BEIRUT — Iran's hard-liners united behind Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and approved a majority of his Cabinet picks Thursday, including heads of all the nation's crucial ministries, in a boost to the president's sagging credibility.
The Iranian parliament is dominated by conservative factions. Some are loyal to Ahmadinejad, whereas others have become wary of him in recent years, especially since the security crackdown that followed his disputed June 12 reelection.
But legislators approved all but three of 21 ministers, including Defense Minister Ahmad Vahidi, who is wanted by Interpol on terrorism charges, and Health Minister Marzieh Vahid Dastjerdi, the first woman in the Cabinet since the Islamic Revolution. She has advocated gender segregation of the nation's hospitals.
Some lawmakers had predicted that as many as seven nominees would be rejected. And if a majority had failed to gain approval, the president would have been required to submit an entirely new Cabinet.
Ahmadinejad urged lawmakers to support his Cabinet as a way of bolstering Iran's image after weeks of unrest over the disputed election. Iran alleges that foreign governments and media sparked the crisis.
Local news reports said that supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei also sent a message urging lawmakers to approve the nominees as a way of showing national unity to the world.
Iran's nuclear program is under intense international scrutiny. After a meeting of U.S. officials and world powers in Frankfurt, Germany, the Russian Foreign Ministry published a statement on its website Thursday calling on Iran to begin talks on sensitive aspects of its nuclear program before the United Nations General Assembly convenes this month.
"Iran should understand the urgent need to restore trust in the exclusively peaceful nature of its nuclear program through its full cooperation with the international community," said the statement, described as a communique issued by the U.S., Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany.
In a speech to lawmakers before their votes were tallied, Ahmadinejad said that enemies were trying to harm Iran.
"This needs a strong response from lawmakers with a unified vote for the 21 members of the Cabinet," he said. "This will please the people and the supreme leader and will be a strong blow in the face of nations that seek to oppress Iran."
In televised speeches, both lawmakers and nominees were effusive in their praise of Khamenei for his role in helping form the Cabinet. Ahmadinejad has repeatedly crossed Khamenei in recent weeks, angering conservatives. But analysts said Khamenei's intervention spared the president a debilitating Cabinet fight.
"Thank you to the supreme leader for his guidelines," Speaker Ali Larijani said before announcing the votes.
Iran's conservative Guardian Council, which vets candidates for public office, has since 2004 refused to allow well-known moderates to run for parliament, artificially skewing the balance of power in the 290-seat chamber toward conservative factions.
Stiff opposition to Ahmadinejad's Cabinet nominees, originally derided as unqualified loyalists, buckled in the face of domestic and international pressures.
"Lawmakers were convinced that if a lot of the proposed nominees were not approved, it would have been associated with the continued unrest and further weaken Ahmadinejad," said Saeed Madani, a social scientist in Tehran.
Among those rejected were two of Ahmadinejad's three female nominees and the proposed minister of energy.
Despite misgivings about his lack of experience, lawmakers approved Massoud Mir-Kazemi to oversee oil and natural gas reserves that account for half of the national budget.
They also approved Haidar Moslehi as intelligence minister, despite worries about his close political ties to Ahmadinejad, who recently purged the ministry of senior officers deemed insufficiently loyal.
Kamran Daneshjoo, an Ahmadinejad loyalist who played a key role in overseeing the disputed elections, was approved as head of the ministry of higher education.
Vahidi, the defense minister, received 227 of 286 votes, the most of any nominee, in the wake of an international outcry over his nomination. Argentine prosecutors have charged him in connection with the 1994 bombing of a Jewish charitable foundation in Buenos Aires that killed 85 people.
One lawmaker said he had planned to vote against Vahidi until the outcry over his nomination changed his mind.
"Death to Israel!" the lawmakers chanted after Vahidi's vote tally was announced. "Death to Israel!"
Special correspondent Ramin Mostaghim in Tehran contributed to this report.