Iran’s president appoints new official to powerful security post to replace long-serving president

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Iran’s president on Monday appointed a new official to the post of secretary of the country’s Supreme National Security Council, replacing longtime influential Ali Shamkhani after he was embroiled in a recent spying scandal.

President Ebrahim Raisi issued a decree to replace Shamkhani, who has been repeatedly accused of corruption – which he has denied – and under investigation with a British-Iranian man who was hanged in Iran earlier this year on espionage charges.

Samkhani was a key player in negotiations with the West on Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers. He was also in office during the years when then-President Donald Trump decided in 2018 that America would unilaterally withdraw from the agreement.

The decree published by the state news agency IRNA did not explain the change. In a tweet on Sunday night, as rumors of his stance swirled, Shamkhani cryptically posted a poem by the 14th-century Persian poet Mohtasham Kashani.

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His replacement, a member of the Revolutionary Guard, will take over as Iran faces continued economic pressure from Western sanctions, challenges from months of protests over the death of Mahsa Amini, who died while in the custody of Iran’s morality police, and the recent due to the de-escalation with the Iranian authorities. Gulf Arab neighbors, especially Saudi Arabia.

Shamkhani held this position for just over a decade. He was not the longest-serving secretary of the council, the top security affairs body under Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Former President Hassan Rouhani served in the same capacity for 15 years before assuming office.

However, Shamkhani was believed to be trusted by the Iranian theocracy and Khamenei’s politicians. Samkhani played a key role in the negotiations with the Gulf Arab states as they sought to ease tensions with Tehran, including being ready for an announced détente between Iran and Saudi Arabia reached in China.

But Shamkhani increasingly faced criticism from within the theocracy. Earlier this year, alleged leaked minutes of a meeting between Shamkhani and Revolutionary Guard officials reignited allegations of corruption against him, including in real estate and transportation deals linked to his family. Shamkhani has publicly denied all the charges he has faced.

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In January, Iran hanged British-Iranian Ali Reza Akbari, a close ally of security official Shamkhani, on charges of espionage. In an audio message broadcast by the BBC’s Persian service, Akbari said he was accused of obtaining top secret information from Shamkhani “in exchange for a bottle of perfume and a shirt”.

Shamkhani was an urban guerrilla during the 1979 Islamic Revolution and led several successful operations during Iran’s eight-year war in Iraq in the 1980s.

Shamkhani will be replaced by Ali Akbar Ahmadian, former head of the strategic center of the paramilitary Revolutionary Guard.

The semi-official Fars news agency published a biography of the 62-year-old Ahmadian on Monday, which said he had served as commander of the Guard’s navy and chief of the Guard’s Joint Chiefs of Staff. He is also a member of the country’s Expediency Council, which advises the supreme leader and settles disputes between parliament and the Guardian Council, which oversees the country’s elections as Iran’s constitutional watchdog.

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Associated Press writer Amir Vahdat in Tehran, Iran, contributed to this report.