Iran deputy foreign minister resigns amid pressure

June 21, 2011 - 5:00 AM

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iran's newly appointed deputy foreign minister has resigned under pressure from hard-liners who view him as part of a movement seeking to weaken the role of Iran's powerful Muslim clerics, media reports said Tuesday.

The dispute over Mohammad Sharif Malekzadeh is part of a burgeoning power struggle involving President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the parliament and the country's clergy. While Malekzadeh faces corruption charges, the opposition to his appointment appeared more ideological.

In his resignation letter addressed to the foreign minister Tuesday, Malekzadeh denounced his critics.

"Despite dastardly manipulations and plentiful injustices done against me, I can't accept that you suffer from unjust pressures because of me," the official IRNA news agency quoted Malekzadeh as saying.

Malekzadeh, who has denied the corruption allegations, is an ally of the president's chief of staff, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei.

Mashaei is sharply opposed by hard-liners who accuse him of seeking to undermine Iran's ruling system. He has been described by hardline clerics as the head of a "deviant current" that seeks to elevate the values of pre-Islamic Persia and promote nationalism at the cost of clerical rule.

Ahmadinejad has strongly defended Mashaei, whose daughter is married to the president's son, saying the attacks against Mashaei are actually directed at him.

Iranian intelligence and members of parliament had demanded that Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi fire Malekzadeh. Salehi had said that he would fire Malekzadeh only if he was convicted. Malekzadeh has denied the allegations.

Earlier Tuesday, 33 Iranian lawmakers signed a motion and presented it to the parliament to impeach Salehi if he failed to dismiss Malekzadeh.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad appears to be trying to set up Mashaei, his chief of staff, or another loyalist to succeed him in 2013.

Ahmadinejad and Mashaei also have been accused of seeking to control the next parliament by manipulating parliamentary elections slated for March 2012.

In another parliamentary dispute, lawmakers on Tuesday rejected Ahmadinejad's nominee for the post of minister of sport and youth.

(This version corrects that lawmakers sought to impeach foreign minister, not deputy.)