Influential Allies Censure Ahmadinejad Over Delay in Deputy's Dismissal

By Thomas Erdbrink
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, July 26, 2009

TEHRAN, July 25 -- Influential supporters of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad criticized him Saturday for initially refusing to drop his choice for vice president as ordered by Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, a week ago.

Ahmadinejad confirmed that he had dismissed Esfandiar Rahim Mashai as vice president. But the head of the armed forces and an influential member of parliament questioned why it had taken Ahmadinejad so long to heed the supreme leader's instruction.

"The Iranian nation didn't expect the ink on the leader's letter to dry out while it was not yet implemented," said Maj. Gen. Seyed Hassan, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, the semiofficial Mehr News Agency reported Saturday.

"The expectation from Ahmadinejad was that he would implement the leader's order immediately after receiving his letter on the 18th of July. Mashai's appointment should have been revoked and annulled, as the leader said," said Alaeddin Boroujerdi, head of the parliament's national security and foreign policy commission, who generally supports Ahmadinejad's policies.

The pro-government Fars News Agency reported late Saturday that after dismissing Mashai, Ahmadinejad promoted him to the key position of head of the president's office, a move expected to infuriate critics.

In a letter to Mashai, the president wrote: "Since you are a faithful, devoted and trustworthy person, I will appoint you as the adviser and the head of the president's office."

Mashai, whose son is married to Ahmadinejad's daughter, sparked controversy last year when he declared, "The Iranian people are friends with all the people of the world . . . even those of Israel."

Khamenei, the supreme leader, publicly criticized Mashai for his statement, saying it was wrong.

Replying to the leader's edict only after it had been read on state television Friday, Ahmadinejad sent an unusually informal letter to him on Saturday. Ahmadinejad's sober reply, devoid of most customary honorifics, ended a rare, open conflict between him and Khamenei, who have publicly aligned since the disputed outcome of the June 12 presidential election.

"Salaam aleikum," or "peace be with you," Ahmadinejad wrote to Khamenei, refraining from the flowery language and praises usually used when addressing the country's top authority. "The copy of the resignation letter . . . dated the 24th of July from the first deputy position has been attached. . . . Yours, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad," the Iranian Students News Agency reported.

Ahmadinejad's decision came amid a fresh round of protests against his government in the capital, Tehran.

Witnesses said a couple thousand people silently crowded an area around northern Vanak Square, some flashing the victory sign.

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