Ahmadinejad admits to dangerous rift with clerics

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad speaks at a press conference during the fourth United Nations Conference on the Least Developed Countries in Istanbul on May 9, 2011.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad speaks at a press conference in Istanbul on May 9, 2011.

Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had a busy, headline-making day on Tuesday.

He verbally assaulted the International Atomic Energy Agency, claiming the U.N. nuclear watchdog has discredited the world body by alleging that Iran may be working on a nuclear weapons program, the Associated Press reports.

Ahmadinejad also allegedly claimed the Bahraini regime is violently cracking down on protesters "for the sake of the United States' illegitimate interests."

Then, the semi-official Fars News Agency in Iran claimed the country had sent submarines to the Red Sea in the first such deployment by the country's navy in distant waters.

Perhaps most importantly, however, is the news that Ahmadinejad admitted for the first time to the deep rift between his cabinet and the ruling clerics of the country.

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At a press conference Tuesday, The Guardian reports that Ahmadinejad said: "It is very clear now that we are 180 degrees away from (the ruling conservative clergy) - we are actually on opposite sides."

The dust-up began over the appointment of Heidar Moslehi as the intelligence minister. Ahmadinejad tried to fire Moslehi from the intelligence post on April 17, but Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei reappointed him a few hours later. Ahmadinejad then apparently spent nearly two weeks boycotting government meetings in protest.

After Ahmadinejad complained, Khamenei basically told him to accept the decision or resign.

What followed was an extensive campaign against the president and his allies by conservatives close to Khamenei, who believe Ahmadinjad's supporters are undermining the supremacy of the leader, The Guardian reports.

The focus of the conservative's campaign has been the president's top adviser, Esfandiar Rahim-Mashaei, who is also the father-in-law of Ahmadinejad's son, Monsters and Critics reports.

Mashaei allegedly believes in a slightly more democratic, i.e. non-clergy dominated, style of governance. For his beliefs, clerics linked Masaei with "sorcerers," many of whom have been arrested recently, and the conservatives claimed Ahmadinejad has been "bewitched" by them.

To that end, Ahmadinejad allegedly said: "That bewitched part, and the need of exorcist. Well, I hope they will present some documents as well."

Many conservatives want Mashaei gone, but Ahmadinejad is standing firm, for now. This standoff could become dangerous because of the large support networks both sides can claim in the volatile country, which has already been beset by violent protests several times in the last few years.

After admitting to the rift, and allegedly mocking the sorcery claims of some clerics, Ahmadinejad vowed to undertake an usual style for himself in future governmental struggles, saying: "Our stance has always been to stay silent. A silence that is to inspire unity."

  • Joshua Norman

    Joshua Norman is a Senior Editor at CBSNews.com.