Iran Election Guide

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The Latest from Iran (3 December): Medicine and Sanctions

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

2110 GMT: Sanctions Watch. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said Ankara will continue to buy Tehran's natural gas despite US-led sanctions, including the trade of gold for the Iranian supply.

"We have always told officials that the issue is of strategic importance to us and we couldn't comply with the sanctions," Erdogan said at a joint news conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin. "We are at the same point now. We told them we would carry out the necessary swap because it's a strategic product and we will continue in that direction in the future."

Turkey takes more than 90% of Iran's gas exports. To deal with increasing restriction on financial transactions, Ankara has converted Turkish lira into gold for payment.

Although Turkey has maintained imports of gas, it has sharply reduced purchases of Iranian oil, thus obtaining US waivers from sanctions.

2055 GMT: Foreign Affairs (Egyptian Front). After a period of uncertainty over how to play its relationship with Egypt --- given President Morsi's slapdown of Iran over Syria this summer, his key role in ending the Gaza War, and then his sudden grab of powers --- it looks like Tehran is back to the promotion of an Iran-Egypt alliance to reshape the Middle East.

Kazem Jalali, a leading MP with role at the Parliamentary Research Center and the National Security Committee, puts out the line, “Egypt and Iran can play an important and effective role in the Middle East region for promoting peace and security, and providing proper grounds for unity of the Muslim world."

Jalali hailed Egypt’s 2011 revolution as a “great achievement for the regional nations,” adding, “Every revolution is usually followed by a transition period which has to be passed and the Egyptian revolution is no exception to this rule. We hope to see stability and calm in this country very soon.”

1350 GMT: Ahmadinejad Watch. This weekend I wrote an analysis of why the President is now marginal in the Iranian system and unlikely to regain a central position. A top Iran-based EA correspondent is not so sure --- at the least, he says, Ahmadinejad is not going down without a fight.

The correspondent looks at the last 72 hours and notes the President's "4 slaps" at Parliament:

1. Ahmadinejad's naming of his right-hand man, Esfandiar Rahim-Mashai, as head of the secretariat of the Non-Aligned Movement. This raises Rahim-Mashai's profile in anticipation of candidacy in the 2013 Presidential election.

2. Even more important, our correspondent says, is the replacement of Minister of Communications Reza Taghipour by Ali Nikzad, the former Minister of Transport.

If Rahim-Mashai is blocked from running for President, either by the Guardian Council or because of his lack of a Master's degree, then Nikzad could be Ahmadinejad's choice to continue his work.

3. The naming of Mohammad Sharif Malekzadeh to head the Iran Culture, Heritage, and Tourism Organization, the springboard for the political careers of Rahim-Mashai and Vice President Hamid Baghaei.

Ahmadinejad sought Malekzadeh's appointment as Deputy Foreign Minister last year, but the move was blocked by Parliament over allegations of Malekzadeh's financial mismanagement.

4. The President's comments after the Sunday meeting of the Cabinet, in which he criticised the proposed elections law before Parliament. Ahmadinejad said that MPs should remember that, while each of them had been selected by a "few people", he represented a majority of all Iranians.

1205 GMT: All-Is-Well Alert. First Vice President Mohammad Reza Rahimi, has told a conference on insurance and development, of the great benefits to Tehran from international sanctions:

Iran managed to break the monopoly of certain countries on the insurance coverage of sophisticated projects including refineries, airports and shipping.

In addition to covering oil tankers carrying Iran’s oil to the different parts of the world, Iranian insurance companies have foiled the enemies’ efforts to restrict Iran’s foreign trade by providing proper insurance coverage for other import and export shipments.

1155 GMT: Nasrin Sotoudeh's Hunger Strike. Scores of Iranian women’s rights activists gathered in front of the Tehran Prosecutor’s office on Sunday to demand proper handling of the case of Nasrin Sotoudeh, the imprisoned lawyer who is on Day 48 of a hunger strike (see 0950 GMT).

The women carried a letter for Tehran Prosecutor General Abbas Jafari Doulatabadi, calling for Sotoudeh’s “immediate transfer to a well-equipped hospital".

Meanwhile, Iranian media reports that MPs will visit Evin Prison to look into Sotoudeh's case.

MP Mohammad Hassan Asfari said, "If the stories regarding Ms. Sotoudeh are true, we will request an explanation from (the Minister of Justice"; however, the National Security Committee would not intervene if her hunger strike was to "create a controversy", he added.

Reza Khandan, Sotoudeh's husband, responded, "In this situation of silence and ignorance and indifference on the part of those involved, this is good news," he said. "My wife has a clear condition for stopping her hunger strike, and that is the suspension of the judiciary's case against our daughter....This is a legal request."

1020 GMT: Ahmadinejad Watch. Following the approval by MPs on Sunday of the “generalities” of a proposed revision of the Presidential Elections Act, Prewident Ahmadinejad has criticised the measure, claiming that it “goes against the Constitution, and the people’s time and money should not be used for this plan.”

If passed, the legislation would mandate that MPs must be between 45 and 75 years old, have at least a Master’s degree, and have received the signatures of 100 esteemed clerics and public figures in order to participate in elections.

One of those who could be disqualified by the regulations is Ahmadinejad's right-hand man Esfandiar Rahim-Mashai, who only holds a Bachelor's degree.

0950 GMT: Nasrin Sotoudeh's Hunger Strike. Fears are growing about the health of imprisoned lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh on the 48th day of her hunger strike.

Her husband, Reza Khandan, described her deteriorating health yesterday:

Her current physical condition has reached a stage that I doubt very much she will be able to stand on her own by next week’s visit. Dizziness, impaired vision, unsteadiness walking, and low blood pressure, along with excessive weight loss, are warning signs of her dire health condition.

Despite these concerns Khandan writes that Sotoudeh “does not tolerate any pressure put on her to break her hunger strike”.

0745 GMT: Political Prisoner Watch. Eleven members of the Kurdish Teachers Association have each been given four-month prison sentences.

0700 GMT: The Wall Street Journal rarely has a kind word for the Islamic Republic, but it gives the regime an unexpected opportunity to attack sanctions this morning.

The possibility comes out of a Journal article, "Snake Tale: How Venom Binds U.S., Iran":

In a surprising—and irony-rich—byproduct of the Afghan war, the Pentagon finds itself dependent on a scientific research arm of the Iranian government to treat bites by Oxus cobras, Haly's pit vipers and other snakes peculiar to the battlefields of southwest Asia.

Despite U.S.-led international sanctions designed to paralyze Iran's trade with the outside world, the Defense Department buys the drugs through a middleman, with orders totaling 115 vials at $310 apiece since January 2011.

Medical guidance issued by U.S. Central Command says drugs made by Iran's Razi Vaccine & Serum Research Institute "should be the first line of antivenin therapy" because they counter venoms of the most-common Afghan snakes, said a U.S. officer who has read it....

The Iranians say they are willing to sell Razi drugs to anyone. "We make this to save lives, and it doesn't matter if the person is Iranian or Afghan or American," said Hadi Zareh, lead researcher in Razi's antivenin department. "We are happy to hear we have saved a person's life, even an American soldier."

Prompted by questions from The Wall Street Journal, Pentagon lawyers are investigating whether the purchases violate sanctions rules and require a waiver from the U.S. Treasury Department. "We are working with the Department of Defense to confirm the details of these purchases to ensure compliance" with sanctions regulations, a Treasury spokesman said.

Press TV follows up, "Iranian medicine has been saving the lives of Americans while the illegal US-led sanctions against the Islamic Republic have been adversely affecting the lives of many Iranian patients."

The article concentrates exclusively on the sanctions an "act of brutality", citing an Iranian academic. It does not refer to other issues, such as alleged mismanagement and failure to allocate funds, which have led to the threatened impeachment of the Minister of Health.

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