2030 GMT: Fraud Watch. Next week's Moscow talks on Iran's nuclear programme will proceed after European Union foreign policy representative Catherine Ashton and top Iranian negotiator Saeed Jalili spoke for one hour on the phone tonight.
There was chatter that the discussions were in jeopardy after days of increasingly negative exchanges in the media between the two sides, but a Western diplomat said, “Moscow is a green light."
A European diplomat maintained that the US and Europe had held the line on no preparatory talks before Moscow, unless Iran discussed issues of political substance: “Jalili went on and on about need for a technical meeting. Ashton stayed firm.” He continued:
[The Iranians] have now backed down from that and appear prepared to engage on our proposals, which is important for us. We will respond to their ideas --- note the different terminology. We have concrete proposals, they have issues/ideas.
A spokesman for Ashton set out the apparent deal: Ashton and Jalili “agreed on the need for Iran to engage on the E3+3 proposals", while Ashton "conveyed the E3+3′s readiness to respond to the issues raised by the Iranians in Baghdad".
2015 GMT: Fraud Watch. More on the naming of 1st Vice President Mohammad Reza Rahimi by one of the defendants in the Fatemi Street insurance fraud case....
The defendant, known in the media as the "Black Box" in the case, claimed that 1.5 billion Toman (about $1.25 million at official rate) was given to Rahimi. He claimed that the money was directly deposited in Rahimi’s account, and the cheque can be verified through the auditor’s office.
1730 GMT: Nuclear Watch. Scott Peterson of the Christian Science Monitor reveals that the chief nuclear negotiators for Iran and the 5+1 Powers, Saeed Jalili and Catherine Ashton, are speaking by phone later today. He explains the significance for the discussions:
"Even if the Moscow talks start [on] time [on 18-19 June, I believe that it will be the scene of complaints for Iran and [world powers] and may finally agree to have a next round as a result," says the Iranian diplomat, contacted in Tehran. "But the question is: How long could it be continued like this?"...
Diplomats from both sides claim that they have gone out of the way to accommodate the other in the interest of successful talks. But they also claim that they have "got nothing but some vague replies" (says the Iranian diplomat) or come up against "obfuscation" and "increasing negativity" (says a European diplomat in Brussels familiar with the talks).
1650 GMT: Nuclear Watch. An overview in The Guardian on the nuclear talks is distracted from an accurate reading of Iran's approach by spin from Western diplomats --- "What's Farsi for cover your ass?" --- but Julia Borger offers one nugget deep in the article about the US-European side:
Laura Rozen, who follows the talks for Al Monitor, reported last week that the Obama administration was weighing up a possible change of tack, pushing for a comprehensive deal rather the piecemeal, confidence-building proposal put on the table in Baghdad [in formal talks in late May].
European diplomats said they had heard mixed signals from the policy debate in Washington and would wait to see what the American chief negotiator, Wendy Sherman, brought to the table in Strasbourg [in talks today and Tuesday among the 5+1 Powers]. Their bottom line: this will ultimately be a deal between the US and Iran and we will back anything that has a chance of breaking the impasse.
European representatives were concerned, just before the Baghdad round, that the US had "gone soft" in its proposals and, between the lines of Borger's reports, there is the same concern a week before next week's round in Moscow. In other words, it may be Britain, Germany, and France who are taking the toughest line on Iran's uranium enrichment.
That raises the interesting question: if the talks could be manoeuvred into a bilateral US-Iran discussion, would there be a shift in tone towards "progress"?
1500 GMT: Oil Watch. Industry sources say Indian state-owned refiners will halt planned oil imports of 173,000 barrels per day from Iran when European Union sanctions take effect on 1 July, unless the Government permits them to use insurance and freight arranged by Tehran.
India is the world's fourth-largest oil importer and Tehran's second biggest customer.
An emergency plan by state insurers to provide limited cover for Iran voyages has been delayed while the insurance regulator requests more details. "It is becoming difficult. You settle one clause of the sanctions, then you realize you are trapped in the second," said a source.
1325 GMT: Sanctions Watch. Mohammad Reza Rahimi, the 1st Vice President, insisting that the Government has done its best to diminish the effects of sanctions, has set out a long narrative of domestic and foreign threats against the Ahmadinejad administration since 2005.
Turkish purchases in May and June are about 140,000 barrels per day, 20% less than the average in 2011 and almost 50% lower than the 270,000 bpd purchased in March.
1249 GMT: Imports Watch. Iranian producers have been increasingly worried about goods imported from China.So what's on the list? Jam-e Jam reports some of the threats: garlic, Christmas decorations, ketchup, tombstones, zippers, bow ties and whips.
1210 GMT: Ahmadinejad Watch. In a speech in Kermanshah today, President Ahmadinejad lashed out at his domestic critics, accusing them of telling "slanders and lies" in the "greatest insult to the Iranian nation::
0920 GMT: Foreign Affairs (Russian Front). The Russian Foreign Ministry has announced that Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov will visit Tehran on Wednesday to discuss the upcoming Moscow talks on Iran's nuclear program; however, “the focus of attention...will be on the situation in the Middle East and North Africa, with the emphasis on the current transformation processes taking place in the Arab world and Syria”.
0700 GMT: Clerical Interventions. Grand Ayatollah Vahid Khorasani has issued a statement in an audience with military commanders, “I consider protecting the state as top priority, but this priority is subjected to...a state based on Islamic laws. The system should be mean to protect the religion --- not 'I' --- so if the “hidden Imam” reappeared, the religion is preserved and kept in the society. The system should not be a mean to protect 'I' and 'my power'."
Grand Ayatollah Javadi Amoli, criticising the state of the economy, has warned those in charge about "weak management" which has led to inflation, high unemployment, and poverty, even though the country is rich in natural resources. He sadi, "The result of this kind of management is that one day we will be punished for it."
Javadi Amoli added, “You should not expect to keep people calm and happy with preaching and lectures.”
0650 GMT: Nuclear Watch. The US State Department has announced that its lead negotiator on Iran's nuclear issue, Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman, will meet in Strasbourg on 11-12 June with the other members of the 5+1 Powers (US, UK, France, Germany, China, and Russia).
The talks will be a week before the 5+1 resume formal discussions with Iran in Moscow.
0620 GMT: The Next Presidential Election. On the eve of the third anniversary of the disputed 2009 Presidential election, ILNA claims a major political figure is about to declare his candidacy for next year's contest.
The website claimed Mohsen Rezaei --- Secretary of the Expediency Council, former head of the Revolutionary Guards, and a candidate in 2009 --- will soon announce that he is running.
0520 GMT: Critics of the Government have claimed for many months that its members, notably 1st Vice President Mohammad Reza Rahimi, are caught up in an multi-million dollar insurance fraud; however, it is only in recent weeks that the trial of 85 defendants has brought the "Fatemi Street" case to the doorstep of the Government.
Rahimi was not named among the defendants; however, his name has often surfaced in the hearing, and on Sunday other political figures were pulled into the allegations. One defendant, "J.A.", said Rahimi had accepted a bribe on behalf of Mohammad Reza Bahonar, the Deputy Speaker of Parliament; J.A. had the proof, he said, because he had installed a listening device in Rahimi's office.
Meanwhile, away from the courts, Tehran Province Governor Morteza Tamaddon launched a separate allegation at the Government. He claimed that Kamran Daneshjoo, the Minister of Higher Education and Science, had received a 500 million Toman (about $410,000 at current official rate) bribe as President Ahmadinejad's campaigner in 2009.