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Guards commander nominated for Iran oil ministry
by Staff Writers
Tehran (AFP) July 27, 2011

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Wednesday nominated a Revolutionary Guards commander targeted by international sanctions, Rostam Qasemi, to head the strategic oil ministry, reports said.

Brigadier General Qasemi runs the sanctions-hit industrial wing of the elite Guards, Khatam al-Anbiya, which is massively active in the Islamic republic's oil sector.

Iran is the second largest producer of oil cartel OPEC and currently holds its rotating presidency.

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

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

The appointment of Qasemi has yet to be ratified by lawmakers in a vote of confidence scheduled for August 3, according to parliament speaker Ali Larijani quoted by the official IRNA news agency.

Three important members of the Iranian government are also under international sanctions due to their roles in the nuclear programme, which Western powers fear is masking an atomic weapons drive.

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 sanctions, which are mainly financial in nature, have not so far prevented the 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 Iraq-Iran war to enable the Guards to participate in the rebuilding of the country, was originally involved in the construction of roads and infrastructure.

But in recent years Khatam al-Anbiya has transformed itself by specialising in mechanical engineering, mining, telecommunications, defence industries as well as in the oil and gas sector.

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

Following his nomination on Wednesday, Qasemi said he was determined to boost the presence of the company in the Iranian oil and gas sector, should he be approved by parliament, the Fars news agency reported.

The elite Revolutionary Guards are also in charge of Iran's ballistic missile programme, a mounting source of concern in the West which has been condemned by the UN and targeted by international sanctions.

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

On Wednesday, Ahmadinejad also named three other people to head a trio of newly-formed ministries, whose nominations must also be approved by lawmakers, parliament's website reported.

He named ex-commerce minister Mehdi Ghazanfari to head the Industry, Mines and Commerce Ministry, and ex-cooperative minister Mohammad Abbasi to run the Sports and Youth Ministry, following the dissolution of their portfolios in line with a plan to streamline the cabinet.

Abdolreza Sheikholeslami, a member of Ahmadinejad's inner circle and former labour minister, was nominated for the Welfare, Labour and Social Affairs Ministry.

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