Ahmadinejad fails to place supporters in key posts


Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad speaks at the Iranian Parliament in Tehran June 21, 2011. (STRINGER/IRAN/REUTERS)
June 21, 2011

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad suffered fresh defeats in the Iranian parliament Tuesday as a dispute with the country’s supreme leader over government appointments continued to simmer.

The latest casualties were a deputy foreign minister and a nominee to head a newly established Ministry of Sports and Youth.

Under pressure from Ahmadinejad opponents, Mohammad Sharif Malekzadeh resigned Tuesday as the new deputy to Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi, a move that headed off a drive by lawmakers to impeach Salehi over the appointment. Malekzadeh, a member of Ahmadinejad’s inner circle, is viewed by hard-liner opponents as part of a movement aimed at weakening the leading role of Iran’s powerful Shiite Muslim clerics.

The resignation came as parliament voted Tuesday against confirming Hamid Sajjadi as Ahmadinejad’s candidate to lead the new Sports Ministry, state news media reported.

Both incidents illustrate Ahmadinejad’s growing problems in placing his supporters in key positions, following a dispute with the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, over appointments in April.

Iran’s parliament is now successfully blocking presidential decisions after years of losing political battles to the government.

Ahmadinejad recently forced several ministries to merge, among them the Oil Ministry, which was combined with the Energy Ministry to form the Ministry of Petroleum and Energy. As a result, Ahmadinejad now has to introduce four new ministers who need parliamentary confirmation.

“Ahmadinejad has a very hard month ahead of him,” the Ayandenews Web site wrote of the president’s growing problems in getting his nominees approved.

Salehi, the foreign minister, was threatened with impeachment after he named Malekzadeh as deputy foreign minister Saturday and tasked him with overseeing the ministry’s financing and staff appointments. Malekzadeh is an associate of Ahmadinejad’s most controversial aide, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, who has drawn the ire of hard-line ayatollahs and commanders. They charge that Mashaei leads a “deviated” current consisting of Ahmadinejad advisers who want to remove Shiite clerics from power.

An influential member of parliament, Ahmad Tavakoli, said the judiciary has “hundreds of pages of files” against Malekzadeh, the semiofficial Mehr News Agency reported. Tavakoli, a known opponent of Ahmadinejad, did not specify the charges.

Other lawmakers complained that Malekzadeh’s appointment was an attempt by the president’s inner circle of advisers to “take over” the Foreign Ministry. Malekzadeh was to appoint at least 50 new ambassadors.

Salehi said Malekzadeh decided to resign on his own, following pressure over the appointment.

“Self-sacrificing is one of the characteristics of the officials of the Islamic Republic of Iran,” Salehi told reporters after meeting with Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari. “The resignation of Mr. Malekzadeh was based on this principle, and it was accepted,” he said, according to the Iranian Students News Agency.

Malekzadeh, who also serves on the Council for Expatriate Iranians, was replaced on Tuesday by a ministry insider, Behrouz Kamalvandi, a former ambassador to Zimbabwe and Indonesia.

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