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Iran@Saban Headlines

Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif speaks during a joint news conference with his Turkish counterpart Ahmet Davutoglu (not pictured) in Istanbul (REUTERS/Murad Sezer).

POLITICS

With the current Iranian New Year coming to an end this week (March 20th), the website of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has published an article which asks the website’s visitors to pick the top three statements that the Supreme Leader made this past year.  The report is supplemented with a video as well. The subject matter of the top three chosen statements are as follows: Answering the threats of the Zionist regime, Negotiations with the U.S., and the strength of domestic manufacturing.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei spoke to a gathering of Iranian officials in charge of planning cultural excursions to Iran’s war-torn border areas, and emphasized the national importance of the excursions. Traditionally they are meant to serve as a historical reminder of the eight year long war between Iran and Iraq during the 1980s.  

Press TV reports that Deputy Chairman of Iran’s Parliamentary National Security and Foreign Policy Committee, Mansour Haqiqatpour, addressed the recent tensions among the member states of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). “Today, Qatar and Oman as the members of the GCC have good relations with the Islamic Republic and this has shaken the main foundation of this council,” said Haqiqatpour.

Hardline cleric and interim Tehran Friday Prayer Leader, Ahmad Khatami brought up last week’s meeting between European Union Chief Catherine Ashton, two human rights activists inside the Austrian embassy in Tehran and said, “Responsibility for allowing this meeting to happen lies fully with the (Rouhani) administration.”  He also demanded that the administration state “their opinions about the seditionists.”   

Mohammad Reza-Rahimi, a top aide to former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has been indicted in connection with allegations of corruption while serving in the Ahmadinejad administration.  

In an extensive interview with the Iranian Student News Agency (ISNA), Russia’s ambassador to Iran, Levan Jagaryan remains “optimistic” in regards to the on-going P5+1 nuclear talks. He also mentioned that, “Iran has shown greater flexibility” since the election of President Hassan Rouhani. Jagaryan criticized the U.S. for imposing “illegal” unilateral sanctions as they have “prevent Russian firms from entering the Iranian market.” When discussing the situation in the Ukraine, the ambassador described the current government in Ukraine “illegitimate” and that it was brought to power by means of a “western coup,” but also stated that Russia “would not stand in the way of Iran if it wanted to expand its ties with Ukraine.” Lastly, Jagaryan confirmed that Russian President Vladimir Putin will visit Iran, sometime after President Rouhani makes his own state visit to Moscow.  

NUCLEAR

The first day of the latest round of nuclear talks to discuss the Joint Plan of Action between Iran and the P5+1 got underway today in Vienna, Austria.  The story of the day revolved around reports that Iran's foreign minister cancelled a planned working dinner with the European Union's foreign policy chief as a result of meetings she had with human rights activists during a visit to Tehran last week. Iran’s foreign minister took to Facebook and posted a vague Facebook status update in which he asks people to “refrain from snap judgments and hasty analysis.” In the wake of such accusations, “I will remain quiet in the interests of the country,” said Zarif. Fars news Agency published a set of photos of the Iranian negotiating team en route, as well as arriving in Vienna, Austria.

Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi met with the EU’s Secretary General Helga Schmid later Monday evening. They discussed “uranium enrichment, the heavy water reactor at Arak, the lifting of sanctions and peaceful nuclear cooperation.”

A member from Iran’s nuclear negotiating team has announced that Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif and EU Foreign Policy Chief Catherine Ashton will meet bilaterally Tuesday morning March 18th, at 10:30am Vienna time, to “exchange ideas.”

Mehdi Mohammadi, an international affairs and nuclear program expert in Iran said contended that limiting Iran’s number of centrifuges to fewer than 4,000 is an unreasonable request. “The best way to boost confidence (in Iran’s nuclear program) is through supervision, not through restrictions,” said Mohammadi. He also added that Iran needs “more than 50,000 centrifuges.”

ONLINE POLLING: IRAN’S BIGGEST NEWS MAKER OF THE YEAR

Iranian Student News Agency (ISNA) conducted an online poll on its homepage, asking its readers who they thought was Iran’s “biggest news maker this past (Iranian calendar) year?” By late afternoon (U.S. EST), over 18,000 respondents overwhelming chose, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif with 50.69 percent, followed by President Hassan Rouhani who received 16.8 percent of the vote. Currently facing economic corruption charges, billionaire sanction buster Babak Zanjani came in third with 15.32 percent, ahead of former President and current Head of the Expediency Council Ayatollah Hashemi Rafsanjani with 10.65 percent. Controversial Ahmadinejad aide Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, received 3.62 percent, while “maverick” MP from Tehran Ali Motahari came in last with 2.92 percent.

In a similar poll, Entekhab news conducted their own online survey on their homepage by asking essentially the same question. In similar fashion, respondents overwhelming chose, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif with 51.26 percent. Ayatollah Hashemi Rafsanjani came in second with 21.98 percent, and President Hassan Rouhani came in third with 15.77 percent.  

ECONOMY

Iran’s Oil Minister Bijan Zanganeh has announced plans to increase oil and gas production in the coming (Iranian calendar) New Year. Zanganeh seeks to increase the production capacity of natural gas by 100 million cubic meters and the production capacity of crude oil to surpass the four million barrels per day (bpd) mark. “Iran currently produces less than 3.8 million bpd,” according to Zanganeh.  

According to the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) latest monthly report (February 2014), Iran’s oil exports are at their highest peaks. Through the months of January and February of 2014, Iran’s barrels per day (bpd) output reached 116 million bpd, which is 16 percent higher than last year’s (2013) average of crude oil exports.

Iran’s Supreme Labor Council has raised the minimum wage for Iran’s workers by 25 percent for the coming New Year to 608 thousand Toman which converts to roughly $242 USD a month.

SOCIAL & CULTURAL

Outspoken MP from Tehran Ali Motahari commented on divorce in Iran during a culture-related conference and said, “Aside from the statistics which show the correlation between increases in the divorce rate with economic issues, the reason more so lies with cultural issues, because our way of life is becoming more like western culture.” He also attributed western culture to the “waning of female chastity,” as well as proper wearing of the hijab.  

During a press conference discussing her trip to the United Nations in New York to attend the Commission on the Status of Women meeting, President Rouhani’s Vice President of Women and Family Affairs, Shahindokht Molaverdi said that issue of the morality police, modesty and wearing the hijab is a cultural and based on human dignity, and needs to be disassociated as a “security issue.” She also stated that being a member of the online social network Facebook “is not a crime.” Mehr News Agency published a set of photos of her press conference.

PHOTOS

A charity organization organizes a recreational camp for the handicapped and disabled.

As the Iranian New Year approaches, the street scenes of Tehran’s central thoroughfare, Joomhoori Street reveals it be bustling as Iranians prepare for the New Year.