The Latest from Iran (9 August): The Syrian Front

by  Scott Lucas in EA Iran, Middle East and Iran

Thursday, August 9, 2012 at 11:10 |

The 48 abducted Iranians in Syria

See also Iran Snap Analysis: Tehran Recognises Syrian Opposition --- 4 Possible Explanations
Iran Opinion: A Response to Foreign Minister Salehi's "Wisdom and Providence" on Syria
The Latest from Iran (8 August): A Short Break for the Olympics

1745 GMT: Foreign Affairs Watch (Syrian Front). Representatives of the 28 countries attending the Tehran conference have issued a statement "expressing support to the legitimate demands of the Syrian people to carry out reforms in order to build democracy and promote all-out political partnership of different parties and opposition groups to exercise their right to run their own country, in a peaceful manner and calm atmosphere and without any foreign intervention".

The delegates, who included three Foreign Ministers and diplomats from eight Arab countries, expressed support for the six-point Annan Plan, even though it is now effectively dormant, and called for delivery of humanitarian aid. They also endorsed an Iranian call for a three-month cease-fire from the start of the religious occasion of Eid al-Fitr on 19 August.

1325 GMT: Foreign Affairs Watch (Syrian Front). Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi has opened the Tehran conference for nations with "responsible positions on Syria, "The Islamic Republic of Iran firmly believes that the Syrian crisis can only be resolved through serious and inclusive talks between the government and opposition groups that enjoy popular support in Syria."

Note the phrase, "Opposition groups that enjoy popular support." Is Salehi, in a shift in the Islamic Republic's approach, acknowledging significant public support for the protests and opposition"? Or is he trying to limit those who are acceptable for talks by implying that some "opposition groups" do not enjoy popular support?

State media and Salehi claimed the foreign ministers of Iraq, Pakistan and Zimbabwe were present, while lower-ranking diplomats, most of them ambassadors, represented 25 other countries: Afghanistan, Algeria, Armenia, Benin, Belarus, China, Cuba, Ecuador, Georgia, India, Indonesia, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Maldives, Mauritania, Nicaragua, Oman, Russia, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Tajikistan, Tunisia, Turkmenistan, and Venezuela.

The United Nations resident coordinator to Tehran, Consuelo Vidal-Bruce, read out a statement from U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon: "Both the government and the opposition continued to rely on weapons...[which has] tragic consequences for the Syrian people".

1150 GMT: Foreign Affairs Watch (Syrian Front). Marcus George posts an overview of today's Tehran conference on Syria which parallels our analysis this morning --- a Western diplomat said the suddenly-declared gathering indicates the Islamic Republic is "running out of ideas", while EA makes this contribution:

Iran is trying to show strength and regional presence, but if they were going to make a big play why not do it at the Non-Aligned Movement summit (taking place in Tehran in late August)? They seem to be so jittery about Syria, they couldn't afford to wait....

They're in chaos in terms of the bureaucracy. There have been lots of statements but no-one's co-ordinating [them].

Seyed Mohammad Marandi puts the positive spin on the move, "Iran wants to co-ordinate efforts among countries that don't accept the Western and Saudi approach to Syria. It's a counter-force to the so-called Friends of Syria gathering."

1108 GMT: Economy Watch. The Ministry of Industry has said it will pay 10 trillion Rials ($816 million at official rate) to Iranian carmakers going through “financial problems".

Minister of Industry Mehdi Ghazanfari said Iran’s two biggest automakers, Iran Khodro Co. and SAIPA, are struggling to pay debts to domestic part makers.

Car production decreased by 37.4% between March and July, compared to last year. Manufacturers also face sharply rising prices for imported parts amid Iran's currency difficulties.

1046 GMT: Clerical Watch. The opposition site Kalemeh has called on Muslims to pay "fetriyeh" --- alms for the religious occasion of Eid-e Fitr --- to independent clerics "who support the people".

1011 GMT: Foreign Affairs Watch (Syrian Front). More tension and confusion in Tehran --- see our separate analysis --- as Alaeddin Boroujerdi, the head of Parliament's National Security Committee, has denied Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi's comment that some of the 48 Iranians abducted in Syria are retired member of the Revolutionary Guards or Army.

Boroujerdi said the news must be wrong as Salehi "would never spread untrue matters".

1005 GMT: Sanctions Watch. South Africa's MTN Group is in talks with South African and US officials about moving money out of its Iran business.

MTN, which reported a 14% rise in first-half profits,said on Wednesday that a likely devaluation of the Iranian Rial could have a “severe impact” on second-half results.

The mobile operator owns 49% of MTN Irancell. It is being sued by rival Turkcell for $4.2 billion in a U.S. court, over claims it used bribery and lobbied South Africa to support Tehran’s military in return for a 2005 cellular licence in Iran that was originally awarded to the Turkish firm.

0959 GMT: Foreign Affairs Watch (Syrian Front). A Foreign Ministry official, Mojtaba Ferdowsipour, has said all 48 Iranians abducted in Syria are in good health.

Insurgents said earlier this week that three of the men, seized on Sunday, had been killed amid the damage from a regime air attack near Damascus.

Ferdowispour, head of the Middle East affairs department, said, “The contacts made to obtain information on the fate of the pilgrims show that they are all in good health and there is no indication that some of them have been martyred."

0954 GMT: Clerics in Space. The Khorasan Province seminary has launched "Islamic Jurisprudence in Space Studies".

0950 GMT: Foreign Affairs Watch (Syrian Front). Russia has supported today's "international conference" in Tehran on Syria, but it is a far from enthusiastic endorsement.

The Foreign Ministry said Russia will be represented by its ambassador to Iran, Levan Dzhagaryan, "if the meeting in Tehran really takes place....Time for the necessary preparations is very short."

The Foreign Ministry added, "Naturally, we intend to firmly pursue our line (calling for) an immediate end to bloodshed and the suffering of the civilian population, as well as for achieving a peaceful resolution in the interest of all Syrians through a broad political dialogue."

0705 GMT: It is a measure of how serious the Syrian situation has become for the regime that it has pushed aside other front-line issues such as economic problems, political quarrels, and tensions over the nuclear programme.

As Tehran scrambles to recover its position, both immediately and in the event of the fall of President Assad, we post an analysis, "Tehran Recognises Syria Opposition --- 4 Possible Explanations".

Meanwhile, Iranian media is focused on the difficulty of the 48 Iranians seized by insurgents near Damascus last Saturday. Press TV proclaims, "Turkish FM Pledges All-Out Efforts to Help Free Iranian Abductees in Syria", ignoring Ankara's slap-down of Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi, "Irresponsible statements must stop," and effective declaration that Turkey will continue support of the Syrian insurgency.

The site also headlines the lesser-known situation of seven Iranian aid workers kidnapped in the Libyan city of Benghazi last week, with Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian criticising the efforts of Libyan officials as ‘insufficient’ and calling for further action by Tripoli to secure the freedom of the men.