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The Latest from Iran (30 November): An Economy in Confusion

1251 GMT: Foreign Affairs Watch (Syria). A bomb attack in Damascus has destroyed six vehicles,including an SNG truck, belonging to Press TV and al-Alam television networks in Damascus.

Press TV reports that the explosion, which occurred near its office in the Syrian capital, was caused by a man “caught on camera sticking something to a car” who escaped moments before the blast.

1235 GMT: All the President's Men. Essikhan Sadeghi-Boroujerdi reports another flutter over whether President Ahmadinejad's controversial right-hand man, Esfandiar Rahim Mashai, is looking to succeed his boss in June 2013 elections.

Earlier this month, an alleged meeting between Rahim Mashai with an audience in Tehran, in which the aide said he would not be deterred from Presidential candidacy, was reported in Iranian media --- apparently from a leak by Rahim Mashai's opponents, as the Ahmadinejad Chief of Staff denied the reports.

Now, a Rahim Mashai speech in Kermanshah is the basis for an article in the pro-Ahmadinejad newspaper, “8 Solutions of Engineer Mashai for Solving the Historical Paradox (Revolution-Regime)". Rahim Mashai claimed that Ahmadinejad's achievements in the course of his Presidency are equivalent to the “entirety of contemporary history"; in contrast, there was almost no mention of the Supreme Leader.

1115 GMT: Nuclear Watch. Iranian and Russian Deputy Foreign Ministers Mohammad Mehdi Akhundzadeh and Sergei Ryabkvov met yesterday to discuss the prospects of future negotiations with the P5+1 countries regarding Iran’s nuclear programme.<\p>

1019 GMT: Friday Prayer. Hojatoleslam Kazem Sedighi has used this week’s Friday Prayer as an opportunity to reiterate the regime line of Hamas “victory” in the Gaza War as Iran’s victory.<\p>

0935 GMT: Elections Watch. Haddad Adel, a former Speaker of Parliament, has added his voice to those who have criticised a proposed amendment to the Elections Law, arguing it is “not in the interests of the country.”

Adel, who is the head of the Principlist faction that supports the Supreme Leader, raised objections to Article 7 of the Amendment, which specifies the qualifications required for presidential candidates.

Roozonline notes that the proposed amendment, which the Majli has already postponed reviewing, has created controversy within political circles as “Those close to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad have denounced the bill as “dead on arrival” while his critics say that those who dislike the law take that position because the bill if passed would end their political plans for the elections.”

0755 GMT: Foreign Affairs (Palestine Front). President Ahmadinejad has tried to get into the act over the UN's recognition of Palestine as an Observer State, sending a message to the General Assembly: he urged member states to resolve the Palestinian issue through free elections with the participation of all Palestinians, including Muslims, Christians, and Jews".

Ahmadinejad declared, "The expansionist, warmongering and inhumane policies of the fake and occupying Zionist regime [of Israel] have led to the continuation of instability and unrest in the region."

Minister Defense Ahmad Vahidi prefers to focus on Gaza, declaring that the outcome of this month's war "shows the end of the Zionist regime is near".

0615 GMT: We begin with a profile from an Iran-based "Business Correspondent" for Tehran Bureau:

On Monday, November 26, the Iranian Customs Administration announced that it would not permit the release of cargo with imported goods financed through the currency free market as of November 20. That may look a like a typographical error; in fact, it was a retroactive edict with severe consequences for Iranian business owners if it were carried out.

Importers who paid for their goods with hard currency acquired outside the authorized banking system would not be permitted to clear customs -- even if the payments had been made up to six days before the rule was announced. Asadollah Asgaroladi, chair of the Iran-China Chamber of Commerce, called the decision "illegal" and predicted that it would cause significant damage.

The following day, Customs Administration chief Abbas Memarnejad told reporters that the clearing process would continue, but that merchants must announce the sources of their hard currency. In an apologetic tone, he said that the edict had been drafted by the Ministry of Commerce rather than by his own agency. As of publication time, the Ministry of Commerce has yet to issue a statement on the matter.

This episode is but the latest example of government meddling in the economy that has exacerbated uncertainty throughout the country's business community, already deeply unsettled by the international sanctions regimen and the collapse of the rial's open-market exchange value.

Another recent example of government intervention has had much greater impact: in an effort both to increase the domestic supply of essential goods and to prevent the reexport of imported items in ways that exploit state-subsidized currency exchanges, the Iranian government created a black list of commodities not to be exported. The list was drawn up too slowly to stop manipulators who had already reaped huge profits via reexportation. However, it has caused great hardship among domestic producers who were hoping to earn much needed hard currency through legitimate export activities.

Businessman like Ali Reza, who works in the information technology industry, find it impossible to make any sort of plans under these circumstances. "To me, it seems the government officials wake up every morning with a new idea and that idea affects my dealing right away," he says.

The Correspondent notes the significant admission by the Central Bank that Iranian oil exports are down by 40% this year --- with only a small offset from a 12% rise in other exports. --- a doubling of imports of natural gas and petroleum products. 

The article concludes with businessman Ali Reza's surrender, "It is too late. We will never come back from this."

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