Terror suspect Ahmad Vahidi set to become Ahmadinejad’s Defence Minister

Ahmad Vahidi, The expected Defence Minister of Iran

Ahmad Vahidi, The expected Defence Minister of Iran

A former Revolutionary Guard commander wanted by Interpol for masterminding the worst terrorist attack in Argentina looks set to become the new Iranian Defence Minister after parliament signalled that it would confirm the provocative choice.

General Ahmad Vahidi is alleged to have planned the bombing of a Jewish centre in Buenos Aires in 1994 when he commanded the Quds force, a unit of the Revolutionary Guard responsible for foreign operations. He is one of five Iranians sought in the bombing in which 85 people died. Iran denies that it was involved.

Israel and Argentina reacted with outrage at his nomination — which came as President Ahmadinejad tries to get his new Cabinet approved by MPs — with Buenos Aires calling it “an affront to Argentine justice and to the victims of the brutal terrorist attack”. President Obama called General Vahidi’s inclusion in the Cabinet “disturbing”.

International opposition, however, seems only to have strengthened his chances, despite a tough fight for Mr Ahmadinejad to push through his chosen candidates in the face of conservative and reformist disquiet.

One member of parliament, Hadi Qavami, interrupted General Vahidi’s speech to say that he had initially opposed the nomination but changed his mind after “the Zionists’ allegations” and would now vote for him. The comment drew praise and chants of “Death to Israel!” from other deputies.

The chairman of the Iranian foreign policy committee, Alaeddin Boroujerdi, said that the allegations “will not have any negative impact on the assessment” of General Vahidi’s suitability for the job. “Rather, it may increase his vote,” he told Iran’s state news agency. Not one MP voiced opposition during the hearing yesterday.

Today’s vote on the full Cabinet line-up of 26 ministers is a key test of remaining support for Mr Ahmadinejad after the bruising election dispute. He has faced opposition even from within the hardline camp on several of his choices, with accusations that he is favouring slavish loyalty over qualifications for the job.

Analysts believe that the Cabinet will eventually be approved, but a stormy process could damage Mr Ahmadinejad politically at a time when Iran is embroiled in a row with the West over its nuclear programme.

Saeed Jalili, Iran’s top nuclear negotiator, sounded a more conciliatory note to the international community yesterday, saying that Tehran was ready to present a new package of proposals to foreign governments in the hope of restarting talks on its nuclear programme.

American officials said that they had yet to receive any official notification from Tehran and it remains unclear whether the new proposal is substantively different from the one rejected by Western powers last year. Efforts to restart talks have repeatedly floundered over Iran’s refusal to halt uranium enrichment.

Representatives of Britain, the US, France, Germany, China and Russia will meet in Frankfurt today to discuss tougher sanctions targeting the Iranian energy sector.

Mr Jalili said that Mr Ahmadinejad’s re-election had given the country a powerful mandate to put forward a new proposal — a surprising interpretation of the disputed victory that has thrown the country into its worst crisis since the Islamic revolution.

The power struggle triggered by the elections has opened cracks even among the conservative establishment and led to unprecedented criticism of both Mr Ahmadinejad and Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader.

Mr Jalili’s comments are timed to dampen down that row as Iran grapples with the increasing prospects of punishing new sanctions on the import of refined petroleum products. China and Russia are reluctant to agree to such sanctions but the other key Western governments, including Britain, have reached agreement to impose tougher measures.

The US has given Iran until this month to take up the offer of talks or face tougher sanctions. Last week a report from the International Atomic Energy Agency denounced Iran for failing to co-operate fully with inspectors.

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