November 24, 2005

Iran’s president urged to compromise over oil post

By Paul Hughes

TEHRAN (Reuters) - Government supporters and critics alike
on Thursday urged Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to
compromise over an unprecedented standoff which has seen him
fail to fill the key post of oil minister after three attempts.

Parliament's overwhelming rejection on Wednesday of
Ahmadinejad's third oil minister nominee left oil policy in
OPEC's No. 2 producer adrift and compounded criticism of the
president's criteria for selecting new officials.

Parliament Speaker Gholamali Haddadadel said the Guardian
Council, a constitutional watchdog, may have to rule on how to
proceed since the stipulated three-month deadline to fill
cabinet posts had expired.

But Ahmadinejad, whose uncompromising style has sparked
concern at home and abroad, gave no sign that he would back
down and re-appointed caretaker Kazem Vaziri-Hamaneh to run the
ministry while he prepared to put forward a fourth choice.

Echoing lawmakers, who complain the three nominees lacked
experience to run a ministry which controls 80 percent of
export revenues and half of government income, the hard-line
Jomhuri-ye Eslami paper said Ahmadinejad must change his

"The president has no choice but to reconsider his
criteria," it said in a Thursday editorial. "The president
should consider qualifications such as expertise, commitment,
and management experience. He should avoid wasting time."

The reformist Iran News said Ahmadinejad must now heed
lawmakers' pleas to consult them on this key appointment.

"Adamantly refusing to confer with parliament is unwise and
will lead to more political and economic instability," it said.

Ahmadinejad has criticized previous governments for
rotating officials and tolerating corruption and has said lack
of experience should not be an obstacle to serving the country.

He has vowed to revive the ideals of Iran's 1979 Islamic
revolution and last month also called for Israel's destruction.


Although the 290-seat parliament is dominated by
conservatives who welcomed Ahmadinejad's June election win, the
oil minister saga has exposed deep rifts within their ranks.

"The number of MPs who unquestioningly support the
president is only about 75 or 80 which means he could face
trouble in future such as getting the budget approved," said a
Tehran-based political analyst, who declined to be named.

Lawmakers have already watered down some government bills
including one which proposed using 30 percent of surplus oil
revenues to help young people pay for the costs of marriage.

Analysts say control of the Oil Ministry is a top priority
for Ahmadinejad whose campaign platform vowed to confront
"corrupt mafias" within the ministry and to re-direct Iran's
oil wealth toward the poor.

Oil executives said the appointment saga was having severe
consequences at a time when Iran is struggling to match its 4.1
million barrels a day OPEC quota and badly needs investment to
offset the declining recovery rates of its aging fields

"New projects are almost paralyzed," said a local
businessman who works closely with the ministry as a
contractor. "Most of the old guard expect to be fired when a
new minister comes in so there's little incentive to press
ahead," he said.

Ahmadinejad's broomstick approach has already swept through
most of the rest of the public sector where scores of senior
ministry officials, diplomats and the heads of state banks and
the stock market have been replaced.

This has provoked alarm among many senior officials, with
influential former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who
Ahmadinejad defeated in June's elections, accusing his rival of
harming national unity by casting aside competent officials.

A personnel shake-up was to be expected with a new
government, analysts said. More alarming was Ahmadinejad's
reliance on dozens of former colleagues from the Revolutionary
Guards and Tehran City Council to fill the vacant posts.

"It's quite natural for a new administration to choose its
own people, I don't see anything wrong with that," said the
Tehran-based political analyst. "The problem is the type of
replacements he's choosing and their lack of expertise."