Former Iran negotiator charged with spying for UK

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The Independent Online

Iran's former chief nuclear negotiator, Hossein Mousavian, has been charged with passing classified information to the British embassy, the Iranian intelligence minister has revealed.

The decision to make the charges public could be a further sign that the radical Iranian President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is consolidating his hold over the country's nuclear policy. A deepening split has become apparent within the normally secretive leadership, which is facing increased international pressure to halt its uranium enrichment programme.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the country's supreme leader, remains in charge of nuclear policy but Mr Ahmadinejad appears to be increasingly influential.

The Foreign Office had no comment yesterday on the comments by the intelligence minister, Gholam Hossein Mohseni Ejehi, who told the official news agency that Mr Mousavian's crime "from the viewpoint of the Intelligence Ministry is obvious and provable".

The case of Mr Mousavian, who was the country's senior nuclear negotiator under the pro-reform president Mohamed Khatami, has been cloaked in mystery since his arrest in May.

The report that he had been charged with passing on classified information to foreigners, including to the British, comes after Mr Ahmadinejad publicly branded critics of his nuclear policies as "traitors", underlining the leadership divisions over Iran's uncompromising position in negotiations with the West over Iran's nuclear programme.

In comments on Monday, Mr Ahmadinejad said: "We even have a recorded speech of one of them telling the enemy, 'Why should you give up?... Step up pressures to make them [Iran] retreat,'" Mr Ahmadinejad said, without identifying the person he was referring to. He also said his critics had pressured a judge "to acquit a suspect for spying" – a reference to Mr Mousavian, who was released on bail following his arrest.

On the same day, Mr Mousavian appeared next to his close ally, the powerful former president Hashemi Rafsanjani – a pragmatist who has long been a prominent critic of Mr Ahmadinajed, when he warned that Iran was facing "serious threats". It was Mr Mousavian's first major public appearance since his release.

The current chief nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili, a former deputy foreign minister, who has held the post since last month, is a close friend of Mr Ahmadinejad. He was appointed following the resignation of Ali Larijani, who made no secret of his own disagreements with the President.

The next few days will demonstrate Iran's interest in pursuing a negotiated outcome to the nuclear standoff with the UN Security Council, which is demanding that Tehran suspends uranium enrichment before agreeing to negotiations. Iran is adamant that it will not bow to the demand, saying that the programme is designed to produce electricity, although enrichment can be the route towards the manufacture of a bomb.