Iran, Obama Admin. off to Shaky Start

Neither the Obama administration nor the Iranian government seems likely to rush into new contacts, despite the opportunity presented by the Munich Security Conference, according to the LAT.

Iranian Speaker of the Parliament, Ali Larijani, has called on Obama to spell out in specifics just what changes he intends to introduce into US policy toward Iran.

Meanwhile, it is rumored that among the main shapers of Obama’s Iran policy will be Dennis Ross, the head of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, the think tank of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. During Ross’s tenure there, the WINEP website carried a call to bomb Iran; a paper arguing that nothing bad would happen if the US did bomb Iran; and it listed as a WINEP associate Daniel Pipes, who spent most of his waking hours during the past year decrying Barack Obama as a stealth Muslim and an apostate (which was it?) and who has repeatedly said racist things about Muslims. Turning Iran policy over to the Israel lobbies, the major agitators for a US war on Iran, is a very bad idea, and if this goes forward Obama will be signalling that there will not in fact be a new US-Iran relationship.

The likely next prime minister of Israel, Binyamin Netanyahu, views Iran as the greatest threat to Israel’s existence since the War of Independence in 1948. Israeli “experts” also keep saying silly things like that Iran is a year away from a nuclear bomb. US intelligence says that Iran has no weapons program, and the International Atomic Energy Agency has found no evidence of plutonium or highly enriched uranium. The fantasy of Iranian WMD, like that of Iraqi, underpins an urgent push for war by the Israeli government.

(Netanyahu also says that the Gaza massacre did not go on long enough . . .)

WINEP tends to follow the editorial line of the Israeli government, so Ross will likely be an echo chamber for Netanyahu.

Aljazeera English nevertheless reports a thaw in Iranian government attitudes toward the United States.

Iran actually has a strong motivation to come in from the cold, as Libya did. Iran’s economy still limps along, as Amir Naghshineh-Pour explains:

‘ Iran has one of the most isolated economies in the world. It is currently ranked 151 out of 162 among all countries and 16 out of 17 in the Middle East and North Africa region.1 The government of Iran controls more than 80% of the economy . . .

Since Ahmadinejad took office, despite a considerable increase in oil revenues, the state of the economy has deteriorated. The inflation rate is reaching 30% according to Central Bank statistics, many factories operate at 50% or less of their capacity, and major cities have daily power blackouts. Real estate prices have tripled. The U.S. has implemented financial pressure on Iranian banks while the U.N. Security Council has imposed sanctions. The president has failed to make any prominent development in the nation’s latest five year economic development plan. A mixture of massive subsidies, price controls, mandate interest rate controls, mismanagement, central planning, etc., have contributed to his failure.’

The USG Open Source center translates economic news from Iranian newspapers from late January 2009:

‘ Former Minister Says Rate of Inflation Could Rise to 100 Percent With Subsidies Plan

— Mardom Salari reported on 27 January that former Economic Affairs Minister Seyyed Safdar Hoseyni said the government is not telling the people that it is facing a large budget deficit (- Tehran Mardom Salari . . .)

Education Minister Talks About Budget Deficit for His Ministry

— Tabnak and ISNA reported on 27 January that Minister of Education Ali Ahmadi said: “I am so upset about the budget of the ministry that I want to cry. We may have to close down schools because of high expenditures. I really don’t know what to do with this budget deficit?” Meanwhile, Mardom Salari reported on 28 January that Haji Baba`i, the head of the teachers’ faction in the Majles, raised the possibility of a budget deficit of 8,400 billion tumans in the ministry of education ministry next year, citing a deficit of 47 percent.’

On top of everything else, a drought in 2008 hurt Iranian farmers.

Aljazeera English reports on conditions in Iran’s rural areas.

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