LATEST: Ban on Reformist Newspaper Lifted After 4 Days

In a prime-time interview on State TV, President Rouhani has expressed optimism that a comprehensive nuclear agreement will be reached with the 5+1 Powers, while maintaining Iran’s Iran’s fundamental demands for a right to enrich uranium and the lifting of US-led sanctions.

Rouhani said:

I am not pessimistic about the negotiations, but reaching a final agreement at the end of a six-month period depends on whether or not the opposite side is ready for proper interaction.

The country and Iranian nation are ready to speak to the world with reasoning, logic and constructive interaction, and also to sit down at the negotiating table but they have never bowed to pressure, bullying and wrongful statements, and will never do so.

The President pushed back hard against critics of the negotiations:

Some minority factions inside the country would not welcome removal of sanctions. We have named some of them. A single person grabbed $2.7 billion of public money and we still do not know when it would be back to public treasury.

Iran and the 5+1 Powers hold their fourth set of talks on a comprehensive deal on May 13 in Vienna. The two sides are seeking a final resolution before the expiry of an interim Joint Plan of Agreement on July 20.

Tehran has already agreed to suspend enrichment of 20% uranium, limiting production to 5%; however, differences remain on the number of centrifuges that Iran can operate. The two sides also are seeking to resolve the status of facilities such as the Arak heavy-water nuclear reactor and the Fordoo enrichment plant, and the timing of the lifting of sanctions that have crippled Iran’s economy.

Rouhani also used the interview to defend the Government’s recent economic measures, including the introduction of the second phase of subsidy cuts.

Last week, the Government raised the price of gasoline by up to 75%. It is also seeking to restrict support payments, covering higher costs from the cuts, to the less well-off.

Rouhani said the Government would “curb the increasing curve of economic hardship” by dealing with unemployment and reducing inflation to 25% by March 2015.

When the President took office in August, the rate of inflation was more than 40%. Official figures released on Tuesday put the annual rate at 32.5%.

Rouhani guaranteed no rise in the price of medical care and essential drugs.

Intel Minister: “We Don’t Have the Right to Interfere In Private Lives”; But Ban Approved for Social Media Service

Intelligence Minister, Mohammed Alavi, has declared that “People need to feel that their rights won’t be violated, and that their lives are secure, furthermore we don’t have the right to interfere in the private lives.”

Ironically, considering Alavi’s comments, a bill to ban the instant messaging service WhatsApp has been approved according to the Secretary of Iran’s Internet Censorship Committee, Abdul Khorramabad.

Khorramabad said the ban “has been approved” but “not yet implemented.” He added that the ban is not yet extended to the similar mobile internet service Viber or photosharing application Instagram: “despite a lot of criminal activity taking place…they have not yet been approved for filtering.”

(Hat tip: Iran@Saban)

Iran Signs Energy Deal with Kurdistan Regional Government

Iran has signed an energy agreement with the Kurdistan Regional Government in Iraq. The deal enables Iran to purchase crude oil and to construct two oil pipelines between northern Iraq and Iran.

The arrangement stipulates that 3-4 million litres of natural gas and refined oil may be pumped from Iran to the Kurdistan Region.

These proposals are to improve economic ties and to curb the smuggling of oil between the two neighbouring countries. The deal was struck after a recent visit to the Kurdistan region by Oil Minister Rustam Qassemi.

NIOC Cancels China Oil Contract

Iran has ended its contract with the China National Petroleum Corporation International (CNPI), after it failed to fulfil its obligations, according to Rokneddin Javadi, Managing Director of the National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC). The contract with the oil giant, worth $2.5 billion, was due to develop the South Azadegan oil field in Southern Iran.

Javadi said on Tuesday that, although the Chinese company had been given a 90-day ultimatum in February, the company had failed to act after a month. He added that Iran had decided to terminate the contract due to “non-compliance.”

This decision follows the concerns of the Iranian Oil Minister, Bijan Namdar Zanganeh, who expressed dissatisfaction with the Chinese company in February when he said that no major progress had been observed in the oil field.

Ban on Reformist Newspaper Lifted After 4 Days

The ban on the reformist Ebtekar newspaper has been revoked, four days after it was shut down by Iran’s Press Court.

Managing editor Mohammad Ali Vakili said the paper will resume publication on Wednesday.

Ebtekar was suspended over its coverage of the beating of political detainees at Evin Prison and the subsequent removal of the head of Iran’s prisons, Gholam Hossein Esmaili.

Iran Expels China from Major Oilfield Project

Iran’s Ministry of Oil has officially cancelled a $2.5 billion contract with China National Petroleum Corporation International to develop the South Azadegan oilfield because of “long delays” in development.

Tehran has warned CNPCI since last year that it would withdraw the contract because of failure to complete work in oilfields on the Iraqi border. In February, Oil Minister Bijan Zanganeh issued a “final ultimatum” on the South Azadegan project.

Iraq draws 250,000 barrels of oil a day from the field, while Iran takes only 50,000 barrels a day.

British Diplomat in Tehran Talks on Re-Opening of Embassy

The Political Director of Britain’s Foreign Office, Simon Gass, has met Iranian Foreign Ministry officials about the re-opening of the British Embassy in Tehran.

The Embassy was shut and its staff withdrawnb after it was raided by a crowd in November 2011. Britain subsequently expelled Iranian diplomats from London.

Last autumn London and Tehran agreed to non-resident envoys who have periodically made visits.

Gass, who was Ambassador when the Embassy was closed in 2011, held talks with Deputy Foreign Ministers Majid Takht-Ravanchi, Abbas Araqchi, and Hossein Amir-Abdollahian. Talks also included the nuclear negotiations and “the latest developments in the Middle East”.

Rouhani Protects Both Engagement with Saudi Arabia and Line on Syria

In his State TV interview on Tuesday night, President Rouhani protected his attempt at rapprochement with Saudi Arabia without giving up Iran’s support of the Assad regime in Syria.

Rouhani said Riyadh does not have problems with Iran and continued:

Saudi Arabia does have problems with the region. We hope that the statesmen in the Saudi Arabia understand well the conditions of the region and know well that to have a secure region, we should push terrorists aside.

The Saudis support the insurgency against President Assad, while Iran provides essential economic and military support to Damascus.

Revolutionary Guards: “Firing 1 Bullet at Iran Will Burn Entire World”

In the latest posture of strength by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, the head of its navy has warned that firing even one bullet at Iran will burn the entire world.

Ali Fadavi sniped at the US:

The Americans are passive today and they have not at all been in a situation in the last several years to even pose such threats as military action against Iran….

History has shown that they don’t have the power to do so and they are themselves an element of insecurity.