1951 GMT: Criticising the Diplomats. What do the "hard-line" Mashregh News and Baztab have against the Foreign Ministry's spokesman Rahim Mehmanparast? Both chide, "Why does he have British nationality and an expensive house there? Where do his kids live?"
1944 GMT: Foreign Affairs (Syrian Front). Al Arabiya claims that Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami, Tehran Friday Prayer leader and member of the Assembly of Experts, has declared in a speech in Kermanshah that the Islamic Republic "will not allow [Syrian President Bashar] Assad to be toppled".
1918 GMT: Political Prisoner Watch. We noted last Saturday that Narges Mohammadi of the Center for Defenders of Human Rights had been summoned to serve a six-year prison sentence for propaganda against the regime and actions against national security, and we wrote on Sunday that, when she did not report to the Ministry of Intelligence, she was seized in Zanjan.
The Guardian now picks up the story. Meanwhile, Mohammadi has reportedly been put in Ward 209 of Evin Prison, often used for political prisoners, and Reporters Without Borders has condemned the detention.
1903 GMT: Elections Watch. The official campaign for the second round of Parliamentary elections has opened, with 130 candidates competing for the remaining 65 parliamentary seats across 33 constituencies and 14,300 polling stations.
The run-off vote will be held on 4 May. In the first round, 225 candidates made it to the Majlis.
1808 GMT: A Cleric's Political Endorsement. Grand Ayatollah Nasser Makarem Shirazi has made an interesting venture into politics, praising MP Ali Motahari, a prominent critic of the Government who has called for the impeachment of the President.
Makaram Shirazi said that the intellectual independence of Ayatollah Morteza Motahari, an influential figure in the Islamic Revolution who was assassinated in May 1979, "can also be seen in his son".
0603 GMT: The Battle Within. Eight days before the second round of Parliamentary elections, tension within the conservative/principlist establishment is esclating.
Morteza Agha Tehrani, a senior member of the Islamic Constancy Front, is complaining, "We tried five times to unite with the Unity Front but failed." He then claims that rivals within the system went farther, filtering three of four sites of the Front, which is also led by Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi.
Agha Tehrani's words carry particuar weight because he was among the top candidates in the first round of voting in Tehran. For a brief period, he was even considered a possible Speaker of Parliament in the new Majlis.
And there's more. The Constancy Front's new Internet TV channel has drawn fire from prominent MP Ahmad Tavakoli, who declared it was illegal. The criticism came as State broadcaster IRIB has filed complaints against 18 Internet TV sites --- is this simply because of questions of competition or for political motives?
Trying to recover the situation, the Constancy Front said its outlet would reveal the truth about "political gangs", while claiming that it was the subversive BBC Persian which had declared it to be outside the law.
0510 GMT: Deaths of the Revolutionary Guards. Iranian officials have said that four members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps were killed in clashes with the Kurdish insurgency PJAK in western Iran.
The fighting was near the town of Paveh close to the Iraqi border on Tuesday. Four other IRGC officers were also wounded.
0455 GMT: We open Thursday's coverage by re-posting our note from late Wednesday night and adding this --- we are still searching for a reference in Iranian media to these remarks of Tehran's Ambassador to Russia, pointing to possible acceptance of Russia's "step-by-step" plan for a deal on the Iranian nuclear programme.
For example, State news agency IRNA has no mention of Reza Sajjadi's comments on its homepage, preferring instead to write about "economic cooperation with development policy" in a meeting of the Russian Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Iranian Business Council.
Reticence from Tehran would indicate that, while Ambassador Sajjadi spoke nicely about Moscow's effort, highest levels in the Iranian system are still being cautious about any public step before the resumption of talks with the 5+1 Powers (US, UK, France, Russia, Germany, China) in Baghdad on 23 May.
The buzz on the Internet has been 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%?