Iran’s parliament has approved the appointment of Revolutionary Guards Brig. Gen. Rostam Qasemi as minister of oil, marking a major victory for hardliners in asserting control over the country’s most important revenue sector.
Qasemi, approved by a vote of 216 to 22 with 7 abstentions, told lawmakers before the vote that he has “never been interested in politics since I started working.” He said he does not consider the oil ministry a place for political affairs.
"Hundreds of construction projects have been carried out by Khatam headquarters,” said Qasemi, who heads Khatam al-Anbiya, already the most powerful economic wing of the Revolutionary Guards.
“We improved the quality of projects to an international standard," Qasemi told lawmakers. “We were able to replace Shell and Total after they sanctioned us."
Qasemi replaces Masoud Mirkazemi, who was fired in mid-May when Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad sought to combine the oil ministry with the energy ministry, an idea that was eventually rejected by parliament.
Qasemi also won out over Mohammad Aliabadi, who was appointed caretaker oil minister by Ahmadinejad just in time to attend the acrimonious June 8 meeting of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries.
OPEC internal relations
The appointment of Qasemi, who is subject to international sanctions regimes, is thought likely to further complicate internal relations within the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, over which the Islamic Republic presides under a rotating system until yearend.
Washington has accused Khatam al-Anbiya of channeling revenues from its construction business into Iran’s alleged nuclear weapons program, and it has ordered a freeze of Qasemi’s assets outside Iran.
The European Union also bans dealings with the Revolutionary Guards, its affiliates and officials, including Qasemi, who are also subject to travel restrictions.
OPEC ministers are scheduled to meet in Vienna on Dec. 14, when Qasemi will be due to preside over the group’s last meeting of the year before the rotating position is passed on to Iraq.
"Qasemi’s visits to other countries are risky, as states imposing sanctions will require his arrest,” said Mehrdad Emadi, an advisor to the European Union for economic affairs.
“In such circumstances, his nomination for the post of oil minister is a kind of indication of Iran’s contempt for the UN Security Council, Europe and the United States," said Emadi, just days ahead of the vote on Qasemi.
Qasemi’s appointment is considered a strategic gain for Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, who now are effectively in control of the country’s main source of revenue.
For that reason, Qasemi’s appointment was opposed by conservative lawmaker Ali Motahari who said that, “The integration of the Guard, as a military force, in political and economic power is not in the interests of the system.”
“In neighboring countries, military officials are distancing themselves from politics and power, while it’s the opposite in Iran,” said Motahari, whose statements provoked anger from hard-liners.
Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani supported Qasemi, saying Iranians should be proud to give key portfolios to the military force.
Larijani called for a “symbolic vote” in response to the sanctions that bar the new minister from travelling abroad and consequently attending meetings of OPEC at its headquarters in Vienna.
That echoes the views of other parliamentarians, such as Mohammad Dehghan, who think Iran could try to have the sanctions on Qasemi lifted "gradually." Even if it does not happen, Dehghan said, Qasemi "can send his deputies" (OGJ, Aug. 1, 2011).
Meanwhile, Qasemi, who described Khatam al-Anbiya as a “pioneer” in the fields of oil and gas exploitation, exploration and refinery construction, said he would bring his revolutionary fervor to bear in his new task as minister.
Contact Eric Watkins at firstname.lastname@example.org