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The Latest from Iran (16 December): Is Tehran Ready for Concessions on Nuclear Programme?

See also Iran Report: Activists Fleeing the Assault on Civil Society
The Latest from Iran (15 December): Ahmadinejad Jabs at the Revolutionary Guards

2050 GMT: Political Prisoner Watch. Here is one way to make the regime mad --- give a prize for freedom of thought and human rights to political prisoners....

Foreign Minister Ramin Mehmanparast lashed out today at the European Parliament's award of the Sakharov Prize to imprisoned lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh and filmmaker Jafar Panahi, under threat of a six-year sentence: "Unfortunately, the European Union and its affiliated bodies have a selective approach to and objectify human rights matters, and pursue their political objectives by raising such issues."

Appearing to miss the point about the recognition of Sotoudeh, a prominent defender of accused activists, and Panahi, Mehmanparast continued, "Instead of offering awards on the basis of political goals, the European Parliament should deal with countless instances of rights violations in European countries such as the miserable conditions of asylum seekers and immigrants, discrimination against Muslims and the suppression of legitimate socio-economic demands of Europeans."

Press TV adds to the wayward criticism by failing to mention in its article that Sotoudeh is behind bars and Panahi is under effective house arrest.

2035 GMT: Nuclear Watch. Amid discussion about a possible resumption of talks with the 5+1 Powers about Tehran's nuclear programme, the Supreme Leader's senior advisor Ali Akbar Velayati appears to have taken a swipe at the European members of the 5+1 --- France, Britain, and Germany: “The European Union has no independence with regards to its foreign policy."

Velayati continued, “The Eastern and Central Europe joined the NATO after separating from the former Soviet Union and NATO obeys the US."

1945 GMT: Foreign Affairs Watch (Syrian Front). For months, the regime has trumpeted a "six-point plan" to resolve the Syrian crisis, receiving little atention outside the Islamic Republic.

The Foreign Ministry tries again today, claiming the unveiling of details such as "the government and all armed opposition groups...immediately halt[ing] military operations particularly in residential areas", cooperating with the United Nations envoy Lakhdar Brahimi on the cessation.

Tehran demanded talks between representatives of all Syrian groups to "pave the way for the establishment of a transitional government…which will hold free and competitive elections to form a new parliament and a new constitutional assembly which will draft a new constitution...and [pave the way for] holding presidential elections".

The plan also calls for humanitarian aid after the end of conflict, an end to economic sanctions, and arrangement to return displaced Syrians to their homes. All Syrians arrested on political charges will be arrested, while anyone who has committed atrocities will be put on trial.

1935 GMT: Rafsanjani Watch. Saham News reports that Mehdi Hashemi, the son of former President Hashemi Rafsanjani, has been released from prison on bail.

Hashemi was arrested in September on charges of financial and electoral fraud when he returned from a three-year exile in Britain.

1735 GMT: Economic Admission of the Weekend. Minister of Economy Shamseddin Hosseini has said, "Because of the sanctions, revenues collected from the country's oil have dropped by 50%."

Hosseini then assured, "By managing our resources and revenues, there will be no problem in paying salaries until the end of this year.

1655 GMT: Foreign Affairs Watch (Syrian Front). Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi has said Iran will never allow Western plots to oust President Assad to succeed.

“Efforts are underway to overthrow the ruling system in Syria without regards for the vote of the Syrian nation and this is while only Syrians have the right to choose their political system and leader,” Salehi warned.

The Foreign Minister continued, “Such behaviours must be immediately stopped which is exactly what we have proposed in the form of a six-point plan for Syria to the UN, [United Nations envoy] Lakhdar Brahimi, and several regional countries including Egypt and Saudi Arabia.”

1557 GMT: Political Prisoner Watch. Opposition site Kalemeh claims that imprisoned former MP Mir Taher Mousavi is under pressure to give a televised confession.

The site says authorities are refusing to allow doctors see Mousavi, who suffers from a heart condition.

1550 GMT: Foreign Affairs Watch (Turkish Front). President Ahmadinejad has reportedly cancelled a visit to Turkey, a day after the head of Iran's armed forces warned that NATO's deployment of Patriot anti-missile systems on the Turkish border with Syria, requested by Ankara remarks, could "start a world war".

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had invited the Iranian president to the Central Anatolian province of Konya for a ceremony marking the 739th anniversary of the passing of the Sufi mystic Rumi.

1410 GMT: Political Prisoner Watch. More than 100 journalists and activists have written head of judiciary Sadegh Larijani about the harassment and violation of privacy of the families of political prisoners.

Iranian security forces have allegedly arrested some relatives to put pressure on the prisoners and have threatened others with detention.

1040 GMT: Currency Watch. The opposition website Rah-e Sabz claims that the Iranian Rial, having been bolstered by the Central Bank this autumn after a 70% fall, is sliding again.

The site claims that the Rial has edged down to 32000:1 vs. the US dollar in the limited open-market trade which has been possible since October.

The Rial fell close to 40000:1 before Bank intervention, the injection of foreign reserves, and the set-up of a "trade room" for specialised access to foreign exchange boosted it to about 27000:1.

0740 GMT: Saturday was enlivened not by news from Iran, but by the claims of US officials about the Islamic Republic, specifically its nuclear programme.

The officials fed the line to The Washington Post that high-level talks could resume within the next six weeks, since Tehran was ready to make concessions: "Our assessment is that it is possible that they are ready to make a deal. Certainly, the pressure is on.”

The claim reveals more about the US perception --- sanctions are bringing Iran to its negotiating knees --- than the state of affairs inside the regime. There is no evidence that Tehran is prepared to change its position from the last high-level encounter in June, by withdrawing its own proposal and immediately accepting the West's demand that it suspend enrichment of 20% uranium, sending its stock outside the country, and closing its enrichment plant at Fordoo.

Instead, Iran is putting out the message that it will continue discussions with the International Atomic Agency, after last Thursday's talks in Tehran, over inspection and supervision of nuclear facilities. At the same time, it will maintain a firm line with the IAEA.

The position was put out through Seyyed Baqer Hosseini of Parliament's National Security Committee on Saturday, “If Westerners are really seeking to find the truth, we will continue cooperation, just as we did in the past...[but] we must make more serious demands for continuing these talks."

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