OGJ Oil Diplomacy Editor
LOS ANGELES, May 20 -- Iran’s Guardian Council, a powerful body of clerics and jurists appointed by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and parliament, ruled that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad cannot serve as the country’s caretaker oil minister.
The council said Ahmadinejad's earlier decision to serve as Iran’s temporary oil minister violated Article 135 of the Constitution, which governs the dismissal and appointment of Cabinet ministers.
Scott Lucas, an Iran expert at the UK’s University of Birmingham, said the decision of the council suggests it is on Khamenei’s side in setting limits to Ahmadinejad’s actions.
IHS Global Insight analyst Samuel Ciszuk said the council’s decision has revealed an increasingly open power struggle in Iran: Ahmadinejad is challenging his conservative opponents to a high degree, but they are not backing down.
Earlier this week, Ahmadinejad said he would temporarily oversee the country’s oil portfolio following his dismissal of Oil Minister Masoud Mir-Kazemi (OGJ Online, May 16, 2011).
As a result of that decision, Ahmadinejad was poised to represent Iran at the June 8 meeting of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, a point underlined by Iranian officials.
"Considering that the president is the oil ministry's caretaker, Ahmadinejad will attend the upcoming OPEC meeting," Mohammad Reza Mirtajeddini, a senior government official, told the semi-official Fars news agency on May 18.
Iran currently holds the OPEC presidency, and its representative at the ministers’ meeting in June would begin the event with the keynote speech.
Analysts had warned that the Iranian president might use the occasion as a platform for anti-US sentiments, given the sanctions now imposed by the international community—led by Washington—over Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
It was not immediately clear whether the council’s interpretation of the law would prevent Ahmadinejad from attending the OPEC meeting. But his prospects appear to have dimmed considerably following that decision, which even Ahmadinejad is thought unlikely to reverse.
Observers said his most likely option would be to refer the matter to the country’s Expediency Council, which resolves disputes between branches of Iran’s government.
But that route is out of the question, according to one Iran expert, as the Expediency Council is led by Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who is said to “despise” Ahmadinejad.
Uncertainty over Ahmadinejad’s presence in Vienna will likely add to pressures already thought to be mounting on OPEC ministers ahead of their upcoming meeting (OGJ Online, May 20, 2011).
Contact Eric Watkins at email@example.com.
Watchdog: Iran's Ahmadinejad cannot serve as oil minister