Iranian president defies critics of closest aide

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has defied calls to sack one of his closest aides and appointed him envoy to the Middle East.

Iran's media reported yesterday that Esfandiar Rahim-Mashaie, the target of frequent criticism from inside the hardline establishment since he became chief of staff last year, was taking one of four new foreign policy posts.

News of the appointment came a day after Mr Ahmadinejad and the head of parliament met and said they would put aside differences that have exposed deep divisions among hardliners and prompted a warning from Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

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Mr Rahim-Mashaie, whose daughter is married to Mr Ahmadinejad's son, has become the focal point for infighting among the hardliners.

Earlier this month, Mr Mashaie publicly upheld the idea of an "Iranian school" of Islam, which many religious conservatives considered highly controversial.

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