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News | Oil Maneuvers on Eve of Atom Talks; Internet Cutoff Claims Denied

by DAN GEIST

12 Apr 2012 07:40Comments

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. Any views expressed are the authors' own. Please refer to the Media Guide to help put the stories in perspective. You can follow breaking news stories on our Twitter feed.

NIDCExhaustion.jpg7:40 a.m. IRDT, 24 Farvardin/April 12 As Iran prepares to resume talks concerning its nuclear program on Saturday with the P5+1 group -- the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, plus Germany -- it announced this week that it had cut off oil exports to three European countries, including one that will be across the negotiating table in Istanbul. According to AFP, on Wednesday,
Two Iranian broadcasters, Al-Alam and Press TV, reported that Iranian oil exports to Germany had been halted and exports to Italy could soon likewise be stopped, without identifying their sources.

On Tuesday, the two networks said crude exports to Spain had also ended, expanding on a February decision to stop oil sales to France and Britain.

Oil Minister Rostam Qasemi also said on Tuesday that Iran was no longer supplying oil to Greece.

The announcements were portrayed in Iran as pre-emptive punishment against the European Union for imposing an oil embargo on the Islamic republic that is to come into full effect on July 1.

Spain had announced that it was ceasing the purchase of Iranian oil in March, and Security Council members Great Britain and France had been buying only minimal amounts before the cutoff. Japan, meanwhile, which has been among the leading purchasers of Iranian oil for years, has recently been cutting back its imports in a substantial way. Reuters reports:

Between them, Japan's trading houses and refiners will reduce Iranian crude imports by about 60,000 barrels per day (bpd) in April, industry sources said. The reduction is the equivalent to about 18.5 percent of the 322,900 bpd that Japan imported in the first two months of the year, according to the latest government data available.

Some of Japan's trading companies, like some of its refiners, let annual import contracts with Iran lapse at the end of March, industry sources said. [...]

The cuts come even after the United States in March exempted Japan and 10 other EU nations from sanctions due to take effect in July because they have significantly cut purchases of Iranian oil. Soon after receiving the exemption, Finance Minister Jun Azumi said Japan would continue to cut imports of Iranian oil.

Japan's imports of 322,900 bpd in January and February were already down 28 percent on the first two months of 2011, according to data from the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry.

As recently as 2009, Japan imported an average of 421,000 barrels per day of Iranian oil for the entire year. Along with Japan and the European Union, China, South Korea, and Turkey have also announced in recent months that they are cutting back on imports from the Islamic Republic.

Confronted with declining purchases and the outright loss of customers for its oil, Iran has been trying to boost sales by offering unusually generous credit terms. The Financial Times observes,

Tehran has been offering a handful of potential customers in Asia, including India, 180 days of free credit, according to [oil industry] officials. They estimate that each month of credit amounts to a discount of roughly $1.2 to $1.5 a barrel.

But Gulf-based officials and European traders said Tehran was struggling to find new customers despite its generous credit terms. [...]

Iran's offer of longer payment periods amounts amounts to a discount of about 7.5 per cent per $118 barrel. Saudi Arabia and other leading Middle East oil producers extend 30 days of credit, and Tehran in the past has allowed importers such as China to pay in 60 to 90 days.

On Tuesday, while on a visit to the southern province of Hormozgan, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad declared that the West "intend[s] to impose an embargo on our oil.... We have as much hard currency as we need and the country will manage well, even if we don't sell a single barrel of oil for two or three years."

***
TaghipourBouquet.jpgIran's Ministry of Information and Communications Technology has rebutted reports that the Islamic Republic has imminent plans to cut off the country's population from the global Internet. The ministry specifically denied the authenticity of a statement to that effect attributed by various media outlets in recent weeks to Information Minister Reza Taghipour (pictured at left), who was sanctioned by the European Union last month in connection with human rights violations; the ministry hinted that the disputed statement was an April Fool's prank, a suggestion belied by the actual timing of the original reports. According to the International Business Times, the
rebuttal came in the wake of news reports that said Iran was pushing ahead with its "clean Internet" plan and that it would set up a national Intranet that effectively blocks foreign sites like Google, Gmail, Google Plus, Yahoo and Hotmail.

Iran vehemently denied the report and called it a hoax that served "the propaganda wing of the west." The communications ministry said the news originated from a fake statement published on Iranian sites on April 1, ascribing the view to Taghipour. [...]

[However], the sites, khabarnegaran.info and Kaleme.com, which originally published Taghipour's statements, posted them on March 25 and April 5 respectively, and not on April 1, as the ministry has claimed.

Khabarnegaran Iran, an Iranian news site launched in 2009, is part of Iranian journalists' resistance to the government repression and propaganda, Reporters Without Borders said in a statement in February, when it announced its support to the site. Kaleme is known as a reformist website. Both these sites have been targeted by the Iranian government entities in the past. These sites, which operate for press freedom in Iran, would be at the risk of losing international support by running fabricated statements, making it hard to believe the ministry's claim.

In addition, there is no evidence that the Iranian regime has dropped its plan to launch a "national information network" in June that many Iranians fear could cut them off from legitimate Internet access -- Ali Chenar reported in January for Tehran Bureau on that plan and Iranian citizens' concerns about the prospect of what has been dubbed a "Halal Intranet." Those concerns have been stoked by undisputed comments from government officials like that of the Information Ministry's Mohammad Reza Aghamiri, who declared in February, "The Internet is an uninvited guest which has entered our country...and because of its numerous problems, severe supervision is required."

***
EghbaliStoryOfAshura.jpgThe New York Times carries a feature on Iran's small but vibrant comic book scene. The Times' Marc Bennetts spoke with illustrator Amin Tavakoli, who described the restrictions with which graphic artists in the country must grapple:
"All our art has to conform to Islamic law," said Mr. Tavakoli. "So our published art differs a lot from Western graphic novels. For example, women's hair should not be visible, and all female characters have to be dressed in accordance with Islamic tradition."

And even then, their work can run into trouble.

One recent domestic release, "The Story of Ashura," a graphic novel, tells the story of the slaying and decapitation of Imam Hussein, grandson of the Prophet Muhammad, at the Battle of Karbala in 680 A.D. It depicts the defining moment of Shiite Islam in 60 brightly colored pages complete with speech bubbles, one of which read, "By the holy name of God, seeking his grace, I leave this world, loyal to the creed of His messenger." [...]

[... T]he book caused a minor scandal after its release earlier this year because Islamic law forbids the pictorial representation of holy figures. The authorities only allowed its publication after the book's illustrator, Parviz Eghbali, convinced them that the depictions were "unique in their kind and cannot be assumed to resemble anyone."

Image: A page from "The Story of Ashura"; text by Mohammed Saeed Bahmanpour, art by Parviz Eghbali.

Copyright © 2012 Tehran Bureau

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