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Iran's Ahmadinejad softens tone ahead of Cabinet vote

As some analysts predict a tough fight in parliament to get his 21-member Cabinet approved, the Iranian president gave a prime-time TV interview, praising his nominees.

August 21, 2009|Borzou Daragahi and Ramin Mostaghim

BEIRUT AND TEHRAN — Iran's embattled leader toned down his rhetoric, softened his voice and attempted to directly woo the people in a live prime-time television interview Thursday before what most analysts predict will be a fierce fight with parliament over his proposed Cabinet.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said 11 of his 21 nominees have doctoral degrees, and said it was an advantage that many of them appear to be staunchly loyal to him.

"Some people suggested that such and such person is capable but he does not agree with you," he said. "I say . . . the Cabinet ministers must be in coordination with the president so that we create synergy."

As he spoke, the capital erupted with defiant cries of "Allahu Akbar!" and "Death to the dictator!" from rooftops and windows in what has become a nightly ritual of protest against the nation's June 12 presidential election, which was marred by allegations of massive vote-rigging in Ahmadinejad's favor.

Already weakened after two months of political and social unrest, Ahmadinejad continues to face a torrent of troubles.

The deputy speaker of parliament has predicted that at least five of the 21 Cabinet nominees will be rejected, and at least three are unknown figures who could come under intense scrutiny. Parliamentary Speaker Ali Larijani expressed doubts about Ahmadinejad's pick to head the Intelligence Ministry, a loyalist who campaigned for the president.

"Mr. Ahmadinejad has not consulted the specialized committees in parliament prior to announcing the list of his Cabinet ministers on Wednesday," hard-line lawmaker Mohammad Hassan Aboutorabi-Fard told state television. "Getting confidence votes for them will be difficult."

News agencies also revealed that the president's brother-in-law and chief of staff, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, has been convicted on charges of financial impropriety and has been suspended from his government post for two months, though he is attempting to appeal.

Another court has ordered the closing of Ahmadinejad's most strident mouthpiece, the Kayhan daily newspaper, after its editor refused to answer to defamation charges leveled against it by a reformist.

Tehran prosecutor Saeed Mortazavi, a staunch Ahmadinejad ally, must confirm the order, but he is said to be in danger of losing his job as Sadegh Larijani, Iran's new judiciary chief, asserts his power.

Ahmadinejad told lawmakers to stop meddling, saying that the Cabinet primarily follows his orders.

"We cannot coordinate with 290 members of parliament," he said. "We cooperate with parliament. It does not imply that ministers get orders from two branches of power."

In the interview, Ahmadinejad praised his nominees, who include three women.

"Why shouldn't women be in [the Cabinet]?" he said. "For 30 years they weren't there. Who said that women aren't better? There's no harm in women entering service areas, like ministries."

He defended his choice for Intelligence Minister, Haydar Moslehi, criticizing the former chief of the agency, Gholamhossein Mohseni-Ejei, for failing to crack down hard enough during the recent unrest.

"If the Intelligence Ministry had carried out its tasks properly, we would not have witnessed these events in the country," he said.

Moslehi, who is close to the Basiji militia and the Revolutionary Guard, is an advanced theologian, he said, "so he can run the ministry, and God willing we will get to a 70-million- strong intelligence system."

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daragahi@latimes.com

Mostaghim is a special correspondent.

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