1952 GMT: Rafsanjani Watch. The back-and-forth over former President Hashemi Rafsanjani's call for better relations with Saudi Arabia and the US continues. Responding to criticism from conservative politicians (see 1420 GMT), Rafsanjani has insisted, "If Ayatollah Khomeini had problems with relations with US, he addressed them with me."
Spain, which takes about 15% of its oil from Tehran, is facing the European Union's edict to cut off Iranian imports from 1 July.
1742 GMT: No Talking to the Americans? A follow-up to the curious story of the on-again, off-again attempt by the conservative website Alef to interview the State Department's Persian-language spokesperson Alan Eyre (see 0650 GMT)....
1735 GMT: Tough Talk of the Day. The Supreme Leader may have given away a hint of weakness in yesterday's speech about the economy (see 0515 GMT), but he was not going to do so today.
Addressing military commanders, Ayatollah Khamenei said, “If Iran was not influential and powerful, the ill-wishers of the Iranian nation would not have gone through water and fire in haste [to harm the country]."
1635 GMT: Economy Watch. Naser Mousavi-Laregani of Parliament's Economy Watch, after a meeting with Central Bank head Mahmoud Bahmani, has challenged the Bank's estimate of 21%. Mousavi-Laregani says the figure is actually 100%.
Alireza Mahjoub, the Secretary-General of Worker's House, has asserted that 80,000 workers were laid off and 1200 production units stopped in the last Iranian year.
In the first round of the vote, 225 of the Majlis' seats were allocated.
1617 GMT: Subsidy Cuts Watch. Gholam Reza Mesbahi-Moghaddam, a key member of Parliament's Economy Committee, has said the Majlis is waiting for the Supreme Leader's order to submit the dispute over the Government's proposed second phase of subsidy cuts to the Arbitration Council.
Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi has tried to hold the line against reports that Tehran has backed away from Istanbul as the venue for its nuclear talks with the US and other powers on 13-14 April, while not confronting those in the regime who have raised doubts about the location.
Salehi said Wednesday, after a Cabinet meeting, that Istanbul was Iran’s first choice as a venue, but added, “Holding talks in Baghdad, and also China, as venue has been out there. This is a course that both sides need to agree on....Istanbul was our initial proposal as the venue for the talks. The Europeans initially rejected but then agreed. At the same time, we had other countries in mind.”
Mohsen Rezaei, the Secretary of the Expediency Council, challenged the choice of Istanbul, and Iraqi authorities added to the uncertainty when they said that Tehran had requested that the discussions be held in Baghdad.
Press TV condemned the move as “a plot orchestrated by the West to silence the voice of the Iranian English-language channel".
Earlier this year, Press TV was removed from Sky Satellite by the British communications regulator, Ofcom, over licencing violations.
1434 GMT: The Battle Within. Digarban posts audio of the speech of Ayatollah Mohammad Yazdi, a member of the Guardian Council, on last year's dispute between President Ahmadinejad and the Supreme Leader over Minister of Intelligence Heydar Moslehi.
Ahmadinejad, trying to extend his power, sought the removal of Moslehi but was overruled by Ayatollah Khamenei. The President then protested with an 11-day boycott of his duties.
In the speech, Ayatollah Yazdi called Ahmadinejad and his inner circle "a gang that wanted to win elections".
1428 GMT: Bank Fraud Watch. Fars claims that Mahmoud Reza Khavari, the former head of Bank Melli who is at the centre of allegations over a $2.6 billion embezzlement, has fled Canada after transferring property to his family.
Khavari, a dual Iranian-Canadian national, resigned his post and left Iran soon after the revelation of the fraud last autumn.
1420 GMT: Rafsanjani Watch. Former President Hashemi Rafsanjani's remarks this week in an Iranian journal, calling for better links with Saudi Arabia and relations with America, have brought heated criticism.
Commenting on Rafsanjani's assertion that he asked the late Ayatollah Khomeini --- just before the Imam's death in 1989 --- for support for talks with the US, Hamidreza Taraghi of the conservative Motalefeh Party, said that the former President "has no wisdom".
1320 GMT: Cartoon of the Day. As Speaker of Parliament Ali Larijani resumes his attacks on the President over the state of the economy (see 0515), Nikahang Kowsar's Ahmadinejad asks Larijani: "Until now we were looting (the country) together....Why these disclosures now?"
The films were initially approved by the Ministry of Culture. However, they were attacked by clerics during Friday Prayers: Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami, in his sermon in Tehran, called the movies "obscene" and "immoral". The paramilitary group Ansar-e Hezbollah also protested outside the Ministry of Culture building, with banners such as "Families of the Martyrs, We are Ashamed".
Zendegi-e Khosusi works with the subject of infidelity and tells the story of a once-religious man whose life is turned completely upside down. Gasht-e Ershad is the story of three friends from low-income families who disguise themselves as morality police to make money.
The trailer for Gasht-e Ershad:
1300 GMT: Political Prisoner Watch. Imprisoned journalist Ehsan Houshmand, who reportedly suffers from serious ear pain as a result of beatings during his interrogation, is being threatened with his wife’s arrest if he publicises information about his case and condition.
Nahid Kouhshekaf, Houshmand’s wife, said:
In his last contact which took place on 25 March, Ehsan was under more intense pressure than he had been previously and he was regularly told to relay specific sentences to us, to the point that I felt that the goal of this call was not to wish a Happy New Year, but rather to tell us that he is under pressure in prison for our interviews outside. Pointing out that I was aware his interrogator was hearing my voice, I said that we have no other recourse but to inform [the press] about his situation, so that perhaps we can hear news from him in prison. I said that under the circumstances, these interviews are inevitable....
During his call he expressed concern for me and it’s probable that they have also threatened him with my arrest because Ehsan constantly emphasized that I should be more cautious for the sake of the kids."
Kouhshekar said her husband is still deprived of regular telephone calls and visitations: "On 15 March we were finally allowed to see him after three months."
Houshmand, a journalist who reports on social issues, is a National-Religious activist and an ethnic issues researcher. He was seized on 7 January and transferred to Evin Prison.
0930 GMT: Political Prisoner Watch. Translating the report from Kalemeh, Banooye Sabz offers more information on the one-year sentence handed to Reyhaneh Tabatabaei, a journalist with the reformist Shargh newspaper.
Tabatabaei's "crimes" include calling for "free and fair elections" through reform of the Guardian Council, writing articles on detainees, and “attending the ceremony held for Neda Agha Soltan [slain by security forces on 20 June 2009] on the 40th day after her martyrdom, attending the candlelight vigil held in her honor on Vali Asr street, and participating in protests held by the families of political prisoners in front of Evin prison".
0740 GMT: Spin of the Day. The Wall Street Journal uses the pretext of a profile of Qasem Soleimani, the head of the Qods Force of the Revolutionary Guards, to put out the US Government's line on Iranian intervention in Syria and Iraq and "support for groups fighting Israel". The take-away line:
"I see [Gen. Soleimani] as sort of the evil genius behind all of the activities that Qods Force has done, all the expansion of Iranian influence," said Richard Clarke, counterterrorism czar for Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.
0730 GMT: Sanctions Watch. State outlet Press TV is fluttering about sanctions this morning. It effectively admits the Turkish cuts in Iranian oil suppolies, "A nationalist political party in Turkey has urged the government to explain the reason why it has halted oil imports from Iran, saying that the move could have been one of the main factors behind the sharp hikes in energy prices in Turkey." At the same time, the site proclaims, "US-led Sanctions on Iran Difficult for India to Join: Expert".
Meanwhile, a story beyond the propaganda that highlights the complexity of the situation....
In South Africa, Engen Petroleum, which has been South Africa’s biggest buyer of Iranian oil and is a leading marketer and refiner of petroleum products throughout southern Africa, said Tuesday it was no longer Iran’s customer. “Engen has suspended imports from Iran and our contingency sources are in play,” a company spokeswoman, Tania Landsberg, said in an email, confirming press reports of Engen’s decision.
South Africa, which historically has relied on Iran for a quarter of its imports, had been sending mixed messages regarding Western pressure to reduce Iranian purchases, with recent data suggesting that the country has been buying more crude oil from Iran this year. Engen’s decision to buy elsewhere suggested that the Western pressure was working.
0650 GMT: No Talking to Americans? We have posted a separate analysis, "Is Tehran Pulling Back from the Nuclear Talks?", amid reports that the Islamic Republic is now holding out against Istanbul as the site.
Meanwhile, a curious episode involving talking --- and then pullinb back from talking --- with Americans:
On Tuesday the conservative website Alef, linked to MP Ahmad Tavakoli, made the surprising announcement that it was going to interview the State Department's Persian-language spokesperson, Alan Eyre, with questions taken from readers.
The announcement was so surprising that the announcement disappeared from Alef a few hours later.
Now the hard-line Raja News is asking the Islamic Republic's authorities how Alef could have been in contact with an official of the US Government, given the break in relations between the two countries since 1979.
A copy of the now-deleted Alef article:
Ayatollah Khamenei, never one to admit weakness, did not directly refer to the problems of unemployment, inflation, production, imports, and currency, as he said defiantly, "“The most obvious reason for the futility of the efforts made by the arrogant front is the inefficiency of more than 30 years of sanctions and economic pressures on the Islamic establishment as well as the increasing progress and power of Iran."
However, in his affirmation of the "Year of National Production" --- even as put out by his office and State media --- there was the impression of pleading:
Today, the country needs endeavor, dynamism and innovation in various fields; and collaboration, prudence, and cooperation among officials, especially between the government and the Majlis, are required to achieve this goal....The Majlis and the Government should take practical steps to support national production through sincere cooperation.
That last sentence is especially significant because on Monday, Speaker of Parliament Ali Larijani sent a letter of complaint to the Supreme Leader about the Government's handling of the economy. Details were not given, but the accompanying statements of Larijani in his media outlet were not shy about the economic problems. "Illegal subsidy cuts...will create a storm of inflation", he pronounced, while declaring that most people are grappling with high prices and unemployment of their children.
So is the Supreme Leader preparing to intervene on the side of either President Ahmadinejad or Larijani? Is he going to offer measures that can bring them together? Or is he just going to play King Canute, seeking to hold back the waves of economic downturn with his words?