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Thursday
Oct132011

The Latest from Iran (13 October): Bank Fraud, Supreme Leader, Assassination Plot

See also Iran Terror Special: What We Know, What We Don't Know
Iran Opinion: The Plot --- What the US Got Wrong
The Latest from Iran (12 October): A Plot to Kill the Saudi Ambassador?



2112 GMT: The AP has posted the video of US President Barack Obama answering a question about whether he though that the Supreme Leader knew of the plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador, and whether he believed this was an act of war. James Miller notes that Obama stops far short of that accusation, instead saying that the Iranian government needs to be responsible for the actions of its members. The video starts mid-answer, but the most important details are there:

1715 GMT: The Plot. President Obama has told reporters that the alleged plot to kill the Saudi Ambassador to the US is "not just a dangerous escalation, this is part of a pattern of dangerous and reckless behavior by the Iranian government". He said it was a sign of how Iran has "been outside of accepted norms of international behavior for far too long" and asserted the US will work with international partners and take steps to ensure that Iran "pays a price".

Obama continued, "This plot was not simply directed at the United States of America. This was a plot that was directed against the Saudi ambassador. And I think that what you're going to see is folks throughout the Middle East region questioning their ability to work effectively with Iran."

And the evidence? Obama said Attorney General Eric Holder "laid out a very specific set of facts": "What we know is that an individual of Iranian-American descent was involved in a plot to assassinate the ambassador to the United States from Saudi Arabia. And we also know that he had direct links, was paid by and directed by individuals in the Iranian government. Now those facts are there for all to see."

However, EA correspondent James Miller adds essential information:

When asked whether he thought the Supreme Leader had any knowledge of the terror plot, man, how he danced. But his bottom line was very clear. Some members of the Iranian government did have knowledge of the attack, and the entire government needs to be held accountable.

In other words, this was not necessarily an act of war, because maybe the Supreme Leader or President did not order the attack, but they have to be held accountable for this incredible act.

1215 GMT: The Detained Filmmakers. Fars reports that documentary filmmaker Hadi Afarideh has been freed on bail.

Afarideh is the third of six filmmakers, arrested last month on the pretext of working for BBC Persian, to be released.

1105 GMT: Oil Watch. Reuters carries the news, reported on EA earlier this month, that Iran's Central Bank will soon resume arrangements with its Indian counterpart so Delhi can pay for Iranian oil.

Tehran will open accounts with two Indian banks to receive part payment for New Delhi's oil imports and use that money to pay for Indian exports. Indian oil firms will pay 20% of their dues to Iran through rupee accounts in India's state-run IDBI Bank Ltd. and UCO Bank.

The Indian Central Bank suspended payment arrangements early this year because of the US-led sanctions regime.

An Indian official said the accounts would be used to pay for half of India's oil and non-oil imports from the Islamic Republic.

Iranian authorities claimed this summer that India owed $5 billion for oil. The Indian official said about 2.7 billion euros ($3.68 billion) of payments between September and December 2010 were held up after a German bank buckled under US pressure and stopped clearing payments to Iran.

1009 GMT: CyberWatch. Some employees of Iran's State news agency IRIB have been banned from using Yahoo Mail and Gmail and ordered to use the internal mail service.

1005 GMT: Traffic Safety. ISNA reports that dangerous drivers in Ahwaz in southern Iran will be punished with 74 lashes.

0925 GMT: The Plot. Silliest explanation of the day comes from David Ignatius of The Washington Post: "Here’s the answer offered by senior U.S. officials: The Iranians are stressed, at home and abroad, in ways that are leading them to engage in riskier behavior.

If senior US officials did say this, they are foolish in putting out a shallow psychological evaluation to tarnish Iran. And Ignatius in letting himself being used --- again --- as an unofficial press spokesman for this clumsy spin.

0920 GMT: Economy Watch. The strike of cloth merchants in the Tehran Bazaar is entering its 11th week after a mediation effort by a senior MP of the Motalefeh Party, linked to the Bazaar, failed last Saturday.

0915 GMT: The Plot. Another soundbite from former President Mohammad Khatami's comments yesterday: "I am gravely concerned about increasing accusations against Iran; hostilities will only hurt Iranian people."

0850 GMT: The Plot. Various developments and speculations....

Saudi State news agency SPA reports that Riyadh is considering "decisive measures and steps" over "the outrageous and heinous" plot to kills its ambassador in the US and said the kingdom would continue contacts and coordination with Washington.

An official source said, "The kingdom, for its part, is considering decisive measures and steps it would take in this regard to stop these criminal actions and to decisively confront any attempt to undermine the stability of the kingdom, threaten its security and spread sedition among its people." Saudi Arabia was calling on Arab and Islamic countries and the international community "to assume their responsibilities relating to these terrorist acts".

A nugget in an article by Barbara Slavin: "An Iranian source...said that the Quds Force [of the Revolutionary Guards] would investigate the Iranian alleged to have participated in the plot 'to find out if there is any personal interest' involved, suggesting an element of freelancing."

The prominent Iranian academic Sadegh Zibaklam comments, "There are those within the Guards with some degree of independence. But I cannot point any fingers in this bizarre plot that only hurts Iran."

Both The New York Times and The Washington Post post profiles of the accused Iranian-American at the centre of the alleged plot: "Mansour J. Arbabsiar, 56,...seems to have been more a stumbling opportunist than a calculating killer. Over the 30-odd years he lived in Texas, he left a string of failed businesses and angry creditors in his wake, and an embittered ex-wife who sought a protective order against him. He was perennially disheveled, friends and acquaintances said, and hopelessly disorganized."

Winning paragraph? "'His socks would not match,' said Tom Hosseini, a former college roommate and friend. 'He was always losing his keys and his cellphone. He was not capable of carrying out this plan.'"

0710 GMT: Press Watch. Meysam Nili, the head of the "hard-line" Raja News, has already been released on bail after his arrest on Wednesday.

Nili was detained on a complaint by Speaker of Parliament Ali Larijani.

0700 GMT: As the international media will likely be focusing on the drama of the alleged Iranian plot to assassinate the Saudi Ambassador to the US, we will begin with the less dramatic but just as notable....

Economist Fereydoun Khavand predicts a sacrificial lamb in the $2.6 billion bank fraud, with the head of the Central Bank, Mahmoud Bahmani, being forced out so Minister of Economy Shamseddin Hosseini can avoid impeachment

The Supreme Leader's speech on Wednesday in Kermanshah continues to resonate. Even The Guardian of London takes a break from The Plot to highlight Ayatollah Khamenei's "Occupy Wall Street Protests Will Topple US Capitalism". More interesting, however, is the Supreme Leader's whipping-up of the public to support the March 2012 Parliamentary elections --- an indication that the possibility of a reformist/opposition boycott is being taken seriously --- and his instruction that people should choose candidates who are not part of centres of power and money. He gave the assurance that the legal procedures and respect for people's votes would be observed.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, "The Plot" causes barely a ripple in Iranian newspapers as the Supreme Leader's image dominates, with some of the press also noting Bahmani's difficulties over the bank fraud.

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