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Ahmadinejad ally resigns under pressure from Iran hard-liners

Mohammad Sharif Malekzadeh, an ally of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, resigns three days after his appointment as a deputy foreign minister. Meanwhile, lawmakers deal the president setbacks in other matters.

June 22, 2011|By Borzou Daragahi, Los Angeles Times
  • Conservatives appear determined to sabotage Ahmadinejad's policies and humiliate him and his allies.
Conservatives appear determined to sabotage Ahmadinejad's policies… (Behrouz Mheri / AFP/Getty…)

Reporting from Beirut — In another blow to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a controversial deputy foreign minister allied with Ahmadinejad's increasingly embattled and isolated clique resigned Tuesday under pressure from hard-liners who threatened to impeach the country's top diplomat over the appointment.

Mohammad Sharif Malekzadeh — an ally of both Ahmadinejad and his closest aide, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei — resigned from his post as deputy foreign minister for administrative and financial affairs after drawing fire over allegations of criminal activity.

Malekzadeh was the latest victim of the vicious infighting within Iran's political establishment. In addition to his departure, Ahmadinejad's nominee for the minister of sports and youth affairs, Hamid Sajjadi, failed to muster the necessary votes Tuesday to be approved for the Cabinet even after the president spoke out publicly in his behalf.

Lawmakers also announced decisions to "cancel" Ahmadinejad's attempt to combine the ministry of communications and information technology with that of transportation and housing, as well as to "rule out" his merging of the oil and energy ministries and the welfare and labor ministries, according to news agencies.

Ahmadinejad, a populist firebrand and international lightning rod who is approaching the constitutionally mandated end in 2013 of his second and final term, finds himself with increasingly little room to maneuver as he jostles for power against other factions within Iran's political elite.

Conservatives, often aligned with the country's clerical old guard, appear determined to sabotage Ahmadinejad's policies and humiliate him and his allies. Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei dealt Ahmadinejad a crushing blow when he publicly reversed the president's decision to fire the intelligence minister this year. Ahmadinejad's decision to name himself caretaker oil minister was decried as illegal by the country's constitutional watchdog.

Another Ahmadinejad aide, Hamid Baghai, was convicted of wrongdoing in May and banned from assuming any government posts for four years, though an appeals court later overturned the decision.

Malekzadeh didn't last three days at his new job. Like Baghai and Mashaei, Malekzadeh was a former employee of the Cultural Heritage and Tourism Organization, considered a bastion of the so-called deviant current within the conservative camp decried by hard-liners and clerics for unorthodox views on Islam and Iran's place in the world.

"Some people say that if we separate Ahmadinejad from Mashaei, everything will become all right," Khamenei's representative to the Revolutionary Guard, Mojtaba Zolnour, said Monday, according to the semiofficial Mehr news agency. "It is impossible to separate Ahmadinejad from Mashaei, and this separation has some costs. The time is not ripe to confront this issue and we should tolerate it; however, it means that we should not allow the deviant current to do whatever it wants."

Malekzadeh's appointment Saturday sparked an immediate furor. Officials accused him of being dogged by "many open administrative and financial cases against him in the judiciary."

Lawmaker Omidvar Rezaei said in parliament early Tuesday that Malekzadeh was "about to be arrested on several financial as well as nonfinancial charges." Parliament had begun impeachment proceedings against Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi for appointing Malekzadeh. One lawmaker said they would halt the proceedings Tuesday after the resignation, though parliamentary Speaker Ali Larijani, another rival of Ahmadinejad, suggested they may let Salehi twist in the wind.

"No, it has not been canceled," he said of the impeachment, according to Mehr. "As per the law we have no way of canceling his impeachment unless Mr. Salehi consults the members of parliament and convinces them to cancel their impeachment request."

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