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Iran Live Coverage: Syria --- The Islamic Republic's "35th Province"

Funeral service of Revolutionary Guard commander Hossein Shateri, killed in Syria, on Thursday (Photo: AP)

Iran Feature: The Week in Civil Society --- Honouring Detained Student Activist Tavakoli
Thursday's Iran Live Coverage: Revolutionary Guards Issue A Warning to The Leaders

2106 GMT: Nuclear Watch. So here, according to Reuters, is the big American gesture towards Iran to advance the talks over Tehran's nuclear programme.....

In exchange for Iranian steps to shut down its Fordow uranium enrichment plant, the US will lift sanctions --- which it imposed only nine days ago.

"Western officials" said the US and its allies will ease measures barring trade in gold and other precious metals with Iran. The restrictions, approved by President Obama in December and taking effect on 6 February, have reportedly cut off Turkey's transfer of gold to pay for Iranian natural gas (see 1716 GMT).

The officials said the offer will be presented to Iran at high-level discussions, the first in eight months, on 26 February Kazakhstan.

They acknowledged that the move is "a relatively modest update" to proposals from last year.

1732 GMT: Nut Watch. First Vice President Mohammad Reza Rahimi said the Government has ordered a six-month ban on pistachio exports to try to control the nut's price, which has doubled in the past month from about 250,000 to 500,000 Rials per kilogramme.

Pistachios are among Iran's top non-oil exports, bringing in an average of $1.5 billion a year and providing work for hundreds of thousands of people.

1716 GMT: Sanctions Watch. Reuters reports on a significant development in the American effort to choke off Iran's financial transactions and export revenue:

Tighter U.S. sanctions are killing off Turkey's gold-for-gas trade with Iran and have stopped state-owned lender Halkbank from processing other nations' energy payments to the OPEC oil producer, bankers said on Friday.....

Turkey, Iran's biggest natural gas customer, has been paying Iran for its imports with Turkish lira, because sanctions prevent it from paying in dollars or euros.

Iranians then use those lira, held in Halkbank accounts, to buy gold in Turkey, and couriers carry bullion worth millions of dollars in hand luggage to Dubai, where it can be sold for foreign currency or shipped to Iran.

Movement of Turkish gold to Iran rose 11,000% in 2012.

New US sanctions in effect from 6 February have tightened controls on sales of precious metals to Iran.

"Halkbank can only accept payments for Turkish oil and gas purchases and Iran is only allowed to buy food, medicine and industrial products with that money," one senior Turkish banker told Reuters. "The gas for gold trade is very difficult after the second round of sanctions. Iranians cannot just withdraw the cash and buy whatever they want. They have to prove what they are gold exports will definitely fall."


Turkish Minister of Economy Zafer Cağlayan signaled a decline in the trade last week when he said that, while Turkey would not be swayed by US pressure to halt gold exports to Iran, Tehran's demand for the metal was expected to fall.

1700 GMT: Nuclear Watch. Another sign of the regime's reversal of optimism over nuclear talks with the International Atomic Energy Agency (see 1600 GMT)....

State media features the statement of MP Mohammad-Reza Tabesh, “Political and technical issues have been mixed in the agency’s reports on the type and quality of Iran’s nuclear activities, and this calls the international organization’s independence into question."

Tabesh said the IAEA, as an international authority, should not be under the influence of world powers and claimed it had taken political approaches under the influence of states that oppose the Islamic Republic.

1600 GMT: Nuclear Watch. Regime officials have pulled back from their initial warm response to Wednesday's talks with the International Atomic Energy Agency about inspection of Iran’s nuclear facilities.

After the discussions, Iran's envoy to the IAEA, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, had said that the two sides had reached a "basic agreement" and details would be worked out in a further meeting. However, the IAEA's Herman Nackaerts made no reference to progress and say no subsequent discussion had been arranged.

Today Alaeddin Boroujerdi, the chairman of Parliament’s National Security Committee, said that Iran is not obligated to open its military sites, including the Parchin base, to the IAEA.

Parchin has become a test case for US and European officials, who claim that the site hosts a high-explosives container which can be used in testing of uranium for a militarised programme.

Boroujerdi said the IAEA should know that all of Iran's nuclear activities are in line with the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

1550 GMT: Your Tehran Friday Prayer Update. Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami takes the podium today to bang the drum against direct talks with the US over Iran's nuclear programme:

Some naïve people say a golden opportunity has been presented for negotiating with the US. The US is not after negotiations, it is after dominance. It wants Iran to sit at the negotiating table in order to tell the world’s revolutionaries: "See, we were able to drag Iran to the negotiating table.

The cleric continued, "Negotiations with US will make goods 10 times more expensive."

Khatami also repeated Tehran's call for an internal dialogue in Syria to deal with the political crisis: “In Syria...every Syrian should have a vote. The US and the European Union have been exporting terrorists to Syria for two years; however, Syrian-Syrian talks are the only solution to the Syrian problem.”

1227 GMT: Economy Watch. In addition to his advocacy of an Islamic economy reported earlier, Secretary of the Expediency Council Mohsen Rezaei has also declared that the government faces problems paying its staff and 50% of Iranian oil was not sold last year contributing to the country’s dire economic situation.

1011 GMT:Cyber Watch. Two Iranian diplomats, Alireza Miryousefi and Hossein Gharibi, have called for the implementation of new “global rules on cyberattacks.”

Both Miryousefi and Gharibi are members of Iran’s mission to the United Nations, as the head of Iran’s press office and the counselor of the mission, respectively.

In an opinion piece published in the Christian Science Monitor Miryousefi and Gharibi note that Iran has suffered numerous “attacks [that] have attempted to disrupt our computer systems at power grids, government ministries, nuclear facilities, oil terminals, and other important industrial and economic sectors.”

In particular, the authors emphasise the need to consider the legal implications of cyberattacks in light of a US “cyberstrategy” that has targeted Iran in recent years:

American media report that the US Department of Defense has adopted a cyberstrategy in which cyberattacks originating from another country can constitute an “act of war.” This naturally begs the question as to whether the current administration can unilaterally engage in an unprovoked act against Iran that, according to its own standards, is unacceptable.

Apart from the legal stand point, this approach also harms America’s own interests, because it emboldens hackers to target American companies. It could also provoke other countries to take countermeasures against US behavior.

0851 GMT: Economy All-Can-Be-Well Alert. Secretary of the Expediency Council Mohsen Rezaei has declared that Iran can solve all of its current problems with "Islamic economics".

Rezaei criticised the Government last week, arguing that 1000 Tomans now is worth the same as 300 Tomans a year ago.


0845 GMT: Oil All-Is-Well Alert. Minister of Oil Rustam Qassemi, speaking at an inauguration ceremony of a petroleum gas plant on Thursday, has said the Islamic Republic is implementing all its oil and gas projects despite sanctions.

Qassemi declared that, in spite of the restrictions, some Asian and European states have expressed readiness to purchase condensate and natural gas liquids produced by Iran.

0605 GMT: Foreign Affairs Watch (Syrian Front). Senior cleric Mehdi Taeb, the head of an organisation fighting “soft war”, offered the catchy headline in a speech yesterday to university student members of the Basij militia: “Syria is the 35th province [of Iran] and a strategic province for us. If the enemy attacks us and wants to appropriate either Syria or Khuzestan [in western Iran], the priority is that we keep Syria....If we keep Syria, we can get Khuzestan back too, but if we lose Syria, we cannot keep Tehran."

Taeb also pointed to the Islamic Republic's support of Syrian militias through Iranian advisors inside the the country. He explained, continued:Syria had an army, but did not have the ability to manage a war inside Syria’s cities. It is for this reason the Iranian government suggested that, to manage an urban war you must form a Basij …The Syrian Basij was formed with 60,000  [members] of the party of God, who took over the war in the streets from the army."

More important than Taeb's rhetoric was the death inside Syria of one of those Iranian advisors, Revolutionary Guard commander Hossein Shateri, also known as Hossam Khoshnevis, the head of the Iranian Committee for the Reconstruction of Lebanon. The commander was killed near Zabadani near the Lebanese border, as he returned to Beirut from Syria.

Shateri had been head of Iranian reconstruction efforts in Lebanon, for example, after the 2006 war with Israel. Before that, he had led Tehran's projects in Afghanistan. No details were given, however, of why he was in Syria.

Also intriguing are the exact circumstances of Shateri's death. Iranian officials initially said that he had died on Tuesday, but Tehran's declarations that he was killed by "Israeli agents" and the location of his demise led to speculation that he had been killed on 28 January when Israel's jets attacked a convoy carrying military equipment from Syria to Lebanon.

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