Iran's Parliament: President acted 'illegally' in self-appointment as oil minister

Eric Watkins
OGJ Oil Diplomacy Editor

LOS ANGELES, June 2 -- Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad acted illegally in dismissing Oil Minister Massoud Mirkazemi and appointing himself as temporary caretaker of the ministry, according to a vote by the country’s parliament.

"This illegal and hasty action will damage the Islamic Republic of Iran's interests on the global level," said a report prepared by parliament’s energy committee, referring to Ahmadinejad’s takeover of the ministry.

"As (caretaker) oil minister, Ahmadinejad has issued and will continue to issue orders that are obviously examples of illegal interference with governmental financial resources," said the report, which was followed by the legislators' 165-1 vote against the president.

The reference to “illegal interference” with governmental financial resources apparently involves claims that Ahmadinejad spent bonds earmarked for developing gas fields on handouts to compensate people for cuts in energy and food subsidies.

The president is said to have fired the oil minister because Mirkazemi complained about the allegedly illegal use of funds to Iran’s supreme leader, the Ayatollah Khamenei.

Iranian leaders have since suggested that the absences of funds could endanger the country’s oil production (OGJ Online, May 31, 2011).

Meanwhile, Iranian authorities also complained that Ahmadinejad’s actions in firing the minister and making himself temporary caretaker of the ministry endangered the country’s position as holder of the rotating presidency of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries.

“After 30 years, Iran had been able to hold OPEC’s presidency and this position should not be harmed in the shadow of some executive issues,” said a spokesman for parliament’s energy committee.

“OPEC does not recognize anyone other than the oil or energy ministers of the member countries. Sending another minister... to the organization’s next meeting might harm Iran’s presidency,” the spokesman said.

After dismissing Mirkazemi, Iranian officials said that Ahmadinejad, as temporary minister of oil, would attend OPEC’s June 8 meeting and provide its keynote speech—a prospect that worried analysts.

However, that prospect was put into doubt when Iran’s Guardian Council, a powerful body of clerics and jurists appointed by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and parliament, ruled that Ahmadinejad could not serve as the country’s caretaker oil minister (OGJ Online, May 20, 2011).

Ahmadinejad, apparently bowing to the Council’s higher authority, then announced that he would not attend the OPEC meeting and would appoint one of his cabinet ministers to attend in his place (OGJ Online, May 25, 2011).

No official decision has yet been announced regarding Iran’s representative at next week’s OPEC meeting.

However, the Mehr news agency reported that Economy Minister Shamseddin Hosseini will “most likely” be the country’s representative, adding that Iran was “corresponding with OPEC to introduce Hosseini.”

William Martel, a Professor of International Security at Tufts University's Fletcher School, said that Ahmadinejad's takeover of the oil industry doesn't bode well for global energy markets.

"With Iran's record in the last handful of years on a range of foreign policy issues, I don't know that this would be seen as terribly reassuring to the global energy market," Martel said.

Contact Eric Watkins at hippalus@yahoo.com.



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