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Iran's Top Diplomat to Take Key Nuclear Complex Post

Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi, shown speaking last October in New York, was tapped on Friday by Iran's new president to lead the country's atomic energy organization (AP Photo/John Minchillo). Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi, shown speaking last October in New York, was tapped on Friday by Iran's new president to lead the country's atomic energy organization (AP Photo/John Minchillo).

A relative moderate who has headed Iran's foreign ministry since 2011 on Friday received a nod from President Hassan Rouhani to lead the country's atomic energy organization, replacing a conservative who has held the post, Reuters reported.

As head of the Iranian Atomic Energy Organization, Ali Akbar Salehi would play no direct role in talks aimed at defusing a long-running global standoff over activities feared in Washington and other Western capitals to be stepping stones toward a nuclear bomb. However, the position would give him responsibility for overseeing Iran's atomic sites, and for attending a yearly gathering of International Atomic Energy Agency member states.

Former U.S. State Department official Mark Fitzpatrick called Salehi "the best of Ahmadinejad's ministers, a pragmatist who understands how the world works."

Salehi would succeed nuclear scientist Fereidoun Abbasi, who was the target of attempted violence three years ago.

"Having survived an assassination attempt, [Abbasi] seemed unable to overcome bitterness toward the West," Fitzpatrick said.

The appointment came one day after the Iranian legislature signed off on nearly all of Rouhani's cabinet nominations, including a new foreign minister deeply versed in dealing with the United States, the Los Angeles Times reported.

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