President Ahmadinejad's four-month search for an oil minister finally came to an end on 11 December, when Majlis (parliament) deputies confirmed the nomination of Kazem Vaziri-Hamaneh for the post. Vaziri-Hamaneh was the president's fourth nomination to the Majlis and came after the other three were rejected (MEED 9:12:05).
The new minister, who has served as caretaker since Majlis deputies turned down Ali Saeedlou for the post in late August, has not yet made any specific policy statements. However, he has said he would prefer to see an increase in refined product exports over crude exports to maximise revenues. He has also said the development of the South Pars natural gas field will remain a priority and that he dislikes the clumsy buyback arrangements that Iran uses to navigate constitutional limitations on foreign investment in upstream oil. The appointment of Vaziri-Hamaneh lifts some of the political pressure off President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has struggled to find a nominee acceptable to the Majlis. Unlike his unsuccessful forerunners, Vaziri-Hamaneh has significant experience at the Oil Ministry, where he has worked as a deputy minister, and lives modestly in Tehran. More than 170 deputies from the 259-strong Majlis backed the appointment of Vaziri-Hamaneh, who was on a list of about 10 possible ministers drawn up by the Majlis energy commission. The appointment also clears the main bottleneck in the oil sector. Little practical work has been done for about a year across the ministry, with tendering and contract awards suffering serious delays, as a result of the political uncertainty, caused first by the presidential elections and then by the failure to appoint a new oil minister. Sector executives say the big question now will be who Vaziri-Hamaneh appoints as deputy ministers for the senior positions at National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC), Pars Oil & Gas Company (POGC), National Iranian Gas Company (NIGC)and National Petrochemical Company (NPC). While other ministries have undergone extensive restaffing at senior and mid-ranking positions, it is unclear whether a similar fate will befall the Oil Ministry. President Ahmadinejad has indicated he wants to see wholesale change, but after accepting a compromise candidate as minister, he may be persuaded to let some senior officials retain their posts.