Tehran (Reuters) – Iran’s new President Ebrahim Raisi named an anti-Western diplomat as foreign minister on Wednesday as Iran and six world powers seek to restore their 2015 nuclear deal.
Raisi, a hardliner under Western sanctions over allegations of human rights abuses when he was a judge, was sworn into office on Aug. 5 with the Islamic Republic’s clerical rulers facing growing crises at home and abroad.
The mid-ranking Shi’ite cleric replaced pragmatist Hassan Rouhani as president after an election in June when most prominent rivals – including moderates and conservatives – were barred from standing.
Presenting his cabinet to parliament for an expected vote of confidence, Raisi chose Hossein Amirabdollahian as foreign minister and Javad Owji, an ex-deputy oil minister and managing director of the state-run gas company, as oil minister.
Owji also held top positions in Mofid Economics Group and Petro Mofid Development Holding, two subsidiaries of Setad Ejraiye Farmane Hazrate Emam – Headquarters for Executing the Order of the Imam – according to the oil ministry’s news agency SHANA.
Iran’s previous oil minister, Bijan Zanganeh, said in July his successor’s main task would be lifting oil exports that have been hammered by the sanctions.
“Amirabdollahian is a hardline diplomat … If the foreign ministry remains in charge of Iran’s nuclear dossier, then obviously Tehran will adopt a very tough line in the talks,” said an Iranian nuclear negotiator who asked not to be named.
Reports in semi-official Iranian media suggested that the Supreme National Security Council, which reports directly to hardline Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei would take over the nuclear talks in Vienna from the foreign ministry, which had been led by pragmatists during Rouhani’s presidency.
Iran and world powers have been negotiating since April to revive the pact that was repudiated in 2018 by then-U.S. President Donald Trump, who also reimposed sanctions that have devastated Tehran’s economy by squeezing its oil exports.
A sixth round of the talks were held on June 20, with Iranian and Western officials saying major gaps remained to be resolved in returning Tehran and Washington to full compliance with the pact. Iran has violated limits on its enrichment of uranium, a possible pathway to nuclear weapons, since 2019.
Parties involved in the talks have yet to set a date for the next round of negotiations.
Amirabdollahian is believed to have close ties with Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards, Lebanon’s powerful Hezbollah movement and other Iranian proxies around the Middle East.
“Raisi’s choice shows that he gives importance to regional issues in his foreign policy,” a former Iranian official said.
A former ambassador to Bahrain, Amirabdollahian was deputy foreign minister for Arab and African affairs between 2011 and 2016. He was deputy chief of mission at Iran’s embassy in Baghdad from 1997-2001.
No Woman, Several Guards
Iran’s hardliner-dominated parliament is not expected to challenge Raisi’s picks for sensitive ministries such as foreign affairs and oil, as presidents only select them with the approval of Khamenei.
The powers of the elected president are limited in Iran by those of the supreme leader, who is commander-in-chief of the armed forces, appoints the head of the judiciary and decides major policies of the Islamic Republic.
While he did not nominate any woman for the cabinet, Raisi nominated several commanders of the Guards as ministers, including former defence minister and commander of Iran’s Quds Force, Ahmad Vahidi, as his interior minister.
In 2007, Argentine secured Interpol arrest warrants for four Iranians, including Vahidi, for their alleged role in the 1994 bombing of a Jewish centre in Buenos Aires. Iran has denied any involvement in the bombing that killed 85 people and injured hundreds.
Former oil minister Rostam Qasemi, also a Guards commander who headed the elite military body’s construction and engineering company in the past, was nominated by Raisi as the minister for roads and urbanisation.