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The Latest from Iran (5 March): The Election? So Far, It's a Muddle
1805 GMT: Drumbeats of War Watch. Dave Siavashi of Iran News Now picks up a crucial alteration in a report by CNN's Jessica Yellin about Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's visit on Monday to the White House. First, Yellin's report:
"Three Republican presidential candidates will be addressing the AIPAC [American Israel Public Affairs Committee] conference on Tuesday. All three have accused President Obama of appeasing Iran. The president has said that that kind of language and other quote 'loose talk of war' only helps Iran by driving up oil prices which Iran relies on to fund its nuclear weapons program".
Now, Obama's actual quote:
Already there is too much loose talk of war. For the last few weeks such talk has only benefited the Iranian government by driving up the price of oil, which they depend on to fund their nuclear program.
The President said nuclear program.
Not nuclear weapons program.
Now, some people may be inclined to ask, "what's the big deal?"
It's a big deal.
It has not been proven that Iran has a nuclear weapons program. But it is virtually being touted as absolute fact by these mainstream outlets that Iran's nuclear program --- one that the Iranian government claims is for civilian purposes only, and that has been under the protocols and monitoring of the International Atomic Energy Agency for years --- is a nuclear weapons program.
Whether one believes what the Iranian government says is not the issue at hand though. It is irrelevant to the point I'm making. It is also irrelevant whether Jessica Yellin was even aware of the fact that she so badly misquoted President Obama.
What's relevant is that she said it without the slightest hesitation, as if intrinsically, she.just knows that it is a nuclear weapons program. It was as if she felt she needed to fill in an assumed blank between the words "nuclear" and "program" when the President uttered them. Like she was doing him a favor.
1755 GMT: Rafsanjani Watch. Deputy Speaker of Parliament Mohammadreza Bahonar has criticised former President Hashemi Rafsanjani, following Rafsanjani's implicit warning last Friday of politicians ignoring the votes of the people.
Bahonar said that "Rafsanjani was the first person who was attacked by reformists" when they had a majority in Parliament: "It is very strange for me why Hashemi supports reformists today."
Mohammadi, the deputy head of the Center for Defenders of Human Rights, was arrested in 2010 and condemned last September to an 11-year term.
1725 GMT: Budget Watch. Deputy Speaker of Parliament Mohammad Reza Bahonar has said that the 2011/2012 budget has had to be extended by two months to pay Government salaries, as the 2012/2013 budget --- submitted two months late --- could not be confirmed by MPs in time.
1715 GMT: Elections Watch. Back from an academic break to find that Alef has posted a breakdown of the results for Tehran, confirming that only five candidates have made it to Parliament on the first round.
In the game of shifting numbers, Alef says there were 2,335,124 ballots --- with 215,435 of them spoiled --- from 5.4 million registered voters. That is a turnout of 43% (or about 34% if the spoiled ballots are discounted), below the "official" claim of 48% for the capital.
Today I have replied to Dr. Jalili's letter of 14 February.
On behalf of China, France, Germany, the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom, the UnitedStates of America I have offered to resume talks with Iran on the nuclear issue.Time and venue of these talks will now be agreed.
We hope that Iran will now enter into a sustained process of constructive dialogue which will deliver real progress in resolving the international community's long-standing concerns on its nuclear programme."
1330 GMT: Ahmadinejad Watch. Alef cliams that a Parliamentary committee will decide tomorrow about the questioning of the President. If signatories on the petition do not retreat their name, the questioning will be next week.
1325 GMT: According to the Associated Press, the European Union has said that Western powers, Russia and China have offered to resume nuclear talks with Iran.
1005 GMT: Nuclear Watch. Iran's liaison office with the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna has said that IAEA inspectors will be allowed into the Parchin military complex: "The fact that Parchin is a military site and accessing it has a time consuming process, therefore the visit cannot be allowed frequently ....Once again we will allow the IAEA to visit it one more time."
Iranian authorities would not grant access to an IAEA team last month, claiming the appropriate arrangement had been made. The inspectors wanted to check claims that Tehran was developing a new container for high-level explosions that could be part of an effort for a nuclear device.
Parliament heard a report on Monday from the Budget and Planning Commission. According to the investigators, $2 billion in oil revenues were not collected as of last September while only another $4 billion was not deposited.
Analyst Alireza Heydari has complained about political appointments for Iran's Soc Security Fund, which will be headed by President Ahmadinejad's advisor Saeed Mortazavi. Heydari said the Fund's budget of 40 trillion Toman (about $21 billion) "will be a catastrophe".
0930 GMT: Today's All-Is-Well Alert. MP Parviz Sorouri declares, "Iran's election has caused an earthquake in the West, but they try to falsifiy it. People have built a new nation after fitna (sedition)."
Mohammad Hossein Mousapour, the Governor of Qom, adds, "Elections in the West are a political game and a big lie. Only in the Islamic Republic are there true elections."
Meanwhile, there is news of some prominent setbacks. Mojtaba Zolnour, the Supreme Leader's former representative to the Revolutionary Guards, has reportedly faded in the last hours of the count in Qom. In Tehran, Hamidreza Katouzian, the head of Parliament's Energy Committee and a prominent critic of the President, has withdrawn after a poor showing in the first round.
0905 GMT: Bank Fraud Watch. Iran Prosecutor General Gholam Hossein Mohseni Ejei said on Monday that one defendant in the $2.6 billion bank fraud has confessed and accused others. Mohseni Ejei said there were 55 culprits in the case, although only 33 were being tried.
Asked if detained opposition figures Mir Hossein and Mehdi Karroubi will be released from house arrest, Mohseni Ejei replied, "Tell me your source, I neither approve or deny it."
0900 GMT: Elections Watch. Four days after the Parliamentary vote, no one seems to know exactly how many voters were registered in Tehran.
We had been working with a possible figure of 6.4 million, although there have been reports of a higher number. Now Khabar Online ponders that, if Tehran has 5,525,000 voters, then the turnout was 42%, but if there are only 5.4 million registered, this rises to 43.2%.
All of which makes the regime's proclamation of a 48% turnout in Tehran "unconfirmed", to say the least....
0855 GMT: Khatami Watch. Muhammad Sahimi summarises the reaction to former President Mohammad Khatami's decision to vote in last Friday's Parliamentary elections. Among these is the evaluation of prominent reformist Ali Shakouri Rad:
Right before the elections, Khatami was a hero. Under his guidance, the reformists had become united, whereas the principlists under the leadership of Ayatollah Mohammad Reza Mahdavi Kani had fragmented into thirteen groups....I do not have any information as to why Khatami voted, but I am certain that it was due to fear, fear that his not voting would shut the door on reforms forever. May be it is necessary to wait a few months to understand the reason for Khatami's unexpected vote."
0845 GMT: All the President's Men. Earlier this week we reported that Presidential advisor Saeed Mortazavi appeared to have escaped punishment for his alleged role in supervising the abuses and deaths at the Kahrizak detention centre in summer 2009 --- he had been named head of the Social Security Fund.
However, conservative activist Abdolhussein Ruholamini, whose son died in Kahrizak, has maintained that Mortazavi, who was then Tehran Prosecutor General, has not been acquitted. Ruholamini said he had "several files" and will file a complaint Mortazavi's appointment is confirmed.
Fifteen MPs have also warned Ahmadinejad about Mortazavi, saying that his new post would be a violation of the law and against national interests. Among those complaining were Ahmad Tavakoli, Elias Naderan, Esmael Kowsari, Morteza Agha Tehrani, and Gholam Reza Mesbahi Moghaddam.
0838 GMT: Worried? Revolutionary Guards commander Hossein Salami has reportedly said that the Islamic Republic is at the "height of isolation" in a technical, scientific, and economic siege": "All doors are closed on us."
At the same time, Salami reassured, "With the leadership of Ayatollah Khamenei, the Islamic Republic has changed the situation from Shaa'b Abi Taleb (defeat) to Khyber and Badr (attack)."
0833 GMT: Book Corner. Farideh Khalatbari, an award-winning publisher of children's books, has said that regime censorship is "ruining us", with her company Shabaviz losing 2 billion Toman (about $1.05 million).
Bahman Dorri, a Ministry of Culture official, has said that a 1.7 billion Toman (about $900,000) loan will be given to religious publishers, especially in Qom Province.
0829 GMT: Political Prisoner Watch. Kalemeh reports that detained physician/blogger Mehdi Khazali, on the 58th day of his hunger strike, is now going without water to protest the brutal behaviour of prison guards.
0820 GMT: Culture Watch. Iran's famous classical singer Mohammad Reza Shajarian has paid tribute to Oscar-winning director Ashgar Farhadi, "You achieved a goal in these times where talents are being killed and the arts are embattled. With your film [A Separation] you presented the honour and conscience of the noble, poor class of society, which is much more worthy than an Oscar."
Meanwhile, the US Public Broadcasting Service hosts a War discussion in which Jeffrey Goldberg says that President Obama and Netanyahu are still setting out far different "red lines" for action, James Dobbins says Obama is pointing to military action if Tehran acquires a nuclear weapons, and Jamie Fly of the Foreign Policy Initiative wants "the real possibility of a military option" right now:
0620 MP: The outcome of Friday's Parliamentary elections, beyond the surface declaration that 225 candidates have been elected in the first round to the 290-member Majlis, is still muddled. There is still confusion about the voter turnout, let alone the political blocs that will emerge when the new Parliament finally meets in May.
Meanwhile, there is the question of whether President Ahmadinejad --- a "lame duck", in my opinion --- faces immediate trouble in the outgoing Majlis. Hossein Sobhaninia, a member of the Board of the Parliament, has said that while there is not a definite time for the President's interrogation, he will be questioned by 14 March.
However, former Minister of Health Kamran Bagheri Lankarani --- once a favourite of Ahmadinejad, who called him "Peach” --- tried to draw a line against this. Holding a press conference as the spokesman of the Islamic Constancy/Resistance Front, he said, "The next parliament should change its politicial attitude and approach toward the Government. In our view, the interrogation of the President was just propaganda, as many people tried to manoeuvre before the election. Fortunately, we saw that it did not affect people in any way."
The President also might see hope in the statement from one of his biggest critics, MP Ahmad Tavakoli, who did not mention impeachment in his latest interview. Instead, he focused on the likely make-up of the new Parliament --- the Resistance Front, which has a tendency toward Ahmadinejad"; principlists who criticise government, "of whom I am one"; and the "traditional principlists" of the Unity Front.
Tavakoli also projected three main candidates for the next Speaker of Parliament --- the current Speaker, Ali Larijani; former Speaker Gholam Ali Haddad Adel; and cleric Morteza Agha Tehrani, although he added, "even though I think there is less chance for Agha Tehrani".