Iran’s Rouhani Pulls off Cabinet Balancing Act

DUBAI (Reuters) -

By choosing ministers known more for their experience than their political views, President Hassan Rouhani has proposed a cabinet that achieves a rare feat in Iranian politics — it satisfies both reformist and conservative factions.

Rouhani’s presidency has raised hopes in diplomatic circles that the moderate cleric with links to all of Iran’s often-feuding factions can be someone the West can talk to and at least defuse tensions over the nuclear dispute.

Perhaps wanting to take advantage of the tide of goodwill, Rouhani handed his list of ministerial nominations to parliament immediately after he was sworn in on Sunday.

Allies of the conservative, so-called “Principlists” whom Rouhani defeated in the June polls still dominate parliament, and getting them to approve each of his ministers will be the president’s first challenge.

But Rouhani also has a debt to pay to the officially sidelined, but more popular reformists who pulled out their candidate from the election at the last minute and put their weight behind Rouhani’s campaign.

“Pleasing a single Iranian faction through cabinet nominations is a difficult enough task; pleasing all of them can be likened to completing a Rubik’s cube,” said Meir Javedanfar, an Iran analyst at the Interdisciplinary Center in Israel.

The headline choice for Rouhani’s cabinet is Mohammad Javad Zarif, who was picked as foreign minister.

A former ambassador to the United Nations, Zarif has been involved in secret backroom talks with the United States going back three decades and his nomination is a strong signal Rouhani wants to open up those channels which were closed under his hardline predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

The U.S.-educated Zarif served both under pragmatist President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani in the 1990s and under reformist President Mohammad Khatami before retreating into academia after Ahmadinejad came to office in 2005.

Another big name is Bijan Zanganeh, Rouhani’s choice for oil minister. Well respected among OPEC colleagues, Zanganeh also served under both Khatami and Rafsanjani.

Such choices contrast with the Ahmadinejad era in which political loyalty was rewarded above expertise, and experienced diplomats and officials were purged from ministries in favour of the president’s allies, many of whom had little experience.

But Rouhani has yet to announce his choice for nuclear negotiator, a post which would help determine the tone and tactics of Iran’s diplomacy with world powers over its disputed nuclear program.