1940 GMT: The Plot. President Ahmadinejad has used an interview with Al Jazeera English tonight to deny any Iranian involvement in the plan to kill the Saudi Ambassador to the US: "Terror is for people... who don't have any logic. People of Iran are pro-logic."
Speaker of Parliament Ali Larijani has tried a different approach, declaring that the main suspect in the US, Manssor Arbabsiar, is "addicted to opium and drunken and mentally not well balanced."
1640 GMT: The Plot. Minister of Defense Ahmad Vahidi has insisted that Iran is the most secure and stable country in the world today and that US accusations of Tehran's attempt to kill the Saudi Ambassador in Washington are "an intelligence disgrace".
1625 GMT: Supreme Leader Watch. Speaking in Paveh in western Iran today, Ayatollah Khamenei declared that the "unity of Shia and Sunnis is a heavy fist in the mouth of plotters", even as "subversive actions aim at preventing the Islamic Republic from becoming successful".
That bold statement carried some subtle strategy, according to an EA correspondent. She notes that the Supreme Leader did not claim to lead the nations of region but emphasised that nations appreciate achievements of the Iranian people over the last 32 years. And she sees Khamenei putting forth an "Iranian-Islamic" identity to neutralise the approach of the Ahmadinejad camp, often associated with an "Iran-first" approach.
The primary objective of the FBI sting operation involving Iranian- American Manssor Arbabsiar and a Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) informant that was started last June now appears to have been to use Arbabsiar to implicate [Qods Force officer Abdul Reza] Shahlai in a terror plot.
U.S. officials had learned from the DEA informant that Arbabsiar claimed that Shahlai was his cousin.....
Laying the foundation for press stories on the theme, the Treasury Department announced Tuesday that it was sanctioning Shahlai, along with Arbabsiar and three other Quds Force officials, including the head of the organisation, Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani, for being "connected to" the assassination plot.
But Michael Issikof of NBC News reported the same day that Shahlai "had previously been accused of plotting a highly sophisticated attack that killed five U.S. soldiers in Iraq, according to U.S. government officials and documents made public Tuesday afternoon".
Isikoff, who is called "National Investigative Correspondent" at NBC News, reported that the Treasury Department had designated Shahlai as a "terrorist" in 2008, despite the fact that the Treasury announcement of the designation had not used the term "terrorist".
On Saturday, the Washington Post published a report closely paralleling the Issikof story but going even further in claiming documentary proof of Shahlai's responsibility for the January 2007 attack in Karbala. Post reporter Peter Finn wrote that Shahlai "was known as the guiding hand behind an elite militia of the cleric Moqtada al Sadr", which had carried out an attack on U.S. troops in Karbala in January 2007.
Finn cited the fact that the Treasury Department named Shahlai as the "final approving and coordinating authority" for training Sadr's militiamen in Iran. That fact would not in itself be evidence of involvement in a specific attack on U.S. forces. On the contrary, it would suggest that he was not involved in operational aspects of the Mahdi Army in Iraq.
Finn then referred to a "22-page memo that detailed preparations for the operation and tied it to the Quds Force…." But he didn't refer to any evidence that Shahlai personally had anything to do with the operation.
In fact, U.S. officials acknowledged in the months after the Karbala attack that they had found no evidence of any Iranian involvement in the operation.
Talking with reporters about the memo on Apr. 26, 2007, several weeks after it had been captured, Gen. David Petraeus conceded that it did not show that any Iranian official was linked to the planning of the Karbala operation. When a journalist asked him whether there was evidence of Iranian involvement in the Karbala operation, Petraeus responded, "No. No. No… [W]e do not have a direct link to Iran involvement in that particular case."
In a news briefing in Baghdad Jul. 2, 2007, Gen. Kevin Bergner confirmed that the attack in Karbala had been authorised by the Iraqi chief of the militia in question, Kais Khazali, not by any Iranian official.
Col. Michael X. Garrett, who had been commander of the U.S. Fourth Brigade combat team in Karbala, confirmed to this writer in December 2008 that the Karbala attack "was definitely an inside job".
And then this, challenging the implication that the head of the Qods Force, Qassem Soleimani, was involved in the operation:
A Reuters story on Friday reported a claim of U.S. intelligence that two wire transfers totaling 100,000 dollars at the behest of Arbabsiar to a bank account controlled by the FBI implicates Soleimani in the assassination plot.
"While details are still classified," wrote Mark Hosenball and Caren Bohan, "one official said the wire transfers apparently had some kind of hallmark indicating they were personally approved" by Soleimani.
But the suggestion that forensic examination of the wire transfers could somehow show who had approved them is misleading. The wire transfers were from two separate non-Iranian banks in a foreign country, according to the FBI's account. It would be impossible to deduce who approved the transfer by looking at the documents.
Javad Arianmanesh of Parliament's Cultural Commission jabs at the Ministry of Culture, claiming the booth was closed because the rent was not paid.
And Presidential advisor Ali Zareie has blamed the Iranian Ambassador to Germany for not attending the fair, saying the Foreign Ministry must react.
1400 GMT: Bank Fraud Watch. Seyed Fazel Mousavi of Parliament's Article 90 Commission has said that the report on the $2.6 billion bank fraud has not been completed "because new aspects have appeared".
1250 GMT: Khamenei v. The President. Reza Marashi cuts to the chase of the Supreme Leader's weekend statement suggesting a President chosen by Parliament, rather than one selected by voters --- effectively a restoration of the Prime Ministerial system of the 1980s.
Should Iran decide to eliminate the post of a directly elected president, the primary role of a reinstated premiership would be to execute the Supreme Leader's directives. This was -- and continues to be -- what is expected from Ahmadinejad. His increasing intransigence has only sped up an otherwise steady moving process toward the domestic vision for Iran that many unelected officials hold: more Islamic than republican. Factional tensions in the Islamic Republic remain high, but key conservative factions have accepted the central role of Supreme Leader Khamenei. In the short to medium term, this is likely to remain Iran's domestic political status quo.
1200 GMT: Political Prisoner Watch. The report that women's rights activist and poet Feranak Farid, imprisoned during the environmental protests over the destruction of Lake Urmia in northwest Iran, has been released on bail after 42 days in prison.
However, women's rights activist Fereshteh Shirazi has been sentenced to two years in prison and banned from leaving the country for seven years.
1050 GMT: Everyone's A Basij. Mohammad Reza Naqdi, the head of the Basij militia, has told the National Security Council that Iran --- with a population of about 75 million --- will have 30 million Basiji by 2015.
1030 GMT: The Plot. Over the weekend, we wrote of the prospect that --- beyond all the rhetoric and propaganda --- Washington and Tehran would be in contact, probably through a third party, over the alleged Iranian plot to kill the Saudi Arabian Ambassador to the US. Now this....
Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi, while denying the American claims, said, "We are prepared to consider any issue, even if it is falsely created, with patience. We have asked the United States to provide us with the relevant information regarding this scenario."
Salehi's statement came after Iranian authorities sent a letter to US authorities, via the Swiss embassy in Tehran, asking for information about Manssor Arbabsiar, the Iranian-American accused of being at the centre of the operation (see 0425 GMT).
US State Department officials have said US Ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, met with her Iranian counterapart, Mohammad Khazaee, last Wednesday. Iranian officials in New York and Tehran denied the story.
0930 GMT: Economy Watch. More challenges for the Government....
Claims are circulating that it owes 330 billion Toman ($270 million) to the National Gas Company, and MP Musulreza Servati alleges that it created only 900,000 jobs --- as opposed to the Government's claims of 3.1 million --- between 2006 and 2010.
0730 GMT: Cartoon of Day. Nikahang Kowsar interprets this weekend's declaration by the Supreme Leader that the President could be chosen by Parliament, rather than directly elected --- his Ayatollah Khamenei says to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, "If it were up to me, I would pocket you before leaving a Parliamentary system":
0620 GMT: Scare Story of the Day. The Wall Street Journal blares this morning, "Iran, Saudi Arabia Tensions Spur Fears of a Proxy War":
Rising tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran are raising concerns that a renewed proxy war between the two powers could break out in Iraq, where the expected withdrawal of at least some U.S. military troops at the end of the year is expected to leave a new vacuum of power.
The article then proceeds to produce exactly zero evidence of said proxy war. That is, unless you consider this standard warning rhetoric from Riyadh as confirmation:
Iran "is a direct and imminent threat not only to the [Saudi] kingdom, but to Sunnis across the region," said a Saudi official familiar with regional policy-making. "They have shown this time and time again, in Iraq, Syria, Bahrain and Yemen. If Washington can't protect our interests in the region, we'll have to do it ourselves."
0425 GMT: Iranian officials tried on Sunday to chip away at the alleged plot to kill the Saudi Ambassador to the US. President Ahmadinejad said, "The cultured nation of Iran had no need to embark on assassination," President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Sunday criticizing the US latest anti-Iran scenario.
Speaking in Tehran, Ahmadinejad addressed the Obama Administration, “Assassination belongs to you.....But [you] should understand that terrorism is the job of uncultured people."
Fars reported that Iran had sent a letter, via the Swiss embassy in Tehran, demanding a consular visit to Iranian-American Manssor Arbabsiar, the man accused of pursuing the plan for the assassination.
On the domestic front, Rooz offers the Rumour of the Week, claiming from an "informed source" that a group of Revolutionary Guard commanders and representatives of the Supreme Leader have asked Saeed Jalili, the Secretary of the National Security Council, to run for President in 2013.
The website claimed that Yadollah Javani warned, "The forces of sedition will again try to revive themselves by participating in the elections. Even if they try to boycott the elections, they shall not do this passively and will most certainly present a radical candidate hoping that he will be disqualified so that they can again launch a pandemonium.”
Javani continued, “[President] Ahmadinejad’s representative must be easily disqualified and not allowed to enter the elections." Perhaps mores surprisingly, he saw Tehran Mayor Mohammad-Baqer Qalibaf as a threat:
Others such as Qalibaf must be driven out of the race through proper planning. I think Qalibaf’s zeal must be eliminated prior to the elections and not allow them to make it to the election campaigns and television interviews. This is because as mayor of Tehran he has made accomplishments putting him in a good position.
According to the report, Jalili responded:
I have been a follower of the supreme leader my whole life, so if he calls on me to do this, I cannot turn him down. But I also have some conditions. I believe that conditions must be prepared prior to the elections so that we can rapidly get rid of the reformists for the future elections, so that we can remain confident in this regard. At the same time, we must ensure that individuals such as Qalibaf do not make it to the scene. If they do, then things will be difficult.
And then there is the flying cabbage. Peyke Iran, whether from a bit of exclusive journalism or some Photoshop mischief, claims this photograph was taking on one of the President's recent provincial tours.