Iran's president on Sunday dismissed criticism of appointments and dismissals from his Cabinet without parliamentary approval.
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's remarks in a televised speech risked widening a rift with the parliament and with hard-liners intent on limiting his power or even impeaching him.
Ahmadinejad decided to streamline his Cabinet by combining eight ministries into four. The parliament insisted it must approve the appointments of the new ministers, but Ahmadinejad refused. Instead, he appointed caretaker ministers, including himself as caretaker oil minister.
In his TV speech Sunday, he said, "Merging is obligatory, under the law." He dismissed the parliament's claims as mere debate.
"I am not worrying at all," he said. "Debates are a part of freedom."
Mohammad Reza Bahonar, a leading member of parliament, insisted that Ahmadinajad's merger move was "illegal." The semi-official Fars news agency reported that Bahonar wrote a letter to the president saying that "new ministries will not be created unless their functions and authorities are approved by the parliament."
Bahonar was once an Ahmadinejad supporter. His reversal is a measure of Ahmadinejad's loss of stature.
Ahmadinejad has been at odds with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei since dismissing his intelligence minister without consulting Khamenei. That dispute has emboldened his other rivals in advance of parliamentary elections next year and presidential elections a year later to choose Ahmadinejad's successor.
Ahmadinejad himself was re-elected in a hotly disputed vote in 2009, when widespread charges of fraud ignited weeks of street protests and riots by pro-reform opponents who thought their candidate had won.