Iran's top leader on Monday appointed a mediator to resolve an ongoing dispute between the country's president and parliament that has also challenged his own authority.
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei named his ally and former judiciary chief Ayatollah Mahmoud Shahroudi to head an arbitration body that will tackle controversies within the ruling system, the official IRNA news agency reported.
The dispute with the parliament and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's differences with Khamenei are part of an ongoing power struggle over shaping Iran's politics ahead of next year's parliamentary elections and the 2013 presidential balloting.
Khamenei's appointment could also be an attempt to weaken former President Hashemi Rafsanjani who now heads the Expediency Council, another arbitrating body in Iran.
Rafsanjani has increasingly been alienated in the establishment because of his tacit support for the opposition in the wake of the disputed June 2009 presidential elections that brought Ahmadinejad another term in office.
The opposition has maintained that the vote was rigged but a bloody crackdown led by the powerful Revolutionary Guard crushed massive street protests that followed the elections.
Although Khamenei has the power to remove Rafsanjani from the post, there are concerns that such a move could further aggravate the current situation.
The establishment of the arbitration panel also means Khamenei is delegating some of his vast powers to Shahroudi to handle the widening political differences between Ahmadinejad and parliament, possibly because the top leader wants to distance himself from the dispute and be seen as standing above factional politics.
Shahroudi will head a five-member panel of hard-liners known for their opposition to any reforms within the ruling system.
The opposition website sahamnews.org promptly denounced Khamenei's move, saying it was "an attempt to sideline" Rafsanjani.