Iran faced more world condemnation today after parliament backed the Cabinet appointment of a man wanted for the bombing of a Jewish centre in Argentina.
The assembly showed international defiance by supporting Ahmad Varhidi as defence minister in President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s hardline Cabinet.
MPs chanted “Allahu Akbar” – God is great – as parliament speaker Ali Larijani announced the vote for Vahidi. Among the 286 MPs who attended, Vahidi received 227 votes – the most of any of the proposed ministers.
Vahidi is wanted over charges of involvement in the 1994 bombing of the Argentine-Israeli Mutual Association building in Buenos Aires that killed 85 people.
He was the commander of a special unit of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard known as the Quds Force at the time of the attack and is one of five prominent Iranians sought by Argentina over the bombing.
Argentina called Mr Vahidi’s appointment an affront to Argentine justice and to the 85 victims of the attack.
“We reiterate once again that his confirmation as defence minister merits the most energetic condemnation from the government of our country,” said a spokesman for foreign minister Jorge Taiana.
US State Department spokesman PJ Crowley said Mr Vahidi’s appointment was “disturbing” and that Iran was “taking a step backward”.
Israeli foreign ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said it was “more proof of the violent nature of the regime and a total disregard of the need to work with the international community”.
Interpol issued a “red notice” for Vahidi in 2007, placing him on the equivalent of its most wanted list.
An Interpol spokeswoman said the notice would still be valid even if Vahidi travelled on a diplomatic passport.
The conservative-dominated assembly also named the first woman minister since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, but rejected Mr Ahmadinejad’s choice for energy minister and two other women nominated for less prominent posts. The rest of his 21-member Cabinet was approved.
The broad backing was somewhat stronger than many in Iran had expected because even some of the president’s fellow conservatives had criticised him for nominating unqualified ministers.
Mr Ahmadinejad is also under fire for the abuse of protesters detained following the disputed June presidential election, which the pro-reform opposition claims he stole with massive vote fraud.
US president Barack Obama has stepped up diplomatic engagement with Iran to reduce international tension, but the turmoil and allegations of Western interference have hampered the effort.
The US and its European allies have given Iran until the end of September to agree to nuclear talks or face harsher sanctions. They are worried that Iran is seeking to develop nuclear weapons – a claim Tehran denies.
Iran’s top nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili offered an opening for possible compromise with the West on Tuesday, saying Iran would present new proposals and would be ready to open talks to ease international concerns.
But Mr Ahmadinejad was as defiant as ever yesterday, saying “no one can impose sanctions on Iran anymore”.
Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Hasan Qashqavi also took a tough stance, proclaiming Iran would not bend to Western deadlines set by “threat and pressure.”