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The Latest from Iran (8 December): Tehran to Hit New Low in Oil Exports?

See also Iran Snap Analysis: A Regime Still Worried About the Green Movement? (Yes.)
The Latest from Iran (7 December): Maintaining the Oil Squeeze

1740 GMT: Nuclear Watch. The "hard-line" paper Kayhan, using a historical reference, has warned that leading political figures are seeking to force the Supreme Leader to "drink from the "poison chalice" and hold direct talks with the US over the nuclear issue.

The expression refers to Ayatollah Khomeini's statement when he reluctantly agreed to the punishing conditions of a cease-fire in the Iran-Iraq War in 1988.

The regime pursued "back-channel" discussions with the US in the autumn, but these appear to have come to a halt in October. Since then, Tehran has grown frustrated with an apparent failure of Washington and its allies to talk about an Iranian proposal trading enrichment of 20% uranium for sanctions, and this week Speaker of Parliament Ali Larijani indicated the Islamic Republic is backing away from the idea of direct talks.

1530 GMT: Foreign Affairs Watch (Syrian Front). Press TV reports that one of the 48 Iranian abducted by the Syrian insurgents in August has been freed.

The site does not give a reason for the release or indicate if it might lead to the freeing of others.

Tehran says the men were pilgrims; the insurgents claimed they had ties to the Iranian military and their assistance to the Assad regime.

1315 GMT: Rafsanjani Watch. An interesting twist in the case of Mehdi Hashemi, the son of former President Hashemi Rafsanjani, who has been detained since he returned in September from a three-year exile in Britain....

Audio of a conversation in October 2010 between Hashemi and the dissident cartoonist Nikahang Kowsar has emerged on the Internet. While we are unclear who released the audio and why, a valued EA source assures us that this is Hashemi's voice as he criticises the Supreme Leader.

1146 GMT: Ahmadinejad Watch. President Ahmadinejad has attended his first Expediency Council meeting in three years.

Ahmadinejad stopped attending meetings of the Council, which rules on disputes among the three branches of Government, soon after the disputed 2009 Presidential election. His absence initially fuelled talk about his political battle with former President Hashemi Rafsanjani, the head of the Council; however, his continued boycott added to speculation last year about a rift with the Supreme Leader.

1132 GMT: On the Seas. Iranian State media are boosting the second visit by Tehran's warships to Sudan in two months, with a destroyer and logistical vessel docking at Port Sudan:

After arrival, the Iranian fleet’s commanders met with Sudanese officials and the top commanders of Sudan’s Navy.

During the meeting, Sudanese top navy commander Abddulla al-Matri expressed happiness over the arrival of the Iranian fleet and called for the further expansion of the military ties between Iran and Sudan.

International media are already putting out a different message, as in Reuters' account: "A second visit by Iranian warships to Sudan in little over a month risks widening divisions inside the African country's government and upsetting its Gulf Arab donors."

0732 GMT: Apocalypse Watch. Here is one issue that can be removed as a reason for US sanctions....

An internal report for Congress has concluded that Iran probably is no longer on track, if it ever was, to an intercontinental ballistic missile by 2015.

The study knocks back a previous assertion by US intelligence agencies that Iran might test-fly an ICBM if it receives "sufficient foreign assistance". The Congressional Research Service concluded, "It is increasingly uncertain whether Iran will be able to achieve an ICBM capability by 2015."

0725 GMT: Energy Watch. Despite the continuing squeeze on Iran's oil exports (see 0650 GMT), the US Government Accountability Office has reported that at least seven companies from China, India, South Korea, and South Africa continued to invest in Iran's oil and gas sectors this year.

Despite Chinese withdrawal from some major Iranian projects, Sinopec maintained a 51% stake in the Yadavaran oil field, and China National Petroleum retained an interest in a plan to develop the Azadegan field.

South Korea's Daelim Industrial Co is helping develop the South Pars gas fields, among the largest in the world, and is also involved in a liquefied natural gas project at Tombak.

Some of the other named companies indicated they may soon leave Iran. Three Indian firm with stakes in the Farsi Block gas field --- Indian Oil Corp Ltd, ONGC Videsh Ltd and Oil India Ltd --- told the GAO that their exploration service contracts had expired and they had no plans to pursue further work on the project. South Africa's Sasol has been active in a joint venture but recently stated it is trying to divest.

The recent involvement of another eight companies from China, Malaysia, India, Croatia, and Venezuela was difficult to confirm.

0705 GMT: The Battle Within. Javan Online, linked to the Revolutonary Guards, warns that President Ahmadinejad’s right-hand man, Esfandiar Rahim Mashai, has begun his campaign in the 2013 Presidential election.

Javan points to several Facebook pages, including “The Campaign to invite Engineer Mashai for the Presidential Election”: “Sounds indicate that the electoral team of Mashai have the aim of entering the propaganda arena of the 2013Presidential election by concentrating on social networks, and for realising this goal they have begun their programme with online social networks like Facebook.”

Mohammad Nabi Habibi, the head of the conservative Motalefeh Party, also pointed to a Rahim Mashai candidacy, “That Mr. Ahmadinejad wants to see [in the presidency] an individual who thinks along similar lines to himself at the end of his tenure, is a correct interpretation, and it must be said that such an approach is natural from any president who doesn’t have permission to run for election again.”

0650 GMT: For the second day in a row, we begin with an evaluation of Iran's problems with oil exports. 

An industry source said Friday that the state of contracts and shipping indicated Tehran would sell 824,000 barrels per day in December. The figure dashes the prospect of recovery after Iran's exports bounced back 30% in October to reach 1.3 million barrels per day. Indeed, the anticipated December level would be a new low, breaking the floor of 860,000 bpd in the summer. 

Last year, Iran's exports were 2.2 million bpd.

The US gave a notable sign that it is happy with the squeeze on the Islamic Republic, as it renewed sanctions waivers for nine countries still taking Iranian oil. Washington decided that China --- Tehran's leading customer --- Turkey, South Korea, Singapore, Malaysia, South Africa, Taiwan, and Sri Lanka had all reduced purchases enough to earn another six-month exemption from financial penalties.

Even India ----whose oil imports in October were slightly higher than a year ago, was granted an extension on the ground that its overall purchases in 2012 have fallen, especally between April and September.


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