2035 GMT: Ahmadinejad's Foreign Policy Power Play (cont.). So the Iranian President has given his nationally-televised speech in advance of his trip to the United Nations.
Nothing unexpected, as Ahmadinejad gave the ritual thrashing of US foreign policy --- misguided towards Iran, Iraq, the Middle East, and Afghanistan --- and declared that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is "under Western pressure" as it reports on Iran's nuclear programme. His symbolic play was to associate himself with Persia's great rulers by referring to how he brought back the Cyrus Cylinder to Iran from the British Museum (albeit only on loan for four months).
An Iranian activist has the best blow-by-blow summary.
2030 GMT: Sanctions Watch. Didi Remez, writing for Israel's Yediot Ahronoth, reports on Italy's growing trade with Iran:
Italian exports to Iran also rose significantly, from €892 million in the first half of 2009 to more than a billion euros. While specific data have not yet been published, it is clear that the surge in trade does not stem from the trade in basic foods. Central Bureau of Statistics data clearly show that industry-related goods, infrastructure work, energy, communication satellites and technological products were typical of the trade between the two countries this year. This is the fourth consecutive year in which the volume of trade between Italy and Iran has risen, despite the sanctions that were imposed by the UN on Iran and despite all the promises that the Italians gave to the US administration and the warm embraces that were given by Berlusconi during his visit to Israel.
2015 GMT: Price Watch. Another sector --- following increases in cost of electricity and water --- reportedly causing agitation: Peyke Iran claims people are angered as fares quadrupled on Tehran's fast bus lines.
2010 GMT: CyberWatch. Mehdi Karroubi's Saham News, after periodic interruptions over the last 24 hours, is on-line.
2005 GMT: Political Prisoner Watch. Rooz Online updates on Kurdish poets and writers arrested in the last four months: Mokhtar Houshmand, Behzad Kordestani, Amir Amanian, Qader Shiri, and Aziz Naseri.
2000 GMT: The Election "Coup". Rooz Online has published the three slides (1, 2, and 3) from the Revolutionary Guards PowerPoint --- described in EA yesterday --- which list 46 opposition targets to be handled before and after the election.
1720 GMT: Political Prisoner Watch. Arjang Davoudi is reportedly in critical condition nearing the 70th day of his hunger strike in Rajai Shahr Prison. Activists claim he now weighs 80 pounds, has problems with his vision, cannot walk, and is incoherent.
1710 GMT: Today's Tough Talk. Yahya Savafi, the Supreme Leader's military advisor, introduced today's Friday Prayers with a warning to Washington: 65% of the world's oil reserves are in the Persian Gulf and US battleships are in the firing range of Iran.
1700 GMT: Gasoline Squeeze. Reports indicate that Iran's petrochemical plants have stopped production of exports as they put their efforts into gasoline for the domestic market. Abdolhossein Bayat, the Deputy Minister of Oil, has said gasoline is now being produced in six plants.
1650 GMT: Meanwhile at Home. Mohammad Nabi Habibi, a leader of the Motalefeh Party, has put out the unity message, declaring that competition between principlists and reformers faithful to the system is "necessary" for Iran. He said that Motalefeh will unite with other principlists for future Parliamentry and Presidential candidates for future Majlis and presidency elections.
Although Navi Habibi generally defended the Government, he wasrned that Ahmadinejad's new "advisors" will have effects on the actions of the Foreign ministry.
Former Minister of Defense Ali Shamkhani is more pointed in his criticism, saying that division of forces faithful to Iran into "ours" and "theirs" is not right. While the foreign threat is serious, Shamkhani, it is not an imminent challenge.
1630 GMT: Ahmadinejad's Foreign Policy Power Play. As Mahmoud prepares to give a nationally televised speech tonight, days before his trip to the United Nations, let's check in on how the Islamic Republic News Agency is objectively reporting on the battle between the President and the Foreign Ministry over control of Iran's international affairs:
However, if US representatives are eagerly anticipating the President's message, they are showing it in a strange way: visas have been denied for 40 members of Ahmadinejad's entourage.
1625 GMT: Political Prisoner Watch. Journalist, blogger, and social activist Hamid Mafi has been given a five-year sentence.
1615 GMT: Or Try This Version. Mehr News, recounting Ayatollah Jannati's Friday Prayer, goes for the "We Won!" theme: "Events of 2009 have stopped....Those who led them have understood that people don't buy their story, and don't oppose the people any longer....Hopefully the rest will wake up and repent....The Assembly of Experts has confirmed that only the Supreme Leader is the leader."
But Mehr, unlike Press TV, also runs Ayatollah Jannati's pessimistic message on the economy. What's more, it has this warning from the cleric, as he points to Ahmadinejad's right-hand man Esfandiar Rahim-Mashai and his 20 Government posts: "O brother, don't do something that angers people. Why do you give so many offices to a 'problematic element'? I hope this problem will be ended somehow to please God and the people."
1555 GMT: La-la-la-la-la, Can't Hear You. At today's Friday Prayer in Tehran, Ayatollah Jannati, the head of the Guardian Council, warned of economic hardship ahead and said, "The government should be careful to minimize the tensions and negative effects on poor people."
You won't know that, however, if you rely on Press TV's English-language website, which has not a single word on the economy. Instead, it trumpets, "Senior Iranian cleric Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati has condemned the blasphemous act of Qur'an-burning by a number of US adventurists as 'lunacy' and a sign of US weakness."
1550 GMT: Claim of Day (cont.). Did we say that Iranian state media is claiming Tehran's cyber-warriors have taken down 500 US websites (see 1230 GMT)?
Make that 1200....
1525 GMT: Philosophy Leaves Iran. The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization has moved World Philosophy Day, scheduled for 18 November 2010, to Paris.
1520 GMT: A Friday Prayer Message for the President? Oh, dear, it looks like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has some economic explaining to do to Iran's clerics.
It's one thing for Hashemi Rafsanjani to slap down Ahmadinejad by saying that he not be complacent about sanctions. It is another for Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, leading the faithful in Tehran today, to put out this message: "We will have a semi-abstemious period ahead of us. The government should be careful to minimize the tensions and negative effects on poor people."
Snap reading is that Jannati, as head of the Guardian Council, is in line with the Supreme Leader. So it looks like the President is lining up quite an impressive array of critics.
1510 GMT: Rafsanjani's Balancing Act. We noted this week how former President Hashemi Rafsanjani is carefully positioning himself both to stand tall for Iran against the pressure of the "West" and to challenge President Ahmadinejad. How is he doing?
Well, the English-language site of Fars News offers a clue. Fars, which in the past has called for vengeance and criminal prosecution against Rafsanjani and his family, heartily endorses the former President's declaration, "Nuclear energy is our inalienable right. It is legal if we say we do not trust these inspectors [of the International Atomic Energy Agency] and that they should be changed."
(Iran has been criticised by the IAEA for refusing to allow two inspectors to work. The Government claims they are biased against Tehran.)
Still, Fars' acceptance of Rafsanjani only goes so far: the website is still refusing to recognise his religious rank of "Ayatollah".
1500 GMT: Political Prisoner Watch. Parvin Javadzadeh, a 22-year-old blogger, has had her sentence reduced from eight years to 26 months by Tehran's Appeals Court.
Javadzadeh was arrested on 27 December, primarily for her reporting on the Green Movement in her weblog. She was one of the Citizen Journalists reporting the news of last year’s post election upheaval on her personal weblog.
1230 GMT: Claim of Day. Islamic Republic News Agency claims that a group named Ashyaneh has hacked 500 US websites, including the official site of the state of Florida.
Hmmm.... Just checked, and the state of Florida still looks to be intact.
1215 GMT: Diplomatic Defections. Mohammad Reza Heidari, who left his post at the Iranian Embassy in Norway early this year, has been interviewed by insideIRAN. He declares, in the context of two more Iranian diplomats who resigned this month:
I have information that there are many people in the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps and within the security apparatus of the regime who are resigning as we speak. Some of them have moved to Turkey seeking asylum and have turned themselves in at the UN compound there. Some of them are under house arrest in Iran. These are men who fought in the war alongside us but are now alienated by the behavior of the IRGC. No one can hear their voices, though.
1200 GMT: Classy Comment of the Day. Mohammad Karami-Rad, a member of Parliament's National Security Commission, has commented on the four Iranian diplomats --- two this month --- who have resigned in protest over the post-election Government and in sympathy with the opposition: "Some of these people have mental problems and seek asylum in order to have an excuse to stay in their desired countries at the end of their mission."
1130 GMT: Afghanistan Key for an Iranian Door? Those Obama Administration officials who favour engagement with Iran have sent out an important signal today via David Ignatius of The Washington Post: better relations with Tehran --- beyond the nuclear issue --- are needed to deal with the challenges of Afghanistan.
Ignatius presents their case:
Tehran is signaling that it wants to join regional efforts to stabilize Afghanistan --- presenting President Obama with an interesting diplomatic opportunity. He had solicited just such help from Tehran last month, but the administration has not yet responded to the Iranian feelers. U.S. policy is still in flux, but the administration appears ready for a limited dialogue with Iran about Afghanistan, perhaps conducted through the two countries' embassies in Kabul. This position has not been communicated to the Iranians, in part because Washington is waiting to see whether Iran will return soon to negotiations about its nuclear program with the "P-5 plus 1" group.
We'll have a special analysis on Saturday considering if Afghanistan can indeed bring US-Iranian reconciliation.
1015 GMT: Ankara Plays Nice. Turkey and Iran signed a series of agreements on Thursday, including the establishment of new border crossings and cooperation in higher education, culture, and youth affairs.
The agreements were signed in a meeting between Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Iranian First Vice President Mohammed Reza Rahimi in Istanbul.
There were no specific agreements related to trade and finance, in the context of international sanctions against Tehran. At the joint press conference, Erdogan said that Iran's nuclear program was in a sensitive period but there were excellent opportunities to resolve issues peacefully.
Meanwhile, Erdogan told Turkish businessmen that Ankara aims to treble its trade with Iran in the next five years: "Our bilateral trade ties have reached $10bn... When we remove the barriers to trade between ourselves, when we complete our preferential trade agreement we can reach a bilateral trade volume of $30bn in five years."
Samet Inanir, an adviser at the trade relations board DEIK, said, "We should consider Turkey and Iran as if they were France and Germany."
Turkey is committed to implementing the latest UN sanctions on Iran, although it opposed them in the Security Council, but it is not enforcing wider-ranging US or European Union measures.
Iranian sales of natural gas accounted for 80% of the $10bn of bilateral trade in 2008. Many Turkish companies say that prohibitively high tariffs and barriers to investment are bigger obstacles to doing business in Iran than sanctions.
0745 GMT: We'll be away on academic business for a few hours. Updates will resume this afternoon. In the meantime, we'll hand over to our top-notch readers to provide news and ideas.
0730 GMT: Political Prisoner Watch. Mohammad Nourizad, the detained filmmaker, has used the "Koran burning" episode in the US to make a sharp point about his own country. He writes, in a letter brought out of Evin Prison:
If, in the United States, only the papers of the Quran were planned to be burned, in our [Islamic] country, the blood of the children of the nation who are the more obvious and evident verses of the Almighty God were shed, and they were burned in front of the eyes and conscience of everyone; and no senior religious figure took off his turban in protest and with torn clothes and barefoot rushed to defend [the oppressed]; no judge or member of the parliament or no cleric slapped himself, mourned or cried for this burning of the live Qurans.
So would you give me the right not to believe the love of Quran of the highranking officials when I am imprisoned by the very same lying characters?
0715 GMT: Diplomatic Vacuum. Amidst the wrangling between the President and the Foreign Ministry over foreign policy, Tehran is leaving a high-profile vacancy in its embassy in London:
[Iran is] not replacing its outgoing ambassador to London, Rasoul Movahedian, when he leaves in the next few weeks, diplomatic sources said today.
Last year, Tehran nominated former deputy foreign minister Mehdi Safari to take up the post but changed its mind in spring, sending him instead to Beijing as ambassador to China, which has emerged as Iran's principal backer on the world stage.
Julian Borger, writing in The Guardian, attributes the vacuum to Iran's "downgrading of relations" with London, but his "British diplomatic source" has a shrewder reading: "This could be a bureaucratic blockage that amounts to a decision....It could be that the president is refusing to agree a replacement for Movahedian, or it could come from the [Supreme] Leader's office."
0645 GMT: Interesting to see this morning that some in the "Western" press, rather than leading with the nuclear issue, have picked up on internal politics in Iran. Brian Murphy of the Associated Press writes, "Iran's President Brings Political Baggage to New York":
Any outward confidence on the big U.S. stage [by Iran's President] contrasts sharply with his increasingly public power struggles back in Iran that could shape the tone of the Islamic republic for years to come.
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad --- who was a divisive figure in Iran after his disputed re-election last year --- is now the great divider among the conservative leadership as the threat fades from the battered and dispirited opposition, analysts say.
Murphy notes "a series of slaps --- including the judiciary commandeering the exit rules for jailed American hiker Sarah Shourd" at Ahmadinejad, and he claims "indirect warnings [by the Supreme Leader] to Ahmadinejad to remember who is in charge". He also raises issues such as the influence of the Revolutionary Guard.
And Murphy concludes, in a rare instance of a Western journalist getting the better of Ahmadinejad:
He also gave perhaps a passing nod to his own challenges at home by noting that various groups keep pressure on President Barack Obama.
"Do you really think President Obama can do anything he wishes to?" he said.
Murphy's analysis was carried on-line by The Washington Post, but it is not in the newspaper's print edition.