TEHRAN (AFP) – Esfandiar Rahim Mashaie, a controversial choice as Iran’s first vice president, insisted on Tuesday he will stay on in the post despite massive opposition and defended a surprise comment on Israel.
Thanking President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for his appointment following a disputed June 12 poll, Rahim Mashaie said his selection was part of the re-elected president’s attempts to speed up development in Iran.
“What we need in this term and what Dr Ahmadinejad is stressing … is to have a new atmosphere for more activities and to take things forward quickly,” Rahim Mashaie said in an interview with the official IRNA news agency.
His appointment has faced stiff opposition from some of hardliner Ahmadinejad’s own supporters.
But the president told IRNA on Tuesday that his choice for the post “has been appointed as first vice president and will continue his work.”
Rahim Mashaie, whose daughter is married to Ahmadinejad’s son, is an outspoken figure who last year earned the wrath of many, including supreme leader Ali Khamenei, for saying Iran was a “friend of the Israeli people.”
“I am thankful for the trust Dr Ahmadinejad has in me. We should speed up the tasks. In the new government we can take things forward quicker with more agility and cohesiveness,” he said.
Rahim Mashaie said the country’s growth had to be “balanced, quick but coordinated,” adding that the task ahead was “huge and tiring.”
On Sunday, state run Press TV said Rahim Mashaie had stepped down following opposition from clerics and other hardliners. But his personal website denied the report.
On Tuesday, he defended his contoversial remarks on Israel made last year.
“What I said has nothing to do with the Israeli regime … In fact, it was a psychological war against the Israeli regime,” Rahim Mashaie said in his interview to IRNA.
“What I said was that this regime was in a mess and that this regime no longer enjoyed international support. I did not say that we suddenly had become cousins and friends.”
During his first four-year term, Ahmadinejad unleashed numerous anti-Israel tirades, saying the Jewish state was doomed to be wiped off the map and describing the Holocaust as a myth.
Rahim Mashaie also denied he had attended a dance in Turkey in 2007 for which he was criticised by Iran’s hardliners.
“I took part in a session which was a conference … In that session there were mystic dancers which is part of Turkey’s culture. Since we have no dances in our culture, I left the ceremony,” the first vice president said.
However, his clarifications, especially over Israel, are not expected to satisfy the hardliners.
The resistance to his appointment is a sign of the difficulties Ahmadinejad is likely to face in forming a new cabinet after last month’s presidential poll which his main challenger Mir Hossein Mousavi branded a “shameful fraud.”