1904 GMT: Oil Watch. I am sorry but --- amidst uncertainties over Iran's oil exports --- I have no clue what the Supreme Leader means in his statement today: “Based on the development plan, oil must stop being used as source of income and for funding the country’s budget and instead become a source for the progress and economic might of the country and authorities must pursue this policy ...with determination....It is necessary that we act in a manner that any decision making about our oil production and sales is up to us and based on our interests and of course we have taken good steps in this regard.”
Meanwhile, an Iranian oil official has denied a report by Reuters that 350,000 tonnes of gasoline had recently been shipped from China to Iran's southern port city of Bandar Abbas: “Iran is currently a major exporter of [various kinds of] oil products and does not need to import gasoline from any country."
1852 GMT: Political Prisoner Watch. Opposition site Kalemeh has denied the report, put out by ILNA, that detained blogger and physician Mehdi Khazali has ended his 64-day hunger strike (see 1155 GMT).
1829 GMT: Bank Watch. An EA reader points us to the curious story that the Central Bank made an overnight withdrawal of about $1.4 billion from six private banks and the national Bank Melli last week because of "the difference in foreign exchange prices" for the Iranian currency.
The Central Bank claims that the banks sold Iranian Rials at the unofficial market rate of 19000:1 vs. the US dollar, rather than at the officially-declared rate of 12260:1. The withdrawals ranged from $33 million to $630 million at Bank Melli.
The withdrawal has raised concern about the impact on the private banking system, as some banks might have to declare losses for the year. Eighteen MPs have written the President to demand the return of the money.
1820 GMT: Foreign Affairs (Syrian Front). An interesting item from Press TV which highlights not only Tehran's public support for the Assad regime but also growing tensions with Turkey over the issue:
Iran's Deputy Foreign Minister for Arab and African Affairs Hossein Amir-Abdollahian has reiterated the Islamic Republic’s full backing for the Syrian government and nation.
The Islamic Republic stresses its all-out support for the Syrian government and nation, Amir-Abdollahian said.
He also dismissed a recent Turkish daily report quoting Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu as saying that the support of Iran and Russia for Syria had waned, and restated Tehran’s full support for Damascus.
Turkey’s left-wing daily Radikal on Saturday quoted the Turkish foreign minister as claiming that both Iran and Russia have currently reduced the level of their support for the Syrian government compared to the previous year.
Amir-Abdollahian expressed confidence that the Syrian people would take major steps towards continuing the trend of reforms facilitated by President Bashar al-Assad as well as taking a stand against foreign intervention.
He said Iran regards its support for the Syrian people’s demands as the most appropriate solution to the current crisis in the key Middle Eastern country.
The senior diplomat emphasized that Iran holds those countries that incite instability and insecurity in Syria responsible for provoking the crisis in the country.
The website also complains, "We will soon have problems with the supply of household appliances."
1535 GMT: Ahmadinejad Watch. More on our opening entry, pointing to a dilution of the Parliamentary effort to interrogate the President:
The letter from seven MPs, including prominent Ahmadinejad critics Elias Naderan and Ahmad Tavakoli, declared:
Our suggestion to our colleagues and to the Majlis leadership is not to question our esteemed president this week. Instead, representatives should sit down with the members of the cabinet and discuss the difficulties the country and people are facing. These difficulties include:
Problems with the subsidies laws, and how to implement its second phase; reasons and solutions for uncontrollable high prices; unemployment; addiction; distrust; corruption; support for the judiciary branch in persecuting corrupt authorities; problems and difficulties of the big cities, particularly Tehran; shanty towns; environmental pollution; the subway system and other public transportation systems.
1428 GMT: Human Rights Watch. MP Kazem Jalali is the latest regime official to slam United Nations Special Rapporter Ahmad Shaheed's report on the "systematic violations" of human rights in the Islamic Republic: "Essentially this kind of reporting is wrong and far from fairness and realism."
Jalali, who serves on the National Security Committee, said UN bodies always try to prove their biased pre-assumptions on Iran and rely on the Opposition to prepare their reports. He did not mention that Shaheed had not been allowed into Iran and that Iranian officials had refused to meet him.
Alaeddin Boroujerdi, the Chairman of the National Security Committee, aserted, "Since the very first day that Mr. Ahmad Shaheed was introduced as the United Nations rapporteur, we guessed that he was a an American agent, but his later reports assured us that he has been assigned to this mission by the US. Ahmed Shaheed contacts anti-revolution elements instead of Iranian authorities to receive information and to prepare his reports, and acts in harmony with the Americans when compiling reports."
1420 GMT: The House Arrests. Rah-e Sabz reports on "continued harassment" of the family of detained opposition figures Mir Hossein Mousavi and Zahra Rahnavard, including a staged automobile accident involving their daughter.
The event for Farhadi, whose A Separation won Best Foreign-Language Film, was abruptly scrapped after authorities denied permission. No explanation was given.
The Center for Directors of Iranian Cinema and the High Council of Producers of Iranian Cinema issued a statement denouncing the cancellation, as they wrote Farhadi, "We intended to have a simple and friendly meeting to say 'thank you' for the great achievement you brought Iran and Iranian cinema but the cultural custodians did not let us realize this. We deeply regret this."
1400 GMT: Fire Festival Watch. Tomorrow night is Chaharshanbeh Souri, the Fire Festival declaring the end of winter and welcoming spring, but some senior clerics are not looking forward to it. In fact, they are calling again for its elimination.
Grand Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi said, “An intelligent person must not engage in such activities, especially since it can pose much danger. Many youth and youngsters have lost their eyes, faces and other parts of their body in these events. It is best that we eliminate the wrong ceremonies and instead persist in keeping the positive ones.”
A spokesman for Grand Ayatollah Safi Golpayegani, said, “This clerical leader does not approve of the Chaharshanbeh Souri ceremony and regards it as the reaffirmation of the obsolete rites of the age of ignorance.” He added that the senior cleric has called on the people to eliminate such “superstitious” activities.
In 2009, the Supreme Leader spoke out against the Fire Festival, saying it should be avoided because it has no roots in Islamic principles and creates “harm and corruption".
1215 GMT: CyberWatch. Digarban reports that even "hard-line" Hezbollah cyber-activists are feeling the pinch of the regime's crackdown on the Interent. Some of them have complained, "In the Islamic Republic, no one is free."
Reports indicate the filtering of Hezbollah blogs has increased in the last two weeks, with some bloggers detained.
1155 GMT: Hunger Strike Watch. ILNA reports that blogger and physician Mehdi Khazali, sentenced to 14 years in Evin Prison, has ended his hunger strike after 64 days. The opposition site Kalemeh says it is trying to confirm the news.
0815 GMT: Drumsbeats of War Watch. In both our analysis and our Live Coverage yesterday, we found a step back from "war" rhetoric in the US media --- at least while the prospect of renewed nuclear talks are on the horizon --- but you could still hear a few thumps this weekend:
CNN turned over airtime to former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who upheld his "statesman" status with this explanation of how it would be best just to suspend any knowledge when drafting a strategy: "I am very uneasy with the so-called intelligence report that say we don't know whether they are actually working on nuclear weapons.
Kissinger said, "I think we should start from the premise that they are undergoing all this in order to achieve a military capability," because setting his assumption in stone: "I don't think that is a disputable point."
The Washington Post features Don Cooke, a US diplomat was was held for 444 days in the 1979/80 Embassy takeover in Tehran: "World shipping faces Iranian threats in the Straits of Hormuz. Iran remains a key state sponsor of terrorism. And it is pursuing the biggest feather of them all — nuclear weapons....The key to the Iranians accepting...a solution is to convince them that we have the capability and the will to end their program ourselves. The irony is that the more clearly we demonstrate that capability and will, the less likely we will need to use them."
And James Fallows offers a convoluted explanation of why The Atlantic introduced its "Iran Doomsday Clock":
Neither of the reader's complaints about our new Iran War Clock make sense. It doesn't trivialize the threat of war, because for me the obvious allusion is to nuclear "doomsday." And it doesn't imply a rush to "Act now!" since the clear intent of the original clock was to keep those last precious seconds from ticking away.
I haven't asked, but I am sure the creators of our clock had the original model in mind. For one thing, the clocks look pretty similar. Main point: a reminder of how analogies have "constructed" rather than intrinsic meanings. And, with the passing years, the different pictures that people of different generations have in their minds. Kids today!
0615 GMT: President Ahmadinejad is scheduled to appear before Parliament for questioning on Wednesday, but there are a lot of manoeuvres which will be attempted before then. Indeed, it appears that the President will not be facing a serious challenge that could lead to his impeachment.
On Sunday MPs reported that the Vice President overseeing Parliamentary affairs, Mohammad Reza Mirtajoddini was trying to block the process. He was lobbying legislators to withdraw their names from the petition for interrogation or to stay away from the Majlis on Wednesday.
More importantly, MPs have suggested a toned-down process, replacing the questioning with a “discussion session” for the President and his Cabinet. This would create bonds of unity between Government and Parliament, seeking solutions to problems after this month's Parliamentary elections.
The statement was signed by Elyas Naderan, Ahmad Tavakoli, and Alireza Zakani, all of whom have been in the forefront of criticism of Ahmadiejadd. Significantly, it was also signed by Ahmadinejad loyalist Hossein Fadaei and Zohreh Elahian.
Ali Motahari, who has led the drive to interrogate the President, reacted harshly. He said, "The people and Constitution expect us to interrogate Ahmadinejad, and these people should arrange a separate time for this (discussion) session in the (Iranian) New Year."
Motahari is reportedly scheduled to open the questioning on Wednesday, followed by Gholam Reza Mesbahi Moghaddam.