Iranian envoys sacked as hardliners' influence grows

Iran's ambassador to Britain, Seyed Mohammad Hossein Adeli, is among the casualties of the purge. A press spokesman for the Iranian embassy said: "The ambassador's term has been terminated after one year of serving in London."

Mr Adeli, an experienced hand who is close to Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the unsuccessful candidate in the Iranian presidential election, is returning to Tehran. The other envoys recalled to Tehran are the ambassadors to Paris, Geneva, Berlin and Kuala Lumpur.

Western diplomats and analysts in Tehran said the decision had been brewing for some time, even though it was announced days after the new Iranian president sent shock waves across the world by declaring that Israel should be "wiped off the map". The sacking of the five envoys "is of a piece with the more strident hardline foreign policy", said a Western diplomat.

Even before the election in June, the hardliners in Mr Ahmadinejad's camp had been critical of the government's handling of the nuclear negotiations with the EU. Following Mr Ahmadinejad's surprise victory, Iran caused the talks to break down by announcing the resumption of uranium conversion, a possible first step towards building a nuclear weapon.

The move heightened fears in the US, EU and Israel that Iran was working on a nuclear weapons programme. Iran insists on its right under the nuclear non-proliferation treaty to pursue nuclear technology and says that its programme is purely peaceful.

The International Atomic Energy Agency will discuss later this month whether Iran has complied sufficiently with its obligations to avoid being referred to the UN Security Council for possible sanctions.

Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, was asked in the House of Commons yesterday if the Government still ruled out discussion with Iranian opposition groups. "Regime change in Iran is not part of the policy of Her Majesty's Government, nor do I think it would be wise," he told MPs.

Iran is soon expected to name a new oil minister, which will provide further clues to the future direction of the leadership. Mr Ahmadinejad's initial choice for the post, Ali Saeedlou, then acting mayor of Tehran, was rejected by parliament because of his lack of industry experience.

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