2235 GMT: Currency Watch. The Government may have taken measures to halt the slide of the Iranian currency, including the raising of interest rates and a single exchange rate, but key MP Ahmad Tavakoli is not satisfied.
Tavakoli, a cousin and ally of Speaker of Parliament Ali Larijani, has posted a detailed criticism on his website Alef, outlining Government mismanagement and claiming "incompetent officials, a lack of trust, and corruption". In addition to demanding trustworthy, effective personnel, he called for control of liquidity in the economy, a halt to the Government's subsidy cuts programme in the energy sector, and avoiding of measures contributing to inflation.
MP Mohammad Baqer Noubakht has echoed Tavakoli's complaints: "Straying cash is the economy's Achilles heel," as liquidity has increased five-fold in the last six years. He called for a halt to the second phase of the Ahmadinejad subsidy cuts.
2005 GMT: Oil Watch. The Guardian Council has expressed its willingness to endorse Parliamentary legislation cutting off Iranian oil exports to Europe as a pre-emptive strike against the European Union's suspension of imports of Iranian oil from 1 July.
"We cannot express our view before seeing the Parliament's legislation on a possible oil ban [on Europe], however; the Guardian Council will ratify any legislation that could help protect Iran's national interests," Council spokesman Abbas Ali Kadkhodaei said.
Meanwhile, the head of the National Iranian Oil Company has raised the prospect of a specific counter-attack.
Ahmad Qalebani said Iran may enforce "buyback contracts", under which Iran pays back investments in its oilfields in supplies of crude.
For example, Italian oil company ENI is owed about $1.5 billion in oil for its contracts in Iran dating from 2000 and 2001. While ENI has been assured by the European Union that its contracts will not be part of the European sanctions, Iran could withdraw supplies to punish Italy, one of the biggest European importers of Iranian oil.
1705 GMT: The Iranians in Syria. Press TV claims, from "a tribal figure in northern Lebanon", that five Iranians --- engineers, according to Tehran; soldiers, according to the Free Syria Army, who seized the men --- have been moved to the area.
Press TV does not indicate if two other Iranians, who were seized when they tried to obtain information about the missing men, have also been relocated.
The Al Farouk Brigade, which claims to hold the five Iranians and put them on a video which was released last week, is based in Homs, near where the men were abducted.
1650 GMT: Oil Watch. Contradictory stories are coming out of Tehran over a pre-emptive cut-off of oil to European countries, following the European Union's decision to suspend Iranian oil imports from 1 July.
Hamidreza Katouzian, the head of Parliament's Energy Committee has said that no bill has been put before the Majlis (see 1435 GMT). However, the deputy head, Nasser Soudani, insists that the legislation is ready for discussion: “The bill has 4 articles, including one which states that the Islamic Republic of Iran will cut all oil exports to the European states until they end their oil sanctions against the country.”
1600 GMT: Chest-Thumping Watch. This Washington Post story has raised a flutter amongst Internet observers:
The Pentagon is rushing to send a large floating base for commando teams to the Middle East as tensions rise with Iran, al-Qaeda in Yemen and Somali pirates, among other threats.
In response to requests from U.S. Central Command, which oversees military operations in the Middle East, the Navy is converting an aging warship it had planned to decommission into a makeshift staging base for the commandos. Unofficially dubbed a “mothership,” the floating base could accommodate smaller high-speed boats and helicopters commonly used by Navy SEALs, procurement documents show....
Navy documents indicate that it could be headed to the Persian Gulf, where Iran has threatened to block the Strait of Hormuz, a crucial shipping route for much of the world’s oil supply. A market survey proposal from the Military Sealift Command, dated Dec. 22 and posted online, states that the floating base needed to be delivered to the Persian Gulf.
Other contract documents do not specify a location but say the mothership would be used to “support mine countermeasure” missions. Defense officials have said that if Iran did attempt to close the Strait of Hormuz, it would rely on mines to obstruct the waterway.
1525 GMT: Execution Watch. In the latest confirmation of a death sentence on a blogger or website designers, web developer and humorist Mehdi Alizadeh Fakhrabad has been condemned by Judge Abolghasem Salavati on charges of "mohareb" (war against God).
Fakhrabad was arrested in summer 2008 on charges of disseminating obscene material. He was held for nine months before being released on 100 million Toman (about $100,000 at the time) bail. He was rearrested March of 2011.
Saeed Malekpour and Vahid Asghari, co-defendants with Alizadeh, have also been sentenced to death.
1435 GMT: Oil Watch. Hamidreza Katouzian, the head of Parliament's Energy Committee, has denied that the Majlis has prepared a bill to stop oil exports, saying all MPs do not agree on the measure and "unsuitable people and organisations" should not discuss the matter.
Following Monday's European Union decision to suspend oil imports from Tehran from 1 July, several Iranian MPs declared that Parliament would begin discussions on Sunday of a measure to halt exports to European countries immediately.
Katouzian said any oil boycott should be left to experts, not to "unqualified people and organisations", as news of the measure could have more bad than good effects.
1425 GMT: Currency Watch. Mehr uses photographs to report on a significant development today --- Iran's Central Bank has attempted to replace the current system of five exchange rates with a single rate for the Iranian Rial.
The new rate is 12380 Rials to 1 US $. That is a slightly weaker level for the Rial from the Bank's official rate on Thursday of 11320:1 but a far stronger level for the Rial from the open-market rate of 17800:1.
So, anticipating the chance to buy "cheap" foreign currency, including US dollars, Iranians have queued up for transactions.
Peyke Iran claims that, with some "official" exchanges refusing to sell at the new rate, an "unofficial" market selling 1 dollar for 17500 Rials has already begun.
1355 GMT: The Iranians in Syria. An EA reader offers some information for our questions about the Iranian "soldiers"/"engineers" abducted and put on video by the Free Syrian Army (see 1020 GMT):
[State news agency] IRNA had reported on 4 December 2011 that the five abducted engineers worked for Fanavaran Sanat Gostar Zagros and Parsian companies, which are subcontractors of MAPNA (Iran Power Plant Projects Managements Co.).
IRNA also emphasises that MAPNA is a renowned company figuring on the United Nations' vendor list. The five had allegedly been involved earlier in the construction of the Tishreen power plant [southeast of Damascus].
As to the abduction date, IRNA claims it was on 20 September 2011.
1335 GMT: The Battle Within. The Student News Agency, linked to the Basij militia, has declared that six pro-Ahmadinejad sites have started to attack the Revolutionary Guards and Guardian Council freely, while defending the speeches of the President's right-hand man Esfandiar Rahim-Mashai, abusing the words of the Supreme Leader for their own purposes, slandering religious personalities, and portraying a split between Ahmadinejad and former President Hashemi Rafsanjani.
The six sites are Mahramaneh News, Raha Press, Meyar News, Zaman News, Khordad Press, and Hemmat-Negar.
Previously, the Council said only 20% of candidates had been barred.
Kadkhodaei reassured that, despite the higher figure, the rate of approval was up by 17% over the 2008 elections.
1209 GMT: Currency Watch. The Iranian Rial, having risen in more than 25% in value vs. the US dollar this week after rises in interest rates, has weakened almost 5% this morning.
The Rial is now at 17800:1 vs. the dollar.
Vice President Mohammad Reza Mirtajoddini has said that Parliament will be given the Budget this week.
The Government's submission was due in December, but it missed not only that deadline but also Parliament's extension.
The new Iranian year starts on 21 March.
1203 GMT: Ahmadinejad Watch. Etedaal reports that President Ahmadinejad is going on-line with a new private website "to stay in touch with the people", answering their questions and meeting their demands as soon as possible.
1200 GMT: Economy Watch. Reza Karami, the Deputy Supervisor of the Guild Council, has insisted that sugar must be sold at 1200 Toman (about 70 cents) rather than the current level of 1700 Toman (about $1).
At the same time, Karami assured there is enough cooking fat in Bazaar, and rumours about shortages are untrue as inspectors control market prices. As an example, he said the cost of an egg tray was down to 5000 Toman (about $3).
Reformist MP Qodratollah Alikhani has declared that the Government has lied about creating 2.5 million new jobs, publishing false data. He said many people had in fact suffered through unemployment, while the Government added to their woes through the currency turmoil.
This is the second rebuff of the Parliament in recent week --- the first rejection of an invitation by MPs occurred earlier this month, just before President Ahmadinejad toured Latin America.
1020 GMT: The Iranians in Syria. An interesting contribution from Syria's State news agency SANA on the seven Iranian men held by a brigade of the Free Syrian Army, five of whom were shown in a video on Thursday "confessing" to operating as snipers and killing civilians in Homs:
Hakiki said that the seven engineers were abducted while working on the Jandal electric power plant near Homs, and that they were never military personnel and that the cards they carry simply show that they completed their military service, adding that all Iranians who finished mandatory military service carry such cards. He stressed that anything these people said or will say in the future is a result of coercion under pressure, noting that Sajad Amirian --- who appeared on al-Jazeera and showed his card to the camera --- is in charge of electric installations at the plant, and that all documents proving this are available.... MAPNA Group is an Iranian group of Iranian companies involved in construction and installation of energy production.
The Director of Public Relations and Marketing at Iran's MAPNA Group, Bahnam Hakiki, affirmed on Friday that the seven Iranians abducted in Syria in September 2011 are engineers working on the construction of an electric plant, and that the cards they carry are military service discharge cards.
Hakiki said that the seven engineers were abducted while working on the Jandal electric power plant near Homs, and that they were never military personnel and that the cards they carry simply show that they completed their military service, adding that all Iranians who finished mandatory military service carry such cards.
He stressed that anything these people said or will say in the future is a result of coercion under pressure, noting that Sajad Amirian --- who appeared on al-Jazeera and showed his card to the camera --- is in charge of electric installations at the plant, and that all documents proving this are available....
MAPNA Group is an Iranian group of Iranian companies involved in construction and installation of energy production.
Some notes: 1) Hakiki's statement shows sensitivity in particuarly over the display of the military cards on camera, although he is correct that the two seen were end-of-conscription cards; 2) to my knowledge, this is the first time that the MAPNA Group has been linked to the seven men.
0800 GMT: Claim of Day. The head of the Basij militia, asserts, four days after the event, that Iran "permitted" US warships to enter the Persian Gulf after President Obama wrote a letter of request to the regime.
Iranian officials had threatened to prevent any entry by the American navy into the Straits of Hormuz.
0755 GMT: Currency Watch. The regime presses the campaign that the currency crisis has nothing to do with Iran's economic situation and is all due to "culprits"....
Both the Minister of Intelligence, Heydar Moslehi, and Vice President Mohammad Reza Mirtajoddini have explained that the crisis in the gold and currency markets was due to manipulation "behind the scenes". Moslehi said the wrongdoers have been identified and their names will soon be announced.
0640 GMT: All-Is-Well Alert. Deputy Minister of Industry Mohammad Hassan Nekouei-Mehr, assures, "We will have no inflation" because of the currency situation, as 10,000 supervisors are controlling prices.
In a clip within a Voice of America report about the "economic stability" declared by President Ahmadinejad, State broadcaster IRIB assures that there is enough meat and chicken in the Bazaar.
0620 GMT: Friday was dominated by the mystery around the video of the five captured Iranians in Syria --- are they engineers, as Tehran claims? are they Iranian troops, under cover of being engineers and technicians, as the Free Syrian Army declares? do they have a dual role, working on the power plant in Homs but also carrying out a task such as gathering intelligence?
Today it is back to reading the Iranian political and economic situation.
Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi --- once labelled the President's "spiritual mentor", member of the Assembly of Experts, and now the leader of the Islamic Constancy Front, pursuing victories in March's Parliamentary elections --- throws a jab at conservative/principlist rivals: "Some put on Islamic clothes to follow evil aims with public relations and psychology, claiming justice for the disenfranchised."
Some sharp differences in Friday Prayers. In Tehran, Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami set out the defiant line versus the "enemy", insisting that the European Union's sanctions --- which are really an attempt to disrupt the Parliamentary elections, similar to the attempt at "velvet revolution" amid the 2009 Presidential ballot --- are meaningless. And Ayatollah Alamolhoda chest-thumped in Mashhad that the "Islamic Republic can close in" on the ships of Saudi Arabia and the UAE in the Straits of Hormuz.
But Ayatollah Reza Ostadi had another focus in Qom, asking, "How can people survive one month on a 50,000 Toman (about $290) salary when rent is 30,000 Toman (about $175)?"
Filmmaker Mohammad Reza Nourizad maintains his critical challenge through his 20th letter to the Supreme Leader. Nourizad, who was detained for several months because of the writing, calls on Ayatollah Khamenei to apologise to the people: "It is the only way to return to stability."