IRAN AGREES TO 1ST ROUND OF NUCLEAR TALKS IN ISTANBUL, 2ND ROUND TO FOLLOW IN BAGHDAD (SEE 1000 GMT)
1655 GMT: Central Bank Watch. Mehr claims that Mahmoud Bahmani, the head of the Central Bank, resigned after the Central Bank's multi-billion dollar cash withdrawal from Iran's financial institutions, but the Government, through 1st Vice President Mohammad Reza Rahimi refused it.
Mehr also publishes parts of the order from Rahimi to the Central Bank to withdraw the money "without delay".
1635 GMT: Press Watch. Hojatoleslam Mohammad Reza Zaeri, the editor of Kheimeh News, has told a conference, "No one dares to say a word for fear of the judiciary....Instead of analysts, we raise sycophants because the judiciary arrests critical journalists."
1615 GMT: Rafsanjani Watch. Iran Prosecutor General Gholam Hossein Mohseni Ejei has said that the arrest of former President Hashemi Rafsanjani's daughter Faezeh Hashemi --- to serve a six-month sentence for "propaganda of the regime" --- has been confirmed and "inshallah, she will be in prison soon".
1605 GMT: All the President's Men. One to watch, as it looks like part of the regime is making a major move on the Ahmadinejad camp....
Earlier today, it was revealed that the judiciary is summoning Presidential advisor Saeed Mortazavi, possibly to prosecute him for his role --- as Tehran Prosecutor General --- in the abuses and killings at the Kahrizak detention centre in summer 2009.
Now Iran Prosecutor General Gholam Hossein Mohseni Ejei has said that cases against Vice President Hamid Baghaei and Ahmadinejad's media advisor Ali Akbar Javanfekr "will be enforced".
Javanfekr has already been handed two separate one-year sentences for publications in the newspaper Iran, which he edits, and on his blog. Baghaei was formally suspended last year by a court from his duties for administrative violations.
1545 GMT: Budget Watch. Press TV confirms Speaker of Parliament Ali Larijani's intervention to reverse a Parliamentary's committee rejection of President Ahmadinejad's 2012/13 budget (see 1235 GMT):
The bill was passed by a special parliamentary committee with 20 votes in favor and nine votes against during the committee’s Monday session.
Five lawmakers voted against the bill while four others abstained from vote.
The bill had been initially rejected by lawmakers on Sunday, but during the Monday session of the committee, they nullified their initial decision by voting in favor of the bill after certain modifications were made to it.
Majlis Speaker Ali Larijani attended the Monday session of the committee advising lawmakers to pass the bill, telling them that the government will do its best to rectify the bill’s shortcomings.
The Islamic Republic is just below Lesotho and just above Malawi.
The rankings are based on criteria such as "Starting a Business", "Getting Credit", "Trading Across Borders", and "Electricity". Iran was 50th in "Enforcing Contracts" but near the bottom of the list for "Protecting Investors".
1338 GMT: Rafsanjani Watch. An EA correspondent pores over the press releases for the Supreme Leader's attendance at the Expediency Council, with his declaration, "The decisions that are made in this council should be based on the agreement of the majority of the members....Some of the most important issues of the country are solved in this council which shows the importance of the status of this council."
Ayatollah Khamenei thanked Hashemi Rafsanjani for his efforts as head of the Council.
All is well, then? Well, our correspondent considers the report in Fars, "What’s interesting is that before the 2009 Presidential election, Hashemi was referred to as Ayatollah Hashemi Rafsanjani. After the election he became Hojatoleslam and now he’s just Mr. Rafsanjani."
President Ahmadinejad and Mr. Rafsanjani greet each other at the Council:
1330 GMT: Bank Fraud Watch. More from Sunday's fifth hearing in the trial of 32 defendants over the $2.6 billion bank fraud....
With the Tehran Public Prosecutor Abbas Jafari Doulatabadi present, one of his lawyers announced the arrests and bar on foreign travel for members of the Board of Directors of Bank Melli Bank.
A lawyer for the main defendant accused yesterday tried to turn the news on the prosecution, "The main figures are either not arrested or identified. In order to find the truth you should arrest all the people who have fled."
The head of Bank Melli, Mahmoud Reza Kahvari, left Iran for Canada soon after the fraud was revealed last autumn.
The next session in the trial will be on Sunday.
1235 GMT: Budget Watch. Rah-e Sabz reports a compromise in Tehran, as Speaker of Parliament Ali Larijani has helped ensure passage of President Ahmadinejad's 2012/13 budget, initially rejected by a Majlis committee.
1230 GMT: Nuclear Watch. A follow-up to our note (see 1000 GMT) on the "half-full" version in The New York Times' account of an Iranian "shift" for Saturday's nuclear talks....
Reuters adds the "half-empty" dimension that we observed yesterday and today: "Iran has no interest in reviving a failed nuclear fuel swap deal with Western powers, but might scale back production of higher-grade enriched uranium once it has the material it needs."
1135 GMT: Nuclear Watch. Press TV has now posted an English-language confirmation of the Supreme National Security Council's acceptance of nuclear talks in Istanbul on Saturday, followed by a second round at an unspecified date in Baghdad.
Top-tier financial institutions including Société Générale SA and Rabobank Group have stepped back from business with Iran in recent months, citing increased political risk and logistical hassles that attend even legal trade with the country.
As a result, the remaining players are commanding higher fees and offering increasingly complicated services. Like Russia's First Czech-Russian Bank LLC and China's Bank of Kunlun Co. Ltd, they are typically small, obscure financial institutions often based in countries historically friendly to Iran.
The firms and other intermediaries still brokering these trades are charging more than 6% per transaction for legitimate trade deals with Iran, on top of traditional banking fees, according to traders and bankers knowledgeable with the process.
That is as much as triple the fees typically charged by Arab Gulf banks two years ago, before the United States and European Union significantly stiffened sanctions, according to Iranian businessmen.
1025 GMT: All the President's Men. It looks like the Government is trying to cover itself against heated criticism of the appointment of Presidential aide Saeed Mortazavi as head of the Social Security Fund. Ahmadinejad ally Zohreh Elahian said the Supreme Leader "has suspended Mortazavi legally" and the case of the abuses and killings at the Kahrizak detention centre --- which happened in summer 2009 when Mortazavi was Tehran Prosecutor General, is still open.
And now news comes through that the judiciary has issued a summons for Mortazavi over Kahrizak, acting after a complaint from the family of slain detainee Mohammad Kamrani --- could the Ahmadinejad advisor finally stand trial?
1000 GMT: Nuclear Watch. State news agency IRNA announces that the Islamic Republic and the 5+1 Powers (US, UK, France, Germany, Russia, and China) have agreed to the opening round of nuclear talks in Istanbul on Saturday, followed by a second round of talks in Baghdad.
IRNA says the compromise between the US-European choice of Istanbul and Iran's preference for Iraq was agreed between Saeed Jalili, the Secretary of the Supreme National Security Council, and the European Union's foreign policy representative Catherine Ashton. It claims the Supreme National Security Council confirmed the arrangement in a meeting this morning.
According to IRNA, the date of the Baghdad talks will be announced at the end of the Istanbul discussions.
Meanwhile, alongside our special this morning on the confusion over the talks, another example of mixed messages....
The New York Times headlines, "Iran Hints at Shift in Advance of Nuclear Talks":
A senior official in Tehran was quoted on Monday as hinting at what seemed to be a modest compromise to partially meet some Western concerns about the country’s uranium enrichment program....
The official, Fereydoon Abbasi, the head of the Iranian Atomic Energy Organization, indicated that Iran was prepared to enrich uranium to 20 percent purity “just to meet its own needs” for a research reactor, the official IRNA news agency reported.
An Associated Press article makes clear that IRNA lifted its summary from Abbasi's interview on State TV. However, in an interview with the Iranian Students News Agency, Abbasi took a harder line towards the "irrational" proposals, put out by US and European diplomats, for most of Iran's uranium to be enriched outside the country and for the closure of the Fordoo enrichment plant.
The explanation for the difference? IRNA is effectively a pro-Ahmadinejad outlet, and the President favours the nuclear discussions. So it put out the positive spin on Abbasi's comments.
0834 GMT: Nuclear Watch. Another signal that the regime is holding out against Turkey for the start of nuclear talks on Friday or just some posturing?
Alaeddin Boroujerdi, the chairman of Parliament's National Security Committee, has led the criticism of Istanbul as the host. This morning he has said the Islamic Republic is the only country to confront the US over the last three decades.
Baztab Emrooz was launched last year and is reportedly linked to Mohsen Rezaei, the Secretary of the Expediency Council. It was filtered within months by authorities.
0745 GMT: Bank Fraud Watch. Radio Zamaneh summarises the latest developments over the multi-billion bank fraud --- the fifth court hearing over the case was held on Sunday:
The Tehran Prosecutor’s office has announced that several government officials and MPs have been accused in Iran’s recent $3-billion bank fraud.
Iranian media report that Mehdi Farahani further announced that members of the Melli Bank and the Bank of Saderat boards of management are also charged in the case and are currently banned from leaving the country.
Also under arrest is the office manager who worked under former Melli Bank CEO Mahmoudreza Khavari, and other members of the bank’s management team are currently released on bail.
Khavari, the former head of the Melli Bank, left the country a few days after news of the $3-billion scandal first hit the media. He took up residence in Canada, where he already held citizenship.
Farahani added that several Members of Parliament and government officials are also charged but they will not be named at this time in order to protect the national interest. Farahani did indicate, however, that the prime suspects in the case were aided in their illegal actions by the support of Allaeddin Boroujerdi, the head of Foreign Policy and Parliament’s National Security Commission.
The executive editor of Iran, Presidential advisor Ali Akbar Javanfekr, has been given two separate one-year sentences over a special issue of the newspaper and an entry on his personal blog.
0625 GMT: We open this morning with a special analysis, "Spreading (and Understanding) Nuclear Confusion in Tehran", explaining the confusion that led to a false story, put out by Reuters and embraced by other Western media, that Iran has agreed to nuclear talks beginning on Friday in Turkey.
This morning there is no mention in State news agency IRNA or in Fars --- which put out and then withdrew the premature claim of Iran's agreement --- of the nuclear issue. Instead, it is Press TV that puts out a back-handed confirmation that Tehran has not decided to sit at the negotiating table in Istanbul, "Turkey Says No Confirmation on Its Hosting Iran-P5+1 Talks".