From Washington's sanctions lists to Tehran's government

Raisi has selected several US-sanctioned officials as ministers, while the choice of the new foreign affairs chief is causing misgivings about the Vienna talks
atalayar_ebrahim raisi

Presidencia iraní/AFP  -   Iran's President Ebrahim Raisi chairing a cabinet meeting in Tehran on 8 August 2021.

Iran's new president, Ebrahim Raisi, has presented the list of his future cabinet of ministers. The conservative cleric's choices have aroused suspicion in Western countries because of the radical views of the chosen politicians. Among the ministers is, for example, Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, who has been selected as Javad Zarif's replacement to head the Foreign Ministry. Amir-Abdollahian is a conservative diplomat with anti-Western perspectives close to the Revolutionary Guard and the Lebanese Shia group Hezbollah. "Amir-Abdollahian is a hard-line diplomat... If the foreign ministry remains in charge of Iran's nuclear file, then obviously Tehran will take a very hard line in the talks," an Iranian nuclear negotiator told Reuters.

The Vienna talks for a return to the nuclear deal are in a state of uncertainty because of the recent appointment of Amir-Abdollahian as minister. The sixth round of negotiations took place on 20 June, although the parties involved have not yet set a new date for the next meeting. "There will be some changes, as we will see the dismissal of all officials associated with Hassan Rohani and in return we will see the appointment of pro-conservative and pro-Revolutionary Guard leaders," Nigar Mortazavi, an Iranian studies expert, told Asharq News.

AP Photo/Misha Japaridze – File photo of Hossein Amirabollahian.

Amir-Abdollahian's election also shows how important regional policy will be for the new Iranian government. The diplomat has served as ambassador to Bahrain, was deputy foreign minister for Arab and African affairs between 2011 and 2016, and was deputy chief of mission at the Iranian embassy in Baghdad from 1997 to 2001. In addition to his senior posts, he was also secretary general of the International Conference in Support of the Palestinian Intifada.

Ministers sanctioned by the United States

The choice of certain ministers begins to map out Raisi's future relationship with Washington. The Iranian president has selected a number of US-sanctioned figures to fill key positions of power such as defence and interior. Among the most prominent names is Brigadier General Mohammad Reza Qurai Ashtiani, who was sanctioned by the Trump administration in January 2020. Ashtiani was accused, along with eight other Iranian officials, of involvement in missile attacks against US forces in Iraq. Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called those sanctioned "responsible for regime violence at home and abroad".

Last November, the Iranian news agency Tasnim quoted Ashtiani as saying that the Iranian armed forces were 'ready to face any threat'. Moreover, in February 2020, the general noted that the country's military strength was "greater than ever".

AP Photo/Vahid Salemi – File photo of Ahmad Vahidi

The new interior minister, Ahmed Wahidi, is also subject to US as well as European sanctions. In addition, the former defence minister obtained an arrest warrant in 2007 from Interpol for his possible involvement in the 1994 bombing of the Israeli-Argentine Mutual Association (AMIA). Despite the accusations, Iran has always denied involvement in the attack on the Buenos Aires Jewish centre that killed 85 people.

Oil minister-designate Javad Owji is also on the list of those sanctioned by Washington. Owji has a wealth of experience, having served as deputy oil minister and director general of the National Iranian Gas Company.

Ezzatallah Dargami has been nominated to head Iran's Ministry of Heritage, Culture and Tourism. Like the above, the US has imposed sanctions on Dargami for 'forcibly obtaining confessions from political detainees'.

Atta KENARE/AFP – File photo of former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (left) and then Defence Minister Ahmas Vahidi (right) during a welcoming ceremony for the North Korean head of state.

Although Economy Minister Ehsan Khandozi is not subject to US sanctions, he has condemned Washington's actions against US figures. "The US has established an economic war called sanctions, if we want to succeed in this war we must see it as they do, as a real war. We must form a war committee called Anti-Sanctions in the Islamic Consultative Assembly," Khandozi said. The new minister, an economics academic and member of parliament, will have to deal with the deep economic crisis affecting the country.

The cabinet, which does not include any women, will have to be approved by the national parliament. However, as Hassan Hashemian, an expert on Iranian affairs, tells Asharq News, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei will give his approval to the executive. "Khamenei seeks through the formation of this government to send a message that his country is committed to fundamentalism and the well-known principles of the Iranian regime," Hashemian explains.