LATEST: Tehran Friday Prayer: Iran Must Respond to US Threats

Iran reiterated its “red line” in nuclear negotiations on Thursday, with the Supreme Leader’s top foreign policy advisor, Ali Akbar Velayati, reiterating that Tehran’s right to use peaceful nuclear technology “must be recognized”.

Under November’s interim nuclear deal, which came into effect on January 20, Iran is suspending enrichment of 20% uranium but is allowed to maintain enrichment to 5%.

However, with discussions now looking to a comprehensive agreement by January 2015, many politicians and media in the US are calling for a total “dismantling” of the Iranian program.

Velayati chided President Obama for saying in his State of the Union address on Tuesday night that sanctions had helped bring about the interim deal:

The Islamic Republic of Iran is determined to continue the [nuclear] talks to safeguard the integrity of its peaceful nuclear rights; and Obama’s comments about the impact of the US pressure on Iran were nothing new.

Velayati spoke — reinforced by similar comments from the Foreign Ministry — as Iran’s lead nuclear negotiator, Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi said that the next round of negotiations with the 5+1 Powers would “probably be held in the second half of February in Geneva”.

Both Iranian officials and the US said earlier this week that the talks, opening consideration of a comprehensive deal, would be held soon in New York but later pulled back from the statements.

Tehran Friday Prayer: Iran Must Respond to US Threats

The Tehran Friday Prayers leader, Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami, has continued the week’s campaign
against remarks by US Secretary of State John Kerry that “military options are still on the table” if Iran does not adhere to the interim nuclear deal.

Khatami said President Barack Obama and Kerry target the “national pride” and that they must get a response to their comments “at the same level” and “according to the culture of resistance”.

Foreign Minister Zarif Downplays Obama’s State of the Union Address

Foreign Minister Javad Zarif has taken a slightly different response to President Obama’s comments about Iran during Tuesday’s State of the Union Address to Ali Akbar Velayati, the Supreme Leader’s foreign policy advisor.

Where Velayati rejected “Obama’s comments about the impact of the US pressure on Iran [as] nothing new”, Zarif downplayed their significance, noting during an interview with CNN that Obama’s entire speech was for “the consumption of domestic American listeners… It is not important how the Americans try to explain [the nuclear issue] for domestic consumption.”

Tehran Seeking Expansion of Economic Ties With French Companies

As Iran continues to seek investment from international business following the implementation of the interim nuclear deal, Cooperation, Work and Social Welfare Minister Ali Rabi’i has declared that “100 French companies have announced their readiness for widespread economic cooperation with Iran. Specializing and bringing advanced knowledge are causes of advancing economic institutions.”

French carmaker Renault also resumed shipments to the Islamic Republic earlier this week.

Law Enforcement Force Chief Declares Civil Rights “Important”

Esmail Ahmadi Moghaddam, head of the Law Enforcement Forces, has called civil rights an “important” matter.

Moghaddam stated, “This right is important to the extent when the Supreme Leader announced to us after the [2009] ‘sedition’ that we should not behave in a way that on Judgment Day the thugs pass us and we are still standing and paying [for our sins].”

He claimed that the LEF’s professionalism “grade is 80 out of 100, but we must [fill this gap] because the LEF must not oppress or insult even a single individual. Our actions must be based on civil rights, religious law and removed from personal sentiment.”

Moghaddam also announced that the LEF incurred a $185 million debt to the Oil Ministry during the Ahmadinejad administration.

Asian Customers of Iran Oil Cut Imports by 15% in 2013

Asian customers of Iranian oil — China, India, Japan, and South Korea — cut purchases by 15% in 2013.

The four customers reduced imports to 935,862 barrels per day (bpd) in 2013, a reduction of about 55% from 2.2 million bpd at the start of 2012.

Iran is hoping to raise total exports to about 1.5 million bpd as November’s interim nuclear deal is implemented. December’s exports were estimated at more than 1.1 million bpd.

Blasting the US Over “Takfiris” and Human Rights

Hard on the heels of this week’s 28-page report from the Basij militia “exposing” the US record on human rights comes a blast from head of judiciary, Sadegh Larijani, at both Washington and Saudi Arabia:

Terrorists and takfiris come from governments that have the support of America, governments that not even one time in their history held an election, and then they claim they are defending human rights.

While Larijani’s comments pivoted on the divisions between the US and Iran over Syria, he also focused on the human rights issues, linking the attack on Washington to a defense of the Islamic Republic:

While Westerners and institutions under their dominance criticize our domestic laws, they do not even grant permission for someone to research or express opinions about the Holocaust.

The nation of Iran and its officials, because of their commitment to Islam, will never cave to this type of pressure….

It is clear to everyone that producing biased reports about the human rights situation in Iran is for [the purpose of] applying more pressure against the Islamic Republic, and the Westerners do not really have human rights concerns.

Assets of Arrested Billionaire Zanjani Confiscated

The judiciary has seized the assets of detained billionaire Babak Zanjani have been confiscated.

Zanjani was arrested in the autumn over claims of embezzlement linked to his companies and the Social Security Funds, headed by former President Ahmadinejad’s senior advisor Saeed Mortazavi.

Zanjani is also accused of owing $2 billion to the Oil Ministry.

The tycoon, whose estimated worth is about $13 billion, has been blacklisted by both the US and the European Union for claimed links to Iran’s nuclear program.