“Mr. Obama: We Have Our Options on the Table, Too”

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General Seyyed Massoud Jazayeri, Deputy General of the Armed Forces, told Sepah News yesterday that “Iranian commanders had been given the authority to immediately respond to any hostile action from the enemy.” According to Sepah, this was in response to “threats made from some of the Zionist [Israeli] leaders.”

Jazayeri said that “the era of childish games of threats and intimidation with carrots and sticks is over, such that if greedy countries do not have a correct understanding of the world’s and region’s situation today, they will encounter many and unforeseeable problems.” He added that “the the armed forces of the Islamic Republic of Iran are popular” and that “our enemies are operating under their own illusions, with thousands of lies against Sepah and Basij to distort society’s view of us.”

After the contested 2009 elections, Sepah, also known as the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), actively sided with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s support of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Sepah also controls Khatam Al-Anbia, one of Iran’s largest contracting firms. Their dominance in politics and business has angered many in Iran.

Jazayeri concluded with a warning to President Barrack Obama. “Mr. Obama,” he said, “Do not be mistaken; our options are on our table, too. Before you get more entangled in a quagmire in this region, go back home.” In an interview last Thursday with Israeli TV, President Obama said that he told Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu that if negotiations with Iran over their nuclear program are not resolved, the United States continues “to keep all options on the table.”

Iranian Hospitals May Soon Face Shortage of Anesthetics

The head of pharmacy at Tehran University Medical Sciences School of Pharmacy has warned about the lack of anesthetics in Iran.

Kheirollah Gholami told Iranian Labor News Agency that “Tehran University Medical Sciences hospitals presently don’t have a shortage of anesthetics,” but that “anesthetics such as atracurium, sevoflurane, and isoflurane either do not exist in the markets or are very low.” Gholami warned that “if this continues, we really don’t know what we’ll do.”

When asked by reporters what sort of measures have been devised to face this crisis, Gholami responded that “we have to pray, because if we can’t acquire the anesthetics we’ll have to close our operating rooms,” adding that “it’s up to the minister of health to address this situation.”

Gholami blamed sanctions and the lack of funding for the shortage.

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Earlier last week, Fatemeh Nikpour conducted an extensive Q&A with Dr. Akbar Abdullahi, the president of Abidi Pharmaceutical Company, to discuss the medicine crisis in Iran. Abdullahi said that “the primary reason for the medicine shortage in Iran is domestic politics and challenges as opposed to international sanctions.”

Abdollahi listed a number of management issues which have contributed to Iran’s medicine crisis, such as decisions made “without considering all the sides,” “interference from political and oversight organizations” and “a lack of cooperation.” Abdollahi added that “many American companies have a license from the State Department to export medicine to us because medicine is not sanctioned, but we have a problem with securing and transferring money.”

Abdollahi recounted a tale in which he said that “the head of Iran’s Food and Drug Administration was consulting and trying to free up Iranian money that had been blocked by a European source, and he was succeeding, but with the removal of the health minister, these efforts were suspended. In the time it took the new health minister to investigate this, many opportunities were lost.”

The previous health minister, Dr. Marzieh Vahid-Dastjerdi, was fired in December 2012 after publicly complaining that the administration had not allocated the proper funds for the purchase of medicine.

Chinese Investment in Iran Said to Drop from $3 Billion to $400 Million

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Assadollah Asgaroladi, who is head of the Iran-China Chamber of Commerce and Industries, warned that investment in Iran from China has dropped significantly.

To a group of reporters today, Asgaroladi, one of the most influential merchants in Iran after the revolution, said that Chinese investment in Iran in 2011 “had reached close to three billion dollars, but in 2012 this became less […] and had only reached 400 million dollars.”

The question of China arose when a reporter asked, “Under sanctions, are we not forced to sell oil for consumer goods?” Asgaroladi responded that “if we are forced to sell oil in order to buy inferior goods, then why have we built factories?”

China is one of Iran’s top customers for oil. Many Iranians blame their government for allowing Chinese companies to flood the market with cheap and inferior products, causing a strain on Iranian factories and even forcing some to close operations altogether. Asgaroladi continued that “under these conditions we must find a way to help factories bring down prices so that they can compete with imported goods.”

When asked by a reporter what could be done to address this issue, Asgaroladi said that “this is the weak point of management. The reason merchants bring in inferior goods is that we haven’t been able to produce these goods domestically ourselves.” The Iranian government has introduced economic plans such as “The Year of Economic Jihad” and “The Year of National Production” to address the overall economic problems. However, it’s difficult to ascertain how fruitful, if at all, these plans have been.

In regard to the sanctions, Asgaroladi said “we have still not been able to be free [from the effects] of sanctions. The Americans have carrots in one hand and a hammer in the other, and we don’t accept this type of politics.”

Asgaroladi predicted another difficult year for the Iranian economy due to the presidential elections in June. “Political fighting will push the issue of the economy to the side before the elections,” he said, adding that when the new government takes office, in “the first six months, the new government must specify their plan and then have their ministers approved, and this process will go until the end of the year.”

In Other News

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At the opening ceremony of a refinery plant, President Ahmadinejad said yesterday that “we cannot still say that our oil has been nationalized, and the day that we can claim our oil has been nationalized is when all of the earnings of oil is in the pockets of the Iranian nation.”

Oil in Iran was nationalized after the 1979 revolution but has had a long and contentious history, serving as a rallying cry in Iranian modern history for political parties from Islamists to secularists. Despite being one of the top oil producers in the world, Iran still needs to have much of its oil refined abroad.

At the ceremony, Ahmadinejad told the oil minister and those in charge of the refinery that “today, I want you to make a refinery that […] is completely Iranian and from now on; instead of waiting for others to do something for us, we’ll have others waiting for Iranian capabilities.”

The president stated that “we want to reach a point where we won’t export any crude oil. In this case, the refineries will at least double, and this will have a lot of benefits for our country.” Ahmadinejad believes that Iran can sell refined oil at “three to four times the price of crude oil.”

Ahmadinejad Criticized for Welcoming Pre-Islamic New Year

untitled The Iranian president has once again upset religious leaders in Iran. Earlier in the week Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his controversial aid Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei participated in a ceremony of welcoming Norouz, the Persian New year, which falls on March 20. The celebration of Norouz predates both Islam and Christianity and is celebrated by several countries in the Middle East. At the ceremony, a presentation of provincial dances was performed. Ayatollah Lotfollah Safi asked “how can welcoming Norouz be Islamic? Isn’t music and dancing […] that occurred at this ceremony against sacred Islamic laws?” He continued, “they are mocking the commandments of Islam and showing irreverence.” He urged political leaders to take action against this latest celebration by the president, adding that “a system [of government] that has come about through the blood of thousands of martyrs cannot show weakness against these reckless and un-Islamic deeds.” Leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran have had a difficult relationship with pre-Islamic festivals. The president has been able to capitalize on this issue. Lately he has been using the word “Spring” as a kind of campaign slogan to promote his close aid Mashaei as the next president of Iran. The Persian New Year falls on the first day of spring. On Feb. 25 it was even reported that the mayor of Tehran would forbid the advertisement of “Spring” on billboards and public spaces. In the president’s second term, Mashei deeply angered clerics by appealing to Iranian and pre-Islamic forms of nationalism in various speeches and statements. These public Norouz celebrations appear to be part of the president’s plan to present Mashei to Iranian voters as a counter to the reactionary clerics. In Other News Hassran Rowhani, the Supreme Leader’s representative to Iran’s Supreme National Security Council (SNSC), said in regard to negotiating with America, that if “under conditions that the honor and interests of the country are secured, the Supreme Leader will give permission for negotiations and relations; just as other issues like Iraq, Afghanistan and the nuclear case, where temporary and issue-related negotiations took place.” Rowhani was clarifying remarks made previously by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei about relations with the West and America. A former nuclear negotiator himself and current presidential candidate, Rowhani said that “the Supreme Leader didn’t mean that until Resurrection Day, Iran and America would not negotiate or have relations.” The Supreme Leader implements his nuclear policy through the SNSC. Fereydoon Abassi, Head of Iran’s Energy Atomic Energy Organization, responded to reporters’ questions about the suspension of operations at the Bushehr nuclear power plant, which has received coverage “in internal and foreign press.” Abbasi said yesterday that “Bushehr right now is at a testing stage and has not yet come out of this testing stage, and switching off and on is natural at this stage.” The Bushehr nuclear power plant was started by German companies in 1975. It has since been taken over by Russian companies. Some believe the mixing of the two technologies has led to the extra precautions. Iranian weekly magazine Panjareh (Window) is at the center of a minor controversy that has received considerable attention on social media. According to an editor at Panjareh, due to “unsuitable reactions and comments by readers of disrespect towards the president and the orders of the director in charge this publication was collected (from shops) and a new print with a different cover will be distributed.” The picture on the left was the original cover. The picture on the right is the new updated version. AN pics Some believe that the large black-and-white version was unflattering to the president and perhaps that was the reason why it was taken off the shelves. The editor of Panjareh said that there was “no pressure or orders from the government or the judiciary” for this decision, adding that the “articles were not changed.”

Iran to Sue Filmmakers of Argo

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Iran has enlisted the help of French lawyer Isabelle Coutant-Peyre to sue the filmmakers of the award-winning film “Argo.”

At a meeting yesterday in Tehran with Seyyed Akbar Massoudpour, vice president for Parliament Legal Affairs and Provincial Ministry of Islamic Culture and Guidance, Coutant-Peyre said that “for me, Iran is a symbol and model of resistance against the West and I am happy to stand next to Iran in this direction, and to play a part in this great world movement.”

Massoudpour thanked Coutant-Peyre and said that “I am glad that in France there are still open-minded people such as yourself.”

When asked by a reporter how much the case would cost, Coutant-Peyre said that “as a lawyer I cannot say, but less than the production of a film.” She also said that she couldn’t say for certain her chances of success but that “the movement that Iran had started and the complaint against Hollywood is very valuable and can attract public opinion and create discussions. Also, it will stimulate curiosity that will result in people thinking about the reality and lies.”

In regards to the case Coutant-Peyre said that “we are not going to go after damages, but we want to challenge [the filmmakers] and encourage them to apologize.” She also said that they plan to target “the producers or distributors” of the film and that they cannot “target the entire Hollywood system.”

Coutant-Peyre is mostly widely known for her relationship and defense of Ilich Ramírez Sánchez, also known as Carlos the Jackal, who is serving a life sentence in France for the murder of two French agents.

Various Iranian political figures have called the Ben Afleck and George Clooney-produced “Argo” an “anti-Iranian” film and have suggested that its production and subsequent awards were politically motivated.

On CNN’s Fareed Zakaria March 2, Iran’s Ambassador to the United Nations Mohammad Khazei called the film “technically weak” and said that it had “many mistakes.” Jam News cut a short clip of the interview in which Khazaei invited the filmmakers of “Argo” to travel to Iran so that the day following their visit “they will apologize to the big nation of Iran for producing such a weak film.”

In Other News

Iran’s Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi answered questions today before reporters about his statements last week that received considerable coverage. At a joint press conference on Sunday Salehi said that he was hopeful that “sanctions will be gradually removed.”

Salehi said that “if you read the newspapers from before, you will also see positive news, and the European Union also said that there needs to be a reassessment of the sanctions.” Salehi stressed that “in the world of politics, you have to move in grey areas so that you give yourself the possibility of stepping back. If you burn all the bridges you’ve passed you cannot go back. Statements at press conferences should not be judged to this extent.” The foreign minister then compared the work of a diplomat to that of the security services in that “all of his work must not be out in the open.”

Salehi did stress again that he was “hopeful about the following year.” He said that “the people should be certain that God willing, next year Iran will enter a new phase; meaning that 34 years we’ve worked to enter this phase.” The next calendar year in Iran starts March 20.

Will Former Reformist President Khatami Run In the Elections?

Opposition website Jaras  published an extensive article titled “40 Reasons For the Necessity of Khatami’s Candidacy” on March 8. The article, written by Mohammad Reza Jalaeipour, has been shared and critiqued widely on Facebook and is the latest call to former Reformist President Mohammad Khatami to participate in Iran’s upcoming presidential elections this summer. In writing the article, Jalaeipour stated his intention was to have a “public discussion” about Khatami’s candidacy.

Jalaeipour believes that a Khatami presidency would increase the possibility of the end of Mir Hussien Mousavi and Mehdi Karoubi’s house arrest and bring about the freedom of political prisoners. 2009 presidential candidates Mousavi and Karoubi have been under house arrest for two years without charge. He also believes that Khatami is able to address some of Iran’s economic problems and also decrease sanctions and the possibility of military strikes. Some on social media wrote that Jalaeipour overestimates Khatami’s abilities to reign in the various issues Iran is facing.

One of the more interesting reasons given for Khatami’s candidacy is that Jalaeipour believes that the next president may be the last president of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Previously this year, Ayatollah Khamenei had suggested the possibility of moving from a presidential system to a parliamentary system. Some analysts believe this move would provide Khamenei more leverage over a prime minister than he currently has over the president.

Yesterday at Tehran University, Khatami gave a speech which was printed by opposition website Kalameh. In relation to the elections Khatami set forth a list of prerequisites in regards to elections. He explained how “the government should be run by the people” and that people “must be free from fear, force, intimidation […] to express themselves as they want.”

Feb. 18 it was reported that the Reformist Front, a group of Reformist parties and groups, had nominated Khatami as their candidate for the presidency although he had not yet responded to their nomination. Many on social media who are close to the Reformists are suggesting that Khatami will soon decide to run. However, several Reformists told Iran Pulse that nothing is confirmed yet.

On March 6, Minister of Intelligence Haydar Moslehi warned of “an individual connected to the seditionist camp” has connections to BBC and VOA and that they “desire this person’s candidacy.” Although Moslehi did not mention Khatami by name, it was generally known that that’s who he was referring to. The “sedition” is what Iranian state media refers to the Green Movement protests that erupted after Iran’s 2009 contested elections.

In Other News

The Iranian delegate at at the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) session accused Special Rapporteur for human rights in Iran Ahmed Shaheed of “working with terrorists” in compiling his latest report.

At the 22nd Human Rights Council session, Shaheed’s report accused the Islamic Republic of Iran of human rights violations ranging from the arrests of journalists to the high rate of executions and persecution of religious and ethnic minorities. This is Shaheed’s fourth report on Iran in nearly two years.

Mohammad Javad Larijani, Iran’s delegate at UNHRC and also head of human rights council to the judiciary in Iran, also accused Shaheed of “reducing himself to a political activist who is against the Islamic Republic of Iran.”

Days before the session in Tehran, Larijani accused Shaheed of acting like “a movie star running from one network to another.” Larijani also said that unlike in other countries, “no question has been left unanswered” in regards to human rights. He also accused the United States of human rights violations after Sept. 11, 2001 for the purposes of “protection of security.”

The European Union announced yesterday that nine Iranians were added to their sanctions list of human rights violators. This list restricts their travel and activities to the 27 countries within the European Union. This addition brings the total list of Iranians on this list to 87.

Iranian Media Clash Over Ahmadinejad’s Embrace of Chavez’s Mother

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A picture of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad embracing the mother of former Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who died last week from cancer, has been a major source of controversy among the Iranian media.

In the picture taken last week at Chavez’s funeral Ahamdinejad can be seen touching the hands of the grieving Elena Frias de Chavez, Chavez’s mother, under the watchful eye of his Deputy Hojat al Islam Mohammad Reza Mirtaj Aldini.

The picture immediately went viral on Facebook and Twitter. Most users either joked about his sincerity or wondered how religious circles would react back in Iran. Islamic law forbids the touching of unrelated men and women. The reaction from religious circles was swift.

Hojat al-Islam Hossein Ibrahimi, member of Society of Militant Clergy of Tehran, said that “in relation to what is allowed (halal) and what is forbidden (haram) we know that no unrelated women can be touched unless she is drowning at sea or needs (medical) treatment.” He warned the Guardian Council, which vets potential candidates in Iran’s elections, to investigate a candidate’s religious understanding “because someone who doesn’t know religion will make what is allowed forbidden and what is forbidden allowed.” Some still question the Guardian Council’s decision to approve the then unknown Ahmadinejad’s candidacy for the president in 2005.

Conservative member of parliament Seyyed Mohammad Pourfatemi encouraged clerics and sources of emulation (marajeh) to “confront seriously and condemn the president’s latest actions and not allow him to do what as he pleases when it comes to infringing Islamic laws.” And Esfahan Friday prayer leader and Ahmadinejad critic, Hojat al-Islam Mohammad Taghi Rahbar, said that the actions of the president “are far from the status of a Muslim.”

Iranian media coverage of Ahmadinejad’s embrace not only received extensive coverage but was filled with controversy and accusations of competing media outlets.

As reported by Asre Khabar, when supporters of the president noticed the publication of the photo between Ahmadinejad and Chavez’s mother they “first contacted inside (Iranian) media […] to prevent the publication of the picture.” Unsuccessful, Shabakeye Iran, the online version of Iran Newspaper, which is under the management of the administration, quickly came to the president’s defense.

Shabakeye Iran claimed that the president had attempted to “put his hands together and raise them in the manner of people from East Asia.” The site published a series of photos of Ahmadinejad greeting different women in a similar gesture as below. This time however, according to Shabakeye Iran, Chavez’s “grieving mother, with tears coming down from her eyes, suddenly put her hands on top of his.”

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A picture soon began circulating of Ahmadinejad embracing an older man, in a similar gesture as he embraced Chavez’s mother. Conservative website Entekhab pointed out that according to an investigation by “experts” that the picture of Ahamdinejad with an older male was photoshopped from a picture of Egypt’s Mohamad El Baradei greeting with parliament chairman Ali Larijani. Entekhab accused “supporters of the government” of spreading the doctored photo of the embrace and Shabakeye Iran of giving it coverage.

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Another doctored photo of the president also began circulating across social media showing the president embracing Hugo Chavez’s daughter. Shabakeye Iran took screenshots of Hardline Iranian media reporting the story and titled the piece, “Damaging The President With Hastily Done Embellishment.” The female in the picture does not appear to be either of Chavez’s daughters and looks similar to another picture of the president holding a young man on a trip to the provinces.

Mirtaj Aldini who can be seen attempting to pull away Ahamdinejad’s hands away from Chavez’s mother in the picture below called the picture of the embrace between Ahmadinejad and Chavez’s mother a “forgery.” He said that the president only wanted to “respond the feelings of Chavez’s mother, who was crying and said that Ahmadinejad is like my own son.”

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Not all media reaction was partisan, however. Several hard-line websites ran an op-ed by Hojat al-Islam Hossein Souzanchi in which he warned against the “probable wave of useless” coverage this situation would create. Souzanchi wrote that although he “didn’t want to defend Ahmadinejad,” he wanted to note that the “problems with Khatami and Ahmadinejad are different.” In 2007 former president Mohammad Khatami was filmed shaking hands with a female in Italy. In a speech Hojat al-Islam Mohammad Reza Zaeri drew a comparison between the two situations.

Souzanchi wrote “that the problem with Khatami was that with the excuse of freedom he wanted to get away from religion having a role in interactions and decisions in the social arena and this isn’t the problem with Ahmadinejad.” He stressed that “from a religious perspective, adding fuel to this situation is not justified,” adding that it would be “playing the enemy’s game.”

Top Photo: Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad offers his condolences to Elena Frias, mother of Venezuela’s late President Hugo Chavez, during the funeral service at the Military Academy in Caracas, March 8, 2013. (photo by REUTERS/Miraflores Palace)

Khamenei: West Did Not Offer Any Concessions at P5+1

At a meeting of the Assembly of Experts yesterday, Ayatollah Khamenei said that at the latest negotiations in Almaty, Kazakstan between Iran and P5+1, “the West did not do anything important for it to be interpreted as a concession but rather they confessed to some of the rights of the nation of Iran.” It had been reported by most Western media that the West offered to lift some sanctions if Iran would scale back certain nuclear activities.

Khamenei added that “to measure the honesty of the West at the latest meeting with Iran, we must wait until the next session.” This statement implies that perhaps points of progress or significance were discussed.

Regarding enrichment of uranium at 20%, Khamenei said that “the enemies of the nation of Iran, because of their lack of understanding of Iran and their miscalculations, had recommended odd and strange paths on this issue, that had we gone down these paths the chances of reaching uranium at 20% would be zero.”

Khamenei also accused President Barrack Obama of trying to provoke world public opinion by asking “the heads of Turkey and Brazil to mediate in order for Iran to accept a middle (compromise) solution.” He said that he told political leaders “that there is nothing wrong with pursuing these paths for a solution but that the Americans will never accept it, and that’s what happened.”

On sanctions, Khamenei said that “the excuse of sanctions appears to be about the nuclear program but it is actually a long term plan that the West has been pursuing.” He continued “that the hope of the West was that by putting pressure on the people, they would stand up to the system (government) but what they saw the anniversary of the revolution rallies was against their wants and desires.”

In response to Iran’s economic woes and the effects of sanctions Khamanei said that “some of the problems are related to the sanctions…and some are related to the management of the economy but the important point is that the problems can be fixed.” To what extent the sanctions have caused Iran’s economic problems has been a source of controversy inside Iran with different political figures offering varying analysis.

Khamenei began his speech by stressing the importance of having “long term views” in relation to the “hardships and ups and downs.”

In Other News

Iran’s Ambassador to the United Nations Mohammad Khazaei called on the Non-Alignment Movement (NAM) states to take action on nuclear disarmament.

At a session in New York he said that Iran “has always announced that nuclear disarmament is one of its most important priorities yet we have always stressed the importance that members of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) have complete rights to use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.”

Khazaei stated that “future changes of NPT must be in the direction of strengthening the commitment of member states to nuclear disarmament and be accepted without double standards or discrimination.” He continued that “in our (Iran) view, reinterpretations of the obligations and rights under the principles of the treaty have been counterproductive and any review of NPT must be done efficiently and with complete transparency.”

The last NPT Review Conference was held in May of 2010. The Preparatory Committee for the 2015 Review Conference of the NPT was held from April 30 to May 11 of 2012 in Vienna.

Iran is a member of NPT. Ali Asghar Soltanieh, Iran’s Ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency has previously said that if Iran is attacked there is a “possibility” they would leave NPT.

Iran’s FM: Until the Next Elections Assad is the President of Syria

Iran’s Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi, in a Tehran press conference with Syria’s Foreign Minister, Walid Muallem, said Sunday that “Syria, like all other governments, has a legal president that has come [chosen] from the people. And the people of Syria, like all other countries in the world, choose their own president, and until the next elections, the president is Bashar Assad.” Al-Monitor’s Week in Review originally covered this story.

Salehi continued that in the next elections “everyone should be free to present their own candidate.” He stressed that “this is the official position of the Islamic Republic of Iran.” He also suggested that Assad like all others can participate in Syria’s next presidential elections in 2014.

Salehi defended Assad’s crackdown, which has left more than 70,000 dead, by saying that “we cannot ask Syria to lay down their arms while rebels do as they want.”

Salehi described Iran-Syria relations as “deep and bright” and said that Iran “will never forget the support of Syria during the imposed war,” in a reference to the eight-year Iran-Iraq that began when Iraq’s troops invaded Iran in 1980. Syria was the only Arab country to support Iran while Arab states in the Persian Gulf and North Africa financially and logistically supported Iraq. The Iran-Iraq war is also known as “The Sacred Defense.”

Interestingly, Salehi described Syria’s current situation also as an “imposed crisis.” However, he added that Iran has always emphasized that Syria’s government “must be answerable to the demands of the nation by realizing the demands of its citizens.”

Iran has invested heavily to support Assad in Syria’s civil war, both financially and military. On Feb. 14 Hassan Shateri, a senior Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps commander, was killed. Surprisingly, Salehi’s statements received scant coverage in Iranian media. As the Iranian economy continues to struggle, the Islamic Republic’s support of Assad has become increasingly unpopular at home.

In Other News

A new wave of raids of took place yesterday when security forces entered the offices of three publications. The Director, Mohammad Mehdi Imami Naseri, and Political Editor, Alireza Aghaeirad, from Maghreb newspaper were both arrested.

Upon news of the raids, several websites inside Iran had reported that three publications, the monthly Mehrnameh, the weekly Aseman and Tajrobeh, were shut down. All publications are known to be close to the Reformists. However, the editor of Mehranmeh, Mohammad Ghoochani, said that, “until this moment he had not received any letters from either the Press Supervisory Body or the Prosecutor’s” to shut down operations. However, it has been reported that the editors of the three publications had been “recommended” to shut down operations.

No reasons for the arrests of the Maghreb employees was given. However, editor of Maghreb wrote that the journalist were arrested “one day after publishing a letter by Mohammad Khatami.” Khatami is the former Reformist president of Iran who still has popular support among Reformists. Many believe these waves of arrests of journalists are meant to sideline Reformists before the upcoming presidential elections in Iran.

March 5 to March 12 in Iran is known as “Natural Resource Week.” The first day of this week has been designated “National Tree Planting Day.” Political leaders in Iran from the Supreme Leader to the president to the mayor, accompanied by the press, planted trees and stressed the importance of the environment on Tuesday.

After the tree planting ceremony Ayatollah Khamenei addressed in his speech the concerning level of deforestation in Iran. “The complaint I have with the political leaders,” he said, “at times, hundreds of trees that should not be cut down are cut down.” He also addressed the alarming trend in Iran of confiscation of “green” land on the outskirts of large cities that are converted to “concrete and high-rise towers.”

Due to the high rate of urbanization of Iran’s cities, land on the outskirts have been confiscated, sometimes through back-door dealings, and has made investors with connections to the government quite wealthy.

Iran Mourns Passing of Hugo Chavez

Iranian websites have given the passing of Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez extensive coverage. Chavez died yesterday at the age of 58 from cancer. Mehr News Agency ran a list of the world leaders to offer their condolences. Fars News Agency highlighted Vice President Nicolas Maduro’s claim that “enemies had infected” Chavez with cancer. Mashreg News showed pictures of Venezuelans mourning the loss of their leader, as well as pictures of Chavez from his youth to the army to his sick bed, along with Chavez next to Ahmadinejad.

One particular theme all the websites stressed was the continuation of “stability” with the absence of Chavez. In a piece titled “Political Stability, Chavez’s Legacy,” the Iranian Diplomacy site conducted an interview with former ambassador to Brazil Seyyed Jaffar Hashemi, who emphasized that “because of their positive experience under Chavez the people of Venezuela will continue his path.”

In his letter of condolences to Vice President Maduro, President Ahmadinejad wrote that “the world has fallen into mourning.” He described Chavez as a “pure, kind and brave” man who with “love for the people” who “would work endlessly to serve his people, especially those most deprived and wounded from colonialism and arrogance.”

The president ended his letter by saying that he had no doubt that Chavez “would return along with all the other righteous and the Prophet Jesus […] to help lead society to complete peace and justice.”

In Other News

Ayatollah Mohammad Reza Mahdavi Kani was re-elected to lead the Assembly of Experts while a key Khamenei ally was elected to be first deputy yesterday. The Assembly of Experts is a body of Shiite clerics whose role is to supervise and select or remove the Supreme Leader of Iran.

Mahdavi Kani replaced Ayatollah Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani as Chairman of the Assembly of Experts March of 2011. Many experts viewed the replacement as an attempt by Ayatollah Khamenei to weaken Rafsanjani’s power by promoting an ally to the position.

Out of the 70 votes cast, Mahdavi Kani received 64. He will serve another two-year term. In his speech, Mahdavi Kani stressed the important role of clerics in Iran. He said, “we must not forget that we wear the robes of clerics […] and we have a heavy burden to protect the system and the revolution.” Mahdavi Kani also recommended that those who know they will not be approved by the Gaurdian Council for the presidential elections should not announce their candidacy in the first place.

One surprise from the meeting of the Assembly of Experts was the election of Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi to the post of First Deputy of the Assembly. He replaced Ayatollah Sheikh Mohammad Yazdi. Ayatollah Mahdavi Kani held the deputy director position before his election to the chairmanship.

Ayatollah Shahroudi is considered a key clerical ally to Khamenei. He also holds the position of chairman of the Arbitrative Body, which is technically supposed to solve problems and differences between the three branches of government. The Western press has speculated the Islamic Republic of Iran has been spending considerable money and political clout to promote Shahroudi as the top spiritual leader for Shias of Iraq to replace Ayatollah Ali Sistani, should he pass away. Shahroudi is Iraqi born and has considerable connections in religious circles in Iraq, though the possibility of him replacing Sistani are still remote.

Ahmadinejad Reminded of Fate of Exiled First President

A documentary about the first president of the Islamic Republic made by the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) is said to have a “lesson” for the current president, according to prominent political figure from the traditional right.

Habibollah Asgarowladi made the comment at a parliament session yesterday regarding the film “An Inauspicious End,” about Abulhassan Banisadr, the first president of Iran after the 1979 revolution. The film, which used archival footage and interviews of prominent political figures today in the Islamic Republic, aired on Iran’s Channel One (shabeke yek) on Sunday night.

Banisadr became the first president after the revolution on Feb. 4, 1980. Although he had close relations with Ayatollah Khomeini when both were active in France organizing  against the Shah of Iran, they had a falling out over the division of power once Khomeini became Supreme Leader and Banisadr became president. On June 4, 1981 Banisadr was impeached and he fled a month later to Paris, where he still lives.

In response to the film, Asgarowladi said that watching “the entanglements between Banisadr and Imam Khomeini it was a translation of today and for the political figures, especially the executive branch, it should serve as a cautionary lesson.” His obvious reference was to President Ahmadinejad who has repeatedly challenged Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei in his second term as president.

Asgarowladi’s comments received extensive coverage on Iranian websites.

Mehr News Agency also ran an extensive piece on Banisadr titled “The End of an Ungrateful President” in which they accused Banisadr of “hiding” his true positions from Ayatollah Khomeini while the two were in France. The piece calls Banisadr a “deviated symbol from inside the revolution.” Ahmadinejad and his inner circle have had similar accusations of “deviation” levied against them. It should be noted that Banisadr was not unique in his disagreements with Khomeini and that many of Khomeini’s companions in France were later either exiled or sidelined.

In Other News

Mohsen Rezaei, Revolutionary Guard Corps Commander during the Iran-Iraq war and current Secretary of the Expediency Discernment Council of the Islamic Republic of Iran, announced his candidacy for the presidential elections while in Iran’s Kurdistan region of Divandareh. He said, “I was asked many times to announce my candidacy in Tehran and to use the full reach of the media, but my approach is to focus on the growth and development of the entire county and focus on solving the people’s problems.”

As Iran’s economy has struggled in the last several years, Rezaei has been one of the more outspoken political figures to stress solely on economic issues. Iran’s Kurdistan region historically, and particularly under the Islamic Republic, has been financially deprived.

According to Enthekhab, Rezaei recounted how he came to the decision to announce his presidency. Rezaei was in a mosque Iran’s Kurdistan’s capital of Sanandaj where after the evening prayer the cleric of the mosque gifted a Koran to him. When Rezaei opened the Koran in the direction of Divandareh, he believes that he “received permission from the Koran to participate in the elections.”

Iran’s Minister of Intelligence announced yesterday at a press conference in Esfahan that a group of 600 journalists have been identified and have been “dealt a blow.” Hojat al-Islam Haydar Moslehi said that of the 600 journalists, 150 are within Iran and “due to the relations some internal media have with anti-revolutionary networks, identifying them has allowed us to once again break the plans of the enemy.”

Moslehi also said that their plan for the presidential elections is to “prevent the sedition before the elections.” The uprising after the 2009 contested elections was called “sedition” by Iranian state media and political figures. Starting Jan. 27 of this year, the ministry of intelligence began a series of raids targeting mostly Reformist papers and journalists. The journalists have been accused of having ties to Western media; however, some analysts believe the arrests could be related to the upcoming elections.