Eye on Iran: Iran Crude Output May Fall 1 Million Barrels per Day by July

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Reuters: "Iran's crude oil production could fall 1 million barrels per day by the end of June to below 2.5 million bpd, JPMorgan said in note to clients on Thursday, saying refiners have cut demand for oil from the Islamic Republic faster than previously expected. In one of the largest forecasts yet on the effects of U.S. and European Union sanctions, JPMorgan's energy research team said evidence of deep cuts in Iranian crude imports by European, South African and Japanese refineries so far this year, and expected further cuts from others, had not yet been offset by Chinese buying. 'In total, the reported shifts ... may account for a further reduction of nearly 300,000 bpd in Iranian crude sales during April, which would imply lost sales are now approaching 700,000 bpd below January levels,' wrote JPMorgan's energy research team, led by former International Energy Agency (IEA) analyst Lawrence Eagles. 'This is substantially faster than we expected and with likely further adjustments to come ... it would imply output could continue to push down below 2.5 million bpd by the time the embargoes are officially implemented, a net loss of 1 million bpd from January's level,' the note stated. U.S. and EU sanctions on countries importing Iran's crude oil exports are to go into effect by July 1." http://t.uani.com/Ie08Qd

Reuters: "PSA Peugeot Citroen's production of vehicle kits to ship for assembly in Iran will remain halted for at least five months, a union official said on Thursday. 'Management informed us that the car kits activity for Iran will remain suspended at least until September,' said Bruno Lemerle, a CGT union representative at the French automaker... Peugeot stopped shipping vehicles to Iran in 'knocked-down' kit form earlier this year, after international sanctions barring transactions with the country's banking system made it difficult to obtain sales financing. Exports to Iran accounted for some 13 percent of the group's global deliveries last year but only about 2 percent of its automotive revenue. Iran was the Peugeot brand's second-biggest market in 2011 by volume." http://t.uani.com/HjiqVq

Reuters: "The Obama administration's man in charge of squeezing Tehran over its nuclear program is unapologetic for the difficulties faced by banks in their dealings with Iran since the U.S. tightened sanctions against the country. Companies that trade with Iran are struggling to get paid and the biggest Asian countries are scrambling to work around U.S. sanctions that aim to deprive Tehran of revenue needed to develop its nuclear program. 'I don't feel apologetic about it because that is the consequence of these banks in Iran willingly facilitating transactions for Iran's nuclear programs,' said David Cohen, undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence at the U.S. Treasury Department. 'If they are going to do that, they shouldn't be accessible to the international financial system. They shouldn't be financial institutions that any reputable bank wants to deal with,' Cohen said in an interview. The pressure has forced Iran to listen to U.S. demands, he said. 'Do we think we have the attention of the leadership on their end? We have it like never before,' he added." http://t.uani.com/I4LezK
 

Nuclear Program

NYT: "Prospects for the scheduled resumption of talks on Iran's contentious nuclear energy program next week appeared to recede further Thursday, when the Iranians issued new objections to Turkey as the formerly agreed location for the talks and revealed they had rejected alternate proposals to hold them in at least three European countries. Doubts that the talks would be held at all were compounded by the prime minister of Turkey, who criticized Iran for reneging on his country as the host and for what he described as the specious Iranian proposal of Syria and Iraq as alternate sites, knowing in advance that they would be rejected by the other side. 'The offer circulating around, whether Damascus and Baghdad, is all about dragging the feet,' the Turkish prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, said at a news conference in Ankara. 'It's another way of saying Let's not do it.'" http://t.uani.com/I1HqNs
    
JPost: "Israel should trust US President Barack Obama when he says that he will not let Iran build a nuclear weapon, former Mossad head Meir Dagan told The Jerusalem Post this week. 'If the US president says that he is not going to allow Iran to reach nuclear capability, if we are not going to trust him, then who are we going to trust?' Dagan said. He told the Post that Israel was making a mistake by portraying the issue of Tehran's nuclear ambitions as one of Israel against Iran, and should leave the question to the international community. 'We are now in a situation where [Iran's nuclear program] is the main interest of most of the countries in the region and the US and the international community,' he said." http://t.uani.com/I1GQ2c

WT: "A former president of Iran is calling on the Islamic republic to negotiate with the United States to avoid 'an adventurous policy' involving Iranian-backed anti-Israel proxies in Lebanon and the Gaza Strip. Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani also says Iran has no intention to produce an atomic bomb. 'We sincerely believe that there is no need for nuclear weapons in the region,' he said in an interview published in the Iranian International Studies Journal." http://t.uani.com/HmavFI

AFP: "Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Thursday called on neighbouring Iran to act honestly after Tehran's about-face on Istanbul as the venue for nuclear negotiations. 'It is necessary to act honestly. They continue to lose prestige in the world because of a lack of honesty,' Erdogan told a televised press conference in the latest salvo in the war of words between the two countries. He was speaking a day after Iranian officials announced that it no longer wanted Turkey to host the next round of nuclear negotiations between Tehran and world powers, apparently because of Ankara's stance on the Syria crisis." http://t.uani.com/HiYTja

Sanctions

AFP: "Operations at a Peugeot auto plant in northeastern France have been suspended until at least September because of the lack of spare parts from Iran, union officials said on Thursday. 'There is a tentative plan to resume activity and shipments in September,' CFTC union official Franck Don told AFP after a work's council meeting. Management from PSA Peugeot Citroen last week put 220 employees at its Vesoul factory in partial redundancy for the month of April due to a slowdown caused by blocked shipments from Iran. This latest decision will require redeploying another 300 workers and the axeing of 300 part-time jobs, a CGT union source said." http://t.uani.com/Hlnl90

Tech Central: "MTN is facing a storm over claims that it helped the Iranian government to spy on local subscribers and assisted the regime in its brutal crackdown on protesters in 2009 and 2010. In court papers lodged in the US last week, rival mobile operator Turkcell alleged that MTN told its Iranian military-linked partners it would allow the defence ministry to eavesdrop on subscribers. Sources close to MTN's Iranian business have also described an Orwellian environment in the company's Tehran headquarters, where it allegedly gave military intelligence officials 'open' access to subscribers' details... The sources familiar with MTN's Iranian operations said that, because of these ownership structures, Irancell readily gave information about subscribers to intelligence officials. One of the sources said: 'MTN's data centre in Iran is effectively run by the military and military intelligence. None of the intelligence organisations needs to go through normal procedures to access subscriber data and track individuals.'" http://t.uani.com/HiWTaB

MarketWatch: "Iran has stopped shipping oil to Greece and may halt supplies to Royal Dutch Shell PLC over unpaid bills, Iran media said Friday, as the impact of sanctions widens... The Mehr agency said Tehran may also cut shipments to Anglo-Dutch giant Shell because it has not paid for consignments equivalent to 8 million barrels since the beginning of 2012. It said Shell has already halved its Iran oil shipments to 100,000 barrels a day. 'If the situation continues, Iran could cut oil exports to Shell as it has to the Greek companies Hellenic Petroleum and Motor Oil after they failed to fulfill payment commitments,' Mehr said." http://t.uani.com/HjIMlJ

Terrorism

Reuters: "The warning last month from Representative Peter King, the chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Homeland Security, was blunt: An investigation by his staff had determined that 'hundreds' of people he described as 'Iranian and Hezbollah terrorists' were in the United States. But interviews with U.S. intelligence and law enforcement officials, as well as private experts, about the Iranian-sponsored group paint a more nuanced picture. There is a threat, though whether it is imminent or extensive is far from clear, they say. An alarming part of the officials' assessments focuses on the apparent surveillance missions that Iranian diplomats and possible Hezbollah operatives have been seen conducting at sensitive targets such as New York subways and bridges, and at nuclear power plants and tunnels elsewhere in the United States in the past 10 years." http://t.uani.com/Hma9ip

Opinion & Analysis

David Ignatius in WashPost: "President Obama has signaled Iran that the United States would accept an Iranian civilian nuclear program if Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei can back up his recent public claim that his nation 'will never pursue nuclear weapons.' This verbal message was sent through Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who visited Khamenei last week. A few days before traveling to Iran, Erdogan had held a two-hour meeting with Obama in Seoul, in which they discussed what Erdogan would tell the ayatollah about the nuclear issue and Syria. Obama advised Erdogan that the Iranians should realize that time is running out for a peaceful settlement and that Tehran should take advantage of the current window for negotiations. Obama didn't specify whether Iran would be allowed to enrich uranium domestically as part of the civilian program the United States would endorse. That delicate issue evidently would be left for the negotiations that are supposed to start April 13, at a venue yet to be decided. Erdogan is said to have replied that he would convey Obama's views to Khamenei, and it's believed he did so when he met the Iranian leader on Thursday. Erdogan also met President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and other senior Iranian officials during his visit. The statement highlighted by Obama as a potential starting point was made on state television in February. Khamenei said: 'The Iranian nation has never pursued and will never pursue nuclear weapons... Iran is not after nuclear weapons because the Islamic Republic, logically, religiously and theoretically, considers the possession of nuclear weapons a grave sin and believes the proliferation of such weapons is senseless, destructive and dangerous.' The challenge for negotiators is whether it's possible to turn Khamenei's public rhetoric into a serious and verifiable commitment not to build a bomb. When Obama cited this statement to Erdogan as something to build on, the Turkish leader is said to have nodded in agreement." http://t.uani.com/HiUQ6f

Meir Javedanfar in The Diplomat: "When it comes to Iran, things are actually going well for the West and Israel. Really well, in fact. The recent deterioration in relations between the Iranian government and Turkey is yet another piece of good news for those who want to see Tehran's negotiation position and leverage weakened. Relations between the two countries hit a new low after Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's recent visit to Tehran. Soon after the visit, Iran announced that Istanbul was no longer its preferred venue for negotiations with the P5+1, scheduled to take place on April 13. Iranian authorities scrambled to look for a new venue, and Baghdad has now been suggested by both Iran and China. The P5+1 (consisting of the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany) have yet to announce whether they will accept the suggestion... And yet despite the unprecedented weakening of Iran's position, the P5+1 mustn't take its current advantage for granted; things could still go very wrong. This is especially true of the current sanctions, which are seen by the West as a necessary tool for pressuring the Iranian government. They could still backfire badly, especially if they reduce the supply of food and medicine to Iran to any significant degree. Indeed, this area deserves immediate attention, and there are a number of ways this challenge could be addressed. The most efficient thing would be to form a super committee to which all suppliers of food and medicine to Iran could refer when seeking an exemption for their trade. This should be eminently possible - the same mechanisms used to ensure that sanctions against Iran are applied could be used to oversee the sale of food and medicine to Iranians. In fact, the West could go one step further. While it imposes tough sanctions against the regime, it should supply Iranian cancer patients with the medical isotopes they need. This would undermine the regime's justification for enriching uranium to 20 percent at Fordo, where it says it needs to produce nuclear fuel for the production of medical isotopes at the Tehran Research Reactor (TRR). This would deprive the regime of important cover, and it's refusal of such an offer would only confirm suspicions that its nuclear program is being eyed for military purposes. This would make isolating the regime easier, especially if it continues to stonewall the IAEA and enrich at Fordo. The current economic sanctions could ultimately turn into an existential threat to the Iranian regime, and they should undoubtedly be continued until it shows adequate flexibility for reaching a mutually beneficial deal with the West. Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei always has and always will try to lay the fault for all of Iran's ills at the West's doorstep. He should be relieved of this opportunity by ensuring that sanctions don't deprive the Iranian people of food and medicine. Supplying medical isotopes to Iranian patients would therefore be another blow against the regime and its efforts to demonize the West. The West could score a major victory over Iran's nuclear program - and the regime itself - by improving relations with the Iranian people. Yet unless it thinks creatively about how to keep Iranians on side, it could ultimately end up helping Khamenei and undermine the enormous effort that has gone into isolating his regime." http://t.uani.com/I19eRA

Con Coughlin in The Daily Telegraph: "In an ideal world, President Obama would far rather postpone the festering issue of Iran's nuclear programme until well after the conclusion of this year's presidential contest. Unfortunately, Mr Obama is not going to be afforded this luxury, unless there is a radical change in the way Iran approaches the deepening global crisis over its nuclear ambitions. The only reason we have not, in recent days, woken up to discover that Israeli warplanes have launched a devastating series of bombing raids against Iran's nuclear facilities is because of the personal appeal Mr Obama made to the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, when he visited the White House last month. Mr Obama reassured Mr Netanyahu that on no account would America allow Iran to acquire nuclear weapons and that, for the moment, he would prefer to let the new round of economic sanctions take its course. With the Iranian economy in freefall, the president argued, there was always the possibility that the mullahs might be persuaded to come to their senses and return to the negotiating table. And besides, bombing Iran would not help Mr Obama's re-election prospects. Of all these arguments, the one that made the deepest impression on Mr Netanyahu was the cast-iron guarantee that the Obama administration would never tolerate a nuclear-armed Iran, which is why Israel has put its bombing plans on hold - for the moment, that is. But Mr Obama's carefully cultivated image as an anti-war president could still unravel if, as seems likely, the Iranians maintain their confrontational attitude towards the West - the most egregious example of which was last November's attack on the British Embassy in Tehran. It was only a few weeks ago, after all, when Israeli sabre-rattling was reaching fever pitch over deepening concern in Jerusalem that Iran was starting to transfer key components of its nuclear programme to its new underground facility at Fordow, on the outskirts of the holy city of Qom. The Fordow complex is built deep beneath a range of mountains, offering protection against even the most sophisticated bunker-buster bombs." http://t.uani.com/HshwDX