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Guards commander is Iran's new oil minister
by Staff Writers
Tehran (AFP) Aug 3, 2011

Iran's conservative dominated parliament on Wednesday endorsed President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's pick, a Revolutionary Guards commander targeted by international sanctions, to head the key oil ministry.

Brigadier General Rostam Qasemi ran the sanctions-hit industrial wing of the elite Guards, Khatam al-Anbiya, which is highly active in the country's oil sector.

He secured 216 "yes" votes from 246 deputies present in the 290-seat Islamic republic's legislative body.

Qasemi is on a list of Iranians subject to sanctions by the United States, the European Union and Australia because of their involvement in Iran's controversial nuclear programme.

Qasemi said the ministry will seek to "prioritise enhancing the status of Iran's oil industry in the world and within OPEC, while seeking to acquire the world's number two ranking in gas and becoming the region's number one in refining."

Parliament speaker Ali Larijani, speaking before the vote, said: "From the moment he was nominated for the oil ministry, a wave of opposition formed against the Guards and Mr Qasemi over the fact that his name is on the sanctions lists.

"Majlis (parliament) will not pay any heed to such talk... we must symbolically vote for Qasemi."

Iran is the second largest producer in oil cartel the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries and currently holds the rotating OPEC presidency.

Oil revenues constitute around 80 percent of Tehran's foreign exchange resources, and Iran owns the largest gas reserves in the world, still largely untapped.

The oil ministry had been run by a caretaker, Mohammad Aliabadi, since May after Ahmadinejad unsuccessfully tried to take personal charge of the strategic sector, sparking a political showdown with parliament.

The sanctions, which are mainly financial in nature, have not so far prevented Iranian officials from travelling abroad, including to Europe.

Khatam al-Anbiya and its principal subsidiaries are on a list of Iranian institutions subject to United Nations sanctions, which were strengthened in 2010 by a strict embargo adopted by Western powers.

The giant conglomerate, formed after the 1980-88 war with Iraq to enable the Guards to help rebuild Iran, was originally involved in constructing roads and infrastructure.

But in recent years Khatam al-Anbiya has specialised in mechanical engineering, mining, telecommunications and defence, as well as in oil and gas.

In 2010, it joined the development of the giant offshore South Pars gas field in the Gulf, following the withdrawal of Western oil majors -- including Shell and Total -- because of international sanctions.

In addition, three important members of the Iranian government are also under international sanctions over their roles in the nuclear programme.

Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi is blacklisted by the EU, Defence Minister Ahmad Vahidi is targeted by US and EU sanctions, and vice president and nuclear chief Fereydoon Abbasi-Davani appears on the UN, US and EU sanctions list.

The elite Revolutionary Guards are also in charge of Iran's ballistic missile programme, a mounting source of concern in the West.

Western powers suspect Tehran seeks an atomic weapons capability under the guise of its civilian space and nuclear programmes. Iran vehemently denies the charges.

Lawmakers also endorsed Ahmadinejad's choice for the industry, mines and commerce ministry, Mehdi Ghazanfari, a former commerce minister, while ex-labour minister Abdolreza Sheikholeslami secured the welfare and social affairs portfolio.

Former cooperatives minister Mohammad Abbasi was confirmed for the newly formed Sports and Youth Ministry.

Wednesday's vote, which cuts down Ahmadinejad's cabinet to 18 ministries from 21, is in line with Iran's development plan for 2010-2015.

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