TEHRAN, Iran – Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad signaled Sunday that he had backed down in a power struggle with Iran's supreme leader by ending his apparent boycott of Cabinet meetings and accusing the U.S. and Israel of exaggerating internal rifts.
The president's challenge to the ultimate authority of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei earned him public rebukes from Khamenei himself as well as lawmakers and hard-line clerics, who regard the supreme leader as answerable only to God.
The split between the men, who had been close in the past, appeared to be centered on a battle for influence over next year's parliamentary election and a presidential election in 2013. It flared up this month when Ahmadinejad dismissed the powerful intelligence minister, whom Khamenei then quickly reinstated in a slap to the president. In protest, the president skipped two Cabinet meetings last week.
State TV broadcast parts of Sunday's Cabinet meeting in which Ahmadinejad accused the U.S. and Israel of trying to score propaganda points on talk of division within Iran's leadership.
"We saw that some celebrated. They said the rift has been created," Ahmadinejad said, referring to the U.S. as "the arrogant system" and Israel as "the Zionist regime."
According to the official IRNA news agency, Ahmadinejad also said that despite "propaganda by enemies over my absence (from Cabinet meetings), my entire life over the past years of service has been geared toward Velayat," a reference to the position of the supreme leader.
Ahmadinejad said Khamenei always supported his administration "and any difference is solvable" within the clerical system.
Still, Ahmadinejad said he would not reveal reasons for his absence from Cabinet sessions and would "keep them in my own heart."
Last week, Khamenei, who has final say in all state matters in the country, made a rare public rebuke to Ahmadinejad, saying he would not hesitate to intervene in the government's affairs whenever necessary, in reference to his reinstatement of the intelligence minister.
A serious fall from Khamenei's favor would leave Ahmadinejad's clout seriously diminished and test the loyalty of his main supporters, including the Revolutionary Guard, which will have a central role in picking the candidates for his successor in 2013.
Any serious split between Khamenei and Ahmadinejad could also destabilize Iran at a time of tension with the West over Tehran's disputed nuclear program.
Morteza Aghatehrani, one of the participants in Sunday's Cabinet meeting, told IRNA that Ahmadinejad was sick over the past week, implying his absence from the Cabinet meetings was not related to the political dispute.
Khabaronline.ir, a conservative news website, reported that the dismissed — and reinstated — intelligence chief was not present at Sunday's meeting.
The semi-official Fars news agency carried the same report, saying he was on a trip Sunday.