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Rouhani Likely To Reshuffle His Cabinet’s Economic Team

Iranian president Hassan Rouhani (C) with his cabinet members in a meeting with Iran's senior officials, on April 21, 2018.

A reshuffling of President Hassan Rouhani’s cabinet is now more likely than ever as his aides have joined his critics in calling for a change in his economic team, reported the pro-Rouhani daily newspaper Iran on Thursday July 19.

The front-page article openly putting forward the idea of a cabinet reshuffle came one day after Rouhani’s chief of staff Mahmoud Vaezi, widely believed to be the most influential man around him, said on the Iranian state TV that Rouhani was considering a few new names for his economic team.

Hassan Rouhani’s ministers of economy, trade and mining as well as his labor and road ministers came under growing criticism during the past year, particularly after widespread unrest in December 2017 and January 2018.

Criticism of the Rouhani administration’s economic team reached an unprecedented level during the past four months as the national currency went into a freefall while the United States withdrew from the nuclear deal, triggering the re-imposition of heavy sanctions.

Rouhani’s aides responding to critics reminded that calls for reshuffling the cabinet in a similar situation under pragmatist former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani in mid-1990s led to hardliners taking over the ministries of trade, culture, economy and finance in mid-1990s.

Rouhani, resisted the calls from within and outside the government for a change in his economic team.

Now, as the second anniversary of his administration is approaching by late July and early August, Rouhani seems to have given in to pressures and the economic realities in the market.

In his interview with the state TV Vaezi suggested that several officials are going to leave the administration to be replaced by new faces. Other presidential aides such as Vice-President Mohammad Nahavandian told reporters in Tehran that they were not aware of the changes.

Vaezi told the state TV about a possible change in the cabinet after he was asked about the outcome of the cabinet’s recent meeting with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

He quoted Khamenei as saying that he was certain the administration can bravely leave “this stage” behind, an allusion to major economic crises in Iran that has affected the markets, importers, the banking system and generally living conditions for the people.

Asked what is the administration’s plan to meet Khamenei’s demands, Vaezi did not elaborate on his “demands,” but said that “When we made sure that the U.S. is leaving the nuclear deal, Rouhani ordered the administration to prepare scenarios for various situations that might arise.”

Vaezi said, “WE came up with three scenarios to cope with the problems,” although he did not elaborate on details.

Asked about the disputes between the two centrist parties close to Rouhani over sharing power and positions with the administration, Vaezi declined to answer, but said “those who put forward these questions, do not know Rouhani,” suggesting that Rouhani would not listen to the parties that supported him in his bid for the presidency in 2013 and 2017.

He also criticized Rouhani’s critics and political rivals for continuing the campaign they had started during the 2017 presidential elections. “They should accept the result of that election,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Iran newspaper quoted Nahavandian as saying on the cabinet’s meeting with Khamenei, “The Supreme Leader wanted the administration to take the lead in solving the country’s economic problems and called on all other institutions to cooperate with the administration.”

This could mean that Khamenei possibly told the IRGC and the institutions under the aegis of his own office, who control a major part of Iran’s economy not to obstruct Rouhani’s attempts to confront the crisis that has paralyzed Iran’s economy.