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News | Currency Rollercoaster Wreaks Havoc; Another Naval Threat

by MUHAMMAD SAHIMI in Los Angeles

04 Jan 2012 15:10Comments

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.

Iran Standard Time (IRST), GMT+3:30

DollarsOnStreetMehr.jpg7:10 p.m., 14 Dey/January 4 The rate of exchange between the rial, Iran's currency, and the U.S. dollar has increased by more than 50 percent over the last few days, reaching a record high of around 18,000 rials to $1, although by Tuesday afternoon, it had fallen back to 15,850 rials for $1. The official rate is about 10,900 rials to $1. The rate of exchange between the rial and other major currencies, such as the euro, has also increased dramatically. Central Bank Governor Mahmoud Bahmani attributed the increase to "psychological effects," presumably referring to the rising tensions between Iran and the United States. There are also persistent reports of people withdrawing their savings from banks in order to purchase gold and silver, driving their prices higher as well. Another important factor in the increase of the exchange rate is President Obama's signing into law new sanctions on Iran's Central Bank, although Bahmani has dismissed them as "comical" and said, "The enemy is counting on psychological tension in the currency market." A popular website that posts the rate of exchange between the rial and other currencies, as well as gold, has been blocked.

Ahmad Tavakoli and Elias Naderan, two Majles deputies who are prominent critics of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, asked Majles Speaker Ali Larijani to convene an emergency session of parliament to discuss the rise in the rate of exchange. They blamed the Ahmadinejad administration's mismanagement and weak policies, as well as what they called "foreign elements," for the increase. Fars, the news agency run by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, joined in the criticism of Ahmadinejad, asking rhetorically, "Where is the [U.S.] dollar that the president used to say is not worth even 9,000 rials?"

The housing market has also been affected by the devaluation of rial. The average price of residential units has increased by about 20 percent in Tehran over the past few weeks, and continues to rise.

Iran issues another Persian Gulf warning

On the last day of a major Iranian naval exercise, Major General Ataollah Salehi, chief of staff of the regular armed forces, said, "We warn [the United States] not to return its aircraft carrier, which we consider a threat against us, to the Persian Gulf." Although Salehi did not name a specific ship, he was presumably referring to the USS John C. Stennis of the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet, which left the Persian Gulf last week after visiting Dubai's Jebel Ali port and passing through the Strait of Hormuz. Salehi added, "We are not in the habit of repeating our warnings.... We emphasize that we are not trying to incite anything irrational, but warn the carrier not to come back."

The Obama administration quickly reacted to Salehi's warning. White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said, "It is the latest round of Iranian threats and is confirmation that Tehran is under increasing pressure for its continued failure to live up to its international obligations. Iran is isolated and is seeking to divert attention from its behavior and domestic problems."

The U.S. Defense Department was also quick to react. Pentagon spokesman George Little said, "The deployment of U.S. military assets in the Persian Gulf region will continue as it has for decades. These are regularly scheduled movements in accordance with our longstanding commitments to the security and stability of the region and in support of ongoing operations. The U.S. Navy operates under international maritime conventions to maintain a constant state of high vigilance in order to ensure the continued, safe flow of maritime traffic in waterways critical to global commerce. We are committed to protecting maritime freedoms that are the basis for global prosperity; this is one of the main reasons our military forces operate in the region."

Grand ayatollah condemns oppression

Grand Ayatollah Yousef Sanei, one of the most progressive and popular Marjas (sources of emulation for the Shia masses), said that "one day the oppressors will not have any way out against the determination of nations to end dictatorship." Meeting with a group of university students from Tehran and Karaj, the grand ayatollah added, "On that day the oppressors will be trembling, as it is clear what the nations will do with them." He also said, "The person who directly helps the oppressor and oppression shares in the sin, and a person who is silent about the injustice done to others also shares the sin with the oppressor. Imam Sajjad [Shiites' Fourth Imam] has been quoted as saying, 'If a person is killed in the east and someone in the west is satisfied by it, it is the same as being the co-offender of the murder.'" He also said that concerning oppression, "Silence is not permitted. Opposing the oppressors is a religious duty."

Admitting the popularity of the Green Movement's leaders

Powerful cleric Ali Saeedi, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's representative to the Revolutionary Guards, said that it is not possible to put Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi on trial because "they have supporters." He added, "Just a few days ago the Gray Man said, 'I will not stop supporting these two. They are good people.'" Saeedi did not name the "Gray Man," but during his investigations of the Chain Murders, journalist Akbar Ganji referred to Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani as the "Gray Eminence."

Ahmadinejad backs down

A few days ago, Ahmadinejad announced the appointment of Mehdi Khorshidi, his 30-year-old son-in-law, as the new head of the National Institute of Standards and Industrial Research. The appointment was strongly protested by many, including some Majles deputies. The president relented and asked Seyyed Nezameddin Barzegari, whom Khorshidi was supposed to replace as institute chief, to remain in the post. Khorshidi has been an outspoken critic of his father-in-law's chief of staff and close confidant, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei.

Seven new websites set up by Ahmadinejad's supporters

As reported by Tehran Bureau, after the confrontation between Ahmadinejad and Khamenei deepened, many websites and blogs that openly supported the president were blocked by the hardliners. New reports indicate that the president's supporters have quietly set up new websites, trying not to be too provocative, so that they can still be operating when the Majles elections are held on March 3. The new websites include Hemmat Negar, Sarih News, Zaman News, Hezar Sangar, Hamian-e Javan-e Dolat-e Eslami, Raha Press, and Meyar News.

Ahmadinejad-Rafsanjani alliance?

Nedaaye Enghelab, a hardline website close to the Revolutionary Guards, accused Ahmadinejad and his supporters of "preparing the groundwork for transferring power," presumably from Khamenei to the president. Borhan, another pro-Khamenei website, claimed that Ahmadinejad and Rafsanjani have jointly decided to attack Khamenei with the goal of weakening the principlists who support the Supreme Leader. This is the first time that the hardliners have accused Rafsanjani and Ahmadinejad of a tacit alliance.

"Ahmadi the idol breaker, break the great idol"

Last Friday, Ahmadinejad attended a meeting of his campaign team for the Majles elections. This was his second meeting with the team over the past month. During the meeting, the president's supporters shouted many times, "Ahmadi[nejad] the idol breaker, break the great idol!" Meyar News, one of the seven new pro-Ahmadinejad websites, reported that in response Ahmadinejad said, "The great idol breaker was Abraham. The idol of our era will be broken by Imam-e Zaman" -- Mahdi, the 12th Imam, whom Shiites believe will one day return from centuries of occultation. Apparently Ahmadinejad also made another provocative statement, saying, "Velaayat [rule of the Islamic jurist] belongs to humanity, and does not belong to a particular person" -- an implicit, but clear challenge to Khamenei.

It is not clear whom Ahmadinejad's supporters meant by the "great idol." The phrase was also used before the June 2009 presidential election, when it was clear that it referred to Rafsanjani. But according to Khabar Online, the website close to Speaker Larijani, "This person cannot be Rafsanjani, because in their confrontation with Rafsanjani, Ahmadinejad's team does not recognize any red line" -- that is, if they meant Rafsanjani, they would have named him explicitly. Many believe that "the great idol" is meant to be none other than Khamenei.

Meanwhile, Deputy Majles Speaker Mohammad Reza Bahonar, who supports Khamenei, attacked the Ahmadinejad administration, declaring that the government's claim to have created one million new jobs in the current Iranian year is a "lie," because this would have required a $120 billion investment that the government doesn't have. Ahmadinejad has said, "I am embarrassed to say we have unemployed people."

Bushehr reactor to come online on anniversary of Revolution

Ali Zabihi, deputy minister of energy, said that the Bushehr light-water nuclear reactor will be completely online by the Fajr festival, the ten-day celebration in February that commemorates the victory of the 1979 Revolution. He said that the reactor is already operating at about half of its full capacity of 1,000 MW. Energy Minister Majid Namjoo has said that the final tests are being run on the reactor in order to bring it fully online. So far, tests to transmit 100, 200, 300, 400, and 500 MW from the Bushehr plant to the national electrical grid have been successfully completed.

Meanwhile, Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) will soon send a team to Tehran, led by the agency's deputy director-general.

Juppé: Iran is making nuclear weapons

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppé said, "Iran is pursuing the development of its nuclear arms, I have no doubt about it. The last report by the International Atomic Energy Agency is quite explicit on this point." Actually, the IAEA report did not say that, but only that there are research aspects of Iran's nuclear program that have "possible military dimension." Juppé said that his country wants tougher sanctions "without closing off the path of negotiation and dialogue with Iran." French President Nicolas Sarkozy has proposed freezing the assets of Iran's Central Bank and sanctioning Iran's oil industry.

Majles link to $3 billion embezzlement case

Gholam Hossein Mohseni Ejei, Iran's prosecutor-general and special prosecutor for the embezzlement case involving nearly $3 billion that has roiled the regime, said that the son of a Majles deputy, whom he did not name, has been arrested in the case. He added that the charges against him are "heavy," but that he is not, contrary to wide rumors, a son of a member of the parliamentary leadership group. He also said that a piece of jewelry that belongs to the wife of one of the shareholders of Amir Mansoor Aria group, the holding company said to be behind the embezzlement, has been confiscated. Ejei said that the value of the jewelry is estimated to be $3,700,000. He added that it has been discovered that at least $6,250,000 worth of jewelry was purchased for the same woman.

Meanwhile, there are persistent rumors in Tehran that 16 Majles deputies have been told privately that they should not run in the upcoming elections, because their qualifications will be rejected by the Guardian Council. Many believe that the 16 may have been involved in the embezzlement. It is known that at least five Majles deputies -- Alaeddin Boroujerdi, Arsalam Fathipoor, Mohammad Dehghan, Jaabar Kouchakizadeh, and Samad Marashi -- have been interrogated in the case. Boroujerdi, chairman of the Majles National Security and Foreign Policy Commission, was arrested and detained for one day. Others that have been charged include Mahmoud Reza Khavari, the Bank Melli director who fled to Canada; Hamif Pour Mohammadi, deputy governor of the Central Bank; and Mohammad Jahromi, director of Bank Saderat.

Human rights reports

Saeed Naeimi, a senior member of the Organization of University Graduates, was released from prison. After 235 days of incarceration, he was set free after posting bail of about $45,000.

The website that reflects Rafsanjani's views has been blocked. The website is published by Rafsanjani's oldest son, Mohsen Hashemi; Mohammad Hashemi, Rafsanjani's younger brother and chief of staff, is also influential in what is posted on the website. The website had been warned not to post what the security officials consider "provocative." It was recently ordered to remove 60 items, in particular Rafsanjani's sermon during the last Friday Prayer that he led in Tehran in July 2009 in which he called for freedom of press, free elections, and release of political prisoners. When the order was rebuffed, the website was blocked. Prosecutor-general Mohseni Ejei confirmed that the website has been blocked due to "the offenses that it had committed."

Fatemeh Alvandi, mother of imprisoned journalist Mehdi Mahmoudian, was arrested by the Ministry of Intelligence, interrogated, warned, and then released. Mahmoudian, a member of the Islamic Iran Participation Front, the most important reformist party that has been outlawed by the hardliners, was one of the first journalists to report on the crimes that took place at the Kahrizak detention center after the post-election protests in 2009, in which at least four young protestors were murdered and a large number tortured. Sentenced to five years of incarceration, he is severely ill, but judiciary officials refuse to grant him any furlough to seek medical treatment and rest. There has been no news about Mahmoudian for some time, and his family is very concerned.

Reports indicate that Feyzollah Arabsorkhi, senior member of the Organization of Islamic Revolution Mojahedin -- a leading reformist group that has been outlawed by the hardliners -- is in very poor health. He has been under pressure to withdraw his signature from a statement by 39 leading political prisoners calling for a boycott of the upcoming Majles elections, due to which he is not allowed to seek medical treatment outside prison. Two other prominent political prisoners, journalist Masoud Bastani and human rights activist Jafar Eghdami, are also in poor health and have no access to medical treatment.

Copyright © 2012 Tehran Bureau

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