Page last updated at 11:47 GMT, Thursday, 3 September 2009 12:47 UK

Iran backs first woman minister

Marzieh Vahid Dastjerdi
Marzieh Vahid Dastjerdi was approved as health minister

Iranian MPs have approved the first woman minister in the 30-year history of the Islamic republic.

She was one of 18 nominations for President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's new cabinet to be approved. Two other women were among three rejected nominees.

The president's choice for defence minister, Ahmad Vahidi, who is wanted by Argentina over a deadly 1994 bombing of a Jewish centre, won strong backing.

The vote follows months of wrangling after disputed elections in June.

Correspondents say Marzieh Vahid Dastjerdi, the female health minister-designate, is a hard-line conservative who has in the past proposed introducing segregated health care in Iran, with women treating women and men treating men.

Aged 50, she qualified as a gynaecologist from Tehran university and has been a leading activist in women's health for much of her career. Her nomination was criticised as she has no experience of government or running a hospital.

She has served as an MP for an Islamic physicians' party, spearheading a campaign to introduce segregated hospitals. It foundered over the shortage of women in some specialisms.

Her pitch to parliament focused on the need for increasing women's roles in national affairs. In an apparent change of heart from her segregation campaign, she praised the "miracles" which happen when men and women work together.

The two women rejected were Fatemeh Ajorlou, as welfare and social security minister, and Susan Keshavarz, as education minister.

The third nominee to be turned down was the president's choice for energy minister, Mohammad Aliabadi.

Mr Ahmadinejad has three months to propose new candidates to replace those rejected.

The parliamentary confidence vote followed five days of intense debate.

Before the vote, Mr Ahmadinejad urged MPs to approve his choices, saying the ballot reflected "real democracy". His government would work closely with parliament, he said.

The president's proposed oil minister, Massoud Mirkazemi, was approved, despite questions over his experience.

'Affront to victims'

Meanwhile, Mr Vahidi - a controversial figure internationally - received the highest number of votes in favour of any nominee, with 227 MPs backing him out of 286, Speaker Ali Larijani said.

Interpol has distributed Argentina's warrant for Mr Vahidi's arrest over the attack at the Israeli-Argentine Mutual Association (AMIA) 15 years ago, which killed 85 people.

Defence: Ahmad Vahidi - his appointment is controversial internationally because Argentina wants his arrest over a 1994 attack on a Jewish centre
Interior: Mostafa Mohammad Najjar - a senior figure in the elite Revolutionary Guards; critics ask whether a military commander should run interior affairs
Health: Marzieh Vahid Dastjerdi - first woman cabinet minister since 1979; seen as inexperienced
Oil: Massoud Mirkazemi - currently commerce minister, has close links to the Revolutionary Guard; his knowledge of the oil industry has been questioned
Intelligence: Heydar Moslehi - a former representative of Iran's Supreme Leader in the Basij militia; critics say he has never worked in intelligence

Israel and Argentina had condemned his nomination, with Buenos Aires calling it "an affront to the victims" of the bombing. Iran has denied any involvement in the blast and says the case against it is politically motivated.

Speaking to the French news agency AFP, Mr Vahidi said his approval by MPs was a "decisive slap to Israel".

The BBC's Peter Biles says the vote was a test of the president's support and his hold on power, amid continuing opposition following his re-election in a contested presidential ballot in June.

The appointment of the cabinet also comes at a time of increasing pressure on the Iranian government from abroad, our correspondent says.

US President Barack Obama has given Iran until later in September to agree to new talks on its nuclear programme, or face tougher sanctions.

Tehran has said it is ready to present a new package of proposals to the international community, although the details have not been published.

Speaking to reporters on Thursday, Mr Ahmadinejad dismissed any threat of further international sanctions against Iran over its nuclear activities.

"No-one can impose any sanctions on Iran any longer," he was quoted as saying by the official IRNA news agency.

An aide to Mr Ahmadinejad confirmed that the president would attend a United Nations meeting later this month in New York.

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National Post Iran's new Cabinet approved - 25 hrs ago
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AFP via Yahoo! Iran gets first woman minister as MPs back Ahmadinejad list - 38 hrs ago

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