TEHRAN -- President Ebrahim Raisi on Friday paid an unannounced visit to Iran’s key province of Khuzestan as his new administration is getting down to brass tacks to improve people’s livelihoods.
Marking his first provincial trip two days after the formation of his cabinet, the president arrived in Ahvaz Friday morning, accompanied by a number of his cabinet members, including the ministers of energy, interior, agriculture and health as well as the head of the Budget and Planning Organization.
Upon his arrival at General Qassem Soleimani airport, Raisi said the nation is indebted to the “good people” of Khuzestan, who defended the country wholeheartedly during the eight-year war waged by former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.
“The problems in this province sadden everyone,” he said, vowing to launch a concerted campaign to tackle the problems.
“People should know that in the administration, we will put solving the problems of the country in general and solving the problems of Khuzestan in particular on our agenda, and it seems that with the participation of the people, many knots will be untied,” he added.
Khuzestan was rocked by protests last month over water shortages. The demonstrations, however, were hijacked by enemy forces, resulting in some instances of violence.
In the midst of the protests, Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei sympathized with the Khuzestan protesters, saying the water problem was “not a trivial issue.”
“Well, now that the people have voiced their grievances, they cannot be blamed,” the Leader said.
On Thursday, President Raisi vowed to improve the country’s sanction-hit economy and its COVID-19 response, saying that the current situation “does not befit” the Islamic Republic.
He delivered the remarks while chairing the first meeting of his cabinet, which was approved by parliament on Wednesday.
“The country’s situation today does not befit the great nation of Iran and it must certainly change,” Raisi said in a speech broadcast live on television.
Iran is “seriously lagging behind” in certain areas, he said, adding that his government’s priorities would be to curb a surge in coronavirus infections as well as to control inflation and “improve people’s livelihoods.”
Raisi vowed to increase vaccine imports and boost local production, saying efforts so far have been “necessary but not enough.”
Iran’s parliament on Wednesday approved almost all cabinet choices, enabling President Raisi to start working in earnest with his government, following a June election victory.
Lawmakers approved one-by-one 18 out of 19 candidates put forward by the president for the ministerial posts.
They rejected only his pick for the education portfolio, thus requiring the president to make another choice for that post.
Raisi had appealed to lawmakers to vote quickly to approve his nominees so the government can get to work dealing with the pandemic and economic situation in the country suffering from years of sanctions by the United States.
The new president was sworn in by parliament in early August, but the outgoing administration remained at the helm until Wednesday’s parliamentary vote.
Raisi announced last Saturday that his government’s first priority will be the battle against coronavirus, closely followed by the economy.
In the aftermath of his election victory, Raisi declared on June 20 that he will not permit negotiations just for “negotiation’s sake”. But he also said: “Any negotiations that guarantee national interests will certainly be supported”.
Along with the prospective ministers, Iranian cabinets are composed of several vice presidents, who do not require parliamentary approval.
So far Raisi has named four vice presidents.
Among them is Major General Mohsen Rezai, a former Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) chief and among the losers in the presidential poll, named vice president in charge of economic affairs.
New Foreign Minister Hussein Amirabdollahian, who received 270 votes from lawmakers, said his ministry “would not run away from the negotiating table” and will do its best to remove all sanctions against the country.
Amirabollahian, 56, has served in a range of administrations over the decades. He was deputy foreign minister for Arab and African Affairs under former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Parliament also approved the nomination of Javad Owji, an ex-deputy oil minister and managing director of the state-run gas company, as oil minister.