Why the Iranian President's Cabinet Ministers Are Controversial

Why the Iranian President's Cabinet Ministers Are Controversial

One has a warrant out for his arrest. 


In Tehran, President Ebrahim Raisi presented his cabinet choices to the Iranian majlis (parliament) for their approval on Wednesday afternoon. Raisi’s ministerial picks included choices for the nation’s foreign ministry, oil ministry, defense ministry, and ministry of the interior.

While the Iranian parliament can in theory take a vote of no confidence against any minister if they choose, in practice, candidates are nearly always approved because they are first approved by Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei.


Raisi appointed Hossein Amir-Abdollahian—a hard-line diplomat associated with Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) who earlier served as Iran’s Ambassador to Bahrain—to head Iran’s foreign ministry. Amir-Abdollahian replaces Mohammad Javad Zarif, an American-educated diplomat appointed to the position by Raisi’s predecessor, Hassan Rouhani, in 2013.

Raisi named Javad Owji, the managing director of Iran’s state-run gas company, as the country’s oil minister, while Mohammad Reza Ashtiani, a former deputy chief of the Iranian Armed Forces, was appointed to the Ministry of Defense.

The most controversial of Raisi’s picks was Ahmad Vahidi, a former officer in the IRGC and leader of the organization’s Quds Force. In 2007, at the request of the government of Argentina, an arrest warrant was issued by Interpol for Vahidi for his alleged role in the 1994 bombing of an Israeli community center in Buenos Aires. Raisi himself was sanctioned by the United States for his role in the 1988 massacres of political prisoners in Iran following the end of the country’s war with Iraq.

Iran’s 2021 election, which Raisi won with more than seventy percent of the vote, was criticized by Western countries on the basis that Iran’s Guardian Council, a group of clerics tasked with guarding the 1979 revolution’s principles, had disqualified all significant opposition candidates.

In spite of the hard-line nature of many of the new cabinet picks, Raisi has indicated that one of his priorities in office will be to bring about the end of U.S. nuclear-related sanctions on Iran through a renewal of the 2015 JCPOA nuclear agreement. Raisi pledged to re-enter negotiations in his inauguration speech, and the country’s outgoing oil minister confirmed that working to lift sanctions on Iranian oil exports, a key source of revenue for Tehran, would continue to be one of the ministry’s highest priorities.

Nuclear negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 group, including the United States, are widely expected to resume in Vienna in September, following their previous adjournment on July 20.

Trevor Filseth is a current and foreign affairs writer for the National Interest.

Image: Reuters