President Hassan Rowhani has unveiled a cabinet of technocrats to help him tackle the formidable challenges of shoring up Iran’s economy and opening up dialogue with the West over Tehran’s controversial nuclear drive.
The 18-strong all-male cabinet boasts a breadth of experience, with some members having served under pragmatic ex-president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani from 1989 to 1997, and others under reformist Mohammad Khatami, who was president from 1997 to 2005.
The team, announced late on Sunday after Rowhani was sworn into office, must be confirmed by the conservative-dominated parliament, with voting expected to begin within a week, once the vetting procedures are over.
The 64-year-old moderate cleric took over from hardliner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad vowing to repair the damage caused by his predecessor’s oft-provocative policies and remarks that in two turbulent four-year terms left Iran divided domestically, isolated internationally and struggling economically.
The West is hoping that Rowhani will take a more constructive approach in the long-running talks on Tehran’s nuclear drive, which despite Iranian denials is suspected by world powers of having military objectives.
Immediately after being sworn in at parliament Sunday, Rowhani presented his cabinet line-up of seven pro-reform nominees, three conservatives, four moderates and four considered as independent.
Among key nominees were veteran retired diplomat Mohammad Javad Zarif as foreign minister and ex-oil minister Bijan Namdar Zanganeh, named to the same portfolio again.
Rowhani has, meanwhile, entrusted conservatives with control of the crucial interior and intelligence ministries.
The list drew mixed reaction from the Iranian press on Monday, with moderate and reformist papers hailing the team’s breadth of experience while conservative outlets questioned the inclusion of “notorious” figures, Zanganeh in particular.
Arman, a paper with ties to the reformists, hoped in an editorial that “all members of the government will get a vote of confidence,” hailing the cabinet as “a coordinated, strong, efficient economic team” best placed to help Iran overcome its economic pain.
But Tehran-based moderate analyst Sadeq Zibakalam cautioned in comments to the Fars news agency that the “centrist government would have the minimal support of reformist and conservatives” alike as it includes names from the rival camps.
Conservative media outlets were critical of the “oldest” government since the inception of the Islamic republic in 1979, and questioned the nomination of those with involvement to the turbulent aftermath of Ahmadinejad’s disputed re-election in 2009.
“Is someone with many open cases for signing contracts that undermined (Iran’s) interests able to take control of the sensitive and critical oil ministry,” hardline Kayhan daily said in its editorial of Zanganeh, who has had ties with opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi, currently under house arrest.
Conservative MP Ramezan Shojaei meanwhile criticised the fact that no women were included in the cabinet lineup.
In his only female appointment, Rowhani named Parvin Dadandish as his women’s affairs advisor.
In his inaugural speech on Sunday, Rowhani repeated his campaign promises of improving the livelihoods of Iranians whom he said were under “a lot of economic pressure” because of tough US and EU sanctions over Iran’s refusal to stop uranium enrichment.
“The only path to interact with Iran is through negotiations on equal grounds, reciprocal trust-building, mutual respect and reducing hostilities,” he said in remarks contrasting starkly with those of Ahmadinejad.
“If you want a proper answer, do not speak with Iran with the language of sanctions but with the language of respect,” Rowhani added, sparking optimism in the White House, which said Iran would find the United States a “willing partner” if he was serious.
Rowhani formally took office on Saturday at another ceremony in which he received the endorsement of supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has final say on all key state affairs, including the nuclear issue.
Considered a regime insider for his service record since the Islamic republic’s inception in 1979, Rowhani on Sunday made his first staff appointment with Mohammad Nahavandian, a US Green Card residency holder with a PhD in economics from George Washington University, as chief of staff.
Nahavandian is expected to play a leading role in coordinating Rowhani’s economic policies.
In another appointment, Rowhani on Monday named reformist ex-industries minister Es’hagh Jahangiri as first vice president.