Parliament cabinet approval lets Iran focus on nuclear issue

After five days of heated debate, Iranian parliamentarians have approved 18 out of 21 cabinet ministers proposed by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, including his controversial pick for defence minister, who is wanted by Interpol.


REUTERS - Iran’s parliament approved most of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s cabinet ministers, including the first woman, on Thursday, bolstering the hardline president as he deals with an international dispute over Tehran’s nuclear programme.

In addition to approving the Islamic Republic’s first female minister, the assembly backed a relative novice as oil minister and installed as defence minister a man wanted by Argentina for an attack on a Jewish centre in 1994.

« All those who act against Iran will face the iron fist of the Iranian government, nation and armed forces, » said Ahmad Vahidi, the new defence minister. Like several other ministers, he has a background with the elite Revolutionary Guards, whose influence appears to have grown since Ahmadinejad came to power in 2005.

Vahidi’s nomination as defence minister has been condemned by Argentina, which accuses him of involvement in the 1994 bombing of a Buenos Aires Jewish centre that killed 85 people. Tehran has repeatedly denied any link to the attack.

« Death to Israel, » lawmakers chanted after Vahidi received 227 votes, the highest number for any of the nominees.

Deputies rejected three of the 21 new ministers Ahmadinejad proposed following his disputed re-election in June.

But that signalled only a limited setback for the president, who had four of his first-choice nominees vetoed by the legislature four years ago. His new government will hold its first meeting on Sunday, state radio reported.

« Ahmadinejad is able to have a cabinet that is working and do what he wants to put into practice, » said Baqer Moin, a London-based Iran analyst.

The presidential election was followed by huge opposition protests, plunging Iran into its deepest internal crisis since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. It exposed deepening establishment rifts and further strained ties with the West.

The legislature is dominated by conservatives, but some of Ahmadinejad’s supporters have abandoned him since the poll.

The moderate opposition says the election was rigged in his favour and regard the new government as illegitimate. The authorities deny the June 12 vote was fraudulent.

The approval of Vahidi drew criticism from an Argentine prosecutor probing the 1994 bombing. Alberto Nisman said Vahidi would now enjoy diplomatic immunity, complicating efforts to bring him to justice in Argentina.

« This is a slap in the face to the Argentine justice system and family members of the victims, » he said.

Crucially for Ahmadinejad, heavyweight nominees such as the intelligence, defence, interior, oil, economy and foreign ministers were all confirmed by parliament. The three rejected were the proposed energy, welfare and education ministers, two of whom were women.

Activists have described the proposed female ministers as conservatives who have not promoted women’s rights in the past.

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