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Iran Live Coverage: Has Tehran Agreed to Resume Nuclear Talks?

Sunday's confrontation between President Ahmadinejad and Speaker of Parliament Ali Larijani

See also Iran Analysis: Ahmadinejad Humiliated as Parliament Dismisses Minister
Sunday's Iran Live Coverage: First the Space Monkey, Now a New Fighter Jet

2146 GMT: Ahmadinejad In Space Watch. Now, on the lighter side of the news --- President Ahmadinejad has said that he is ready to be the first human to go into space in Iran's aeronautics programme.

Last week Tehran put a monkey on a satellite for the first time, reaching 75 miles above Earth. The head of the space programme declared this month that the Islamic Republic plans for a manned flight in four to five years.

2134 GMT: Nuclear Watch. There is still no clarity as to whether Iran has agreed to join the 5+1 Powers for nuclear talks in Kazakhstan on 25 February.

Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi, speaking in Berlin, has put out the positive signal, "I am optimistic. I feel this new [Obama] administration is really this time seeking to at least divert from its previous traditional approach vis-a-vis my country."

However, Salehi also expressed doubt over the US indication that it will engage in direct discussions with Tehran --- made by Vice President Joe Biden on sautrday --- and said that it was still very hard for Tehran to trust Washington: "How do we trust again this new gesture?"

2129 GMT: Top Ahmadinejad Advisor Arrested. Fars may have withdrawn the news, but the Prosecutor's Office maintains the one-sentence announcement: Saeed Mortazavi has been arrested.

2124 GMT: Top Ahmadinejad Advisor Arrested? Wait a minute --- has President advisor Saeed Mortazavi really been arrested?

Almost as soon as we posted the previous entry, Fars withdrew the news.

Here's the page before it was withdrawn.

2114 GMT: Top Ahmadinejad Advisor Arrested. Fars reports that, after three years of controversy, Presidential advisor Saeed Mortazavi has been arrested.

Mortazavi has been accused, as Tehran Prosecutor General in summer 2009, of complicity in the abuse and killing of post-election protesters in the Kahrizak detention centre.

Despite the claims, Mortazavi had never faced trial. The Ahmadinejad Government had also defied court orders to suspend him while the allegations were investigated --- instead, the President promoted him to head of the Social Security Funds.

On Sunday, critical MPs finally hit back, forcing the dismissal of the Minister of Labor. Ahmadinejad was humiliated by Speaker of Parliament Ali Larijani when he tried to intervene with a speech on behalf of the Minister.

2109 GMT: When A Plane Isn't a Plane Watch. The Aviationist offers more details on why the Qader (Conqueror) F-313 fighter jet unveiled by Iran on Sunday was probably a "mock-up" model, beginning with:

The size of the plane is weird. The cockpit seems to be too small, to such an extent a normal pilot doesn’t properly fit in the ejection seat. Have you ever seen a pilot with his knees above the side borders of the cockpit and his helmet well beyond the ejection seat’s head pad?

1002 GMT: The Humiliation of Ahmadinejad. Presidential advisor Abdolreza Davari rewrites Sunday's events --- Ahmadinejad defended the people's rights in the Majlis, and 80% approved of him in a phone poll after the session.

0924 GMT: Election Watch. Bloomberg profiles Tehran Mayor Mohammad-Baqer Qalibaf, a member of the three-man committee choosnig the "unity" candidate for June's Presidential election, as the possible victor of the contest in June.

0909 GMT: The Humiliation of Ahmadinejad. A couple more snapshots from Sunday's political drama....

MP Ali Motahari, a loud critic of the President, claims Ahmadinejad's long-time threat to expose his enemies through secret files has been dissipated: "It became apparent that his most important claims are at the levels of what was broadcast in Parliament.”

This from Tehran Emrooz, linked to Tehran Mayor Mohammad-Baqer Qalibaf, is a master of understatement over Parliament's dismissal of Ahmadinejad ally Abdolreza Sheikholeslami: "The Labor Minister became Unemployed".

0821 GMT: The Humiliation of Ahmadinejad. Fazel Larijani, accused by the President of corruption in a speech in Parliament on Sunday, has said that he will file a legal complaint against Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his aide Saeed Mortazavi for "spreading lies and disturbing public opinion".

Fazel Larijani is the brother of Speaker of Parliament Ali, who rebuffed Ahmadinejad with a devastating counter-attack, and head of judiciary Sadegh.

"This was a conspiratorial step and hypocritical action taken so that Mortazavi could use it as leverage," Fazel Larijani said. "I'm not the first person to be attacked by these Mafia-like individuals."

Mortazavi was the catalyst of Sunday's events. Accused of involvement in the abuse and killing of post-election protesters in detention, he has maintained his post as head of the Social Security Funds, despite court orders to step down.

MPs responded yesterday by voting for the dismissal of the Minister of Labor, accused of protecting Mortazavi.

0806 GMT: The Humiliation of Ahmadinejad. The opening to our Iran Analysis this morning:

Let's be clear. Sunday's confusion over whether Iran will attend renewed talks on its nuclear programme was not the most important story of the day.

That honour was taken by Parliament's removal of the Minister of Labour. Or, rather, it was the humiliation of President Ahmadinejad as he tried to prevent that dismissal.

A cartoon depicting Speaker of Parliament Ali Larijani's political mugging of Ahmadinejad:

0730 GMT: Nuclear Watch. It was a Sunday of confusion on the nuclear front, as Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi made the prominent --- but conflicting --- news.

All week, both Iran and the 5+1 Powers (US, Britain, China, Russia, Germany, and France) had put out signals of a willingness to return to the table. Washington even responded to Speaker of Parliament Ali Larijani's assurance that there were no "red lines" on bilateral talks --- Vice President Joe Biden said on Saturday that he would welcome the direct contact with Tehran.

Despite all this, my projection was that --- given weeks of inability to agree on a venue and date for the resumption of discussions, with each side blaming the other --- we would have to wait until autumn for any high-level session between Iran and the 5+1.

Then on Sunday, Salehi appeared to prove me wrong, as he welcomed the announcement that the 5+1 would gather in Kazakhstan on 25 February. State outlet Press TV then headlined, "Iran, P5+1 to meet on Feb. 25 in Kazakhstan: Salehi". Some Western press put out the good news.

But had the Foreign Minister really said that Tehran would be at the table? His initial statement was only that he was glad the other six Powers would assemble, not that Iran would join them.

Apart from Press TV, no Iranian State outlet proclaimed agreement. Instead, there was a confusion of Salehi's messages: "'Threats, Invitation to Talks Inconsistent"; "Iran, US Talks Not Forbidden Zone".

Our best assessment this morning is that the declaration of Iranian agreement was premature, based on an exaggeration of Salehi's remarks welcoming the 5+1 gathering in Kazakhstan. Press TV's "rogue" article declaring Tehran's acceptance was a recycling of the stories in the Western press, rather than a confirmation from the regime.

But that is only a best assessment. This morning we still do not know what has and has not been agreed.

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