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Wednesday
Nov212012

The Latest from Iran (21 November): The Economy? "All Is Well"

See also The Latest from Iran (20 November): A Supreme Leader Shift on Syria?


1950 GMT: Nuclear Watch. Following a meeting of the 5+1 Powers (US, Britain, France, Germany, China, and Russia) in Brussels, a spokesman has said that the group wants a new round of negotiations with Tehran as soon as possible: "The idea of course is that we want Iran to really engage in the proposals we have made and guarantee and persuade the international community that the Iranian nuclear programme is purely for peaceful means."

The spokesman said "necessary contact" would be made "in the coming days” with the Islamic Republic.

1605 GMT: All the President's Men. President Ahmadinejad's right-hand man, Esfandiar Rahim-Mashai, facing reports that he is manoeuvring to become a candidate in the 2013 Presidential elections, has responded, "I will not talk about myself and I will not talk about others."

Iranian newspapers claimed earlier this month that Rahim-Mashai had told a meeting in Tehran that "no one can stop me" from standing for the Presidency.

Ahmadinejad's Chief of Staff has been a focus of controversy for years, with prominent political and religious critics.

1505 GMT: Gaza Watch. More posturing from the highest levels....

The Supreme Leader, as well as demanding an end to the interrogation of the President (see 1422 GMT), found time to declare in a speech today:

The Islamic countries and in particular the Arab governments should, in a united move, help the oppressed people of Gaza and try to end the blockade on this region....

The astonishing brutality of the leaders of the occupying regime [of Israel] in attacking Gaza showed that these elements are complete savages and have no decency....

The US, Britain and France did not even frown at the stone-hearted and merciless Zionist regime [of Israel] and by supporting, encouraging and strengthening these criminals showed how far the brutal and hated enemies of the Muslim Ummah are from humanity and morality.

Mohammad Ali Jafari, the head of the Revolutionary Guards, has hinted that Iran's support for Hamas has gone beyond rhetoric, with supply of technology for rockets to be produced "quickly".

Iranian officials have refused to confirm that they have supplied the Gazan organisation with Fajr-5 rockets, which have the range to be fired at Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

And Speaker of Parliament Ali Larijani has kept up his tough talk, “There are different remarks about [the reason for the Israeli attack] but there is a common viewpoint, i.e. the regime entered this hell by making a miscalculation."

1422 GMT: Ahmadinejad Watch. A notable victory for Mahmoud Ahmadinejad today, as Parliament has responded to the Supreme Leader's public declaration by calling off the proposed interrogation of the President.

"Up to this point, the plan to question the president has been positive because of the sense of responsibility of parliament and the readiness of government officials," Ayatollah Khamenei said. "But if this issue goes any further, it will be what the enemies want and so I ask the honorable representatives not to continue with it."

A spokesman for the group of 77 MPs who had petitioned for the interrogation confirmed that the summons had been withdrawn.

1420 GMT: The House Arrests. The family of Mehdi Karroubi have confirmed that he was hospitalised briefly this week but is now back under strict house arrest (see 1154 GMT).

Golnaz Esfandiari of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty adds context for concerns over the health of both Karroubi and Mir Hossein Mousavi, the 2009 Presidential candidate who has also been held under house arrest for 21 months.

1208 GMT: Gaza Watch. Speaking to Basij militia, the Deputy Head of Armed Forces, General Masoud Jazayeri, has derided Israel's vaunted anti-missile system: "No Iron Dome can withstand the missiles of the resistance movement."

1203 GMT: Foreign Affairs (Syrian Front). Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi has made another bid for Iranian relevance in the Syrian crisis, claiming Tehran with discuss the issue with Egypt and Turkey on the sidelines of the 8th Summit of the Developing Eight (D8) group in Pakistan.

Salehi made the remarks on arrival at Benazir Bhutto International Airport on Tuesday night.

Iran, which has struggled for a place in international discussions as it continues to back the Assad regime, staged a meeting in Tehran --- to little effect --- claiming to bring together almost 200 Syrians from the regime and the opposition.

1159 GMT: Ahmadinejad Watch. BBC Persian assesses that the Supreme Leader has used a speech today to call for a halt to the proposed interrogation of President Ahmadinejad in Parliament.

Critical MPs have presssed for months for questioning of Ahmadinejad, especially over the economy and currency issues. Earlier this month, 77 legislators submitted the motion to Parliament for the interrogation. A decision is expected by early December.

1154 GMT: The House Arrests. Kalemeh claims that opposition leader Mehdi Karroubi, under strict house arrest since February 2011, was taken to a hospital attached to the security services on Monday for “serious tests".

The site says Karroubi’s health has deteriorated, as he suffers from loss of weight, lack of appetite, nausea, and dizziness.

0841 GMT: Espionage Watch. The Ministry of Intelligence has put out a report supposedly documenting the role of US intelligence services in the Iranian opposition. It alleges that the CIA has funded conferences in European cities such as London, Paris, and Stockholm), as well as the "Transition to Democracy" seminar at the Hampton Hotel in Washington.

A quick search reveals no "Transition to Democracy" session --- the Ministry appears to be referring to a January 2011 conference at George Washington University's Institute of World Politics, "Iran Democratic Transition". Speakers included four US congressmen; three Iranian diplomats who resigned amid the regime crackdown after the 2009 Presidential election, prominent dissident Amir Fakhravar, journalists Kambiz Hosseini and Alireza Nourizadeh; Mehdi Saharkhiz, activist and son of imprisoned journalist Medi Saharkhiz; and former political prisoner and journalist Roozbeh Mir-Ebrahimi.

The Ministry assures, "With the existence of manifest differences it seems that a unity, even apparent, will never materialize between the opposition and in truth this miserable dream of the enemy’s intelligence services will not be realised.”

0840 GMT: Rafsanjani Watch. Effat Marashi, the wife of former President Hashemi Rafsanjani, has answered the attacks of the hard-line newspaper Kayhan against her family. She said that, if her husband any influence on the judiciary, her daughter Faezeh and son Mehdi --- the former imprisoned for six months, the latter detained and facing a lengthy terms on charges of financial and electoral fraud --- would not be behind bars.

0810 GMT: Iranian media have devoted much of their attention in the past week to foreign affairs, notably the Gaza War, perhaps getting breathing space from the economic and political tensions of recent months.

On Tuesday, Donya-ye Eqtesad found a reason to return to economic matters with the good-news report of the Central Bank: "Economic growth: 3.4%...Oil production: 3.6 million barrels per day...Oil exports: 2.1 million barrels per day marking a 9% increase in oil exports."

Not all the news was positive, such as "63% decrease in utilization of the industrial sector" and "decreased public sector debt to the Central Bank, but increased debt in the public sector companies' debt to the Central Bank". And some of the claims were closer to fantasy than fact: the International Energy Agency puts Iran's oil exports at 1.3 million bpd --- a 40% fall from last year --- rather than the 2.1 million bpd asserted by the Bank, with oil production at only 2.7 million bpd.

Donya-ye Eqtesad persists, however, declaring a strengthening of the Rial against the US dollar after in the open market, stemming from "optimism of the dealers concerning the international [nuclear] negotiations".

Mehr also claims the Rial has rebounded to a level of 27000:1 vs. the US dollar, after its 70% collapse in value this year to close to 40000:1.

The problem with the rosy claims? If the Rial has recovered, it is hard to explain why its value is still not being posted --- after suspension almost two months ago --- on any currency websites, such as Mesghal and Mazanex.

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