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Entries in Hillary Clinton (17)


US Politics: Sitting/Standing at Obama's State of the Union

On Sunday afternoon, I will be at The Emirates Stadium in London, watching Arsenal v Manchester United in football ("soccer"). Since I am a Tottenham Hotspur fan, so why would I do this?Well, I could watch the game from the comfort of my armchair, rooting against both teams, but nothing beats watching an event live and in person.

I feel the same about Wednesday night’s State of the Union address by President Obama. The BBC television coverage's was fine, but most of the time, there was no way of knowing who was up and who was down. If only I had been in the Capitol chamber, I could have gotten a better reading of the politics, just by watching the ritual of members of Congress demonstrating their feelings by either standing or remaining firmly seated during the address.

I don‘t know when the tradition of standing and repetitive applauding for the President during the State of the Union started. On this occasion, Congress’s version of aerobics began after Obama’s long, uninterrupted opening. Once members started applauding, they were up and down with considerable frequency as the President took them through his plans for jobs, financial reform, civil rights, nuclear weapons, Iraq and Afghanistan, education, reduction of the deficit, health care, and gays in the military.

A Gut Reaction to Obama’s “State of The Union” & Foreign Policy: Ignoring the Kids in the Backseat
Video & Transcript: President Obama’s State of the Union Address (27 January)

Measured through the BBC's restricted perspective, how did he do? Well, this was a tour de force. Obama is a brilliant speaker but, let's be blunt, he also compares incredibly well with his predecessor. On this night, Obama was Presidential.

Still, there were quirks in the presentation. By tradition, one Cabinet member is left behind in the White House, a precaution in case all the others are wiped out by some disaster or nefarious activity during the speech. I did not see the Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, in the audience. Surely Obama did not choose her to hold the fort! [Editor: Fret not. Clinton was in London for talks on Afghanistan, Yemen, and Iran.] Then there were the military brass hats who were present. Perhaps it doesn’t matter if they are all wiped out, especially if they keep giving Obama stony-faced looks, as they did when he brought up the issues of gays serving in the armed forces.

And there was a bit of controversy. Obama, a constitutional law expert, took on the judiciary. “With due deference to separation of powers,” he said, “last week the Supreme Court reversed a century of law that…will open the floodgates for special interests…to spend without limit in our elections…I urge [Congress] to pass a bill to correct the problem.” For 30 seconds, the cameras fixed on the Supremes, so I do not know which legislators stood or sat, as the judges remained immobile. That would have been useful information.

And there were the signs of the White House's building battle with Congress. Earlier in his speech, Obama spoke of sending a bill to Congress on job creation. Within minutes, Republicans peremptorily dismissed the proposal, expressing no interest in using $30 billion in bank bailout money for business tax credits.

I wonder whether Obama looks enviously at Gordon Brown. The British set piece equivalent of State of the Union is the Opening of Parliament, when Elizabeth II reads the Queen’s Speech, detailing the government’s legislation package for the following parliamentary session, in the chamber of the House of Lords. The speech is effectively written by the Prime Minister and his inner cabinet. Her Majesty just reads it. All members of the House of Commons gather, standing, at the back of the chamber while the Lords are seated. There is rarely any question as to whether the bills will pass. Government majorities and whips will see to that. So no stand/sit dilemma here.

So two cheers for Obama and three cheers for the British in the stand/sit debate. The American practice wastes time. It is irritating and childish. Standing ovations should be reserved are for glorious feats in a Test Cricket Match (especially versus Australia), scoring a winning goal in football ("soccer"), and the awarding of an Oscar. Ovations during a speech reduce and devalue it. And for members to divide politically when their President calls upon them to show leadership, not partisanship, is downright offensive, not just to the President but to the electorate.

Still, next time BBC, give me a wide-angle view.

The Latest from Iran (29 January): Sideshows and Main Events

2320 GMT: The Committee of Human Rights Reporters has issued a statement on recent allegations against its members, many of whom are detained:
The civil society’s endurance depends on acceptance and realization of modern norms and principles. When a ruling establishment with an outdated legal system tries to impose itself politically and ideologically on a modern society, the result will be widespread protests.

2315 GMT: Correction of the Day. Although it was not widely noted, there were 40th Day memorial ceremonies for Grand Ayatollah Montazeri in Qom.

2310 GMT: Diversion of the Day. From Press TV:
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's top aide said Friday Tehran is concerned about the direction of the US administration after President Barack Obama delivered his first State of the Union address.

"We have concerns Obama will not be successful in bring change to US policies," Esfandiar Rahim-Mashai, the senior aide to President Ahmadinejad and his chief of staff, said.

With respect, Esfandiar, I don't think President Obama is your biggest concern right now.

NEW Iran Patriotism Special: Wiping the Green From The Flag
Iran Document: Karroubi Maintains the Pressure (28 January)
Iran Document: Resignation Letter of Diplomat in Japan “Join the People”
Iran Document/Analysis: Karroubi’s Statement on the Political Situation (27 January)
Iran Analysis: Leadership in the Green Movement
The Latest from Iran (28 January): Trouble Brewing

2300 GMT: Yawn. Well, we started the day with a sanctions sideshow (see 0650 GMT), so I guess it is fitting to close with one. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, speaking in Paris:
China will be under a lot of pressure to recognize the destabilizing impact that a nuclear-armed Iran would have in the [Persian] Gulf, from which they receive a significant percentage of their own supplies....We understand that right now it seems counterproductive to [China] to sanction a country from which you get so much of the natural resources your growing economy needs....[But China] needs to think about the longer-term implications.

1. The White House is not even at the point of agreeing a sanctions package with the US Congress, let alone countries with far different agendas.
2. China is not going to agree tough sanctions in the UN Security Council. Really. Clinton is blowing smoke.
3. About the only outcome of this will be Press TV running a story on bad America threatening good Iran Government.

2250 GMT: Back after a break (Up In The Air is fantastic --- there, I've said it) to find that the reformist Islamic Iran Participation Front has written an open letter to Iran's head of judiciary, Sadegh Larijani, putting a series of questions over the executions of Mohammad Reza Ali Zamani and Arash Ramanipour.

1820 GMT: We've moved our item on the regime's apparent removal of Green from Iran's flag to a separate entry.

1755 GMT: Today's Pot-Kettle-Black Moment. Just came across a discussion on Press TV of a bill, passed in the US House of Representatives, threatening to block "anti-US" television channels.

Don't get me wrong: this is an incredibly stupid measure, although as Professor William Beeman, the most reflective of the three guests notes, it is a symbolic declaration unlikely to become law. However, I have to note that at no point do the words "Internet filtering", "expulsion/imprisonment of journalists", "jamming of satellite signals" (say, of Voice of America Persian or BBC Persian) come up in the conversation, which also includes a Dr Franklin Lamb and a Dr Seyed Mohammad Marandi.

1750 GMT: The Judiciary v. Ahmadinejad. At insideIRAN, Arash Aramesh has a useful summary of the suspension of the publication Hemmat by Iran's judiciary. The twist is that Hemmat, which ran into trouble for running an attack piece against Hashemi Rafsanjani, is a supporter of the Ahmadinejad Government. No surprise then that the President reportedly declared:
I am not very happy with some of the Judiciary’s actions. Someone published a paper and you shut it down. It is the job of a jury to order the closure of publications. We do not agree with such actions and believe that these actions show a spirit of dictatorship.

However, Aramesh does not connect the Hemmat story to the imprisonment of Mohammad Jafar Behdad (see 1230 GMT), an official in the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance, for four months.

1725 GMT: The Latest from Gohardasht Prison. Peyke Iran reports that 300 Ashura detainees are under severe pressure by Ministry of Intelligence agents, demanding confessions of "mohareb" (war against God), in sections controlled by the Revolutionary Guard.

1700 GMT: The International Committee for Human Rights in Iran has started a new blog. Current posts consider the Zamani/Rahmanipour executions and "Members of Committee of Human Rights Reporters Under Pressure to Make Forced Confessions".

1600 GMT: The Strategy of Deaths. Tehran Prosecutor General Abbas Jafari Doulatabadi has offered details on the regime's handling of executions: having put to death two pre-election detainees to death yesterday, the Government has handed down five more sentences on five people arrested on Ashura (27 December). The sentences are currently being appealed.

Doulatabadi's declaration complements a recent announcement that by Iran Prosecutor General Gholamhosein Mohseni Ejei that at least three Ashura Day detainees will be executed. Ejei also said four more pre-election prisoners had been sentenced to death. (Added to Thursday's executions, Doulatabadi and Ejei's numbers match up to the "eleven" death sentences announced by Iranian state media yesterday.)

1410 GMT: Man, 1) Ayatollah Jannati is in a really bad mood after being verbally slapped by Mehdi Karroubi; 2) the Government is scared of the forthcoming demonstrations on 22 Bahman (11 February); 3) both. The Los Angeles Times offers translated extracts from Jannati's Friday Prayers address (see 1155 GMT) in Tehran:
The prophet Muhammad signed non-aggression pacts with three Jewish tribes. The Jews failed to meet their commitments, and God ordered their massacre (by Imam Ali, the 3rd Imam Shia, despite his reputation for compassion)....When it comes to suppressing the enemy, divine compassion and leniency have no meaning.

The judiciary is tasked with dealing with the detained rioters. I know you well, judiciary officials! You came forward sincerely and accepted this responsibility. You are revolutionary and committed to the Supreme Leader. For God's sake, stand firm as you already did with your quick execution of these two convicts....

God ordered the prophet Muhammad to brutally slay hypocrites and ill-intentioned people who stuck to their convictions. Koran insistently orders such deaths. May God not forgive anyone showing leniency toward the corrupt on earth.

1230 GMT: An Ahmadinejad Official in Jail. Mohammad Jafar Behdad, head of internal media at the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance, has been sentenced to 4 months in prison. Behdad, a former head of the Islamic Republic News Agency, was convicted of disregarding judiciary warnings against provocative publications. His newspaper Hemmat had been suspended for a feature on "Hashemi [Rafsanjani] and his band of brothers".

1220 GMT: Verbal Skirmishes. Retired Revolutionary Guard General Ali Asgari, a former minister in the Khatami Government, has declared that Hashemi Rafsanjani must remain by the side of the Supreme Leader and denounced Rafsanjani's verbal attacker, Ayatollah Mohammad Yazdi, as a radical who defends a backward Islam.

On the regime side, Iran's police chief Esmail Ahmadi-Moghaddam has announced that "some of the elite are against the regime and with the enemy". At the same time, he appears to have held out a hand to Mir Hossein Mousavi, saying he "was deceived" by these wrong-doers.

1210 GMT: The "Real" Karroubi Interview. Fars News, whose distorted report on Mehdi Karroubi's views inadvertently moved Karroubi's challenge to the Ahmadinejad Government centre-stage, makes another clumsy intervention today.

Selecting extracts from Karroubi's interview with Britain's Financial Times and quoting them out of context, Fars declares that Karroubi has "100%" backed the Supreme Leader and denounced protesters.

Yeah, right.

1155 GMT: Your Tehran Friday Prayer Summary. Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, the head of the Guardian Council, had the podium today. Given that Mehdi Karroubi knocked him about a bit yesterday, Jannati was probably not in the most conciliatory of moods as he said:
Weakness in the face of events such as the "irreverence" of demonstrations on Ashura will undermine the regime. Ayatollah [Sadegh] Larijani, be a man, get tough, bring in some protesters. (Hey, but it was pretty cool that you executed those two guys yesterday to please God.)

1140 GMT: A very slow day, both for sideshows and main events. During the lull, this comment from a reader to Andrew Sullivan's Daily Dish, reacting to the Zamani/Rahmanipour executions, is striking:
You see the strategy is an obvious one: start with the people who are the weakest links, some obscure monarchist group and not directly related to the reformist/Mousavi's camp or the greens, that way it would make it harder politically for [Mir Hossein] Mousavi or [Mehdi] Karoubi to defend them. Then they will advance. This is, in their mind, also the best way to send a message about Feb 11th that if you are arrested on that day, you could be executed. The combination of desperation and cruelty.

0750 GMT: Remembering Montazeri. Video of the bazaar at Najafabad, the birthplace of Grand Ayatollah Montazeri, was empty on Thursday to mark the passing of the cleric in late December. Memorials for the "40th Day" of Montazeri's death were planned for both yesterday and today.)

0650 GMT: There are a number of obstacles to clear this morning before getting to the important developments. Foremost amongst these is last night's news that the US Senate, the upper house of the Congress, has approved tougher sanctions against Iran. The focus is on petroleum, denying loans and other assistance from American financial institutions to companies that export gasoline to Iran or help expand its oil-refining capacity. The penalties would extend to companies that build oil and gas pipelines in Iran and provide tankers to move Iran’s petroleum. The measure also prohibits the United States Government from buying goods from foreign companies that do business in Iran’s energy sector.

Even if sanctions are central to a resolution of Iran's political crisis, as opposed to their place in the manoeuvres over Iran's nuclear programme --- personally, I don't think they are --- there is a lot of bureaucratic road to cover before they are in place. The Senate has to agree its version of the bill with the House of Representatives. More importantly (and The New York Times story ignores this point), the Obama Administration so far has opposed the petroleum measures because they are unlikely to be effective. The White House and State Department prefer "targeted" sanctions, aimed especially at economic interests of bodies like the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps.

Then there is the Washington sideshow of Very Important People battering each other in the guise of offering the Very Best US Policy on Iran. The Washington Post announces the boxing match between Richard Haass, formerly of the State Department and now head of the Council for Foreign Relations, and the Flynt/Hillary Leverett duo, formerly of State and the National Security Council. The punches are entirely predictable --- Haass, while proclaiming himself a "realist", has joined the chorus of US experts singing of "regime change", while the Leveretts are staunchly defending the legitimacy of the Iran Government --- and pretty much swatting air when it comes to the complexities of the Iranian situation. (But Haass was best man at the Leveretts' wedding, which turns a marginal story into a "quirky" one.)

So where are the significant stories? Well, there is yesterday's execution of two detainees, Mohammad Reza Ali Zamani and Arash Rahmanipour, who were jailed in April 2009 for endangering Iran's national security. In one sense, this is another sideshow. Obviously, neither Zamani and Rahmanipour were involved in post-election protest and the "monarchist" group to which they allegedly belonged is not significant in the Green movement.

However, the regime was far from subtle in linking the hangings of the two men to the demonstrations of Ashura (27 December), and that linkage --- inadvertently --- displays its fear of the forthcoming marches on 22 Bahman/11 February, the anniversary of the 1979 Revolution. What's more, by promising the executions of nine more detainees if everyone didn't just shut up and go away, the Government made a risky commitment. Either it goes ahead with the executions, making more martyrs for the protests, or it backs down.

And then there is The Week of Mehdi Karroubi, with the cleric launching another broadside against President Ahmadinejad and his allies yesterday. Some media continue to be led astray by confusion over Karroubi's loud and emerging strategy --- The New York Times, for example, mis-reads Karroubi's latest statement as "conciliatory remarks...shifting the blame for the violent postelection crackdown away from Ayatollah Khamenei".

They are not. Karroubi is both giving the Supreme Leader (or "Mr Khamenei", as he was labelled on Monday) a chance and setting him a test: do what you are supposed to do under our Constitution and Islamic Republic, Supreme Leader, and make your President accountable for injustices and abuses.

Enjoy all the sideshows, folks, but in this political circus, that's your centre-ring main event.

Israel-Palestine: Way Forward Through "Low-Level Peace Talks"?

Following Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's statement on "new and interesting ideas", Reuters have quoted Palestinian officials that a US proposal to launch low-level peace talks, along with "confidence building measures" to improve living conditions in the West Bank, was handed over by US Mideast envoy George Mitchell on his recent visit to the region.

The response was mixed. "Holding a low-level meeting with the Israelis that tackles issues related to the daily life of Palestinians will not be an alternative to political negotiations," one Palestinian official was quoted as saying. In contrast, Israel's Defense Minister Ehud Barak painted a positive picture. He said that talks would resume in the next month or two and added, "On the surface the diplomatic process appears asleep and frozen, but I don't think that's really accurate. Under the surface both sides want negotiations."

Israel-Palestine: Obama to Netanyahu, Abbas “Deal With Your Opposition Within”
Israel: Defense Minister Barak “Palestine Peace Bigger Issue Than Iran’s Bomb”
Gaza: Israel Rejects Another High-Level Visit
Israel: Netanyahu’s “War on Evil”

After Israel's determination not to offer any concessions and the Palestinian Authority's insistence on those concessions before any negotiations, Washington's new proposal raises the question: Are low-level peace talks a complementary part or the collapse of the "tactical shift" put forward by the Secretary of State Hillary Clinton? Three weeks ago, Clinton declared, “Resolving borders resolves settlements, resolving Jerusalem resolves settlements. I think we need to lift our sights and instead of being looking down at the trees, we need to look at the forest.”

The Latest from Iran (25 January): Who Makes A Move Today?

2145 GMT: The Karroubi Story. We've worked tonight through the stories, the rumours, and possibilities to post an interim analysis of Mehdi Karroubi's statement today on "Mr Khamenei" and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, "the head of the government of the regime".

2140 GMT: In Case You Missed It. Persian2English reports: "Abolfazl Eslami, former Counselor of the Iranian Embassy in Tokyo, writes that he has decided to join people’s movement in light of the Islamic Republics’ violence and oppression."

1955 GMT: And on the Clerical Front. Ayatollah Bayat-Zanjani has renewed his criticism of the regime, asking Iran's leaders to do "nahy az monker" (repent from the bad way).

1945 GMT: Remember the Economic Front? Most of the management of Bank Melli have been replaced.

1935 GMT: We are hoping to have a thorough, on-the-mark analysis, from an EA correspondent with excellent sources, of the Karroubi statement about 2130 GMT. (To be blunt, I got it wrong earlier today, but I think, thanks to a lot of help, we'll have the best possible reading by the end of tonight.)

NEW Iran Special Analysis: What Karroubi’s Statement on “Mr Khamenei”/”Head of Government” Means
NEW Iran Snap Analysis: The Karroubi and Khatami Manoeuvres
NEW Iran: Listening to Rumours, Whispers, and Shouts
Iran and Israel: The Start of a Beautiful Friendship?
Iran Analysis: Should the Greens Be Waiting for Economic Collapse?
UPDATED Iran: The Plot Against President Ahmadinejad
The Latest from Iran (24 January): Watching Carefully

Meanwhile, another piece of evidence to put into the mix, indicating that Karroubi is not recognising Ahmadinejad as President but merely as a "selected leader". He told Rah-e-Sabz that he stood by his comments, but the people have problems which must be solved by the government, which is responsible for the situation. He repeated a statement he had made to an English newspaper: "I am convinced that Ahmadinejad will not stay for four years."

1610 GMT: Going after Revolution. Amidst all the confusion over the Karroubi statement, a blunter political move by another cleric:

Ayatollah Mohammad Yazdi, who is close to the President, has made another attempt to pressure Hashemi Rafsanjani's authority. Speaking in Qom, he said that he was "shocked" at Rafsanjani's recent speech where the former President offered his view of the political situation "according to [Rafsanjani's] experience". Yazdi snapped, "Is this more important than the Supreme Leader's experience?"

Yazdi urged/warned Rafsanjani to "come back to the breast of the Revolution and the Supreme Leader", criticising Rafsanjani's ambiguity: "Your speech is not just two sides; it is many sides."

1515 GMT: We have posted a major update to our earlier analysis of the Karroubi and Khatami moves today, taking into account corrected and new information about the Karroubi statement.

1500 GMT: Hasan Ahmadian, a leading member of Mir Hossein Mousavi's campaign, was reportedly released on bail of $500,000 last night.

1300 GMT: We have posted an urgent snap analysis of the important --- if true --- developments of the Karroubi letter accepting Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as President (see 1135 GMT) and Mohammad Khatami's letter to the Supreme Leader: "Has a Deal Been Struck?"

1230 GMT: Watch-It Warning of the Day. Tehran Prosecutor General Abbas Jafari Doulatabadi strikes the pose --- insulting senior figures and the head of the three branches of the Iran Government (the President, Speaker of Parliament, head of Judiciary) is a crime. So don't do it.

Doulatabadi also commented on other matters, including the 5 Ashura detainees tried this weeks on charges of "mohareb"/war against God and threats to national security (verdicts will be issued soon) and the murder of Professor Ali-Mohammadi (enquiry continues).

1135 GMT: A Vote of Legitimacy. Well, you can now top our morning analysis of Rumours with this report:
Iranian opposition leader Mehdi Karroubi who had refused to accept the re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, now recognises the hardliner as the country's "president", Karroubi's son told AFP (Agence France Presse) on Monday.

Hossein Karroubi quoted his father as saying: "I am still of the same belief that the election was unhealthy and massively rigged. But since the (Supreme) leader (Ayatollah Ali Khamenei) endorsed (Ahmadinejad's victory), I believe that he is the head of the government, meaning he is the president."

....Fars (News Agency) asked the opposition leader whether he now acknowledges Ahmadinejad as the president.

The ex-speaker of parliament, who came fourth in the disputed June 12 presidential election, replied: "I still maintain that there were problems (in the election), but with regard to your question, I should say that I recognise the president."

1130 GMT: Far-from-Academic Losses. An EA reader follows up on the story of the apparent firing of Professor Abbas Kazemi by Tehran University for his attendance at the funeral of Grand Ayatollah Montazeri (0655 GMT):
If the news is true about Kazemi being fired from U of T, that is a sad thing. Kazemi wrote The Sociology of Religious Intellectuals in Iran, which I have sitting on my table right in front of me.

1120 GMT: The Meaning of Investment. An EA reader pulls me up on my morning jab at Press TV (0755 GMT) over its story that Iran is seeking foreign investment:
On the foreign investment caps being lifted, you are missing the big story. When (President) Khatami tried to do similar things in the late 1990s, the Guardian Council and fellow conservatives completely attacked the idea, saying it was selling out the country's resources. This is another example of how Ahmadinejad is actually more of an economic liberal than Khatami (who was never really sure about economic liberalism and it was not his forte) ever was.

1110 GMT: Your Latest Plot --- Greens, the CIA, and Currency. Kayhan newspaper is none too amused that Iran's Central Bank has backed away from declaring "invalid" any banknotes with Green slogans and/or markings.

For you see, the marking of the banknotes is clearly a CIA plot, based on the ideas of Robert Helvey, a retired Army officer and associate of Gene Sharp at Harvard University. Sharp is Iran's bete noire when it comes to thoughts of "velvet revolution", and Helvey also got a mention in the Tehran trials of August.

0755 GMT: More Morning Fun from Press TV. Apparently Shamsoddin Hosseini, Iran's Economy and Finance Minister, says there will no limit on foreign investment in Iranian industrial or mineral sectors under the 5th Development Plan (2010-2015) proposed by Presdent Ahmadinejad: ”The Iranian government will be trying to remove any obstacle in the financial domain by the end of the fifth development plan."

With respect, given reports that foreign investment fell up to 96 percent between March 2008 and March 2009 (in other words, before the current political crisis), I am a bit surprised Mr Hosseini did not declare that investors would be met at Imam Khomeini Airport with flowers and cases of Parsi Cola.

0735 GMT: Press TV's Morning Spin. The Iranian state outlet offers this dramatic story, "China attacks US for online warfare in Iran":
A Chinese Communist Party editorial says the election unrest in Iran was an example of US 'naked political scheming' behind a facade of free speech....The People's Daily editorial said the US had launched a "hacker brigade" and used social media such as Twitter to spread rumors and create trouble in Iran.

Interesting that Press TV doesn't seem to notice a possible motive for China's apparent defense of Iranian sovereignty and legitimacy --- perhaps theirreporters were looking at Twitter when US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made her high-profile speech last week calling for Internet freedom and focusing on China as the Number One Test Case.

0710 GMT: We've put our first updates in a separate analysis on political and economic developments.

0650 GMT: The Academic Fight over the Funerals. Norooz claims Professor Abbas Kazemi, a member of the School of Communications at Tehran University, has been fired for attending the funeral of Grand Ayatollah Hossein-Ali Montazeri last month.

More than 110 academics and scholars around the world, including Noam Chomsky and Ramin Jahanbegloo, have called for an independent enquiry into the murder of Tehran University professor Massoud Ali-Mohammadi.

0645 GMT: Strikes and Firings. The Flying Carpet Institute reports that five workers at Rasoul Auto Company have been dismissed after strikes over disputed back pays. The employees' wages for November and December have not been settled.

0615 GMT: Sunday's Best Story? Rah-e-Sabz claims that President Ahmadinejad handed over his budget proposal to Speaker of Parliament Ali Larijani, the CD was blank. (Cue all the metaphors about Ahmadinejad's economic plans.) Apparently Ahmadinejad was "quickly ordered" to transfer the proposal that does exist to Parliament.

0530 GMT: We've moved our overnight updates to a separate entry, "Listening to Rumours, Whispers, and Shouts".

UPDATED Israel-Palestine: George Mitchell's "Fail, Fail, Fail" Middle East Tour?

UPDATE 25 JANUARY: Following a second meeting with Israel's Defense Minister Ehud Barak in Tel Aviv on Saturday night, US Mideast special envoy George Mitchell met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday morning. Netanyahu said after the discussions that "new and interesting ideas" were raised for the resumption of peace talks with the Palestinians. However, he offered no details.

During the weekly cabinet meeting, Netanyahu repeated, "I expressed my hope that these new ideas will allow for the renewal of the (negotiating) process."

The start of US Middle East envoy George Mitchell's trip to the Middle East this week wasn't too bad. He stopped in Lebanon to declare that the country would play a key role in efforts to build lasting and comprehensive peace and stability in the Middle East.

Israel-Palestine: United Nations “Stop the Occupation of East Jerusalem”

For the third time, Mitchell met with Syrian President Bashar Assad in Damascus. That brought the standard You're Very Important line as well: "Syria, certainly has an important role to play in all these efforts, as do the US and international community."

Then the Middle East road got bumpy. On Thursday, Mitchell held meetings with Israeli President Shimon Peres, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The US envoy put out President Obama's vision of a Palestinian state alongside Israel in peace, "We will pursue (that) until we achieve that objective." In Washington, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's statement seemed to be guarding against bad news from the West Bank:
This issue is between Israel and the Palestinians. The US, UK, EU and the Arab League, everybody can work together to create a positive atmosphere, we will continue to do whatever we can, and we urge both parties to return to the negotiations table.

And on Friday afternoon, Mitchell faced that challenge when he finally met with Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas. Abbas was insistent on a full settlement freeze in West Bank and East Jerusalem before re-starting peace talks, and following the meeting, chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said:
When we say a settlement freeze that includes Jerusalem, that is not a Palestinian condition. That is rather an Israeli obligation, and the same thing is applicable to our demand to have negotiations resume where we left them in December 2008.

Israel's Netanyahu, hwoever, put the ball in the court of Ramallah and called on the Palestinian Authority to "stop wasting time talking about how to enter the peace process." A statement released by the Prime Minister's office declared:
The Palestinian Authority are the ones that are preventing the re-launch of the peace process with their preconditions that they have never asked before from any previous Israeli government. The Prime Minister calls on the Palestinian Authority to sit at the negotiating table and discuss ways to promote security, peace, and prosperity for the two people.