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The Latest from Iran (2 December): Ahmadinejad Puts His Right-Hand Man in a New Post

Esfandiar Rahim-Mashai & President Ahmadinejad1955 GMT: Foreign Affairs (Syrian Front). Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian has said, “The second round of the meeting of Syrian groups, and national and popular figures, will be held with the participation of representatives from the Syrian government."

Appearing with Hesam Manaa, the vice chairman of the Damascus-based National Coordination Committee, Amir-Abdollahian said the meeting would again bring together members of the regime and the opposition, including the NCC.

In November, Iran promoted a two-day meeting in Tehran with representatives of both sides, to little apparent effect.

1555 GMT: Political Prisoner Watch. The death sentence imposed on computer programmer Saeed Malekpour has been commuted after he "repented for his actions", his lawyer was quoted as saying.

Malekpour was arrested in 2008 when he returned from Canada to visit relatives in Iran. Iranian authorities accused him of running a pornography site, but activists and human rights organisations claim the charges arose from a software program created by Malekpour that was used without his knowledge to post pornographic images.

The Canadian government has protested Iran's handling of the case, saying that Malekpour had "failed to receive fair and transparent legal treatment", and the European Union called for a halt to plans for execution.

1535 GMT: Gaza Watch. Regime officials have redoubled efforts to display Iran's leading position in Gaza, following last month's eight-day Israeli attack.

Iran's Ambassador to Lebanon, Qazanfar Roknabadi, has denied reports --- carried by some Iranian media --- that Hamas officials have distanced themselves from Tehran because of the Islamic Republic's support of the Syrian regime.

"The movement (Hamas) has not abandoned the resistance front and has not distanced itself from Syria," Roknanadi said. "Iran is ready to support anyone resisting the Quds Occupying Regime, and all resistance movements in Lebanon and Palestine aim to confront the regime."

Last week Mousa Abu Marzouk, the deputy political director of Hamas, said that Tehran must reconsider its support for Damascus regime if it did not want to alienate Arab public opinion: “Iran’s position in the Arab world, it’s no longer a good position. It has to address its position, so as not to lose public opinion."

Press TV tries another approach to minimise the Hamas warning, claiming that Islamic Jihad leader Ramadan Abdullah hailed Iran’s role "in the recent victory of the resistance" during a meeting with Ambassador Roknabadi.

0815 GMT: Political Prisoner Watch. News has emerged that detained senior reformists Mostafa Tajzadeh and Behzad Nabavi were summoned to court on Wednesday to face new charges.

Both men were seized soon after the disputed 2009 Presidential election. Tajzadeh, a former Minister of Interior and prominent critic of the regime, was sentenced to six years in prison. Nabavi, a former Deputy Speaker of Parliament, was given a five-year term.

0755 GMT: Hours after we posted an analysis questioning whether President Ahmadinejad was still a leading political force, he gave us a new move to consider.

The President named his controversial Chief of Staff, Esfandiar Rahim Mashai, as the head of the secretariat of the Non-Aligned Movement. Iran took the chair of the NAM in August and will hold it until summer 2015.

In recent weeks, as Ahmadinejad has fought a high-profile battle with the head of judiciary Sadegh Larijani and been saved from a Parliamentary interrogation by the Supreme Leader, stories have once more circulated that Rahim Mashai --- the target of criticism by many clerics and politicians --- will run for the Presidency in 2013.

Does the move reinforce the notion of an Ahmadinejad-Rahim Mashai power play or diminish it? On the surface, the advisor is now out of the centre of domestic politics, but he could try to build his base at home while projecting a profile of international relevance in his NAM post.

Ahmadinejad boosted that possibility by naming Hassan Mousavi as his new Chief of Staff. Like Rahim Mashai and Vice President Hamid Baghaei --- also named as a member of the "deviant current" by the President's foes --- Mousavi has led the Iran Culture, Tourism, and Heritage Organization.


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