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The Latest from Iran (18 December): Tehran's Strategy for the Nuclear Talks

Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi speaks of "positive" talks with the International Atomic Energy Agency last week

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

2105 GMT: Economy Watch. Minister of Agriculture Sadegh Khalilian has reportedly that he plans to ban the import of all fruits except bananas.

2053 GMT: Tough Talk of the Day. Back from an academic and media break --- including an appearance on BBC Persian --- to find the Supreme Leader's military advisor, Major General Yahya Rahim-Safavi, doing some chest-thumping: “Major powers and regional ones have no other option but to deal with Iran if they want to have a share of regional interests. The Persian Gulf region and the Strait of Hormuz are influential on economic, political, and cultural issues [of the world] and are very effective from various viewpoints in the world.”

Rahim Safavi declared that Iran "will have the first say" in the Persian Gulf for "many years to come".

1441 GMT: Foreign Affairs Watch (Syrian Front). Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu has urged Tehran to “send a clear message” to the Syrian embattled regime to stop the violence against its people.

Responding to a weekend comment by the Islamic Republic's head of armed forces that the deployment of Patriot anti-missile systems on the Turkish border with Syria would cause a "world war", Davutoglu said, “Instead of criticizing the system, Iran should say stop to the Syrian regime that has been continuously oppressing its own people and provoking Turkey through border violations. It is time to send clear messages to the Syrian regime.”

Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian said earlier in the day, during talks in Moscow, that he does not believe that Assad is about to fall: “We have serious doubts about that. The Syrian army and the state machine are working smoothly.”

1433 GMT: Nuclear Watch. President Ahmadinejad has put out a holding statement amid the maneouvring for a resumption of nuclear talks:

History has shown that those who do not speak respectfully with the Iranian nation will gain nothing. We tell them to come and stand alongside the Iranian nation and keep in mind that friendship with this nation would benefit them....

Those who use Iran’s nuclear energy program as pretexts and falsely accuse Iran of trying to develop nuclear bomb and weapons are only concerned about the progress of Iranian nation. Otherwise, all their accusations are false.

1208 GMT: Foreign Affairs Watch (Afghan Front). Iran has reopened its consulate in Herat in western Afghanistan, a week after it was closed amid protests.

Demonstrators were angered by the alleged killing of at least 13 Afghan migrants by Iranian security forces on the border.

1205 GMT: Nuclear Watch. A day after putting forth an Iranian approach for "breakthrough" in the nuclear talks, Reuters changes tack and presents Tehran as "defiant" because of a statement by the head of the Atomic Energy Organization, Fereydoun Abbasi Davani.

"The Islamic Republic of Iran will not suspend 20% uranium enrichment because of the demands of others," Abbasi Davani said. "The Islamic Republic of Iran will produce 20% enriched uranium to meet its needs and for however long it is required."

He continued, "Twenty percent enrichment is the right of the Iranian nation for use in the Tehran reactor and it will defend this right with authority.

0955 GMT: Political Prisoner Watch. Kalemeh reports that the father of Hadi Danshyar, a labour activist in Shiraz, was arrested when security forces raided his home and could not find his son.

0725 GMT: Rafsanjani Watch. A photograph has emerged of Mehdi Hashemi --- released on bail on Sunday after 2 1/2 months in detention --- with his father, former President Hashemi Rafsanjani, and his mother, Effat Marashi.

0615 GMT: On Monday, we featured a special analysis, "Breaking the Deadlock in the Nuclear Negotiations", which assessed the US strategy and cautioned:

The only way out of this dead-end is to make reciprocity meaningful by both sides committing themselves to actions which reassure the other and promote mutual security.  This is the real challenge behind the US invitation to enter into "good-faith serious negotiations".

Hours later, there was a media flutter that the deadlock was being broken, with the Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi putting out the signal, "The two sides have reached the conclusion that they must exit the current stalemate."

Unfortunately, this was a classic case of seeing a tree and turning it into a forest. Those jumping on the one sentence as a major advance failed to see the counter-signals from Western officials that Iranian concessions were still the pre-condition for any significant talks: 

"We see that sanctions do have an economic impact on Iran and it is a matter for Iran to really take this offer seriously."

They also failed to look at a wave of Iranian statements beyond Salehi's. In recent days, officials from the Supreme Leader's top advisor Ali Akbar Velayati to Speaker of Parliament Ali Larijani to Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmenparast have issued statements trying to split the European members of the 5+1 Powers --- Britain, France, and Germany --- from the US.

And in the last 48 hours, Tehran has raised the rhetorical heat to try and detach the International Atomic Energy Agency --- with whom Iran was in direct talks in Tehran last Thursday --- from Washington. State media are accompanying statements from officials with headlines such as "IAEA Must Prove Independence from Western Powers" and "US Sanctions Aimed at Torpedoing Iran-IAEA Talks".

Will the effort work, bringing what Iran sees as genuine "reciprocity" through an agreement on inspection and supervision of its nuclear facilities, thus giving a platform for further negotiations with the 5+1 Powers?

Too soon to tell, of course. The IAEA's next visit to Tehran will be on 16 January. If that goes well, then --- and only then --- can we look for a resumption of the high-level discussions and the "breaking of the deadlock" that some people thought they saw on Monday.

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