Iran parliament approves new president’s cabinet nominees

Iran parliament approves new president’s cabinet nominees
# 16 August 2013 03:27 (UTC +04:00)
The lawmakers approved 15 of Mr Rouhani’s 18 cabinet choices, rejecting candidates for the ministries of education, science and sport.

Defending his cabinet choices in a live broadcast watched by millions of Iranians, the 65 year-old centrist cleric said that “national determination” from the ruling establishment was crucial to easing Iran’s “difficult and complicated” economic and foreign policy challenges.

Many of the cabinet members have served in governments that predate the eight year presidency of Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad, Mr Rouhani’s predecessor. Mr Rouhani said that he had picked “veteran commanders” because the country’s difficulties – including high inflation, economic stagnation and “unfair” sanctions over the country’s nuclear programme – did not permit him to indulge in “trial and error”.

The new president has repeatedly said the economy will be his government’s priority. The country is wrestling with an official inflation rate of 35.9 per cent, youth unemployment of 28.3 per cent and a currency that has lost more than half its value against the dollar since July 2010.

A former nuclear negotiator, Mr Rouhani hopes a breakthrough in nuclear talks with the six big powers – the US, UK, France, Russia, China and Germany – will help alleviate sanctions that have contributed to the economic crisis.

He has appointed Mohammad-Javad Zarif, a 53-year-old career diplomat who as foreign minister tried to orchestrate a “grand bargain” with the US in 2003.

Mr Zarif won strong support from parliamentarians after telling them on Monday that his ministry would adopt a moderate foreign policy to ease international threats and expand Iran’s “circle of friends” across the world.

The new foreign minister, who took part in Iran’s negotiations to end the Iran-Iraq war as well as nuclear talks, is believed to have backing of the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who is the ultimate decision maker in all state matters.

Other appointees included the economy minister, Ali Tayebnia, a 53-year-old reform-minded university professor and expert in curbing inflation, who won the support of 274 out of the 284 lawmakers.

The parliament also approved Bijan Namdar-Zanganeh as oil minister, despite heated criticism during confirmation hearings over his role in controversial international contracts when he previously served as oil minister under a reformist government.

Mr Rouhani described Mr Zanganeh as “the best choice” because of the tight sanctions the country is facing. As oil minister, Mr Zanganeh helped attract billions of dollars of foreign investment into the country.

Mohammad-Ali Najafi and Jafar Milimonfared, the nominees for education and science ministries respectively, failed to get the number of votes needed from the fundamentalist-dominated parliament, mainly because of their role in the opposition Green movement which protested against the allegedly fraudulent presidential poll in 2009 – called ‘the sedition’ by the regime.

A third candidate, Masoud Soltanifar, who was appointed to the ministry of sport, was turned down because of a lack of related experience. It is not yet clear yet who Mr Rouhani will nominate as replacements for the three ministries.

Meanwhile, Iran has appointed Ali-Akbar Salehi, former foreign minister, to head the country’s Atomic Energy Organisation, the main body that handles technical aspects of the nuclear programme.

It is unlikely that Mr Salehi, who was the country’s top nuclear official before being appointed foreign minister in 2010, will be involved in nuclear talks with the big powers. But the appointment of the mild-mannered politician indicates Mr Rouhani’s determination to ease tensions over the nuclear issue.

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