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Iran Live Coverage: Getting Over-Excited About a US Drone

See also Iran Special: How Western Media Missed The Important Story from Israel
Thursday's Iran Live Coverage: The Clerics Vs. Ahmadinejad

2035 GMT: Media Watch. Reader Arshama (see Comments) brings the story that Serat News, reportedly close to the Basij militia, is on-line again after being blocked by the Filtering Commission today.

Farda News claimed that the filtering occurred after Serat ran a story about a "certain political group". Reportedly the site posted a video linking the pro-Ahmadinejad group that interrupted Speaker of Parliament Ali Larijani's speech, in Qom on the anniversary of the Islamic Revolution, to the hard-line Constancy Front.

The offending article has now disappeared.

1805 GMT: Economy Watch. Asadollah Asgarouladi, the prominent businessman who is head of the Iran-China Chamber of Commerce and Industries, has warned that Chinese investment in the Islamic Republic in 2011 “had reached close to $3 billion, but in 2012 this...had only reached $400 million.”

Asked by a reporter what could be done, Asgaroladi said, “This is the weak point of management. The reason merchants bring in inferior goods is that we have not been able to produce these goods domestically ourselves.”

While appearing to put the blame on internal factors, Asgaroladi added, “Wwe have still not been able to be free [from the effects] of sanctions. The Americans have carrots in one hand and a hammer in the other, and we do not accept this type of politics.”

Asgaroladi predicted another difficult economic year amid Presidential elections in June, . “Political fighting will push the issue of the economy to the side before the elections" and then "the new government must specify their plan and then have their ministers approved, and this process will go until the end of the year”.

1535 GMT: The House Arrests. The daughters of detained opposition leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi and Zahra Rahnavard were finally allowed to visit their parents on Wednesday.

It was the first visit in almost four months for Mousavi and Rahnavard, held under strict house arrest since February 2011. Mehdi Karroubi, a candidate in the 2009 Presidential election alongside Mousavi, is also in confinement.

The daughters have also been faced pressure and harassment, including interrogation in Evin Prison, in recent weeks.

1415 GMT: Your Tehran Friday Prayers Update. Ayatollah Jannati, the head of the Guardian Council, took the podium today with a message about the economy. He noted that Iran was suffering "crippling inflation" and said it was not possible to ignore the poor: "We don't know if things will be better in the future or if there will be more. We hope that things will get better."

And any blame? Jannati appeared to be looking at the Ahmadinejad Government:

Some people want to put all the blame on sanctions which is something the experts do not agree on. There have been sanctions but there has also been mismanagement and misguided policies and those have also contributed to causing this situation.

1150 GMT: Economy Watch. The reformist outlet Shargh claims that people have lost 50% of their purchasing power ahead of Iranian New Year next week.

The newspaper asserts that price rises are now "incalculable".

1050 GMT: Foreign Affairs (US Watch). Khabar Online, close to Speaker of Parliament Ali Larijani, publishes comments --- previously posted on the Supreme Leader's website --- from Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian about direct talks between the US and Iran.

Abdollahian, a member of the negotiation team during Tehran's bilateral talks with Washington on Iraq in 2007 -- noted that Iran's "red line" had been to talk only about Iraq, and nothing else.

While Iran had been "rational" in the talks, according to Abdollahian, the US had made "irrational moves" in the negotiations and also afterwards, and had attempted to influence the talks by using propaganda accusing Tehran of interfering in Iraq's internal affairs.

The comments appears to be part of the campaign, backed by the Supreme Leader, of remaining open to discussions with the US while warning Washington that it must be "honest" and "sincere".

1040 GMT: Nuclear Watch (Israeli Front). Fars News has reported on President Obama's interview with Israel's Channel 2, ahead of his visit to the country.

Fars leads with Obama's statement that he will pursue a diplomatic solution.

The website also notes the President's assertion that sanctions have had a "substantial effect" on Iran's economy but have not led to a "fundamental change in attitude" from Tehran.

1040 GMT: Foreign Affairs Watch (Israeli Front). Hussein Sheikholeslam, a member of the Islamic Constitutional Assembly, has condemned the upcoming visit of US President Barack Obama to Israel, saying it "gives recognition" to "the crimes of [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu's state". Sheikholeslam added that the Ulama -- Muslim legal scholars -- would oppose a visit by Obama to the Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem.

0700 GMT: Drone Watch. Joanna Paraszczuk reviews Iranian coverage of the story of an encounter over the Persian Gulf between an unmanned US MQ-1 Predator drone and an Iranian F4 fighter jet (see 0650 GMT)....

Fars News' Persian service -- though notably not its English-language counterpart -- and hard-line Mashregh are leading with Thursday's announcement from the Pentagon./p>

Both Fars, close to the Revolutionary Guards, and Mashregh published identical items including photographs, indicating that the stories were a news release as Iran tries to agree an official reaction to Washington's revelation.

Significantly, both stories both note Tehran's claim, made last week, that its military intercepted and repelled a US U2 reconnaissance plane as it attempted to penetrate Iranian airspace on 22 Bahman, the anniversary in February of Iran's 1979 Islamic Revolution.

0650 GMT: Drone Watch. On Thursday afternoon CNN breathlessly announced on Twitter that it would soon be breaking a major story about the US and Iran.

A half-hour later, the channel's Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, passed on the news from US officials that two Iranian fighter jets had "targeted" an unmanned US Predator drone, allegedly over the international waters of the Persian Gulf. One of the officials intoned, ""We are fully prepared to defend our aircraft."

The detail of the story, however, indicated that this was not much of a confrontation: "The Iranian planes shadowed the drone, which eventually left the area. No shots were fired." Translated, Iranian aircraft --- probably believing that the Predator was in the Islamic Republic's airspace, "escorted" it back into the clearly-defined international area.

Later, the Pentagon --- now going on the record through a named spokesman --- revised the story. There was only one Iranian jet fighter, and the Predator had fired a warning flare before it chose to depart.

All the Pentagon's chatter pointed not to a significant military event but to questions about the timing of the announcement: was this coming out now to put a bit of pressure on Tehran? Is it a warning that the US will retaliate if a Predator is attacked, opening up room for the drones to operate over Iran --- and thus preventing a repetition of the November 2011 incident, when a Predator crashed in the eastern part of the country?

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