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Iran’s Oil Minister Bijan Namdar Zanganeh will retire when President Hassan Rouhani’s term ends this year, ending a career that began with the birth of the Islamic Republic in 1979 and has been defined by the country’s turbulent relationship with the United States.
OPEC’s longest-serving oil minister indicated he would not accept any proposal from Rouhani’s successor – to be chosen during next month’s election – to continue in his post.
According to state-run Shana news agency, the 68-year-old engineer told reporters in Tehran: “If they offer me the presidency, I won’t accept it, let alone the ministry. I won’t take another official post.”
Rouhani plans to retired two months after the June 18 presidential vote, after having already served two terms. The elections come as the Islamic Republic and world powers hold talks in Vienna to revive the 2015 nuclear accord and ease U.S. sanctions, which have hit the economy hard. Meanwhile, the state-owned National Iranian Oil Co. has been preparing crude fields and client relationships to be able t increase exports if a deal is made.
“It is the end of an era,” Helima Croft, chief commodities strategist at RBC Capital Markets, said, referring to Zanganeh's retirement and the death last year of Iran’s OPEC envoy, Hossein Kazempour Ardebili.
According to Croft, Zanganeh is a “highly skilled” diplomat and technocrat who’s well-respected among his OPEC colleagues.
His position at the oil ministry began in 2013 when Rouhani assumed power as the administration set out to re-engage with the West to end international sanctions imposed under the presidency of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Under Rouhani, Zanganeh guided the ambitious plan to attract foreign energy companies back to Iran, which has the world’s fourth-highest oil reserves. Businesspeople from across Europe and Asia traveled to Tehran for conferences hosted by the ministry. During OPEC meetings in Vienna, executives from Royal Dutch Shell Plc and Total SE lined up to discuss potential deals with Zanganeh.
Donald Trump’s election in 2016 put an end to those efforts, as Trump withdrew the U.S. from the landmark nuclear agreement in 2018 and essentially banned all purchases of Iranian crude. Foreign companies had to abandon projects, and Iran's oil production roughly halved from a height of almost 4 million barrels a day.
Zanganeh, in turn, developed Iran’s energy sector by transferring significant contracts and projects to private sector actors. On Monday, for example, the ministry announced a $1.8 billion deal for local company Petropars Ltd. to develop a gas field that an Indian conglomerate previously hoped to invest in.
Zanganeh also executed an exemption for Iran when the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries and its allies began supply cuts in 2016. He argued that because Iran was under sanctions, it shouldn’t have to cap production. The exemption still exists, meaning Iran can avoid new OPEC+ quotas agreed in 2020 as the pandemic complicated oil markets.