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The Latest from Iran (1 December): Politics, Oil, and Propaganda

See also Iran Analysis: How to Misread Ahmadinejad's Position
The Latest from Iran (30 November): An Economy in Confusion

1935 GMT: Health Watch. A Ministry of Health official has said that the Central Bank has agreed to the Ministry's request for an earmarked $2 billion for imports of medicine to cope with domestic shortages.

Amid international sanctions that have reportedly limited drugs and medical supplies, the Ministry has been criticised for mismanagement and failure to allocate funds to deal with the worsening situation.

1715 GMT: Oil Watch. India's private refiner Essar Oil increased imports of Iranian oil about 30% in October.

The refiner appears to have defied a Government verbal order with the increase. It had been told to cut purchases by 15%, based on its term deal to buy 100,000 barrels per day in the financial year ending March 31, 2013; however, it has purchased an average 108,900 bpd from April to October.

The Indian Government is trying to protect its waiver from US sanctions, based on an overall reduction of imports of Iranian oil this year --- the six-month waiver is up for renewal in December.

Essar's figure helped raise Indian oil imports 14% in October from September; however, they have fallen 12% overall since April.

1655 GMT: Ahmadinejad Watch. I made clear my scepticism this morning about any notion of a revival of President Ahmadinejad's political fortunes, as well as a successful Presidential candidacy by his aide Esfandiar RahimMashai in June 2013, but both men are proving stubborn --- Ahmadinejad has just appointed Rahim Mashai as the head of the secretariat of the Non-Aligned Movement, chaired by Iran for the next three years. Rahim Mashai will leave his current post of Chief of Staff to the President.

Ahmadinejad said it was "a gift of God and a great honour" to have had Rahim Mashai by his side.

1235 GMT: Political Prisoner Watch. The US has again demanded freedom for lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh, detained in September 2010 and sentenced to six years in prison. "We demand the Iranian government cease its intolerable mistreatment of Sotoudeh and immediately release her and the more than 30 other female political prisoners detained in Evin Prison," State Department spookeswoman Victoria Nuland said.

Sotoudeh is in the seventh week of a hunger strike protesting prison conditions.

1135 GMT: A Death in Detention. Saeed Shokrian, the head of Tehran's cyberpolice, has been dismissed as tension continues over last month's death in detention of blogger Sattar Beheshti.

Beheshti was seized from his home by the FATA cyberpolice on 30 October and died about four days later as he was being interrogated. Iranian officials have given varying explanations, from extreme exhaustion to shock, but Beheshti's family believe he was killed.

Iran Police Chief Esmail Ahmadi Moghaddam said Shokrian was removed because of negligence, weakness, and insufficient control of his staff.

Alaeddin Boroujerdi, the head of Parliament's National Security Committee, modified his earlier denials of abuse to admit that Beheshti had been beaten. He called for a "serious review" of police actions and policy in light of the incident.

0925 GMT: Foreign Affairs Watch (Turkish Front). In a sign of growing regime hostility towards Turkey, particularly over the Syrian crisis, a leading MP has criticised Turkey for serving as “the infantry for the US politico-military objectives” in the Middle East.

Mansour Haqiqatpour, the deputy chairman of Parliament's National Security Committee, said, “Instead of accusing Iran of having ties with the [Kurdish insurgency] PKK, Turkey should reconsider its wrong policies of interference in the internal affairs of the neighboring countries."

Haqiqatpour said reported remarks of Turkish Minister of Interior Idris Naim Sahin that alleged Tehran's support of the PKK, were “psychological projection,” and added, “The measures currently taken by the Turkish government in the neighboring countries, including in Syria and Iraq, are by no means acceptable and they are the result of the wrong policy adopted by the Turkish government.”

0849 GMT: Sanctions Watch. The White House has announced its opposition to new sanctions approved by the Senate on Friday.

The legislation, passed 94-0, blacklists Iran's energy, port, shipping, and shipbuilding sectors, placing new restrictions on the ability to get insurance for these industries. US support for human rights inside Iran would be expanded, while sanctions would be imposed on Iranians who divert humanitarian assistance from its intended purpose.

The White House told several Senate offices Thursday evening of its opposition. Spokesman Tommy Vietor explained:

As we focus with our partners on effectively implementing these efforts, we believe additional authorities now threaten to undercut these efforts. We also have concerns with some of the formulations as currently drafted in the text and want to work through them with our congressional partners to make the law more effective and consistent with the current sanctions law to ensure we don't undercut our success to date.

One of the White House's chief concerns is that Congress is not giving the US the option of negating or postponing applications of the sanctions on a case-by-case basis. The Administration has also expressed concern at the ability to implement new sanctions that broadly punish companies that supply materials, such as certain metals, that might be used in Iran's nuclear, military, or ballistic missile programs, and it is worried about the burden of reporting to Congress on the thousands of boats that dock at Iranian ports and the dozens of Iranian planes landing at airports around the world.

0749 GMT: The Nuclear Discussions. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has declared that Washington is open to direct talks about Iran's nuclear program if Tehran is "ever ready": "We are working on the P5+1 [the 5+1 Powers of US, UK, France, Russia, Germany, and China] and making our willingness known [to Iran] that we are ready to have a bilateral discussion if they are every ready to engage."

The Secretary of State continued with a warning that the 5+1 was trying to put a proposal to Iran "that does make it clear we are running out of time. We have got to get serious; here are issues we are willing to discuss with you but we expect reciprocity."

Clinton did not mention that the US was in private contact with Iranian officials this autumn, nor did she note --- contrary to her implication that Tehran has not been "ready" --- that the Islamic Republic has continued to press for a resumption of high-level discussions.

0745 GMT: Nuclear Watch. A source in the Russian nuclear industry has given the reason for the shutdown of Iran's first nuclear reactor, the troubled plant at Bushehr, last month --- stray bolts were found beneath the fuel cells.

When fuel was removed from Bushehr, delayed for years in opening and still not at full capacity despite repeated promises by Tehran, Iranian officials insisted that nothing unexpected had happened and this was part of a normal procedure.

It was the second time in less than two years fuel has been unloaded from the reactor.

0725 GMT: We begin this morning with an analysis, "How to Misread Ahmadinejad's Position", which considers how the Washington Post's correspondent in Tehran has been taken in by the illusion that President Ahmadinejad might hold some influence before his departure from office in June.

The propaganda is not just on the Presidential front this morning, however. Press TV is hoping to put across the story that All Is Well, despite sanctions, with oil exports

Major Asian buyers of Iranian crude oil are looking for ways to continue oil imports from the Islamic Republic without reprisal from US authorities.

Indian and South Korean officials said they are expecting their exemptions from US sanctions on Iran to be extended for another six months, Reuters reported Friday.

China - the top importer of the Iranian oil and the Islamic Republic's largest business partner --- is also looking for a further exemption to help its main state-run oil buyers import crude oil from Iran.

Somehow, Press TV forgets to put in a single figure about the state of foreign purchases of Iranian oil --- say, for example, the 40% fall in Chinese imports compared to 2011 or the effective suspension of South Korean purchases this summer --- so let's help them out. Bloomberg reports:

Japan’s crude imports from Iran slumped 63 percent in October to the second-lowest level since the U.S. exempted the Asian nation from sanctions targeting the Middle East country’s nuclear program.

Oil purchases fell to 469,024 kiloliters, or about 95,000 barrels a day, compared with 1.28 million kiloliters in October 2011, according to data today from the Ministry of Finance. Imports fell 48 percent from September. Japan’s total crude purchases shrank 25 percent from a year ago to 12.7 million kiloliters, the finance ministry said Nov. 21.

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