Rostam Ghasemi, who is blacklisted by western powers, could have major role in determining global oil price
A senior commander of Iran‘s revolutionary guards, who is subject to comprehensive international sanctions, has been nominated as the country’s oil minister, a position that currently includes the presidency of Opec.
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Iranian president, sent a list of four ministers, including Rostam Ghasemi, commander of the revolutionary guards’ Khatam al-Anbia military and industrial base, to the parliament for approval, the semi-official Fars news agency reported.
Should the parliament confirm Ghasemi’s nomination next week, the commander, who is targeted by US, EU and Australian sanctions, will be automatically appointed as head of Opec, giving the revolutionary guards access to an influential international platform.
Under Iran’s constitution the president is in charge of appointing cabinet ministers, who take office after the approval of parliament.
Iran took the Opec presidency in October last year, its first time at the head of the oil exporters’ cartel since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Unrest in the Middle East, especially the ongoing war in Libya, has given Opec a crucial role in determining the current oil price. Iran is the second-largest crude oil exporter in Opec.
The nomination follows an extraordinary power struggle between Ahmadinejad and Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Ahmadinejad attempted to take over the oil ministry as its temporary head in May but his move was blocked by parliament. He then appointed Mohammad Aliabadi, a close ally, as a caretaker.
By involving the revolutionary guards – who are under the control of Khamenei – in his cabinet, Ahmadinejad might be trying to alleviate the tensions with those of Khamenei’s supporters who have been threatening the president with impeachment.
The revolutionary guards have won significant economic power since Ahmadinejad took office in 2005. The organisation has signed contracts with the government in fields such as oil, gas and telecommunications. Khatam al-Anbia’s involvement in the country’s gas field developments exceeds $7bn (£4.3bn), according to the Economist Intelligence Unit.
In an interview with Fars on Wednesday, Ghasemi said the revolutionary guards would also work as a contractor with the oil ministry if his nomination were approved by parliament. “We have strong and skilful people working for Khatam al-Anbia who are capable of taking up oil-related projects and I don’t have any concerns over the activities of the base,” he was quoted by Fars as saying after the news of his nomination broke out.
Khatam al-Anbia, the construction arm of the revolutionary guards which is already in control of some of the country’s most important recent oil and gas contracts, was mentioned in a list of Iranian institutions targeted by UN sanctions.
Revolutionary guards’ assets, including those personally owned by Ghasemi and dozens of his colleagues, have been blacklisted by the US Treasury and western powers.
Other officials in Ahmadinejad’s cabinet have been also subject to international sanctions including the foreign minister, Ali Akbar Salehi, the defence minister, Ahmad Vahidi, and the vice-president, Fereidoun Abbasi Davani.
In a letter addressed to the parliamentary speaker, Ali Larijani, Ahmadinejad also nominated Mohsen Abadi as the minister for sports and youth, Abdolreza Sheikholeslami as the minister for co-operative, labour and social welfare, and Mehdi Gazanfari as the minister of industries, mines and trade.