Iran supreme leader moves to break impasse over key cabinet post

Reuters News
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Posted: Nov 22, 2014 12:42 PM

DUBAI (Reuters) - Iran's supreme leader moved on Saturday to break a factional deadlock over the sensitive Ministry of Higher Education by reinstating President Hassan Rouhani's moderate pick as interim minister, Iranian media reported.

On Tuesday, the conservative-dominated parliament rejected his fourth nominee to lead universities, which have been centers of ideological battles between pro-democracy reformers and Islamist hardliners.

The ministry has been run by a caretaker, Mohammad Ali Najafi, since August, when a moderate technocrat appointed by Rouhani to the post was impeached for alleged ties to the ill-fated pro-democracy unrest that followed then-president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's disputed re-election in 2009.

Two other nominees for the post have failed to get a vote of confidence from the assembly, and Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's decision to keep Najafi in charge for another three months buys Rouhani time to fill the portfolio.

Iran's constitution sets a three-month limit on running a ministry under a caretaker, leaving the final say to the supreme leader. The president has picked a fifth nominee - former health minister Mohammad Farhadi - to be reviewed by parliament on Wednesday.

Rouhani was elected by a large majority last year on a pledge to ease repression at home and promote reconciliation abroad, toward ending Iran's punishing international isolation.

His year-long attempt to secure a negotiated settlement over the contested nuclear program has yet to bear fruit amid resistance from an entrenched conservative old guard.

(Reporting by Mehrdad Balali; editing by Susan Thomas)