Sunday, November 27, 2011

Tensions rise in Iran - President's top advisor arrested - Crippling sanctions on the way

Tensions rise in Iran - President's top advisor arrested - Crippling sanctions on the way


iReport — “The 2012 Presidential elections will be the scene of a tough and unprecedented battle between the Supreme Leader and elements of opposition - who are already “involved in the government,”” warns Heydar Moslehi, Iran’s Minister of Intelligence.

     The height of tensions between opposing factions of the leadership was clearly demonstrated just days ago, when authorities raided the office of Iran News [President Ahmadinejad’s press aide].  Each group has been threatening to unravel certain secrets that will incriminate the other side.  The United States and allies, on the other hand, are preparing to unleash the biggest blow to Iran’s economy: crippling sanctions on the Central Bank and the Energy sector.

     We will explore the issue with our panel of experts: Ali Mazrouie, former member of the Parliament; Mehrdad Emadi, Economic Advisor to the European Union and Ali-Asgar Ramezanpour, independent Iran Analyst.  First let us take a look at this report.

     Video Narrator:   We have an election coming up.  More than one hundred days to go, yet tensions are building up already.  The reformists whose candidacy was once the subject of much controversy, have now turned into mere witnesses to the process.  This time, the fight is between the two parties of the government.  The incident at Iran Newspaper was highly symbolic of the power play taking place at the highest level of our government lead by President Ahmadinejad and the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei.

     Security forces showed up at the main office of the Newspaper to arrest Aliakbar Javanfekr, President Ahmadinejad’s close advisor.  The attempt was met with resistance by staff members, creating an unprecedented scene of conflict at a media headquarter, involving shouts, threats, physical confrontation, battery, tear gas and eventual arrests.  Mr. Javanfekr had harshly criticized Ahmadinejad’s critics in a recent interview with E’temad – an opposition Newspaper which was immediately closed down as a result.

     Tensions in the country are on the rise.  Heider Moslehi, Minister of Intelligence publicly predicts the upcoming elections turning into a “battle against Ayatollah Khamenei”.   Moslehi himself is one of the cogs in the wheel of the tensions.  His removal from his position as Minister of Intelligence by the orders of Ahmadinejad and his subsequent reappointment to the job on orders of the Ayatollah clearly marked the tensions between the two bosses. The internal conflicts are further complicated by external elements.  In the course of only four days, two resolutions were issued against Iran’s nuclear program and one against its human rights violations.  The sanctioning of Iran’s Central Bank by Britain, added a new dimension to all the existing sanctions, the sum total of which casts a cloud of mystery over the country’s future.  What are the solutions for this puzzle and who holds the key?

     Back in Studio]  Host:  Mr. Ramezanpour, it seems the political tensions began with the arrest of Aliakbar Javanfekr.  Do you think it was a premeditated move or that things simply got out of hand?
     Ramezanpour:  Well, the fact that the agents were armed and the reported shooting at the scene obviously indicate that they were prepared for possible conflict.  As for the resistance by Javanfrkr and his staff, I think that is an effort on the part of Ahmadinejad to separate his camp from that of the Ayatollah’s in a marked way, so yes the tensions are somewhat calculated it seems.

     Mr. Mazrouie, for a while things appeared to be moving along in a cohesive manner even with the changing of the Minister of Finance.  What do you think is behind the current tensions?
     Mazrouie:  Well, I think the attitude of the Majlis toward the Minister of Finance was in line with the wishes of Ayatollah Khamenei, as is the case with all Ministers in general.  Ahmadinejad does not have a lot of influence on the country’s Ministries.  He is only reacting to the events and developments, even at the cost of creating tensions.

     Mr. Ramezanpour:  Some of the opposing factions are threatening to reveal incriminating secrets.  Your thoughts?
     Remezanpour:  Well, now that the reformists are out of the picture, the competition has to then shift to the current players who are the heads of the government and they create undue tensions hoping to gain control of the elections process and the poles and voting booths and so on.

     Mr. Mazrouie, on one hand there are all these claims about evidence and documents involving the billion-dollar banking fraud and the players involved.  On the other hand, Mr. Ahmadinejad and his people claim innocence.  What is your take on this issue?
     Mazrouie:  Well, until all facts and evidence are revealed, we can not honestly judge the situation, but it is possible for the so called evidence to be presented at some point.

     Mr. Emadi, why do you think the U.S. is acting so quickly on the new round of sanctions even of the Central Bank, given that the claims about assassination plot are still under investigation and not fully proven?
     Emadi:  Part of the reason is the IAEA report and the fact that Iran has built continent-range ballistic missiles.  The question has come up as to the motivation behind building long-range missiles.  Another issue that has received less attention – or coverage – is that over the past six months, Iran has purchased many parts, tools and certain software in particular, for the express purpose of using in the ballistic missile project.  The purchases were made by the Revolutionary Guards and related companies.  This has caused serious concern.  Another issue is the large-scale money laundering that has been taking place on both national and international level, throughout Iran’s banking system including the Central Bank.  The multi-layered scheme included not only illegal purchases but also highly questionable sources of funding for the purchases.  So, all these strung together led to a conclusion that Iran has now become a serious threat to global economy and global security, as well as becoming a vessel for widespread corruption.

     Mr. Ramezanpour, What is your take on this?
     Ramezanpour:  A demand was made a while back, for transparency in Iran’s financial activities which has significantly declined over the past few years.  Iran’s Central Bank that has a given role of observing all financial activities, banking transactions and economic decisions, has essentially crossed over the boundaries of its designated function, instead having turned into an instrument of illicit political activity such as money laundering on international scale, serving both terrorism and the nuclear program.  The country’s leadership – Ayatollah Khamenei – has practically and completely eliminated the last vestiges of hope held by Iran’s civil society and the international community for any semblance of supervision on the country’s banking and financial activity.  Part of the reason for the pressures applied by the West is precisely because of the vulnerable and out of control conditions inside Iran, as demonstrated by the recent deadly explosion at the Missile base in [city of] Mallard for which there has been absolutely no explanation thus far.

     Mr. Emadi, Given all of Iran’s trading partners, neighbors, those countries in the Persian Gulf region that still deal with Iran, how do you see the West’s plan for complete sanctioning of Iran’s Central Bank, Energy sector, Petrochemicals and so on, play out in an effective way?
     Emadi:  Yes indeed these are the questions on the table for the West as well.  However, there have been notable developments in recent weeks in this regard.  First of all, the importance previously placed on the Straight of Hormuz has now paled - due in part to alternative oil contracts and means of delivery.  Secondly and more importantly, special delegates from the European Union and the United States were sent to the region asking for those countries’ cooperation with the West by providing transparency in their dealings with Iran.  And above all, lays a crucial point that Iran is now known as a proven destructive force – a definite threat to global security, and banking system.

     But that point may be debatable.  Some may argue that if this was true, then countries such as China and Russia would have joined the sanctions and not resisted as they have been.  So, the fact that it is still a unilateral move, has caused disappointment for many observers.
     Emadi:  Yes that is true, however, history shows that anytime the Western powers have proposed diplomatic action against a certain country – Iraq for example – they had had to make it a unilateral move -- independent of the United Nations -- until their case gained enough traction and credibility, then countries such as France and Russia who were reluctant to join the efforts because of their vast dealings with Iraq at the time, would finally consent.
     To that end, your point is extremely important in this case.  The fact that again these are unilateral sanctions without the support of United Nations, they are at risk.  If they prove to be reasonable, then maybe other countries would join hands, but still the absence of UN’s observing presence will be cause for concern.

     Mr. Ramezanpour, your view?
     Ramezanpour:  The trouble is that Iranian regime is so self-indulgent, even [delusional] that they can not face the reality.  The sanctions have indeed had adverse effects on Iran’s economy, on every Iranian citizen’s life, be it inside the country or abroad, on many small, medium and large Iranian corporations both inside the country and abroad.  They have had crushing effects on Iran’s already collapsing economy, yet the regime obstinately hangs on to the old and tired rhetoric that China will rescue the country – totally oblivious to the fact that today, both China and Russia are part of the global capitalism and for as long as they can use Iran to their own benefit they will keep their ties, but the moment Iran outlives its usefulness, China and Russia will dump Iran, acting as the final straw that breaks Iran’s back.  Alas, Iranian regime is too delusional to comprehend or to feel the real dangers surrounding it – inside or across the border.

     Mr. Emadi, given that the sanctions don’t seem to have a specific target, they can and they will affect a large majority of Iranian population.  How do you think the ordinary people are viewing the sanctions?  Will they blame the West or their own leaders?
     Emadi:  Well, I’m not sure of their reaction.  But in the first place, I would hold the Revolutionary Guards responsible for their take-over of the country’s business matters, which they failed in anyway.  They simply created bunch of virtual corporations and basically handed over the entire country’s business affairs to these companies.  Their Western counterparts who kept dealing with these firms are equally to blame though, because it was ultimately the ordinary populace who has paid a price so far.  However, if you asked the Westerners even up until six months ago, they would’ve said they had no intention of hurting the citizens.

     Regardless, THAT is what has happened anyway…
     Emadi:  Yes, it has.  But at any rate, Tehran can continue to deny and dismiss the impact of the sanctions but the fact is that Iran’s economy is at a near-collapse state.  Statistical numbers speak for themselves.  The factories that are still operative are producing below 50% capacity.  The cost of trade that used to cost us $1 as recently as two years prior; today costs us $3.5.  The cost of everything has tripled.  It is the ordinary people who bear the brunt of these costs, not the government.  For as long the regime refuses to understand and acknowledge the depth of the crisis, and insists on justifying its own position instead of seeking viable solutions, there is no hope for a real change.

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