Iran Installs Government, Moving Closer to Resuming Atomic Talks
(Bloomberg) -- Iranian lawmakers approved most of President Ebrahim Raisi’s cabinet, installing an anti-Western conservative as the foreign minister who’ll steer negotiators when talks to revive the 2015 nuclear deal resume.
World powers will now be poised for signs of when Tehran plans to return to negotiations critical to ending a standoff with the U.S. that took the two countries close to war and crippled Iran’s oil exports.
When diplomats do reconvene in Vienna, Iran’s negotiators will report to new Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian, seen as a specialist in regional affairs and close to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and Lebanon’s Hezbollah.
Presenting his credentials to parliament last week, Amirabdollahian said he’d resume nuclear talks after a two-month break as Iran held elections and formed a new government in order to lift U.S. sanctions reimposed by the Trump administration as it exited the 2015 accord.
But echoing the Islamic Republic’s supreme leader, he stressed Iran’s fate “won’t be tied to the nuclear deal,” and vowed to prioritize mending relations with neighbors and building trade ties in Asia.
The hardline parliament approved all but one of Raisi’s 19 cabinet appointments, rejecting his nomination for education minister, according to the semi-official Fars news agency.
With talks in abeyance, Iran has continued to withhold nuclear data from international inspectors and expand its enrichment capabilities, alarming European signatories to the deal and regional foes.
Nuclear inspectors at the International Atomic Energy Agency are now preparing contingency plans in order to plug gaps in their knowledge about Iran’s recent nuclear activities in case the talks fail.
In a sign that Washington recognizes the shift to hardline politics in Iran, the U.S.’s top negotiator at the nuclear talks, Robert Malley, said he hopes Iran returns to the negotiating table “with a realistic approach.”
The U.S. was prepared to compromise “on difficult issues” if Iran does the same, he said in an interview with the U.S.-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett reiterated his intention to continue clandestine attacks on Tehran’s atomic program, and plans to make his case in a meeting with U.S. President Joe Biden on Thursday.
Raisi’s government faces other major challenges in its early weeks. It needs to deal with the Taliban’s takeover in Afghanistan and ensure stability on Iran’s eastern border, and the country’s coronavirus outbreak has entered its deadliest phase yet.
Joining Amirabdollahian in Raisi’s cabinet will be Javad Owji as oil minister. Despite having no previous ministerial experience, Owji is a career technocrat and petroleum engineer by training who served as managing director of the National Iranian Gas Co. under former hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
One of Owji’s first major tests will be his management of Iran’s potential return to an oil market already dampened by the spread of the delta variant. An OPEC novice, he’s expected to face the group for the first time as soon as Sept. 1, when members convene for their next ministerial meeting.
Other appointments include veteran politician and former Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps commander Mohsen Rezai as Raisi’s vice president for economic affairs, and Rostam Ghasemi, another former IRGC officer and an ex-oil minister, to head the ministry of industry, mines and trade, which manages several state-run companies.
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