Iranian Vice President in charge of tourism Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei may have ruled himself out for the position of First Vice President earlier this week, but the controversy surrounding President Ahmadinejad’s selection of him for the spot endures, and has now sparked a clash with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Khamenei has ordered Ahmadinejad to remove Mashaei but the president has refused, saying today that he needs more time to defend his long-time ally from the growing furore against his candidacy. The dispute is setting up another point of contention in the increasingly fractured political environment of Iran.
At issue are comments Mashaei made last year, declaring “no nation in the world is our enemy, Iran is a friend of the nation in the United States and in Israel, and this is an honor.” Mashaei today insisted he meant Iran was a friend to the people of those nations, and not their governments. Israel in particular was a sore spot, as the Israeli government has repeatedly threatened to attack Iran.
Mashaei’s comments have been condemned by hardliners, particularly some right-wing clerics. Those clerics perhaps more than any other time in Iran’s recent history are important to the Supreme Leader’s position, following the disputed election last month which has alienated more liberal clergy. Khamenei likely needs to placate the hardliners by attacking Mashaei publicly, but Ahmadinejad seems willing to go to bat for his long-time ally, at least to a point.