Iran's parliament has approved the country's first woman minister, backed a relative novice as oil minister and installed as defence minister a man wanted by Argentina for an attack on a Jewish centre in 1994. Deputies rejected three of the president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's proposed new 21-member cabinet, which followed the hardliner's re-election in a disputed June election, the speaker announced. The outcome of parliament's voting signalled a limited setback for Mr Ahmadinejad, who had four of his first-choice nominees rejected by the assembly in 2005.
The June presidential poll, which was followed by huge opposition protests, plunged Iran into its deepest internal crisis since the 1979 Islamic Revolution and exposed deepening divisions in its ruling elite. The legislature is dominated by conservatives, but some of Mr Ahmadinejad's supporters have abandoned him since the election. But crucially for Mr Ahmadinejad, heavyweight nominees including the oil, defence, intelligence, interior, economy and foreign ministers were all approved by MPs.
"A new era of constructive cooperation between parliament and government started today," Mr Ahmadinejad was quoted as saying by official media shortly before the vote result was announced. The nomination of Ahmad Vahidi as defence minister has been condemned by Argentina, which accuses him of involvement in the 1994 bombing of a Buenos Aires Jewish centre that killed 85 people. Tehran has repeatedly denied any link to the attack.
Mr Vahidi received the highest number of votes in favour of all nominees, 227 out of 286 members of parliament present, in a show of defiance. The oil minister Massoud Mirkazemi received the lowest number of votes of the approved ministers, 147. Iran is the world's fifth-largest oil exporter and crude sales account for most state revenue. Like several other nominees, Mr Mirkazemi, who was the commerce minister in Mr Ahmadinejad's outgoing government, had been criticised for alleged lack of experience.
He faces the challenge of boosting oil and gas output under US and UN sanctions, imposed because of a dispute over Iran's nuclear programme. The West suspects Iran of trying to build nuclear bombs while Iran says its programme is for peaceful power generation. In 2005, Mr Ahmadinejad failed to get his first three choices for oil minister appointed due to parliamentary opposition. The three nominees who were rejected this time were the proposed energy, welfare and education ministers.
Of three nominated women ministers, only the health minister Marzieh Vahid-Dastjerdi was approved. She will become the Islamic Republic's first female minister. Mr Ahmadinejad has three months to propose new candidates to replace those voted down by the 290-seat parliament. Despite the rejection of some ministers, the cabinet can still start working and Mr Ahmadinejad has scheduled its first meeting for Sunday, state radio said.
The president's moderate foes say the June 12 election was rigged to secure his re-election and regard the government as illegitimate. The authorities deny the vote was fraudulent. *Reuters