TEHRAN - Iran's parliament on Sunday narrowly approved President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's choice of Ali Akbar Salehi as foreign minister after his predecessor was abruptly sacked during an official visit to Africa last year.
The lawmakers' verdict on Salehi is seen as a test of the hardline president's support in parliament, after his disputed re-election in 2009 which caused a rift among the country's hardline rulers.
"Salehi secured the vote of confidence from the legislative body by getting 146 votes," parliament Speaker Ali Larijani said. Parliament has 294 seats and 243 MPs were present for the vote on Sunday.
The vote in favor of Salehi will be a relief to Ahmadinejad, who has faced growing criticism from lawmakers who mainly accuse him of concentrating power in his own hands and riding roughshod over the views of lawmakers.
"Today we need a very transparent, active, powerful and influential foreign policy," the president told parliament in an address.
He added: "Cooperation between the government and parliament is very important and, through this cooperation, we should disappoint our enemies."
Ahmadinejad wanted Salehi to be his foreign affairs chief when he became president in 2005, but factional pressures forced him to accept Manouchehr Mottaki, whose relations with the president were never smooth.
Mottaki is seen as a close ally of Ahmadinejad's conservative rival Larijani, who has publicly criticised the president's economic policies.
Salehi, appointed as head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization in 2009, was opposed by some lawmakers who said he had little political experience.
"There is nothing but sloganeering in Salehi's program ... He has no expertise in foreign policy," said moderate lawmaker Mostafa Kavakebian.
With a doctorate from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Salehi has played an important role in Iran's nuclear program, which the United States and its allies fear is a cover to build atomic weapons. Iran denies this.
Born in Kerbala in Iraq, a city holy to Shi'ite Muslims, Salehi speaks fluent English and Arabic and, with his close ties to Ahmadinejad, might prove important in his new role.
"Salehi and the president share same views over many issues, including nuclear and foreign policy," a close relative of Salehi's told Reuters.
However, his appointment was not expected to lead to any shift in Iran's nuclear policy or the broad lines of its foreign policy since Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has the last word on all state matters, including nuclear.
Salehi faces the challenge of overcoming Iran's political isolation under U.S., U.N. and the European Union sanctions, imposed over its disputed nuclear program.
"I believe Iran can intelligently organize its diplomatic relations with the world ... We are ready to improve our relations based on mutual respect," Salehi told parliament.
(Writing by Parisa Hafezi; editing by Andrew Dobbie)