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Iran's Credibility Hurt by Support for Syria's Assad; Oil Production to Grow

31 Aug 2011 01:25Comments

Press Roundup provides a selected summary of news from the Farsi and Arabic press and excerpts where the source is in English. Tehran Bureau has not verified these stories and does not vouch for their accuracy. Please refer to the Media Guide to help put the stories in perspective. You can follow breaking news stories on our Twitter feed.

Iran Daylight Time (IRDT), GMT+4:30

SyrianProtestorsPressTV.jpg1:30 a.m., 9 Shahrivar/August 31 According to political analysts, Iran's continuing support for the embattled regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is undermining the Islamic Republic's reputation around the Middle East. The Wall Street Journal reports on a poll recently conducted in six Arab countries by the Arab-American Institute:
The poll was taken during the first three weeks of June and more than 4,000 Arabs were asked questions that included whether Iran contributed to peace and stability in the Middle East.

In Egypt, only 37% had a favorable view of Iran, compared with 89% in 2006. In Saudi Arabia, the number dropped to 6% from 85%, while in Jordan it fell to 23% from 75%.

Referring to Hezbollah, which receives its primary backing from the Islamic Republic and which has similarly expressed its support for Assad, the report observes,

Increasingly, ordinary Arabs and Iranians are asking, on blogs and in conversations and interviews, what kind of resistance group would turn a blind eye to the killing of innocent fellow Muslims.

"People are disenchanted with Iran and Hezbollah. All these years they convinced us that they stand up for the oppressed and now they are showing us their true faces," said Saleem Kabbani, a 21-year-old Syrian activist from Homs who recently fled to Lebanon.

For more on the Iran-Syria connection, see Genieve Abdo's Foreign Affairs article "How Iran Keeps Assad in Power in Syria" and Karim Sadjadpour's interview with Bernard Gwertzman of the Council on Foreign Relations. For a history of Iran-Syria relations since the 1979 Revolution, here's a primer.

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Our columnist Muhammad Sahimi compiled the following news items and commentary:

Ahmad Ghalebani, chief executive officer of the National Iranian Oil Company, announced the launch of a series of new projects in the country's oil fields that will increase production by 150,000 barrels per day by the end of the current Iranian year (March 20, 2012). He said that a new plant at Binak will remove salt from the oil produced by the Mansoori field, increasing exports by almost 50,000 bbl/day. Production will also restart at the Masjed Soleiman oil field, Iran's oldest. In the first stage, to be implemented with an unnamed Asian company, the field will produce 25,000 bbl/day of oil. Three new oil fields in Fars province -- Sarvestan, Khesh, and Sa'adatabad -- will also begin production, initially contributing 30,000 bbl/day. The three fields will eventually add 45,000 bbl/day of oil to Iran's production.

A new contract worth $500 million has been awarded to Khatam ol-Anbiya, the engineering arm of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. The contract is for the construction of a pipeline to transport ethane gas from the Parsian field to the Firoozabad petrochemical complex, and ethylene from Firoozabad to Fasa.

At the same time, Gholam Reza Gharibi, who heads NIOC's oil ports division, denied that a contract has been awarded to Khatam ol-Anbiya to construct a new port in Jask, in southern Iran. Gharibi said that the project is still being studied, and no decision has been made as to which company will carry it out. The port would reduce the distance that tankers must travel to receive Iranian oil. Jask is on the Sea of Oman about 1,050 miles south of Tehran; a port there would allow tankers to avoid passage through the Strait of Hormuz. Gharibi also said that Iran is currently swapping 40,000 bbl/day of oil with four Central Asian countries, and that four storage tanks are being built on Kharg Island that will be able to hold up to four million barrels of oil.

Hamid Karimi, manager of the development of the Azar oil field, which is shared with Iraq, announced that the Russian company Gazprom will no longer participate in the field's development, and a domestic consortium will soon sign a contract with NIOC worth $2 billion to perform the work. Azar, in Ilam province, has recoverable oil reserves estimated at 400 million barrels.

Seyyed Sharif Hosseini, leader of the Majles deputies from Khuzestan province, threatened that if the government's plan to transfer water from Karoon River to other parts of the country is implemented, all 18 Khuzestan deputies will resign en masse. Hosseini said that experts have warned against the project, but the plan is still being considered by the government. According to the plan, 1.1 billion cubic meters of water are to be transferred from the river's main sources to central Iran. Hosseini said that if the plan goes forward, "it will mean that we have accepted the death of Khuzestan."

Abdolvahed Mousavi Lari, interior minister under former president Mohammad Khatami, said that Khatami's conditions for the reformists to participate in the upcoming Majles elections, to be held next March, "are not outside the constitutional framework." He added, "If you ask housewives, day laborers, farmers, academics, and clerics whether elections should be free and competitive, they would say yes, we want this. [Mir Hossein] Mousavi, [Mehdi] Karroubi, and all of us want this type of election and, therefore, regarding this issue we agree with Mousavi, Karroubi, and the entire nation, and we do not see any problems [in supporting the conditions]."

However, Ayatollah Mohammad Reza Mahdavi Kani, chairman of the Assembly of Experts and one of the most senior principlist clerics, rejected the reformists' conditions. He said that only the Guardian Council can decide whether and which reformist candidates can run in the elections.

Meanwhile, cleric Rasoul Montajabnia, deputy leader of Karroubi's National Trust Party, said that the reformists have reached no decision about taking part in the Majles elections. Dr. Ahmad Shirzad, a senior member of the Islamic Iran Participation Front -- the largest, and now outlawed, reformist party -- said that the reformists will use the elections to make people aware of the problems plaguing the country, without necessarily campaigning for office.

Grand Ayatollah Asadollah Bayat Zanjani, the popular cleric and supporter of the Green Movement, said that "one cannot eliminate, imprison, and accuse one's competitors, and then claim that the elections are free and without any problems." In a meeting with the central committee of the Islamic Association of Teachers of Iran, the ayatollah said, "Elections are not slogans. They have their own rules and one cannot take positions regarding them without considering such rules. Clearly, a necessary background for truly free elections is a good social environment and one in which all candidates can compete."

New legislation approved by the Majles adds a second holiday for Eid al-Fitr, the celebration of the end of the fasting month of Ramadan. Since the 1979 Revolution, the conservative clerics have been trying to put more emphasis on Eid al-Fitr than on Nowruz, the celebration of the beginning of the Iranian year, which has been a tradition for several thousand years.

In related news, in a meeting with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's cabinet, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said, "If we are to express love for Iran, one of the best ways is to strengthen and expansion of the Persian language and literature." He continued, "Instead of emphasizing the pre-Islam Iran, the post-Islam Iran must be emphasized because Iran's achievements and honors since Islam [coming to Iran] has no peers in any other historical era. The advancements that Iran made during the Daylamian [934-1055], Seljuqid [1071-1194], and Safavid [1501-1736] dynasties have no match in any other era in Iranian history."

Strongly criticizing Ahmadinejad's administration in the same meeting, Khamenei said that the government needs to deliver on what it promises. He commented that one weakness of the government is that it does not pay attention to the views of the experts. He called on the government to "accept its failures" and not exhibit "enmity" toward those who criticize it. One media outlet that opposes the president interpreted Khamenei's statement as the "last chance for Ahmadinejad." Interestingly, Ahmadinejad's controversial chief of staff and senior adviser, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, was present at the meeting.

In an interview with IRNA, the official state news agency, Dr. Fereydoun Abbasi Davani, head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, said that Iran has divided its uranium enrichment work into two separate projects. The Natanz facility will concentrate on producing low-enriched uranium (LEU) at 3.5 percent for use in the Bushehr reactor, and the Fordow facility near Qom will concentrate on producing uranium enriched to 19.75 percent, which is needed for the Tehran Research Reactor (TRR). Abbasi said, however, that the Fordow facility will not stop producing the enriched uranium once enough of it has been produced for the TRR and he declared that Iran is no longer interested in swapping Iran's LEU with fuel for the TRR.

Foreign Ministry Spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast rejected the assertion that Iran has intervened in Syria. He criticized the European Union for imposing sanctions on the Quds Force, the Revolutionary Guards' elite division for operations outside Iran, saying that it has not played any role in Syria. "The government and people of Syria can solve their problems by themselves and, respecting sovereignty other nations, the Islamic Republic of Iran considers the assertion of intervention in [Syria's] internal affairs a sheer lie." Almost simultaneously, Syria's Central Bank rejected the allegations that it has received $6 billion from Iran.

Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said that if the NATO alliance interferes militarily in Syria, "it will be drawn into a quagmire from which it will never be able to get out." Ahmadinejad and Seyyed Ahmad Mousavi, Iran's ambassador to Syria, have previously accused the West of seeking to duplicate in Syria what has been happening in Libya. Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, secretary-general of the Lebanese Hezbollah, has said that if the international community intervenes in Syria, "The entire region will be set on fire."

Salehi telephoned Mustafa Abdul Jalil, chairman of the National Transition Council of Libya. According to the Foreign Ministry Information Office, the two men discussed the potential expansion of relations between Iran and the new Libyan regime. Interestingly though, Iran has yet to recognize the Council as Libya's legal government.

University activist Amir Sheibanizadeh, who has been sentenced to eight years of imprisonment, was summoned to court in Mashhad. The judge asked him to accept all the charges against him and to sign a letter expressing his regret for what he had done and asking the Supreme Leader to pardon him. Sheibanizadeh instead declared that he apologizes only to the families of the those murdered in the aftermath of the 2009 election and to Mousavi and Karroubi and their wives, who have been under house arrest for six months. He declared, "We still persist in our goals, and are not willing to retreat from our positions or bow to oppression." He also demanded that Khamenei apologize to him and his family for putting him under pressure for three years and for cracking down on the protestors in 2009.

Although they are among the 70 political prisoners who were supposed to be set free over the weekend, university activist Sourena Hashemi and blogger and human rights activist Alireza Firoouzi, also a university activist, have not yet been released. Both students at the University of Zanjan, they were each sentenced to six months of mandatory imprisonment and another six months of incarceration, suspended for five years.

In an investigative article, Kaleme, the website that reflects Mousavi's views, reports that many of the political prisoners who have been set free actually benefited very little from clemency and would have been released soon anyway. For example, student activist Ehsan Abdoh Tabrizi had already served more than half of his sentence and because he had no previous conviction, he would have been released by law. The same thing is true of three other university activists, Mehdi Vatankhah, Milad Asadi and Mohsen Ghamin, and a citizen, Zahra Jabbari. Mohammad Pour Abdollah, a student of chemical engineering at Faculty of Engineering of the University of Tehran, had served most of his three-year sentence. Saeed Malmirian, 47, a citizen who was arrested during the demonstrations in the aftermath of the 2009 presidential election, had served his entire sentence of six months of imprisonment, and thus had to be released. Mohsen Mokhtari had served over 11 months of his one-year sentence, and would have been released in a few days. Sousan Tabianian had served 16 months of her 18-month sentence. In short, the release of the 70 people is much less significant than it appeared at first.

Mehrnoush Etemadi and Haydeh Tabesh, two women's rights activists, have each been sentenced to nine months of incarceration, suspended for three years. The two were arrested in December 2009.

The government has barred Iranian Sunnis from holding a special public prayer in Tehran for Eid al-Fitr on Wednesday. Fourteen Sunni Majles deputies have written a letter to Ahmadinejad asking him to reverse the decision.

Nationalist-religious journalist Keyvan Samimi, managing editor of the banned monthly magazine Nameh, is in extremely poor health. He is incarcerated in Rajaei Shahr Prison in Karaj, west of Tehran. Doctors at the prison have said that Samimi must be transferred to a hospital to be treated, but the prison warden refuses to allow it. The concern is that the fate of another nationalist-religious journalist, Reza Hoda Saber, who passed away after his hospitalization was delayed and he suffered a heart attack in jail, may be awaiting Samimi.

In an interview Nechirvan Barzani, deputy head of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), strongly criticized the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and the Party of Free Life of Kurdistan (PJAK), and said that the two groups must lay down their arms and end their armed attacks against both Iran and Turkey. Barzani traveled to Iran recently on a diplomatic mission with the goal of ending the Revolutionary Guards' bombardment of Iraqi Kurdistan's border areas, aimed at wiping out PJAK forces. As reported by Tehran Bureau, the attacks have killed many civilians. They have also raised concerns that Iran may cross into Iraqi territory. Barzani said that the talks went beyond the immediate concern of the shelling:

Our visit to Iran was ordered by the Kurdistan Region President [Massoud Barzani], and the Prime Minister [of the Kurdistan Regional Government, Barham Salih] was aware of it. The main issue on our agenda was tensions in the Kurdistan Region's border areas. We met with the Islamic Republic's senior political, diplomatic, and military officials.

The Kurdistan Region's policy is not to cause complications or intervene in neighbors' affairs. Not only that, we want to have good neighborly relations with those countries based on mutual respect. But, unfortunately, along the border areas the Kurdistan Region shares with Iran and Turkey, there is the PKK and PJAK problem.

Of course, those two groups are inseparable, because they have the same system and force. They are not different. Their presence in the mountainous border areas and the Kurdistan Region's border villages has caused problems between the Kurdistan Region and its neighbors. Regarding Iran, I should say that unfortunately PJAK and PKK are not taking the Kurdistan Region's interests into consideration. They always provide an excuse for those countries to attack the Kurdistan Region's territory.

We now run a government and are no longer a [guerilla] force in the mountains. We are responsible for the life and well-being of the people of the Kurdistan Region. Residents in border areas should not be at the mercy of Iranian and Turkish attacks because of attacks by PJAK and PKK.

Copyright © 2011 Tehran Bureau

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