Political pressures mounted on President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad after more than 200 lawmakers warned Wednesday that he must obey an order from the country's supreme leader reinstating Iran's powerful intelligence minister.
The showdown over Heidar Moslehi has brought fresh allegations that Ahmadinejad and his allies are trying to grab more power and challenge the all-encompassing authority of Iran's ruling clerics. It also pointed to a potential fissure in the heart of Ahmadinejad's government as its base of support shrinks among parliament members and others.
Moslehi resigned Sunday following reported internal disputes with Ahmadinejad and the president publicly accepted it. But Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei quickly ordered that Moslehi remain on the job, which has a key role in Iran's relentless crackdown on dissident.
A statement signed by 216 parliament members _ more than two-thirds of the 290-seat chamber _ warned Ahmadinejad that he cannot ignore Khamenei, who has the last word in all state affairs.
"The parliament expects nothing but total obedience to ... the order without any question. (Khamenei) is above the three branches of power and the executive branch is defined under the supreme leader," the semi-official Fars news agency quoted lawmaker Hossein Naqavi as saying.
Ahmadinejad still holds highly influential backers, including the Revolutionary Guard that has sway over crucial programs such as Iran's nuclear efforts and oil industry. But the current tensions show a potentially widening gap between Ahmadinejad and Khamenei, who has shown displeasure with the president's overreaching ambitions in the past.
Hardline media claim that Moslehi had been forced to resign after he fired one of his deputies, Hossein Abdollahi, without consulting Ahmadinejad.
But the core dispute appears to be over Ahmadinejad's close confidant, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, whose views have outraged hard-liners, including a claim that Iran's ideology should take precedent over promoting Islam on the world stage. Mashaei also has close ties to the dismissed deputy Abdollahi.
Khamenei's intervention to reinstate Moslehi has put Ahmadinejad in an awkward position: either openly snub Iran's top leader and risk more fallout from Khamenei or submit to the order and lose a high-profile political fight.
A pro-government website, dolatyar.com, posted a report Wednesday quoting Ahmadinejad as saying he didn't recognize Moslehi as his intelligence minister. Hours later, it removed the report. But the president's website still carried the report of Moslehi's resignation with no mention of Khamenei's rejection.
The parliament declaration claimed Ahmadinejad is challenging one of the bedrock tenets of Iran's theocracy by openly defying the supreme leader, who is considered by hard-liners as above the law and answerable only to God.
"Replacing the intelligence minister ... under the current sensitive circumstances is not to the country's interests at all ... the supreme leader resolved the problem with his wisdom. To the parliament, Mr. Moslehi continues to be the (intelligence) minister," according to the statement, which was read on state radio. "You are expected to follow the leader ... in supporting the intelligence minister."
Traditionally, the supreme leader must approve the appointments for the ministers of foreign affairs, intelligence, defense and interior.
To pressure Ahmadinejad, hard-line media published the text of Khamenei's order addressed to Moslehi telling him to stay. That Khamenei didn't address Ahmadinejad is widely considered as humiliating for the president.
Several websites said Moslehi showed up for work Wednesday and signed several documents in his capacity as intelligence chief. But Ahmadinejad made no mention of the dispute during his speech to thousands of people in western Iran.
Ahmadinejad, who in 2009 said Khamenei was like a father to him, has enjoyed strong support from the Iranian supreme leader but has defied the country's most powerful figure at times.
After his disputed re-election, Ahmadinejad bowed to pressure from the supreme leader who ordered Ahmadinejad to dismiss Mashaei as his choice for the key post of first vice president. Mashaei's daughter is married to the president's son.
Hossein Shariatmadari, chief editor of the hard-line daily Kayhan, accused Mashaei of leading a "deviant current" within the government that seeks to challenge the authority of Khamenei and undermine the ruling system from within.