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Iran Democracy Monitor - No. 131

Edited by Ilan Berman
February 6, 2013

Due to a strong demand from China and an expansion of its tanker fleet, Iran has begun to adapt to sanctions levied against it by the United States and Europe. In December, Iran’s crude oil exports rose to 1.4 million barrels per day—the highest level seen since the European Union’s imposition of a ban on Iranian oil last summer. Iran’s efforts have been buoyed in large part by consistent Chinese demand for crude, which has made the PRC an indispensable energy partner for the Iranian regime. (Reuters, January 31, 2013)


Over the past two weeks, Iran’s struggling national currency, the rial, has taken another dive, dropping some 21% to a value of between 39,000 and 40,000 to one U.S. dollar. The decline is the result of ongoing sanctions imposed by the United States and its allies, as well as internal economic mismanagement under the government of Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. In all, the rial has lost more than eighty percent of its value over the past year. (The Australian, February 3, 2013)


For years, the government of Israel has sounded the alarm over what it has judged to be Iran’s rapid nuclear progress. But now, policymakers in Jerusalem appear to be revising their estimates in a more conservative direction. Israeli sources have now predicted that Iran will not be able to build a nuclear weapon before 2015—nearly two years later than recently estimated. The slowdown, sources say, reflects a change in the pace of nuclear development on the part of the Iranian government brought about by numerous sabotage efforts and accidents that have interrupted work at Iran’s nuclear facilities.

At the same time, however, new advances in Iran’s nuclear efforts may call the predicted slowdown into question. Specifically, the United Nations has been informed of Iran’s latest plans to install more advanced equipment at its principal nuclear enrichment plant—a move which would make it possible for the Iranian regime to process uranium some two to three times faster than it does currently. (Stars and Stripes, January 29, 2013; New York Times, January 31, 2013)


Ahead of this summer’s presidential elections, Iran’s ayatollahs are attempting to preserve country’s political status quo. A law just passed by Iran’s powerful Guardian Council, a body of appointed clerics, has added a new layer of bureaucracy to the country’s political process. Under the new law, elections will henceforth be run by a central election board made up of representatives of Iran’s judiciary, legislative and executive branches, together with a group of seven “national, political, social and cultural” figures. The body will supplant Iran’s Interior Ministry in having lead responsibility for organizing and overseeing the country’s elections.

The move is more than merely bureaucratic. It reflects a power play by Iran’s clerical elite, which is worried that president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his followers might meddle in the outcome of the country’s impending presidential contest this June. The changes were made because of the belief that “Ahmadinejad and his team could try to interfere in the election and influence the results," according to one Iranian journalist. (Radio Free Europe, January 30, 2013)