Eye on Iran: Gas Prices Soar in Iran as Subsidy Is Reduced


NYT: "Gasoline
prices nearly quadrupled on Sunday and the riot police guarded filling
stations around the capital as deep cuts in subsidies on fuel and other
essential goods took effect. After midnight on Sunday, the price of
subsidized gasoline jumped to about $1.44 a gallon from about 38 cents
a gallon. Similar increases went into effect for compressed natural gas
and diesel fuel, with subsidy reductions for other commodities expected
to be phased in gradually. Security forces with riot shields took
positions at gas stations in Tehran, bracing for a possible repeat of
the unrest that followed the introduction of gasoline rationing in
2007, but there were no reports of violence. President Mahmoud
Ahmadinejad announced the long-anticipated subsidy reductions in a live
television interview on Saturday night, calling the reform 'a great
victory for Iran.' Policy makers have described the program as a
'rationalization' or 'targetization' of Iran's vast and inefficient
subsidies system, but some analysts fear it could increase living costs
for millions of middle- and low-income households. Mr. Ahmadinejad said
that the government was spending $114 billion a year on energy
subsidies. 'If we can save one-quarter of that, it will amount to a
vast economic transformation,' he said. He said that the prices of
water, electricity and natural gas would increase 'gradually,' and that
the subsidy for bread would also be gradually eliminated. He predicted
that the bottom 60 percent of income earners would be better off under
the new plan while the wealthier 40 percent would 'need to economize.'"

"The U.S. and representatives of the European Union
have agreed to impose joint sanctions against Iran in January and are
considering breaking off talks with the country, as patience with
Tehran's nuclear activities wears thin, according to people familiar
with the matter. Western officials are discussing making further talks
with Iran contingent on Tehran's progress toward compliance with
existing United Nations Security Council resolutions, which call on
Iran to cooperate fully with the International Atomic Energy Agency,
the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog... Some Western officials accuse Iran of
playing for time by agreeing to talks but refusing to engage in
meaningful negotiations. Senior diplomats from the U.S., U.K. and
France met in Paris on Tuesday to chart the new course, amid growing
frustration over Iran's obstruction of IAEA inspections. London and
Paris help to coordinate policy for the entire EU on Iran. The three
nations plan to finalize details of the plan by the end of the year,
then deliver the proposal to the EU sanctions committee to get the new
measures in place before talks resume in Istanbul." http://on.wsj.com/gPAwlM

"Iran is trying to build a nuclear bomb, posing a
threat to its neighbors, and the United States is 'very ready' to
counter Iran should it make a move, the top U.S. military officer said
Saturday. Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff,
reassured Persian Gulf nations nervous that an increasingly militarized
government in Iran might try to start a war. 'The United States takes
very seriously our security commitments in the Gulf region,' Mullen
said following a meeting with Bahrain's king. Bahrain, directly across
the Gulf from Iran, is home to a large U.S. Navy base that would be on
the front lines of any war with Iran. 'We're very ready,' Mullen said,
an unusually direct acknowledgment that the United States has
contingency plans to counter Iran should it make a move. 'There are
real threats to peace and stability here, and we've made no secrets of
our concerns about Iran.'" http://bit.ly/ev4UDD

Program & Sanctions

AFP: "President Mahmoud
Ahmadinejad on Saturday hailed this month's Geneva talks on Iran's
nuclear programme and reiterated that world powers should cooperate
with Tehran rather than confront it. 'The Geneva talks were very good
and it is time that they (world powers) change the policy of
confrontation to engagement,' he said in a live interview on state
television in his first reaction to the December 6 and 7 talks. He said
the 'best way' for the two sides was to move towards cooperation. 'We
are moving on this path and I hope in the talks in Istanbul and then
Brazil and then Tehran, we will reach a framework of cooperation,' he
said, suggesting more talks may be held in Brazil and Iran after
Istanbul next month. 'This will benefit all, and everyone's face will
be saved,' he said." http://bit.ly/fvF4gk

"The Central Bank of Iran has decided to
repatriate an unspecified amount of its deposits from foreign bank
accounts, its governor said on Monday, citing global economic
conditions as the reason. 'The CBI decided to lower the volume of its
foreign deposits and transfer them inward by depositing them at
domestic banks,' the official IRNA news agency quoted Mahmoud Bahmani
as telling a banking seminar. 'It was agreed these deposits should be
used to meet the financial needs of domestic projects through hard
currency rather than rials so that the domestic inflation rate would
not be aggravated,' he said. Iran has come under tighter economic
sanctions since June, aimed at pressuring it to curb its nuclear
programme which some countries fear is aimed at making atomic weapons.
Some of the measures restrict financial transactions." http://bit.ly/h08K6t


"Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will discuss deepening economic
ties with Turkey during a visit to the country this week, Sabah said.
Ahmadinejad till attend a meeting of the Economic Cooperation
Organization, a regional group comprising Turkey, Iran, Pakistan,
Afghanistan and Central Asia nations, in Istanbul on Dec. 23, the
newspaper reported.  Iran and Turkey signed agreements in
October covering trade, agriculture, education, banking and customs
regulations, Sabah said." http://bit.ly/fGiuV7 

Domestic Politics

"Iran's atomic chief Ali Akbar Salehi officially took charge on
Saturday as the Islamic republic's new foreign minister after his
predecessor was fired by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, media reports
said. Iranian media reported that Salehi will be the interim foreign
minister until the parliament officials endorses his appointment. Under
Iranian law, the president has to submit his nominations for
ministerial posts to parliament for approval. Salehi, who continues to
head Iran's atomic energy body, took charge officially at a function
which was also the farewell ceremony for his predecessor Manouchehr
Mottaki who however was not present, media reports said." http://bit.ly/hvyyoi

"Iran's former foreign minister Manouchehr Mottaki
has hit out at his sacking this week by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad,
branding the move both 'un-Islamic and offensive.' 'Sacking a minister
while (he is) on a mission is un-Islamic, undiplomatic, offensive and
outside the practices of politics,' Mottaki was quoted as saying by the
Mehr news agency on Sunday. Ahmadinejad announced his decision to oust
Mottaki on Monday while the 57-year-old career diplomat was on an
official visit to Senegal. 'I was never told about the appointment of a
new person within 24 hours of my departure for the mission,' Mottaki
said, referring to a meeting he had with the president on the eve of
his departure, Mehr reported." http://bit.ly/hKyb4V

"Iran has executed 11 people linked to a Sunni
rebel group that claimed responsibility for deadly suicide bombing
attacks on a Shia mosque last week, it emerged today. The 11 were
hanged at dawn in Zahedan, the capital of Sistan-Baluchistan province,
in eastern Iran, on Monday. Zahedan is where Jundollah, said to be
based in Pakistan, has carried out a series of atrocities in recent
years. 'These corrupt and Mohareb [an enemy of God] elements have been
identified and arrested by security and intelligence forces,' Ebrahim
Hamidi, the head of the provincial justice department, said. The Irna
news agency quoted him as saying: 'The sentence was carried out after
receiving confirmation from the country's senior judicial bodies.' It
was not clear whether those hanged were directly linked to the
bombings." http://bit.ly/ijkyrV


Reuters: "A
committee in Iran's parliament voted on Sunday to cut diplomatic
relations with Britain, a day after President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
called for 'cooperation' with major powers. The decision by
parliament's national security and foreign policy committee, reported
by the semi-official Fars news agency, follows criticism by Britain's
ambassador to Tehran of Iran's human rights record. 'After voting by
the members of the committee, it was decided to have diplomatic
relations completely severed with Britain,' Fars quoted lawmaker
Mohammad Karami-rad as saying. If the motion is backed by the full
parliament it would put pressure on the government to downgrade
relations with Britain at a time when a new foreign minister has called
for 'positive interaction' with the European Union." http://bit.ly/eRIcv3   

"A shipment of Iranian arms discovered in Nigeria
in October and destined for Gambia, to the chagrin of neighbouring
Senegal, has stirred up diplomatic troubles between Tehran, Dakar and
Banjul. 'There are many things I will not say on this subject.
Diplomacy does not happen in broad daylight,' Senegal's Foreign
Minister Madicke Niang told reporters in Dakar last week. The arms
cache mystery, which has strained international diplomatic ties, began
in July when a ship belonging to the French group CMA-CGM docked in
Lagos, Nigeria, offloading containers loaded in Iran's Bandar Abbas
port. Officially, the shipment contained construction material, but
customs discovered at least 10 containers holding grenades, mortars and
heavy weapons ammunition. The trader designated by CMA-CGM as the
sender, Iranian businessman Azim Aghajani, took refuge at Iran's
embassy in Abuja but was charged along with three Nigerians on November
25 for trafficking illegal arms. According to Nigeria, Aghajani is also
a member of Iran's ideological army, the Revolutionary Guards." http://bit.ly/f5ZKmP

"Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei
said on Monday any findings by an international tribunal into the 2005
assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri would be
invalid. 'This tribunal is a rubber-stamp one whose verdict is null and
void whatever it is,' state television quoted Khamenei as saying during
a meeting with the emir of Qatar. Iran is a supporter of Hezbollah, the
Lebanese Shi'ite group which says the tribunal is a tool of Israel
aimed at discrediting it by blaming its members for Hariri's murder.
Hezbollah and Western diplomats say they expect members of the group to
be indicted. Lebanese politicians fear a crisis, and possible relapse
into sectarian violence if that happens." http://yhoo.it/hJgfby

"Interior Minister Mostafa Mohammad Najjar charged
on Friday the CIA was involved in the suicide bombing in southeast Iran
as the death toll rose to 36. 'From the inspection of equipment
obtained from the terrorist elements of this crime, it has become clear
that the CIA and other spy agencies were involved,' he was quoted as
saying on state television's website. Najjar did not give details.
Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, meanwhile, accused the
West of working to divide the Muslim world." http://bit.ly/hLbYf1

& Analysis

Maziar Bahari in Newsweek:
"Roozbeh, a 26-year-old university student in Tehran, considers himself
a revolutionary. Never mind that he rarely leaves his room at his
mother's house. 'Many people of my generation hate this regime,' he
tells Newsweek via Skype, asking that his last name be kept private. He
says he spends 14 hours a day dodging government-imposed firewalls to
share news with other Iranian cyberactivists inside and outside Iran.
His strategy resonates with leaders of the country's opposition Green
Movement, who are now shunning street protests in favor of online
organizing. Roozbeh scares Iran's current rulers. In public they deny
it, of course, dismissing him and his allies as 'losers with no
significant power base,' in the words of Iran's leader, Ayatollah Ali
Khamenei. But the mockery rings false: in fact, the Revolutionary
Guards have grown worried enough to establish a Permanent Soft War
Secretariat, dedicated to plugging what the Guards' commander, Mohammad
Ali Jafari, calls 'the loopholes in our soft defense mechanism.' The
massive demonstrations of 2009 have migrated behind closed doors,
unseen by pro-regime Basij thugs, where activists spread the word of
resistance via instant message, satellite television, and what
authorities fear most: social networking. Their vehicle of choice is
Facebook, as evidenced by the Revolutionary Guards-produced cautionary
TV program A Monster Called Facebook, in which founder Mark Zuckerberg
is depicted as a Zionist spy." http://bit.ly/gbLAL8

Howard LaFranchi in CSM:
"US foreign policy
conservatives are pressing for a new approach to Iran that ramps up
support for the Iranian opposition and revives the Bush-era goal of
regime change in Tehran. Borne of two catalysts - frustration over
President Obama's attempts at engagement with the Iranian regime, and
anticipation of the more-Republican Congress taking office in January -
the push for a harder line toward Iran looks beyond economic sanctions
for pressuring the Tehran regime. Pro-democracy initiatives and overt
support for the Iranian opposition are touted as the best way of
felling two birds with one stone: Iran's advancing nuclear program, and
the regime developing it. The hardliners are more likely to espouse
military action against Iran's nuclear facilities, but support for that
route is by no means universal among them. Among the top priorities of
the members of Congress, former Bush administration officials, and Iran
experts touting an overtly anti-regime policy is removal of an exiled
Iranian opposition group - the People's Mojahedin of Iran or the MEK
(Mujahideen-e Khalq) - from the State Department's list of foreign
terrorist organizations. 'Our effort to support freedom in Iran is ...
weak and inconsistent at its very best,' says Frances Townsend, former
national security adviser to President Bush for homeland security and
counterterrorism." http://bit.ly/fbofuj

Abbas Milani in The National Interest:
"But this culture
war continues to play out in the background of politics-the ethos of
the 'conquered' people working quietly but relentlessly to subvert,
change and eventually replace the alien culture of their usurping
rulers. And this current manifestation was clear during the June 2009
uprising. Once again, that same democratic coalition that formed a
foolhardy alliance with the clerical regime-and now numerically
stronger than ever but still denied a chance to organize itself
politically-came together to invigorate what Khomeini's successor,
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and his conservative allies hoped would be an
anemic presidential campaign by a dour, uncharismatic Mir Hussein
Moussavi. But the remarkable surge of social energy in support of
Moussavi forced the conservatives to steal the election for
Ahmadinejad. And then suddenly, the country's seemingly docile
population rose up around a beguilingly simple slogan: Where is my
vote? In Tehran alone, 3 million people marched in remarkable
discipline to demand their democratic rights. Their slogan pithily
captured in a mere four words the hundred-year-old dream of modernity
and democracy in Iran. Using thugs and guns, prison and torture, the
ayatollah has so far succeeded in intimidating the people back into
their homes. But a critical look at the past shows the bleak future of
Khamenei and other champions of despotism. Violence can only delay but
not destroy the rights of man in a nation that has embraced the
cultural ethos of modernity. The hushed, brutalized quiet of today is
at best a prelude to the liberating storms of tomorrow." http://bit.ly/hSdP8R