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Head of Iran's Oil Ministry quits

The official is believed to have rebuffed Ahmadinejad's attempts to streamline his powerful department.

August 13, 2007|Kim Murphy | Times Staff Writer

tehran -- Iranian Oil Minister Kazem Vaziri-Hamaneh stepped down Sunday, plunging the administration of the world's fourth-largest oil producing operation back into the uncertainty that has shadowed it under the leadership of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Vaziri-Hamaneh, a veteran Oil Ministry employee, was confirmed to the post by parliament in December 2005 after the Iranian president unsuccessfully nominated three relatively inexperienced candidates, including a former Revolutionary Guard commander.

State news agencies said the head of the National Iranian Oil Co., Gholam Hossein Nozari, would serve as acting head of the powerful ministry, which Ahmadinejad has pledged to cleanse of "mafia" elements.

Vaziri-Hamaneh was appointed special advisor to the president on oil and gas affairs. Iran's minister of industry also resigned.

No reason was given for the reshuffle, but Vaziri-Hamaneh is believed to have resisted the president's attempts to consolidate the oil bureaucracy to weed out high-salaried and, in the view of Ahmadinejad's administration, unnecessary managers.

Tehran-based business analyst Nader Karimi-Jooni said the move also might have been due to the Oil Ministry's resistance to diverting a large share of hydrocarbon revenue into government spending programs. The ministry prefers to maintain a strong reserve for oil operations or reinvesting in future energy production.

"I believe it is another gesture for increasing the government's popularity because the Oil Ministry is under pressure to spend all oil revenue and not to save it as a surplus or some other things," he said. "Even the supreme leader [Ayatollah Ali Khamenei] has recommended that all oil revenue should be spent for people."

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kim.murphy@latimes.com

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Special correspondent Ramin Mostaghim contributed to this report.

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