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The Latest from Iran (22 November): Ahmadinejad Benefits from Tehran's Problems Abroad

See also Iran Feature: The Week in Civil Society --- A Health Crisis, A Hunger Strike, and Keeping Women at Home
The Latest from Iran (21 November): The Economy? "All Is Well"

1740 GMT: Political Prisoner Watch. Tehran Prosecutor General Abbas Jafari Doulatabi has stopped all in-person visits in the women’s section of Evin Prison, according to opposition websites.

Kalemeh wrote that female inmates who had children were allowed to meet with them in person on Wednesday, but yesterday the prisoners were told that these visits are cancelled until further notice.

Prison authorities have informed detainees that the decision has been handed down from the prosecutor’s office and prison officials have no authority to alter it.

Up to nine women political prisoners recently went on hunger strike over their treatment, including denial of visits, and seven of them signed a statement of condolence to the family of Sattar Beheshti, a blogger killed earlier this month during interrogation in prison. The women have also expressed sympathy with detained lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh, who is in the fifth week of her hunger strike.

1340 GMT: Political Prisoner Watch. Labour activist Seyed Hadi Daneshyar has been sentenced to three years in prison.

1140 GMT: Currency Watch. We have been sceptical of unsupported assertions in Iranian media that the Rial, after a 70% fall earlier this year, has rebounded against foreign currencies --- especially with a "blackout" continuing on information --- but an EA source in Tehran provides support for the claims:

It is true that the currency rates are slowly but steadily falling since two weeks or so. We deal with Euro, which had its high point at 45000 [Rials to 1 Euro] and was above 40000 for a number of weeks, and now is trading at 33500-35000. It was 36000-37000 only a couple of days ago.

1118 GMT: In contrast to the optimistic portrayal in The New York Times of Iran's gains in the Gaza War (see 0843 GMT), Michael Theodoulou writes in The National, "Iran Kept on the Sidelines in Gaza Conflict":

"The changed dynamics of the region [have] made Iran irrelevant or of no use at this moment," Farideh Farhi, an Iran expert at the University of Hawaii, wrote on LobeLog, a foreign policy blog. All "eyes and pressures" are instead on Egypt's president Mohammed Morsi, who played a key role in last night's truce between Israel and Hamas....

The head of Iran's powerful Revolutionary Guard, Gen Mohammad Ali Jafari, said yesterday that Tehran had supplied Gaza with the technology for the missiles to be "rapidly produced" there, but had not supplied any actual rocket hardware.

His remarks provided rare insight on Iran's weapons support for Gaza militants, a topic Tehran usually sidesteps but now seems proud to declare.

Even so, Meir Javedanfar, an Iranian-born lecturer at the Interdisciplinary Centre in Herzliya, Israel, said: "It's hard for Israel to make much of the Iranian angle this time around when Hamas has so clearly distanced itself from Tehran."

1029 GMT: Gaza Watch. The head of Iran's armed forces, General Hassan Firouzabadi, leads this morning's propaganda charge, "We are ready to help the Muslim people in Gaza and will not withhold financial support or any facilities that we are capable of extending to them."

However, the far more interesting political signal comes from Speaker of Parliament Ali Larijani as Tehran tries to regain its footing in the manoeuvres around the conflict. Press TV reports:

In a meeting with Head of Egypt's Interest Section in Tehran, Khalid Al-Said Ibrahim Amari, [Larijani] stressed the importance of talks among religious experts and officials from Iran and Egypt, which would consolidate the friendly bonds between Tehran and Cairo.

“Religious dialogue among the seminaries of Iran and Egypt will be an obstacle to extremist moves in the Muslim world,” Larijani said.

He added that the rich culture and civilizational links between the Iranian and Egyptian nations would prepare an appropriate ground for strengthening relations in all fields.

0922 GMT: Humanitarian Watch. Cora Currier of ProPublica highlights a life-threatening case:

Dr. Rahmatollah Sedigh Sarvestani is dying. The Iranian sociologist, recently retired from a long teaching career at the University of Tehran, suffers from prostate cancer and a pelvic tumor. With his kidneys failing after chemotherapy, doctors in Tehran have stopped treating him.

His last hope is to come to the U.S., where his wife and children are, and where doctors say he could receive potentially life-saving treatment.

But the U.S. won't let him in. And they won't say why.

In March, Sarvestani's visa request was denied. The consulate cited a clause in the Immigration and Nationality Act: Activity "relating to espionage or sabotage." No further information is provided.

"We were absolutely shocked," said his daughter Sahra. "My father is a sociologist. He has cancer."

Sarvestani, who is 64, has recently been confined to a wheelchair and weakened by severe anemia. Sahra says she can barely hear him on the phone: "I would assume he would need to talk and move to spy on the U.S."

The family has made a last-ditch effort to bring him here on humanitarian parole — a short-term, discretionary travel permit for extraordinary circumstances. The family has collected dozens of letters of support from academic colleagues and family members in the U.S., as well as one from his daughter Soureh's congressman, Andre Carson [of Indiana].

0905 GMT: Gaza Watch. In an interview with a Pakistani TV station, President Ahmadinejad has welcomed the ceasefire in the Gaza War but was "not...very optimistic that it would hold.

Ahmadinejad also restated the Supreme Leader's Wednesday declaration, in what appeared to be a headline political move by Tehran, that Muslims "should unite" over the Gaza "cruelty". Iran was on the diplomatic sidelines throughout the eight-day conflict, as countries such as Turkey and Egypt moved to centre-stage in discussions of a ceasefire and condemnation of Israeli attacks.

Ahmadinejad has been in Islamabad for a summit of developing countries.

0855 GMT: Rafsanjani Watch. Former President Hashemi Rafsanjani has met his imprisoned children, Mehdi Hashemi and Faezeh Hashemi.

Mehdi Hashemi was arrested in September, after his return from a three-year exile in Britain --- he faces charges of propaganda, corruption, and electoral manipulation. Faezeh Hashemi is serving a six-month sentence for anti-regime propaganda.

Rafsanjani also saw his son earlier this month when Mehdi Hashemi was hospitalised for an angiography.

0843 GMT: Gaza Watch. The regime's propaganda offensive over Gaza may not be having the desired political effect in the Middle East. It may not be achieving much with many Iranians. However, it has scored one victory, winning over The New York Times, "Iranian Missiles in Gaza Fight Give Tehran Government a Lift."

In his first three sentences, Erdbrink has the real story in his grasp:

Above the bustling Niayesh highway in the western part of the Iranian capital, a huge billboard hangs on an overpass to remind drivers of Iran’s missile abilities. Cars zip underneath the image of a green missile on a launcher and text in Persian saying “Destination Tel Aviv.”

Few here take note of the sign, as average Iranians are too busy trying to cope with rising prices and occasional shortages brought about by a faltering economy.

However, Erdbrink lets go and embraces the regime's lines: "But Iran’s missiles and weapons technology are getting plenty of attention hundreds of miles away in Gaza, giving the country’s ruling clerics a rare bit of good news in what has otherwise been a long, dismal year."

Erdbrink adds the caveat from unnamed "analysts" that "the celebration in Tehran might not last long", but his highlighted source --- a conservative politician --- fulfils the optimistic headline:

“This war has brought Iran and Hamas back together, and the debate over the Syrian issue is over,” said Hamid-Reza Taraghi, who heads the international department of the influential Islamic Coalition Party.

0829 GMT: Political Prisoner Watch. The husband of imprisoned lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh has said she will continue her hunger strike, now in its fifth week.

Reza Khandan saw Sotoudeh on Tuesday:

I asked her, "How long will you continue your hunger strike?"

She said: "The hunger strike is unlimited. You know what 'unlimited' means?"

Khandan has been blocked from seeing Sotoudeh recently, but he was allowed to meet her a day after she was transferred from solitary confinement to the general ward of Section 209 in Evin Prison. He said that his wife's weight had dropped to 43 kilogrammes (95 pounds).

Sotoudeh, a prominent defender of activists and human rights advocates, was seized in September 2010. She was sentenced to six years in prison and banned from working as a lawyer for 10 years on charges that include acting against Iran's national security and spreading propaganda against the regime.

0820 GMT: Gaza Watch. A CNN interview with Khaled Meshaal, the political director of Hamas, backs up our analysis that --- while the Gazan organisation will not renounce Tehran --- it has distanced itself from the Islamic Republic as it diversifies its political and military links:

AMANPOUR: Therefore, you must have broken with Iran, as well, because Iran supports the president of Syria and his policies.

Have you distanced yourself from Iran?

MESHAAL: No. You see, the relationship with Iran is present. But, yes, it was affected and harmed by our di -- our disagreement about Syria.

It is not as it used to be in the past, but there is no severing of --- of relations. But it is different according to the circumstances. The Syrian crisis impacted our relationship with the Iranians.

But we still have Iran in relationship in other fields.

AMANPOUR: You have received Iranian long range missiles. The Fajr missiles have come through. Are you still getting missiles from Iran into Gaza?

MESHAAL: Hamas, as a movement of resistance...for a people living under occupation, we see, not just wait, to get support, financial support, military support, political support from all over the world, from all the states in the world.

Everyone [is giving us support, whether it's from Iran or Europe, from anywhere.

0740 GMT: Sanctions Watch. In the latest blow to Iranian shipping --- and thus exports --- the last major firm verifying safety and environmental standards for Tehran's ships has withdrawn its services.

The China Classification Society is one of the 13 large members of the International Association of Classification Societies, whose certification is key to insurance and ports access for ships. The IACS classes more than 90% of the world's merchant fleet.

A letter from Beijing-headquartered CCS, dated 15 Novvember, to the pressure group United Against Nuclear Iran said it had not provided certification services to Iranian ships since 28 June: "Currently there is not any ship flying an Iranian flag or owned by an Iranian ship owner in our fleet, and we have not conducted any statutory survey for any Iranian ship."

0725 GMT: Sanctions Watch. "The Foreigner" blog offers a valuable look at US foreign policy, sanctions, and the state of Iran's oil exports.

The site assesses recent purchases by Iranian customers, notably China, India, and South Korea, to argue both that Iran's exports will remain significantly lower than in 2011 and that "most if not all of Iran’s customers will be granted extensions" of waivers from US sanctions.

0605 GMT: There was an unexpected beneficiary on Wednesday from the challenges to Iran in foreign conflicts such as the Gaza crisis and the war in Syria. Soon after the Supreme Leader had called for "Muslim unity" against Israel --- his first public comments on Gaza since the conflict erupted a week ago --- he turned to unity at home, addressing the proposed interrogation of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad by MPs:

Up to this point, the plan to question the President has been positive because of the sense of responsibility of Parliament and the readiness of government officials. But if this issue goes any further, it will be what the enemies want and so I ask the honorable representatives not to continue with it.

The call for a political cease-fire was not unexpected --- it is the timing and manner that is of interest. For months, the Supreme Leader's office has played the game of allowing MPs to press their criticism of Ahmadinejad through petitions and demands for his accountability, especially on the economy, while working behind-the-scenes to prevent petitions from turning into a public showdown. Ayatollah Khamenei's camp may not be particularly fond of Ahmadinejad, but they had no clear choice for a stop-gap President. And, with the calendar moving to the Presidential elections in June 2013, the obvious choice was to keep Ahmadinejad as an increasingly lame-duck executive --- provided he did not act out and try to tear the political house down.

Ahmadinejad raised exactly that possibility earlier this month when he picked a fight with the head of the judiciary, Sadegh Larijani, over a demand to visit Evin Prison. And so the Supreme Leader's office accepted the presentation by 77 MPs to Parliament of a petition for the President's interrogation. At some point, however, Ayatollah Khamenei had to decide whether to let the process run its full course.

He was unlikely to do that, but the question of timing and manner returns. The Parliament's decision did not have to be made for another two weeks, and it did not have to be prompted by a public call from Khamenei. So why do just that on Wednesday?

Look beyond Iran. What occurred yesterday was a Supreme Leader's recognition that his purported "Islamic Awakening" is not producing Tehran's ascendancy in the region. Iran is caught riding the wrong horse in Syria,  and --- with Hamas in particular taking a different approach over its friends and allies --- it risks not having a horse at all in Palestine.

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