Last updated: 3 August, 2011

Guards commander Iran’s new oil minister

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 Islamic republic’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, 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.