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Iran Live Coverage: The Blame Game over No Nuclear Talks

See also Iran Feature: The Week in Civil Society --- Political Prisoners and Public Executions
Friday's Iran Live Coverage: Wishing Away The Economic Problems

1814 GMT: Political Prisoner Watch. Mehdi Mahmoudian, journalist and member of the reformist Islamic Iran Participation Front, has been released from prison on furlough.

Mahmoudian is serving a five-year sentence for assembly and collusion against the regime.

1744 GMT: Foreign Affairs Watch (Syrian Front). With the first NATO Patriot anti-missile systems operational on the Turkish border with Syria, Minister of Defense Ahmad Vahidi has renewed Tehran's criticism of Ankara, “We do not consider the presence of these Patriot systems as beneficial and believe that it will cause misunderstanding among the regional countries."

1737 GMT: Health Watch. Seyed Alireza Marandai --- former Minister of Health, prominent MP, and President of Iran's Academy of Medical Sciences --- has written a second letter to United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon about the effect of sanctions of the Iranian health care system:

I put you on notice that your silence and indifference to the threats directed at the health and well being of the Iranian people as a result of the illegal and inhumane financial sanctions, has no moral justification and history will remember your actions.

1416 GMT: Soft War Watch. Masoud Jazayeri, the deputy head of Iran's armed forces, has said the military have established a “soft war” base and a “Film and Cinema Thinking Room".

“This is a base related to the whole country and it is not just linked to the armed forces but set to assist us in both soft and rough war situations, helping us to set out media and promotional activities,” Jazayeri said.

1346 GMT: Economy Watch. Minister of Economy Shamseddin Hosseini has modified the Supreme Leader's notion of the "resistance economy" to say that smaller goals "must be sacrificed" for the largest one.

The Minister's declaration was a prelude to comment that the price of energy must be increased in Iran, amid corruption and fuel smuggling.

1206 GMT: Political Prisoner Watch. Singer Arya Aramnejad has been released from Babol Prison.

Aramnejad, prominent for his songs on the Internet challenging the regime, was given a one-year sentence in April 2012.

1200 GMT: Currency Watch. The Arya site unofficially puts the "street rate" of the Iranian Rial at 34750:1 vs. the US dollar.

The Rial dropped almost 10% last weekend amid reports of the possible resignation or dismissal of the head of the Central Bank, but it has stabilised since then.

The regime has banned posting of open-market currency rates since October.

1036 GMT: The House Arrests. Cleric Jafar Shojuni has offered a novel explanation for the 23-month house arrest of opposition leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karoubi: "They are free --- the State is guarding them from the wrath of the people."

1012 GMT: The House Arrests. The internal dispute over the house arrests of opposition leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi (see 0810 GMT) rumbles on....

Ayatollah Alamolhoda, the Mashhad Friday Prayer leader, swiped at leading politician Habibollah Asgarouladi, who has said Mousavi and Karroubi are not seditious: "We cannot overlook the crimes of the 2009 fitna [sedition]....Mr. Asgarouladi first must answer whether Mousavi and Karroubi were led astray knowingly or unknowingly.”

In contrast, MP Ali Motahari wrote Asgarouladi to thank him for his stand: “It is necessary for me to congratulate your Excellency for his position regarding Mr. Mousavi and Mr. Karroubi, that you called them fitneh-zadeh [affected by deviation] not deviators.”

Speaker of Parliament Ali Larijani said that, if Mousavi and Karroubi "admit their mistakes", then they "can return to the system".

1005 GMT: Sedition Watch. Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami, the hard-line Friday Prayer leader, has offered a little admission --- but just a little one --- of the economic problems facing the country.

Speaking on Friday in the northern city of Amol, Khatami said, “We...are aware of recent rising prices and the suffering of the people and we also suffer, but the people of Iran have shown that they will not change a life informed by Ashura [the religious commemoration of the death of Imam Hossein] with a worldly one.”

Khatami then struck a defiant pose, “The President of America himself said on 1 July that as a result of sanctions Iran will capitulate in a month....[American] demands were not realised.”

The clerics also had some chiding words for the "seditious" inside Iran:

The Global Arrogance’s [the West] 34 years of defeat is due to a lack of understanding of the Iranian nation.

I provide friendly advice to the sedition: instead of stubbornness and insistence on past mistakes, join the nation and return to the fold by seeking forgiveness from the Supreme Leader and the Iranian nation.

0905 GMT: Foreign Affairs Watch (Syrian Front). The revelation of the Supreme Leader's top advisor, Ali Akbar Velayati, about nuclear talks (see 0755 GMT) may be missed by Western media as they headline his tough declaration on the Syrian conflict: "Syria has a very basic and key role in the region for promoting firm policies of resistance....For this reason an attack on Syria would be considered an attack on Iran and Iran's allies."

0817 GMT: Economy Watch. Writing for German State Radio, Reinhard Baumgarten offers an overview of economic problems, including rising prices and shortages of essential products.

0810 GMT: The House Arrests. The children of detained opposition leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi and Zahra Rahnavard have said they have had no contact with their parents for two months.

Mousavi and Rahnavard, along with fellow opposition leader Mehdi Karroubi, were placed under strict house arrest in February 2011. Mousavi and Karroubi were both candidates in the disputed 2009 Presidential election.

The children called the situation a "kidnapping" and expressed concern about the health of their parents.

0755 GMT: The Secret US-Iran Talks. This is a curious but telling denial from the Supreme Leader's top advisor on foreign policy, Ali Akbar Velayati:

I have held no talks with the Americans neither in Oman nor any other country,

Velayati's denial refers to a "back-channel" discussions that he supposedly had with US officials last October, in an effort to find common ground on Iran's nuclear programme. That disucssion followed secret US-Iran contacts in Turkey, but after October, the "back-channel" trial went cold --- apparently Tehran and Washington could not reach agreement on a proposal linking Tehran's suspension of enrichment of 20% uranium to removal of Western sanctions.

Here's the curiosity. EA --- based on well-placed sources inside Iran --- was perhaps the only Western news outlet to report the Velayati discussion.

See Iran Exclusive: Did Supreme Leader's Top Advisor Meet US Officials in Qatar?

So why has the Supreme Leader's aide suddenly put out his "No, Not Me". Could it be from concern that --- with the prospect of high-level nuclear talks probably gone for months --- Velayati fears other media will suddenly discover his travels in Oc

0715 GMT: Nuclear Watch. More signals on Friday that there will be no talks between Iran and the 5+1 Powers (US, Britain, France, Germany, China, and Russia) over Tehran's nuclear programme before the Iranian Presidential election in June....

Last week Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi proposed that the high-level discussions, last held in Moscow in June, resume soon in Cairo. The US and European Union made no response to that offer, saying instead that Tehran was procrastinating over terms for significant talks.

On Friday, Fars News Agency said Helga Schmid, the deputy negotiator for the 5+1 Powers, had called her Iranian counterpart Ali Bagheri. She allegedly asked for a delay in the date for talks to February “because the P5+1 isn’t ready”.

Michael Mann, spokesperson for lead 5+1 negotiator Catherine Ashton, threw back the claim, "Nonsense....The reason for the hold-up is not the 3+3 [5+1 Powers]. Iran is constantly moving the goalposts. We are ready and have been for a long time.”

Western officials have already revealed the deadlock behind the rhetoric, telling reporters that the 5+1 Powers will not make significant changes to their proposal from last June. "Stop, ship, and shut" demands that Iran halt enrichment of 20% uranium, send all existing stock outside the country, and close its second enrichment plant at Fordoo.

The Iranians have made clear, through their proposals of step-by-step reciprocity, that they will only give up 20% enrichment for significant sanctions relief and recognition of their right to enrich uranium, probably to 5%.

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