Iran parliament clears oil, foreign ministers for Rouhani's new cabinet

BEIRUT (Reuters) - The Iranian parliament voted on Sunday to keep the oil and foreign ministers, two of pragmatist President Hassan Rouhani’s key members of cabinet, in their posts.

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Oil Minister Bijan Zanganeh has been credited with the boost in Iran’s crude output since many global sanctions were lifted last year and with a multi-billion-dollar deal with France’s Total to develop South Pars, the world’s largest gas field.

Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif was Iran’s lead negotiator in the landmark 2015 agreement in which Western powers agreed to rescind sanctions on the Islamic Republic in exchange for curbs on its disputed nuclear program.

“The most important duty of our foreign minister is to stand by the nuclear agreement and not allow America to succeed, not allow Iran’s enemies to succeed,” Rouhani said in an address to parliament before the vote, broadcast live on state TV.

“The person who defends the nuclear agreement is standing against the enemies of Iran, in other words standing against America, Israel and some small enemies in the region who are creating trouble.”

Fourteen other ministerial candidates also received parliamentary approval on Sunday and only one of Rouhani’s nominees, the candidate for the ministry of energy, did not gather enough votes.

Rouhani was criticized by reformists two weeks ago when he submitted the all-male list of cabinet ministers to parliament.

He had mentioned the importance of women’s rights in campaign speeches before May’s presidential election in which he won a second term. Rouhani appointed two female vice-presidents one day after submitting the list of candidates but the appointments did not defuse the criticism.

Vice-presidents do not have ministerial responsibility and do not need parliamentary approval.

The approval of most of the ministerial candidates was a boost for Rouhani but he still faces hardline conservative opposition to his outreach to the West through the nuclear deal and his push for an easing of social restrictions at home.

In his address, Rouhani - who lacks control over security and judicial organs that answer only to hardline Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei - acknowledged the obstacles his administration faces in his second term.

“We don’t have a smooth and easy road ahead. In the current situation, governance in the world, including Europe, America, Asia and other continents, is not easy and smooth, much less in Iran and in this chaotic (Middle East) region which has left us with many problems.”

Reporting by Babak Dehghanpisheh; editing by Mark Heinrich