TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iran's conservative-dominated parliament rejected three of the new president's 18 nominees for his Cabinet on Thursday but approved 15 others, including those heading ministries key to implementing his agenda to reduce the Islamic Republic's international isolation and improve its economy.
Separately, President Hasan Rouhani appointed his predecessor's foreign minister as new head of the country's nuclear agency, the state news agency reported.
Hard-liners in parliament had attacked Rouhani's Cabinet nominees for having Western educations and for being close to the opposition. But after four days of debate, they only rejected three — Mohammad Ali Najafi as education minister, Jafar Milimonfared as science, research and technology minister and Masoud Soltanifar as sports and youth minister.
Lawmakers accused both Najafi and Milimonfared of playing a role in the unrest that followed disputed 2009 elections. Soltanifar was accused of being inexperienced.
However parliament approved Rouhani's nominee Mohammad Javad Zarif for the post of foreign minister. According to his resume, he did postgraduate studies at San Francisco State University and obtained a doctorate in international law and policy at the University of Denver.
Lawmakers also approved the proposed oil minister, Bijan Namdar Zanganeh, 61, who previously held that portfolio from 1997 to 2005.
Hard-liners used the debates to launch their first major salvo against Rouhani's agenda since his election in a landslide victory in June, won with the backing of centrists and reformists.
Rouhani took the oath of office on Aug. 4 and sent his proposed Cabinet list to the parliament the same day.
Earlier on Thursday, the president in a speech asked lawmakers to vote for all his nominees as a "united and integrated system."
The new president has pledged to improve an economy ravaged by international sanctions through empowering technocrats and mending bridges with the rest of the world.
Iran faces Western sanctions over its nuclear program, which the U.S. and its allies say has military dimensions. Iran denies the charge, saying its nuclear activities are for peaceful purposes.
Rouhani's victory — he won an outright majority in the first round of the vote, leaving all his rivals far behind — gives him a strong mandate. But conservatives still dominate parliament.
Meanwhile, Ali Akbar Salehi will replace Fereidoun Abbasi as head of Iran's nuclear agency, IRNA reported.
Salehi was foreign minister under Rouhani's predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Prior to that, he was head of the nuclear agency for more than a year, and before that envoy to the International Atomic Energy Agency.
He is seen as a technocrat with good relations with all political factions in Iran.