The Latest from Iran (7 January): „We are in an Economic War“

1340 GMT: Political Prisoner Watch. Rah-e Sabz reports that a Revolutionary Court has handed down a death sentence on blogger Vahid Ashgari.

A student in India, Ashgari was arrested on 11 May 2008 at Tehran airport for possessing several credit cards. He later was charged with organising a pornographic network that blasphemed Islam and criticised the government to pervert Iranian youth.

Ashgari, who hosting websites, including those of regime opponents, was allegedly tortured to make him „confess“ to his crimes.

Iran Prosecutor General Gholam-Hossein Mohseni-Ejei has defended the sentence imposed on Faezeh Hashemi, women’s rights activist and daughter of former President Hashemi Rafsanjani.

Last week, Hashemi was given a six-month prison sentence and a five-year ban on political, cultural, and media activities for „anti-regime propaganda“.

1230 GMT: Picture of the Day. An Iranian sailor hugs one of the American forces who freed him from Somalian captors — 13 Iranian hostages were freed by a US Navy team:

1225 GMT: Oil Watch. In an apparent effort to block possible European Union suspension of Iran’s oil shipments, the National Iranian Oil Company has claimed that it does not owe $2 billion in supplies claimed by Italian oil firm ENI.

Italy, which takes about 14% of its oil from Iran, is considering agreement o the proposed EU ban, which may be announced at a Foreign Ministers meeting on 30 January. Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti has said “the embargo should not include imports that do not give Iran additional financial resources”, allowing Italy to collect the $2 billion in supplies without breaking the EU sanctions.

1220 GMT: Bank Fraud Watch. MP Mahmoud Ahmadi Bighash has claimed that the „crimes“ of Alaeddin Boroujerdi, the head of Parliament’s National Security Committee, in the $2.6 billion bank fraud are much greater than publicly revealed.

Boroujerdi and his sons have been questioned over the affair, with the MP denying that he has been arrested.

1210 GMT: Currency Watch. Journalist Thomas Erdbrink, in Tehran, confirms our earlier update on the Iranian currency market: „Visited my money changer, changed a $100, got 1,580,000 Rials [a 15800:1 rate]. Nobody is SELLING dollars still. ‚We expect $ to go higher,‘ he said.“

The Central Bank has raised the official rate of the Rial from 11180:1 to 11230:1, still leaving an almost 30% differential from the open-market rate.

1202 GMT: The US State Department has confirmed that Washington has begun talks with Turkey on the Iranian approach for renewed talks on its nuclear programme.

After Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu met Iranian officials, including the President and Foreign Secretary, in Tehran, State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland said, “We have begun consultations with the Turkish side on what Iran’s messages were.“ The US Ambassador in Ankara had talks with Davutoğlu on Friday.

Nuland continued, „There is no question that the United States and Turkey share the goal of bringing Iran back to the table and back into compliance with its international obligations. We don’t always have an identical view on tactics, but the strategic goal is the same, so that’s why it’s so important that we consult on what the minister saw on his trip and next steps that he sees.“

Nuland said the US is prepared for another meeting between Iran and the „5+1“ powers (US, UK, France, Germany, Russia, China) if Tehran is prepared to seriously discuss its nuclear programme without preconditions.

1158 GMT: The Battle Within. The pro-Ahmadinejad Raha Press writes that former President Hashemi Rafsanjani, Deputy Speaker of Parliament Mohammad Reza Bahonar, and other politicians are pushing the Supreme Leader to dismiss the Government.

An EA correspondent speculates the attacks may be prompted by fears that the Guardian Council will veto candidates from the Ahmadinejad camp.

1154 GMT: Elections All-is-Well Alert. The Supreme Leader’s representative Ali Saeedi has explainedthat reformists have not boycotted elections and that polls — about which he gave no details — indicate 60 to 65% of Iranians will participate in voting.

1140 GMT: All the President’s Men. Possible trouble for Saeed Mortazavi, an Ahmadinejad advisor….

Mortazavi is still in the President’s office even though he has been formally suspended by a court for his alleged role in the abuses and killings in the Kahrizak detention centre after the 2009 Presidential election, which occurred when Mortazavi was Tehran Prosecutor General.

Now a complaint has been filed against Mortazavi for his involvement in the case of Abbas Palizdar, who was imprisoned in 2008 amidst claims and counter-claims about corruption. The plaintiffs claim that Mortazavi does not have immunity from prosecution.

1130 GMT: Currency Watch. Even though foreign exchanges reopened this morning after the weekend,Khabar Online reports an effective suspension of trade at many as they hold onto their US dollars, defying the Central Bank’s attempt to impose a rate between the Iranian Rial and dollar of 14000:1.

Mesghal reports that the „real“ open-market rate is 16050:1, a slight weaking of the Rial from the opening mark of 15980:1.

1050 GMT: Ahmadinejad Watch. Here’s a riddle — if Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is touring Venezuela, Nicaragua, Cuba, and Ecuador this week, how can he answer the Parliamentary summons for questioning on Tuesday?

One answer is a flat denial, with Vice President Mohammad Reza Mirtajoddini claiming that the President has not been ordered to appear before the National Security Committee.

Another is pressure, with reformist MP Dariush Ghanbari asserting that some MPs have been forced to withdraw their signatures from the petition for interrogation.

Or there is the „send a representative“ solutionKhabar Online reports that Ahmadinejad can use the Latin American excuse to put someone else before the Committee, which will be asking about the December 2010 dismissal of Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki and the President’s failed attempt last spring to remove Minister of Intelligence Heydar Moslehi.

1045 GMT: Currency Watch. Vice President Mohammad Reza Mirtajoddini has responded to the demand of MPs Ahmad Tavakoli and Elyas Naderan for a special Parliamentary session on currency crisis, claiming that their allegations of Government mismanagement and an economy in trouble are lies.

0715 GMT: Currency Watch. As foreign exchanges re-open after the weekend, we will be watching the shifts in Iran’s currency. Mesghal, the leading Iranian site for the numbers, still has the Rial at Thursday’s closing level of 15980:1 vs. the US dollar.

0700 GMT: We start this morning with Minister of Oil Rustam Qassemi and his speech in Bushehr in southern Iran. In contrast to all the bluster about Iran’s military might in recent weeks, Qassemi got to the heart of the matter, „We are in an economic war,“ in which oil workers had an important role.

Qassemi was focusing specifically on his declared mission to restructure Iran’s oil industry, and there was also the good-news sweetener, from the Director of the National Iranian Oil Company, of a new phase being launched in the South Pars oil and gas field.

However, it is also clear that Qassemi saw a wider battlefield. With the news that the European Union is going to cut off imports of Iranian oil, at least in principle, at the end of January, with South Korea and Japan considering restrictions, and with China halving its imports in a dispute over payment arrangements, Tehran faces a significant reduction in its revenue at a time when the economy is under great strain.

Is it any wonder then that President Ahmadinejad is hopping a jet tomorrow to see President Chavez in Venezuela, one of the world’s largest oil suppliers?

Quelle: EA World

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