With limited news from the Islamic Republic because of the Eid al-Adha holiday, Press TV turns over its Iran page this morning to allegations of foreign plots. Speaker of Parliament Ali Larijani, continuing to present himself as a critic of the Government's economic approach but also as a defender of the Iranian nation, told a gathering on Monday:
They may say that Iran’s nuclear issue is the reason for the West’s moves against the country. They, themselves, know that they are lying. They fear [the fact] that the Iranian nation is still resisting dictatorial behaviors of the US and the West 34 years after the Islamic Revolution and is thwarting their plots.
Then there was the bonus that former President Hashemi Rafsanjani --- whose criticisms of domestic affairs are ignored by Press TV --- had also turned his attention to the overseas foe, urging vigilance against the US-led sanctions and pressure. Only in the last sentence of the article is there a hint of the former President's chiding of the Government: "Rafsanjani also called for prudence and wisdom, underlining the importance of making rational decisions to confront plots."
This focus on "plots" means that Press TV does not address the developing story --- arguably far more important --- of Iran's back-channel talks with the US, looking toward a resumption of formal negotiations over Tehran's nuclear programme.
Larijani's travel across Iran offers a notable example. While the Speaker has publicly been lashing out at Washington, his private statements are far different. A well-placed EA source asserts that Larijani told scholars, "It was a good time for talking with America" --- both because of possible flexibility by the Obama Administration during and after the Presidential election and because of the signal that would be given to Mitt Romney and his advisors, should the Republican take the White House on 6 November.
While it does not refer to the bilateral contacts with the US, State news agency IRNA offers another boost this morning to negotiations. It features the statement of Deputy Foreign Minister Seyed Abbas Araghchi, pointing to a resumption of negotiations with the 5+1 Powers (US, Britain, France, Germany, China, Russia): "The next round of talks with the P5+1 group will show the goodwill of all the possibilities and opportunities for a peaceful settlement of the issues between the sides."
That brings us back to EA's exclusive on Monday, with sources claiming that the Supreme Leader's top advisor, Ali Akbar Velayati, met US officials in Qatar in early October. If this is true, the timing points to a powerful signal from the highest level of the regime that it wants the resumption of negotiations.
Iranian officials had been pressing for such talks almost as soon as the last formal discussions ended in stalemate in Moscow in June; however, their proposal of a staged plan, matching a reduction and eventual suspension of enrichment of 20% uranium for an easing and then removal of sanctions, was rebuffed through the summer by the US and European powers.
However, contacts resumed in early September between the deputies of Tehran and the 5+1, and then the mini-breakthrough came on 19 September in Turkey, when the 5+1's lead negotiator, the European Union's Catherine Ashton, had a four-hour dinner with her Iranian counterpart, Saeed Jalili. After the encounter, Ashton issued the polite but non-committal statement that she hoped contacts would continue.
Velayati's trip to Qatar, in this context, would have been the regime's confirmation --- whether requested by the US and Europe or volunteered by Tehran --- that its desire for an agreement was genuine.
But that in turn just raises another question. As the story of the US-Iran back-channel talks emerges, and as Tehran indicates that it wants the return to the negotiating table, is Washington --- now caught up in the Presidential campaign --- happy to continue the discussions?