An engineering conglomerate belonging to the Revolutionary Guards, Iran's elite military force, should further expand its role in the economy sector, Oil Minister Rostam Qasemi said yesterday, days after leaving the company to join the government.
Qasemi, who has already said Iran has no need for the foreign companies that have pulled out due to sanctions, told the official Irna news agency that his former employer, Khatam Al Anbia, should be used to fill their place.
"This construction base (Khatam Al Anbia) should become the replacement for big foreign companies," he said.
Khatam Al Anbia already stepped into projects formerly under the control of foreign companies notably replacing the likes of Royal Dutch Shell and Total SA after they pulled out of the giant South Pars gas field in the Gulf under sanctions pressure.
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Through Khatam Al Anbia and other affiliates, the Guards have become increasingly involved in the civilian economy, well beyond the infrastructure reconstruction it was initially involved in after the war with Iraq in the 1980s.
The Guards, Khatam Al Anbia and Qasemi himself are all under various sanctions imposed by countries, including the United States and the European Union, that accuse them of involvement in helping Iran develop nuclear technology that could be use for weapons, something Tehran denies it is seeking.
Qasemi's approval by an overwhelming majority in parliament last week was seen as a defiant sign to the West and demonstrated the increasing political and economic influence of the military body.
Not everyone welcomed his candidacy, with one conservative lawmaker saying it looked like a ominous expansion of the military's power in the Islamic state.
"Unlike in neighbouring countries where the military is withdrawing from the political arena, a reverse trend has started in our country which does not seem to be an auspicious sign," conservative lawmaker Ali Motahari told parliament before Qasemi's confidence vote on Wednesday.
But the Guards' commander-in-chief, Mohammad Ali Jafari, the man in charge of defending the Islamic Republic from military threats, said on Sunday that his forces had every right to get even more involved in the economy.