Iran supreme leader tells MPs not to summon president

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (October 2012) Ayatollah Khamenei has warned about the danger of dragging disputes between officials into the open

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Iran's supreme leader has ordered parliament to stop its bid to summon the President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for further questioning.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei warned MPs that if the matter went further, it would play into the hands of Iran's enemies.

MPs promptly withdrew their signatures from a document demanding the president face questions over the struggling economy and other government failings.

Mr Ahmadinejad's second presidential term expires in August 2013.

Political battle

This was an unprecedentedly public and direct intervention in the Majlis - Iran's parliament - by Ayatollah Khamenei.

He was filmed speaking at a meeting of the Basij, a volunteer paramilitary militia, telling MPs that if the matter went any further, it would only benefit Iran's enemies.

"I demand that the respected MPs not go ahead with this," he said.

"The country needs calm at the moment. All officials in legislative, judicial and executive branches need calm to carry out their duties. So do the people."

Ayatollah Khamenei's words echoed a warning he issued recently about the danger of dragging disputes between officials into the open.

He has already fought and won his own, widely reported political battle with President Ahmadinejad.

The president's closest political allies have been picked off one by one by factions backing the supreme leader.

So Ayatollah Khamenei's demand to the Majlis is not only a very public and forceful reassertion of his ultimate authority in Iran - after which MPs quickly fell into line, ending for now a possible impeachment process against the president.

But it may also indicate his preference for Mr Ahmadinejad to see out the remaining months of his presidency.

As a lame-duck president who cannot stand again for a third term, he may be more useful as a scapegoat for growing public frustration with the failing economy - damaged by international sanctions targeting Iran's nuclear programme and government mismanagement.

The alternative if were to be impeached is that he might re-emerge as a political martyr, who might attempt revenge with some uncomfortable revelations about the inner workings of the ruling religious elite.

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