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The Latest from Iran (8 April): We Love Nuclear Talks, We Love Them Not

See also Iran Propaganda Special: US Intelligence "Trust Us --- We Know Everything"
The Latest from Iran (7 April): Nuclear Confusion

2113 GMT: Picture of the Day. The Supreme Leader with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Hashemi Rafsanjani after Ayatollah Khamenei and the President joined today's meeting of the Expediency Council:

1629 GMT: Labour Front. About 800 workers in Iran's steel industry have protested over unpaid benefits today in front of the President's offices.

Workers of the Shabab Khodro autobus manufacturer hold up signs, "We Protest", over unpaid wages and the laying-off of hundreds of fellow employees:

1620 GMT: Bank Fraud Watch. State news agency IRNA reports that the head of the office of former Bank Melli chief Mahmoud Reza Khavari --- a central figure in the $2.6 billion bank fraud --- has been arrested.

The bank's board members have been banned from leaving Iran. Khavari fled to Canada in September 2011 as the fraud was being revealed.


1600 GMT: Budget Watch. For the first time, a Parliamentary commission has refused approval of the general provisions of a Government budget.

The 2012/13 budget, submitted two months late, was supposed to come into effect in late March. The Government has been operating on short-term authorisation.

1555 GMT: Nuclear Watch. Fars is now claiming, from a site called Arabi Press, that Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu "apologised" in a Thursday night call to Saeed Jalili, the Secretary of Iran's National Security Council, begging Tehran to attend the nuclear talks in Istanbul.

1548 GMT: All the President's Men. And now a strange twist in the ongoing furour over the naming of Presidential aide Saeed Mortazavi as head of the Social Security Fund (see 0845 GMT)....

The daily Mellate Ma, linked to Secretary of the Expediency Council Mohsen Rezaei, claims that Mortazavi's advisor Ali Akbar Heydarifar has been arrested because of a shooting at an Isfahan gas station.

Families of the abused and killed protesters at Kahrizak detention centre, a case in which Mortazavi has been implicated because he was Tehran Prosecutor General in summer 2009, have also called for the prosecution of Heydarifar.

1453 GMT: Nuclear Watch. Add this to the uncertainty over Iran's line on the location for Friday's nuclear discussions....

Alaeddin Boroujerdi, the head of Parliament's National Security Committee --- and a harsh critics of the talks taking place in Turkey --- said that today's meeting of the Supreme National Security Council, attended by Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi, discussed Istanbul and Baghdad as possible sites.

Boroujerdi added, "Our relations with Turkey are very important but we have differences over Syria --- Turkey should rethink its hostile attitude."

Meanwhile, the head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organisation, Fereydoon Abbasi, has given a quick rejection to the US/European opening line in forthcoming nuclear talks --- put out through The New York Times (0645 GMT) --- for the higher-level enrichment of uranium outside Iran and for closure of the Fordoo enrichment facility.

Abbasi said the proposals were "irrational".

1435 GMT: Tough Talk of the Day (Syrian Front). The regime may be confused in its message about the nuclear discussions, but the head of the armed forces, Hassan Firouzabadi, was clear today in his warning to foreign powers about Syria: "Leaders of Saudi Arabia, Qatar and other countries which make hostile moves against the Syrian people under the guise of Syria's friends are willingly or unwillingly moving in the line of the arrogant powers and the Zionist regime."

Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian criticised the supply of arms by some countries to the Syrian insurgency: “Instead of giving time to the Syrian government to implement reforms, foreign states are putting pressure on [Syrian President] Bashar al-Assad and by arming the Syrian opposition they are trying to show the situation in the country is chaotic and critical to prevent the people’s real demands from being met through legal and peaceful channels."

1425 GMT: Nuclear Confusion. Back from a weekend break to find more muddle over Friday's proposed nuclear talks....

At first glance, this Reuters report puts forth a last-minute breakthrough on the location:

"After weeks of debates, Iran and the six world powers agreed to attend a first meeting in Istanbul," the semi-official Fars news agency reported, citing unnamed sources. State-run English language Press TV carried the same report.

The Fars news agency also said the sides had agreed to a second round of talks in Baghdad if there was progress in Turkey. There was no immediate comment from the world powers.

All OK, right? Well, here's the curiosity --- there is nothing on either the Press TV or Fars Persian-language website matching the Reuters summary.

However, Fars' English-language website does carry the report, "Iran and the Group 5+1 (the five permanent UN Security Council members plus Germany) are scheduled to resume their talks in Istanbul, Turkey, and in case of good progress hold a second round of talks in Iraq's capital city of Baghdad."

The website says the Supreme National Security Council Undersecretary Ali Baqeri and a deputy to the European Union's foreign policy representative Catherine Ashton agreed on 14 April --- a day later than the previously reported date --- for the discussions.

Khabar Online and Tabnak, quoting the non-existent Press TV article, has similar reports.

State news agency IRNA says nothing while featuring defiant rhetoric from President Ahmadinejad today: "We will not let our enemies and the assassination of a scientist block Iran's path of progress in science and technology."

0845 GMT: Parliament v. President. Prominent MP Gholam Reza Mesbahi Moghaddam has said that the dispute over the appointment of Presidential aide Saeed Mortazavi as head of the Social Security Fund will be forwarded to the Arbitration Council for resolution.

Mortazavi has been challenged because of his claimed role, as Tehran Prosecutor General, in the abuse and killing of protesters in the Kahrizak detention centre in summer 2009.

Deputy Speaker of Parliament Mohammad Reza Bahonar has said that Minister of Labor Abdolreza Sheikholeslami, who has been criticised for supporting Mortazavi, must appear in the Majlis next Wednesday for impeachment hearings.

0815 GMT: Nuclear Watch. Another posture from the regime appears to define the "red line" on discussions with the US (see 0715 GMT), as well as slapping down Turkey's role in encouraging and hosting the talks....

Esmail Kowsari of Parliament's National Security Committee has said the "Supreme Leader decides on the time of talks with the US", while sneering at the "dishonest" approach of Washington through a "secret" message to Ayatollah Khamenei via Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

0810 GMT: Economy Watch. Khabar Online looks at latest information from the Central Bank and the Statistical Center of Iran report, "The Misery Index is soaring."

0731 GMT: Book Watch. Rah-e Sabz reports on further closures of private publishers and bookshops amidst regime censorship and economic difficulties.

0725 GMT: Cyber Watch. Digarban reports on growing discontent within the system over intensified filtering of websites, with Hezbollahi and Basiji complaining about the regime's clamp-down.

0715 GMT: Nuclear Watch. A curious statement from Alaeddin Boroujerdi, the chairman of Parliament's National Security Committee --- "the US has asked several times for secret talks with the Islamic Republic, but talks with the US are the regime's red line"....

So is Boroujerdi saying the Islamic Republic will or will not sit down with the Americans on Friday?

0645 GMT: Nuclear Watch. "American and European diplomats" use The New York Times to set out their opening move in the nuclear talks with Iran:

The Obama administration and its European allies plan to open new negotiations with Iran by demanding the immediate closing and ultimate dismantling of a recently completed nuclear facility deep under a mountain, according to American and European diplomats.

They are also calling for a halt in the production of uranium fuel that is considered just a few steps from bomb grade, and the shipment of existing stockpiles of that fuel out of the country, the diplomats said.

What is not clear from the spin is the allowed level of enrichment inside Iran and how much of the uranium will have to be sent outside the country. In October 2009 --- the closest the US and Iran have come to agreement --- the working proposal for about 75% of Iran's 3.5% uranium to be sent abroad, enriched to 20%, and then returned to Tehran.

At that time, the Fordoo issue was also not on the table --- Tehran had only declared the construction of the enrichment facility a month earlier.

0637 GMT: Bank Fraud Watch. The fifth hearing in the $2.6 billion bank fraud, which involves 32 defendants, has opened in Tehran.

0635 GMT: Economy Watch. The Central Bank reports that inflation in March was 21.5%.

Some MPs have claimed that the actual rate is far higher, a claim supported by analysts and eyewitness reports.

0625 GMT: Ahmadinejad Watch. After a break for the Parliamentary elections and Iranian New Year, the President will resume his provincial visits on Tuesday, going to Hormozgan in the south of the country.

0600 GMT: Five days before the supposed start of the nuclear talks between Iran and the 5+1 Powers (US, UK, France, Russia, China, and Germany), and the confusion over where and if they begin continues.

From muddle, division within the regime, or an elaborate Good Cop/Bad Cop approach, Tehran continues to put out conflicting signals. The Islamic Republic has pulled back from Istanbul as the site of the discussions, proposing Iraq and China as alternatives --- even Kazazhstan stepped forward on Saturday to offer itself as a host --- but Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi put out soothing words yesterday about talks building trust: "“Iran wishes for peace, stability and security in the region and the world. The Iranian culture is one of peace, friendship and expansion of ties with other countries."

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