President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad suffered another setback on Iran's domestic political front this week when his second nominee to head the country's powerful Oil Ministry stepped aside as questions about his qualifications and wealth arose.
Dubbed a "billionaire general" by one lawmaker, Sadegh Mahsouli withdrew his name Wednesday when it became clear that he lacked support in parliament.
"How can a person who has gained all his wealth through rents and special relationships be a good minister for a cabinet that claims to be justice-seeking?" asked Emad Afrough, a prominent lawmaker. Mahsouli, who like Ahmadinejad served in the Revolutionary Guard, was also criticized by the pro-government daily Kayhan and by lawmakers from the country's southwest, home to rich oil fields and an impoverished Arab minority.
Ahmadinejad's first nominee was rejected as unqualified, underscoring divisions in the broad conservative camp that controls all elected and appointed offices in Iran.
"I don't think in the history of this regime a president has faced such difficulty getting one minister approved," a European diplomat in Tehran said on condition of anonymity in order to comment candidly. "What's clear is Iran does not speak with one voice. It can't compare with China or North Korea."
Ahmadinejad, who assumed office in August after running on a campaign against Iran's elite class, struck a defiant note, saying he would not "resort to famous personalities for top management posts." But critics said the hard-line leader was drawing from a clique of his own, and that the Oil Ministry, which oversees exports that provide most of Iran's income, required an experienced hand.
The new president has also been blamed for capital flight from the country, and for statements that diplomats and analysts say have undercut Iran's position in delicate negotiations over its nuclear ambitions. A torrent of international outrage was unleashed last month after Ahmadinejad twice called publicly for Israel to be "be wiped off the map."
Vick reported from Istanbul.