2240 GMT: A (Temporary) Break in Service. Apologies for the limited updates today, as I have been at a mini-conference on Israel and Iran this afternoon and evening. Full service will resume tomorrow at 0600 GMT on Thursday.
2235 GMT: Nuclear Watch. The buzz on the Internet tonight is over this report of a shift in Iran's position on its nuclear programme:
Iran is considering a Russian proposal to halt the expansion of its nuclear program in order to avert new sanctions, the country’s envoy in Moscow said.
“We need to study this proposal and to establish on what basis it has been made,” Ambassador Mahmoud-Reza Sajjadi said in an interview at the Iranian embassy in Moscow today. The Russian plan, announced by Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov last week, would let Iran avoid a European Union ban on its crude that is scheduled to come into force in July....
Iran might also be willing to ratify the so-called Additional Protocol, a step urged by the United Nations Security Council that includes more thorough inspections of Iranian facilities, as part of a wider settlement, Sajjadi said.
Under the Russian proposal, Iran would stop building centrifuges, machines used to enrich uranium, and mothball ones that haven’t been put into use yet.
We will have more tomorrow, but this appears to be an Iranian move towards the Russian "step-by-step" approach for the negotiations, with a freeze and then an easing of sanctions with each Iranian pull-back from an expanded enrichment programme and towards tighter international oversight.
Two points which are unclear: 1) Is Sajjadi speaking with full backing of the highest levels of the regime; 2) Will Iran pull back from its recently-acquired ability to enrich uranium to 20%, accepting a level such as 3.5% or 5%?
As the first of May, the international Labor Day, approaches, and while labor unrest is ever present in the country, labor groups in Iran have announced plans to hold demonstrations on this date and noted that if the official permit for a national demonstration is not issued, they will launch a “spontaneous” demonstration.
The Ministry of Interior has discussed the requests for the demonstration in a meeting and officials have said the issue is “under discussion.”
Workers have said that they plan to raise their current living conditions during the demonstrations. Alireza Mahjoob, the secretary general of Khane Kargar (House of Workers) told ILNA labor news agency yesterday, “If the ministry of interior does not issue the permit for the labor day demonstration, workers will gather to display their support for domestic production and opposing foreign products in Khane Kargar.
1210 GMT: Baha'i Watch. News is slow today, as it is a holiday in Iran, but we note the latest report of The Sentinel Project on the regime's treatment of members of the Baha'i faith, with detentions, prison sentences, expulsions from school, and censorship of the Internet.
0642 GMT: Economy Watch. Davoud Javani, the Secretary of the Service Industries Union, has claimed that the Government, which "only employs about 50,000 people", is interfering in the jobs of the private sector.
Javani warned that, if the interference continues, 23 trillion Toman (about $19 billion) of capital from the service industries could be diverted to dollar and gold markets.
0635 GMT: Revolutionary Guards Watch. In a possible sign of the ongoing tension between senior clerics and some political leaders, Grand Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi has told Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps commanders in Qom that the Guards "would suffer damage if separated from the maraje (clerics)".
There may be another motive, however: an EA correspondent notes a claim from the Iranian Christian site Mohabat News that Christianity is on the rise amongst members of the Guards.
The most interesting claim is over last month's incident when Tavakoli's Alef announced an interview, based on readers' questions, with US State Department official Alan Eyre, but was then forced to withdraw the initiative.
Tavakoli claims that the published interview "would have convinced even the most 'West-oxicated' Internet users" of Iran's position versus Washington, as Eyre "disgraced himself and the US".
An Iranian correspondent notes a possible reason: Rah-e Sabz published the revelation of two lawyers of the Guardian that the turnout in March's Parliamentary election was 38% --- far below the 64% claimed by the regime --- and only 18% in Tehran.
Saham News, which broke the news, still carries the report.
0555 GMT: The news is unlikely to make headlines outside Iran --- it's not as dramatic as the boxing match over Tehran's nuclear programme or as formal as the Islamic Republic's hosting of regional leaders such as Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki --- but the story this week is of the resurgence of the economic challenge to the Ahmadinejad Government.
Over the last three days, leading MPs and their supporters have been raising the pressure. They have emphasised the surge in inflation, criticised the Government's mismanagement, and focused on the supposed folly of the second phase of President Ahmadinejad's subsidy cuts. The latter issue is likely to be the immediate target of the Parliament: it wants the Government to abandon the introduction of the second phase and, to drive home the political point, to do so publicly.
This pressure is being combined with other signals. At the start of the week, the Majlis passed a measure setting out impeachment for Ahmadinejad if he fails to answer more than six questions satisfactorily. While Parliament has failed --- so far --- to take the scalp of Presidential advisor Saeed Mortazavi, the message is clear: Ahmadinejad is to be kept in a political box until his term ends next spring.