x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Ahmadinejad angers parliament

Lawmakers claim that president's actions are unconstitutional, and supreme leader's words seem to indicate that he feels the same way.

TEHRAN // The recent appointment of four special envoys by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad violates Iran's constitution and should be withdrawn, nearly half of the members of Iran's parliament say.

A written statement signed by 122 of the parliament's 290 legislators on Tuesday said the president must follow the guidelines by the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who warned the government last week against "parallel action in various fields, including foreign policy." Mr Ahmadinejad on August 22 designated the four envoys to handle presidential diplomacy in the Middle East, Asia, Afghanistan and the Caspian Sea. Ayatollah Khamenei has the last say in matters of foreign policy, and foreign ministers are never appointed without his approval.

The president's critics believe Mr Khamenei's remarks last week showed his disapproval of Mr Ahmadinejad's attempts to form his own foreign policy team. The president had chosen his foreign minister largely to gain a parliamentary vote of confidence in his government. "We hope that Mr Ahmadinejad explains whether he doesn't trust the foreign ministry, which is apparently the reason he has appointed special envoys so that certain messages are to be delivered by such envoys outside of the accepted diplomatic [channels]," the conservative legislator, Hossein Kanani Moghaddam, the Fararu news portal quoted him as saying on Sunday.

According to a report issued Sunday by the parliament's research office, the president is entitled under the constitution only to appoint special envoys "in special cases" or "if required by need" and not in general fields such as "Asian affairs". Such appointments require cabinet approval and parliamentary input to ensure their compatibility with Iranian law. Mr Ahmadinejad's appointments had neither, the report said.

Critics of the president are also concerned that two of his appointments - chief of staff Esfandiar Rahim Mashaie as special envoy for Middle East and the head of Iran's Cultural Heritage and Tourism Organisation, Hamid Baghaie, as special envoy for Asian Affairs - lack experience in foreign policy and are not qualified for the posts. A few days after Mr Baghaie's appointment was announced, he caused an outcry in Turkey when he made a reference to "genocide of Armenians by the Ottomans" at a seminar in Tehran titled "Iran: The Bridge to Victory".

After strong editorial protests in Turkish newspapers, Cultural Heritage and Tourism Organization said August 28 that the remarks of its director had been distorted. Turkey's foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, also called his Iranian counterpart, Manouchehr Mottaki, for an explanation of Mr Baghaie's comments. "Remarks such as those ? weaken the Iranian diplomacy machine. It is not clear based on what authority and from what position Mr Baghaie has made such crude remarks," Mr Mottaki told reporters on Sunday.

Whether Mr Ahmadinejad cancels the appointment of special envoys is a test of his loyalty to Ayatollah Khamenei, conservative critics say. "Indifference to the wishes of the Supreme Leader and religious authorities ? can have very high costs for the players in this scene, however capable they may think they are," the conservative Alef news portal warned the president on Monday. msinaiee@thenational.ae