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Iran parliament to reject Ahmadinejad ministers: MPs

TEHRAN (Reuters) - Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad faces a tough battle to win parliament’s approval for his new cabinet after some deputies signaled they were likely to reject several nominees.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad waits fore starting a welcoming ceremony for Oman Sultan Qaboos bin Saeed in Tehran, August 4, 2009. REUTERS/Raheb Homavandi

“Those nominated by the president for government posts must have sufficient expertise and experience, otherwise a great deal of the country’s energy would be wasted,” state broadcaster IRIB quoted parliament speaker Ali Larijani as saying on Thursday.

Vice speaker Mohammad Reza Bahonar, a pragmatic conservative who has been critical of the hardline president in the past, suggested up to five members of Ahmadinejad’s 21-strong cabinet risked being voted down by parliament. He did not give names.

Ahmadinejad hit back when he presented his list of proposed ministers in a televised address, asking how one person could speak for the whole parliament.

“This is far from constructive cooperation ... those who try to present the government’s relations with parliament as damaged will certainly not succeed,” he said. “We really tried to choose experts.”

The outcome will be a test of Ahmadinejad’s grip on power after his disputed re-election in June led to the worst unrest since the 1979 Islamic Revolution and exposed establishment divisions. At least 26 people were killed in street protests.

The nominees include Commerce Minister Massoud Mirkazemi as oil minister, a key position as crude sales account for most state revenue. Mirkazemi is seen as an Ahmadinejad ally but has little known oil industry experience.

Ahmadinejad said Mirkazemi was a skilled manager. “His presence at the Oil Ministry will further promote the status of our oil industry as a strategic commodity of our nation.”

In 2005, the president failed to get his first three choices for oil minister appointed because of parliament’s opposition.

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Mirkazemi and the proposed intelligence and interior ministers have a background with the elite Revolutionary Guards, as does Ahmadinejad. The force, seen as fiercely loyal to the Islamic Republic’s values, appears to have grown in political and economic influence since he came to power four years ago.

London-based analyst Gala Riani, of IHS Global Insight, said Ahmadinejad had put forward a cabinet that “largely consists of loyalists with a security background” and that his legitimacy would be damaged if some of them were rejected by parliament.

ENERGY SANCTIONS

The legislature is dominated by conservatives, but some of Ahmadinejad’s supporters have abandoned him since the election, even though he enjoys the backing of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s highest authority. Moderates see Ahmadinejad’s government as illegitimate.

Deputies had urged Ahmadinejad not to nominate inexperienced ministers. The president had previously announced he would make major changes from his first-term cabinet and state-run Press TV said the new line-up included 11 “new faces.”

A parliamentary spokesman said voting would start on August 30. Conservative member of parliament Javad Karimi Qodousi predicted 80 percent of the ministers would be approved.

Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki would retain his job if approved, and three women would become ministers for health, social welfare and education -- the Islamic Republic’s first female ministers.

“Why shouldn’t women be ministers? Has it been good that they haven’t been for 30 years,” Ahmadinejad said.

But rights campaigner Sussan Tahmasebi told Reuters: “From the history of at least two of the three women nominees, they are not advocates for women’s rights.”

Analysts expect parliament to approve a cabinet eventually, but a stormy nomination process could hurt Ahmadinejad.

The new oil minister faces the challenge of boosting oil and gas output under U.S. and U.N. sanctions, imposed because of a dispute over Iran’s nuclear program. The West suspects Iran of seeking to build nuclear weapons while Iran says its program is exclusively for peaceful power generation.

Ahmadinejad, who said the poll had raised Iran’s “political and social level,” was re-elected for a second four-year term in the June 12 vote. Reformist candidates say the poll was rigged.

The election and its turbulent aftermath have further strained relations with the West. U.S. President Barack Obama’s offer of engagement with Iran if it “unclenched its fist” ran into trouble after Tehran accused the United States and other Western nations of inciting the opposition protests.

Western powers will have to respond with further sanctions against Iran if there is no progress on nuclear talks, German Chancellor Angela Merkel told a newspaper in remarks released on Thursday.

Additional reporting by Hossein Jaseb and Hashem Kalantari; Editing by Richard Williams

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