Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Eye on Iran: Iranian Rial Slips as Power Struggle over Central Bank Head Looms








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Top Stories

Reuters: "The Iranian rial has dropped sharply on the open market since Sunday on speculation the head of the country's central bank could be sacked in a row over his performance that has exposed the country's political faultlines. Reuters contacted currency traders who offered the rate of 35,400-550 to the dollar on Tuesday morning, little changed from Monday but down some 8 percent from Sunday when it stood at around 33,000... Bank governor Mahmoud Bahmani - appointed by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in September 2008 - has faced strong criticism of his management of the rial following a slump in the currency last September that saw it lose 40 percent of its value in a matter of days. He also faces claims of involvement in the 'midnight withdrawal' affair of March 2012, when the central bank withdrew hundreds of millions of dollars from commercial banks without authorisation. On Monday, Iran's Supreme Audit Court ruled that Bahmani should be dismissed from his post, news which appeared to send the rial into a new dip. The court ruling - which is not a binding decision on the government - was issued because of Bahmani's failure to attend a hearing and explain the reasoning behind the March 2012 withdrawals, Mehr news agency reported." http://t.uani.com/YkrZvV

AFP: "President Bashar al-Assad's regime has put together a new paramilitary force of men and women, some trained by key ally Iran, to fight what is now becoming a guerrilla war, a watchdog said Monday. The force, dubbed the National Defence Army, gathers together existing popular committees of pro-regime civilian fighters under a new, better-trained and armed hierarchy, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. The popular committees were originally formed to protect pro-regime neighbourhoods from rebels. 'The (regular) army is not trained to fight a guerrilla war, so the regime has resorted to creating the National Defence Army,' said Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman. Most of the new fighters are members or supporters of the ruling Baath party, said Abdel Rahman. 'They include men and women, and members of all the sects.'" http://t.uani.com/Wk9qC3

AP: "Iran's semi-official news agency said Monday that a jailed American pastor of Iranian origin is to be released after posting $116,000 bond, but his wife in the U.S. claims Tehran has no intention of freeing him and that the announcement is 'a game to silence' international media reports. The news agency, ISNA, quoted Saeed Abedini's lawyer, Nasser Sarbazi, as saying that his client stood trial Monday in the Revolutionary Court on charges of attempting to undermine state security by creating a network of Christian churches in private homes. The pastor, who was jailed in September, has rejected the charges. In Tehran, ISNA quoted Sarbazi as saying that the court would issue its verdict later, but that Abedini would be released within the next few days after posting the bail. ISNA said the lawyer indicated that the pastor would be allowed to leave Iran and meet his family in the U.S. Abedini's father attended Monday's court session. However, the pastor's wife, Naghmeh, said in a statement that the Iranian regime had repeatedly promised to free Abedini on bond, but that he remains in detention." http://t.uani.com/YksmGX
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Nuclear Program

Reuters: "The U.N. nuclear watchdog and Iran will hold talks over Tehran's disputed nuclear program on February 13, a day later than planned, the Vienna-based U.N. agency said on Tuesday. The International Atomic Energy Agency and Iran failed in two days of discussions last week to agree a framework deal to resume a long-stalled IAEA investigation into suspected nuclear bomb research in the Islamic state. The IAEA said after the January 16-17 negotiations that the two sides would meet again on February 12 in Tehran. An IAEA spokeswoman said the date had now been changed, giving no further details." http://t.uani.com/WpimqP

Sanctions

WSJ: "South Korea continued to decrease its imports of Iranian crude oil last year, reducing shipments by more than a third as part of efforts to extend an exemption from U.S. sanctions targeting Tehran. South Korea has agreed to steadily reduce Iranian oil imports in exchange for the U.S. exemption from a blanket ban on imports as it seeks replacement barrels for supplies from the Islamic Republic, which it previously sourced around a 10th of its crude from. The U.S. granted the resource-poor Asian country a 180-day exemption from sanctions in December, extending an initial exemption for the same period that started in June. Imports from Iran totaled 5.724 million barrels in December, taking the full-year total to 56.146 million barrels, a 35.6% fall compared with 2011, data from state-run Korea National Oil Corp. showed Tuesday. South Korea's reliance on Iran for its crude needs fell to 5.9% last year from 9.4% in 2011." http://t.uani.com/TfmwVD

Human Rights

AP: "The U.N. human rights office has criticized Iran over the reported execution of a juvenile offender. A spokeswoman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights says the Geneva-based agency is 'deeply dismayed' about the execution of Ali Naderi last week. U.N. spokeswoman Cecile Pouilly said Tuesday that the 'death penalty cannot be imposed for crimes committed by persons below 18 years of age.' Naderi was 17 when he was allegedly involved in the murder of a woman about four years ago." http://t.uani.com/TfnIbt

Bloomberg: "Iran will try three former judges who were suspended over the deaths in detention of three men arrested in the protests that followed the 2009 presidential election, Mehr reported. The trial's first session will be held on Feb. 26, Prosecutor-General Gholamhossein Mohseni-Ejei said yesterday, according to the state-run news agency. The judges were suspended in 2010. The three inmates died in the Kahrizak detention center in 2009. Iran's police subsequently confirmed 'negligence and wrongdoing' by officials at the site, where some protesters were held before being taken to Tehran's main Evin prison." http://t.uani.com/TfqGNf

Opinion & Analysis

Armin Rosen in The Atlantic: "The Iranian bullets that a Conflict Armament Research report found throughout Africa probably weren't of the highest quality the Islamic Republic could offer. They were all made during the same three-year period at the beginning of the last decade -- it's likely they were military surplus or low-quality leftovers, sold at a discount to anyone looking for cheap ammo. But low-quality bullets are still deadly, and the CAR found Iranian munitions all over Africa, in 14 locations across nine countries, and with groups as diverse as a Tutsi militia in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and terrorists aligned with Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. And there's evidence to suggest that Iran's closest African partner played an active role in funneling the ammunition throughout the continent. Despite some very public internal disagreements, Sudan's nominally-Islamist National Congress Party government has positioned itself as a key ally of Iran, and of the collection of countries and militant groups opposed to American, Israeli and western policies in the Middle East. Ali Karti, Sudan's foreign minister, has publically spoken out against the country's tight military relations with Iran, and American policymakers have long viewed the NCP government as willing to abandon its close relationships with rogue states and terrorist groups if the right combination of incentives and inducements could be reached. But the moderate bloc inside the NCP doesn't seem to be winning out: Iran helps operate the sprawling Yarmouk weapons facility in Khartoum, a plant that stored a group of shipping containers that were targeted and practically vaporized by an airstrike in October, an attack that was likely Israel's doing. According to the Conflict Armament Research report, the Yarmouk is involved in the development of Iranian arms: 'Yarmouk Industrial Complex in Khartoum serves as a production/onward shipment facility for Iranian/ Iranian-designed weapons,' while plant personnel 'visit Tehran for regular technical training on weapons or ammunition production.' According to a 2006 Wikileaks cable, Yarmouk was also involved in the production of chemical and biological weapons material for Iran and Syria. There are more recent developments as well. Hamas interior minister Fathi Hammad visited Khartoum this week, where he announced that fighters from the Palestinian Islamist group would soon be training in Sudan. The country is still a hub for activity detrimental to the broader international community's interests, and the CAR report provides additional evidence that Sudan is engaging in destabilizing and probably even illegal activities. A trans-African Sudanese weapons pipeline is only hinted at in the report -- no one knows how Iranian and Sudanese bullets traveled across the Sahel to Niger and Cote D'Ivoire, or ended up with Tutsi militants in the South Kivu region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. There's no proof that either the Sudanese or Iranian governments were facilitating this transfer of munitions to such far-flung corners of Africa. But James Bevan, director of CAR, says that Sudanese and Iranian ammunition could often be found in the same clip in Niger, northern Cote D'Ivoire and the DRC." http://t.uani.com/YkvgeM

Abeer Ayyoub in Al-Monitor: "Out of all the Arab Spring's impacts, the war in Syria is by far the most dramatic. The conflict has reshuffled regional ties, and Palestinian-Syrian relations are among the most affected. Palestinian-Iranian relations have also come under pressure. Since the Islamic revolution in 1979, Iran has been the main supporter of the Palestinian cause, and in particular of its two largest Islamic factions: Hamas and Islamic Jihad. As part of the alliance, Syria was also a major supporter of the two groups and, until recently, played host to the leadership of both groups. Iran was a strong supporter of the Hamas government in Gaza and its military wing, until Hamas moved its leadership from Syria, split with Bashar al-Assad's regime and became a vocal critic of the Syrian crackdown. Hamas had waited more than a year until it made the difficult decision to leave Syria and sacrifice Iranian support. As an offshoot of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood - which has been riding high since the Arab Spring - Hamas now has alternatives to Iran, and is moving out of isolation and towards international acceptance. However, by contrast, Islamic Jihad - constrained by a lack of allies - has opted to stay officially neutral on the Syrian crisis. Despite Ramadan Shallah, the leader of Islamic Jihad, leaving Syria last year, the movement still insists that its ties with Syria have not been negatively affected and that Shallah's departure was purely for security reasons. Senior Islamic Jihad official Khader Habeeb told Al-Monitor that his faction's relations with foreign powers are based on the support those powers can provide to the Palestinian resistance, and not on external matters. 'Iran has adopted the Palestinian resistance since its Islamic revolution. It has been a loyal backer. Consequently, Iranian assistance for the Syrian regime has nothing to do with our relations with Iran, even when our views are different,' Habeeb said. Habeeb considers the crisis in Syria a purely internal issue that has nothing to do with the Palestinians. 'Definitely we are sorry for both Palestinians and Syrians being killed every day in Syria, but we are already aware of the fact we are mere guests in Syria and have no right to interfere,' he explained. With Hamas-Iran relations destabilized over Syria, a door has opened for Islamic Jihad to boost its ties with Iran, although its officials won't openly admit this. Adnan Abu Amer, political analyst and lecturer at Al-Ummah University is Gaza, said that Iran's ties to Islamic Jihad have strengthened since Hamas took a step back from Tehran. 'Islamic Jihad is the top backed Palestinian faction by Iran. That doesn't necessarily mean that Islamic Jihad will stand out from the rest, as there are many other factors that count, such as popularity and national support,' Abu Amer clarified. Growing Iranian support for Islamic Jihad was made evident in the November mini-war with Israel, with the movement demonstrating its long-range rocket and cyber-warfare capabilities. Habeeb, however, stressed that Iranian support for Islamic Jihad is only limited to the armed wing, and has nothing to do with strains between Hamas and Iran. 'Hamas-Iran relations are still okay and our good relations with Iran do not come at the expense of their ties,' Habeeb said. 'Iran was pleased with the victory the Palestinian resistance achieved. This is why it's likely to increase its support for us, for what we have lost during the war and because we need to rebuild our infrastructure.'" http://t.uani.com/Wd3iif

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 Press@UnitedAgainstNuclearIran.com

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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