Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi has removed Ali Shamkhani as the head of the powerful Supreme National Security Council and replaced him with Ali Akbar Ahmadian, a former chief of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) who has been under sanctions from the United Nations, the European Union, and the United States for more than a decade.
“Ali Akbar Ahmadian was appointed as the secretary of the Supreme National Security Council by the decree of the president,” the official presidential website reported on May 22.
The leadership overhaul comes amid reports that the 67-year-old Shamkhani, a reformist who held the post as head of the Supreme National Security Council for almost a decade, was linked to dual-national ex-official Alireza Akbari, who was executed in January for allegedly spying for the United Kingdom.
Shamkhani, who had also previously served as an IRGC commander, was a leading figure in helping Iran rebuild ties with some Persian Gulf states, including the negotiation of an agreement in March to reestablish relations with Saudi Arabia after years of hostility that threatened to boil over and disrupt stability in the region.
Ahmadian, whom the Middle East Institute once referred to as Iran’s “most palatable” official, was the head of the strategic center of the IRGC before his appointment as head of the Supreme National Security Council.
No reason for the change was given, but a day earlier, Raisi gave a major speech to a government meeting emphasizing the need “to improve the level of relations and expand interactions with Muslim, neighboring, and aligned countries.”
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei also stressed last week that flexibility in foreign policy was needed “when necessary” to overcome any obstacles.