1855 GMT: All-Is-Well Alert. Little did we know how our Caption Competition, "Ahmadinejad and Rafsanjani --- Best Friends Forever?", would capture the spirit of the day....
Mehr proclaims, "Rafsanjani Greets Ahmadinejad's attandance in EC [Expediency Council] Meeting", noting that it was the first time in three years that the President had troubled himself to attend a Council session.
Mehr further notes, "The secretary of the Supreme National Security Council, Saeed Jalili, presented a report of the negotiations that were held between Iran and the 5+1 group (the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany) in Istanbul on April 14."
1435 GMT: Reformist Watch. MP Dariush Ghanbari has declared that reformists are proposing a number of possible candidates for next year’s Presidential elections, according to the Iranian Labor News Agency.
Ghanbari said, “Without delay, reformists need to prepare for the presidential campaign and announce their candidates.” He suggested possibilities such as former Vice President Mohammadreza Aref; Abdollah Noori, a former interior minister in the Khatami Government; Kamal Kharrazi, a foreign minister under Mohammad Khatami; and Hassan Khomeini, grandson of the late Ayatollah Khomeini.
Many reformists boycotted March's Parliamentary elections over lack of freedoms and the detention of political priosers, including 2009 Presidential candidates Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi.
Ghanbari insisted, “As the reformists organizations have suffered a kind of fragmentation, prior to finding a specific candidate, better organization must be the first item on our agenda."
1430 GMT: Ahmadinejad Watch. Leading conservative politician Mohammad Nabi Habibi has passed on a claimed statement from the head of the Guardian Council, Ayatollah Jannati: "If supporting Ahmadinejad means propagating the ideas of [Presidential Chief of Staff] Rahim-Mashai, the support for Ahmadinejad is haram (forbidden)."
Jannati had put out a similar statement during Ahmadinejad's 11-day "boycott" of his duties last year after he lost out in a power struggle over the Ministry of Intelligence.
1415 GMT: The Regime and Sexual Abuse. Someone has moved quickly to silence the claims of Mohammad Taghi Karroubi, the son of the detained opposition figure Mehdi Karroubi, about regime officials' involvement in sex crimes and rape (see 1240 GMT) --- the Karroubi website has been hacked.
1415 GMT: Revolutionary Guards and Politics. Mohsen Rafiqdoost, a former Minister for the Revolutionary Guards, has said the Guards should keep out of politics and the economy and refrain from supporting political parties.
1355 GMT: Political Prisoner Watch. The regime is stepping up pressure on politicians and activists by recalling them to prison. Narges Mohammadi of the Center for Defenders of Human Rights has been ordered to serve a six-year sentence, while Ebrahim Yazdi --- former Foreign Minister, leader of the Freedom Movement of Iran, and the country's oldest political prisoner at 81 --- has been given 20 days to report to Evin Prison for an eight-year term.
1240 GMT: The Regime and Sexual Abuse. Mohammad Taghi Karroubi, the son of the detained opposition figure Mehdi Karroubi, has posted cases of Iranian officials allegedly involved in sex crimes and rapes, including the controversy over Iranian-Canadian photographer Zahra Kazemi, slain in Evin Prison in 2003, the post-election abuses in 2009 at the Kahrizak detention centre, and this week's claims of offences by an Iranian diplomat in Brazil.
1020 GMT: The Battle Within. Gholam Hossein Elham, former spokesman for the Government, has caused a stir by calling the Expediency Council, which rules on disputes over legislation, "a place for idle people".
Keyhan has called on Elham to apologise for his remarks, and he has also been criticised by Iran Inspector General Mostafa Pourmohammadi and Deputy Speaker of Parliament Bahonar.
0920 GMT: Economy Watch. A sign of a siege economy? An official in the Ministry of Industry has said there are orders to build up stocks of 10 important foodstuffs such as rice, cooking fat, sugar, and meat.
0914 GMT: Political Prisoner Watch. PEN International, the organisation promoting literature and defending freedom of expression, has said it is "seriously concerned for the welfare of literary translator Mohammad Soleimani Nia", held without charge since 10 January.
Soleimani Nia, the translator of Funny in Farsi by Iranian-American writer Firoozeh Dumas, reportedly started a hunger strike on 2 April.
Leading MPs have challenged the second phase as illegal and damaging to the economy.
Azim Aghajani and Ali Akbar Tabatabaei, members of the Revolutionary Guards' Qods Force and Behineh Trading Company were named for "key roles in Iran's illicit transfer of arms to West Africa".
An alleged Revolutionary Guards member is on trial in Nigeria over an attempt to bring in rockets, explosives, and grenades falsely declared as building materials. The arms were seized in October 2010 in Lagos.
Last month, the United States added Behineh Trading, Tabatabaei, and Aghajani to its sanctions list.
Rahbar said Sheikholeslami is a "victim" of the President, who refused to accept the resignation of his controversial advisor, Saeed Mortazavi, as head of the Social Security Fund. MPs have blamed Sheikholeslami for his public support of Mortazavi, who has been criticised for an alleged role in the abuses and killings in summer 2009 at the Kahrizak detention centre.
0650 GMT: Protest Watch. Iranian Kurds protest over the slaying of a girl and the robbing of children in Boukan:
0600 GMT: We start this morning on the nuclear front and, unusually, with a first glance at Washington rather than Tehran.
There is a buzz among Washington journalists and commentators, possibly fed by President Obama's officials, that the Islamic Republic is serious about reaching a deal over its nuclear programme. The catalyst is a column on Wednesday from the Washington Post's David Ignatius, a leading channel for US Government spin:
Iran is following the script for a gradual, face-saving exit from a nuclear program that even Russia and China have signaled is too dangerous. The Iranians will bargain up to the edge of the cliff, but they don’t seem eager to jump.
The mechanics of an eventual settlement are clear enough after Saturday’s first session in Istanbul: Iran would agree to stop enriching uranium to the 20 percent level and to halt work at an underground facility near Qom built for higher enrichment. Iran would export its stockpile of highly enriched uranium for final processing to 20 percent, for use in medical isotopes.
Shrewder analysts took apart Ignatius's cheerleading, but the column got a boost on Friday with the reception of the Tehran Friday Prayer from "hard-line" Ayatollah Jannati. The head of the Guardian Council emphasised that the Supreme Leader's fatwa against nuclear weapons was not an illusion and that the West should recognise this to reach an agreement.
Even though Ayatollah Khamenei's fatwa is years old, it has been put out in Washington as a recent signal that the Iranians are moving towards an accommodation, and the Islamic Republic's own publicists are happy to encourage that impression. Thus the dramatic shift in US received opinion: whereas Tehran was portrayed only weeks ago as intransigent, or at best playing for time, now the emphasis is on a possible Iranian moderation.
So what's wrong with this picture? Well, just as the earlier vision of an Islamic Republic hell-bent on conflict was too narrowly framed, so is this rosier vista.
Consider this major error in Ignatius' report, and thus the outlook of those circulating it:
The Iranians expect to be paid, in “step-by-step” increments, as they move toward a deal. At a minimum, they will want a delay of the U.S. and European sanctions that take full effect June 28 and July 1, respectively. That timetable gives the West leverage, too — to keep the threatened sanctions in place until the Iranians have made the required concessions.
Every statement out of Tehran --- from the Supreme Leader's top advisor on foreign affairs to the Foreign Ministry's spokesman --- is that the Islamic Republic expects an initial concession on sanctions before any move over Iran's enrichment of uranium.
Ayatollah Jannati clearly re-stated that on Friday. Indeed, that was the emphasis in his sermon:
The West must lift sanctions against the Islamic Republic of Iran so that the Iranian nation believes they do not seek to continue their enmity....If they insist on sanctions and then say they will negotiate with Iran, it is clear that such negotiations will be called off.
Perhaps, in well-hidden private discussions in advance of the next public talks on 23 May in Baghdad, the Iranians are telling US and European counterparts that there can be a linked announcement of a reduction in sanctions and new arrangements for the processing of 20% uranium. So far, however, we have not had a whiff of such a breakthrough.
There is, however, one shift in Tehran which is clear. As our Iranian correspondent brings out in a separate analysis, there has been a 180-degree turn in the players for a deal.
Allies of the Supreme Leader stepped away from the October 2009 talks in Geneva and Vienna, just as they were offering the prospect of agreement --- an agreement which was being pursued by President Ahmadinejad and his circle. This time, it is the President who stands to lose from a bargain in which he has no visible role --- so it is his outlets putting out doubt while the Supreme Leader's spokesmen portray as a cleric willing to reach an honourable settlement.
That is the ground for seeing the possibility of a deal. But only the possibility: the talks turn not just on the players, but on the proposals. And until there is clarity over the sanctions and the status of enrichment, predictions such as those of Ignatius should be treated as PR rather than clairvoyance.