Eye on Iran: Half of Iran Tanker Fleet Storing Oil at Sea

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Reuters: “Iran has been forced to deploy more than half its fleet of supertankers to store oil at anchorage in the Gulf as buyers of its crude cut back because of sanctions, two Iran-based shipping sources said. The sources, who are familiar with operations at Iran’s main export terminal Kharg Island in the north of the Gulf, said 14 of National Iranian Tanker Company’s (NITC) fleet of 25 very large crude carriers, each loaded with about 2 million barrels of oil, are now at anchor acting as floating storage. A further five of Iran’s nine Suezmax tankers, with capacity of one million barrels, are also parked offshore with oil aboard. That means that of Iran’s 59-million-barrel fleet of VLCCs and Suezmax sized tankers, 33 million barrels of capacity are being used to store crude at sea in the Gulf, or 56 percent of the fleet.” http://t.uani.com/IfzTye 

WSJ: “Iranian oil stored at sea is building up due to international sanctions, but the measures are also proving a boon to the country’s homegrown tanker operator, officials in Tehran said Tuesday, underscoring the mixed effect of mounting pressure on Iran. Half of the 25 very large crude carriers owned by oil-tanker company NITC are now storing oil instead of exporting it, an Iranian shipping official said. Last month, six of the 25 ships sat idle, shipping data show. NITC also plans a $1.2 billion expansion to its fleet as foreign tanker companies halt Iranian shipments in the wake of sanctions. Its success is the latest example of how Iranian companies, often tied to Iranian power-brokers, are able to benefit from sanctions. After foreign companies pulled out of Iran’s oil and gas projects, they were, in many cases, replaced by Khatam-al-Anbiya, a contractor owned by the revolutionary guards. NITC hasn’t been specifically sanctioned, although a U.S. congressman recently drafted a bill to extend sanctions to the company, which is private.” http://t.uani.com/IDGMqI

WSJ: “South African telecommunications company MTN Group Ltd. said in an email to Dow Jones Newswires it is continuing to comply with U.S. sanctions on Iran following new measures announced Monday that target information technology. President Barack Obama signed an executive order Monday that imposed sanctions on companies, individuals or agencies using information or communication technology to facilitate the crushing of dissent, or other human-rights abuses, in Iran and Syria. ‘MTN continues to plan and carry out our operations in compliance with applicable sanctions regulations and law,’ Paul Norman, MTN’s chief of human resources and corporate affairs, said in comments emailed to Dow Jones Newswires… The company has a 49% stake in Iran’s second-largest mobile phone operator and derives 21% of its subscriber base from Iran. MTN has denied allegations made by a powerful U.S. lobby group that its technology has been used by the Iranian government to track users. The group, United Against Nuclear Iran, specifically named the company in its statement on Monday praising Obama’s sanctions announcement. ‘We call on the Obama administration to fully enforce these sanctions, including against the companies that provide and help the regime with this technology,’ said Mark D. Wallace, head of United Against Nuclear Iran, in the statement.”http://t.uani.com/IlDcyJ

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Nuclear Program  & Sanctions

 

CNN: “Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel has suggested that time is running out for Western sanctions on Iran to have a meaningful effect on Tehran’s nuclear program. The sanctions ‘are certainly taking a bite out of the Iranian economy,’ Netanyahu said in an interview broadcast Tuesday on CNN’s ‘OutFront.’ But ‘they haven’t rolled back the Iranian program — or even stopped it — by one iota,’ he added. ‘I hope that changes, but so far, I can tell you, the centrifuges are spinning,’ he said. ‘They were spinning before the talks began recently with Iran, they were spinning during the talks, they’re spinning as we speak.’” http://t.uani.com/Ib1Yro

Reuters: “Israel’s military chief said he does not believe Iran will decide to produce an atomic bomb, describing its leadership as ‘very rational’ in an interview published on Wednesday. Lieutenant-General Benny Gantz’s characterization of Iran’s rulers appeared to be at odds with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s oft-stated warnings that Islamic leaders could opt to use nuclear weapons even at the risk of devastating retaliation. ‘Iran is moving step-by-step towards a point where it will be able to decide if it wants to make a nuclear bomb. It has not decided yet whether to go the extra mile,’ Gantz told the Haaretz daily. ‘In my opinion, (Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei) will be making a huge mistake if he does that and I don’t think he will want to go the extra mile,’ Gantz said.” http://t.uani.com/IDGuQA

Times of Israel: “Iran may announce its willingness to halt uranium enrichment at 20 percent when it meets with world powers at the Baghdad summit on May 23, the Dubai-based Al Arabiya website reported on Tuesday, quoting a source in Tehran. Senior members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards (IRG) have entreated Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to halt uranium enrichment at the 20% level, the report said. They are said to be concerned that international sanctions are placing an increasing strain on the IRG’s finances and, consequently, its capacity to implement large-scale economic projects. The IRG, which is involved in major infrastructure work in Iran, advised a policy of appeasement and rapprochement with Western powers to reduce financial pressure, the report said.” http://t.uani.com/K9W3NT

Bloomberg: “Iran is considering a Russian proposal to halt the expansion of its nuclear program in order to avert new sanctions, the country’s envoy in Moscow said. ‘We need to study this proposal and to establish on what basis it has been made,’ Ambassador Mahmoud-Reza Sajjadi said in an interview at the Iranian embassy in Moscow today. The Russian plan, announced by Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov last week, would allow Iran to avoid a European Union ban on its crude that is scheduled to come into force in July.  Iran will ensure it maintains its right to produce nuclear energy, Sajjadi said.” http://t.uani.com/Ib9d32

RIA Novosti: “Russia’s military leadership has for the first time acknowledged a nuclear threat from Iran and North Korea. ‘The threat is always there, so we closely monitor the nuclear program developments of many countries,’ Army General Nikolai Makarov, the chief of the General Staff, told RT television. ‘The analysis that we conducted together with the Americans confirms that, yes, there is a probability that the threat exists. And we agreed that it is necessary to create a missile defense system,’ Makarov said.”http://t.uani.com/K3zXx1

Human Rights

AP: “A press watchdog group says Iran has arrested a close associate of Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi. Wednesday’s statement by Paris-based Reporters Without Borders says the group ‘strongly condemns’ the jailing of Narges Mohammadi. Mohammadi was a spokeswoman for Ebadi’s now-banned Center for Human Rights Defenders. She was reportedly detained on Saturday and brought to Tehran’s Evin prison to begin serving a six-year sentence following a conviction in 2010 after she was accused of anti-government crimes.” http://t.uani.com/JnuWlW

VOA: “A Kurdish human rights activist serving a 3.5-year jail sentence in Iran has provided a rare glimpse into what he says are harsh conditions inside the country’s detention facilities. Reza Sharifi Boukani was arrested in 2010 after publicly supporting the pro-democracy ‘Green Movement.’ He was later sentenced on charges that include spreading ‘propaganda’ against the government and acts against national security. In a recent interview from jail with VOA’s Persian News Network, Boukani said he initially had no legal representation and that Iranian authorities tried to pressure him into making false statements.” http://t.uani.com/K9XeNb

Domestic Politics

FT: “A subsidy reform battle in Iran shows that the government of Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad, the president, is being squeezed by domestic challenges while international powers place unprecedented pressure on the country. Tehran shocked politicians and economists last month by announcing that, despite rapid consumer price inflation, it would increase monthly cash payments to citizens that were introduced as compensation for subsidy cuts. The country’s parliament has tried to prevent the inflationary move as Iranians struggle with skyrocketing prices, particularly for food. Domestic producers are being hit by rising bills for unsubsidised energy, without receiving any extra government support.” http://t.uani.com/JpAZnD

Foreign Affairs

WashPost: “Syria’s remaining cash reserves are quickly dwindling as the country’s anti-government uprising marks its 13th month, according to intelligence officials and financial analysts who describe a steady hollowing-out of the country’s economy in the face of sanctions. The financial hemorrhaging has forced Syrian officials to stop providing education, health care and other essential services in some parts of the country, and has prompted the government to seek more help from Iran to prop up the country’s sagging currency, the analysts said… The emptying of the government’s coffers – combined with fears of a further drop in the value of the Syrian pound – has prompted Syrian officials to repeatedly call on Iran, their closest foreign ally, to help stabilize their currency, the officials said. ‘Iranian money is helping Assad survive,’ said a second Middle Eastern intelligence official. ‘But Iran is having its own problems, and they are more limited now in the support they can offer.’” http://t.uani.com/IRCGKM

The Hill: “Tehran’s efforts to expand its circle of influence in South America is tantamount to exporting state-sponsored terrorism into the region, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said. ‘We always have a concern about in particular the [Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps] and [their] efforts . . .  to expand their influence not only throughout the Middle East but into [South America] as well,’ Panetta told reporters Monday. ‘That, in my book, that relates to expanding terrorism. And that’s one of the areas that I think all of us are concerned about,’ he added.” http://t.uani.com/IDFdZV

Opinion & Analysis

Bloomberg Editorial Board: “The evidence forms a high stack. U.S., European and other companies are selling technologies that enable the repressive Iranian and Syrian regimes to disrupt and monitor the Internet and track down government critics, as documented in media reports, notably by Bloomberg News. On Monday, President Barack Obama acted. He issued an executive order giving the Treasury secretary the power to sanction individuals and companies that provide goods or services that can be used for such purposes. Those with assets in the U.S. risk having them blocked; individuals without such assets can be barred from entering the country. Perhaps the greatest penalty is the reputational cost of being placed on a U.S. sanctions list. The order is a powerful new tool. By covering direct and indirect sales, it addresses the excuses some companies have given when confronted with evidence of their wares in Iran and Syria. They can no longer hide behind claims that goods sold to a legitimate middleman were then resold without a company’s knowledge, as the U.S.-based Blue Coat Systems Inc. did after its technology was found filtering websites in Syria. Moreover, the order encompasses technology that is even ‘likely’ to be used to monitor and track citizens through their online activities. In other words, companies should err on the side of caution when selling the Iranians or Syrians anything dubious. Of course, it’s good for citizens of these countries to have access to online communications. Western providers have been and should be helping to create those infrastructures, even though the regimes can add tapping capabilities to them. When it comes to add-ons, however, Iran and Syria are not like other places. A system that can track down lost mobile phones is nice for consumers. But brutish security forces can also use it to hunt for pro-democracy activists. Spam-filtering technology can help keep mobile networks running faster, but in Syria it has also allowed government officials to block all messages including words such as ‘revolution,’ ‘demonstration’ and ‘strike,’ thus interfering with freedom of expression and assembly. In these countries, the risks of such systems outweigh the benefits. Decent companies have no business selling, installing or maintaining them. Issuance of the president’s order alone is unlikely to make them desist. Company executives may doubt the government’s seriousness about enforcement. After all, the U.S. already had a rule barring federal agencies from doing business with companies that export to Iran any technology used to disrupt, monitor or restrict the speech of Iranians. When the Government Accountability Office produced its report on such companies last June, it came up with none, though soon after journalists detailed several. The glare of news media exposure has been enough for a couple of companies to pull out of their contracts in Iran and Syria. If the Treasury Department were to pursue one or two remaining cases, it would pressure those companies that still provide questionable technologies.” http://t.uani.com/JnuKDs

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