Iran Replaces Dead Foreign Minister with Lead Nuclear Deal Negotiator

FILE - Iran's top nuclear negotiator Ali Bagheri Kani listens to Russian Foreign Minister
AP Photo/Vahid Salemi, File

The interim president of Iran, Mohammad Mokhber, appointed top nuclear deal negotiator Ali Baqeri-Kani as the nation’s “caretaker” foreign minister following the death this week of predecessor Hossein Amir-Abdollahian.

Amir-Abdollahian, President Ebrahim Raisi, and six others died in a helicopter crash under mysterious circumstances on Sunday. The pair were returning home from an event in Azerbaijan when their helicopter suddenly crashed. Iranian officially initially described the crash as a “hard landing” and claimed it was “not rough” before confirming everyone on the aircraft had died on Monday.

A report by the Iranian Armed Forces published on Thursday claimed that a preliminary investigation found no evidence that the helicopter had been shot down or the target of a terrorist attack. It offered no explanation for its demise, however, claiming that updates on the ongoing investigation will be forthcoming.

Baqeri has long been involved in Iranian government affairs and boasts a resume containing stints at the Supreme National Security Council (SNSC) and working under Raisi’s judiciary. While publicly opposed to the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), commonly known as the “Iran nuclear deal,” at the time, Baqeri was entrusted to lead negotiations to revamp the JCPOA following Raisi’s rise to the presidency and America’s exit from the JCPOA under former President Donald Trump.

Amir-Abdollahian’s brief term as Raisi’s top diplomat – he was appointed to succeed “moderate” Foreign Minister Javad Zarif after Raisi’s “election” in Iran’s customary sham presidential race in 2021 – was marked by aggressive support for international terrorist organizations such as Hamas and virulent anti-Israel rhetoric. During what would become one of his last major international tours in October – on the heels of the unprecedented October 7 Hamas siege on Israel – Amir-Abdollahian threatened America on U.S. soil.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, right, speaks during a joint press briefing with his Iranian counterpart Hossein Amirabdollahian, attended by Iran’s top nuclear negotiator Ali Bageri-Kani, left, in Tehran, Iran, Thursday, June 23, 2022. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

“I say frankly to the American statesmen, who are now managing the genocide in Palestine, that we do not welcome expansion of the war in the region. But if the genocide in Gaza continues, they will not be spared from this fire,” Amir-Abdollahian told the United Nations General Assembly in New York.

Following his appointment as interim foreign minister, Baqeri praised Amir-Abdollahian as an especially effective top diplomat for the rogue terror-sponsor state.

“When Amirabdollahian took office in 2021, Iran’s relations with a number of neighbors were strained or severed,” Baqeri reportedly told Iran’s regime-friendly Tasnim News Agency, “but his fruitful measures during the past three years eased the tensions and stabilized the good neighborliness policy as a principal and genuine matter.”

United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI), an organization dedicated to opposing the illegal nuclear weapons development by the regime, described Baqeri in a recent profile as “a hardline revolutionary diplomat who owes his career to familial connections and ties to the Supreme Leader.”

“His diplomatic record does not show much success, but he is an ideologue and has the right connections, which explains why he has been promoted throughout his career,” the organization explained.

Baqeri’s ascent, which UANI in part explained due to his brother marrying one of “supreme leader” Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s daughters, took him to the Supreme National Security Council but stalled during the administration of former Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. Rouhani, who preceded Raisi, was largely considered a “moderate” as his administration limited genocidal rhetoric against Israel and maintained communication with the Obama administration. Rouhani was responsible for the implementation of the JCPOA alongside Obama, which remains partially in vigor under the auspices of the other member states involved, Britain, China, France, Germany, and Russia. The United States exited the agreement in 2018.

The JCPOA was one of the key diplomatic accomplishments of the administration of former President Barack Obama, lifting longtime sanctions on the Iranian regime in exchange for promises to limit its nuclear development. Iran subsequently violated the provisions of the agreement and lavishly increased military spending and support for regional terrorist outfits such as Hezbollah, Hamas, the Yemeni Houthi terrorist movement, and Shiite paramilitaries in Iraq, currently calling themselves the “Islamic Resistance in Iraq.”

UANI recalled that, during the Rouhani administration, Baqeri carved out a role for himself as a vocal opponent of the JCPOA on Iranian television before dovetailing into a role at the “Judiciary Human Rights Center,” an agency then managed by Raisi, in 2019. When Raisi became president in 2021, he overlooked Baqeri for the top diplomat role in favor of Amir-Abdollahian but tasked him with representing Iran in talks to reintroduce America into the JCPOA.

Following the end of Trump’s term as president of America, successor Joe Biden sought to undo his withdrawal from the JCPOA and restart talks with Iran. Biden’s insistence on revamping the talks during “hardliner” Raisi’s term led to significant embarrassment in April 2021, when he sent an envoy, Robert Malley, to Vienna, Austria, where the remaining members of the JCPOA were planning to meet. American officials claimed Malley was there for “indirect” talks with Iran, an allegation the Iranian Foreign Ministry enthusiastically denied.

“No representative from the United States will attend the Joint Commission meeting or related expert meetings and no direct and indirect negotiations with the United States are on the agenda of Iran’s delegation,” the Foreign Ministry asserted.

Ultimately, Malley stayed in a different hotel in Vienna and reportedly attempted to catch negotiators from JCPOA countries in casual conversations, but the effort failed to spur any progress in restoring America’s role in the nuclear deal.

Malley remained a prominent Biden diplomat on Iranian affairs until June 2023, when he abruptly disappeared. The State Department placed him on unpaid leave and stripped him of his security clearance, and reports began surfacing that the FBI was investigating Malley, potentially for being targeted by an Iranian intelligence operation.

In early May, the dissident outlet Iran International reported that Malley may have “transferred classified documents to his personal email and cell phone, and the documents were then stolen by a hostile cyber actor.” The Biden administration has yet to clarify the rumors surrounding Malley’s absence at press time.

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