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Thursday
Dec062012

The Latest from Iran (6 December): "We're Still Winning"

See also Iran Feature: The Week in Civil Society --- Criticising the Supreme Leader and Much More
The Latest from Iran (5 December): The Victory of Nasrin Sotoudeh's Hunger Strike


1945 GMT: Mis-Analysis of the Day. Richard Javad Heydarian, writing for LobeLog, echoes the regime line that Tehran, defiantly withstanding sanctions, is in a stronger position to negotiate with Washington:

It is Iran’s relative resilience --- and ability to avoid a total collapse --- that may explain its willingness to explore direct talks with Washington. Tehran feels that it has enough wiggle room to avoid total unilateral concessions and negotiate a more mutually-favorable, face-saving outcome ---perhaps, before it’s tool [sic] late.

Leave aside the indications that the Islamic Republic is now stepping away from bilateral discussions with the US (see 1205 GMT). Heydarian's economic case for resilience is a case study in missing and mis-reading evidence.

"Iran’s oil exports have rebounded sharply [in October] --- by around 30 percent --- after seven months of steady decline, thanks to new contracts with giant Asian customers, China and South Korea."

Heydarian fails to document that "steady decline", so he does not let the reader know that --- after that supposed "sharp" increase --- Tehran's oil exports are down more than 40% of 2011. And even that October rise is likely a short-term blip: it is not due to "new contracts", as Heydarian claims, but arrangements by China and South Korea to fulfil some existing contracts while avoiding a steep increase to jeopardise a waiver from US sanctions.

"The rial has indeed experienced some recovery in recent weeks, appreciating from the record-low of 37,000 rials against 1 dollar in early October to around 27,000 rials against 1 dollar today."

Heydarian is basing this claim solely on the unsupported assertions in some Iranian semi-official media. After more than two months, posted rates for foreign exchange are still suspended, with open-market trade in dollars restricted.

"The Iranian government has circumvented transatlantic sanctions by an ingenious mixture of manifold countermeasures."

Heydarian's claim of "sovereign insurance deals" with Asian customers is fanciful --- those insurance arrangements are limited, compared to levels of coverage before the European Union imposed sanctions in July. While there is some oil smuggling, Heydarian has no evidence to back up a claim that this is a significant redemption of the official fall in exports --- a colleague of ours in the oil industry puts the level at 100,000 to 150,000 barrels per day, compared to an overall official figure of 2.2 million barrels per day in 2011.

"The government has instituted some draconian measures to stave-off the impact of sanctions. It has further slashed imports, postponed its subsidy cuts, reduced money supply, raised interest rates, and jailed so-called ‘currency manipulators’. It has also encouraged domestic manufacturing."

This recitation of the official regime line flees from the day-to-day evidence of ineffective and counter-productive measures which have fueled inflation and unemployment, cut domestic production, raised --- not slashed --- imports in key sectors, and contributed to the currency crisis.

"It’s important to note that the Iranian government has considerable foreign exchange reserves, estimated at between $80-100 billion,"

Try $40 billion (see 1925 GMT).

1925 GMT: Economy Watch. An interesting admission from Deputy Speaker of Parliament Mohammad Hassan Abu-Torabifard has said the Islamic Republic has a $40 billion foreign currency reserve.

Why is that an admission? The CIA estimated Iran's foreign exchanges reserves, as of December 2011, at almost $80 billion. So if Abu-Torabifard spoke accurately, the Islamic Republic has spent half of its foreign currency to prop up the economy in the last year.

1205 GMT: Nuclear Watch. Is this the signal that Iran is closing off the bilateral "back channel" with the US on the nuclear issue, at least for the near future?

Speaker of Parliament Ali Larijani has said that US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's public reference last weekend to possible discussions is merely a “political gesture": “If US officials have a wise proposal and approach, they can discuss them in the P5+1 (Russia, China, France, Britain, the US and Germany) meeting.”

Bilateral contacts, including some at a high level, were established this autumn between Tehran and Washington, but it appears that talks came to a halt in early October. Iranian officials have shown increasing frustration that their staged plan for a suspension of enrichment of 20% uranium, linked to a removal of sanctions, has not been acknowledged by the US as a basis for negotiations.

1155 GMT: The Battle Within. For weeks, Speaker of Parliament Ali Larijani has maintained a high-profile on international issues, be it Iran's relations with the US, the Gaza War, or the crisis in Syria.

I have suspected that Larijani's concern might not only be abroad but also at home, possibly with eyes on the 2013 Presidential election. It appears I am not the only one with that thought....

The pro-Ahmadinejad newspaper Iran has criticised Larijani 48 trips abroad in the last five years as a “parallel foreign policy” with a view to the upcoming race for the Presidency.

0855 GMT: The House Arrests. The son of detained opposition leader Mehdi Karroubi says the politician, reportedly in declining health, has spent time in hospital.

Karroubi, a candidate in the disputed 2009 Presidential election, has been under strict house arrest since February 2011.

0625 GMT: Last week it was the Supreme Leader putting out the "we're winning" message; this week, it is President Ahmadinejad and Speaker of Parliament Ali Larijani who are leading the campaign. On Wednesday, Larijani told the Majlis, “In the international arena, the United States has experienced ups and downs so that it took utmost power at the fall of the Soviet Union, but the enlightenment of the Iranian nation faced this arrogant power with defeat in Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon, [and] Palestine and now it is suffering a decline of power."

So who was replacing the US? Larijani held up a "diamond triangle" of Iran, Lebanon’s Hezbollah, and the Palestinian resistance, with their "brilliant capabilities" that had defeated Israel in last week's conflict in Gaza.

However, in any propaganda campaign, there are complications. For example, consider Fars' proclamation of success for an Iranian ally, "Syrian Army Seizes Control over Rebels' Bastion City":

The Syrian army could regain control over a major part of the rebels' main bastion, Homs, and establish security in three-fourth of the city after a fierce battle with terrorist groups.

Which sounds fine, until you realise that Fars is effectively saying that President Assad's military had lost Homs to the insurgency a claim that not even the Free Syrian Army makes.

Then there are the omissions. For example, Press TV's "Iran" section --- promoting Larijani's statement and "US Drone Capture Shows Iran's Capability" --- somehow misses the news that an earthquake hit South Khorasan Province in eastern Iran, killing at least five people, injuring at least 20, and displacing many from their homes.

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  • Response
    Included in this are Paris Hilton, Nicole Kidman, All the Duchess of Windsor, as well as Madonna..

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