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Iran Live Coverage: Ahmadinejad Tries to Take Control on the Economy

President Ahmadinejad, Speaker of Parliament Ali Larijani, and head of judiciary Sadegh Larijani meet on Saturday

See also Iran Feature: Newsflash --- Tehran Does (Not) Shoot Down An Enemy Drone
Saturday's Iran Live Coverage: Revolutionary Guards Challenge "Narcissist" Ahmadinejad

1834 GMT: Ahmadinejad Watch. Radio Zamaneh posts more on State broadcaster IRIB's sudden cut-away from coverage of President Ahmadinejad's interview last night, interrupting the question-and-answer session for a TV drama....

The President’s office issued a statement expressing surprise, but IRIB's Public Relations Department said the interruption was done in coordination with Ahmaadinejad's office.

Mehr said the cut-away occurred as its reporter began asking touch questions about the Government's economic policies, including the query as to how its fight with corruption could co-exist with the $2.6 billion bank fraud that emerged in September 2011. The reporter also accused the administration of yo-yoing between the position that sanctions are having no effect on the economy and blaming the sanctions for all of Iran's problems.

Ahmadinejad reportedly answered: “I still insist that we have run the cleanest administration.” He added that he feels Iran’s economic situation is “very good” and that “inflation is not considered a loss for everybody and only those with set salaries lose while others benefit from inflation".

1824 GMT: Economy Watch. Jason Rezaian, the Tehran correspondent of The Washington Post, writes, "Iran's Middle Class Feels Squeeze of Sanctions":

Saeed, the manager of a corner store in central Tehran, oversees a shop crammed with packaged food, toiletries and paper products. But he said his middle-class customers increasingly pass on imported items such as British-made Ahmad tea, advertised as “the most exclusive tea in the world,” whose price in Iran has nearly tripled in two months.

“This tea is now just too expensive for most people,” said Saeed. “I can’t even afford it myself anymore, so how can we expect customers to buy it?” Like others interviewed, he did not want his last name published for fear of government reprisals.

Rezaian's article puts into context the rosier-coloured portrayal of Andrew Torchia, based in Dubai for Reuters, published last week:

Hossein Ahmad, an Iranian who runs a jewellery shop in wealthy Dubai, marvels at the spending power he sees on show during his monthly trips to Tehran, a year after U.S. sanctions largely froze Iran out of the global banking system.

Shops in the Iranian capital are crowded. Finding a seat at good restaurants can be difficult. And the ski resorts in the mountains north of Tehran continue to attract Tehran's glamorous and well-heeled.

"The economy has problems with the sanctions, yes. But it's still working," he says. "It isn't as bad as people outside the country think."

1804 GMT: Oil Watch. India's imports of Iranian oil rose 3.7% in January from December, but overall purchases fell 21.8% in the last 10 months.

India is now paying Iran only in rupees after payment Euros through Turkey's Halkbank was blocked by new US sanctions from 6 February.

India plans to reduce imports from Iran by another 10 to 15% in the next contract year starting 1 April, and more if Tehran does not lower prices to help cover costs from Western sanctions, sources have said.

New Delhi shipped in about 286,400 barrels per day (bpd) of oil from Iran in January, a decline of 41.2% from about 486,600 bpd a year ago.

1441 GMT: Revolutionary Guards Watch. The Iran Military News blog follows up on the reported deaths of three Revolutionary Guard officers in northwest and western Iran (see 0915 GMT).

The blog notes that the three officers probably were killed in clashes with the Kurdish insurgent group Free Life of Kurdistan (PJAK). Neither State news agency IRNA or Fars mentioned PJAK, but Mehr News said “Martyr Ghahari Saeed” was killed in a direct hit by the insurgents.

In January, PJAK leader Haji Ahmadi said that the group was much stronger since a 2011 ceasefire with Iran, while Tehran was “collapsing under international sanctions”.

1435 GMT: Oil Watch. South Korea's imports of crude oil from Iran fell 16.1% in January from a year earlier, despite an overall increase in Seoul's oil imports of 2.8%.

South Korean refiners resumed imports of Iranian crude oil last September after a two-month halt, after finding a way around the European Union ban on insurance cover.

South Korea, which reduced crude imports from Iran by a total of 36% last year, is aiming for a 20% cut year-on-year in the six months to 31 May to secure an extension to a US waiver from financial penalties..

1155 GMT: Nuclear Watch. Fars News, linked to the Revolutionary Guards, has set out the negotiating line for Tuesday's nuclear talks with the 5+1 Powers:

The Islamic Republic of Iran believes that the western countries should step into Almaty talks with Tehran full-handed and with a new approach since the previous rounds of negotiations yielded no results due to their childish proposals to Iran....

The minimum things that the West should do to have successful talks with Iran include: recognizing Iran's uranium enrichment right, giving up such childish proposals as the supply of plane parts in return for the suspension or dismantlement of Iran's peaceful nuclear activities and facilities, and removing the sanctions against Tehran.

The western states should also change their approach from hostile talks to negotiations based on cooperation. They should know that as long as they insist on their enmity with the Iranian nation there is no hope of success for the negotiations between Tehran and the Group 5+1.

Translation: Iran will not make any step unless the US and European powers put significant sanctions relief --- at a minimum, the lifting of last July's European Union restrictions on Iran's energy and financial sectors --- on the table.

However, if sanctions relief is put forward and if Iran's right to uranium enrichment is recognised, then Tehran may restrict enrichment activities to 5% uranium, suspending their accrual of the 20% grade.

0915 GMT: Revolutionary Guards Watch. Three Guards commanders have been killed in western and northwestern Iran.

Brigadier Hamid Tabatabai was slain in the northwest, while two other commanders have been buried in Boroujerd after they were killed by insurgents.

0805 GMT: Ahmadinejad Watch. Opposition site Kalemeh claims a curious development as President Ahmadinejad was speaking last night --- when reporters posed questions to the President, State broadcaster IRIB cut away to a TV drama.

0745 GMT: Ahmadinejad Watch. President Ahmadinejad went on State TV to try and show his control of economic affairs, promoting his forthcoming Budget and declaring that the Government was effectively handling production, investment, and services.

Ahmadinejad continued to push his subsidy cuts programme, the second phase of which has been held up for months by Parliament, with the declaration that "it will be good for all Iranians". He said the Government would get a grip on inflation and the falling Iranian currency by controlling the liquidity in the Islamic Republic's economy.

The Government tried to buttress the message with the announcement that New Year's payments of up to 100,000 Tomans (about $27 at open-market rates) will be made to families.

The question is whether the President will be allowed to maintain this image of control without criticism. Earlier in the day, he  met with Speaker of Parliament Ali Larijani and head of judiciary Sadeq Larijani for 90 minutes, following their high-profile conflict this month which featured the President's attack on the Larijani family on the floor of Parliament.

Footage of the meeting on State TV was meant to ease concerns over the political battle, reinforcing the Supreme Leader's call for a cease-fire, but the three men appeared edgy on camera.

Afterwards, a speaker said the three had discussed “Syria, our nuclear activities, the national budget and the high prices in the country".

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