Iran Election Guide

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The Latest from Iran (22 July): Ahmadinejad Ready for Nuclear Talks?

2000 GMT: Political Prisoner Watch. Hadi Hamidi Shafigh, an ethnic right activist and member of the Azerbaijan National Movement, has reportedly been detained on the eve of his wedding.

Last month Shafigh was sentenced to six months imprisonment and 60 lashes for demanding Azerbaijani lunguage rights. He was chanting the slogan, "We want to study Azerbaijani language" during a football match in Tabriz on 1 May.

Shafigh has been arrested on several occasions dating back to 2006 and expelled from university.

1920 GMT: Political Prisoner Watch. Mohammad Sohrabi Rad, an aide to Mehdi Karroubi, has been allowed furlough after 707 days in prison.

Sohrabi Rad, as we noted yesterday in our special on Kahrizak Prison, was detained for making a documentary on the post-election abuses at the detention centre.

1915 GMT: Ready for Talks? Back to our opening entry for the day....

Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said today that Iran is prepared to normalise relations with America on an equal basis and without preconditions.

Salehi also expressed hope that Saudi Arabia can resolve any misunderstanding over regional issues. Riyadh and Tehran have been in conflict over the situation in Bahrain, where the regime has been suppressing protests.

1330 GMT: Non-Story of the Week. All week we have expressed scepticism over claims from the Iranian military that it shot down a US drone aircraft near a uranium enrichment facility, even as the report made its way to American outlets such as CNN and CBS.

Now the public relations section of the Revolutionary Guards has said the incident never occurred, as American planes cannot get into Iranian airspace.

1315 GMT: The Battle Within. Speaker of Parliament Ali Larijani has jabbed at the executive, blaming inflation after subsidy cuts on "government infringements" and saying MPs "will not abandon ppl's rights for sake of unity".

Larijani also maintained his hard-line stance on Washington, criticising former President Hashemi Rafsanjani, "Those who speak of breaking the taboo of relations with the US have the wrong analysis of affairs."

1305 GMT: Your Tehran Friday Prayer Update. Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami at the podium today, and he's got good news: "Iran is the safest country in the world".

Khatami's case for comparison was Britain, where he said "homicides had become institutionalised". Referring to the phone-hacking scandal involving a newspaper owned by Rupert Murdoch, Khatami claimed a whistle-blowing journalist had been "murdered". (British police have said the death was from natural causes.)

Khatami took his listeners on a tour of Egypt, Bahrain, and Yemen, as well as declaring that "no one should be exempt from the law" in Iran.

1300 GMT: The Battle Within. Hamidreza Katouzian, the head of Parliament's Energy Committee and an increasingly vocal critic of the President's leadership, has said that if hardliners back off from criticising Governtment, it will be "their sudden death".

Katouzian said subsidy cuts were implemented suddenly rather than, as they should have been, over a 5-year period.

1140 GMT: A Day of Denials. Ayatollah Mahdavi Kani, the head of the Assembly of Experts, has played down talks of a split amongst conservatives and principlists, denying the foundation of a new "hard-line" faction and saying that the clergy has never intended to interfere in next March's Parliamentary elections.

However, another cleric, Ahmad Salek, says that Mahdavi Kani warned of divisions within hardliners, pointing to the new Islamic Constancy Front formed by former members of President Ahmadinejad's camp.

Cleric and politician Morteza Agha Tehrani has rejected any reports that reformists are excluded from the elections --- whoever is faithful to the Constitution and clerical supremacy can run.

0750 GMT: The House Arrests. In a meeting with former President, Mohammad Khatami, the daughters of Mir Hossein Mousavi and Zahra Rahnvard have restated concerns about their parents’ condition and pressures exerted on the family.

Opposition figures Mousavi and Rahnavard, as well as Mehdi and Fatemeh Karroubi, have been held under strict house arrest since mid-February.

The daughters of Mousavi and Rahnavard said they were rarely allowed to see their parents and that even then, their conversations were severely restricted and closely controlled by cameras and security agents present inside the house. They said their parents of some of the basic rights enjoyed by political prisoners.

0745 GMT: Border Watch. Nasim Online reports that a Revolutionary Guards commander and five troops have been killed in ongoing clashes with Kurdish separatists on the Iraq border.

The Guards claim that they have inflicted serious losses on PJAK, which has been carrying out an armed campaign for independence. Earlier this week, Iranian forces reportedly took over three camps inside Iraq.

Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari has called on Iran to stop shelling in the border region.

Abdolvahed Gavani, governor of the Chooman region in Iraqi Kurdistan, said yesterday, "Islamic Republic artillery attacks have continued and nearly 12 shells have hit villages in this region and caused great material losses for the people who live there.”

He added that a parliamentary delegation from Iraq has arrived in the region to visit the area and report back to the Iraqi Parliament

0700 GMT: Ahmadinejad Watch. MP Ruhollah Hosseini has claimed that the Supreme Leader called the recent push to interrogate Ahmadinejad in Parliament "mischievous".

The drive to question and possibly impeach Ahmadinejad was blocked earlier this month by objections from the Board of President and, reportedly, by the intervention of Ayatollah Khamenei's office.

0615 GMT: Elections Watch. Principlist MP Hossein Fadaei has warned that the "deviant current" --- often used as a label for those close to President Ahmadinejad --- wants to "conquer" the Parliamentary seats of 175 districts, especially in the provinces, in the March elections.

0610 GMT: Political Prisoner Watch (Historical Edition). Rah-e-Sabz posts a call by Justice for Iran, founded by lawyer and activist Shadi Sadr, asking for information about female prisoners in the 1980s who "repented".

0535 GMT: We begin with a ripple on the nuclear front, as the Iranian state outlet IRNA summarises a speech by President Ahmadinejad in Kerman Province on Thursday.

Opening a copper plant, the President responded to last week's suggestion by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov of a phased approach to the nuclear issue --- as Iran met International Atomic Energy Agency concerns over its enrichment programme, part of the sanctions regime imposed by the United Nations would be lifted.

Ahmadinejad said, “They have proposed step-by-step cooperation with Iran in the nuclear field. All right, we have taken our step and cooperated with the U.N. nuclear watchdog. Now, you take your step and come to prepare a plan together. And you take one step; we take a step, too.”

The Associated Press interprets this as a "cautious welcome", but Ahmadinejad's language appears to us to be deliberately ambiguous. Initial reactions from Tehran, offered by conservative lawmakers, were that Lavrov's proposal was unacceptable, as Iran had already dealt with the IAEA's worries. The Foreign Ministry later said the proposal was being studied.

This morning, however, is another signal of Tehran's willingness to talk. The pro-Ahmadinejad IRNA's lead story is a statement by Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi, "We seek a solution to the nuclear issue".

Salehi also gave the assurance that Iran will maintain a bilateral relationship with Britain, hoping London will "reconsider its behaviour". The statement deflects periodic calls from legislators and media outlets for a suspension or break in diplomatic relations.

(Press TV ignores these statements by Salehi, preferring his assertion, "[The US] cannot accept that a country like Iran has a geostrategic position and enjoys immense resources.")

Immediate reaction? Ahmadinejad's statement, as well as the initial reactions from Iran, have to be considered in the context of domestic politics and the nuclear issues since 2009. The President has recurrently been the most receptive of Iranian politicians to discussions on a settlement.

However, the most promising initiative --- the Geneva talks in autumn 2009 --- came to a halt after opposition from legislators, including Speaker of Parliament Ali Larijani, who may or may not have been channelling the views of the Supreme Leader's Office. And as recently as February, an effort by the President to spur talks, sending his right-hand man Esfandiar Rahim-Mashai to New York, was blocked by opponents.

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