(CNSNews.com) – Iranian lawmakers will decide next week whether a senior figure in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), a target of U.S., European Union and U.N. sanctions, will become the country’s oil minister – a position that would elevate him to the presidency of the OPEC oil cartel at a time of global economic uncertainty.
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Wednesday nominated Brig. Gen. Rostam Ghasemi as oil minister, filling a post Ahmadinejad himself unsuccessfully sought to take over earlier this year in a move that brought criticism from supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s camp.
Ghasemi heads Khatam al-Anbia (KAA), an IRGC-owned industrial and engineering giant that has been heavily involvement in Iran’s nuclear programs and also has mining, oil and gas, and defense interests.
Iranian media reported that news of Ghasemi’s nomination saw the market value of companies in which KAA holds interests rise by four percent on the Tehran Stock Exchange.
KAA has been subjected to sanctions imposed by the U.S. government since 2007, most E.U. member states since 2008, and the U.N. Security Council since passage of a mid-2010 resolution relating to Iran’s suspect nuclear activities (Turkey and Brazil opposed the measure; Lebanon abstained).
Should the Iranian majlis (parliament) approve Ghasemi next Wednesday, he will replace Mohammad Aliabadi, a close Ahmadinejad ally appointed as caretaker last month after the president’s abortive bid to appropriate the post himself.
As oil minister, Ghasemi would play a key role in OPEC, as Iran holds its rotating presidency for the first time in 36 years. Iran is OPEC’s second-biggest producer, after Saudi Arabia.
Iran’s leadership of the 12-country cartel, a decision taken by vote last October and effective since January, has already stoked controversy: An OPEC ministers’ meeting in Vienna last month ended without agreement on production levels, following acrimonious divisions between a camp led by Iran and Venezuela vehemently opposed to increasing crude production – as a way to bring down prices – and one led by Saudi Arabia more sympathetic to doing so.
OPEC’s other nine members are Algeria, Angola, Ecuador, Iraq, Kuwait, Libya, Nigeria, Qatar and United Arab Emirates.
At that meeting in Vienna Iran was represented by hastily-appointed caretaker, Aliabadi, who presided over the proceedings. Should Ghasemi receive parliament’s nod he will fulfill that function at the next gathering, scheduled for December.
“The appointment has yet to be approved by the Iranian parliament, but if it goes ahead the fate of world oil prices could rest in the hands of a man who has devoted his whole life to opposing the West,” commented Con Coughlin, executive foreign editor of Britain’s Daily Telegraph.
“Oil prices are high enough as it is, and the prospect of Iran using oil prices to hold the world to ransom is something that should give all of us sleepless nights.”
When OPEC elected Iran to the presidency last October, State Department spokesman Mark Toner called it “an internal matter for OPEC.”
After being pressed on the matter during a regular departmental press conference, he added that the U.S. government “would look for the other members of OPEC to remind Iran that it could play a more constructive role in the region. And certainly, that’s probably going to be a topic of our discussions bilaterally with individual members of OPEC.”
Iranian lawmakers have rejected some of Ahmadinejad’s ministerial nominees in the past. On the other hand, the majlis approved some of the most controversial candidates, including in 2009 Defense Minister Ahmad Vahidi, a former head of the IRGC’s Qods Force who is wanted in Argentina on suspicion of key involvement in a 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, in which 85 people were killed.