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Tuesday
Apr102012

The Latest from Iran (10 April): Talks in Istanbul, Challenges to Ahmadinejad at Home

A young woman holds up a sign of protest during a visit by President Ahmadinejad to Bandar Abbas, "We, the Youth, are Unemployed"

See also Iran Analysis: A 4-Point Beginner's Guide to the Nuclear Talks
The Latest from Iran (9 April): No Agreement to Nuclear Talks in Turkey...Yet


2020 GMT: Political Prisoner Watch. Blogger Davood Bahmanabadi has been released on bail after 140 days in Evin Prison.

2000 GMT: Parliament v. President. Back to our opening story of the day (see 0605 GMT) and the Parliamentary pressure on Mahmoud Ahmadinejad....

Fifteen MPs have asked Speaker of Parliament Larijani to summon the President to the Majlis to report on "problems" in the first phase of subsidy cuts, launched in December 2010, and plans for the second phase. Ahmadinejad will also be queried about support for production in the private production sector, and inflation.

1950 GMT: Bank Watch. According to Arsalan Fathipour, the head of Parliament's Economy Committee, the Majlis has declared that the Government's nightly cash withdrawals --- via the Central Bank --- from financial institutions are illegal.

Fathipour added that Central Bank head Mahmoud Bahmani did not attend the meeting.

1943 GMT: Foreign Affairs Watch (Syrian Front). Mehr reports that Kofi Annan, the United Nations envoy, has arrived in Tehran for talks on the Syrian crisis.

1937 GMT: Political Prisoner Watch. Arash Sigarchi reports on imprisoned journalist Farshad Qorbanipour, whose wife complains about no visits to her husband or furlough for him from detention.

1930 GMT: All the President's Men. Nikahang Kowsar portrays the news that Presidential aide Saeed Mortazavi --- Tehran Prosecutor General at the time of the abuses and killings at the Kahrizak detention centre; the "Butcher of the Press" --- has been summoned by the judiciary to face possible prosecution:

1925 GMT: Bank Watch. And here is a possible issue if the head of the Central Bank, Mahmoud Bahmani, resigns or is fired amidst current economic tensions --- he has had no deputy since November.

Bahmani reportedly tried to quit last weekend, over the order for the Central Bank to withdraw funds from Iranian financial institutions, but his resignation was rejected by 1st Vice President Mohammad Reza Rahimi.

1920 GMT: Economy Watch. Back from meetings and research to find a warning of price rises with the still-to-be-implemented second phase of subsidy cuts --- Abdollah Jalili, a Government official responsible for transport and energy, says fuel will reach the unprecedented level of 1000 Toman (about $0.83 at official rate; about $0.53 at open-market rate) per litre.

Another official, Mohammand Royanian, has tried to reassure that the price will not reach 1200 Toman per litre, as the maximum allowed will be 980 Toman.

1235 GMT: Ahmadinejad Watch. A big sign of the pressure on Mahmoud Ahmadinejad --- Parliament has reportedly passed an urgent bill that allows it to impeach the President if he does not answer more than six questions satisfactorily.

The measure passed with the support of 138 MPs among 201 who were present.

1115 GMT: Tough Talk of the Day. President Ahmadinejad says he is not worried about sanctions. He told a crowd in Bandar Abbas in southern Iran, in a televised speech, "They — the West — intend to impose an embargo on our oil. We have as much hard currency as we need and the country will manage well, even if we don't sell a single barrel of oil for two or three years."

Minister of Oil Rustam Qassemi echoed, "These sanctions have had the least effect on Iran's oil industry and have not been able to hamper the oil industry’s progress.”

Qassemi added the tough but meaningless statement that Iran has halted oil exports to Greece. Hellenic Petroleum, the largest Greek refiner, had already suspended shipments in the face of forthcoming European Union sanctions.

0815 GMT: CyberWatch. The latest twist in the confusion story over regime plans to create a "clean Internet"....

The Ministry of Communciations said that reports that it plans to cut access to the Internet in August, as it launches a national intranet, are false.

But what of the interview with the Minister of Communications, Reza Taghipour, which are the source of the claim? The Ministry said this was a "hoax": "The report is in no way confirmed by the ministry....[It] is completely baseless."

Reports have indicated that, with a "clean internet", the regime would block services like Google and Hotmail and replace them with government-sponsored search engines and e-mail providers.

The Ministry said the false interview came from "the propaganda wing of the West...providing its hostile media with a pretext emanating from a baseless claim".

0805 GMT: All the President's Men. Vice President Hamid Baghaei, under pressure and possible prosecution over alleged mismanagement (see 0605 GMT), has denied a report --- published in Fars, linked to the Revolutionary Guards --- that he has resigned. He says Fars was a "liar" that "spread false news".

0605 GMT: We open this morning on the nuclear front, after Iran's eventual agreement to Istanbul as the site for discussions on Saturday, with "A 4-Point Beginner's Guide to the Nuclear Talks".

Meanwhile, on the domestic front, another complicated negotiation is under way. As soon Iranians completed a fortnight of New Year's celebrations last week, Speaker of Parliament Ali Larijani resumed his sniping at the Ahmadinejad Government. He attacked the administration's supposed mismanagement, irresponsibility, and illegal action on two related fronts, the budget and the subsidy cuts.

Yesterday Larijani suddenly shifted and played saviour on the budget, which was supposed to come into effect on 21 March but which has been held up by the Government's fumbling and Parliament's resistance. A Parliamentary committee had signalled further trouble last weekend when it rejected the budget, but Larijani intervened on Monday to ask the committee for passage, which was soon confirmed.

At the same time, Press TV reports that Larijani "offered explanations about his recent letter to the Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Ali Khamenei regarding the implementation of the second phase of the subsidy reform plan". 

The explanation is brief and limited in detail, but the Speaker left no doubt about continued resistance, in contrast to his "saving" of the budget: “The reason for my letter is clear: We have not ratified the second phase of the plan in Majlis yet....Withdrawing the income [of support payments for subsidy cuts], revising the price of energy carriers and the manner of distributing cash handouts must conform to the law.” 

So what explains Larijani's give-and-take? Was he forced into concessions by the Supreme Leader? Or is he continuing, with the Supreme Leader's blessing, a chess game of pressure on the President?

A clue to the answer may have come on a different front yesterday, as no less than three close advisors to Ahmadinejad came under fire from the judiciary. 

And this was not just rhetorical pressure. Presidential aide Saeed Mortazavi has reportedly been summoned, possibly for prosecution on charges of involvement in the abuses and killings at the Kahrizak detention centre in 2009, while Vice President Hamid Baghaei and Ahmadinejad's media advisor Ali Akbar Javanfekr were publicly told that "their cases would be enforced". In Baghaei's case, that could mean suspension from office or investigation for a trial on charges of corruption; in Javanfekr's, it means he could actually be called to prison to begin serving the two one-year sentences handed down on him last year.

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