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Iran Live Coverage: Nuclear Talks Resume on 26 February

See also Iran Audio Analysis: The Downfall of Ahmadinejad, The Resumption of Nuclear Talks --- Scott Lucas with the BBC and Monocle 24
Tuesday's Iran Live Coverage: Humiliation of Ahmadinejad Continues --- Advisor Mortazavi Arrested

2119 GMT:The Battle Within. Hamidreza Taraghi, a senior member of the conservative Motalefeh Party, has said that "the nezam [system] can bear Ahamadinejad, but has no problem with his dismissal either --- the,decision re bearing with him is with the Supreme Leader".

1819 GMT:Sanctions Watch. The US Treasury has sanctioned State broadcasters such as IRIB for helping the Government censor opposition.

The Treasury also named IRIB director Ezzatollah Zarghami and the FATA cyber-police in measures blocking access to the US financial system.

1719 GMT:Sanctions Watch. Ladane Nasseri of Bloomberg summarises the new American sanctions that come into effect today:

Under penalty of expulsion from the U.S. banking system, Iranian crude customers such as China, Japan and India will be restricted to using their own currencies for the purchases, starting today. Importers will be compelled to keep the payments in escrow accounts that Iran can use only for locally sourced goods and services, in what will amount to barter arrangements.

1707 GMT:Foreign Affairs Watch (Egyptian Front). Joanna Paraszczuk summarises Egyptian press reaction to the visit of President Ahmadinejad....

Al-Dawaa Al-Salafiya ("The Salafist Calling") issued a warning against Egyptian-Iranian rapprochement, saying that it may come at the expense of Egypt's higher interests and those of Sunnis. The Salafist group also said that Iran had given political and military support to the Assad regime in Syria and was therefore responsible for killing women and children there.

Al-Wafd, the daily newspaper of the liberal democratic Wafd Party, reported how Ahmadinejad expressed joy during a visit to Al-Azhar, Sunni Islam's highest seat of learning: "Egypt and the Egyptians have an important place in the hearts of Iranians."

Al-Masry Al-Youm summarised a meeting between Ahmadinejad and Egyptian newspaper editors and reporters, in which the Iranian president said Tehran is ready to expand its relationship with Egypt "in many areas".

Al-Ahram's report of the event quotes Ahmadinejad's criticism of Western powers and Israel, saying they were fomenting instability and portraying Iran as the "region's scarecrow". Ahmadinejad slammed Israel's recent airstrike on Syria and said it was trying to change facts in the region by launching wars. Iranians, he added, are a "peace-loving people".

Al Masry Al Youm reports comments by Mohamed Abou Samra, Secretary General of the Islamic Jihad Movement that Ahmadinejad's visit is "not a problem". Samra said Iran is seeking an alliance with Egypt so it can resist Israel and the US and that "the problem is that Egypt is taking a hostile position to Iran without any justification".

The website also reported a denial by Mojatba Amani, head of the Iranian Interests Office in Cairo, that there had been an attack on Ahmadinejad during his visit to the Imam Hussein Mosque. Video and reports indicated a Syrian man had flung a shoe at the President as he chanted against Tehran's suppport of the Assad regime.

Amani said the mosque had been filled with people waving banners and chanting support for Ahmadinejad and Iran.

1607 GMT:Sanctions Watch. The General Court of the European Union has ordering the lifting of sanctions against Bank Saderat, according to the bank's press service.

Last Week, the European Court of Justice annulled the EU sanctions imposed against Iranian Bank Mellat in 2010.

The effects of the decisions are largely symbolic, as the restrictions on the banks have been superseded by wider sanctions.

1522 GMT:The Battle Within. The Tehran Prosecutor's office has said that investigations of Presidential advisor Saeed Mortazavi, released from prison on bail early this morning, and Fzzel Larijani have started.

Mortazavi and Larijani are at the centre of the current legal and political dispute after President Amadinejad presented an audio tape of their meeting, during his Sunday attempt in Parliament to tag the Larijani family as corrupt.

1442 GMT:The Battle Within. An interesting intervention from head of judiciary Sadegh Larijani, following his meeting with the Supreme Leader yesterday, which keeps pressure on the President but without displaying outright confrontation.

Larijani said that Ahmadinejad has been "found guilty for slander" after his allegations against the Larijani family on Sunday on the floor of Parliament; however, the judiciary added that he will "remain silent because of the Supreme Leader" and will speak about the "deviant current" --- Ahmadinejad's inner circle --- later.

1435 GMT:Elections Watch. Soulat Mortazavi of the Elections Commission has made the provocative statement that the Endurance Front, established by Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi and other "hard-liners" for the 2012 Parliamentary elections, has no right to engage in political activity because it lacks a permit.

1213 GMT:Everything’s Fine Watch. Fars News is keen to stress the regime’s economic strength, in spite of the US-led sanctions.

Ahmad Qalebani, the head of the National Iranian Oil Company, has announced that Iran’s oil revenues in the calendar year ending 20 March 2012 reached $110 billion.

Meanwhile, Foreign Ministry Spokesman, Ramin Mehman-Parast, has claimed that the sanctions, rather than hurting the Iranian economy, have given Tehran the opportunity to decrease its economic dependence on oil.

0949 GMT:Mortazavi Watch. First Vice President Mohammad Reza Rahimi has stated that, following his release from prison this morning, Presidential advisor Saeed Mortazavi is still the head of the Social Security Funds.

The Government has repeatedly defied court orders to remove Mortazavi as head of the organisation, amid accusations of his involvement in the abuse and killing of post-election protesters in summer 2009.

0849 GMT: Ahmadinejad Watch. I have argued for months that, in a sign of his diminished authority, President Ahmadinejad has been pushed to the side in the regime's consideration of nuclear talks, both with the 5+1 Powers and directly with the US. A curious headline story in Iranian State media offers confirmation this morning:

Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad says the Islamic Republic will study the US proposal for direct talks provided that Washington makes positive changes in its behavior.

“Remarks by US officials are new and positive and we hope that positive changes are made in their behavior too. If we witness positive changes in their behavior, then we will study it (the proposal) with a positive attitude,” Ahmadinejad said in a meeting with the editors-in-chief of Egyptian media in Cairo on Tuesday night.

Why is the statement curious?

Because Ahmadinejad's declaration was the line of regime officials on Sunday and Monday. By the time he spoke on Tuesday night, Tehran had agreed to renewed talks with the 5+1 Powers on 26 February.

0839 GMT: Larijani v. Ahmadnejad. The fallout from his political showdown with President Ahmadinejad on Sunday has not settled, but Speaker of Parliament Ali Larijani is already making a new challenge --- he has emphasised that the Majlis has not agreed to the second phase of the President's subsidy cuts plans.

Reports circulated in late January that, after the intervention of the Supreme Leader, a compromise had been reached to end Parliament's block of the second phase.

0830 GMT: Presidential Advisor Mortazavi Out of Prison. A fellow journalist connects the dot in our previous entry to ask an important question:

Looks like Mortazavi has been released

Fars is reporting that [head of judiciary] Sadegh Larijani had a meeting with [Supreme Leader] Khamenei yesterday.

Does this indicate to you that perhaps Khamenei didn’t actually know about Mortazavi’s detention?

My reply:

I guess it is possible that the Supreme Leader was not clear that arrest would be made after Sunday's showdown with President Ahmadinejad in Parliament --- I would be surprised if his office was completely in the dark.

My speculation --- and I can't establish this right now --- is that Supreme Leader and Sadegh Larijani "calibrated" the step. Two nights for Mortazavi in "Evin Hotel" were enough to make the point to Ahmadinejad.

0734 GMT: Presidential Advisor Mortazavi Out of Prison. Saeed Mortazavi --- senior Presidential advisor, head of the Social Security Funds, former Tehran Prosecutor General --- has been released from Evin Prison after his arrest on Monday night.

It is not clear if Mortazavi had to post bail.

The release came after head of judiciary Sadegh Larijani reportedly had an urgent meeting with the Supreme Leader.

Earlier news claimed the Ahmadinejad advisor had been detained over "illegal possession of Government property". The Tehran Prosecutor General's office would not comment.

0730 GMT: Press Watch. Baztab, a conservative website which has been sharply critical of the Government, has been off-line since Tuesday amid reports of heavy cyber-attacks.

Baztab was also briefly knocked out amid last week's regime crackdown on the media.

0620 GMT: Nuclear Watch. After weeks of manoeuvring and apparent deadlock, Iran and the 5+1 Powers (US, Britain, France, Germany, China, Russia) have agreed to resume nuclear talks on 26 February in Kazakhstan.

Talks about talks in December and January failed to establish a date and venue for high-level negotiations, including a last-minute collapse of an arrangement to meet in Istanbul at the end of last month. The sticking point has been the agenda: the US and Europe had not moved far from the "stop, ship, and shut" demand that Iran cease its enrichment of 20% uranium and send all stocks out of the country. Tehran has insisted that any move towards suspension must be matched from the outset by a recognition of its right to enrich, say to 5%, and an easing of sanctions.

There was no indication yesterday how this dispute was resolved to the point where the two sides would go to Kazakhstan, their first meeting since last June in Moscow.

In two interviews on Tuesday --- to be posted on EA later this morning --- I argue that the discussions are unlikely to bring resolution and are probably a "place-holder" before Iran has to focus on the domestic priority of June's Presidential elections. They are significant, however, because they put out the image of continuing talks --- thus staving off the alternative, opposed by both sides, of an Israeli military attack on Iran's nuclear facilities.

What is unclear, however, is how Iran will cope with several more months of sanctions, assuming there is no immediate breakthrough. A new round of US sanctions, seeking to choke off Tehran's financial transactions, is due for implementation today.

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