President Ahmadinejad, watched by Speaker of Parliament Ali Larijani, in the Majlis today
Both Iranian State media and an IAEA spokesperson confirmed the extension of discussions. There was no indication, however, if progress had been made towards a protocol for IAEA inspection and supervision of Iranian nuclear facilities.
1821 GMT: Religion Watch. The International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran has put out a 73-page report, "The Cost of Faith: Persecution of Christian Protestants and Converts in Iran", documenting "severe restrictions on religious practice and association, arbitrary arrests and detentions for practicing their faith, and violations of the right to life through state execution for apostasy and extrajudicial killings".
One case from the report:
Farshid Fathi, a 33-year-old Christian leader from Tehran was detained in December 2010 as part of a Christmas crackdown on Christians and subsequently charged with “acting against national security,” “contact with enemy foreign countries,” and “religious propaganda". The Judiciary has sentenced him to six years in prison which he is currently serving.
Ahmed Shaheed, the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Iran, has reported that 300 Christians have been arbitrarily arrested and detained since 2010.
1809 GMT: Investment Watch. A bit of good news for the Iranian economy --- China Nonferrous Metal Mining Group has signed a $712 million contract to provide engineering design, equipment supply and installation, construction, and training services for the Butia steel plant.
1733 GMT: Ahmadinejad Watch. Najmeh Bozorgmehr of the Financial Times picks up on one of the novel suggestions in President Ahmadinejad's speech, defying sanctions and Iran's economic problems --- 400,000 jobs could be created by opening forests to cattle breeders where they can use 6 million tonnes of oak nuts “wasted under trees”.
One MP, Gholam-Ali Jafar-Zadeh, was not impressed: “Mr President! You have seen 6 million tonnes of wasted oak nuts in forests but not 6 million unemployed youth."
1617 GMT: President v. Parliament. Reuters' summary of the Ahmadinejad appearance in Parliament gets to the heart of the matter --- the President's attempt to revive the second phase of his subsidy cuts probramme, blocked by the Majlis --- and points to continued conflict:
Ahmadinejad said, "If this plan is fully implemented, wealth will be fairly distributed, national capital will be preserved, production efficiency will go up, the government's dependency on oil income will be reduced and poverty will be eradicated."
Iranian MP Mohammad Reza Bahonar, in response to Ahmadinejad's speech, said that there were problems that arose from implementing the first phase of the reforms that needed to be dealt with before the second phase is put in place.
Parliament speaker Ali Larijani...said legislators objected to parts of the subsidy reform which could hurt Iran's manufacturing sector. He had said earlier that raising energy prices would hurt producers.
"Parliament is not opposed to the core of the targeted-subsidies plan, as long as it does not harm production," Larijani said, according to parliamentary news agency Icana.
1432 GMT: (Denial of) Rumour of the Day. Gholam Ali Haddad Ali, the leader of the Principlist faction in Parliament, has used a gathering in Isfahan to deny the long-running rumour that the Supreme Leader's son Mojtaba transported a truck of gold bars out of the country in 2009.
Haddad Adel, whose daughter is married to Mojtaba Khamenei, denied their daughter and his granddaughter through £1 million in vitro treatments in London.
The MP later said that the BBC and Voice of America are partners in “200 years of crimes” against Iran.
1426 GMT: Political Prisoner Watch. Fars, linked to the Revolutionary Guards, has confirmed activists reports that the son of detained opposition leader Mehdi Karroubi has been given a suspended six-month prison sentence for speaking to journalists.
Fars cited an unnamed source, "The Revolutionary Court has sentenced Mohammad Hossein Karroubi to a six-month jail term...for disturbing public opinion against the Islamic regime through giving interviews to foreign media, He can appeal the sentence."
Mehdi Karroubi, a candidate in the disputed 2009 Presidential election, has been under strict arrest --- along with fellow candidate and opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi --- for 23 months.
1406 GMT: Ahmadinejad Watch. Unsurprisingly, State outlet Press TV avoids any mention, in its description of the President's speech in Parliament this morning, of conflict between Ahmadinejad and the Majlis. Instead it posts an anodyne summary of his rhetoric:
“Employing national capacities, overcoming sanctions and disappointing the enemy are possible through structural modifications,” Ahmadinejad said....
The Iranian president attended the Majlis session to provide the Iranian lawmakers with the latest information about the country’s economy.
Ahmadinejad proposed four major ways to solve the country’s economic problems, namely the decentralization of the country’s wealth and assets, engaging the people in economic activities, making the utmost use of domestic resources and cutting the budget’s dependence on oil revenues.
And Ahmadinejaad's admission of the effect of US-led economic measures on the economy is reduced to, "He noted that the sanctions have been imposed on Iran to impede the country’s progress and development."
1352 GMT: Nuclear Watch. More confusion over a possible resumption of talks between Iran and the 5+1 Powers (US, Britain, Germany, France, China, and Russia)....
The Iranian Students News Agency had posted an item saying that the discussions had been set for 28-29 January.
The entry is now deleted, however and a member of the Iranian negotiating team has denied the report, according to journalist Mohammad Zaam.
Zaam adds, however, "Talks will be in last week of January, but not on 28th and 29th."
Asked about the ISNA reports, a spokesman for the 5+1's lead negotiatorCatherine Ashton said, "Contacts are still ongoing. We are waiting for the Iranians to respond."
The same man who described sanctions as "torn pieces of paper" last year said today, "We cannot say that the oil embargo has not caused any problems and pressures for the country and people. But we have to turn the sanctions into new opportunities and neutralize the sanctions by having less reliance on oil income."
0824 GMT: Ahmadinejad Watch. And now the political battle after the President's speech in Parliament....
Baztab chides Ahmadinejad for leaving quickly after his statement with the alleged declaration, "Sorry, I don't have time to listen to what you have to say."
Jahahshahi's wife says he has been imprisoned for four months without charge after he protested against corruption and a "land grab" in Sirjan.
Interestingly, the report appears not in an opposition outlet but on the "hard-line" site Nasim Online, which presents Jahanshahi as a supporter of the Supreme Leader.
0658 GMT: Nuclear Front. In the second big showpiece of the day, a high-level delegation from the International Atomic Energy Agency has arrived in Tehran for more talks over inspection and supervision of Iran's nuclear facilities.
The delegation, led by the IAEA’s Deputy Director General Herman Nackaerts, was welcomed by Iran's Ambassador to the Agency, Ali Asghar Soltanieh.
The two sides have manoeuvred for years over a protocol for the IAEA's activities to ensure access. Expect Western media --- especially those suspicious of the Islamic Republic --- to focus on the headline issue of the Parchin military base, with claims that it hosts a high-explosive container which can be used for military development of enriched uranium. Meanwhile, look for friendly words from Iran even if there is no progress towards an agreement.
0650 GMT: Ahmadinejad vs. Everyone Watch. The President's attempt to score a political victory in Parliament comes as he faces challenges on several fronts.
The latest threat from the judiciary is that his controversial senior aide Saeed Mortazavi will be suspended as head of the Social Security Funds, perhaps as early as next week, because of his alleged role in the abuses and killings at the Kahrizak detention centre after the disputed 2009 Presidential election.
And there is the running dispute, often carried out in coded warning, between Ahmadinejad and the Revolutionary Guards --- Ali Afshari summarises for Rooz Online:
Future events shall demonstrate whether the IRGC [Guards] will succeed in curtailing and negating the political aspirations of Ahmadinejad’s circle or whether the latter’s unconventional steps and acrobatics will prevail and dampen the political activities of the Guards.
0630 GMT: President Ahmadinejad has paid a 90-minute visit to Parliament this morning --- in the face of political in-fighting and criticism of his economic programme, as well as the context of June's Presidential election --- to defend his record.
Pro-Ahmadinejad State news agency IRNA portrays the President's speech as a call for unity against enemy threats to the economy. Ahmadinejad said "empathy" could turn those threats into opportunities, with his Administration ensuring a fair distribution of income and resources to assist those less well off.
The President also repeated his assertion that he would wean the Government budget from reliance of income from oil sales, which has provided more than 80% of export revenues.
Beyond the economic front, Ahmadinejad continued his presentation of the Islamic Republic v. the enemy, claiming that the latter was using the nuclear issue and human rights as a "pretext for hostility", justifying the imposition of sanctions.