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Middle East
Iran's parliament approves new oil minister
Majlis votes 216-22 in favour of appointing Rostam Qasemi to strategically important cabinet post.
Last Modified: 03 Aug 2011 17:13
Ahmadinejad's candidate may ease a power struggle between the president and a hostile parliament [Reuters]

Iran's parliament has voted to approve Rostam Qasemi, a Revolutionary Guards commander, to head the country's oil ministry.

The country's president had called on the Majlis to confirm Qasemi and end months of wrangling over control of oil and gas production in the world's fifth biggest crude exporter.

"Experience has shown that it is possible to do big things," President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said to lawmakers. "It is possible to have a small but efficient government, which is stable and knowledgeable."

Qasemi heads a major engineering company - owned by the elite military body - and is under US and EU sanctions due to Western concerns Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons technology, a charge the Islamic republic has always denied.

"I am proud that I am one of the small soldiers of the Islamic Republic's Revolutionary Guards, and after serving during the Holy Defence [Iran-Iraq war], I put all my services at the disposal of the country to build it up," Qasemi said in a speech to members of parliament. "I have pursued hundreds of projects nation-wide, especially those in the oil sector with the co-operation of my brothers."

The newly appointed minister comes from Khatam al-Anbia, the Guards company initially set up to conduct vital infrastructure work during the eight-year war with Iraq which followed the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

It has since executed oil projects worth a total of $25bn, state-owned IRNA reported recently, quoting Ahmad Qalebani, managing director of the state National Iranian Oil Co.

Qasemi's position has drawn the attention of Western countries that believe the Revolutionary Guards and its affiliates are involved in Iranian efforts to develop nuclear weapons, a goal that Tehran denies. 

The EU put Qasemi on a sanctions list in July 2010, preventing him from travelling or holding assets in the EU - echoing a similar US measure five months earlier.

Far from hurting his chances, however, the sanctions could burnish Qasemi's credentials in Iran's parliament, as he told lawmakers at a hearing on Sunday.

"We were thankfully able to replace these large companies, Total and Shell, after their withdrawal, which had also imposed sanctions on our country some time ago," Qasemi said.

"The minister of oil has obtained 216 votes in favour, the number of votes against were 22, and the number of votes abstained were seven," Ali Larijani, the Iranian parliament's speaker, said in a session broadcast live on state radio. "So Majlis has given a strong vote of confidence to Mr Qasemi for the ministry."

Three other ministers were also approved, Larijani said.

Qasemi, the new oil minister, will take over as Iran holds the largely symbolic rotating presidency of OPEC, where it has strongly resisted the calls for more Western-friendly producers to increase output quotas.

His most important task will be to stem declining output from Iran's mature oil fields and develop vast gas resources that have suffered from sanctions that restrict foreign investment.

Source:
Agencies
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