Iran parliament mounts pressure on Ahmadinejad

Farhad Pouladi – AFP June 21, 2011

The rift between President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Iran’s conservative-dominated parliament widened on Tuesday after deputies launched impeachment proceedings against his foreign minister.

And in a further rebuffal, parliamentarians rejected the president’s nominee to the newly created sports ministry.

Iran’s parliament is seeking to impeach Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi for appointing an aide to the president’s under-fire chief of staff as one of his deputies.

The motion to impeach Salehi, signed by 33 lawmakers, was officially “read out in parliament on Tuesday by an MP on the presiding board,” as required by the law, parliament’s website said in a statement.

“Such an appointment jeopardises the nation’s interests … This person is on the verge of being arrested as (the judiciary) is investigating him over financial and non-financial cases,” MPs seeking impeachment said in the motion.

But Salehi later said he had accepted the resignation of Mohammad Sharif Malekzadeh, whom he appointed four days ago as a deputy foreign minister in charge of administrative affairs.

A number of MPs were quoted in the Iranian media as saying this resignation could head off the impeachment.

However, parliament speaker Ali Larijani said: “The motion to impeach has not been halted … It is up to the MPs to (officially) withdraw their impeachment request.”

Malekzadeh was a top official in the high council of Iranian foreign affairs, run by Ahmadinejad’s chief of staff, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaie, whom conservatives accuse of seeking to undermine the Islamic regime.

Conservatives, the Shiite clergy and the elite Revolutionary Guards have repeatedly called for Mashaie’s dismissal, accusing him of leading “a current of deviation” and of exerting too much influence over the president.

Ahmadinejad has so far adamantly defended his aides, including Mashaie.

The president’s pick to head the newly created sports ministry, Hamid Sajjadi was also rejected by the deputies. Of the 247 deputies present in parliament on Tuesday, only 87 voted their approval.

The sports ministry was set up by parliament to improve legal oversight of the nation’s sports activities, as the current physical education organisation is answerable only to the president.

“Regardless of what you say about me, I am still fond of you … and I urge anyone whom Ahmadinejad has annoyed for whatever reason to separate (that from) this issue, since we have a lot of problems in the field of sports,” the president, who was in parliament, told deputies before their vote.

The rift between Ahmadinejad and the conservatives surfaced in mid-April when he challenged a ruling by Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, vetoing a decision by the president to sack Intelligence Minister Heydar Moslehi.

Ahmadinejad withdrew from public life for 10 days, igniting a bitter dispute with the conservatives supporting the supreme leader. Khamenei has since repeatedly urged all factions to rein in attacks on the president and his aides.

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