TEHRAN - Iran's supreme leader helped secure parliament's support for hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's government ministers, a senior lawmaker said in remarks carried by an Iranian news agency on Friday.

The assembly voted on Thursday in favor of 18 of Ahmadinejad's 21 proposed ministers in his new cabinet following his disputed re-election in June, despite criticism by deputies that some of them lacked enough experience for the posts.

The new ministers include the Islamic Republic's first female minister, a relative novice as oil minister in the world's fifth-largest crude exporter, and as defense minister a man wanted by Argentina over a 1994 bombing attack.

Vice Speaker Mohammad Reza Bahonar, a conservative critic of the president, made clear that the views of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei had influenced the outcome.

After counting the votes (in parliament) we noticed that had it not been for the recommendations of the Supreme Leader at least eight or nine ministers would not have received votes of confidence, Bahonar was quoted as saying by Fars News Agency.

He said Khamenei, who swiftly endorsed Ahmadinejad's election victory despite opposition charges of vote rigging, had urged MPs to seriously reflect on the proposed ministers' piety, morality ... and their contribution to the revolution.

Despite seeing three of his nominees rejected, the outcome signaled only a limited setback for Ahmadinejad, who had four of his first-choice ministers voted down four years ago.

The new government will hold its first meeting on Sunday.

The presidential election, which was followed by huge opposition protests, plunged Iran into its deepest internal crisis since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. It exposed deepening establishment rifts and further strained ties with the West.

The moderate opposition says the election was rigged in Ahmadinejad's favor. The authorities deny this.

Baqer Moin, a London-based Iran analyst, told Reuters on Thursday he had heard that Khamenei's office had contacted MPs before the voting.

His bigger fight is the nuclear issue and if he is seen as being weak internally he will have more problems with that as well. So he has put all his efforts into convincing the conservatives ... that we need to show unity, Moin said.

The West suspects Iran of trying to build nuclear bombs while Iran says its program is for peaceful power generation.

U.S. President Barack Obama has given Iran until later in September to take up a six powers' offer of talks on trade if it shelves nuclear enrichment or face harsher penalties.

(Reporting by Reza Derakhshi; writing by Fredrik Dahl; editing by Dominic Evans)