LATEST: Trouble for 3 of Rouhani’s Cabinet Nominees?

As Western analysts debate the extent to which Iran’s new President will be able to rescue the country’s ailing economy, English-language State news agency Press TV remains relentlessly optimistic.

Non oil exports to the United Kingdom, Press TV notes, have risen by a staggering 78% in the first quarter of the Persian year!

What is Iran exporting to Britain? Raisins, dates, Persian rugs, saffron and ‘steel products’. (While Press TV does not offer any details of what the ‘steel products’ may be, Fars News has a clue, with this story lauding the increased European exports of the Tabriz Tool Factory, which include drilling machines.)

Although Press TV is excited about the increased trade — noting also that Iran imports goods from Britain, including corn fodder and medicines — the $78 million Iran earned from its U.K. exports last quarter are a drop in the financial ocean when compared to its lost oil revenues.

There is an important signal in Press TV’s story, however — the State news agency expresses a note of optimism that Tehran’s ties with London could now be revived and exports increased still more, under a Rouhani Presidency.

Press TV writes:

On August 4, British Prime Minister David Cameron wrote to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on the occasion of his inauguration and called for improved ties with Iran.

In a phone call to Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi on July 31, British Foreign Secretary William Hague also expressed London’s willingness to enhance cooperation and diplomatic contacts with Tehran and offered to hold further talks with Iranian representatives to discuss ways to improve bilateral relations.

In contrast, Fars News, which is close to the Revolutionary Guards, puts a different spin on its story about the Tabriz Tool Factory, saying that “the exports come amid tightening US-engineered sanctions against Iran, proving that the embargoes are ineffective.”

Muhammad Tops London Baby Name List

The biggest news this week in Britain was yesterday’s release of the annual list of popular baby names and Iranian media has been quick to focus its attention on this important story.

Mehr News joyously reported that “Muhammad has become the most popular name for baby boys in London for the first time.” It also notes that variations on spelling — Muhammad, Mohammed, Mohammad — combine to give a total of 7,032 babies given the name, making it the most popular boy’s name in England and Wales for babies born in 2012.

Unfortunately, the news is unlikely to mark the beginning of an Islamic Awakening in the UK, as the combined total of Muhammads equalled less than 1% of the 729,000 babies born that year.

In a wonderfully ironic twist, Mehr News obtained its story celebrating the popularity of the name Muhammad from that bastion of Islam-friendly journalism, the UK’s Daily Mail.

After discussing the popularity of old-fashioned names on the list, the Mail’s full article ends with an innocuous statistic — which my lawyers advise me “may or may not” have been chosen to provoke Islamophobic readers — by noting that “Since 1999 the number of babies called Mohammed, however spelled, has increased by more than half.”

No doubt the Daily Mail’s overlords will be delighted that Mehr News — which lifted the article word-for-word from the original — is using their meticulous journalism to celebrate Britain’s Muslim population.

Foreign Ministry Spokesman Says UK’s Hostile Policies Must End Before Relations Can Resume

In his weekly press briefing, Foreign Ministry Spokesman Abbas Araqchi said that diplomatic ties between Iran and the UK can only be restored if Britain abandons its hostile policies towards the Islamic Republic.

Araqchi, noting London’s cautiously positive response to Hassan Rouhani’s election, added
“Considering the various signals from the British side for the resumption of the relations, we hope to begin technical negotiations on the issue in the due time.”

All is Well: Oil Shipment to India

Indian oil refinery, Mangalore Refinery and Petrochemicals Limited (MRPL), says it expects to receive a shipment of Iranian oil by the end of this week.

MRPL’s managing director P P Upadhya said on Monday, “It (the cargo) was loaded at Kharg (island) on 8th and 9th of this month and is likely to reach Mangalore by the end of this week.” The delivery is the first of four planned shipments this month.

Oil exports to India have faced problems as refineries have struggled to obtain insurance for Iranian imports due to sanctions. India is considering providing a state guarantee to back local insurance for oil imports from Iran.

Upadhya added, “Regarding the reinsurance issues, GIC (General Insurance Corp) is working out the plan and we hope it will take care of our interest.”

Trouble for 3 of Rouhani’s Cabinet Nominees?

As Parliament goes through the second of three days of deliberations over President Rouhani’s Cabinet nominees, a short guide….

The three of the 18 men who probably face the greatest difficulties are those associated with the Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi campaigns in the disputed 2009 Presidential election, with hard-liners accusing them of links to “sedition”.

Both Mousavi and Karroubi have been under house arrest since February 2011, and other members of their campaigns are still in prison.

The proposed Minister of Education, Mohammad Ali Najafi, has responded to criticism by denying involvement in the “sedition”. The featuring of his statement by Khabar Online, linked to Speaker of Parliament Ali Larijani, may indicate Larijani’s backing to get him past the objectors.

Proposed Minister of Urban Development Abbas Akhoundi was a key member of the Mousavi campaign staff in 2009; however, the most interesting case may be that of proposed Minister of Oil Bijan Namdar-Zanganeh, who was also working with Mousavi. Zanganeh, who was Minister of Oil from 1997 to 2005 in the reformist Khatami Administration, is close to former President Hashemi Rafsanjani.

If confirmed, Zanganeh would take over the Ministry from Rustam Qassemi, the long-time head of the engineering arm of the Revolutionary Guards. And it appears the Guards may be ready to block the move.

This morning, Fars goes to great lengths to link Zanganeh to Abbas Yazasanpanah Yazdi, a British national who disappeared in June in Dubai.

Yazdi is an associate of Hashemi Rafsanjani’s son Mehdi Hashemi, who faces charges of financial and electoral corruption. He fled to Britain after he was imprisoned in 1993, claiming he had been tortured.

All is Well: Oil Exports Exceed Expectations

OPEC Governor Mohammad Ali Khatibi has declared “that the value of Iran’s exports of oil, condensates and oil products is higher than the figures envisaged in the budget bill.”

Oil Minister Rostam Qassemi also denied claims that Iran’s oil production has declined to fifth largest in the group, stating it “remains the second largest oil producer of OPEC right behind Saudi Arabia.”

“We do not confirm a fall in Iran’s oil production and this is quite untrue,” Qassemi added.

Kazakhstan Offers to Host Next Round of P5+1 Talks

Mehr News reports that Kazakhstan Deputy Foreign Minister, Kairat Sarybay, has offered to host the next round of P5+1 talks regarding Iran’s nuclear programme , declaring that Iran “considers the offer as positive.”

The report itself does not include any statements from Iranian officials but can be considered part of an upswing of stories in the Iranian media pushing the line of engagement with the west since Hassan Rouhani’s election as president.