1551 GMT: Nuclear Watch. The latest ponderings of David Ignatius of The Washington Post on the nuclear discussions have little to do with an objective assessment of the situation (see 1505 GMT). Instead, the one paragraph of value is the spin from Western officials:
U.S. analysts believe that the past three months of talks should at least have convinced the Iranians that their bargaining position is weak. Tehran’s hard line hasn’t prevented the imposition of new sanctions, it hasn’t amplified Europe’s economic jitters and it hasn’t fractured the P5+1 coalition. Now the real bargaining begins, in the view of some U.S. and European officials, with economic sanctions adding more pressure on Tehran every day.
Then there is this curious conclusion:
The Obama administration has opted to work with international coalitions to confront Syria and Iran. This still seems like the most sensible policy. But if these multilateral efforts are failing, it will fall to the United States to devise an alternative strategy. If the United States wants to get to “yes” in these negotiations, it will have to bargain more independently and aggressively.
Is Ignatius suggesting --- either on his own behalf or that of officials feeding him the lines --- that Washington should break away from European partners and deal one-on-one with Tehran? And what does "aggressively" mean?
Certain disparities may exist between Iran and Saudi Arabia, but this should not make a difference. Thus, nothing should hinder amiable relations between the two countries.
1505 GMT: Nuclear Watch. Laura Rozen and Barbara Slavin post an interview with the Iranian Ambassador to the United Nations, the latest effort by Tehran to put its position in negotiations, with Slavin noting incisively, "Iran is revealing much more info about the nuclear talks than the P5+1 [US, Britain, France, Germany, Russia, and China]."
1440 GMT: Revolutionary Guards Watch. In a speech, former Revolutionary Guards commander Saeed Qassemi has criticised the "germs of corruption" in the Guards and in those overseeing Iran's economy and politics.
And a former Guards general has written to dissident filmmaker Mohammad Reza Nourizad, accusing the Supreme Leader of blood on his hands over the crackdown on opposition and described claims that Iran's nuclear programme is peaceful as a "sheer lie".
According to the general, the order to open fire on the protesters came from the top: "[In 2009,] the Leader [Khamenei] asked Rahim Safavi [former commander of the Guards] whether he would be prepared to run over people with tanks if they took to streets to revolt. He said yes and the Leader gave him the order."
The letter also declares that Ayatollah Khamenei was personally involved in the strict house arrest imposed on 2009 Presidential candidate and opposition figure Mir Hossein Mousavi in February 2011.
The general concluded, "I'm writing this letter to you to tell our people that there are still many generals and members of staff within the Revolutionary Guards who are opposed to these crimes and are waiting to join the people."
1433 GMT: Economy Watch. With the price of chicken in Tehran reportedly reaching 8000 Toman per kilogramme (about $3 per pound), Khodnevis offers a tongue-in-cheek photograph and article, "Revolutionary People Defy Sanctions in Tight Enemy-breaking queues for 4650 Toman Chicken".
1423 GMT: Nuclear Mathematics. Mohammad Reza Naqdi, the head of the Basij militia, has calculated, with reference to the 5+1 Powers (US, Britain, Germany, Russia, China, and France) in talks with Iran over its nuclear programme, "5+1 is equal to zero for Basij."
1414 GMT: Rafsanjani Watch. According to Digarban, former President Hashemi Rafsanjani is not getting an overwhelming reception for his proposal for a Clerical Council --- Ebrahim Raisi, the deputy head of judiciary, and conservative clergy have said there is no need for the body and accused Rafsanjani of trying to weaken the Supreme Leader.
Oil has accounted for about 85% of Iran's export revenues in recent years.
Iran's foreign policy rests largely with the powerful Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and the country is still considered a staunch ally of [Syrian President] Assad. But dissent over Iran's support of Mr. Assad has appeared to grow, largely from diplomats in the Foreign Ministry, signaling to some analysts that Tehran is at least considering a backup plan --- such as reaching out to the opposition and advocating reform and a quiet transition --- should Mr. Assad fall.
"The entire world is against Syria and we are standing here defending Syria, a country accused of crimes against humanity. We are not playing this game very well," Mohamad Ali Sobhani, a current diplomat who has served as Iran's ambassador to Lebanon and Jordan, said in an interview published last week on the semiofficial news website Khabaronline.com.
Mr. Assad's days are clearly numbered and Iran will lose influence and interest if it doesn't shift course, Mr. Sobhani added.
Divisions within Iran's power circles appeared to be on display during [United Nations envoy Kofi] Annan's brief visit to Tehran, where he met with two officials from different ends of the political spectrum....In talks with Mr. Annan, Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said all parties should "make efforts to help find the best way out of the problem." In earlier comments to Reuters, Mr. Salehi said Iran supports democratic transition in Syria and said Mr. Assad should transit out of power in 2014 elections.
Chief nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili took a harder tone, urging Mr. Annan to stop the meddling of powers like U.S. in Syria's affairs and stop the transfer of arms to terrorists revolting in Syria.
The Navy is rushing dozens of unmanned underwater craft to the Persian Gulf to help detect and destroy mines in a major military buildup aimed at preventing Iran from closing the strategic Strait of Hormuz in the event of a crisis....
The tiny SeaFox submersibles each carry an underwater television camera, homing sonar and an explosive charge. The Navy bought them in May after an urgent request by Marine Gen. James Mattis, the top U.S. commander in the Middle East.
0422 GMT: Ahmadinejad Watch (Movin' On Up Edition). On Thursday, we featured Iranian media's presentation of President Ahmadinejad's statement of the historic opportunity to develop a new economic management model for the world" because "the economic order and the capitalist administration dominant over the international arena have failed".
Fars is a bit more modest in its summary, quoting Ahmadinejad, "According to global reports, our economy is ranked 17 in the world now, and we will be the 15th by the next two years."
The Pentagon has admitted that the “lethality and effectiveness” of Iran's missile systems has improved and Tehran would present a “formidable force” while defending its territory.
According to a June 29 report by the Pentagon, “Iran has boosted the lethality and effectiveness of existing systems by improving accuracy and developing new submunition payloads” that “extend the destructive power over a wider area than a solid warhead,” Bloomberg reported on Wednesday.
In fact, as Greg Thielmann points out, the actual report --- rather than Panetta's presentation and the media snapshot of it --- is not so dramatic: "Given the enormous attention given in American political circles to defending against future Iranian intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), which are expected by many members of Congress to arrive in 2015, one is compelled to search the report for evidence that Iran is reaching the milestones that would make such a contingency possible. But one searches in vain."
0345 GMT: After months of bad news for Iran over its oil exports, Reuters has offered some hope for the Islamic Republic's efforts to circumvent sanctions, declaring, "Iran is shipping oil to China, its top buyer, despite a row over freight terms, and Japan has taken steps to resume imports in August".
A closer reading of the article shows that this is far from a return to normal for Tehran. Tokyo, which cut all shipments of Iranian oil in July, is merely opening up the possibility of resumption by providing insurance coverage for some tankers. China is restoring some but not all shipments.
State news agency IRNA inadvertently points out the challenge for Iran as it features India's authorisation of local insurers to replace the coverage lost when the European Union imposed sanctions on 1 July:
India has already cut its Iranian oil purchases by more than a fifth, enough to win a waiver from separate US sanctions, and is expected to load around 300,000 barrels per day this month. But NITC has [a] few of the vessels of the size needed to meet the requirements of at least one Indian refiner, Mangalore Refinery and Petrochemicals Ltd.
A few vessels? At least one refiner? That reads as a half-full, hopeful assessment of a difficult situation --- Iran's oil exports have fallen to 1.1 million barrels per day, less than half the level of 2011.