2220 GMT: Nuclear Watch. After a few days talking down the possibility of renewed nuclear talks --- and putting the blame on Tehran --- Western diplomats said today that discussions could still resume in January.
The shift follows a phone call on Monday between Helga Schmid, the deputy negotiator for the 5+1 Powers, and her Iranian counterpart Ali Bagheri.
"Consultations to prepare a next round of talks are ongoing," spokeswoman Maja Kocijancic said.
"The powers and Iran are still discussing possible dates for nuclear talks in January," one Western envoy said.
The arrangement allows Tehran to bypass an European Union ban on insuring vessels carrying Iranian oil.
NITC chartered the vessel the Omvati Prem, owned by Mumbai-based Indian shipper Mercator Limited, and used it to carry an oil cargo that sailed from Iran in December for Indian refiner Mangalore Refinery and Petrochemicals Limited.
2000 GMT: Foreign Affairs Watch (Syrian Edition). Hosting Syrian Prime Minister Wael al-Halki today, 1st Vice President Mohammad Reza Rahimi has declared, "After overcoming all problems and crises, Syria will emerge stronger and more powerful than before."
Rahimi hailed a "peace initiative" put forward by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, saying that the Islamic Republic supports any plan that aims to end the conflict and protects the integrity of the country.
Hamid Fazeli, head of the country’s space agency said, “The monkeys that will be sent in a life capsule are for now in quarantine and are scheduled to be sent into space during the Fajr festival,” the 10-day celebration leading up to the 34th anniversary of the Islamic revolution on 10 February.
The capsule named Pishgam, or Pioneer, will be carried into orbit on a Kavoshgar rocket, he said.
In 2010, Iran fired a domestically-produced rocket into space with a satellite carrying two turtles, a rat and several worms. Since then, Fazeli has periodically declared that the Islamic Republic's space programme would put a monkey into orbit.
There was more today, however --- the official said Iran may successfully send humans into space within five years.
1255 GMT: Nuclear Watch. Foreign Ministry Spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast has declared that a fatwa (religious decree) by the Supreme Leader prohibiting nuclear weapons is binding: “There is nothing more important in defining the framework for our nuclear activities than the Leader's fatwa. When the Leader expresses his religious viewpoint in the form of a fatwa, it will be mandatory for us to act according to it".
Analysts have long debated where Khamenei issued a formal fatwa banning the Islamic Republic's possession of nuclear weapons or whether he only expressed an informal opinion. State outlet Press TV emphasises a more recent statement, from February 2012, when the Supreme Leader said Iran considers the pursuit and possession of nuclear weapons “a grave sin” from every logical, religious and theoretical standpoint.
0815 GMT: The House Arrests. Prominent conservative Habibollah Asgarouladi has reiterated his conciliatory line towards the detained opposition leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, saying, "They are not criminals," in a meeting with members of his Motalefeh Party.
Asgarouladi had said earlier this month that Mousavi and Karroubi were not "seditionists", although they were surrounded by those who were pursuing sedition. The statement prompted speculation that the regime might ease restrictions on the two candidates in the 2009 Presidential election before this June's contest.
However, claims circulated last week that Asgarouladi had withdrawn from this position.
Mousavi, Karroubi, and Zahra Rahnavard have been held under strict house arrests for 23 months.
0805 GMT: Free Elections Watch. Alaeddin Boroujerdi, the head of Parliament's National Security Committee, offers the latest warning that, while Iran's elections are excellent, no one should talk of "free elections".
The MP said those who have spoken of "free elections" in the past should ask forgiveness for working with the Islamic Republic's enemies.
0705 GMT: President v. Parliament. It looks like the next act in the long-running play --- drama, tragedy, comedy --- of conflict between President Ahmadinejad and the Parliament will take place tomorrow morning on the floor of the Majlis. After days of political manoeuvres, the announcement finally came that Ahmadinejad will visit Parliament from 8:30 to 10 a.m on Wednesday.
What will happen, however, is not established. Ahmadinejad's goal is to turn the appearance into a renewal of the long-delayed second phase of his subsidy cuts programme, after Parliament ruled in November that there should be an indefinite suspension. MPs who are critical of the Government want to use the occasion as an information interrogation of Ahmadinejad, especially over his economic policies and alleged mismanagement.
All of this takes place as a drama within the emerging drama of June's Presidential election. So don't expect any final-act resolutions tomorrow.
Ahmadinejad will stick to his "progress through my programmes" script and evade any attempted questions. Parliament will not relent on its opposition to the new phase of subsidy cuts, which were supposed to be implemented more than a year ago.
Ahmadinejad, anticipating this, will use the appearance to the public --- look at the unreasonable hostility of my critics (P.S. -- Vote for My Man in June).
And the Supreme Leader will watch all of this to ensure that some "balance amid conflict" is maintained.