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Iran taps UN-sanctioned minister as new chief of nuclear agency

In this photo released by the official website of the office of the Iranian Presidency, then-Minister of Road and Urbanization Mohammad Eslami, walks in the presidency compound, April 7, 2021, in Tehran, Iran. (Iranian Presidency Office via AP)
In this photo released by the official website of the office of the Iranian Presidency, then-Minister of Road and Urbanization Mohammad Eslami, walks in the presidency compound, April 7, 2021, in Tehran, Iran. (Iranian Presidency Office via AP)

TEHRAN, Iran — Iran’s president has appointed a new director of the country’s nuclear department, state TV reports, replacing the nation’s most prominent nuclear scientist with a UN-sanctioned minister who has no reported experience in nuclear energy but ties to the defense ministry.

Iran’s newly elected hardline President Ebrahim Raisi chooses Mohammad Eslami, a 64-year-old civil engineer who previously oversaw the country’s road network, to lead Iran’s civilian nuclear program and serve as one of several vice presidents. He succeeds Ali Akbar Salehi, a US-educated scientist who was a key player during the years of intense international diplomacy that led to Tehran’s now-tattered 2015 landmark nuclear deal with world powers.

The deal curbed Iran’s nuclear activities in exchange for sanctions relief, but then-president Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew the United States from the agreement and reimposed crushing sanctions. Iran, in response, has gradually and publicly abandoned all restrictions on its stockpiles of low-enriched uranium.

In 2008, when Eslami served as head of Iran’s Defense Industries Training and Research Institute, the United Nations sanctioned him for “being engaged in, directly associated with or providing support for Iran’s proliferation sensitive nuclear activities or for the development of nuclear weapon delivery systems.”

The UN linked the blacklisting to his “involvement in procurement of prohibited items, goods, equipment, materials and technology,” without elaborating.

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