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Most Ahmadinejad Picks Approved

Friday, September 4, 2009

TEHRAN, Sept. 3 -- President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad received a broad mandate Thursday as parliament backed his main cabinet choices -- naming the first female minister since the 1979 Islamic revolution but showing international defiance by supporting a suspected mastermind of the bombing of an Argentine Jewish center that killed 85 people.

The conservative-dominated legislature rejected Ahmadinejad's choice for energy minister and two other women nominated for less prominent posts. The rest of his 21-member cabinet was approved.

The broad backing was somewhat stronger than many in Iran had expected, because even some of the president's fellow conservatives had criticized him for nominating people who they said were unqualified.

Analysts said parliament's strong support for Ahmadinejad's picks could indicate that despite differences among conservatives, they think it is better to present a fairly united front as Iran faces continued pressure from reformists.

The most defiant message parliament sent was its overwhelming support for Ahmad Vahidi as defense minister. He is wanted on charges of involvement in the 1994 bombing of the Argentine-Israeli Mutual Association building in Buenos Aires.

Vahidi was at the time the commander of a special unit of Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps known as the Quds Force and is one of five prominent Iranians sought by Argentina in the bombing.

Lawmakers chanted "Allahu Akbar," or "God is great," as parliament speaker Ali Larijani announced the vote for Vahidi. Among the 286 lawmakers who attended, Vahidi received 227 votes -- the most of any nominee.

Jose Scaliter, vice president of the Argentine-Israeli Mutual Association, told Argentina's Jewish News Agency on Thursday that Vahidi's approval "is an absolute shame." State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said the United States had been hoping Iran would take a "fresh approach" and be willing to engage the world.

-- Associated Press

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