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US Calls Iranian Cabinet Choice 'Disturbing'

The United States Friday expressed concern about Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's choice of a suspected international terrorist figure as the country's new defense minister. The cabinet nominee, Ahmad Vahidi, is sought by Interpol in connection with a deadly 1994 bomb attack on a Jewish center in Buenos Aires.

The United States has joined Israel and others including Jewish groups in voicing its concern about the nomination of Vahidi, a former top commander of Iran's Revolutionary Guard corps, to be the country's defense minister.

Vahidi, who has been deputy defense minister, was placed on a most-wanted list by the international police agency Interpol in 2007 at the request of Argentine prosecutors, who accused him and four other Iranian officials of involvement in the 1994 attack.

The bombing at the Jewish community center in Buenos Aires killed 85 people and wounded hundreds of others and was the region's most serious terrorist attack. In 2006, Argentine prosecutors formally accused the Iranian government of directing the attack, which they said was carried out by members of the pro-Iranian Lebanese militia Hezbollah.

At a news briefing, State Department Spokesman Ian Kelly said the United States is troubled by the reported nomination of Vahidi, which like the rest of the new cabinet, awaits approval by the Iranian parliament.

"Clearly if this report is true, and if this man is confirmed as a cabinet minister and he is wanted by Interpol for his involvement in a terrorist act, of course this would be disturbing, but here's going to be a process in place here. The whole slate has to go before parliament. So before that process plays out we'll withhold comment on it," he said.

Kelly side-stepped as speculative a question as to whether the U.S. authorities might arrest Vahidi, if he was approved as defense minister and he tried to come to the United States on U.N. business.

The United States, as the U.N.'s host country, is obligated to allow foreign leaders and officials to come to New York for U.N. functions. Despite the absence of diplomatic relations with Iran, the United States has allowed Iranian President Ahmadinejad to address the General Assembly each of the last few years.

Policy analysts say the Iranian president, since his disputed re-election in June, has sought to placate domestic hardliners by naming figures such as Vahidi to the cabinet while making conciliatory signals about the country's nuclear program - including a reported agreement Thursday to allow greater international monitoring of its Natanz uranium enrichment plant.

Kelly downplayed the Iranian gesture to the International Atomic Energy Agency, saying it would fall well short of the "full and comprehensive" cooperation with the IAEA required by the U.N. Security Council.

He noted Iran has still not responded to a revised offer by major world powers in April of incentives to return to negotiations over its nuclear program, and have direct political dialogue with the United States.

He said U.S. patience is not infinite and that the issue would be a major topic of discussion on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly a month from now in New York, though he said the September meeting is not necessarily a deadline.