Iran’s parliament approved President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s candidate as Oil Minister on Wednesday, putting a military commander who is under international sanctions in charge of production in the world’s fifth biggest crude exporter.
A huge majority – 216 of the 246 lawmakers present – voted in favour of Rostam Qasemi, a Revolutionary Guards commander, a rare victory for Ahmadinejad who has been severely criticised by parliament in recent months, reported Reuters.
Qasemi takes control of the Oil Ministry as Iran holds the rotating presidency of OPEC where it has strongly resisted calls by more Western-friendly producers to increase output quotas.
His most important task will be to stem declining output from Iran’s mature oil fields and develop vast gas resources where sanctions have restricted foreign investment.
As head of Khatam al-Anbia, the Guards’ engineering and construction company – a position he now relinquishes – Qasemi drew the attention of Western countries that believe the Revolutionary Guards and affiliates are involved in efforts to develop nuclear weapons.
Tehran denies having any such goal.
The EU put him on a sanctions list in July 2010, meaning he is not allowed to travel or hold assets in the EU. That echoed a similar US measure five months earlier.
In parliament, speaker Ali Larijani said a strong show of support for Qasemi would send a signal to Iran’s foreign enemies: “so (they) do not think that when they impose sanctions parliament will pay any attention”.
“If he were an unsuccessful person then his name wouldn’t be on the sanctions list,” Larijani said.