Iran's president to serve as 'temporary' oil minister

Eric Watkins
OGJ Oil Diplomacy Editor

LOS ANGELES, May 16 -- Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said he will temporarily oversee the country’s oil portfolio following his earlier dismissal of Oil Minister Masoud Mir-Kazemi.

“I am the caretaker of the oil ministry,” Ahmadinejad said over Iranian state television following his dismissal of Mir-Kazemi along with Industry and Mines Minister Ali Akbar Mehrabian and Welfare Minister Sadegh Mahsouli.

"Ministers of oil, social welfare, and industries and mines were dismissed by President Ahmadinejad in order to slim down the government's ministries from 21 to 17," said Iran’s State News Agency (ISNA).

The move followed a May 9 announcement that the oil ministry would merge with the energy ministry. So far, Ahmadinejad has not even named a possible replacement for Mir-Kazemi.

However, he appointed Commerce Minister Mehdi Ghazanfari to oversee the Industry and Mines Ministry and Labor Minister Abdolreza Sheikholeslami to take over the Welfare Ministry.

The president’s decision drew criticism from parliament members who said he was hasty and failed to consult them on details of the mergers.

Ahmad Tavakoli, head of the parliament’s research center, said the dismissals were neither necessary nor legal. He threatened, “No new ministry will be established until the parliament approves its mandate.”

Rights at stake
Gholamhossein Hassantash, a former president at the Tehran-based Institute for International Energy Studies, warned against such “blows” delivered to the country’s oil industry and economy.

“Top energy officials have warned about a drop in the country’s oil production, which is partly due to economic sanctions,” Hassantash wrote in a note posted on his web site.

In addition, Hassantash said projects related to Iran’s joint fields, in particular the South Pars natural gas field that it shares with Qatar, are facing significant delays.

“The interests and rights of the country are at stake,” said Hassantash. He asked, “Shouldn’t decisions be such that they don’t damage even more the country’s rights?”

Ahmadinejad rejected criticisms, saying his decision would ensure swift implementation of the law and benefit the country.

“It is in the interest of the country to have a smaller government,” he said, adding that the removal of ministers “will not lead to complications in the management of the ministries.”

Still, the decision to remove Mir-Kazemi could complicate matters for the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, at its scheduled conference June 8 in Vienna.

Iran, the second-largest crude producer in OPEC after Saudi Arabia, currently holds the group’s presidency, and the OPEC president traditionally speaks to attendees at the start of the OPEC meeting.

OPEC officials in Vienna could not say who would head Iran’s delegation.

Iran’s OPEC Gov. Mohammad Ali Khatibi said his country’s Energy Minister Majid Namjou would be eligible to take over temporarily as OPEC president, given the possibility that he will head Iran’s combined oil and energy ministries.

Still, Ahmadinejad’s decision to appoint himself oil minister pro tem could mean he will be the keynote speaker when they convene in June.

The Iranian president might well take that opportunity to outline his country’s plans to develop nuclear power—especially since international sanctions are in place to halt those plans.

Contact Eric Watkins at hippalus@yahoo.com.



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