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Ahmadinejad returns to work, says no rift with Khamenei

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TEHRAN – In his first public appearance in a week, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad lead a cabinet meeting on Sunday and dismissed rumors of tensions with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, state media reported.

Reports of a dispute between the two surfaced after Khamenei publicly overturned the president’s April 19 decision to dismiss Iran’s minister of intelligence, Heydar Moslehi. The minister, a cleric, did not attend the cabinet meeting, but had instead travelled to the Shiite learning center of Qom for discussions with leading ayatollahs, the semi-official Fars news agency reported.

During the meeting, Amadinejad thanked the leader for his continuous support of the government and said that all government members are obedient to the Supreme Leader, Fars reported. “The enemies and deviators should be sure that their efforts [to create a rift] will not have any results,” the agency quoted him as saying.

Ahmadinejad faced unprecedented criticism from influential clerics, members of parliament and other senior Iranian leaders for failing to promptly and publicly accept Khamenei’s decision to reinstate the intelligence minister. The disapproval increased when Ahmadinejad stopped going to work eight days ago, which led to rumors that he was about to resign over the Supreme Leader’s intervention, and charges that he was playing a game of “political chicken.”

The two men have worked as close allies in the past, hardening Iran’s stance on its controversial nuclear program and implementing a politically dangerous overhaul of the way state subsidies are distributed. And after political activists calling for reform disputed Ahmadinejad’s 2009 election victory, the Supreme Leader declared their parties illegal.

In a recent speech, Khamenei lauded Amadinejad’s government, but said that he sometimes needed to step in when “expediency” was neglected. In Iran’s political system an elected president runs day-to-day affairs of the country together with the judiciary and the parliament. The Supreme Leader in theory has the power to veto decisions, but only does so publicly in rare cases.

In the speech, Khamenei stressed that Moslehi’s case was of “not much importance” and said there was no “rift” among Iran’s leaders. He also advised the country’s politician’s to “not help the commotion” caused by what he alleged were foreign “propaganda machines.”

Despite those efforts, there was a flurry of public criticism aimed mainly at the president’s advisor, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, who local media reported as being the instigator of the intelligence minister’s dismissal. Mashaei is controversial for promoting Iranian culture over Islamic culture and is generally regarded as distanced from the ideology of the Islamic Republic.

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