Iran Election Guide

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Iran Live Coverage: Nuclear Talks in Istanbul

See also Iran Feature: Why Withdrawal of Google Reader is a Blow for Iranians

1659 GMT: On the Seas. Iran launched a domestically-built destroyer in the Caspian Sea on Sunday, its first deployment of a major warship in the area.

President Ahmadinejad inaugurated the guided missile destroyer Jamaran-2 in the port city of Anzali, about 250 kilometers (150 miles) northwest of Tehran.

He said the deployment aimed to bolster peace and friendship in the region: "The destroyer is there to meet those who want to jeopardize the security of surrounding nations,"

The 1,400-ton destroyer is equipped with surface-to-surface and surface-to-air missiles as well as anti-aircraft batteries and sophisticated radar and communications terminals.

Iran launched a version of the Jamaran destroyer in 2010 in the Persian Gulf.

1529 GMT: Elections Watch. Two more declarations of candidacy for June's Presidential election --- former Minister of Interior and current Inspector General Mostafa Pourmohammadi and former MP Mostafa Kavakebian, the head of the Democracy Party, have formally announced their intention to stand.

1511 GMT: Assassinated Nuclear Scientists. Tehran Prosecutor General Abbas Jafari Doulatabadi has said that 18 people will be tried over the assassinations of nuclear scientists in recent years.

At least five scientists have been killed. One defendant, Majid Jamali Fash, was executed in May 2012 over one of the cases, the assassination-by-bomb of Massoud Alimohamaddi in January 2010.

Doulatabadi also said dozens of "currency disruptors" have or will be indicated over their trading.

1153 GMT: Rafsanjani Watch. Is this a sign of the reconciliation of high levels in the regime with former Presiddent Hashemi Rafsanjani?

Rafsanjani's son Mohsen Hashemi --- who is on bail facing serious charges of financial and electoral manipulation and whose sister Faezeh Hashemi is in prison --- gets favourable publicity in both Persian- and English-language media.

Hashemi offers three important messages. First, he says his father is not considering candidacy in June's Presidential elections and that he has not yet agreed on which candidate he will back --- despite one of those standing, Hassan Rohani, being close to the Rafsanjani camp. Without referring to the Rohani campaign, Hashemi says Rafsanjani "can have an effective presence in the political arena":

Given that there is excessive indulgence, wastage and political temper tantrums in Iran, politicians, intellectuals and the people are more and more feeling the need for moderation and realism, so his name, which was always association with these ideas, has been revived.

Secondly, Hashemi slams both reformists and principlists ahead of the June elections, accusing them of disarray and confusion:

None of the political wings, the principlists and the reformists or the right and the left have been so confused. All are awaiting an event. Hopes for future are diminished even among those close to the system. There seems no serious activity. Disorder and lack of planning are evident even among traditional principlists.

Thirdly, Hashemi says that reformists should be allowed to run in a "tri-polar" campaign that will allow include the principlists and the "current ruling side" --- an apparent reference to the camp of President Ahmadinejad --- to run. However, this will require "the system's tolerance", he said, adding that this " has not existed so far".

Hashemi had previously commented that Iran required a president who was "fashioned for times of difficulty and crisis". Rafsanjani has called for a "national unity" government that could heal domestic divisions while addressing foreign policy issues.

In another jibe at Ahmadinejd, Hashemi warned that if those who "believe in the system" do not enter the elections, then "those who use public property to disseminate their perverted ideas will get back on again".

1133 GMT: Foreign Watch. Joanna Paraszczuk takes over Live Coverage....

In a pre-Nowruz interview with Fars News, Foreign Ministry spokesman Rahmin Mehmanparast reviews the previous 12 months and looks ahead to what might be in store during the next Persian year for Iran's foreign relations --- headlining that, while Iran is "ready to cooperate with Europe", Tehran expected "practical changes" in America's behaviour.

Mehmanparast began by discussing the latest round of nuclear talks between Iran and the 5+1 Powers.

"During the Almaty meeting [last month's nuclear talks], Western countries came closer to our demands, and what they communicated was more logical that it was in the past," he said, echoing comments made by Iranian officials in the wake of the talks.

He added as a caveat: "Of course, this does not mean that the views [the West] expressed are perfect."

Mehmanparast said Iran was optimistic that the talks would continue and that the 5+1 would negotiate within a "more logical framework" so that a "final agreement" could be reached.

Regarding Iran's bilateral ties with Egypt --- a key issue for Tehran which has made overtures to Cairo since the election of President Mohamed Morsi last summer --- Mehmanparast said Tehran was ready for a "high level of political relations" with that country.

The foreign ministry spokesman said Iran was ready for "cooperation" with Europe, adding that most of the decisions taken by European countries regarding Tehran] had been political and imposed from the outside, and had damaged European public and private sector interests.

As for Washington, Mehmanparast said that US President Barack Obama was serious in his second term about having a new plan regarding Iran. An important indication of that for Iran, Mehmanparast said, was in Obama's selection of a new team, especially the Secretaries of State and Defense, John Kerry and Chuck Hagel.

Mehmanparast added another caveat: that because of "60 years of animosity and enmity" it was difficult to anticipate changes in Washington's behavior, and so Iran would evaluate the situation based on the actual actions of US officials to see whether there was any difference in policy.

The spokesman said that Iran was watching as the talks with world powers continued to see whether American officials demonstrated their claims that they respect Iran's rights.

0822 GMT: Political Prisoner Watch. Political activist Mahdi Motamedi-Mehr has been arrested.

Motamedi-Mehr, a member of the Freedom Movement of Iran, was detained after a raid on his home.

The activist has been detained on several occasions before and after the disputed 2009 Presidential elections and has been sentenced by the Revolutionary Court to five years in prison for his membership in the outlawed Freedom Movement, “propaganda against the Islamic Republic of Iran”, and “assembly and collusion to act against national security”.

0812 GMT: Political Prisoner Watch. A comment from journalist Mahsa Amrabadi before she returned to Evin Prison to complete a one-year sentence: "I was more sad when I saw the city and the people. We are more free in prison."

0805 GMT: Election Watch. More than 90 reformists, in an open letter, have asked former President Mohammad Khatami to stand as a candidate in June's Presidential election as a "solution to the current situation".

0755 GMT: Human Rights Watch. A shift in the regime's public-relations approach to this month's report by the United Nations criticising Tehran for widespread human rights violations.

In an interview with EuroNews, Senior judiciary official Mohammad Javad Larijani backed away from a direct attack on UN Special Rapporteur Ahmed Shaheed, accused of being in the pay of the US by Iranian officials. Instead, Larijani said some points had to be acknowledged:

The issue of credibility in this report is very serious. We agree that some of our laws need modification but others we definitely support even against Western criticism. We think the number of executions in Iran is too high. We should change the law.

Larijani also said criticism of the ruling elite "should not be filtered" on the Internet, and he called torture "a disease" and "a crime", although he quickly added, "Compare us with the United States."

Larijani also had an interesting explanation of the role of the Guardian Council in overseeing the electoral process and deciding who may stand for office:

The job of the Guardian Council is not to vet a candidate. They look at the candidacy, and whether they are eligible to be candidates or not. A person who has been involved in a coup d’etat cannot be a candidate, a person who has no adherence to Islam cannot be a candidate.

0739 GMT: More Tough Talk of the Day. The deputy head of armed forces, Brigadier General Masoud Jazayeri, has declared, “Our commanders have received authorization to immediately respond to any hostile action by the enemy without allowing enemy to think twice [about its act of aggression]."

Iranian media are framing Jayazeri's remarks as a response to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's warning, made earlier this month to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, that Iran may soon cross a "red line" in its nuclear programme: "Sanctions must be coupled with a clear and credible military threat if diplomacy and sanctions fail."

Jayazeri replied, “The era of threat, intimidation and childish games of carrot and stick is over."

0729 GMT: Nerves of the Day. Iran Military News offers an interesting assessment of the state of mind of Tehran's armed forces:

While Western analysts are saying Iran believes the military threat against it is no longer there or is weakened, the US drone incidents are making it jumpy. Meanwhile, Press TV makes a big deal in its report about comments by Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu....

The drone incident in the Gulf, the U2 incident if real [Iranian media claimed last week that Tehran's planes had chased away the legendary US spy plane], the Western arms to Syria, and --- probably just as important --- today's "Drones Against Jabhat Al Nusra" story [the CIA targeting the Syrian Islamist group] --- are rattling Iran's military.

0717 GMT: Tough Talk of the Day. The Iranian military has announced combat upgrades to the army's Bell-206 JetRanger helicopters.

Iran first purchased Bell helicopters during the 1970s, under the Shah's regime, but the project fell through after the 1979 Revolution.

Since the 1990s, Iran has reverse-engineered parts and assemblies of its Bell 205, 206 and 214 helicopters. In 2009, Tehran unveiled a light gunship, the Shahed 285, derived from the Bell-206.

0707 GMT: Political Prisoner Watch. Reformist Hossein Loghmanian, a former MP, and four companions have been arrested while on their way to Tehran to visit former President Mohammad Khatami.

Journalist Mohammad Javad Rouh has been released from detention.

Javad Rouh, an editor for the Mehrnameh monthly, was arrested earlier this month after a raid on his home.

0702 GMT: Drone Watch. Ahmad Bakhshayesh, a member of Parliament's National Security Commission, has accused Washington of using covert drone operations to locate "blind spots" in Iran's radar systems.

The report is a reaction to Thursday's announcement by the Pentagon officials that a Predator drone conducting classified surveillance over the Persian Gulf was "approached" by Iranian jets.

Bakhshayesh also praised the Iranian military's "vigilance, military, and radar might".

0658 GMT: CyberWatch. Activists and media report that Iran's attempt to shut down Virtual Private Networks is having an effect on access to filtered site --- for example, Deutsche Welle reports that pageviews for its Persian service decreased two days after the start of the crackdown.

The opposiion site Kalemeh posts a list of alternatives to VPNs to get to blocked sites.

0653 GMT: Political Prisoner Watch. Iraqi cleric Ahmed al-Qubbanji has been released from detention and is safely back in Iraq.

Al-Qubbanji was visiting a family member in Qom when he was arrested on 17 or 18 February, reportedly suspected of “spying for Israel”.

0643 GMT: Nuclear Watch. Iran and the 5+1 Powers start two days of technical talks in Istanbul, following up on the resumption of high-level discussions last month and anticipating more negotiations in Kazakhstan on 5 April.

The talks, the first of experts from the two sides since last July, are likely to focus on details of a shift by Iran from enrichment of 20% uranium, but with a guaranteed supply of the fuel and a recognition that Tehran can enrich to 5%.

Fars News previews today's discussions and says that April's high-level negotiations in Kazakhstan are "likely to be decisive".

Fars' English-language service adds a bit of propaganda --- a quote from a Norwegian news report that sanctions have failed to stop Iran's nuclear programme.

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