Iran president's Cabinet cuts Guard from defense ministry
By NASSER KARIMI and JON GAMBRELL
Aug. 08, 2017
TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — After decisively winning re-election almost three months ago, Iran's president on Tuesday proposed a new Cabinet for his second term that cuts out the hard-line Revolutionary Guard from controlling the Defense Ministry for the first time in nearly 25 years.
However, Hassan Rouhani's Cabinet for now also fails to include women and his pick for the Justice Ministry is on a European Union sanctions list over human rights abuse allegations.
The Cabinet selection shows Rouhani, a cleric whose stances are moderate compared to others in the Islamic Republic, remains pragmatic about how far he can push his administration that is under the ultimate control of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Rouhani's Cabinet picks ultimately must be approved by parliament, which is expected to take up the issue next week.
Rouhani's presidential website offered the list he presented to lawmakers, filling 17 of the 18 positions he'll have in his Cabinet.
According to the proposal, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who negotiated Iran's 2015 nuclear deal with world powers that saw sanctions lifted in exchange for limits of Iran's enrichment of uranium, would remain the country's top diplomat. Oil Minister Bijan Zanganeh, who oversaw Iran's rush by into the global energy market following the atomic accord, and Intelligence Minister Mahmoud Alavi also would retain their posts.
Rouhani nominated Iran's acting defense minister, Gen. Amir Hatami of the Iranian army, to permanently take over the position. That represents a major departure from previous Iranian presidents who have since 1993 appointed members of the Revolutionary Guard to the position.
The Guard, a paramilitary force answering only to Khamenei, controls Iran's disputed ballistic missile program and regularly has tense encounters with the U.S. Navy in the Persian Gulf. It has deployed into Iraq as part of the fight against the Islamic State group and into Syria to support embattled President Bashar Assad. It also holds vast economic interests in Iran.
Rouhani, who was sworn in on Saturday, strongly criticized the Guard during his presidential campaign for trying to sabotage the nuclear deal.
After the election, Rouhani met with the Guard and acknowledged their role in Iran's defense. But his passing over them for the defense minister position will likely draw hard-line criticism.
Rouhani played it safe with the rest of his Cabinet, with analysts describing his choices as the oldest overall Cabinet since Iran's 1979 Islamic Revolution.
As in Rouhani's previous Cabinet, there are no women nominated for ministerial posts though he still has three female vice presidents who are expected to keep their posts. Rouhani's senior vice president, Eshaq Jahangir, is staying on.
What also may trouble European nations is Rouhani's choice of Alireza Avaee as justice minister. Avaee is on a European Union sanctions list for alleged human rights violations from when he served as president of the Tehran judiciary, from 2005 to 2014.
"He has been responsible for human rights violations, arbitrary arrests, denials of prisoners' rights and an increase in executions," the EU said.
Eight of the 17 nominees are new to their posts, including Habibollah Bitaraf, an energy minister under former reformist President Mohammad Khatami. Bitaraf was among the militant students who stormed the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in 1979 and held Americans hostage there for 444 days.
Only the position of science minister remains unselected — a position that saw Rouhani get into a legislative dogfight in parliament over in 2014. The science minister oversees Iran's universities and hard-line lawmakers worry about allowing anyone who offered any sympathy with reformists or the West. That remains especially sensitive following the unrest that followed Iran's disputed 2009 presidential election as university students took part in the street demonstrations.
Gambrell reported from Dubai, United Arab Emirates.