search

Iran’s Raisi seeks parliamentary approval of his hardline cabinet picks

New president says his ministerial nominees, who include a suspect in devastating 1994 bombing of Jewish center in Argentina, are meant to bring about ‘justice and progress’

Iran's President Ebrahim Raisi speaks before parliament to defend his cabinet selection, in the capital Tehran, on August 21, 2021. (Atta Kenare/AFP)
Iran's President Ebrahim Raisi speaks before parliament to defend his cabinet selection, in the capital Tehran, on August 21, 2021. (Atta Kenare/AFP)

TEHRAN, Iran — New ultraconservative Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi said Saturday his government will prioritize tackling COVID and accelerating vaccinations ahead of an economic revival, as he defended his cabinet choices before parliament.

The conservative-dominated parliament began debating the male-only, largely conservative lineup in the morning ahead of a vote of confidence expected later this week.

Among Raisi’s cabinet picks are his nominee for foreign minister, Hossein Amirabdollahian, who is known for having close ties to Lebanon’s Hezbollah terror group. A career diplomat, Amirabdollahian will be appointed to the crucial post of foreign minister as Iran and the US seek to resuscitate Tehran’s landmark 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.

Raisi also tapped Gen. Ahmad Vahidi, wanted by Interpol over his alleged role in the 1994 bombing of a Jewish cultural center in Argentina, as his interior minister.

Combination photo, from left: Hossein Amirabdollahian, Gen. Ahmad Vahidi (AP Photos/Misha Japaridze, Vahid Salemi, File)

“The government’s first priority is controlling the coronavirus, improving the health situation and widespread vaccination,” Raisi said Saturday.

“The economy and the livelihood situation is the second” priority, he added, noting that his lineup is meant to bring about “justice and progress.”

Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi (bottom) speaks before parliament to defend his cabinet selection, in the capital Tehran, on August 21, 2021. (Atta Kenare/AFP)

Since late June, Iran has seen what officials have called a “fifth wave” of COVID-19 infections, the country’s worst yet, which they have largely blamed on the more contagious Delta variant of the virus.

Daily infections and deaths have hit record highs several times this month, raising total cases since the pandemic started to over 4.5 million and fatalities to more than 100,000.

Iran, battling the Middle East’s deadliest COVID outbreak, launched a vaccination drive in February but it has progressed slower than authorities had hoped.

Choked by US sanctions that have made it difficult to transfer money abroad, Iran says it has struggled to import vaccines.

Raisi has tapped 63-year-old optometrist Bahram Eynollahi as his health minister.

He defended his pick as “a figure who can rally forces in the fight against coronavirus.”

Eynollahi was named by local media as a signatory of a January open letter that warned former president Hassan Rouhani against importing vaccines made by the United States, Britain and France, as they may cause “unknown and irreversible complications.”

An Iranian health worker inoculates a man against the coronavirus, at a vaccination center in the Iran Mall in the capital Tehran, on August 14, 2021. (Atta Kenare/AFP)

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei had in the same month banned the use of vaccines made by the US and Britain, calling them “completely untrustworthy.”

More than 16.3 million people out of the country’s 83 million inhabitants have been given a first vaccine dose, but only 5.4 million have received the second, the health ministry said Friday.

read more:
comments
Never miss breaking news on Israel
Get notifications to stay updated
You're subscribed