Iran Parliament Approves Minister Wanted in Deadly Jewish Center Bombing

Iran's conservative-dominated parliament approved most of President Mahmoud Ahamedinejad's choices for key Cabinet posts Thursday, including endorsing the new defense minister who is wanted by Argentina for a deadly 1994 bombing of a Jewish cultural center.

Lawmakers also gave approval to the nation's first woman government minister since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, but rejected three nominees for the 21-seat Cabinet — the choice for the important energy ministry and two women proposed for the education and welfare-social security posts.

The broad mandate from lawmakers was a boost for the embattled president and considered a vote of confidence for his crackdowns on political opponents and tough stance against Western pressure for talks on the nation's nuclear program.

Ahmadinejad is struggling against a variety of internal rifts after his disputed re-election in June.

Opposition groups — that claim the outcome was rigged — have gained support from some influential Shiite clerics and even former Ahmadinejad backers who are troubled by the harsh postelection clampdowns and claims of abuses against detainees, including rapes.

But Ahmaedinejad still counts on the support of the powerful Revolutionary Guard and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the final say on all state matters in Iran.

His battles to win parliament approval for his government displayed his weakened political voice. He faced pointed questions about the experience and expertise of some choices, and made a final appeal to lawmakers to stand up to "enemies" by backing his government.

In the end, Ahmadinejad avoided a drawn-out tussle with parliament to revise his choices during a crucial period for Iran.

President Barack Obama and European allies have given Iran until the end of September to agree to talks on its nuclear program. Ahmadinejad also plans to make his annual trip to New York for the U.N. General Assembly later this month.

In the parliament vote, Ahmadinejad won approval for many key posts that included the foreign, interior and intelligence ministries.

The new defense minister, Ahmad Vahidi, received overwhelming support. Also receiving parliament backing was Marzieh Vahid Dastjerdi as health minister, making her the Islamic Republic's first female Cabinet member since the toppling of the Western-backed shah.

Vahidi gained support earlier this week when lawmakers said they would not bow to foreign pressures to reject him. Vahidi is wanted over charges of involvement in the bombing of the Jewish center in Buenos Aires that left 85 people dead.

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

Among the 286 lawmakers attending the open session, Vahidi received 227 votes — the biggest show of support for any of the proposed ministers in a clear political snub against Argentina and other nations. Five parliament members abstained.

"Allah-o-Akbar" or "God is great", the lawmakers chanted as parliamentary speaker Ali Larijani announced the vote for Vahidi.

Later, Vahidi told reporters that "upgrading the country's defense capabilities will be my first priority as defense minister." In May, Iran test-fired an advanced version of its ballistic missile that's capable of reaching Israel and beyond.

In a speech just moments before the vote, Ahmadinejad urged for a strong backing for his government to rattle Western leaders and others who have questioned the legitimacy of the June 12 election.

"Enemies made efforts to damage national might of the dear Iran. I believe it deserves a crushing response from lawmakers in order to disappoint them," he told the chamber before the vote.

Ahmadinejad also said Iran would not bow to pressures to meet a Western-imposed deadline for talks on nuclear issues or risk tighter sanctions. The U.S. and some allies worry that Iran seeks to develop nuclear weapons, but Iran's leaders say they only seek peaceful reactors for electricity.

"No one can impose sanctions against Iran anymore. We welcome sanctions. We can manage ourselves (despite sanctions). But we have given our package of proposals," Ahmadinejad told reporters Thursday as the parliament was voting for his proposed Cabinet.

The Foreign Ministry spokesman, Hasan Qashqavi, also said Iran would not bend to deadlines set by "threat and pressure." Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki will continue in the post in Ahmadinejad's second term.

On Wednesday, envoys the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and Germany urged Iran to agree to talks before the U.N. General Assembly opens on Sept. 15.

The meeting took place a day after Iran's top nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili, said Iran would present new proposals and would be ready to open talks "in order to ease common concerns in the international arena."