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Iran: Rouhani prioritizes economy in cabinet negotiations - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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In this Monday, June 17, 2013 file photo, Iranian President-elect Hasan Rouhani, places his hand on his heart as a sign of respect, after speaking at a news conference, in Tehran, Iran. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi, File)

In this Monday, June 17, 2013 file photo, Iranian President-elect Hasan Rouhani, places his hand on his heart as a sign of respect, after speaking at a news conference, in Tehran, Iran. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi, File)

London, Asharq Al-Awsat—Tense last-minute negotiations are underway in Tehran’s corridors of power to finalize president-elect Hassan Rouhani’s cabinet by the time he assumes office on August 4.

It is understood that Rouhani has given higher priority to his choices for his economic affairs team during negotiations, and has compromised on ministers with other portfolios.

Reformists, whose support for Rouhani’s helped ensure his decisive first-round victory in Iran’s presidential elections last month, have expressed dissatisfaction after the latest leaked reports of the shape of the next government.

At the same time, radical elements within the conservative “principalist” camp have expressed fury at some of Rouhani’s cabinet choices.

In recent days, lists began to emerge of members of Rouhani’s cabinet, and a number of ministerial candidates contacted by journalists implicitly confirmed their selection.

The most controversial of all was Ali Jannati, the son of the deeply conservative Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, the secretary of Iran’s constitutional watchdog, the Guardian Council.

Ali Jannati, who served two terms as Iran’s ambassador to Kuwait and for nearly two years as deputy interior minister under Ahmadinejad, has reportedly been offered the post of minister of culture.

Interestingly, there has been little debate on the foreign ministry, though it is expected to be at the forefront of Rouhani’s attempts to improve Iran’s relations with the rest of the world.

The most probable candidate to head the foreign ministry is Mohamad Javad Zarif, Iran’s former representative to UN. Zarif is regarded in diplomatic circles as a competent and experienced diplomat who knows how to work in the rarefied world of international diplomacy.

Asharq Al-Awsat can reveal that Rouhani’s preference in dealing with Iran’s negotiations over its nuclear program with the P5+1—the permanent members of the UN Security Council, plus Germany—is to transfer responsibility for the negotiations from the Supreme National Security Council, which he once headed, to Iran’s foreign ministry, headed by Zarif.

Analysts say that if Zarif is nominated as foreign minister next week, then a deal between Iran and the West on the nuclear issue is much more likely, though all cabinet appointments must first be approved by parliament.

Earlier this month, the former president Seyed Mohammad Khatami, who is regarded by many as the de-facto leader of Iran’s reformists, believed that the best choice for the ministry of culture is Ahmad Masjed Jamei, who also was his minister of culture during his second term between 2001 and 2005.

Khatami’s positive appraisal of Masjed Jamei appears to have diminished his chances however, since Khatami’s recommendation led to a barrage of attacks from radical principalists.

The nomination of a minister of intelligence has also been the focus of intense debate, given the ministry’s role in Iran’s internal security. Ali Younesi, the former intelligence minister under Khatami, seems to have been ruled out by conservatives.

Lotfallah Forouzandeh, Iran’s vice president in parliamentary affairs told Fars news agency that supporters of “mutiny” (fetnah) cannot be given executive and managerial positions.

The term “mutiny” is often reserved for the protests that followed the disputed presidential elections of 2009, which saw widespread demonstrations by thousands of Iranians who accused the government of rigging the vote in favor of the conservative candidate, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who is due to step down as president on Saturday.

Nameh News, a pro-conservative website, has reported that 10 ministerial candidates (34%) come from the moderate conservative faction, 9 are from the moderate faction led by president-elect Rouhani (31%), 8 are moderate reformists (28%), while only 2 ministers are associated with the technocratic party of Kargozaran (7%).

According to Nameh News, the combination has been approved by the supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, and parliamentary speaker Ali Larijani, in order to assure a smooth vote of confidence for Rouhani’s nominees and the formation of a new cabinet as soon as possible.