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Iran's Ahmadinejad To Address Nation On New Cabinet

Iranian Defense Minister Mostafa Mohammad Najjar is reportedly being proposed as interior minister.
TEHRAN (Reuters) -- Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad addresses the nation today to present a new cabinet including a relative novice as oil minister, but he may face a tough battle to win parliament's approval.

The outcome will be another test of how secure the hard-liner's grip is on power in the major oil exporter after his disputed reelection in a June poll that led to street protests and political turmoil.

Iranian media reported on August 20 that Ahmadinejad had submitted his proposed list of ministers to the assembly the previous evening, meeting a midnight deadline, but there was no immediate confirmation of this from parliament.

The nominated ministers included current Commerce Minister Massud Mirkazemi as the new oil minister, a key position since crude sales account for most state revenue. He is seen as an Ahmadinejad ally but has little known oil industry experience.

Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki would retain his job and three women would become ministers for health, social welfare, and education respectively. It would be the first time a woman becomes minister in the conservative Islamic republic.

Parliament must approve the nominees and Ahmadinejad may get a rough ride from conservatives who dominate the assembly, as well as from moderate foes who see his government as illegitimate after the June election.

The conservative "Kayhan" newspaper quoted a parliamentary spokesman as saying voting would start on the cabinet lineup on August 30.

"The receipt of the president's proposed list will be officially acknowledged at parliament's open session on August 23," the spokesman, Mohsen Kouhkan, said.

State media said Ahmadinejad would deliver a televised speech this evening, postponed from August 19, to introduce his cabinet and talk about its goals.

"Ahmadinejad has made unexpected nominations and appointments including to the Oil Ministry in the past, favoring close aides over candidates with relevant experience," said Gala Riani of IHS Global Insight.

The new oil minister faces the challenge of boosting oil and gas output under U.S. and UN sanctions, imposed because of a dispute over Iran's nuclear program.

The West suspects Iran of seeking to build nuclear weapons. Iran says its program is only for peaceful power generation.

Ahmadinejad, a hard-liner who was reelected for a second four-year term in the disputed June 12 vote, failed to get his first three choices for oil minister appointed in 2005 because of parliamentary opposition.

Some of his supporters have abandoned him after the disputed vote, which led to the most serious disturbances since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, even though he enjoys the backing of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's highest authority.

"If the proposed ministers do not have the necessary experience and knowledge...and are not able to carry out their duty, parliament will act tough with them," conservative member of parliament Parviz Sarvari told ISNA news agency.

Several key nominees -- Mirkazemi and the intelligence and interior ministers -- have a background with the elite Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC). Mirkazemi is a former deputy head of a Guards university.

Seen as fiercely loyal to the values of the Islamic republic, the force's influence appears to have grown since Ahmadinejad came to power in 2005. Two-thirds of his first 21-man cabinet four years ago were IRGC veterans, like himself.

Media said current Defence Minister Mostafa Mohammad Najjar -- a high-ranking IRGC officer -- was proposed as interior minister. The ISNA news agency said Ahmad Vahidi, a commander, was the nominee for defense minister.

Heydar Moslehi, Khamenei's former representative in the Guards' ground force, would become intelligence minister after his predecessor was sacked and Economy Minister Shamseddin Hosseini would retain the post.