updated 7/31/2009 8:23:50 AM ET 2009-07-31T12:23:50

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad lashed out at critics within his own hard-line camp on Friday, denying any rift with Iran's supreme leader, who he said was like a father.

The bitter feud with conservatives has shaken Ahmadinejad's government at a time when he is already trying to fend off a major challenge from the other end of the political spectrum — the pro-reform opposition, which says his victory in June 12 presidential elections was fraudulent and that his government is illegitimate.

Conservatives have cast doubt on Ahmadinejad's loyalty to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei because of a dispute over a controversial vice president Ahmadinejad appointed two weeks ago. Hard-liners were outraged by the appointment of Esfandiar Rahim Mashai because he once made comments saying Iranians and Israelis were friends.

Khamenei ordered the dismissal of the vice president, but Ahmadinejad stalled for days, trying to keep Mashai, who is his in-law and a close associate. His defiance further goaded hard-liners. The president finally obeyed the dismissal order, but he promptly appointed Mashai as his chief of staff.

‘Like that of a father and son’
In a speech Friday in the northeastern city of Mashhad, Ahmadinejad said "some in recent days have portrayed the relationship between the leader and the administration as in doubt, they tried to imply distance and rift."

"What they do not understand is that the relationship between us and the supreme leader goes beyond politics and administration. It is based on kindness, on ideology, it is like that of a father and son," he said in the speech, parts of which were aired on state TV.

He said the attempts by "ill-wishers" would yield no results, adding, "this path with be shut in the face of devils."

Ahmadinejad has feuded with fellow conservatives in the past, particularly because some in his camp believe he gives top posts to close associates rather than spreading out power among the camp's factions. The fight over Mashai could point to an attempt by hard-liners to dictate the makeup of Ahmadinejad's new government, due to be announced in early August.

Hard-liners have repeatedly warned Ahmadinejad that his legitimacy will be in doubt if he does not follow the supreme leader, who stands at the top of Iran's clerical leadership and has the final word on all state issues.

More on: Iran | Ahmadinejad

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