x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Parliament approves Salehi as new Iran foreign minister

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's choice of Ali Akbar Salehi as foreign minister was narrowly approved yesterday, a vote of confidence from Iranian MPs.

TEHRAN // Iran's parliament narrowly approved President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's choice of Ali Akbar Salehi as foreign minister yesterday after his predecessor was abruptly sacked during an official visit to Africa last year.

The verdict of the MPs on Mr Salehi was seen as a test of the hardline president's support in parliament, after his disputed re-election in 2009 which caused a rift among the country's conservative rulers.

"Salehi secured the vote of confidence from the legislative body by getting 146 votes," said the parliament's speaker, Ali Larijani. Parliament has 294 seats and 243 MPs were present for yesterday's vote.

The vote in favour of Mr Salehi will probably be a relief to Mr Ahmadinejad, who has faced growing criticism from MPs who accuse him of concentrating power in his own hands and riding roughshod over the views of parliament.

"Today we need a very transparent, active, powerful and influential foreign policy," Mr Ahmadinejad told parliament in an address.

He added: "Co-operation between the government and parliament is very important and, through this cooperation, we should disappoint our enemies."

Mr Ahmadinejad wanted Mr Salehi to be his foreign affairs chief when he became president in 2005, but factional pressures forced him to accept Manouchehr Mottaki, whose relations with the president were never smooth.

Mr Mottaki is seen as a close ally of Mr Ahmadinejad's conservative rival, Mr Larijani, who has publicly criticised the president's economic policies.

Mr Salehi, appointed as head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organisation in 2009, was opposed by some legislators who said he had little political experience.

The moderate member of parliament Mostafa Kavakebian said: "There is nothing but sloganeering in Salehi's programme. He has no expertise in foreign policy."

With a doctorate from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Mr Salehi has played an important role in Iran's nuclear programme, which the United States and its allies fear is a cover to build atomic weapons. Iran denies this.

Born in Karbala, Iraq, Mr Salehi speaks fluent English and Arabic and, with his close ties to Mr Ahmadinejad, might prove important in his new role.

A close relative of Mr Salehi's said in an interview: "Salehi and the president share same views over many issues, including nuclear and foreign policy."

However, his appointment was not expected to lead to any shift in Iran's nuclear policy or the broad lines of its foreign policy since the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has the last word on all state matters.

Mr Salehi faces the challenge of overcoming Iran's political isolation under US, UN and European sanctions, imposed over its nuclear programme.

Mr Salehi told parliament: "I believe Iran can intelligently organise its diplomatic relations with the world. We are ready to improve our relations based on mutual respect.