2130 GMT: Foreign Affairs (Syrian Front). Yet another sign of Tehran's concern at developments in Damascus (see 1435 GMT)....
Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said Iran is “astonished and confused” by the failure of the Arab League mission in Syria, blaming a lack of willingness on the part of Arab states for the breakdown.
“The observers went to Syria, where they worked for over a month, presented a balanced report, and they were supposed to continue their mission," Salehi said. “We are astonished and confused. We do not understand why the Arab League halted the work of observers who agreed to continue with their mission and chose to go to the Security Council instead."
Salehi indicated Tehran's reliance on Beijing and Moscow, saying he believes both will continue to support both Iran and Syria in the face of Western pressure. He tried to minimise any differences with Ankara: "Regarding Syria, our Turkish brothers have their own opinions. They want the reforms to happen quickly, not slowly."
The sister of a BBC reporter was detained and put in Tehran's Evin Prison. IRGC officials then contacted the reporter in London using e-mail information obtained from her detained sister. They told the BBC staffer that if she talked to them, her sister would be released.
The conversation lasted 40 minutes and took place at her home in London, according to Green Voice of Iran. The Iranian officials could see the BBC employee but she could only hear their voices.
Following the online interrogation, her sister was released.
Sadeq Saba, the director BBC Persian, confirmed the case and said, “In recent months, the Iranian establishment has put a lot of pressure on the families of some of the BBC Persian service staff. In some cases, they have been interrogated. In other cases, their passports have been confiscated.-
Last October, Peter Horrocks, the director of BBC Global News, said as many as 10 BBC staffers had experienced such treatment.
2055 GMT: Oil Watch. A senior official in the Indian Government has said that New Delhi will send a delegation to Iran at the end of February in the continued effort to resolve India's payments for Iranian oil.
India is Iran's second-largest oil customer after China, buying about $12 billion annually. However, in December 2010 payments were suspended by the Indian Central as it tried to find a currency for transactions amidst US-led sanctions.
India has offered to pay in rupees, but Tehran, worrying that the Indian currency is not fully convertible internationally, has asked for part-payment in Japanese yen.
One possbility is that India could increase exports, including farm products such as wheat, industrial goods, and gems and jewelry, according to the Indian official: "You have to devise a mechanism with which you can pay for the import of oil and avoid attracting sanctions. We will need to lead a business delegation there, taking potential exporters across a range of sectors, and go out there and talk to their counterparts."
Meanwhile, Parliamentary is reportedly considering an urgent bill to stop imports of Samsung products because of an "anti-Iran" advertisement.
1445 GMT: The Battle Within. The pro-Ahmadinejad Raha Press has issued a sharp response to Deputy Speaker of Parliament Mohammad Reza Bahonar, who has warned about the "deviant current" within the Government: "Analyses made at a brazier [for smoking opium] do not deserve an answer."
1435 GMT: Foreign Affairs (Syrian Front). This week we have noted the Supreme Leader's apparent concern at the course of events in Syria, with the troubles for the Assad regime. This is now echoed from an unexpected source --- given that he is supposed to supervise economic matters --- Iran's Inspector General Mostafa Pourmohammadi.
Pourmohammadi, after declaring, "We must send people to the Majlis who don't give in", said, that imperialists "incited unrest" in Syria to kill people and weaken the Islamic Republic. He called for Tehran to support reforms if Damascus does not treat its people well."
Ahmadinejad presented a draft budget of 5,100 trillion Rials (about $420 billion at official rates; about $290 billion at open-market rates). The President cited aims of 8% growth, a decrease in unemployment, and a reduction in the gap between social classes.
The budget is based on an average oil price of $85 a barrel, according to Mehr.
Speaking at a meeting on human rights in Tehran, Larijani accused the West of exercising double standards. He claimed Iran, as a model of democracy, has held the highest number of elections over the last three decades, with both rightists and leftists in power.
Larijani also asserted Syria has come under unprecedented pressure, because of its support for Palestinians, with certain Arab states “who lack wisdom” voting against Damascus at the United Nations Security Council.
1225 GMT: Labour Front. Khodnevis reports that the Iranian Labor News Agency posted, then withdrew, the report of a worker's suicide. Khodnevis claims that was because of nerves over the effect of such a death, as in the Tunisian uprising sparked by the self-immolation of an unemployed vendor.
Fereydoun is a 40-year-old from Karaj, south-west of the capital Tehran. He has just been made redundant after 15 years with the state-owned carmaker, Iran Khodro.
"I used to have a job assembling Mercedes-Benz cars," says Fereydoun, "but now, because of the sanctions, Daimler has cut its ties with Iran and as a consequence I lost my job. I'm self employed now but I'm struggling to put food on the table."...
Pirouz, a university professor in Tehran, says he is finding it increasingly hard to make ends meet.
"I live alone," he says. "I used to spend about $300 every month on living expenses, but now I am paying more than $650."...
"The sanctions mean that it is impossible to transfer foreign currency," says Ravan, a businessman from Tehran. "My business has been left with a huge load of debt. Thousands of people in my position have gone bust."
"In the past few weeks, the prices of goods in my sector have been changing on a daily basis," says Sharouz, who imports camera systems for automatic doors in shops and offices.
"I agree a price today, but by the time I go to sign the contract the following day the price has already gone up and yesterday's deal has been cancelled."
0955 GMT: Execution Watch. The Council on American-Islamic Relations has written to the Supreme Leader to ask for clemency in the case of Amir Mirzaei Hekmati, sentenced to death on charges of spying for the CIA: "It is our hope that the Iranian government will offer the same mercy and compassion to Mr. Hekmati as it recently offered to other Americans charged with similar offenses, including an Iranian-American journalist and three American hikers."
The letter continued, “We respectfully request that you spare the life of ... Hekmati, grant him clemency and facilitate his immediate release, allowing him to return home and reunite with his family."
CAIR's Dawud Walid said, “If the Iranians are willing to talk regarding releasing Mr. Hekmati, then we're willing to fly to Tehran if need be.”
0935 GMT: Currency Watch. In another sign of the Government tightening up foreign exchange, Minister of Economy Shamseddin Hosseini has said that foreign exchange will only be given to travelers at airports electronically, after presentation of a cash voucher.
Thomas Erdbrink, the Tehran correspondent of The Washington Post, summarises the latest currency news with a dramatic opening:
Faced with a plummeting currency in the wake of toughened international sanctions, Iran is cracking down on black-market money changers and warning that major speculators could face execution.
As a warning to speculators, several money changers working on the streets of central Tehran have been arrested by undercover police officers pretending to desperately seek foreign currency.
In addition, the chief of Iran’s judiciary, Ayatollah Sadegh Amoli Larijani, threatened Wednesday to seek the death penalty for major speculators. Speaking about the unrest in the foreign-exchange markets, he warned that “depending on the importance of their crimes, some of the economic corrupted can face execution,” the semiofficial Mehr News Agency quoted him as saying in a meeting with judicial officials on the currency crisis.
The government has also announced that special branches of state banks will be set up at Iran’s international airports, where travelers leaving the country will be able to purchase up to $1,000 in foreign currency — after passing through passport and customs controls — and take it with them abroad.
He told candidates not to insult and fight each other, not to spend a lot on advertisements, and "do not make people hopeless about the country’s situation". Candidates should also invite people to take part in the election, as their involvement is very important.
Former Speaker of Parliament Gholam Ali Haddad Adel, considered part of the Supreme Leader's inner circle, has told principlists, "We have to invite people to attend the election. There is a not big gap or difference of opinions among different groups of principlists and in case there is a difference of opinion, this will be resolved by Ayatollah Mahdavi Kani and Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi (the leader of the Islamic Constancy Front)."
Haddad Adel pointed to two dangerous currents --- the "seditious", a label for the Green opposition, and the "deviant", often used for those close to President Ahmadinejad. He said that the reason for Parliament not confronting the Government for its violation of laws is because of the interest and benefit of the Islamic Republic, and he promised that, at the right time, the Supreme Leader will deal with the deviant current.
Interestingly, Haddad Adel criticised former President Hashemi Rafsanjani ---as chatter escalates that Rafsanjani's significance in the political scene may be building --- for not disassociating himself from the seditious current: "In regards to how to deal with him, our view is same as the Supreme Leader and we should not forget that [Rafsanjani] is still the head of the Expediency Council.
0729 GMT: Budget Watch. As President Ahmadinejad submitted the Government's 2012/13 Budget to Parliament, 57 days late, an EA correspondent evaluates:
The important point in today’s Parliament meeting was that Ahmadinejad was trying to cover up this delay, as he smiled and advised the Parliament not to criticise the Government and instead work "double shifts and double hard" to approve the Budget.
This was protested by Speaker of Parliament Ali Larijani: “I have frequently said that the Government should stop violating the laws, this delay of the government is not justifiable and this delay is one of the examples of such violations."
Some observers are drawing broader significance from the visit, as Vahid Khorasani is a critic of the Government and rebuffed the Supreme Leader when he travelled to Qom for a 10-day stay in October 2010, leaving the city. Sane'i is an even more vocal critic, who is not considered as an Ayatollah or Marja by the conservative Society of Seminary Teachers of Qom.
0550 GMT: We begin with a glance at the possibility of public protests on 25 Bahman (14 February).
The date is significant. It is three days after the anniversary of the 1979 Islamic Revolution, when the regime will try to turn out the masses. And it will be one year since the last large, open display of resistance, when tens of thousands took to the streets despite the crackdown by officials and security forces.
The regime, anticipating and possibly fearing that display, hit hard by shutting away 2009 Presidential candidates Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi and their wives and fellow activists, Zahra Rahnavard and Fatemeh Karroubi as well as detaining scores of others, suspending political parties, and breaking communications. Although there were public if smaller demonstrations until early March, the opposition's move had been checked.
Now the Coordinating Council of the Green Path of Hope, an umbrella group for opposition, has called for the renewed demand for rights, justice, and freedom. Groups outside Iran have taken this up --- what remains to be seen is whether there is the will and organisation inside the country to defy the authorities.
The routes, posted on Facebook and noted by an EA correspodent, for the 25 Bahman protests:
Time: 4 pm, 25th Bahman (February 14, 2012)
Tehran: between Ferdowsi Square, Navab junction and Azadi Square
Tabriz: Watch Square (Sa’at) to Abresan
Isfahan: Lower Chaharbagh Square to Revolution Square
Mashhad: Ahmadabad Street, between Dr Shariati Square (Taqi Abad) and Palestine Square
Shiraz: Mullah Sadra to Namazi street
Kermanshah: Nobahar junction to Central Square
Urmia: Ostadan Street
Rasht: Motahari Street to Michael junction
Shahinshahr: Beheshti Avenue to Municipality Square
Ahwaz: Martyrs Square
Hamadan: near the Mausoleum of Bu Ali Sina
Amol: 17 Shahrivar Square
Lahijan: between Martyrs Square and Chahar Padishah Square
Abadan: Amiri Avenue
Anzali: Pasadaran Avenue
Yazd: Atlasi Square to Yazd University
Zanjan: Saadi Avenue
Kerman: all streets leading to Azadi Square
Ardebil: Shariati Square
Khorramabad: Shohada Street
Eslamshahr: Bagh Feyz Street
Boroujerd: from Razan Square to the end of Takhti Street
Borazjan: Hospital Square
Talesh: from Imam Khomeini Square to governorate
Ilam: from Imam Square to 22 Bahman Square
Gorgan: from Shalikubi Street to Vali-Asr Square (Kakh)
Tonekabon: between Imam Square and Martyr Shiroudi Square
Dezful: Shariati intersection to Ghazi intersection
Babol: Noshirvani University Avenue
Sanandaj: Azadi Square to governorate
Sabzevar: Kashefi Street
Qazvin: Khayyam Street from south to north
Birjand: Modarress Street
Bandar Abbas: Imam Khomeini Avenue
Arak: all streets leading to Bagh Melli Square
Qom: Eram and Saffayeh Streets in the vicinity of the homes of Grand Ayatollahs Sanei and late Montazeri
Khansar: Gas Station - Imam Khomeini Street - Imam Khomeini Square
Behshahr: Imam Khomeini Avenue towards Park Mellat
Shahroud: Sarcheshmeh to the waterfall
Bojnourd: 17 Shahrivar Square towards Martyr Square
Shahre Kord: Fassihi junction to Cinema junction
Semnan: Saadi Square to Kowsar Square
Kashan: 15 Khordad Square
Sari: from Watch Square (Sa’at) to Municipality Square
Varamin: from Railroad Square to Varamin’s Central Square
Kazeroun: all streets leading to Kheyrat and Martyrs Square
Astara: Imam Khomeini Avenue