Iran Live Coverage: The Supreme Leader's Committee Chooses the "Right Man" for the Presidential Election
1859 GMT: Justice Watch. The first hearing in the trial of judges accused of involvement in the abuses and killings at the Kahrizak detention centre will be held on 26 February, Iran Prosecutor General Gholam Hossein Mohseni-Ejei has announced.
At least three post-election protesters were slain at the centre. No senior official has yet been convicted over the incident.
There was no indication by Hossein Ejei that Presidential advisor Saeed Mortazavi, long accused of possible involvement in his then-role as Tehran Prosecutor General, will be brought to court.
Sadeq Saba, head of BBC Persian, said, "In comparison to previous round of harassment, this time the language they were using in Iran [against the family members] was more threatening."
Members of journalists' families have been summoned to the Ministry of Intelligence service headquarters for questioning. One journalist whose parents were interrogated several times said they were told he should stop working for the BBC or risk being killed.
Pro-regime activists have set up fake Facebook accounts and blogs, purporting to belong to BBC journalists or their Iranian colleagues. For example, the real BBCPersian.com has a fake counterpart, persianbbc.ir, with the same design and fonts but completely different content such as "Death of Bin Laden, Saddam Hussein: Fabricated Stories by Washington".
In one case, a fake Facebook account has Nafiseh Kouhnavard, a presenter on BBC Persian's talkshow Your Turn, "confessing" to a culture of extramarital relationships among the channel's journalists: "Swinging...is not only limited to me, in fact it is common and normal here."
The Facebook falsehood was picked up by the Vatan-e-Emrooz daily and republished by State-affiliated news organisations.
In another article, Vatan-e-Emrooz introduces Kouhnevard as a spy for the British secret service, fleeing Iran illegally through the mountains with the help of an agent named Ghazanfar.
In fact, Ghazanfar is the name of the journalist's rooster doll, often referred to on her real Facebook page.
Iranian journalists at Radio Farda, the Persian service of Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty (RFERL), and several of their freelance colleagues working for independent media have also been targeted.
1636 GMT: Food Watch. The State outlet Tehran Times has indicated --- perhaps unwittingly --- the depth of the country's economic struggles. It reports that about 17 million Iranians, more than 20% of the population will receive staple food coupons.
The news follows warning in Parliament that further Government subsidy cuts would affect basic food and household items and the allocation of $2 billion from the National Development Fund to support low-income families.
The food coupons will cover rice, sugar, and edible oil, distributed among the two poorest strata of society.
1620 GMT: Nuclear Watch. Tony Karon, writing for Time magazine, joins the requiem for nuclear talks (see 1430 GMT).
The article is muddled --- and it leaves out key information, like Iran's offer this week to re-start high-level talks in Cairo --- but it does go beyond this week's spin of Western officials by trying to give a picture of the approach of Tehran and its desire for a quid-pro-quo negotiation.
Unfortunately, this is undone by an article which places the onus for lack of progress on Iran, "Why Tehran Plays Hard to Get on Nuclear Diplomacy".
1430 GMT: Nuclear Watch. It looks like the window may have closed on Iranian nuclear talks with 5+1 Powers until the autumn.
That's the best way to read this week's rush of stories, fed by Western officials, throwing cold water on any negotiations. Despite --- or, rather, because of --- Tehran's proposal for talks in Cairo, US and European spokesmen, unnamed diplomats, and supportive "analysts" are trying nail blame on the Islamic Republic.
The timing is significant because, with its Presidential election on the way, Iran is unlikely to pursue the resumption of talks from February until after a new Government is inaugurated in August.
Al Monitor and Reuters carried appropriate stories yesterday, and now AFP jumps in:
More than two months after US President Barack Obama's re-election opened the way for new six-power nuclear talks with Iran, no date or location for their first meeting since June has been set.
The apparent scheduling woes have combined with recent comments from an Iranian official to raise concerns that the unprecedented sanctions pressure imposed on Iran over its nuclear programme has failed to make the country more pliable -- on the contrary even.
In these stories, there is little substantial analysis of the issues, such as Iran's proposal to trade a suspension of 20% uranium enrichment for sanctions relief. Instead, there are the pre-emptive explanations of why this cannot be considered:"If the multilateral sanctions are lifted too soon in the negotiating process, should the negotiation ultimately fail it may be very difficult to restore them," according to Mark Hibbs from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
And there are the denunciation of Tehran:
"I wouldn't be surprised if this stage of pre-talk negotiations drags on for a while," Mark Fitzpatrick from the International Institute for Strategic Studies told AFP. "But it is dangerous for Iran to play with this game."
1310 GMT: Political Endorsement of the Day. In a meeting with selected people in Gilan Province, President Ahmadinejad has reportedly invoked a powerful supporter for his subsidy cuts programme --- he said it was a plan of the Hidden Imam.
Parliament has blocked the implementation of the second phase of the programme.
Someone who perpetrates a crime, regardless of doctrinal inclination, or tribal [affiliation], is treated accordingly and in fact no one in the country is imprisoned for the beliefs they have or adhering to a particular religion…With the occurrence of a crime and treatment of a criminal, the law does not recognize Shia, Sunni or Bahai.
Esmaili's declaration follows the statement of MP Safar Naeimi, a member of a Parliamentary delegation who visited Evin Prison, that detainees live in comfort: "From now on, I will call it Hotel Evin, rather than Evin prison."
MP Mohammadreza Mohseni-Sani said inmates "had no complaints regarding security, health, nutrition and the facilities provided at the prison".
1145 GMT: Nuclear Watch. Back from an academic break to find both Reuters and The National reporting on concerns about the safety of Iran's first nuclear plant at Bushehr.
Reuters begins with the worries of villagers, expressed in a blog entry in 2010, "We are extremely worried about our health and the health of our families."
Michael Theodoulou of The National takes a different opening line, "Iran Tries to Calm Fears Over Nuclear Power Plant":
Iran says it is preparing to join a key global atomic safety convention, a move that could ease long-standing concerns among its Arabian Gulf neighbours about the Islamic republic's only nuclear power plant.
0645 GMT: Engineering an Election Watch. This month has been marked by a series of telling exchanges about June's Presidential election.
The Supreme Leader put out the edict that, while the Islamic Republic's elections are always free, no one should speak of "free elections" because this would aid the enemy. Despite the warning, former Presidents Hashemi Rafsanjani and Mohammad Khatami have continued to utter the troublesome two words.
Ayatollah Khamenei's representative with the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps said it was the "duty" of the Guards to "engineer" the election; the Guards, somewhat embarrassed, said they would not engineer an election for a particular candidate --- their "duty" was to ensure the largest possible participation in the vote.
All of this pointed to the central question, five months before the ballot: how can the highest levels of the regime declare free elections --- without, of course, saying "free elections" --- but ensure that the right man wins?
We now have an emerging answer. A committee of three men --- the Supreme Leader's top advisor Ali Akbar Velayati, Tehran Mayor Mohammad-Baqer Qalibaf, and Gholam Haddad Adel, leading of the Principlist faction in Pa5rliament --- are speaking with leading politicians and clerics about a "unity" candidate.
While we have known of the committee for weeks, and while it is not exactly deep thinking to ascertain what they are seeking, it is interesting to see Velayati confirm the mission in a public interview --- albeit without quite saying "engineering" or "fixing".
A strong government is a collection of able individuals, who are directed by a strong manager. On this basis we three individuals comprising this coalition, who in the future election in the form of a single, harmonious and coordinated team, will offer ourselves and in truth, enter the electoral fray for people to vote for one team.
The Supreme Leader's aide added, "In our view no important political movement can be undertaken in the country without relation to the clergy."
We may not know for many weeks which man has been nominated, but the process indicates:
1) The Supreme Leader's camp and other leading regime figures wish to put down a marker versus rivals, notably President Ahmadinejad and his inner circle.
2) The committee is particularly concerned that the "hard-liners" of the Endurance Front, who emerged as a faction in 2012 with a list of candidates in the Parliamentary elections, are brought behind a single choice for President.
3) While the process is under way, Ahmadinejad's political foes --- notably Speaker of Parliament Ali Larijani --- can continue criticism of the Government, but without making a head-on challenge such as open charges of corruption or a move for impeachment.
4) No one involved in the selection of the "unity" candidate will say "engineering" or "free elections".