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The Latest from Iran (17 December): Seeking Influence on Syria

Iran Special Analysis: Breaking the Deadlock in the Nuclear Negotiations
The Latest from Iran (16 December): Is Tehran Ready for Concessions on Nuclear Programme?

1633 GMT: Rafsanjani Watch. Iran Prosecutor General Gholam Hossein Mohseni Ejei has said that the trial of Mehdi Hashemi, the son of former President Hashemi Rafsanjani, will be "soon".

Hashemi was released on bail on Sunday after 2 1/2 months in detention on charges of financial and electoral fraud. He was arrested when he returned in September from a three-year exile in Britain.

Mohseni Ejei confirmed reports that an indictment would be issued against 18 current or former US officials for their alleged crimes against the Islamic Republic, and --- indicating continued worries about Iran's currency market --- said "corruptors" would be prosecuted.

1551 GMT: Foreign Affairs Watch (Turkish Front). NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen has rejected the declaration by the head of Iran's armed forces, Hassan Firouzabadi, that the placement of NATO's Patriot anti-missiles sysems on Turkey's border with Syria risks a world war.

"I completely denounce these (Iranian) allegations. We have made clear right from the outset that the deployment of Patriots is a purely defensive measure," Rasmussen told a news conference after talks with Belgian Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo. "We are there to defend and protect our ally Turkey. We have no offensive intentions whatsoever."

On Saturday, Firouzabadi said, "Each one of these Patriots is a black mark on the world map, and is meant to cause a world war. They are making plans for a world war, and this is very dangerous for the future of humanity and for the future of Europe itself."

1545 GMT: Nuclear Watch. Lots of people are getting excited --- over-excited, in my opinion --- about this line from Foreign Secretary Ali Akbar Salehi about the nuclear talks, "The two sides have reached a conclusion that they must exit the current stalemate."

Rather than seeing the sentence as a generic reference to the possibility of renewed high-level talks, observers seem to believe it marks a breakthrough in the stalemate over Tehran's uranium enrichment.

Unfortunately, Reuters feeds this assessment with its headline and its burial of the important remarks and context deep in the article. Here's the passage that indicates little has changed:

Iran...wants recognition of what it says is its "right" to refine uranium, which can have both civilian and military purposes. "Iran demands its inalienable, legal and legitimate right and wants nothing more," Salehi said.

One Western official said it was too early to say whether the new diplomatic attempt may yield results: "We see that sanctions do have an economic impact on Iran and it is a matter for Iran to really take this offer seriously."...

Another Western diplomat said the powers were increasingly concerned about Iran's expanded enrichment capacity at Fordow, and wanted to address this issue in the new proposal. This could mean, he said, asking Iran to partially dismantle the facility.

"Shutting Fordow is not enough," the diplomat said, adding it would take longer to restart the facility if the enrichment installations had been taken apart.

And that brings us back to the fundamental that the US and its European partners are expecting unilateral Iranian concessions at the start of talks, which is far from Salehi's presentation.

1045 GMT: Nuclear Watch. As the US continues to pursue a strategy of getting Iranian concessions at the outset of any discussions, Tehran's revised approach is emerging --- split the European countries in the 5+1 Powers (US, Britain, France, Germany, Russia, and China) from Washington.

On Sunday, the Supreme Leader's top advisor Ali Akbar Velayati chided that the European Union "has no independence with regards to its foreign policy". Speaker of Parliament Ali Larijani, without naming the US, said after a meeting with a senior Chinese politician, “Regarding Iran's nuclear energy program, certain world powers are preventing our country’s talks with the P5+1 from yielding results by creating problems and throwing spanners in the works."

State media also features today's remarks of Hossein Naqavi-Hosseini, a member of Parliament's National Security Committee, trying to distance the International Atomic Energy Agency from the US, “The agency should refrain from [adopting] political stances [on Iran] and it should not be swayed by big powers."

The MP continued, “The big powers use the Agency as a tool to achieve their objectives; that is why the IAEA has acted outside the framework of the NPT (Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty) and the regulations it must remain committed to.”

0905 GMT: Economy Watch. Deputy Minister of Energy Mohammad Behzad has warned that electricity prices must rise up to four times for supply to be feasible.

Behzad said MPs have already agreed to the increase, and the adjustments may come in two or three stages.

The Ahmadinejad administration removed some Government subsidies on energy and food in December 2010.

0850 GMT: Outer Space Watch. The head of Iran’s Space Agency Hamid Fazeli has promised -- yet again --- that the Islamic Republic will send a monkey into space in the near future.

Iran put worms and a tortoise aboard a satellite in February 2010. Since then, Fazeli has said on several occasions that a flight with a larger creature was imminent.

See also Iran Special: Putting A Monkey Into Space (We Predicted It!)

0830 GMT: Defection Watch. An EA correspondent brings news of an interesting twist in the long-running case of General Ali Reza Asgari, the former Deputy Minister of Defense who disappeared in Turkey in 2007....

Iran Police Chief Esmail Ahmadi Moghaddam revealed in a speech this weekend that Asgari, pushed out of office when Mahmoud Ahmadinejad became President in 2005, was imprisoned for 18 months before he was kidnapped or defected.

The current Deputy Minister of Defense, Brigadier General Hossein Daqiqi, told reporters that the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad abducted Asgari from Turkey and moved him to Israel.

0530 GMT: State media are filled this morning with proclamations of the Foreign Ministry's six-point plan to "restore peace to Syria". It calls for all sides to establish a "national reconciliation committee" to "pave the way for the establishment of a transitional government". There will be "free and competitive elections" for a new Parliament and an assembly to draft a new Constitution in preparation for a Presidential contest.

The plan also sets out the release of all Syrians arrested on political charges and the trial of anyone accused of atrocities, and it pledges humanitarian aid.

Despite the headlines, the plan is far from new. Iran presented a version of it when Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi visited Damascus, after the ill-fated attempt to work with Egypt and Saudi Arabia on a resolution. It does not appear to shift from the starting position that President Assad will remain in power during the transition.

Perhaps more importantly, the intervention is unlikely to cause any ripples beyond the Islamic Republic. The regime's repeated invocation of its plans has had little effect on the politics around the crisis, let alone on the military situation that is increasingly threatening the Assad regime.

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