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Iran Appoints New Atomic Energy Chief With No Nuclear Expertise

Mohammad Eslami, then minister of transport and housing, addresses the press on the sidelines of an inauguration ceremony of new equipment and infrastructure at Shahid Beheshti Port in the Iranian coastal city of Chabahar on February 25, 2019.

Iran's newly elected President Ebrahim Raisi has appointed a new head of the country’s atomic agency, replacing the nation's most prominent nuclear scientist with someone with no expertise in the field.

State media reported on August 29 that Mohammad Eslami, who previously served as housing and transport minister, will lead the civilian Atomic Energy Organization of Iran.

He replaces U.S. educated scientist Ali Akbar Salehi, a former foreign minister and longtime head of the atomic agency who played a crucial role in diplomacy that led to the now-moribund 2015 nuclear accord with world powers.

Under the nuclear accord, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), Tehran committed to limits on its nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief. In response to former U.S. President Donald Trump trashing the deal, Iran gradually breached restrictions on its nuclear program, including uranium enrichment.

Iran maintains its nuclear program is peaceful.

A U.S.-trained engineer, Eslami has ties to Iran’s military industry, having served as a deputy minister in the Defense Ministry’s research department. He also served as director of the Iran Aircraft Manufacturing Industrial Company and deputy chief of the Aerospace Industries Organization.

The new appointment comes as months of international talks in Vienna to salvage the nuclear deal are expected to begin again in September, after several rounds failed to achieve a breakthrough.

The talks involve representatives of the countries that signed the nuclear deal with Iran -- China, France, Russia, Britain, and Germany. The United States is participating in the talks through European mediation.

For Iran's domestic ambitions, Eslami's engineering and managerial skills may be more relevant. Iran is looking to build two nuclear power facilities to supplement its only reactor at the southern port town of Bushehr, which went online with Russia's help in 2011.

With reporting by AP and IRNA
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