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Iran Live Coverage: Tehran Picks A Fight Too Far with Turkey

See also Iran Analysis: Rafsanjani Strikes Back (and Why the Supreme Leader is Allowing It)
Wednesday's Iran Live Coverage: "Supreme Leader Ordered House Arrests of Mousavi and Karroubi"

2255 GMT: Nuclear Watch --- Retraction Edition. Earlier today, Iranian media circulated this quote from Deputy Foreign Minister Hassan Qashqavi indicating a possible deal with the International Atomic Energy Agency, "If external threats were defused, then they --- the IAEA could be enabled to inspect [the military facility at Parchin" (see 0925 GMT).

Somebody in the regime was none too happy with this apparent shift in the Iranian position because Qashqavi has issued a convoluted "clarification" tonight:

In my speech which I delivered in Tehran University, there are two subjects in this speech. In one of them I delivered my speech regarding national security of Iran and the other was about the nuclear issue.

One of the correspondents who was in this speech mixed two subjects from two separate issues and in his personal perception of this speech, he delivered his perception regarding this matter but in the text of my speech there was not any kind of this sentence because [there were] two separate issues which were delivered by me and there is no connection between the two matters."

1630 GMT: Political Prisoner UPDATE. The opposition site Kalemeh is now retracting their claim that Nasrin Sotoudeh has been released on prison furlough (see 1525 GMT).

Sotoudeh's family was unaware of any decision to grant her temporary furlough:

1525 GMT: Political Prisoner Watch. Attorney Nasrin Sotoudeh, serving a six-year sentence for her defence of human rights activists and other clients, has been released on prison furlough.

Earlier this month Sotoudeh completed a 49-day hunger strike to protest her conditions and treatment of her family.

1515 GMT: Political Prisoner Watch. On Christmas day, Iranian authorities summoned Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani to prison to complete a three-year sentence.

Nadarkhani, a convert to Christianity, was finally acquitted of a charge of apostasy in September after years of detention, but was sentenced on the charge of proselytising Muslims.

He served all but 45 days of that sentence and was set free after posting bail.

1155 GMT: Foreign Affairs Watch (Turkish Front). In our opening entry, we noted a likely reason for Tehran's retreat from sniping at Ankara over the Syrian conflict, "Trade with Turkey is increasingly important as other markets are squeezed amid international sanctions."

Turkish Minister of Energy Taner Yildiz backs us up, saying on Wednesday that Turkey will continue buying natural gas from Iran despite sanctions: "It is out of question for us to take a step backward. Furthermore, we have not been asked to take such a step."

Iran supplies 18 to 20% of Turkey's gas.

1115 GMT: All the President's Men and Women. President Ahmadinejad has dismissed beleaguered Minister of Health Marzieh Vahid Dastjerdi and replaced her with Mohamad Hassan Tarighat Monfared,

Dastjerdi has been under sustained pressure from MPs who have blamed her mismanagement for acute shortages of drugs and medical supplies. She has responded with criticism of the Central Bank for not releasing $2 billion in foreign exchange to make purchases.

0925 GMT: Nuclear Watch. Is this the sign of a possible deal or merely putting the ball back in the court of Israel and the "West"?

Deputy Foreign Minister Hassan Qashqavi has said, "If external threats were defused, then they --- the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] could be enabled to inspect [the military facility at Parchin."

In the ongoing talks between the IAEA and Iran over inspection and supervision, access to Parchin --- where Western powers allege that Iran has a high-explosive container which can be use to test a militarised nuclear capability --- has been the touchstone issue.

A high-level IAEA delegation was in Tehran on 13 December and talks are expected to resume in mid-January.

0635 GMT: Over the last two days, Iranian officials have been beating a hasty retreat in their statements, one which points to a significant difficulty in Tehran's foreign policy.

Our story begins earlier this week when the regime tried to knock back --- in rhetoric and in diplomacy --- Turkey's placement of NATO Patriot anti-missile systems on the Syrian border. Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi warned of the consequences, but it was the head of Iran's armed forces, General Hassan Firouzabadi, who took the headlines with his declaration that the deployment would cause "a world war".

Ankara did not take the comments lightly. Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan hit back with claims that Iran was being irresponsible and dangerous, pointing to Tehran's own supply of rockets. Last weekend, Minister of Interior Idris Naim Sahin lashed out on another front, accusing Iran of supporting the armed struggle of the Turkish Kurdish Workers Party (PKK).

Now the Islamic Republic had compounded its problems. The attack on the Patriot deployment had not budged anyone --- the anti-missile systems will be operational by late January --- and Iran's recent proclamation of its "six-point plan" only highlighted that it is on the diplomatic sidelines, as no one paid any attention.

Meanwhile, trade with Turkey is increasingly important as other markets are squeezed amid international sanctions. Ankara was even giving Iran a limited outlet from its falling oil exports, sending gold to Tehran to pay for natural gas.

So on Tuesday, Foreign Minister Ramin Mehmanparast raised a white flag in the rhetorical fight. He said that he saw absolutely no problem with Iran's co-operation with Turkey over the PKK and other threats on the border. 

Yesterday, Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi followed up, proclaiming his disbelief that Turkey had made the claims about Iranian support for the PKK, “Relations between Iran and Turkey have always been based on respect and mutual trust and the repetition of such baseless claims is surprising.

Araqchi urged Turkish officials to refrain from making remarks that could harm "good relations". But that's not the immediate point.

Instead, the question is, "Will the Islamic Republic now refrain from making remarks about Turkey's approach to the Syrian conflict?"

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