TEHRAN (Reuters) - Iran's constitutional watchdog has said President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's decision to appoint himself caretaker oil minister is illegal, the semi-official Fars news agency reported on Friday.
Ahmadinejad, who has been embroiled in a power struggle with other members of the conservative ruling elite in recent months, was reported on Monday to have taken control of the Oil Ministry as he seeks to merge it with the Energy Ministry as part of a government slim-down.
The move put him in direct control of the ministry which is responsible for the exploitation and export of Iran's huge oil and gas fields and meant he will attend the next OPEC meeting set for June 8 in Vienna.
Iran is the world's fifth largest oil producer.
By law the president has three months after removing a minister, in this case Oil Minister Massoud Mirkazemi, to introduce a new candidate to parliament. During that period he can act as caretaker himself or appoint someone to the post.
But according to Fars, the Guardian Council, which supervises legislation and can block laws it deems unconstitutional or not Islamic, found Ahmadinejad's move illegal.
"The Guardian Council said that it was illegal for President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to be caretaker of the Oil Ministry," Fars said without giving details on why the body came to that conclusion or what effect any such ruling would have on the government.
In the past weeks a dispute between parliament and government over merging the ministries without lawmakers' approval has intensified.
Some Iranian media have reported that in a meeting last week Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei resolved the dispute between Ahmadinejad and Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani, an outspoken critic of the president's economic policies.
But some lawmakers still oppose the procedure of the merging.
Khamenei has discretion over the key ministries dealing with oil, foreign affairs, intelligence and the interior and last month he overturned Ahmadinejad's decision to sack Intelligence Minister Heydar Moslehi.