Iran: Ahmadinejad urged to dump deputy choice

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's recent pick for the country's top vice president continues to draw fire.
A fundamentalist supporter of Iran’s president urged him Friday to reconsider appointing a controversial confidant to the post of Iran’s top vice president.

According to the semi-official Fars News Agency, Ayatollah Seyed Ahmad Khatami said in a sermon during Friday prayers that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad should rethink the appointment of Esfandyar Rahim Mashaie. During his Friday sermon, the ayatollah said he regarded the present government to be legal, a reflection of his support for Ahmadinejad — whose controversial victory in last month’s presidential elections stoked widespread unrest in Iran. But he urged Ahmadinejad “to heed the advice of his friends.” “We consider this government to be legal and support it, but based on our fondness for the president we ask that he reconsiders his appointment of the first vice president,” the ayatollah said. The criticism is the latest in a flurry of opposition to the appointment of Mashaie — whose daughter is married to Ahmadinejad’s son. Mashaie has been controversial because of comments he reportedly made last year, saying that the Iranian people are friends with all people, including Israelis. Critics also found fault with Mashaie for reportedly not leaving an area in Turkey where female dancers were performing.

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But Ahmadinejad has defended Mashaie, despite the criticism surrounding the appointment. He is among the Iranian president’s closest confidants, and he was previously the head of the Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts and Tourism Organization, Fars reported. And the appointment to the position reflects that closeness. Although there are 12 vice presidents in Iran, the first vice president is the only one who can lead a Cabinet meeting if Ahmadinejad is unable to do so. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the nation’s supreme leader, reportedly has called on Ahmadinejad to remove Mashaie from the top vice president post. While Khamenei has not confirmed that directly, his Web site has posted a news item quoting Parliament’s vice speaker supporting that stance. At the Friday prayers, Ayatollah Seyed Ahmad Khatami reportedly said “we would like” Ahmadinejad “to remain a powerful and popular president.” “We wish that there would have been no need for the supreme leader to express an opinion in this regard. But now that he has, his opinion must be heeded immediately because the legality of all things in the Islamic System (of government) comes from the supreme leader.” Other news reports say that other Iranian voices have come out against Mashaie, including rightist lawmakers, the Council of Experts, and Grand Ayatollah Nasser Makarem.