TEHRAN – Apparently bowing to unprecedented pressure from Iran’s clerical establishment, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad welcomed an intelligence minister he had ousted in April back into his cabinet meeting on Sunday.
While Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei had publicly reinstated intelligence minister Heydar Moslehi following his dismissal by Ahmadinejad, it took more than three weeks for the two men to officially meet in a cabinet session.
Following the supreme leader’s decision, Ahmadinejad did not go to his office for eight days. He returned to work a week ago, publicly pledging his allegiance to Khamenei and denying that a rift had developed between the two men. But when the cabinet met on Wednesday, the president and Moslehi apparently avoided being in the same room, Web sites reported, citing “busy schedules” as their reason for not meeting.
Ahmadinejad’s delay in confirming Khamenei’s decision led to public anger by clerics, parliamentarians and military commanders, who accused the president of ignoring orders from the Supreme Leader. Khamenei, who has been the highest authority in the Islamic Republic since 1989, has the final say over state and religious matters in Iran, but, according to the 1979 constitution, daily affairs are handled by the government, parliament and the judiciary.
“All of the officials of the country, from the highest level downwards should understand that their religious legitimacy and their political legitimacy depend on their obedience to the Leader,” the head of Iran’s judiciary, Ayatollah Sadegh Amoli Larijani, told the semi-official Mehr News Agency last week.
The criticisms of Ahmadinejad go far beyond the dispute over the intelligence minister and are not over with Moslehi’s return to the cabinet, analysts say.
Several key Iranian leaders are publicly demanding that Ahmadinejad cut ties with Esfandiar Rahim Mashaee. He is the closest adviser of the president, but a man hated by Iran’s clerics for advocating the importance of Iranian culture over Islamic tenets. Mashaee is seen by some as the leader of a “deviated” current of politicians who aim to decrease the influence of Shiite clerics, opponents say.
After years of tolerating him, influential ayatollahs, politicians and officials in the last weeks referred to Mashaee in terms normally used for Iran’s worst enemies, labeling him a foreign spy, a freemason and a leader of an effort to overthrow the Islamic Republic.
Last week several people connected to the adviser were arrested, among them the prayer leader of the presidential complex and a man accused of sorcery – a charge often made in Iran against people who claim to have individual relations with god, such as soothsayers.
Despite the increasing calls for Mashaee’s resignation from official posts, Ahmadinejad has continued to protect him. Mashaee’s daughter is married to the president’s son.
Moslehi – who in the past announced spectacular discoveries of foreign plots and spy rings on a nearly weekly basis – spoke to local press after the cabinet session and denied that the U.S. had killed Osama bin Laden last week. Instead, he said that the al-Qaeda leader had been dead for a long time.
“He died some time ago due to sickness and is no longer alive, we have exact information to prove this,” Iran’s intelligence minister told the semi- official Mehr News agency.