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Aug 20, 10:23 AM EDT

Iran approves nearly all of Rouhani's Cabinet picks

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TEHRAN, Iran (AP) -- Iranian lawmakers on Sunday approved 16 Cabinet members nominated by recently re-elected President Hassan Rouhani, including the first defense minister unaffiliated with the elite, hard-line Revolutionary Guard in 25 years.

Parliament speaker Ali Larijani said 16 of 17 proposed ministers were approved, including Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who negotiated the landmark 2015 nuclear deal with world powers. Oil Minister Began Zanganeh was also approved.

The most votes went to Gen. Amir Hatami for Defense Minister, with 261 out of 288 who voted. He will be the first defense minister with no ties to the hard-line Revolutionary Guard in nearly 25 years.

However, Hatami told parliament that he is committed to advancing Iran's ballistic missile program, which has drawn Western sanctions.

In July, Iran launched a rocket capable of carrying a satellite, a move that provoked international condemnation, including from France, Britain and the U.S. All three countries were among the world powers that reached the nuclear deal with Iran.

Rouhani urged Hatami to improve ties between the Iranian army and the Guard while using modern technology for improving the country's arsenal.

The defense minister is tasked with producing weapons for both the army and the Guard. The Guard is in charge of testing and launching Iran's ballistic missiles.

The Guard, a paramilitary force that answers solely to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, regularly has tense encounters with the U.S. Navy in the Persian Gulf. It has deployed into Iraq as part of the fight against the Islamic State group and into Syria to support embattled President Bashar Assad. It also holds vast economic interests in Iran.

Rouhani told members of parliament that the foreign minister's primary goals should be to stand by the nuclear deal and attract foreign investment and technology. U.S. President Donald Trump has repeatedly criticized the deal but has yet to pull out of it.

In 2015, the United States, six other world powers and Iran finalized a pact that outlined what Tehran had to do to pull back its nuclear program from the brink of weapons-making capacity in return for the West ending many of the financial, trade and oil sanctions that had battered Iran's economy.

"No country has succeeded resorting to isolation," Zarif, the foreign minister, said. "We either want foreign investment or technology."

Rouhani said the country needs some $200 billion in foreign investment in its oil and gas sector, its main source of foreign revenue. The country's crude export income reached more than $21 billion in 2016, up from some $12 billion before the nuclear deal.

Alireza Avaee, who has been sanctioned by the European Union for human rights violations while serving as president of the Tehran judiciary from 2005 to 2014, was approved as justice minister. In 2016, Rouhani appointed him the president's special inspector.

Rouhani's nominee for energy minister, Habibolalh Bitaraf, was rejected. During a review, members of parliament criticized him for lacking a plan to fight the longstanding drought in the country, where many towns and cities suffer from water shortages.

Also approved was Mohammad Javad Azari Jahromi, 36, as minister of telecommunications. Jahromi received the least votes of any of the other approved ministers, after some lawmakers cited his lack of experience and his background in intelligence.

Rouhani on Sunday defended Jahromi, saying he will be able to protect the freedom of people who use the internet since he is familiar with security threats.

Iran's Cabinet has 18 ministerial posts, but Rouhani did not propose a candidate for ministry of science, which is in charge of higher education.

Under the law, the president can manage ministries which have no leader for up to three months.

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