Monday, January 7, 2013

Eye on Iran: Iran Oil Minister Admits 40% Oil Exports Drop

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"Iran's oil minister admitted Monday for the first time that oil exports have dropped 40% because of Western sanctions, breaking away from previous denials of impact from international pressure. Over the past nine months, 'there has been a 40% decline in oil sales and a 45% decrease in repatriating oil earnings,' Rostam Qasemi told the Iranian parliament's budget and planning commission, according to the ISNA news agency... But while Iranian lawmakers have already admitted a drop in Iran's international crude sales-its largest source of revenue--Mr Qasemi, the country's top oil policymaker, had insisted until now that pressure wasn't significantly denting its exports. Independent experts and Iranian lawmakers say oil exports have been more than halved from at least 2.2 million barrels a day a year ago to about 1 million barrels a day today. But Mr Qasemi, who didn't give any current number, was quoted as saying he expects international sales to reach 1.5 million barrels a day in the new Iranian year, which starts March 20."

WashPost: "New U.S. sanctions have broadened the front in the West's escalating economic conflict with Iran, targeting large swaths of the country's industrial infrastructure even as Iranian leaders are indicating a willingness to resume negotiations on the country's nuclear program. With Iran's economy already reeling from previous sanctions, the new measures passed by Congress and signed by President Obama last week are intended to deliver powerful blows against key industries ranging from shipping and ports-management to the government-controlled news media, congressional officials and economic experts say. While some previous U.S. sanctions targeted individuals and firms linked to Iran's nuclear industry, the new policies are closer to a true trade embargo, designed to systematically attack and undercut Iran's major financial pillars and threaten the country with economic collapse, the officials say... By broadening the focus to entire industries, the new effort is intended to make it harder for Iran to evade sanctions through front operations."

Reuters: "Iran has spent almost $25 billion on upstream oil and gas projects since last March but needs to keep investing to keep its influence in OPEC, Iran's oil minister said on Sunday. Iranian oil production fell sharply last year, as Western nations tightened sanctions to starve Tehran of funds for its disputed nuclear programme, allowing Iraq to overtake Iran as the oil exporting group's second-largest producer. The sanctions, aimed at stopping what the West says is a weapons programme but which Tehran says is purely peaceful, have slashed tens of billions off Iranian oil revenues over the past year and weakened OPEC price hawk Iran's influence in a group now effectively steered by Saudi Arabia."
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Nuclear Program & Sanctions

Reuters: "Iran's agricultural exports grew last year, with pistachio and saffron sales almost doubling, despite Western sanctions on trade with the country, the semi-official Fars news agency quoted Iran's deputy agriculture minister as saying on Saturday. Between March 21 and December 20, Iran's pistachio exports doubled to $587 million, making the nuts Iran's biggest agricultural export by value. Exports of saffron rose 87 percent to $213 million, Fars reported. 'Export of farming products has increased 15 percent compared to the previous year, while the agricultural exports are still on the increase on a daily basis,' Far quoted Jahangir Pourhemmat as saying... It did not say how exporters of agricultural goods were paid for their goods, but Iran has struck several barter deals over the past year to secure goods it needs in exchange for products it cannot sell easily due to banking restrictions."

Reuters: "Pakistani grain exporter Seatrade Group said it will start shipping 100,000 tons of wheat to Iran by the end of January or early February, one-tenth of the original tender agreed in August. Iranian wheat imports are usually handled by the private sector but the Iranian government had to step in and help with purchasing this year because of the disruption to trade financing caused by Western sanctions aimed at Iran's disputed nuclear programme. The grain is to come from Pakistani government stocks held by the government-run Pakistan Agricultural Storage and Services Corporation (Passco). 'It seems the (Iranian) government doesn't have the money' for the million ton shipment, a director at the leading Pakistani grain exporter Seatrade Group said."

Press Trust of India: "The US-based California Public Employees' Retirement System (CalPERS), one of the world's largest pension funds, has flagged concerns over investments in shares of various Indian oil companies, including Oil India and Petronet LNG, due to their Iran-related business interests. CalPERS, which manages investments of $240 billion globally, has exited its holding in Petronet LNG and blocked future investments, alleging failure on the part of India's largest liquefied natural gas importer to take 'substantial action' to curtail business operations in Iran. CalPERS has also blocked all future investments in another state-run energy major, Oil India Ltd, while the country's largest public sector company, Oil and Natural Gas Corp (ONGC), is also being monitored for possible Iran ties, the pension fund said in its annual legislative report for the year ended December 31, 2012, while detailing its Iran-related investment decisions."

FT: "Iran has dramatically scaled up its use of compressed natural gas to power vehicles, an effort which has helped ease the tightening pressure from international sanctions on petrol imports. A five-year multibillion-dollar government investment programme has helped bring millions of duel-fuel cars on to the roads, softening the impact of rising gasoline prices and petrol rationing. The natural gas boom is a microcosm of the struggle of the Tehran regime and Iranian citizens with western banking and oil sanctions that have triggered sharp falls in both exports of crude and the value of the Iranian rial... The Natural Gas Vehicle Global - an international lobbying association of more than 300 companies and other organisations - says Iran is now the world's leader in terms of numbers of natural gas vehicles, ahead of Pakistan, Argentina, Brazil and India."


Wired: "In February 2010, Iranian spies had Tehran's most wanted man in their sights. Their target, Sunni Islamist militant Abdolmalek Rigi, had killed an Iranian general and was responsible for a string of terrorist attacks in Iran from across the Pakistani border. After Rigi boarded a commercial flight to Dubai that took him through Iranian airspace, secret agents on board appeared, ordered the plane to land, and then arrested Rigi. He was later executed. That's just one operation in recent years by the Ministry of Intelligence and Security, or MOIS. According to a new report by the Federal Research Division at the Library of Congress, the spy agency counts as 'the most powerful and well-supported ministry among all Iranian ministries' in terms of finances and support. The report, first obtained by Bill Gertz at The Washington Free Beacon, describes a 30,000 strong army of spies - the largest intelligence agency in the Middle East - responsible for assassinating political opponents, espionage, and, above all, crushing potential rivals to Tehran's ruling elite. But first note that the MOIS is distinct from the Quds Force, the combination special forces and CIA-styled intelligence wing of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps."

Syrian Uprising

Reuters: "Iran welcomed Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's television address, saying he had rejected violence and offered a 'comprehensive political process' to end his country's conflict, Iranian media reported on Monday. Assad's speech on Sunday was billed as the unveiling of a new peace plan but the president offered no concessions and dismissed the prospect of negotiations with Syrian opposition groups, which described it as a renewed declaration of war. Iran has steadfastly backed Assad's rule since an uprising began almost two years ago and regards him as an important part of the axis of opposition against Israel. Iran describes many Syrian opposition groups as 'terrorists' who are backed by Western and Arab states."

AFP: "Iran's Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi will visit Egypt on January 9 for a two-day trip aimed at discussing the Syria crisis and Tehran-Cairo bilateral talks, media reports said on Saturday. Salehi will meet his counterpart Mohammed Kamel Amr and President Mohamed Morsi during his stay in Cairo, said Mojtaba Amani, the head of Tehran's interests section in the Egyptian capital, according to the ISNA news agency. Egypt's official MENA news agency, quoting Amr who is on a visit to Riyadh, said Salehi's visit was taking place in the context of 'reviving the initiative of President Mohamed Morsi as per the contact group on Syria.'"

Human Rights

Bloomberg: "Iran's parliament said the Tehran branch of the cyber police unit is responsible for the death in detention of a blogger who had criticized the Islamic Republic's government, the state-run Mehr news agency reported. The finding was stated in a report by a special commission set up in November to investigate Sattar Beheshti's death, and was read in a parliamentary session yesterday, Mehr said. Beheshti is accused of spreading propaganda, insulting the values of the Islamic Republic and seeking to act against national security, according to the news agency.  Officials from the cyber police unit arrested the blogger at home on Oct. 30 and transferred him to Evin Prison in the capital the following day."

Reuters: "Iran's parliament called on Sunday for a special inquiry to investigate the death in detention of a blogger whose posts criticized the country's leadership. In a case that provoked international outrage, Sattar Beheshti was arrested in his home on October 30 after receiving death threats, and died some days later, having complained of being tortured. 'It is necessary that the responsible agencies ... exercise more supervision and seriousness with regard to these bitter events and carry out a special inquiry of the case of the death of Sattar Beheshti,' parliament said in a report read out on Sunday. The report also recommended training for all staff in detention units, the installation in detention centers of CCTV equipment and the regular inspection of facilities."

AP: "Iran's police chief says the Islamic Republic is developing new software to control social networking sites. Gen. Esmail Ahmadi Moghadam was quoted in Iranian newspapers Saturday as saying the new software will prevent Iranians from being exposed to malicious content online while allowing users to enjoy the benefits of the Internet. He did not say when the software would be introduced. Moghadam also did not specify which social networking sites would be affected, but both Facebook and Twitter are popular in Iran."

FT: "After two years in prison for protesting against rigged elections, Hengameh Shahidi, an Iranian journalist and human rights activist, picked up a paintbrush for the first time. Freed from Evin prison - where she was held in solitary confinement and allegedly tortured - art offered her a release. 'I still do not understand how a violent atmosphere has woken up a delicate part of me,' she says. Now she hopes her paintings will help raise awareness about the plight of 200 or so political prisoners still in Iranian jails, many of them forgotten or ignored by a population afraid to speak out. Weary of political protest that seems to achieve little, she says art can help bring about social change in the 'bigger jail than Evin, which is Iran.'"

Domestic Politics

Bloomberg: "Air pollution in Iran's capital Tehran killed about 4,460 residents in the last Iranian year, the state-run Mehr news agency reported, citing Hassan Aghajani, a Health Ministry official. Aghajani gave the figures for the year that ended on March 19 in a program aired on national television two days ago, according to today's report. Tehran is shielded by mountains to the north, and rare wind and rain worsen pollution. With 12 million residents and more than 2 million vehicles, the city is among the world's most polluted. About 2,500 people in Tehran die annually because of health problems caused by pollution, local media reported in 2010, citing the capital's environmental organization. The low quality of gasoline and diesel used by local automobiles is partly responsible for the smog in Tehran, a situation that also occurs in other large Iranian cities including Isfahan, Mashhad and Tabriz, Mehr said, citing unidentified officials. Yousef Rashidi, managing director of the Tehran air quality control company, has said that domestically manufactured cars and their ineffective combustion systems account for as much as 80 percent of Tehran's air pollution rather than the poor quality of the locally produced fuel, according to the report."

NYT: "Already battered by international threats against their nation's nuclear program, sanctions and a broken economy, Iranians living here in the capital are now trying to cope with what has become an annual pollution peril: a yellowish haze that engulfs Tehran this time of year. For nearly a week, officials here and in other large cities have been calling on residents to remain indoors or avoid downtown areas, saying that with air pollution at such high levels, venturing outside could be tantamount to 'suicide,' state radio reported Saturday.  On Sunday, government offices, schools, universities and banks reopened after the government had ordered them to shut down for five days to help ease the chronic pollution. Tehran's normally bustling streets were largely deserted."

Opinion & Analysis

Sohrab Ahmari in WSJ: "Seyed Hossein Mousavian, a former Iranian nuclear negotiator, said in a television interview aired recently in the Islamic Republic that the country 'is in full compliance' with the International Atomic Energy Agency nuclear-safeguards agreement, and that there is 'no evidence' the regime is diverting nuclear material for military purposes. Both statements were deceptive at best: Iran isn't in compliance with all provisions of its current safeguards agreement, and the lack of evidence for diversion doesn't dispel the IAEA's concerns about nuclear-weapons research and development. Yet neither assertion was challenged by the on-air host. Islamic Republic officials are accustomed to going unchallenged by Iranian journalists, who prefer to stay out of the regime's dungeons. But the interview with Mr. Mousavian appeared on 'Ofogh' (Horizon), a television show produced by the Persian-language service of Voice of America, the U.S. government broadcaster founded in 1942 to provide 'accurate, balanced, and comprehensive news' to 'people living in closed and war-torn societies.' VOA's Persian News Network, based in Washington, is funded by Congress and receives around $23 million in taxpayer money annually. The 'Ofogh' segment touched off a fierce reaction among Iranian viewers, who took to the show's Facebook page to vent their anger. 'Like Iran's current leaders he is a master of sophistry,' wrote one about Mr. Mousavian. Other viewers directed their complaints at VOA. 'Voice of America = The Islamic Republic,' wrote another. According to current and former employees at the network, the viewers' complaints are unlikely to register with executives. One high-level production staffer, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he is currently employed at the network, said the Mousavian interview fit a pattern of VOA's Persian-language division allowing itself to be bullied by regime mouthpieces. 'Mousavian dictated the terms of the arrangement,' the staffer said. 'He would not agree to debate somebody else.' Critics also charge that VOA's Persian coverage is often distorted by an editorial line favoring rapprochement with the mullahs. There is 'a clear slant in favor of Iran in terms of its involvement in terrorism,' the current production staffer wrote in response to queries for this article. The network, he said, often refuses to air criticism of Iranian terror unless it is 'balanced with the perspective of the Islamic Republic who vehemently [deny] any involvement.' And because 'no one in the Islamic Republic gives us interviews anyway,' VOA Persian abandons otherwise informative segments about terrorism. A former employee and on-screen personality summed up the network's nonconfrontational attitude by saying that VOA sees itself as providing 'a bridge between Washington and Tehran.'"

Zachary Keck in The Diplomat: "Four Asian countries are now purchasing nearly all of Iran's oil exports according a report this week from the Economist's Intelligence Unit (EIU). 'Almost all of Iran's oil exports now go to China, South Korea, Japan and India,' the report said even as it noted a sharp decline in the amount of oil each country purchased from Iran during 2012. Iran's oil exports have been cut in half as a result of U.S. and EU sanctions that were enacted last year to pressure Tehran into making concessions on its nuclear program, which the West believes is aimed at acquiring a nuclear weapons capability but Iran claims is intended solely for peaceful purposes. Oil exports make up 80% of Iran's total export earnings and 50-60% of government revenue according to the EIU report. Iran's government budget for the current fiscal year ending in March forecasted oil exports of 2.2 million barrels a day (b/d). The International Energy Administration (IEA) recently estimated sales of around 1.1 million b/d, resulting in monthly losses of $5 billion for Iran according to a widely cited estimate. The sanctions and the Islamic Republic's habitual economic mismanagement have also combined to send Iran's currency plunging in value over the last six months. With many of Iran's oil customers bowing to Western sanctions, Iran's dependence on the four Asian countries has grown substantially. Tehran has become especially dependent on China, which has long been its primary trading partner. Still, China is now estimated to purchase roughly 50% of Iran's total oil exports despite having decreased its oil imports from Tehran by 23% year-on-year through the first 11 months of 2012. India has similarly seen its reliance on Iranian crude decline sharply, with year-on-year imports down 17% in the first 8 months of 2012. Indian officials have also suggested they plan to cut imports by an additional 10-15% in 2013. Both South Korea and Japan reduced their oil imports from the Islamic Republic by around 40% in the first 11 months of 2012 and pledged further reductions in 2013. Seoul has implied it could decrease its year-on-year imports by as much as 20% through the first six months of this year ending in May."

Eye on Iran is a periodic news summary from United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI) a program of the American Coalition Against Nuclear Iran, Inc., a tax-exempt organization under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. Eye on Iran is not intended as a comprehensive media clips summary but rather a selection of media elements with discreet analysis in a PDA friendly format. For more information please email

United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI) is a non-partisan, broad-based coalition that is united in a commitment to prevent Iran from fulfilling its ambition to become a regional super-power possessing nuclear weapons.  UANI is an issue-based coalition in which each coalition member will have its own interests as well as the collective goal of advancing an Iran free of nuclear weapons.

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