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Iran Live Coverage: Looking for Energy Deals

Iran Live Coverage: "UN Human Rights Investigator Bribed by US", Regime Claims

2105 GMT: All the President's Men (Trial Edition). Presidential advisor Saeed Mortazavi has been in the second court hearing in his trial for complicity in the abuse and murder of post-election protesters in Kahrizak detention centre in summer 2009.

Mortazavi, who was Tehran Prosecutor General at the time, claimed he was on vacation during the time of Kahrizak. He also questioned the competence of the judge to hear the case.

Mortazavi's defence will continue tomorrow.

Abdolhossein Ruholamini, the conservative political advisor whose son was killed in Kahrizak, said Mortazavi showed no sign of regret and will tell "untold details" in the next court session.

1835 GMT: CyberWatch. MP Ramezanali Sobhani-Fard, the head of Parliament's Information and Communications Technology Committee has confirmed Saturday's news --- see EA's Live Coverage --- that Virtual Private Networks, allowing Iranians to get around filtering of websites and surveillance, have been shut off.

"Within the last few days illegal VPN ports in the country have been blocked," said Sobhani-Fard. "Only legal and registered VPNs can from now on be used."

Officials have said that Iranians can sign up for the "legal" VPNs via a Government website, but that has been inaccessible since soon after its launch.

Internet users have confirmed the blocks: "VPNs are cut off. They've shut all the ports." Internet services like Skype and Viber, used for phone calls, have also been blocked.

1805 GMT: Currency Watch. Ministry of Industry Mehdi Ghazanfari has said that the Government and Iranians must accept that the Iranian Rial will never return to an exchange rate of 10000:1 vs. the US dollar. Instead, they must prepare for a long-term tate of 30000:1 to 40000:1.

The Government still maintains an official rate of 12260 Rials to the US dollar; however, the open-market rate --- after a 70% fall in the Rial's value in 2012 --- is about 37000:1.

1355 GMT: Nuclear Watch. The Iranian Students News Agency sets out Tehran's current line through comments from an unnamed Iranian diplomat, "close to the nuclear talks".

Doing so, it points to Iran's idea of a deal. The West will publicly acknowledge Iran's right to enrich, lift sanctions, and ensure a guaranteed supply of 20% uranium. In return, Tehran will restrict its activities to 5% enrichment.

The diplomat said that the West's proposal was "not new", although the 5+1 Powers had put forward a "few fresh points" compared to past negotiations --- in particular, the removal of the demand to shut the Fordoo nuclear plant and the removal of centrifuge cascades currently used to enrich uranium to 20%.

The source said that, after sufficient enriched uranium to power the Tehran Research Reactor is produced, the material should be converted to fuel rods, which cannot be used in a military programme. If Iran produces surplus 20% uranium, then it will be sent to a third country under the supervision of the International Atomic Energy Agency for a period of six months "while the issues are resolved".

The diplomat maintained that the West had implicitly accepted Iran's right to enrich, saying this should be "understood from the context" of the 5+1's new position.

The source also said out the West's proposal for sanctions relief. This would begin initially with removal of the ban on transfer of gold and precious metals and blocks on aircraft parts. Later in the process, part of the oil embargo and restrictions on the financial sector would be lifted.

The diplomat said the proposal as "unbalanced" but said it was a step "closer to reality". He added that the technical experts' meeting on 17-18 March, in advance of next month's meeting with the 5+1 Powers, will move toward resolution of some issues.

1105 GMT: Nuclear Watch. The Iranian press continues to watch --- and take advantage of --- opinion pieces in Western media about last month's high-level talks between Iran and the 5+1 Powers.

Tabnak, close to presidential candidate Mohsen Rezaei, has seized on a piece in Foreign Policy magazine by Mark D. Wallace and Kristen Silverberg of United Against a Nuclear Iran. The two activists aruge that an offer by world powers to ease sanctions in return for Iranians concessions has boosted Tehran's internal propaganda efforts and allowed it to continue to pursue a nuclear weapon.

Noting that UANI had called sanctions relief "half-baked", Tabnak asks what "game" Iran "won" in the 26-27 February discussions in Kazakhstan --- since the West, with commentary such as that of UANI, continues to pressure Iran.

At the same time, however, the Iranian outlet tries to take advantage, saying that opinions such as that of Wallace and Silverberg show that sanctions are not working.

0845 GMT: Budget Watch. Parliament has approved a three-month stopgap budget as it considers the Government's general budget proposals for 2013/14.

The budget, submitted almost three months late, increased Government spending by 31% this year despite a sharp reduction in oil revenues.

0615 GMT: Political Prisoner Watch. HRANA reports that Iman Amiri, a student at Malmo University in Sweden, was arrested on 21 February during a visit to Iran.

0605 GMT: Energy Watch. As part of the line that Tehran is successfully defying US-led sanctions, the Iranian media are playing up stories of imminent deals on major energy projects with Iran's neighbours.

This morning the Tehran Times is pushing the story of a visit by Minister of Oil Rustam Qasemi to Baghdad, discussing the implementation of a deal to export Iranian gas to Iraq. Qassemi reportedly met Iraq's Deputy Minister of Oil Falah al-Ameri and Minister of Electricity Karim Aftan.

The Iraqi Government also has consented to a preliminary agreement to build oil and natural gas pipelines from Iran through Iraq to Syria. Iranian officials have said that Tehran aims to extend the pipeline to Lebanon.

State media and officials have also been headlining that Pakistan --- despite American pressure --- will confirm an important agreement with Iran to construct a gas pipeline. Pakistani President Asif Zardari and his Iranian counterpart Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will inaugurate the project in Pakistan's border town of Gabd this week.

The two countries also will sign a memorandum of understanding to build Pakistan’s largest oil refinery at the southwestern port city of Gwadar at a cost of $4 billion.

Tehran's oil exports were cut in half in 2012 amid sanctions, and foreign companies have been pulling out of key projects, for example in the South Pars gas and energy fields, because of concerns over finance and technology.

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