The Middle East Channel

Iran’s oil minister admits 40 percent plunge in oil exports

Iran's oil minister, Rostam Qasemi, admitted for the first time on Monday that petroleum exports and sales had dropped by 40 percent in the past nine months because of Western sanctions. Qasemi has consistently denied Iran was having problems selling its oil, its largest source of revenue. Additionally, according to Gholam Reza Kateb, the head of the parliament's budget committee, the decline in oil sales and banking sanctions have caused a 45 percent drop in revenue. OPEC and the International Energy Agency have reported that Iranian crude exports have fallen from 2.4 million barrels a day at the end of 2011 to about a million barrels a day at the end of 2012. Consequently, soaring inflation has caused the value of Iran's currency, the rial, to fall by over 80 percent since 2011. Also on Monday, Iran's oil ministry said it will halt the sale of jet fuel to the country's indebted airlines unless they pay cash, causing several carriers to cancel flights. Western countries have imposed severe sanctions on Iran over its disputed nuclear program, which it maintains is for peaceful purposes. Last week, U.S. President Barack Obama broadened sanctions on Iranian industries to include all energy, shipping, and shipbuilding organizations and restricted outlets for barter transactions.

 

Syria

Syria mixed chemicals at two storage sites at the end of November 2012 and filled dozens of bombs, likely with sarin nerve gas, and loaded them onto vehicles near air bases according to anonymous U.S. military, intelligence, and diplomatic officials. A public warning by President Obama, and private messages from Russia, Iraq, Turkey, and possibly Jordan coerced Syria to stop the chemical and bomb preparation. However, officials say the weapons are still in storage near Syrian air bases, and could be deployed in between two and six hours for use by President Bashar al-Assad. Meanwhile, on Tuesday the United Nations' World Food Program (WFP) said it is unable to provide assistance to 1 million Syrians who are going hungry due to the 22-month-long conflict. According to spokeswoman Elisabeth Byrs, the agency aims to help 1.5 million of the 2.5 million Syrians in need. It is not able to reach all the people requiring help because of continued fighting and the lack of access to the port of Tartus, where it had to remove its staff. The program also had to pull its staff from offices in Homs, Aleppo, and Qamisly. Additionally, the U.N. refugee agency said the number of refugees fleeing the fighting increased by nearly 100,000 in the past month. On Tuesday, a riot reportedly broke out in the Zaatari Syrian refugee camp in Jordan. Refugees attacked aid workers after the first winter storm in the camp caused torrential rains and winds that swept away tents. Nearly 50,000 people are housed in the Zaatari camp and they are becoming increasingly frustrated with conditions that one person called "worse than living in Syria."

Headlines  

  • Libya's main liberal coalition, the Liberal National Forces Alliance, has withdrawn from the national assembly over a deadlock in drafting the constitution.
  • Twelve Kurdish militants and a Turkish soldier were killed in clashes along the Turkish border with Iraq.
  • Four people have been reported dead and 55 injured in one of the worst storms Lebanon has seen in 25 years. 

Articles & Analysis

"Israel's True Friends" (Roger Cohen, The New York Times)

"PRESIDENT Obama's decision to nominate Chuck Hagel, a maverick Republican with enough experience of war to loathe it, as his next secretary of defense is the right choice for many reasons, chief among them that it will provoke a serious debate on what constitutes real friendship toward Israel.

That debate, which will unfold during Senate confirmation hearings, is much needed because Jewish leadership in the United States is often unrepresentative of the many American Jews who have moved on from the view that the only legitimate support of Israel is unquestioning support of Israel, and the only mark of friendship is uncritical embrace of a friend."

"Brennan's Quest for a Moderate Hezbollah" (Michael Rubin, Commentary Magazine)

"President Obama's choices of John Kerry, Chuck Hagel, and John Brennan to lead respectively the State Department, Pentagon, and Central Intelligence Agency confirm that Obama wishes to position his legacy somewhat to the left even of Jimmy Carter. There has been a lot of attention to Chuck Hagel's record over the last couple of weeks, but John Brennan has benefited from flying under the radar, if only because of the controversy surrounding Hagel.

It's worth recalling, however, Brennan's comments in 2010 upon returning from a visit to Lebanon. From a Reuters report at the time:

‘The Obama administration is looking for ways to build up "moderate elements" within the Lebanese Hezbollah guerrilla movement and to diminish the influence of hard-liners, a top White House official said on Tuesday. John Brennan, assistant to the president for homeland security and counterterrorism, met with Lebanese leaders during a recent visit. "Hezbollah is a very interesting organization," Brennan told a Washington conference, citing its evolution from "purely a terrorist organization" to a militia to an organization that now has members within the parliament and the cabinet. "There is certainly the elements of Hezbollah that are truly a concern to us what they're doing. And what we need to do is to find ways to diminish their influence within the organization and to try to build up the more moderate elements,' Brennan said."

-- By Mary Casey

ATTA KENARE/AFP/Getty Images

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