Iran General NewsAhmadinejad wins approval of key cabinet slots

Ahmadinejad wins approval of key cabinet slots

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ImageNew York Times: Iran’s Parliament approved all but three of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s 21 nominees for his cabinet on Thursday, handing a victory to the beleaguered president, who now has close allies overseeing the crucial oil, interior and intelligence ministries.

The New York Times

By MICHAEL SLACKMAN

ImageCAIRO — Iran’s Parliament approved all but three of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s 21 nominees for his cabinet on Thursday, handing a victory to the beleaguered president, who now has close allies overseeing the crucial oil, interior and intelligence ministries.

Iran’s new government will include Ahmad Vahidi as defense minister. Mr. Vahidi is wanted by Interpol on charges that he helped organize the bombing of a Jewish cultural center in Argentina in 1994 — charges that Iran says are part of a Zionist plot to undermine the government. The cabinet will also have its first female minister since the 1979 revolution, Marzieh Vahid Dastjerdi, who will oversee health.

The results were announced after weeks of acrimony between the president, who initially questioned lawmakers’ right to second-guess his choices, and legislators who sharply criticized many of the nominees as inexperienced. Mr. Ahmadinejad removed from his cabinet all ministers who had questioned his harsh crackdown of post-election unrest and filled important seats with close friends and loyalists.

In the end, the outcome also appeared to serve Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader, who has struggled recently to restore credibility to his tarnished leadership and government while also trying to restrain Mr. Ahmadinejad’s desire to sideline conservative rivals and monopolize power, political analysts said.

The rejection of three nominees was enough to argue that checks and balances remained in Iran’s system without hobbling the president or undermining Iran’s ability to deal with challenges from abroad over its nuclear program, the analysts said.

“The general context was one that was meant to pull Ahmadinejad’s ear, to say, ‘You’re not alone; there are other currents,’ ” said Mustafa el-Labbad, director of the Middle East Center for Regional and Strategic Studies in Cairo. “But there were pressures put on Parliament not to reject a third of the cabinet ministers.”

Mr. Ahmadinejad immediately cast the rejection by the Parliament of three ministers as an indication that the government was accountable to the public, a concept that was seriously undermined by his disputed re-election.

He also took a conciliatory tone Thursday with the Parliament, suggesting that it meet once a month with his cabinet — a gesture that contrasted sharply with previous threats to sideline the body.

“Those responsible for running the country might well have different opinions, but for the defense and the interests of the nation, Islam and Islamic beliefs, they are of one opinion,” he said.

But while the president’s slate did better than many of his critics in Parliament had predicted — some lawmakers had said as many as eight ministers would fail — the voting showed that deep divisions remained in the conservative bloc. Conservatives control 230 seats in the 286-member chamber, and in many of the votes, at least 50 conservatives broke ranks and objected. The oil minister, for example, won confirmation with just 53.5 percent of the votes.

There were also reports that Ayatollah Khamenei intervened. Khabaronline, a Web site affiliated with the Parliament speaker, Ali Larijani, reported Wednesday night that members of Parliament were made aware “that the leader of the revolution would like all proposed ministers to get votes of confidence.”

The cabinet fight was one of many to emerge during Iran’s protracted political crisis, set off by the presidential election in June in which Mr. Ahmadinejad was declared the winner in a landslide despite widespread charges of fraud. The crisis was fueled by the government’s use of heavy-handed tactics to crush protests and sideline the reform movement.

The Parliament rejected two of the three women the president nominated. Fatemeh Ajorloo, for minister of welfare, and Susan Keshavarz, for minister of education, were rejected by well over half of the legislators. Mohammad Ali-Abadi, the nominee for energy minister and a close friend of Mr. Ahmadinejad, lost by a narrow margin of just 12 votes. Political analysts said, however, that the president accomplished his primary goal of placing loyalists at security agencies and the Oil Ministry.

“With the Oil Ministry under their belt, they can funnel money to all their pet projects,” said a political analyst based in the United States, who asked not to be identified to avoid compromising his ability to work in Iran.

Massoud Mir-Kazemi, a former minister of trade, became the oil minister.

For intelligence minister, the cabinet approved Haidar Moslehi, a former adviser to Mr. Ahmadinejad who had served as a representative of Ayatollah Khamenei in the paramilitary Basij organization. His appointment was likely to have been sanctioned by the supreme leader, who has a hand in all security-related appointments, political analysts in Iran said.

The new interior minister, Mostafa Mohammad Najjar, is close to the Revolutionary Guards, which has the broad mandate to defend the revolution and has been the president’s main source of support. Mr. Najjar’s confirmation raises the prospect that the Revolutionary Guards, already the most powerful political, social and economic force in Iran, will have its influence reach into the police establishment.

Mona el-Naggar contributed reporting from Cairo.

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