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Iran: President's Hard-Line Cabinet Choice Could Face Resistance

By Bill Samii

Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad on 14 August submitted a list of 21 proposed cabinet members to the legislature for approval. Parliament has until 21 August to hold its vote.

Ahmadinejad is 48, and the average age of the proposed ministers is 48 1/2, with the youngest aged 40 and the oldest aged 59. By contrast, former President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami is in his early 60s. Ahmadinejad's cabinet selections further demonstrate the ascendancy of a new generation in the country's politics.

Five proposed ministers served with the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC), as did the president, and several others are veterans of the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War.

Conservatives now dominate the parliament, but the approval of Ahmadinejad's list is not a certainty. On one hand, the legislature may grant the new president a "honeymoon" of sorts, but, on the other, this could be an instance in which age-cohort divisions come into play. Even within the Developers Coalition (Abadgaran), which backed Ahmadinejad's presidential bid, there are differences -- individuals connected with the Tehran municipal council versus legislators -- that could affect the approval process. There is already controversy about the nominees.

A Nationalistic Foreign Policy Team

Given heightened international concern about Iran's nuclear activities, the country's proposed new foreign minister, defense minister, and Supreme National Security Council secretary will be of greatest interest. Two of these individuals have demonstrated nationalistic and hard-line stances on foreign-policy issues, while the third has kept out of the limelight.

Manuchehr Mottaki has been selected as foreign minister. Born in 1953, he joined the Foreign Ministry in 1984 and has had ambassadorships in Turkey and Japan. Mottaki is a serving parliamentarian and a member of the Abadgaran coalition. He currently heads the legislature's National Security and Foreign Policy Committee, and he has used this platform to demand greater legislative involvement in Iran's nuclear negotiations.

Mottaki has criticized the United States for purportedly exerting excessive influence on the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), "Tehran Times" reported on 14 June 2004, adding that the United States openly opposes Iran's gaining a civilian nuclear capability. Mottaki went on to say that Iran can resume uranium-enrichment activities whenever it wants, and it will not forgo this right. He took a more assertive stance on 2 April 2005, saying that "the Islamic Republic of Iran must give an ultimatum to Europe and resume it uranium-enrichment program," Fars News Agency reported. He warned that failure to do so would lead to irreparable but unspecified damages.

Mustafa Mohammad Najjar, who was born in 1956 and educated as a mechanical engineer, has been named minister of defense and armed forces logistics. A member of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps since its creation in May 1979, he participated in suppression of a Kurdish insurgency in 1978-79. He appears to have had mostly administrative and logistical responsibilities since that time, including the establishment of medical facilities and hospitals. He has been involved with defense industries during much of his career, and he is on the board of directors of the Defense Industries Organization. Since 1982, according to, a website that is reportedly associated with Ahmadinejad, Najjar was responsible for the Middle East -- Lebanon, Palestine, and the Persian Gulf -- and has made frequent visits to Lebanon.

Another important position on the foreign-affairs team is secretary of the Supreme National Security Council, which does not require parliamentary approval. The council's public-relations chief, Ali Aqamohammadi, said on 8 August that Ali Larijani's appointment as Supreme National Security Council secretary will come "soon," the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) reported. Aqamohammadi added that the current secretary, Hojatoleslam Hassan Rohani, will stay on as the supreme leader's representative to the council. Larijani is already the supreme leader's representative to the council. Larijani is noted for his disapproval of Iran's nuclear negotiations with the European Union, saying at one time that Iran has traded "pearls for bonbons."

From the perspective of international observers, several other ministries bear watching. The American-educated Ali Saidlu was named as oil minister. He has served as Tehran's mayor since Ahmadinejad won the presidential election in June. Prospective Energy Minister Parviz Fattah was born in 1961 and has served with the IRGC, but he appears to have limited practical experience in the relevant areas. Ali-Reza Tahmasbi was proposed as industries and mines minister. Born in 1961, he earned a doctorate in Canada, performed military research for the IRGC (1985-87), and has worked for the legislative research center.

Domestic Hard-liners

Three individuals who will have a significant impact on domestic policies are the ministers of intelligence and security (MOIS), of interior, and of Islamic culture and guidance. Two of these individuals are alumni of the Haqqani school, an especially hard-line seminary.

The nominee for the MOIS is Hojatoleslam Gholam-Hussein Mohseni-Ejei, a Haqqani alumnus who was born in 1956. He has a long background with the MOIS, dating to its creation in the mid-1980s. He served with the MOIS until 1990, then served with the Tehran Prosecutor's Office, then returned to the MOIS as the judiciary's representative until the mid-1990s. Mohseni-Ejei served with the Special Court for the Clergy from 1995 until 2002-03, first as a prosecutor and then as its head.

Mohseni-Ejei is associated with Hojatoleslam Mohammad Mohammadi-Reyshahri, the first chief of the MOIS, and their careers have paralleled one another. Reyshahri served as chief judge of the Military Revolutionary Tribunal in the immediate post-revolutionary period, headed the MOIS from 1984 until 1989, and later served as prosecutor of the Special Court for the Clergy.

Hussein Safar-Harandi, who was born in 1953, has been named as Islamic culture and guidance minister. With a degree in civil engineering, he served with the IRGC from 1980-94. From 1993-97 served with the Islamic Republic News Agency's strategy council. From 1994-2005, Safar-Harandi served as deputy managing director and editor-in-chief of "Kayhan," a hard-line daily associated with the Supreme Leader's office.

Ahmadinejad submitted Haqqani school alumnus Hojatoleslam Mustafa Purmohammadi, who was born in 1959, as his interior minister. From 1979-86 Purmohammadi served as a revolutionary prosecutor in Bandar Abbas, Kermanshah, Khuzestan, and Mashhad, and in 1986 he took over as military prosecutor in western Iran. According to and IRNA, he headed "foreign intelligence" (it is not clear for which organization, but presumably with the MOIS) in 1990-99, and in 1987-99, he was a deputy intelligence minister. Purmohammadi also has served as an adviser to the Supreme Leader's Office since 2002 and is a member of the Board of Trustees of the Islamic Revolution Documents Center. This latter institution is run by another Haqqani alumnus, Hojatoleslam Ruhollah Husseinian.

Other positions that of domestic relevance are education minister (Ali Akbar Ashari); health, treatment and medical-education minister (Kamran Baqeri Lankarani); and science, research, and technology minister (Mohammad Mehdi Zahedi). Individuals who could have an impact on business affairs are the economy minister (Davud Danesh-Jafari) and commerce minister (Masud Mir-Kazemi).

Proposed Transportation Minister Mohammad Rahmati is a member of former President Khatami's cabinet. Mohammad Saidi-Kia was nominated as housing and urban development minister. Born in 1946, he served as roads and transportation minister in 1985-93 in the cabinets of Prime Minister Mir-Hussein Musavi and President Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani. In 1997-2000, he served a construction jihad minister in Khatami's cabinet.

Other officials whose positions have a domestic impact are the Cooperatives Minister (Ali Reza Ali-Ahmadi), Agriculture Jihad Minister (Mohammad-Reza Eskandari), and Labor and Social Affairs Minister (Mohammad Jahromi). Judiciary spokesman Jamal Karimirad was nominated as Justice Minister. Mehdi hashemi was nominated as Welfare and Social Security Minister.

A Mixed Reception

Ahmadinejad's list has met with criticism for a number of reasons. Pro-reform legislator Hadi Haqshenas stressed regionalism in his comments, which appeared in the 14 August "Etemad." He complained that half the proposed cabinet members are from Isfahan and very few are from the northern part of Iran.

Gender is an issue as well. Maryam Behruzi, political secretary of the Followers of the Imam and Leadership Front, predicted that Ahmadinejad would not have any females in his cabinet, "Mardom Salari" reported on 6 August. Behruzi, who also serves as secretary of the conservative women's party called the Zeynab Society, added that Ahmadinejad has yet to respond to the request of 10 women's parties and groups for a meeting.

After the cabinet was introduced, Fatemeh Rakei, a female member of the reformist Islamic Iran Participation Party, said the list contradicts Ahmadinejad's early promises of inclusiveness, the Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA) reported on 14 August. "There is no mention of women on Mr. Ahmadinejad's proposed list," she said. "We thought that even if for appearances' sake, the names of one or two women would be on the list, but it did not happen." Rakei went on to say that several of the individuals tapped by the president are relatively unknown, while others have a distinct ideological tendency.

Rakei noted that the president's choices could have an international impact. "In today's world that is moving toward democracy, such decisions will have immediate global repercussions and will encounter political and international pressure," she said.

Mujtaba Shakeri, a member of the hard-line Islamic Revolution Devotees Society, told the Iranian Labor News Agency (ILNA) on 14 August that Ahmadinejad could have made better choices. However, he approved of the president's choice of relative unknowns. "The price of rotating the elite is that well-known faces will have to be put aside to make room for the younger players," he said. "The parliament should take the trouble of learning about the new faces and vote for them so that the president's ideals will be realized."

Copyright (c) 2005. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

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