Who is Ali Bagheri Kani, Iran’s acting foreign minister?

The caretaker foreign minister’s name has been heavily involved in Iran’s nuclear programme negotiations over the years.

Ali Bagheri Kani
Iran's caretaker foreign minister Ali Bagheri Kani is a conservative who has been heavily involved in nuclear negotiations [File: Lisa Leutner/Reuters]

Ali Bagheri Kani, a 57-year-old political insider with a history of serving in Iran’s diplomatic and security apparatuses, has been appointed interim foreign minister following the death of the man he is replacing, Hossein Amirabdollahian.

Amirabdollahian died on Sunday in a helicopter crash in Iran’s mountainous East Azerbaijan province, alongside President Ebrahim Raisi and several other officials and staff.

Bagheri Kani is the logical choice to come in as acting foreign minister – he had been Amirabdollahian’s deputy for political affairs.

The new foreign minister was born in a village just north of the capital Tehran to a conservative family that helped establish and strengthen the Islamic Republic.

Family members have had prominent roles in the country. His father, the now 98-year-old prominent cleric Mohammad-Bagher Bagheri Kani, is a former member of parliament and the Assembly of Experts, the clerical body tasked with appointing a successor to the 85-year-old Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

And his uncle, Mohammad Reza Mahdavi Kani, was a former acting prime minister and interior minister, who led the Assembly of Experts from 2010 until his death in 2014. The new acting foreign minister’s brother, Mesbah al-Hoda Bagheri Kani, is a son-in-law of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Bagheri Kani studied economics at Tehran’s Imam Sadiq University, a school that has produced many members of Iran’s government, and which used to be run by his father.

Close ally of Jalili

He started his diplomatic career at a regional desk of the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and also did a brief stint as political analyst at state television.

He has been a longtime close associate of Saeed Jalili, a key ultraconservative figure within the establishment who now holds a senior position on Iran’s Supreme National Security Council (SNSC).

Like Jalili, Bagheri Kani’s name is mostly associated with the years-long talks surrounding Iran’s nuclear programme, and he served as Jalili’s deputy on the SNSC shortly after the latter was appointed secretary of the body in 2007, at a time of heightened tensions over the nuclear issue.

As the SNSC was at the time in charge of handling the nuclear file, Bagheri Kani also became a senior figure in the country’s negotiating team and held meetings with US and European officials.

Those negotiations ultimately fell through, and Iran was slapped with a series of harsh international sanctions.

Jalili eventually went on to run for president in 2013, wishing to put forward his pessimistic view towards any nuclear deal with the West. Bagheri Kani managed his election campaign, which failed.

The victory that year of the centrist Hassan Rouhani, who promised the lifting of sanctions and an end to Iran’s isolation, led Jalili and Bagheri Kani to become relatively sidelined.

Rouhani’s administration was able to agree on a nuclear deal, known formally as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) with Western countries in 2015, but it did not last long, as US President Donald Trump withdrew from it unilaterally in 2018, and imposed even harder sanctions on Iran.

Aligned with Raisi

In 2019, Raisi, who ran for president in 2017 in an unsuccessful attempt to prevent Rouhani’s re-election, was appointed as the judiciary chief by Khamenei. It came as sanctions were taking their toll on the economy, and weakening the power of reformists and centrists.

Raisi brought Bagheri Kani into his team, appointing him as the head of international affairs of the judiciary. Bagheri Kani was also made the head of the human rights council of the judiciary, replacing Mohammad Javad Larijani, who had held the position for 14 years.

By the time President Joe Biden’s administration was in power in the US and Raisi had eventually won the Iranian presidency at the second attempt in 2021, efforts were under way to restore the JCPOA to reduce tensions.

Just before European-mediated talks with the US were slated to begin in late 2021, Bagheri Kani was appointed as chief negotiator, replacing veteran diplomat Abbas Araghchi, who had been instrumental in negotiating the nuclear deal.

The JCPOA continues to be in limbo, and Iran has now achieved the status of a threshold nuclear state, but talks are continuing with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which Bagheri Kani will have to handle in cooperation with Iran’s nuclear agency.

Tehran has also kept lines of communication open with Europe, along with Washington, with mediated talks taking place in Oman this month. More negotiations aimed at reducing tensions amid Israel’s war on Gaza are expected soon, which would be overseen by the caretaker foreign minister.

Amirabdollahian, the late foreign minister, was active in representing Iran’s interests and alliances across the region during the war, taking tours to meet with top officials in Syria, Lebanon, Qatar and elsewhere.

Bagheri Kani is expected to carry on the torch, emphasising Tehran’s call for a ceasefire in Gaza and opposing Western presence and influence in the region, while backing its own allies.

Source: Al Jazeera