouhani first revealed that Salehi may be appointed to head the AEOI. The same source also said that Rouhani would like to take charge of the nuclear file from the Supreme National Security Council. After Iran’s parliament announced the final votes on Rouhani’s cabinet nominations, Rouhani advisor Mohammad Reza Sadegh confirmed the appointment of Salehi.
Once the news was confirmed, Salehi said, “I am hopeful that with the help of God we can continue the plan that the Atomic Energy Organization has taken up to today and the steps the previous presidents of the organization have taken and add to the accomplishments of the organization.” He continued, “Anywhere that we can serve the sacred system of the Islamic Republic of Iran,” we consider it an honor.
On Iran’s nuclear program, Salehi said, “Starting from below zero, with the design of our equipment, we were able to finalize 20% enrichment.” He continued, “With the effort of our youth and the prayers of our people, we were able to produce this fuel within two years, and this is an honor for the Islamic Republic of Iran.” He added that “the activities of this organization are completely peaceful and in the pursuit of the interests of the Iranian people.”
In a press conference on Monday, Salehi, then still the foreign minister, answered questions about rumors that the AEOI would be transferred to the energy ministry.
“I heard of this issue in the media,” Salehi said of the rumors. “I have no information on this matter and no official has presented this issue. Perhaps it is in the minds of some that since this organization is a commercial organization, its supervision must be under the Energy Ministry.”
Salehi continued, “It should be said that the activities of the AEOI are centered on the Bushehr plant. The identity and all the plans of the AEOI are related to the plants. They imagined that if the AEOI operates under the Energy Ministry, it will get rid of the false doubts that some have about the activities of this organization.” One of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s most serious doubts was raised about Parchin, a military complex.
“If you want my opinion,” Salehi said, “maybe the idea that the AEOI is considered non-commercial has caused the doubts, whereas the AEOI’s critical [work] is centered at Bushehr and future plants.” He stressed that enrichment was for electricity and medical reasons.
Salehid also added, “There has been coordination with the Russians, and soon an agreement for the construction of a new plant will be signed.”