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 Mashai's appointment should have been revoked and annulled, as the leader said," said Alaeddin Boroujerdi, head of the parliament's national security and foreign policy commission, who generally supports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.
"There were no slogans, but many cars were blowing their horns. Riot police on red motorcycles did not intervene but were present all around," one witness said. "All shops were closed on orders of the security forces."
Two other witnesses said authorities fired tear gas and made arrests at the protest.
Similar demonstrations were reported Friday in the nearby town of Karaj.
Leading Ahmadinejad opponents issued a letter Saturday urging senior clerics to speak out against arrests and repression since the election. Mir Hossein Mousavi, the unofficial leader of the movement calling for an annulment of the vote, joined other opposition figures in asking the country's grand ayatollahs to warn the government.
There are about 20 of these top Shiite clerics worldwide. Many of them have hundreds of thousands of followers but steer clear of politics. Some have spoken out against the postelection violence in Iran, asking for the people's will to be heard.
Even though they often have no positions, the grand ayatollahs wield political clout in a system based on clerical rule.
"How can we be silent against all this violence and beastliness and claim that this system is divine and follows the prophet's teachings?" the politicians asked in their letter, which was published on the Parleman News Web site.
"We request you sources of imitation to warn the responsible authorities on the negative results of their illegal activities, and to caution them on the increase of injustice in the Islamic Republic System."
Also Saturday, the commander in chief of the Revolutionary Guard Corps said Iran would strike Israel's nuclear facilities if the Jewish state attacked, state television reported.
"We are not responsible for this regime and other enemies' foolishness. . . . If they strike Iran, our answer will be firm and precise," state television quoted Mohammad Ali Jafari as saying.
Israeli leaders have threatened to destroy Iran's nuclear program, which it says poses an existential threat to their country. Iranian leaders say that the program is meant only for energy production and that nuclear weapons are against Islam.
Jafari denied reports that Iran was planning a nuclear test, calling them "sheer lies."
"Iran does not seek to conduct a nuclear test or any other similar tests," he said.