Rouhani defends cabinet choices as Iran parliament starts debate
DUBAI - Reuters
Iran's President Hasan Rouhani (R) delivers a speech to the parliament in Tehran on August 12, 2013. AFP PHOTO/ATTA KENAREPresident Hassan Rouhani said Aug.12 he had chosen a cabinet to overcome Iran's economic crisis and diplomatic isolation as parliament began debating whether to approve his proposed ministers.
"Your vote of confidence in the ministers is not just a vote for the individuals, it is a vote for the whole government and its plans," the Iranian president told parliament.
Rouhani, a relatively moderate, mid-ranking cleric, took office on Aug. 3 after winning a landslide in the June 14 presidential election over more conservative rivals.
He had promised to combat high inflation and unemployment, pursue a more "constructive" foreign policy and allow greater social freedoms than his hardline predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Rouhani, who won the support of centrist and reformist voters but who also has close ties to conservative insiders, said he had chosen a cabinet from across Iran's factions on the basis of their experience rather than their political loyalties.
Many of his nominees are seasoned technocrats who served under centrist former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and reformist ex-President Mohammad Khatami, but conservative factions in parliament are likely to oppose some of his choices.
Though widely recognized as an experienced and capable manager, conservatives say proposed oil minister Bijan Zanganeh is too close to pro-reform opposition leaders who had protested against what they called a rigged presidential vote in 2009.
Zanganeh and Mohammad Ali Najafi, a technocrat picked for education minister, visited Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei after the 2009 election to speak on behalf of the opposition leaders, who are now under house arrest.
Conservatives refer to the months of protests which followed the vote as a "sedition," and reformists have been largely purged from powerful posts in the years since.
Ruhollah Hosseinian, a "principlist" conservative in parliament, predicted on Saturday that 80 percent of Rouhani's cabinet nominees would be approved, ISNA news agency said.
But he said the assembly would bar those "who made statements in parliament and did not distance themselves from the sedition".
Hossein Shariatmadari, hand-picked by Khamenei to edit the influential hardline daily Kayhan, wrote in an editorial on Monday that "the place for those who were present in the sedition is prison and not the ministry".
In his speech on Monday, Rouhani said the oil ministry required "active diplomacy" and endorsed Zanganeh for the post.
Western sanctions imposed over Iran's disputed nuclear programme have halved Tehran's oil exports since 2011, and its aging oil fields need crucial upkeep.
In addition to repairing Iran's economy, Rouhani has pledged to improve Iran's image abroad, tarnished by Ahmadinejad's statements against Israel and questioning of the Holocaust.
On Monday, he said his government would pursue "threat prevention and alleviation of tensions" in its foreign policy.
Rouhani's choice of foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, is a U.S.-educated former U.N. ambassador who has been at the centre of several rounds of secret negotiations to try to overcome decades of estrangement between Washington and Tehran.
Rouhani said he had known Zarif since the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war and called him the best man for the job, saying Iran needed a "completely aware, efficient and expert" foreign minister.
Legislators began debating Rouhani's nominees after his speech, and a vote of confidence is expected later this week.