Bijan Zanganeh returns this week to the same Vienna hotel suite he last occupied eight years ago as Iranian oil minister, ready to prepare OPEC for what Tehran hopes will mark its return as the cartel’s second biggest producer.
Emboldened by its nuclear deal with the West, Iranian oil negotiators led again by industry veteran Zanganeh, will seek to reassert Tehran’s authority in the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries at a Wednesday meeting.
Western sanctions imposed in 2012 on Iran for its nuclear program have cost it dearly, losing it billions of dollars in oil revenues and market share in OPEC – largely to its main regional political rival Saudi Arabia, and neighbor Iraq.
A multi-billion dollar organization controlled by Iran’s supreme leader shook up the management of its charity division, appointing as its new chief a man involved in the confiscation of thousands of properties from Iranian citizens.
Aref Norozi was named director general of the Barakat Foundation, Iran’s state news agency reported on Wednesday. The foundation is a unit of a massive business empire controlled by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei that is known as Setad Ejraiye Farmane Hazrate Emam.
The report by the Islamic Republic News Agency stated that Setad’s president, Mohammad Mokhber, had ordered the appointment of Norozi, who once headed Setad’s real-estate division and served on the boards of several Setad-linked companies.
Iran’s supreme leader gave strong backing on Sunday to his president’s push for nuclear negotiations, warning hardliners not to accuse Hassan Rouhani of compromising with the old enemy America.
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s comments will help shield Rouhani, who has sought to thaw relations with the West since his surprise election in June, from accusations of being soft on the United States, often characterized in the Islamic Republic as the “Great Satan”.
Iran will resume negotiations with six world powers, including the United States, in Geneva on Thursday, talks aimed at ending a standoff over its nuclear work that Tehran denies is weapons-related.
Rouhani hopes a deal there will mean an end to sanctions that have cut the OPEC country’s oil exports and hurt the wider economy, but any concession that looks like Iran is compromising on what it sees as its sovereign right to peaceful nuclear technology will be strongly resisted by conservatives.
“No one should consider our negotiators as compromisers,” Khamenei said in a speech, a day before the November 4 anniversary of the 1979 seizure of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, a pivotal event in U.S.-Iranian relations, the ISNA news agency reported.
“They have a difficult mission and no one must weaken an official who is busy with work,” said Khamenei, who wields ultimate power in Iran’s dual clerical-republic system, including over the nuclear program.
ENEMY WHO SMILES
Hardline factions, who oppose any thaw in relations with the United States, have criticized Rouhani’s negotiating team for not releasing details of the proposal they made to world powers at a previous round of talks in Geneva last month.
They have also resisted calls from moderate Iranian newspapers and prominent figures including former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani to drop the “Death to America” chant, often heard at Friday prayers throughout Iran.
Khamenei reiterated previous statements that he is not optimistic about the outcome of nuclear talks but said he saw no downside to holding the negotiations.
“With God’s permission, we will not be harmed by these negotiations … if the negotiations reach a conclusion then all the better, but if they don’t it will mean that the country must stand on its own feet,” Khamenei said.
He also criticized the United States for continuing to impose sanctions and threatening possible military action. Both Washington and its ally Israel say the military option to prevent Iran getting nuclear weapons is something they do not rule out.
“We should not trust an enemy who smiles,” Khamenei said. “From one side the Americans smile and express a desire to negotiate, and from another side they immediately say all options are on the table.”
In September, U.S. President Barack Obama insisted that the United States would “take no options off the table, including military options, in terms of making sure that we do not have nuclear weapons in Iran.”
(Editing by Robin Pomeroy)
In July, Iran lost one of its most acclaimed playwrights and directors when Mahmoud Ostad-Mohammad passed away in Tehran at the age of 62.
Scores of relatives, friends, and theater lovers attended his funeral ceremony that was adorned with pictures of Ostad-Mohammad — his trademark mustache and playful smile on display. Some wept while embracing copies of his famous screenplays.
Among the mourners was Ostad-Mohammad’s daughter, Mana, who is convinced that Western sanctions against Iran were partly to blame for his father’s passing.
“This was the doctor’s testimony,” said Mana Ostad-Mohammad. “This is based on my father’s medical tests.”
Experts from Iran and six world powers will meet in Vienna on October 30-31 to prepare the next round of high-level talks on the contested Iranian nuclear program with hopes of a breakthrough rising thanks to a diplomatic opening from Tehran.
Western diplomats say the meeting, scheduled to take place a week before the next round of negotiations in Geneva in November, could be instrumental in defining the contours of any preliminary agreement on Iran’s uranium enrichment campaign.
After years of diplomatic paralysis and increasingly confrontational rhetoric, the June election of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, a relative moderate, has opened windows to a deal that would head off the risk of a new Middle East war.
Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Saturday he supported moderate President Hassan Rouhani’s diplomatic opening to the United States at the U.N. General Assembly last week but some aspects of it were “not proper”.
Khamenei did not elaborate on his objections but also said he did not trust the United States as a negotiating partner, hinting at disapproval over an historic phone conversation between Rouhani and U.S. President Barack Obama.
But despite its reservations, Khamenei’s overall endorsement will probably protect Rouhani against conservative hardliners opposed to his pursuit of “constructive interaction” with the world to ease Iran’s economically crippling isolation.
Khamenei – the ultimate arbiter of high state policy under Iran’s unwieldy dual system of clerical and republican rule – said prior to Rouhani’s trip that he supported “heroic flexibility” in diplomacy, while cautioning that the Islamic Republic must always remember who its foes are.
Iran’s parliament strongly endorsed President Hassan Rouhani’s diplomatic bid to dispel mistrust at the United Nations last week during a visit which ended with an historic phone call with President Barack Obama, Iranian media said.
The backing from the assembly, controlled by political factions deeply loyal to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, is a further sign that Rouhani has the support of the Iranian establishment, though there are some rumblings from hardliners.
Khamenei, the most powerful figure in Iran, has yet to comment publicly on Rouhani’s trip.
Rouhani briefed parliamentarians on his trip, including discussions on Iran’s nuclear dispute with the West and regional relations, the student news agency ISNA said.