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Iran Live Coverage: Supreme Leader's Top Advisor Draws A "Red Line" on Syria

See also Sunday's Iran Live Coverage: Regime Explains --- Talk of "Free Elections" Is "Sedition"

Supreme Leader Aide Ali Akbar Velayati2147 GMT: Bank Watch. The Supreme Audit Court has given Central Bank head Mahmoud Bahmani 20 days to appeal the order for his dismissal because of illegal financial transactions.

2037 GMT: Bank Watch. Najmeh Bozorgmehr of the Financial Times summarises a day's turmoil over the Central Bank and the Iranian currency, with reports of the resignation or dismissal of Bank head Mahmoud Bahmani.

Bozorgmehr puts the fall of the Rial today at 8%, from 32800:1 to 35300:1.

1956 GMT: Nuclear Watch. The International Atomic Energy Agency has announced that its next talks with Tehran are being put back a day to 13 February.

A high-level IAEA delegation has an inconclusive two-day round of discussions with the Iranians last week on inspection of the Islamic Republic's nuclear programme.

1429 GMT: Currency Watch. The tension over the Central Bank, with reports of the resignation and/or dismissal of Bank head Mahmoud Bahamani has weakened the Iranian Rial on the country's limited open markets.

Baztab reports that the Rial has slipped almost 4% today to 35000:1 vs. the US dollar.

Before the Central Bank intervened in October, the Rial was close to 40000:1.

1419 GMT: The Regime Fight Over the House Arrests. The squabble within the regime over the treatment of 2009 Presidential candidates Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, held under strict house arrest for 23 months, continues....

Last Friday, Tehran Prayers leader Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami criticised leading politician Habibollah Asgarouladi for saying that Mousavi and Karroubi were not "seditionist", implying that their detention could be reviewed.

Asgarouladi has responded today with a letter asked Khatami and other Friday Prayer leaders to foster a "friendly atmosphere": "What you said will cause more conflict in the society."

Khatami has immediately replied, "We consider Mousavi and Karroubi as the heads of sedition."

Kayhan editor Hossein Shariatmadari has also politely chided Asgarouladi, while Iran Prosecutor General Gholam Hossein Mohseni Ejei said today that the 23-month house arrests of Mousavi and Karroubi would not be eased.

1219 GMT: All the President's Men. Iran Prosecutor General Gholam Hossein Mohseni Ejei offers a possible twist on the analysis we just posted about controversial Presidential advisor Saeed Mortazavi (see 1156 GMT)....

Mohseni Ejei has declared that Minister of Labor Abdulreza Sheikoleslami has promised to follow the law and implement the court order dismissing Mortazavi as the head of the Social Security Fund.

The Prosecutor General also asserted that the strict house arrests of 2009 Presidential candidates Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, detained for 23 months, will continue.

1156 GMT: All the President's Men. In light of the Supreme Audit Court's demand for the dismissal of Central Bank head Mahmoud Bahmani, it is useful to note the continuing manoeuvres by the Ahmadinejad Government to defy another court decision for the removal of an advisor.

The Government has circumvented an order by the Administrative Court for the firing of Ahmadinejad aide Saeed Mortazavi as head of the Social Security Funds by designating him as an "administrator".

Because there is no provision for removal of an adminstrator by the Court or Parliament, Mortazavi --- barred by the court because of his alleged role in the abuses and killings at the Kahrizak detention centre in summer 2009 --- will continue to oversee the agency.

0956 GMT: Bank Watch. A significant, if confusing development in the developing story over the Central Bank, with Parliament demanding an enquiry into its management and Bank head Bahmani supposedly offering his resignation, only for it to be turned down by President Ahmadinejad....

Mehr reports that the Supreme Audit Court has ordered the dismissal of Bahmani, claiming the Central Banks carried out illegal financial transactions and withdrawals from other banks.

The case arose from allegations by an MP last March that the Ahmadinejad Administration had drawn money from the banking system without informing the Majlis. In October, the Supreme Audit Court called on Bahmani to provide an explanation but, after a request for a one-month delay, the Bank chief failed to do so.

Bahmani has said that the Central Bank had asked a number of banks to hand over documents showing the supply of dollars to them, but some had refused to provide them. He rejected claims that the Central Bank had taken money to fund support payments for Ahmadinejad's subsidy cuts programme.

Mehr staff link the order to internal fights over corruption and the proclamation that "any disruption of the economy" with misuse of public funds will be "taken very seriously by the judiciary".

The Court's order does not necessarily mean the dismissal of Bahmani. The Ahmadinejad Administration has defied other court demands, such as the ban on senior Presidential advisor Saeed Mortazavi from Government service.

However, the conjunction of Parliamentary and judicial action --- with the inevitable question of whether anyone within the regime is co-ordinating the effort --- raises the political question of whether Ahmadinejad can keep Bahmani in his office, shielding the President from a direct challenge over the economy.

0936 GMT: Food Watch. State news agency IRNA, quoting the head of the Dairy Industry Association, says output of dairy goods has fallen 75% because of the rising costs of production.

0935 GMT: At the Movies. Fars reports that production of a dcoumentary on Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, the head of the Guardian Council, has been suspended.

The website says no reason has been given, but an EA correspondent mischievously suggests that officials may fear people will treat the film as a comedy.

0925 GMT: Political Prisoner Watch. Journalists Bahman Ahmad Amoui and Mahsa Amrabadi and labour act Behnam Ebrahimzadeh have been granted prison furlough.

Ahmadi Amoui was sentenced in January 2010 to 7 years and 4 months in prison, as well as 32 lashes. Amrabadi was summoned in May 2012 to serve a one-year term. Ebrahimazadeh has been given a 20-year sentence.

0835 GMT: Economy Watch. Iranian State outlet Tehran Times reports that President Ahmadinejad has refused the resignation of Central Bank head Mahmoud Bahmani.

Bahmani has been blamed for economic and currency problems, and Parliament ordered an enquiry into the Bank on Sunday. A Bank spokesman denied, however, that the request for retirement was connected to the political developments.

Bahmani, who had reportedly put in his request two weeks ago, said last night, “Now, I have no intention to leave the government, and therefore I will remain at the Central Bank."

0655 GMT: Nuclear Watch. Last week the International Atomic Energy Agency and Iranian officials failed to reach agreement on a protocol for inspections of nuclear facilities, although a further meeting has been scheduled for 12 February.

Robert Kelley dissects the claim of Western officials and media that a key issue of the talks is Iran's imminent threat of a high-explosives container on the Parchin military base: "The case for visiting the Parchin site—a matter on which the IAEA continues to insist—is not as clear-cut or compelling as some experts and officials portray it."

0605 GMT: Foreign Affairs Watch (Syrian Front). Economic tensions rumbled along on Sunday, with Parliament voting for an enquiry into the Central Bank and unconfirmed reports that Bank head Mahmoud Bahmani had offered his resignation.

However, the Supreme Leader's advisor on foreign policy, Ali Akbar Velayati, seized the headlines with a forthright declaration on Syria. He told a Lebanese TV station that any effort to force President Assad from power is a "red line" for Tehran:

The main reason behind our focus on the Syrian issue is to prevent the fall of the resistance line against Israel. If Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian president, falls the resistance line against Israel will break up.

Velayati added that Iran's support for Assad did not mean that it was "neglecting the Syrian nation’s right to choose their rulers" and said, “We believe in the necessity of reforms in Syria based on the demands of the Syrian nation without recourse to violence and any US support.” 

 But it was the warning against outside intervention that dominated the comments of the advisor, a former Foreign Minister: “Certain reactionary states like Qatar supplied terrorists with arms, and with the aim of overthrowing Assad…recruited gunmen from Somalia and Afghanistan to commit massacres and this is an indication of foreign conspiracies.” 

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