Rostam Ghasemi, 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.
The Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, 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. When the parliament confirms 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.
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.
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.
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