TEHRAN Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad attended his first cabinet meeting for more than a week on Sunday, dismissing rumors of a damaging split with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, news agencies reported.
Ahmadinejad's close relationship with Khamenei -- the senior cleric who has the last word in the Islamic Republic's affairs -- was strained two weeks ago, according to some analysts, over the president's attempt to sack his intelligence minister, a move vetoed by the supreme leader.
Since then Ahmadinejad has missed two cabinet meetings -- something some foreign analysts said was akin to a boycott.
Speculation began to circulate that Ahmadinejad no longer enjoyed the unqualified support of Khamenei, something the government denied. Khamenei had endorsed his re-election in June 2009 in a vote the opposition said was rigged.
The Tehran Stock Exchange lost 6 percent in value over the last three trading days due to the political uncertainty. Without the supreme leader's support, any Iranian president risks becoming a lame duck.
Ahead of Sunday's cabinet meeting, the head of national broadcaster IRIB told news agencies that Ahmadinejad would express his allegiance to Khamenei.
"His speech to the cabinet today will foil all the plots of the enemies of Islam and the revolution and will show that enemies of the Iranian nation are not able to comprehend his father-son relation with the revolution leader (Khamenei)," the semi-official Fars news quoted Ezatollah Zarghami as saying.
Some members of parliament had called on Saturday for a closed session to discuss Ahmadinejad's apparent refusal to attend his own cabinet meetings.
On the Tehran bourse, where traders are used to seeing steadily increasing prices, the broad share index fell 2.5 percent on Sunday. Shares on that index have lost some 6 percent in the last three session, bourse data showed.
"When the president is not around it's something natural in any country," one share dealer told Reuters on condition of anonymity, saying people were concerned about Ahmadinejad "not going to work." Fars news agency said the share slide was due to "day to day political issues and some other issues."
Rifts between factions in the conservative elite that runs the Islamic Republic have become more apparent since mass opposition protests against Ahmadinejad's re-election were stamped out by the end of 2009.
The president has many critics on the right who accuse him of seeking more power for himself at the expense of other state bodies such as parliament.
Many conservative clerics have also criticized his closest aide, Esfandiar Rahim-Mashaie, for promoting an "Iranian school" of Islam, which they consider a dangerous nationalistic stance.
The jostling for influence is happening less than one year before a parliamentary election set to be a battle among fellow conservatives. Leading reformist candidates are unlikely to be allowed to stand if they are deemed too close to the opposition "Green" movement, which the establishment considers to be part of a foreign-backed conspiracy to overthrow the Islamic system.
Opposition leaders deny any such thing.
(Additional reporting by Ramin Mostafavi and Mitra Amiri; editing by Mark Heinrich)