- The Washington Times - Friday, September 4, 2009

TEHRAN | President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad received a broad mandate Thursday as parliament backed his main Cabinet choices - naming the first female minister since the 1979 Islamic Revolution but showing international defiance by supporting a suspected mastermind in the bombing of an Argentine Jewish center that killed 85 people.

The conservative-dominated legislature rejected Mr. Ahmadinejad’s choice for energy minister and two other women nominated for less prominent posts. The rest of his 21-member Cabinet was approved.

The broad backing was somewhat stronger than many in Iran had expected because even some of the president’s fellow conservatives had criticized him for nominating unqualified ministers. Mr. Ahmadinejad is also under fire for the abuse of protesters detained following the disputed June presidential election, which the pro-reform opposition claims he stole with massive vote fraud.

Analysts said parliament’s strong support could indicate that despite differences among conservatives, they think it is better to present a fairly united front as Iran faces possible harsher international sanctions over its nuclear program and continued pressure from reformists at home.

The most defiant message parliament sent was its overwhelming support for Ahmad Vahidi as defense minister. He is wanted over charges of involvement in the 1994 bombing of the Argentine-Israeli Mutual Association building in Buenos Aires.

Mr. Vahidi was the commander of a special unit of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard known as the Quds Force at the time of the attack and is one of five prominent Iranians sought by Argentina in the bombing.

Lawmakers chanted “Allahu Akbar,” or “God is great,” as parliament Speaker Ali Larijani announced the vote for Mr. Vahidi. Among the 286 lawmakers who attended, Mr. Vahidi received 227 votes - the most of any of the proposed ministers.

Jose Scaliter, vice president of the Argentine-Israeli Mutual Association, told Argentina’s Jewish News Agency on Thursday that Mr. Vahidi’s approval “is an absolute shame.”

Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor also criticized it, saying it “is more proof of the violent nature of the regime and a total disregard of the need to work with the international community.”

Interpol issued a “red notice” for Mr. Vahidi in 2007, placing him on the equivalent of its most-wanted list. An Interpol spokeswoman said Thursday that the notice would still be valid even if Mr. Vahidi travels on a diplomatic passport. She spoke on the condition of anonymity according to Interpol’s standard policy.

Shortly before the Cabinet vote, Mr. Ahmadinejad told parliament that Western countries he accuses of stoking postelection unrest deserve “a crushing response from lawmakers to disappoint them.”

President Obama has stepped up diplomatic engagement with Iran to reduce international tension, but the turmoil and allegations of Western interference have hampered the effort.

The United States and its European allies have given Iran until the end of this month to agree to nuclear talks or face harsher sanctions. They are worried that Iran is seeking to develop nuclear weapons - a claim Tehran denies.

Iran’s top nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili, offered an opening for possible compromise with the West on Tuesday, saying Iran would present new proposals and would be ready to open talks to ease international concerns.

But Mr. Ahmadinejad was as defiant as ever Thursday, saying “no one can impose sanctions on Iran anymore.”

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