Iran Election Guide

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Iran Live: Still Looking for "Unity" for the Election

The Supreme Leader's "2+1 Committee" --- MP Gholam Ali Haddad Adel, Khamenei advisor Ali Velayati, and Tehran Mayor Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf --- who are seeking a "unity" candidate for the Presidential election

See also Iran Analysis: This Week's Nuclear Talks --- A 5-Point Guide to the US and European Position
Monday's Iran Live: Will Iranians Celebrate "Islamic Republic Day"?

1410 GMT: Food Watch. Nasser Karimi offers another story on the soaring price of pistachios, a luxury for New Year celebrations, adding this twist:

The government, which usually tries to contain Iranians' anger over the economy, has heartily backed the pistachio boycott — again for reasons tied to the Western-led sanctions over Iran's nuclear program. Pistachio exports provide a small but important pipeline for foreign revenues at a time when sanctions are squeezing Iran's oil and gas sales. Authorities say fewer nuts consumed at home means more available to sell abroad.

The pale green nuts are Iran's top non-oil export, though admittedly they are very distant second. Iran earned at least $750 million last year from exporting the nut, with some estimates as high as $1 billion.

1333 GMT: The Battle Within. Mansour Haghighatpour, a member of Parliament's National Security Commission, has said that a report on the attack by a crowd of men on Speaker of Parliament Ali Larijani --- interrupting his speech in February on the anniversary of the Islamic Revolution --- proves the attacks were "organised".

Supporters of President Ahmadinejad have been accused of shouting down Larijani, throwing shoes and prayer stones.

Haghighatpour said he had had a meeting with the head of judiciary, Sadegh Larijani, but the report will only be published with the Supreme Leader's permission.

1320 GMT: Nuclear Watch. Amid the political spin on this week's Iranian talks with the 5+1 Powers in Kazakhstan (see separate EA analysis), Gary Samore --- the Obama Administration's senior advisor on non-proliferation until January --- appears to offer a straightforward, if pessimistic, reading of the situation:

I have such low expectations for what's going to come out of this next round of talks that I think it's a mistake to try to set the bar. I mean, if they agree to another round of meetings that will be the process continuing, but I think that it really is unrealistic to expect that there be some kind of breakthrough in these talks.

Samore said both sides were using the talks for purposes of presentation --- "the Iranians use diplomacy in an effort to try to show that there's progress and therefore no further sanctions are justified...the US and the P5+1 use diplomacy in order to demonstrate that Iran is being intransigent and unreasonable and therefore more sanctions are required".

The former advisor also identifies the specific issues in dispute: the linkage between the 5+1 Powers' demands over Iran's enrichment of 20% uranium and Tehran's insistence on sanctions relief.

1234 GMT: Asylum Watch. Sports journo Mosayeb Sarvandi of State broadcaster IRIB has reportedly fled Iran and sought asylum abroad after he faced arrest for "espionage".

0800 GMT: Nuclear Watch. In a separate, 5-point analysis, I take apart this morning's Wall Street Journal, "Iran Cools Nuclear Work as Talks Loom", to assess its real signficance --- it tips off the US and European position in this week's nuclear discussions with the Islamic Republic.

An additional point on both the reporting and the political spin arises from this sentence, "The Supreme Leader is seeking a more malleable replacement for Mr. Ahmadinejad, according to political analysts --- potentially [Iran's lead nuclear negotiator Saeed] Jalili."

This is weak journalism. There is no indication that Jalili will run for President. Even if he did, he is unlikely to make a significant impact. Any careful assessment of the current political situation in the Islamic Republic would have established it.

But there is a more troubling possibility. Could US and European officials --- putting out the line that the Supreme Leader will play for time this week and may take a harder line in talks in the autumn --- be so short-sighted that they actually believe this?

0520 GMT: Election Watch. Another soundbite from Presidential candidate Mohsen Rezaei, amid his assault on other conservative and principlist hopefuls: "I told the leader of the revolution that [if] elected, I will establish the administration most coordinated with the Supreme Leader."

0440 GMT: Election Watch. With about a month to go before the Guardian Council approves candidates for the June Presidential election, the highest levels of the regime are still seeking a "unity" choice.

That challenge --- and the problems that arise the longer that it is not met --- came into focus on Monday with a frontal assault by Tabnak, the outlet of Presidential candidate Mohsen Rezaei, on others who have declared or might soon declare their intention to stand.

The site tried to undermine the candidacy of President Ahmadinejad's ally, Minister of Roads Ali Nikzad, with possible dis-information about whether he was actually running. That, however, was only the prelude to bigger attacks.

Perhaps the biggest was a pre-emptive assault on Tehran Mayor Mohammad-Baqer Qalibaf, who has not announced yet but is considered a leading candidate if he does so. Tabnak claimed that the Qalibaf would not be approved by the Guardian Council because of outstanding "court cases", which it did not detail.

That attack was not a challenge to Qalibaf; it was a jab at the Supreme  Leader's "2+1 Committee", of which Qalibaf is a member, which is seeking the unity choice. It is far from certain that the Committee will choose the Tehran Mayor, or indeed even any of its three members, but the Tabnak claim --- which cited "State media", even though there have been no such reports elsewhere about the Guardian Council and Qalibaf --- appeared to be an attempt to block such a move.

Tabnak went farther by swinging at other conservative and principlist politicians who have made my declarations of candidacy. Former Minister of Interior Mostafa Pourmohammadi, Deputy Speaker of Parliament Mohammad Reza Bahonar, former Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki --- all were denigrated by Mohsen Rezaei's site.

Rezaei --- despite his record as a past commander of the Revolutionary Guards and current Secretary of the Expediency Council --- will not win June's election. He is unlikely to be among the leading candidates. However, with these attacks, launched even before the Guardian Council has defined the field, he has exposed the problem of the Supreme Leader's camp and those who could be the next President.

"Unity" has still not been established and put forward to secure the legitimacy of this election for the regime.

Will that happen by the start of May or will the Guardian Council have to render verdicts amid uncertainty?

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