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Iranian Diplomatic Shake-up Signals Hard-Line Path

Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki announced the changes to parliament, saying the missions of more than 40 ambassadors and heads of Iranian diplomatic missions abroad will expire by the end of the year, which is March 20 under the Iranian calendar, the Associated Press reported.

He did not specify which ambassadors were among those being removed.

But the Islamic Republic News Agency said they included the ambassador to London, Mohammad Hossein Adeli, a member of the pragmatic foreign policy wing that supports contacts with Europe, according to the AP.

The vacancies will allow the conservative government under Ahmadinejad to replace former moderate President Mohammad Khatami’s pro-reform officials with its own supporters.

Ahmadinejad, who was elected in June, has taken a tougher stance on numerous issues, including negotiations with Britain, France and Germany over Iran’s controversial nuclear program.

The new president also generated a storm of international criticism last month, when he declared Israel should be “wiped off the map.”

Since Ahmadinejad took office in August, Iran’s negotiations with the European Union over the Islamic country’s nuclear program have collapsed. The United States contends Iran is working on a nuclear weapons program, while Iran insists its program is for generating electricity only.

The U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency will review Iran’s cooperation on the nuclear issue when it meets Nov. 24.

The United Nations is pressing for Iran to be referred to the U.N. Security Council, where it could face sanctions for violating the nuclear nonproliferation treaty. Sanctions, however, are unlikely.