Sabtu, 14 April 2012

Items of interest pertaining to the Iranian oil situations , sanction evasions efforts and a stuxnet piece

* Trade finance freeze hurting food imports
* Tehran stockpiling food to avoid unrest (Adds further comment, detail, background)
LONDON/HAMBURG, April 13 (Reuters) - Private importers in Iran have bought about 50,000 tonnes of feed wheat this week despite payments problems caused by Western sanctions on the Islamic Republic, trade sources said on Friday.
Food shipments are not targeted under Western sanctions aimed at Iran's disputed nuclear programme, but financial measures have frozen Iranian firms out of much of the global banking system, hindering grain buying.
Iranian farmers face a shortage of feed for their huge livestock flocks as private-sector grain importers have been unable to arrange large-scale payments, traders said earlier this week.
Nevertheless, private buyers picked up two feed wheat consignments of 25,000 tonnes for prompt shipment this week.
"The deal has been wrapped up, and it looks like it is being done in two shipments to break up the purchases," a European trade source said.
The origin of the grain was unclear, but it was thought likely to be shipped via a Black Sea port.
"We may be seeing some attempts to bundle shipments using advance payments," another trade source said. "The Iranian private feed importers have a large requirement, and unless their government steps in they will be facing problems."
The government, which bought more than 2 million tonnes of bread-quality wheat recently, is now poised to start buying hundreds of thousands of tonnes of feed grain, because trade financing problems have meant private buyers have been unable to conclude large deals, traders said.
"Some buyers are seeking purchases by paying in advance or othercurrencies, and private buying is taking place," another European trader said. "I think the volumes being bought of feed grains are still way below Iran's requirements."
Traders said they expected Iran's government feed agency SLAL to step into international markets and start buying feed grain in the same way that state food agency GTC moved earlier this year to secure bread wheat supplies.
Iran has a large livestock farming sector and requires massive imports of meat and other foodstuffs to meet the needs of its population. According to data from the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organisation, Iran in 2010 produced 1.6 million tonnes of chicken meat, 6.3 million tonnes of cow milk and a combined 0.91 million tonnes of beef, lamb and goat meat.
Sanctions are worsening an economic crisis that has caused rising prices, shortages of some goods and a collapse of the local currency, while other countries in the Middle East are experiencing political and social unrest.
"(Iranian President Mahmoud) Ahmadinejad may be the first to suffer from any disruption to food supply," said Alan Fraser, Middle East analyst with security firm AKE. "The regime clearly envisages tougher times ahead, and its major priority will be to dampen any forms of dissent."
Iran has aimed to sidestep the banking freeze by using other financing mechanisms, including routing deals through Turkish banks and making payments in non-dollar currencies such as roubles.
A Swiss bank owned by India's Hinduja Group said this week it was continuing food trade finance with Iran despite the sanctions.
"While the current sanctions could really bite, there has been a reluctance to take the steps that would make it so. Part of this is prudent concern about not pushing too far, too quickly partners whose aid is needed on other fronts such as Turkey, which is critical to any resolution of the Syrian crisis," said J. Peter Pham, a director with U.S. think-tank the Atlantic Council.
Israel, widely believed to be the Middle East's only nuclear power, and the United States, its main ally, have both held out the prospect of military action against Iran if sanctions do not work. Iran has said it is enriching uranium for peaceful purposes.
Officials from Iran and the six major powers arrived in Istanbul ahead of Saturday's bid to restart stalled diplomacy following months of soaring tension. (Reporting by Jonathan Saul and Michael Hogan, editing by Jane Baird)


Stuxnet worm reportedly planted by Iranian double agent using memory stick

The Stuxnet computer worm used to sabotage Iran's nuclear program was planted by a double agent working for Israel. The agent used a booby-trapped memory stick to infect machines deep inside the Natanz nuclear facility, according to a report published on Wednesday.
Once the memory stick was infected, Stuxnet was able to infiltrate the Natanz network when a user did nothing more than click on an icon in Windows, ISSSource reported. They cited former and serving US intelligence officials who requested anonymity because of their proximity to the investigations. Covert operators from Israel and the US wanted to use a saboteur on the ground to spread the infection to insure the worm burrowed into the most vulnerable machines in the system, reporter Richard Sale added.
The double agent was probably a member of an Iranian dissident group, possibly from the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq group. This group is believed to be behind the assassinations of key Iranian nuclear scientists. In October, a huge blast destroyed an underground site near the town of Khorramabad in western Iran that housed most of Iran's Shehab-3 medium-range missiles capable of reaching Israel and Iraq. Former and current US officials told ISSSource that the MEK was behind the attack, and one of the officials said "computer manipulations" caused the blast. "Given the seriousness of the impact on Iran's (nuclear) program, we believe it took a human agent to spread the virus," the source told the publication.
As senior reporter Kim Zetter chronicled last year, Stuxnet made history as the most advanced—if not the first—real cyber weapon. It ultimately exploited four previously unknown vulnerabilities in Windows and masterfully took advantage of weaknesses buried deep inside Siemens's Simatic WinCC Step7 software, which was used to control machinery inside Natanz. Stuxnet disrupted the Iranian nuke program by sabotaging the centrifuges used to enrich uranium. While the worm was designed to spread widely, it was programmed to execute its malicious payload against a highly selective list of targets.
According to ISSSource, Stuxnet wasn't the first malware the US military has used against opponents. In the 1980s, it planted viruses inside a Soviet military-industrial structure that could be activated in time of war. A similar process against China is continuing today, the publication said. In late 1991, just prior to the Desert Storm operation against Iraq, the CIA and British Government Communication Headquarters implanted bugs into hardware that was smuggled into Baghdad. US planes destroyed the targeted command and control network where the infected equipment was inserted before the malware was able to spread.

Iran fights oil sanctions with supervessels

Published: 13 April, 2012, 18:39
Edited: 13 April, 2012, 22:40
AFP Photo / Henghameh Fahimi
AFP Photo / Henghameh Fahimi

Chinese shipyards are to deliver 12 supertankers to Iran, with the final vessel ready by the end of 2013. These could help alleviate logistical difficulties caused by US and European sanctions against Iranian oil exports.
The first of the very large crude carriers (VLCCs) built for Iranian oil shipping operator NITC is expected to arrive in May, reports Reuters, citing industry executives. Seven more are to be delivered over the year, with the remaining four to be commissioned by the end of 2013. Two shipyards are building the supertankers under contracts worth $1.2 billion.
The supertankers will significantly expand NITC’s shipping capabilities, cushioning the impact of sanctions.
Starting from July, the EU will prohibit European insurers and reinsurers from indemnifying tankers carrying Iranian crude oil anywhere in the world, which will discourage maritime firms from dealing with Iran.
Buyers of Iranian oil in China, India, Japan and South Korea hope their governments will step in and provide sovereign guarantees to allow Asian insurers to replace lost European coverage. Another option would be for Iran itself to provide maritime insurance for foreign shipping companies.
But the addition of 12 VLCCs capable of carrying 24 million barrels of crude to NITC’s current fleet of 39 ships with a total capacity of 61.5 million barrels of crude will at least partially dampen the expected cut.
The tankers however will not allow Iran to rely solely on its own fleet to cover its entire export of 2.6 million barrels per day. Roughly 17 such ships would be needed for this, Reuters estimates.
The 12 supertankers were commissioned at Waigaoqiao Shipbuilding and Dalian Shipbuilding Industry, with each shipbuilder taking an order for six ships. NITC, the National Iranian Tanker Company, was privatized in 2000 and is now owned by three Iranian pension funds.
The US and EU are trying to cut the Islamic Republic’s oil export through a ban on the import of its crude and financial sanctions against Iran’s trade partners. Their stated goal is to force Tehran to freeze its controversial nuclear program.
Europe was among the largest buyers of Iranian crude, but is now trying to replace it with fuel from other sources. Japan and South Korea are also trying to reduce imports from Iran, although unlike the EU they didn’t set a deadline for stopping all oil trade with Iran.
China and India on the other hand refused to side with the US-sponsored effort, saying only a UN Security Council resolution would make them stop buying Iranian oil.
In retaliation at the looming EU ban, Iran cut oil supply to some European countries like Britain and France. This contributed to a hike in fuel prices in the region, especially among economically weaker members of the EU like Greece and Spain, which are more dependent on Iranian oil.
Tehran also offered incentives to Asian consumers to encourage them to keep their business ties intact.
By helping Iran counter the EU oil embargo, China once again proved that it is an “incredible economic power” – and that the world is no longer on a “bipolar axis,” investment adviser Patrick Young told RT.
China “sees no reason not to manage to take advantage [of the situation],” Young said. “Ultimately these oil tankers that are being built for the last two years, the [Chinese] are going to manage to deliver them just before the sanctions regime comes in. That is going to be a very welcome development for the Iranian regime.”

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