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Saturday
Apr282012

The Latest from Iran (28 April): Nuclear Step Forward, Nuclear Step Back

1513 GMT: War Watch. There has been quite a flutter on the Internet over comments by the former head of Israel's internal intelligence agency Shin Bet, Yuval Diskin, critising Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Defence Minister Ehud Barak over postures and policies on Iran based on "messianic feelings". Diskin said he would not trust the Israeli leaders in the event of a pre-emptive strike on Iran's nuclear sites.

The comments should be seen in the context of a wave of recent comments by former and current Israeli military and intelligence leaders, including former head of the Mossad, Israel's foreign intelligence service, Meir Dagan and current Chief of General Staff Benny Gantz, playing down talk of an imminent Iranian nuclear weapons capability and warning against the consequences of an Israeli attack (see the discussion in Comments).

Interpretation? Seeing this as a possible contest and even rift between the military and the political leadership, I would note the significant influence of the ties between the Israeli and the US military and inteligence communities. Washington's military commanders have not only been vocal this spring in their caution against an assault; they have given signals to Israeli counterparts that they would like to see the same out of West Jerusalem.

Video from The Guardian:

1505 GMT: Economy Watch. Economist Hossein Raghfar has claimed, in contrast to President Ahmadinejad's claim of 1.6 million jobs created, that the Government did not foster even 300,000 new positions last year. Raghfar added that this year's unemployment rate has been "unmatched" in the past three decades.

1345 GMT: Human Rights Watch. A conference on human rights and democracy in Iran, held at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, has honoured Siamak Pourzand.

Pourzand, a journalist and film critic, committed suicide last year after a decade of detention, house arrest, and harassment by the regime. His "crime", from the late 1990s, was to write articles critical of the Government.

Participants in the conference included Pourzand’s wife, Mehrangiz Kar, a noted lawyer.

1333 GMT: Fashion Watch. "How do we know spring is here?" asks an EA correspondent. Answer: because, as BBC Persian documents, Iran's police are cracking down on "bad hijab".

Tehran police chief Hossein Sajedinia, claiming the crackdown was "asked for by the people", said those wearing "bad headscarves, bad dress, and model-type women in vulgar dress" would be stopped.

1323 GMT: Economy Watch. MP Ahmad Tavakoli, a prominent critic of the Government, has asserted that the second phase of subsidy cuts will quadruple prices.

Tavakoli added that the Ministry of Culture's orders to censor "relevant news" in Iran's media is wrong.

Mohammad Nabi Habibi, a leader of the conservative Motalefeh Party, has said that workers must have a representative in Parliament while complaining that the Government's team on the economy "is not good".

1231 GMT: Budget Watch (Military Edition). Commander Hossein Daghighi, the head of social security for the armed forces, has claimed that the Governmet owes 5 trillion Toman (about $4.1 billion at official rates) to the social security of troops. This is a bit of a problem, as the Government has only 2.5 trillion Toman in its budget for the provision.

1221 GMT: More Battle Within. With less than a week before the second round of the Parliamentary elections, the conservative website Bibak News launches a widespread attack on rivals within the establishment. The site claims Tehran Mayor Mohammad-Baqer Qalibaf, Speaker of Parliament Ali Larijani, and Deputy Speaker Mohammad Reza Bahonar have attacked faithful supporters of the Supreme Leader "on behalf of Zionist masters". It adds that members of the conservative/principlist Unity Front have "sold themselves to Zionists and imperialists".

1212 GMT: The Battle Within. A reporter for State broadcaster IRIB claims that President Ahmadinejad has expressed his dissatisfaction with the Supreme Leader by reading the works of the famous 13th-century poet Saadi in Shiraz.

0627 GMT: Cartoon of the Day. For the second time in the last week, Fars, linked to the Revolutionary Guards, has used a cartoon to express worries over the economy --- the question is posed, over price tags, "Are these fruits for sale or just to look at?"

0620 GMT: Threat of the Day. Amir Ali Hajizadeh, the commander of the Aerospace Force of the Revolutionary Guards, has said Turkey should expect "deformed children and incurable diseases" as the result of NATO’s missile shield to be placed in the country.

Hajizadeh had warned last year that his country could target the relevant installations in Turkey if faced with a military attack, "We have prepared ourselves if any threat is staged against Iran. We will target NATO's missile shield in Turkey and will then attack other targets."

At that time, Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi dismissed the threats and reassured Turkey that they are not Iran's official policy, according to reports in Turkish media.

0605 GMT: On a slow Friday in Iranian politics, the most notable development was Tehran's step back from substantive talk of a deal --- at this point --- over its nuclear programme. A day after his statements at a press conference were headlined as the Islamic Republic's "shift" towards an agreement, the Iranian Ambassador to Russia declared, via the State news agency IRNA, that the story had been exaggerated by the Bloomberg wire service.

Instead, Friday's real "shift" came from the US, where unnamed Administration officials told the Los Angeles Times (see separate feature) that Washington could accept Iran's enrichment of uranium to 5%, provided there were strict inspections and safeguards.

So will Iran take a real step forward and not step back? So far, the Islamic Republic is continuing with the general welcome to discussions, but with no specifics and with the riders that it is the "arrogant" US and European powers who have to meet Iran's legitimate position. 

There is one parallel development of note, however. Ali Asghar Soltanieh, Iran’s ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agenc, said Tehran and the IAEA will hold discussions in Vienna on 13-14 May "to devise a framework for answering questions about Iran’s nuclear energy program". 

Could the talks be over the details of the inspections and safeguards that would be part of the deal between the Islamic Republic and the 5+1 Powers, to be considered further in Baghdad on 23 May? No clue yet, merely Soltanieh's assertion, “This decision once again proves Tehran’s resolve for cooperation with the IAEA, which also makes evident the baseless [nature] of the allegations against Iran and proves the civilian [nature] of all of the Islamic Republic’s nuclear activities."

 

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