Spotlight on Iran (Week of April 18-25, 2012)

April 2012-Ordibehesht 1391
Week of April 18-25, 2012
editor : Dr. Raz Zimmt

Highlights of the week:

  • Iran steps up demands for the West to lift sanctions ahead of new round of nuclear talks in Baghdad
  • For the first time in three years, president takes part in meeting of Expediency Discernment Council, headed by Rafsanjani
  • Cyber attack on Iran’s oil industry
  • Iranian diplomat’s involvement in sexual abuse in Brazil causes media storm.
  • Pictures of the week: Supreme Leader visits ground forces of Iran’s regular army.

Iran steps up demands for the West to lift sanctions ahead of new round of nuclear talks in Baghdad

Tehran’s Friday prayer leader Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati has warned Western countries this week that persisting with a policy based on sanctions and pressure on Iran will spell failure for the nuclear talks. During his weekly Friday sermon, the top cleric said that the West must lift the sanctions imposed on Iran to gain the trust of the Iranian people.

Jannati’s demand to lift the sanctions was echoed this week by other Iranian clerics and top officials. Mohammad Sa’idi, the Friday prayer leader in the city of Qom, said that it is now up to Western countries to demonstrate their good intentions towards Iran by lifting the sanctions. Mohsen Mojtahed Shabestari, the Friday prayer leader in the city of Tabriz, stated that the Iranian people believe that if Western countries do recognize the rights of their country, they must lift all sanctions and revoke all resolutions passed against it.

Majles Speaker Ali Larijani also discussed the continuing sanctions on Iran, saying that they are intended to stop the country’s development. In a speech given in Tehran, Larijani noted that claims about the economic sanctions having been imposed on Iran for its nuclear activity are strange and perplexing coming from the United States, which supports a “Zionist regime” that has several hundred nuclear warheads. Last week Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi also called on the West to alleviate the economic sanctions imposed on Iran as nuclear negotiations are about to continue in Baghdad.

Meanwhile, Petroleum Minister Rostam Qasemi threatened this week that, unless European countries lift the sanctions imposed on the Iranian oil sector before nuclear talks resume in Baghdad on May 23, Iran will stop exporting oil to all European countries. Similar threats were heard this week from Mohammad Reza Naqdi, chief of the Revolutionary Guards’ Basij wing, who called for a cessation of imports from Western countries in response to the economic sanctions.

This week the U.N. Security Council Sanctions Committee added two members of the Revolutionary Guards’ Qods Force and an Iranian company to the sanctions blacklist for their involvement in an attempt to smuggle weapons into West Africa in 2010.

In addition, an E.U. official said last weekend that in the next two months the bloc will review the resolution passed in January 2012 to impose an oil embargo on Iran, due to concerns that such an embargo will lead to a collapse of some E.U. countries. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and other Western diplomats stressed, however, that the West has no intention of easing the sanctions on Iran until it shows willingness for meaningful concessions in the nuclear talks.

For the first time in three years, president takes part in meeting of Expediency Discernment Council, headed by Rafsanjani

Last weekend, for the first time in three years, President Ahmadinejad took part in a meeting of the Expediency Discernment Council. The president, considered a member of the council, has been absent from its meetings in recent years due to his strong differences of opinion with Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who has been recently appointed by the Supreme Leader to another five-year term as the council’s chairman. In recent years the president has accused the council of trying to undermine the work of his government and acting against the law.

In his opening remarks during the recent council meeting, held on Saturday, April 21, Rafsanjani thanked Ahmadinejad for taking part in it and expressed his hope that the president will become a regular participant in the council meetings.

The president’s participation in the council meeting was widely covered by Iran’s media. In an editorial published by the reformist daily E’temad, intellectual and political commentator Dr. Sadegh Zibakalam analyzed the reasons behind the president’s decision not to boycott the council meetings anymore. In the article, Zibakalam, considered one of Rafsanjani’s allies, argued that the president is trying to endear himself with Rafsanjani in view of the escalating differences of opinion in the conservative bloc, which peaked during the Majles election campaign. Zibakalam argued that Ahmadinejad is interested in creating a new political coalition by building closer ties with Rafsanjani, a move motivated by the division in the conservative bloc and the presidential elections coming next year. The top political commentator estimated, however, that the president’s overtures would not succeed since he has nothing in common with Rafsanjani politically, economically, or socially, and because Rafsanjani does not stand to gain anything from such an association.

The daily Siyasat-e Rooz argued that the president’s participation in the council meeting was the result of a statement recently made by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, who stressed the need for all council members to take part in its meetings. The daily praised the president for resuming his participation in the council meetings, saying that it makes the council stronger at a time when some political figures are attempting to weaken its position. The daily was hinting at the controversial statement made last week by Gholam Hossein Elham, the president’s legal advisor, who said that a number of council members had been appointed by the Supreme Leader to keep them from becoming unemployed. In an interview given by Elham to the Raja News website, he said that the differences of opinion between the council and the government, as well as its hostile attitude towards the executive branch, had undermined its efficiency. This week Elham claimed that his statement was distorted by his political opponents.

Cyber attack on Iran’s oil industry

Ali-Reza Nikzad, a spokesman for the Petroleum Ministry, confirmed on Monday, April 23, that in recent days the information systems of the Petroleum Ministry and the National Petroleum Company have been under a cyber attack. He said that the virus, which attacked the computers for the purpose of deleting the information they contained, burned the motherboards of computers connected to public servers and deleted some of the information. He stressed, however, that the most important information of the Petroleum Ministry was intact, since the public servers attacked operate separately from the main servers, which are not connected to the external internet network.

Iranian news agencies reported that servers used by the Petroleum Ministry and a number of related companies had been attacked by a virus dubbed “Viper”. As a result of the attack, Iran’s main oil terminal in the Persian Gulf island of Kharg was disconnected from the internet to avoid further damage. Also cut off were all the internet systems in the Petroleum Ministry, the National Petroleum Company, the National Gas Company, and several other companies associated with the oil sector and petrochemical industries. According to the Iranian media, the cyber attack caused no damage to oil production and export and did not disrupt the country’s gasoline supply systems. Following the cyber attack, the Petroleum Ministry established a crisis headquarters.

Fars News Agency said that the cyber attack is yet another expression of the economic war waged by the West against Iran, whose main objective is to hit the strategically important oil sector. Western countries, according to Fars, are trying to carry out a cyber attack against the oil sector due to the failure of the economic sanctions they have imposed on Iran.

The Supreme Leader has recently issued a directive on the establishment of a “Supreme Cyber Council” for the integration of efforts to prevent cyber attacks. The new council was instructed to promptly establish a “National Cyber Center” to take charge of issues pertaining to cyberspace in Iran and elsewhere, including software, hardware, and internet content.

Iranian diplomat’s involvement in sexual abuse in Brazil causes media storm

The involvement of an Iranian diplomat in sexual abuse in Brazil has Iran’s media in a frenzy. Hekmatollah Ghorbani, 51, a diplomat stationed in the capital of Brazil, was questioned by police in Brasilia last weekend on charges of molesting two girls aged 9 and 14 at a local swimming pool. He was released under diplomatic immunity.

The Iranian embassy in Brazil denied the allegations against the diplomat, claiming it was a misunderstanding which resulted from “cultural differences” between the two countries. Foreign Ministry Spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast denied the allegations as well, saying that the media reports in Brazil are not indicative of reality and are not consistent with the diplomat’s past background.

The incident and the Foreign Ministry’s reaction drew strong criticism from some media in Iran. The conservative daily Jomhuri-ye Eslami said that the reaction of the Foreign Ministry does not answer the question of whether the diplomat was actually present at a mixed-gender swimming pool. The newspaper demanded explanations from the Foreign Ministry about the issue, and wondered why it does not control the behavior of its employees. The Tabnak website, too, expressed surprise over the reaction of the Foreign Ministry, saying that the reaction causes damage to Iran’s reputation. The website compared the Foreign Ministry’s handling of the incident to President Obama’s strong reaction to his bodyguards’ involvement in a nightclub brawl during his visit to Colombia several weeks ago.

Mehr News Agency also harshly criticized the Foreign Ministry for its reaction to the incident, saying that it reflects the problematic and inappropriate conduct of the Foreign Ministry and Iranian diplomats stationed abroad. A commentary article published by the agency cited several examples of past incidents as evidence that the Foreign Ministry does not exercise sufficient control over the conduct of diplomats in other countries.

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