See also Iran Audio Feature: Hype & Reality from Syria to "Explosion at Nuclear Plant" --- Scott Lucas with Monocle 24 br>
Friday's Iran Live Coverage: Tehran Mayor --- Why We Are Engineering the Presidential Election
1622 GMT: Nuclear Snap Analysis. The headline from the Munich Security Conference is of a statement by US Vice President Joe Biden that Washington is ready for direct talks with Tehran and that it is past time for Tehran to negotiate seriously.
Biden's declaration has been complemented by a message from European Union foreign policy head Catherine Ashton, the lead negotiator for the 5+1 Powers. German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle added that, despite the failure to resume high-level discussions, there was no reason for military action, a point echoed by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
1. In the short-term, both Tehran and the US-European bloc are trying to lay blame for the inability to agree on talks on the other side.
2. Talks about talks will now be put on the back-burner while the Iranian regime concentrates on the Presidential election in June.
2. Most importantly, both sides are signalling that --- despite the effective suspension of diplomatic efforts --- they are ready to pick up the negotiations in the autumn.
Biden's statement follows the pointed message of Speaker of Parliament Ali Larijani on Monday that there are no "red lines" against direct talks with the Americans. What's more, Larijani invoked the name of the Supreme Leader in making that statement.
The appointment is an effective admission by Ahmadinejad that he has failed, for now, to merge the Ministries of Communications and of Roads and Transport into a new "super-Ministry" of Infrastructure.
Ahmadinejad wanted to name his political ally Ali Nikzad, currently Minister of Roads and Transport, as head of the new "super-Ministry", but the merger was blocked by Parliament.
1522 GMT: Foreign Affairs Watch (Syrian Front). Saeed Jalili, the Secretary of the Supreme National Security Council, is in Damascus today for meetings with President Assad, Prime Minister Wael al-Halki, and Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem.
Jalili was last in Syria in August. No details were given of the reason for this visit.
1138 GMT: Currency Watch. Yeganeh Torbati reports a 4% bounce-back for the Iranian Rial:
#Iran rial now around 38,550 to US dollar, traders say, strengthening quite a bit in Saturday's trade. Was hovering near 40k earlier this wk— Yeganeh June Torbati (@yjtorbati) February 2, 2013
1121 GMT: Posture of the Day. State TV's coverage of the unveiling of the Qaher (Conqueror) fighter jet this morning:
The Iran Military News blog has more information, including the analysis that the displayed plane may be a "mock-up" model, and pictures. The Aviationist goes farther: "[Qaher] seems to be nothing more than a large mock up model (not properly sized to accomodate a real pilot)."
1035 GMT: Clerical Intervention. Ayatollah Bayat Zanjani has declared that the Islamic Republic is in an "indefensible situation", with the 2-year house arrests of opposition leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi and with economic problems due to mismanagement.
The warplane "is among the most advanced fighter jets in the world", Ahmadinejad told senior staff of the Ministry of Defense. He said it was "a deterrent" meant to send a "message of peace".
Minister of Defense Ahmad Vahidi said the plane, with its "advanced materials", had a very low radar signature and "advanced electro-avionics systems".
0955 GMT: Food Watch. Claimed footage of a queue for subsidised rice in Sabzevar in northeastern Iran on Thursday:
0825 GMT: Political Prisoner Watch. Marking two years since the imprisonment of physics Ph.D. student Omid Kokabee, his classmates at the University of Texas have released a short film calling for his release.
“We hope to bring awareness about Omid for the sake of his justice and freedom,” the Texas students said. The website freeomid.org has collected several petitions and open letters on Kokabee’s behalf and set out action that concerned people can take over his situation.
Kokabee was arrested in February 2011 during a visit to Iran on charges of “communicating with a hostile government” and “illegal earnings”. He was sentenced to 10 years in a brief trial in May 2012.
0805 GMT: Press Watch. Reza Moini of Reporters Without Borders speaks with EuroNews about this week's arrests of 16 journalists: "[The Ministry of Intelligence] continues to level accusations against journalists and this, in our view, is not right and does nothing to address the crisis in Iran. The fact of the matter is that, despite all the red lines and all the existing censorship, journalists in Iran are trying to provide information that the Islamic Republic regime cannot tolerate.”
0705 GMT: Engineering the Elections Watch. Early this week the Supreme Leader's top advisor, Ali Akbar Velayati, explained why and how a three-man committee was finding the right "unity" candidate to win June's Presidential election.
On Thursday, Tehran Mayor Mohammad-Baqer Qalibaf said, "We have no option other than to move wisely and in unity based on a plan for realization of progress and justice....[We are] close to introducing the most qualified, acceptable, and capable choice in the current sensitive situation."
Yesterday, it was the turn of the third member of the committee, leading Principlist MP Gholam Ali Haddad Adel:
In polling, we came to the conclusion that if all three of us enter the race it is possible that the principlist vote would be broken. We formed a coalition so that one person amongst these three would enter the elections and [avoid making] the same past mistake.
Haddad Adel added --- amid the regime's current warnings over talks of "free elections" --- that while
“there may be disagreement over the preference of Qalibaf and Velayati...they announced their posture after the sedition" of the protests after the disputed 2009 Presidential ballot.
Perhaps more interestingly, the MP tipped off one of the biggest challenges for the Supreme Leader's men. Admitting "economic problems" in Iran, he said, "Part...are due to the enemies’ conspiracies and sanctions, and these problems have to be managed.”
And will Haddad Adel be the chosen one to become President? He said, “We have to see what will be the result of this coalition.”