Controversy over Iran's new defense minister

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Iran's new Minister of Defense is wanted by Argentina for the 1994 bombing of a Jewish cultural center that killed 85 people in Buenos Aires. The World's Laura Lynch has the story.

MARCO WERMAN: Iran's opposition is still questioning the outcome of presidential elections last June. But the government in Tehran is pressing on with business as usual. Today Iran's parliament approved most of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's post-election cabinet choices. Among the new ministers is a man suspected of masterminding a terrorist attack in Argentina. The World's Laura Lynch reports.

LAURA LYNCH: Today's vote was a test for Ahmadinejad ? a test of just how much power he still wields in the wake of Iran's disputed election and its violent aftermath. Since he announced his list of nominees two weeks ago, conservative hardliners have criticized several of his choices as inexperienced and inadequate. Speaking before the vote today Ahmadinejad made it sound like a test of loyalty to the country.

TRANSLATOR: You know our enemies have made efforts to tarnish the national authority of the Iranian nation. I think it's appropriate that the representatives of the people give them a crushing response and leave them disappointed.

LYNCH: The president didn't get everyone he wanted. Three of his nominees including two women were rejected. But the parliament had one clear favorite.


LYNCH: The speaker announced the result of the vote for the aspiring defense minister, Ahmad Vahidi. Eighty percent of Iran's lawmakers said yes to the man who's wanted abroad in connection with the 1994 bombing of a Jewish center in Buenos Aires. The blast killed 85 people. But they didn't just say yes. Kasra Naji, an analyst with the BBC's Persian TV service, says they added a familiar chant to highlight their happiness with Vahidi.

KASRA NAJI: Today the hardliners in parliament shouted, ?Death to Israel? after he managed to get largest number of votes in today's voting in parliament. It was a populist move and the hardliners wanted to basically raise two fingers at Israel.

LYNCH: The new minister pronounced himself pleased with the outcome describing it as a decisive slap to Israel.

TRANSLATOR: Today we have reached a point that we can regard as the beginning of great progress and we are fully determined to continue this honorable path with utmost speed and dynamism.

LYNCH: Others see Ahmad Vahidi's rise to a powerful cabinet post as less than honorable. He's alleged to have planned the deadly bombing in Argentina. When he was nominated President Obama labeled the choice disturbing. Today representatives of Jewish groups in Buenos Aires called it a provocation. Even with all the outrage Vahidi, a former revolutionary guard commander, comes to the cabinet table armed with knowledge from his military background. Other nominees have far less experience in their portfolios. Some say Ahmadinejad made his choices made on personal loyalty rather than professional qualifications. BBC analyst Kasra Naji says it's evidence that the president has lost support.

NAJI: I think this is an indication of how smaller the circle of friends of Mr. Ahmadinejad and the people whom he trusts is getting and he really doesn't have that many people who can put forward as a minister of some standing.

LYNCH: Still Ahmadinejad did manage to win support for 18 of his 21 nominees. And the overwhelming vote in favor of General Vahidi in spite of international criticism suggests many Iranian politicians are once again united in their readiness to defy the world. For The World I'm Laura Lynch.