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Sunday May 19th, 2019 4:37AM

Iran parliament Oks all but 1 of Rouhani Cabinet picks

By The Associated Press

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iranian lawmakers on Sunday approved 16 Cabinet members nominated by recently re-elected President Hassan Rouhani, including the first defense minister unaffiliated with the elite, hard-line Revolutionary Guard in 25 years.

Parliament speaker Ali Larijani said 16 of 17 proposed ministers were approved, among them Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who negotiated the landmark 2015 nuclear deal with world powers. He received 236 votes.

Oil Minister Began Zanganeh received 230 votes out of 288 members of parliament who voted. The chamber has 290 seats.

The most votes went to Gen. Amir Hatami for Defense Minister, with 261. His appointment marks first time Iran has had a defense minister who has no ties to the hard-line Revolutionary Guard in nearly 25 years.

The appointment indicates that both the moderate Rouhani and Parliament remain pragmatic in controlling tensions between Iran and other world powers.

In July, Iran launched a rocket capable of carrying a satellite, a move that provoked international condemnation, including from France, Britain and the U.S. All three countries were among the world powers that reached the nuclear deal with Iran.

Hatami, 51, told Parliament that improving the country's missile program is on his agenda.

"We will apply special effort for improving ballistic missile power," he said.

Rouhani urged Hatami to improve ties between the Iranian army and the Revolutionary Guard while using modern technology for improving the country's arsenal.

The defense minister is tasked with producing weapons for both the army and the Guard, which is in charge of launching Iran's ballistic missiles.

The Guard, a paramilitary force that answers solely to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, regularly has tense encounters with the U.S. Navy in the Persian Gulf. It has deployed into Iraq as part of the fight against the Islamic State group and into Syria to support embattled President Bashar Assad. It also holds vast economic interests in Iran.

Rouhani told members of parliament that Zarif's primary goals should be to stand by the nuclear deal and attract foreign investment and technology.

In 2015, the United States, six other world powers and Iran finalized a pact that outlined what Tehran had to do to pull back its nuclear program from the brink of weapons-making capacity in return for the West ending many of the financial, trade and oil sanctions that had battered Iran's economy.

"No country has succeeded resorting to isolation," Zarif said. "We either want foreign investment or technology."

Rouhani said the country needs some $200 billion in foreign investment in its oil and gas sector to improve them. Oil and gas are the main sources of foreign revenue for Iran. The country's crude export income reached more than $21 billion in 2016, up from some $12 billion before the nuclear deal.

Lawmakers named Alireza Avaee as minister of justice, with 244 votes. Avaee is on a European Union sanctions list for human rights violations while serving as president of the Tehran judiciary from 2005 to 2014. In 2016, Rouhani appointed him the president's special inspector.

Rouhani's nominee for energy minister, Habibolalh Bitaraf, was not approved. During a review, members of parliament criticized him for lacking a plan to fight the longstanding drought and water crisis in the country, where many towns and cities suffer from shortage.

Also approved was Mohammad Javad Azari Jahromi, 36, to minister of telecommunications. Jahromi received 152 votes, the least of any of the other ministers, after some lawmakers cited his lack of experience and background in intelligence.

Rouhani on Sunday defended Jahromi, saying he will be able to protect the freedom of people who use the internet since he is familiar with security threats.

The remaining ministers who were approved Sunday are either already Cabinet ministers or are their deputies as well as ranking officials in the current Cabinet.

Iran's Cabinet has 18 ministerial posts but Rouhani did not propose a candidate for ministry of science, which is in charge of higher education.

Under the law, the president can manage ministries which have no leader for up to three months.

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