The Chairman of the Central Bank of Iran (CBI), Abdolnaser Hemmati, has said that an International Monetary Fund (IMF) report about Iran’s available foreign currency reserves is an “egregious” mistake and a mistaken report resulting from “incomplete information”.
The IMF in a report this month about economic indicators of countries in the Middle East and Central Asia showed that Iran’s foreign currency reserves had dwindled to just $4 billion form a high of $122 billion.
Iran’s oil exports, the main source of foreign currency, were sanctioned in 2018 by the former US Administration and the country reverted to using its reserves to finance government operation and essential imports. Although Iran only occasionally revealed withdrawals from its reserves, but the question remained of how it has been financing essential needs since 2018.
Hemmati, who issued an Instagram post on Tuesday, slammed the IMF for not consulting with Iran’s Central Bank before issuing its report and compared it with IMF “discriminatory” refusal to grant an emergency loan to Iran. In 2020, Tehran applied for a $5 billion loan from a package the IMF offered countries to fight the impact of the Covid pandemic but was not granted the loan.
Iran’s currency has depreciated eightfold since the beginning of 2018, reaching 250,000 rials to one US dollar, mainly because of US sanctions that have choked off foreign currency earnings. Hemmati pledged that the foreign currency market is under CBI’s control and the bank will supply enough hard currency to prevent a further depreciation of rial’s value.
Canada Offers Residency To Families Of Downed Ukrainian Plane
Canada has announced it will grant permanent residency to families of victims of two air disasters, the Ukrainian plane shot down by Iran and the Ethiopian Flight 302.
The new policy offers Canadian residency to immediate and secondary relatives of the victims who are currently in Canada or have applied for permanent residency. A new website set up for the purpose would accept applications, Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino has announced.
The Ukrainian Airlines Flight 752 was shot down by two missiles fired by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards in the early morning of January 8, 2020, hours after Iran fired missiles at two US bases in Iraq. Authorities did not close the civilian airspace and then air defense units fired at the plane as it took off from Tehran. Iran has not yet given a full explanation of what led to the disaster.
Mendicino said that the granting of permanent residency to relatives of the victims will stay valid until May 2022, to demonstrate compassion and solidarity with the families in their efforts to seek justice.
Groups of families have gone to Canadian courts to demand justice, suing the Iranian government and individual officials.
Fifty-five Canadian citizens and 30 permanent residents were among the 176 people who died in the Ukrainian plane incident. Eighteen Canadians died in the Ethiopian plane that crashed in March 2019 near Addis Ababa killing all 157 people aboard.
Governor Of Oil-Rich Iran Province Says Unemployment Up To 50 Percent
The governor of Iran’s oil-rich Khuzestan province has said that “usually unemployment figures [in Iran] are not real” and unemployment in his province is between 45-50 percent. The official government unemployment rate in Iran is around 10-11 percent.
Qasem Soleimani-Dashtaki pointing to the fact that in official government figures Khuzestan’s unemployment rate is cited to be around 14.5 percent, said “if you look around in this province, unemployment is much higher and, in many areas, it is around 45-50 percent”.
The governor also pointed out that according to Iran’s method of calculating unemployment, two hours of work per week is considered employment, which “is totally meaningless”.
International organizations, such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund have no direct presence in Iran and rely on government statistics to measure the country’s economic health.
US sanctions since 2018 have badly hurt the economy, which has been in contraction for three years. Forecasts say in 2021 Iran’s economy might reach a small growth but it would depend on political factors, such as a resolution to US-Iran relations and at least a partial lifting of American sanctions.
Khuzestan’s governor urged an improvement of the economic conditions in the province. He stated that many industrial entities have stopped production or have minimized their activities. Many companies have been taken over by banks that are state controlled, he said and urged the return of these companies to their owners to stimulate production.
Iran Regulator Denies Mass ‘Disappearance’ Of Covid Vaccines
The spokesman of the regulatory Iran Food and Drug Agency, Kianoush Jahanpour, tweeted Thursday to deny that a large quantity of imported Covid-19 vaccines had disappeared. Mohsen Dehnavi, a principlist member of parliament and active critic of the government over Covid management, this week alleged in a television interview that 200,000 of 2 million imported vaccine doses have “disappeared.”
Jahanpour wrote that the government had obtained 3.2 million vaccines, which were held by the health ministry and in the vaccination pipeline. He suggested that what had disappeared was the “honesty of some politicians and remarks backed by facts.” Jahanpour on Wednesday had conceded in an interview that some fraud had taken place in vaccine distribution.
Iran was the second country after China where the Covid pandemic spread in February 2020, but its response has been haphazard. It has failed to start mass vaccination of its more than 83 million population and has not made an effective attempt to procure a large quantity of vaccines.
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei banned American and British vaccines in January, while Iran imported a limited quantity from Russia and China. Other countries such as the United Arab Emirates and Chile have bought large quantities from China, but Iran despite close relations with Beijing has not imported enough Chinese vaccines to start mass vaccination.
Houthis Launch Missile, Drone Attack On Saudi Arabia
Yemen's Iran-aligned Houthi group on Thursday said its forces had launched 12 ballistic missiles and drones towards a site belonging to the Saudi state oil company Saudi Aramco, Najran airport and other targets in Najran, in southern Saudi Arabia.
The Saudi-led coalition fighting Houthi forces in Yemen said it had intercepted and destroyed eight drones and three ballistic missiles fired towards Saudi Arabia, without specifying where.
Houthis have been attacking Saudi oil and other installations, including airports, with missiles and drones that UN experts have said have Iranian origin. Missile and Drone attacks escalated in 2021 as the new US Administration delisted the Houthis as a ‘terrorist’ organization and pushed for de-escalation and peace talks.
Iran and Saudi Arabia began talks last month to improve relations after years of instability in the region, sparked by wars in Syria and Yemen. At the same time, the US is engaged in indirect talks with Iran in an attempt to revive the 2015 nuclear agreement.
Thursday is the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr, marking the end of the fasting month of Ramadan.
The Saudi-led military coalition intervened in Yemen in 2015, backing government forces fighting the Houthis.
With reporting by Reuters
Fierce Israeli And Palestinian Attacks Continue As Russia Calls For Mediation
Israel has killed a string of senior Hamas military figures and pounded three multi-story towers as it hammers the Gaza Strip with airstrikes in retaliation for rocket barrages targeting Israeli cities.
Meanwhile, on the third day of military confrontation militants in the territory fired barrages of rockets Wednesday. Dozens have died in the worst outbreak of violence since a 2014 war, with no resolution in sight.
The fighting has taken on many hallmarks of that devastating 50-day conflict between Israel and Hamas. But now it comes with a startling new factor: a burst of fury from Israel’s Palestinian citizens in support of those living in the territories as well as counterviolence by Jewish Israelis. In response, Israel deployed border guards in two mixed Arab-Jewish cities that saw unrest in previous days.
As the death toll in Gaza rose to 65, seven Israelis are confirmed dead by rocket fire from armed Palestinian groups.
The Iran-backed Islamic Jihad confirmed the deaths of seven members, and Hamas acknowledged the death of a top commander and an unspecified number of others. Israel says at least 30 Palestinians killed so far were militants.
Two Israeli infantry brigades were sent to the area, indicating preparation for a possible ground invasion as neither side is willing to back down.
The Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov called for a meeting of an international mediation quartet, the United States, Russia, the UN and the European Union. The group was established in Madrid in 2002.
Reporting by AP and Reuters
Iran Oil Production Up by 400 Thousand Barrels Per Day, OPEC Says
Iran’s oil production stayed at around 400 thousand barrels per day higher last month compared with April 2020, OPEC’s latest monthly report for May indicates.
Although US sanctions on Iran’s oil exports and banking are still in place, indications are that Tehran is clandestinely selling a larger quantity of oil since September 2020.
In April 2020 Iran produced just under 2 million barrels per day but this year the production stands at around 2.4 million barrels. Since Iran’s storage capacity is already full, it is shipping the oil to China, as tanker tracking firms have confirmed in recent months.
Whether Tehran is getting paid in hard currency for the full price of the oil it ships is unclear. US banking sanctions would prevent Iran from receiving payment through international banks. It is possible that Chinese buyers are depositing the funds in local banks for payment when the sanctions would be lifted.
Last year Iran shipped an average of 320,000 barrels a day to China – less in the first 8 months and more in the last four months. It also sends around 30-50 thousand barrels to its ally, Syria.
Iran’s domestic consumption is around 1.8 million barrels a day. Before former president Donald Trump imposed sanction Iran was exporting 2.5 million barrels per day.
The Biden Administration is indirectly negotiating with Iran to revive the 2015 nuclear deal, which would mean the US would have to lift at least part of its sanctions.
Republicans Warn Businesses Not to Deal With Iran If Biden Lifts Sanctions
In opposition to a possible plan by the Biden Administration to lift sanctions imposed on Iran, 15 Republican Senators have warned businesses not to engage with Iranian entities, Fox News reported Wednesday.
A letter sent Tuesday to the heads of the US Chamber of Commerce, Financial Services Forum and Business Roundtable was co-signed by Sens. Tom Cotton, Ted Cruze, and Marco Rubio, among others.
President Joe Biden announced his intention before last November’s election to return to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal (JCPOA) that his predecessor had abandoned in 2018 demanding a stronger agreement and a change in Iran’s behavior.
Indirect talks between Washington and Tehran began April 6 in Vienna that could lead to a US return to the agreement, presupposing lifting of at least some crucial sanctions.
"Your member companies may see this potential removal of U.S. sanctions on Iran as a lucrative opportunity," the letter reads. "Trust us, they should not. If U.S. sanctions on Iran were temporarily lifted and these firms decided to reenter the Iranian market, not only would they be engaging with a corrupt and capricious regime, they would be investing in ventures doomed to fail."
The letter might also send a signal to non-American businesses that have refrained from doing business with Iran out of concern for US penalties.
Former President Donald Trump’s administration vigorously enforced the sanctions it reimposed and imposed on the Islamic Republic, as well as older sanctions, in what came to be known as “maximum pressure”.
The Republican lawmakers wrote that they now fear the Biden team "has ambitions to toss aside the progress of the maximum pressure campaign and return to a JCPOA-like framework."
Zarif Says Iran Ready For Closer Ties With Saudi Arabia
DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) — Iran's foreign minister said Wednesday that his country is ready for closer ties with its regional rival Saudi Arabia, adding that he hoped recent talks between the two sides would lead to greater stability in the region.
Mohammad Javad Zarif was speaking in Damascus after a meeting with Syrian President Bashar Assad. On Monday, Iran's foreign ministry confirmed the talks, mediated by Iraq and hosted in Baghdad early last month. Iraq's president said last week that the talks have occurred “more than once,” describing the discussions as ongoing, “important and significant.”
Zarif said he hoped the talks would “come to fruition” and lead to cooperation between the two rivals to bring more stability and peace to the region, particularly in Yemen.
“We certainly are ready and have always been ready for close ties with Saudi Arabia,” Zarif told reporters in Damascus in English.
Iran and Saudi Arabia have long been regional rivals and support opposite sides in Yemen, Syria and elsewhere in the region.
Relations worsened considerably in 2016, when Riyadh removed its diplomats after protesters attacked its embassy in Tehran and consulate in Mashhad in retaliation for the kingdom executing a prominent Shiite cleric, Nimr al-Nimr. In Syria, Riyadh supported the Syrian opposition while Tehran backed Assad's forces in the 10-year conflict.
Asked if the Iran-Saudi talks would lead to improved relations between Damascus and Riyadh, Zarif said: “I am sure our Syrian brothers have always welcomed cooperation in the Arab world. And we are also in that mood.”
Iran Has Enriched Uranium To Up To 63% Purity, IAEA Says
VIENNA, May 11 (Reuters) - "Fluctuations" at Iran's Natanz plant pushed the purity to which it enriched uranium to 63%, higher than the announced 60% that complicated talks to revive its nuclear deal with world powers, a report by the U.N. nuclear watchdog said on Tuesday.
Iran made the shift to 60%, a big step towards nuclear weapons-grade from the 20% previously achieved, last month in response to an explosion and power cut at Natanz that Tehran has blamed on Israel and appears to have damaged its enrichment output at a larger, underground facility there.
Iran's move rattled the current indirect talks with the United States to agree conditions for both sides to return fully to the 2015 nuclear deal, which was undermined when Washington abandoned it in 2018, prompting Tehran to violate its terms.
The deal says Iran cannot enrich beyond 3.67% fissile purity, far from the 90% of weapons-grade. Iran has long denied any intention to develop nuclear weapons.
"According to Iran, fluctuations of the enrichment levels... were experienced," the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said in the confidential report to its member states, seen by Reuters.
"The agency's analysis of the ES (environmental samples) taken on 22 April 2021 shows an enrichment level of up to 63% U-235, which is consistent with the fluctuations of the enrichment levels (described by Iran)," it added, without saying why the fluctuations had occurred.
Tuesday's report said the Islamic Republic was now feeding the tails from the IR-4 cascade into a cascade of 27 IR-5 and 30 IR-6s centrifuges to refine uranium to up to 5%.