Iran Election Guide

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Entries in New York Times (16)


Latest Iran News (16 January): Ripples

2210 GMT: Wow, Couldn't See That Coming.

What we wrote at 0745 GMT: "Some media were looking forward to today's "5+1" (US, UK, Russia, China, France, Germany) meeting on Iran's nuclear programme. Even if that gathering had significance for the internal situation in Iran, it is unlikely to produce any results: China has declined to send a high-level official, blocking any move towards further sanctions on Tehran."

What Associated Press reported an hour ago: "Top diplomats from six key powers focused on possible new sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program at a meeting Saturday, but reached no agreement, Russia's deputy foreign minister said."

NEW Iran Video & Translation: Dr Etaat’s Opposition On State Media (14 January — Part 3)
UPDATED Iran Video & Translation: Dr Etaat’s Opposition On State Media (14 January — Parts 1 and 2)
NEW Iran: The 15 Points of “The Secular Green Movement” (14 January)
NEW Iran Analysis: The “Opposition Within” and the Regime
Latest Iran Video & Translation: Dr Etaat’s Opposition On State Media (14 January)
Iran: Anger, Pain, & Fear — The Funeral of Professor Ali-Mohammadi
Latest Iran Video: Green Protest and the Iran-Belgium Football Match (14 January)
Iran: The Regime Censors the 1979 Revolution
Latest Iran Audio: The Last Lecture of Professor Ali-Mohammadi
The Latest from Iran (15 January): Refreshing?

2205 GMT: Writing in Exile. Nazila Fathi, The New York Times correspondent who fled her native country in June, has written an emotive account of post-election events and her departure. The article, however, also offers a powerful insight into how "new media" has re-shaped both opposition and coverage of it:

Last month, during and after the funeral of the reformist Grand Ayatollah Hossain Ali Montazeri, one of the demonstrators’ most useful tools was the Bluetooth short-range radio signal that Americans use mainly to link a cellphone to an earpiece, or a printer to a laptop. Long ago, Iranian dissidents discovered that Bluetooth can as easily link cellphones to each other in a crowd.

And that made “Bluetooth” a verb in Iran: a way to turn citizen reportage instantly viral. A protester Bluetooths a video clip to others nearby, and they do the same. Suddenly, if the authorities want to keep the image from escaping the scene, they must confiscate hundreds or thousands of phones and cameras.

The authorities have tried to fight back against such techniques and the Internet itself, but have fallen short. In November they announced that a new police unit, the “cyber-army,” would sweep the Web of dissent. It blocked Twitter feeds for a few hours in December, and an opposition Web site. But other blogs and Web sites mushroomed faster than the government could keep up.

2155 GMT: Ayande News continues to poke at the Government. It asks if Iran's police chief Esmail Ahmadi-Moghaddam, who warned Iranians against using e-mails or text messages to organise protests, has read the Constitution, since it forbids the monitoring of private communications.

2150 GMT: Fars News is reporting that a suicide bomber has been killed in an explosion in Mashhad.

2145 GMT: We have returned from a break to post the video and translation of the third part of Dr Javed Etaat's sustained criticism of the regime on an Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting programme.

1840 GMT: On a fairly quiet day, we'll be on limited service this evening. Do keep sending in information, comments, and ideas.

1650 GMT: Mehdi Khalaji, the US-based journalist and scholar, has written an open letter to the Supreme Leader concerning the arrest of his father, Ayatollah Mohammad Taghi Khalaji.

1640 GMT: Atomic Diplomacy. Iran has launched a website to explain and promote its nuclear programme.

1630 GMT:Journalist Nader Karimi, who was arrested in November 2008, has been sentenced to 10 years in prison.

1550 GMT: A Technical Announcement. The "diversion" attack on Iran Hezbollah, and the counter-attack, are on the Persian landing page The main page is now 100% Hezbollah with no Iranian Cyber-Army/Iranian Green Army/getasexpartner messages.

1520 GMT: Battle of the Cyber-Warriors. A twist in the tale of the hacking of the Iran Hezbollah (Party of God) website (see 0750 GMT). The takeover of the site by the "Iranian Green Army", with a rather rude message and alternate domain name, has been superseded by a counter-takeover by the "Iranian Cyber Army". There is now a smiling Ayatollah Khamenei with the statement, "Site has been returned,and the Hacker(s) Has Been Traced By Iranian Cyber Army , We will catch them as soon possible."

Ahh, yes, the Iranian Cyber Army, the same outfit that claimed the diversion-of-traffic attacks on the opposition website Mowj-e-Sabz and Twitter. Given their service to a group close to the Iranian regime, should we conclude that the ICA is not just a collection of punk kids causing trouble?

(Just a tip, guys. If you are working for Hezbollah and the regime, you might want to check that domain name. The Supreme Leader now appears below the domain "".)

1510 GMT: Ali-Mohammadi's Protest. Iranian activists have posted a letter, including the signature of Professor Massoud Ali-Mohammadi, asking for a cessation of violence against students.

1500 GMT: Iranian state media is reporting that the trial of French student Clotilde Reiss, arrested this summer, concluded today. There is no further word of verdict or sentencing.

1455 GMT: According to Rah-e-Sabz, Reza Talalei, a member of the Expediency Council, said at the Council session today that “post-election events are a result of the Government’s wrong actions”. He called for freedom of political activity, freedom of speech, and humane treatment of Iranian people, who would “answer such in kind.” A return of peace to society and an opening up of political to all groups was “paramount”.

1445 GMT: Thanks to our friends at The Flying Carpet Institute, we've posted the video and translation of the second part of Dr Javad Etaat's criticisms of the regime, which aired on the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting on Thursday.

1420 GMT: Thanks to an EA reader, we've posted the translation of the 15 Points of "The Secular Green Movement" (see 0920 GMT).

1335 GMT: Judiciary Head Denounces Big Liars. Iran’s Head of Judiciary, Sadegh Larijani, has warned the "minority (reformist?) faction of the Parliament" that those those who have “claimed that the elections were rigged, have broken the law....This allegation of fraud was a big lie which became the source of extensive damage.”

All very much in line with Larijani's recent finger-waggings and threats of prosecution, as he said that the lying claims have “hurt the feeling and sentiments of the public and the pious”. This reference, however, is curious, either in translation or in Larijani's intent: the post-election crisis also arose from the “silence of the elite and their lack of foresight”.

1330 GMT: Media Twist of the Day. Press TV's website starts its story, "Former Iranian presidential candidate Mir-Hossein Mousavi says Iran's enemies are behind the assassination of Iranian nuclear scientist Masoud Ali-Mohammadi."

And you're thinking, maybe Iran's state media has been infiltrated or corrupted and switched to the Dark Side of the opposition.

But wait....Here's the last paragraph: "Iran's Foreign Ministry has announced that it has found traces of US and Israeli involvement in the assassination of the Iranian nuclear physics scientist."

You see? One touch-up of the "facts", and Mir Hossein Mousavi believes the US and Israel killed the Professor.

Well played, gentlemen. Very well played.

0930 GMT: The Battle Inside the Regime? Again prompted by EA readers and alongside this morning's analysis, I wonder if this ripple has any significance:

Fars News, considering President Ahmadinejad, linked to a blog "Ahestan" which was not too flattering about close Ahmadinejad ally and aide Esfandiar Rahim-Mashai. Iran Khabar, which noted the item, claims that, with state media now assisting, "criticism of Ahmadinejad has become cheap".

0925 GMT: Setting Up the Greens? A thought, spurred by EA readers, that has been niggling me.

We noted yesterday the statement of member of Parliament Asadollah Badamchian that the opposition was behind the "terrorism" which killed Professor Massoud Ali-Mohammadi. Well, the satirist Ebrahim Nabavi has noted Badamchian's assertion, before the death of Ali-Mohammadi, "Soon explosions and assassinations will start."

So, that thought: did Badamchian know of a scheme to carry out violent acts and blame them on the Greens?

0920 GMT: How Big Will This Ripple Be? As some EA readers noted yesterday, the "Secular Green Movement" has emerged with a statement, signed by Iranians living in North America and Europe, of views and 15 demands for reform, rights, and justice. We are watching carefully for reactions to see if move parallels or intersects with the 10 Demands of 5 Iranian intellectuals living abroad, issued on 3 January, and the 5-point post-Ashura statement of Mir Hossein Mousavi.

0905 GMT: We've posted an analysis from of the tensions inside the Iranian establishment, "The 'Opposition Within' and the Regime".

0750 GMT: While Friday was a relatively quiet day after the open drama and tensions earlier this week, there were more than enough developments to point to the ripples of continuing conflict and manoeuvre.

Some of the ripples were far away from the central wave. For example, some media were looking forward to today's "5+1" (US, UK, Russia, China, France, Germany) meeting on Iran's nuclear programme. Even if that gathering had significance for the internal situation in Iran, it is unlikely to produce any results: China has declined to send a high-level official, blocking any move towards further sanctions on Tehran.

Some of the ripples bring a smile, such as the latest episode in the cyber-war between the regime and the opposition. Iran's police chief Esmail Ahmadi-Moghaddam may have most seriously warned the Green movement(s) not to use e-mail and text messages to plan any protests, but "Iranian Green Army" got last night's last laugh with the attack on the website of Iran's Hezbollah (Party of God). The unsubtle message, "The End is F***ing Near", and the new domain name,, are still up this morning.

There are the day-in, day-out ripples from the Government. The head of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) Mohammad-Ali Jafari declared, in a speech in western Iran, "The enemies of the Islamic Revolution have come to the conclusion that they can not achieve their mischievous goals; therefore they do not abandon threats against the Islamic Republic." Israel, "filled with fear and scared of going into war with Iran," got a special shout-out as the force behind economic sanctions.

The biggest ripples on Friday, however, came with yet more challenges to and within the regime. The appearance of dissent, via Dr Javad Etaat, on Iranian state media has brought heated discussion inside and outside Iran, and chatter continues this morning over the criticisms of a former top commander of the Revolutionary Guard, Sardar Safavi.

Safavi, urging respect for senior clerics and avoidance of any extreme actions, has some words for "power seekers" who ran for President but then acted outside the law when their defeat was announced. Then, however, he takes aim at current leaders for their attacks on the "old guard" --- allies of the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini --- as "hypocrities". He also pointed to the Government's mismanagement of post-election politics and the economy, warning that this is bringing “unpleasant” deeds by frustrated Iranian youth.

As EA readers noted yesterday, Safavi, in his call for unity, condemned attacks against senior clerics such as Ayatollahs Dastgheib and Sane'i etc.) and the labelling of protesters as “mohareb” (enemies of God). He emphasized that Revolutionary Guard and Basiji should serve the people rather than suppressing them.

The Latest from Iran (15 January): Refreshing?

2200 GMT: Your Late-Night Cyber-Treat. On Google, type "Ahmadinejad President of Iran". Hit "I'm Feeling Lucky".

2140 GMT: We started this morning (see 0715 GMT) by noting the possible significance of the "reformist" criticisms of Dr Javad Etaat making their way onto Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting. We end today by posting the video of the first part of the interview and an English translation.

2030 GMT: Cyber-Warfare Strike. Hacking the website of Iran's Hezbollah (Party of God) is one thing. Doing it with the slogan "The End is F***ing Near" is another. And accomplishing it with a diversion to the domain, well... Let's just say that Iran's police chief Esmail Ahmadi-Moghaddam (see 1220 GMT) may want to get a bigger Internet manual if he is serious about taking on the opposition in a Web slugfest.

NEW Latest Iran Video & Translation: Dr Etaat’s Opposition On State Media (14 January)
NEW Iran: Anger, Pain, & Fear — The Funeral of Professor Ali-Mohammadi
NEW Latest Iran Video: Green Protest and the Iran-Belgium Football Match (14 January)
NEW Iran: The Regime Censors the 1979 Revolution
NEW Latest Iran Audio: The Last Lecture of Professor Ali-Mohammadi
Latest Iran Video: Al Jazeera’s Debate Over The Death of Ali-Mohammadi (13 January)
Latest Iran Video: The Life, Death, and Funeral of Professor Ali-Mohammadi (14 January)
Latest Iran Video: “A Message to Armed Forces of Iran” (13 January)
Iran Analysis: Political Manoeuvring Around the Professor’s Death
The Latest from Iran (14 January): The Professor’s Funeral

1935 GMT: Quality Analysis of Day. Well done, Asadollah Badamchian, member of Parliament: “The assassination [of Professor Ali-Mohammadi] and terrorist operation was a previously planned step in the Green Velvet Revolution." The movement, Badamchian said, consists of five sub-groups, “each of which are gradually eroding”.

1825 GMT: That Supreme Leader Message of Condolence (Again). So sorry that Professor Ali-Mohammadi is dead, building up to "the criminal hand that brought this disaster has revealed the motive of the enemies of the Islamic Republic of Iran to deal a blow to the scientific movement of the country".

1624 GMT: A Bit of US Pressure? From an Indian news agency: "The United States has asked Pakistan to dump its plan of receiving natural gas from Iran through a pipeline. According to sources, US Special Envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke, during his meeting with Petroleum Minister Syed Naveed Qamar, said Islamabad would have to abandon its pipeline accord with Tehran in order to qualify for extensive American energy assistance especially for importing Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) and electricity."

1618 GMT: Your Tehran Friday Prayers Summary. Ayatollah Mohammad Emami-Kashani gets the nod today, and he comes up with the stunning declaration, "The enemy uses every possible means to harm the establishment and the country so we should, in a very real sense, remain vigilant."

OK, not so stunning. In fact, repetitive. But we had to say something.

Oh, yes. Emami-Kashani also "called for televised debates to clear ambiguities about the country's current political affairs".

1615 GMT: We've posted an account of yesterday's funeral of Professor Ali-Mohammadi and its effects on academics and students.

1445 GMT: Supreme Leader's Message of Condolence to Family of Professor Ali-Mohammadi. Here's a summary: Ayatollah Khamenei expresses his sorrow, to Ali-Mohammadi's mother, wife, friends, colleagues, and students, and --- by the way --- this is a terror act that "reveals enemies' motive to harm Iran's scientific movement and jihad".

1245 GMT: Divine Declaration of Day. Hossein Taeb, head of the Intelligence Bureau of the Islamic Revolution Guard Corps and former head of the Basiji militia sets it out: the Supreme Leader is unjust are in error, those who follow him will go to Paradise. An Iranian activist offers this translation of Taeb's words:
Even though [the Supreme Leader] was suffering under [Grand Ayatollah] Montazeri during Imam Khomeini's time and despite all insults he had to endure, he did issue a beautifuland  gentle message upon Montazeri's passing and advised that he can be buried anywhere the family wanted. Those who say the Supreme Leader has left the [path of] justice, don't understand the meaning of it. They think that Supreme Leader is chosen by the Assembly of Experts. Supreme Leader is rather discovered by Experts and that is why they can't grant capabilities. It is God who does.

1220 GMT: We Will Find You. Is this a declaration of strength or nervousness? Iran's police chief Esmail Ahmadi-Moghaddam has warned against Internet and text messages to spread news of demonstrations:
These people should know where they are sending the SMS and email as these systems are under control. They should not think using proxies will prevent their identification. If these people continue, their records will be examined and those who organise or issue appeals have committed a worse crime than those who come to the streets.

1145 GMT: The Resigning Diplomat. Confirmation comes in a Norwegian television interview that Mohammad Reza Heidari, an Iranian diplomat in Norway, is quitting his post. Heydari's intention to resign was initally reported days ago on radio. He claims that an Iranian official came to Oslo to assure him he would not be hurt if he retracted the resignation: "I refused to agree to that. They suggested I'd do an interview in which I denied my defection in order to return to Tehran. But I know I made the right choice and that my conscience is clean."

1140 GMT: We've posted the latest video in our running series on football and protest, opposition chants at the Iran-Belgium indoor football match.

1010 GMT: Iran "Analysis" of Day. Islamic Republic News Agency presents the findings of an "Office of Research and Studies" that there was a "deep intrigue", courtesy of the US Government, for disorder and sedition after the Presidential election.

For those of you who aren't convinced about this exposure of "soft war", there are footnotes. And it's great to see Bush Administration has-been John Bolton and Thomas Friedman of The New York Times in the same "research" paper.

0840 GMT: One Less Death Sentence. Kalemeh reports that Hamid Ruhidnejad, arrested before the elections but condemned to death this summer, will now serve 10 years in jail. Ruhidnejad's father contends that, as his son suffers from multiple sclerosis and is half-blind, he is unlikely to survive the punishment.

0735 GMT: We've posted a separate entry, courtesy of Pedestrian, on how the regime is censoring videos and images of the 1979 Islamic Revolution in the run-up to its 31st anniversary on 22 Bahman (11 February)

0715 GMT: The Opposition Emerges on Iran's State Media. Dr. Javad Etaat, appearing on the Ru Be Farda programme of Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting, IRIB ("Ru be farda" magazine), criticised the "failed" economic plans of the Government, pointing to Iran's high rate of inflation. He also got political, denouncing the prohibition of demonstrations and the banning of newspapers. Perhaps most pointedly, he refers to Imam Ali, the first Imam of Shi'a Islam, to challenge any prohibition of dissent.

Etaat is a professor of political science at Shahad Behesti University and a former member of the Parliament's Cultural Commission. Unsurprisingly, the video of his comments is now racing around YouTube.

0705 GMT: The Scholars Protest (cont.). An EA reader writes us with a clarification, "That 300+ scholars lettter (see 0630 GMT) started a very long time ago! Deutsche Welle covered it on July 10th."

0645 GMT: The Battle With Rafsanjani. Hamid Rohani, a fervent supporter of President Ahmadinejad, has continued his attack on former President Hashemi Rafsanjani. Asked about his recent claim that Imam Khomeini had warned Rafsanjani could be "deceived" (noted in our updates earlier this week), Rohani insisted --- despite the lack of this claim in Khomeini's published letters --- that the incident was in 1973, when the Friday Prayers leader of the city of Rafsanjan wrote Khomeini. What is more: Rohani claims the exchange arose from Rafsanjani's request for religious funds for the People's Mujahideen Organization of Iran (PMOI), which the regime now considers a "terrorist" movement.

0635 GMT: Mousavi's Reference to Government "Enemies"? We noted last night that Mir Hossein Mousavi had sent condolences to the family of the murdered physicist, Massoud Ali-Mohammadi. This phrase, however, deserves attention: Ali-Mohammadi was assassinated by "enemies of the people". Who is that "enemy"?

0630 GMT: The Scholars Protest. Iranian academics working and studying abroad are circulating an open letter to the "Honourable People of Iran": "Preparing the grounds for the free exchange of information, opinions and beliefs, and most importantly the security of university students, academics, and thinkers, are the responsibilities of the government and are the most basic conditions for scientific and social growth of a nation."

More than 300 scholars have already signed the letter.

0625 GMT: It's the weekend in Iran, and we're expecting a bit of a lull after the furour over the killing of Professor Ali-Mohammadi. We have posted the full audio of the physicist's last lecture.

That said, there have been so many fissures in the "establishment" this week that there may not be a pause this Friday. And there's a sign that the Green movement has even gotten a foothold in the broadcasts of Islamic Republic Iran Broadcasting --- we're working on the video and story.

Iran Analysis: The Regime Beyond the Headlines

The world is once again watching Iran. A series of weekend developments are in the global press this morning. Thomas Erdbrink of The Washington Post covers the Parliamentary report on the abuse of detainees, headlining the allegations against former Tehran Prosecutor General and current Presidential aide Saeed Mortazavi, "An Iranian parliamentary probe has singled out a former Tehran prosecutor as being responsible for the violent deaths of three protesters in a now-closed prison facility after anti-government demonstrations in July." Nazila Fathi of The New York Times writes on the same lines.

Credit to both reporters and to others for picking up on the development. Credit also for coverage of the Supreme Leader's weekend address as well as notice of President Ahmadinejad's presentation of his five-year National Development Plan to Parliament.

The Latest from Iran (11 January): Reading the Regime

However, all the information deserves a much closer look. Below the surface of pronouncement and public reports, there are powerful currents swirling within the Establishment. This is no less than an attempt, perhaps the last one before showdown reaches the highest levels of the regime, to find a way out of the political conflict.

There are hints tucked away in today's stories. Erdbrink, for example, has this enticing quote from Abbas Abdi, a former journalist critical of the Government: 
Mortazavi is the highest official the parliament could accuse without getting in trouble. If they would go after lower-level officials, their probe would have been meaningless." It is now up to the judiciary to press official charges against the former prosecutor.

Fathi goes for the line of a sop to the Green movement:
One analyst, a former senior official who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that in pinning the blame on Mr. Mortazavi, the government was trying to pacify the opposition.

“They might go as far as sacrificing Mortazavi, but I don’t think this is going to fool the opposition,” he said. “This does not mean a major compromise. It is just a tactic, and they are willing to sacrifice him because he crossed the lines.”

Both soundbites are half-right: Mortazavi now wears the title of Number One Scapegoat for the post-election excesses.

This, however, has little to do with concessions to the opposition. The regime's tough response to the Saturday march of Mothers of Mourning and their supporters, putting 33 in prison and reportedly injuring several, backs up the rhetoric that continues to come from Ministers, officials, Parliamentary leaders like Ali Larijani, and the Supreme Leader. No more demonstrations. No more resistance.

(At best, there may be an argument that the Parliamentary report is a signal to Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, who raised the abuse charges back in July, that they should come in from the opposition cold and strike a deal. However, even that possibility --- raised in last week's letter from conservative/principlist leader and Presidential candidate Mohsen Rezaei to Ayatollah Khamenei --- has not been borne out by any other Government moves.)

And the Abdi line is incomplete, either in its reading or its representation by Erdbrink. The idea that Mortazavi is the biggest fish/scapegoat (pardon the mixing of animal metaphors) and therefore that the investigations and the allegations stop with the former prosecutor is a misunderstanding: the Parliamentary challenge to Ahmadinejad has come too far to stop with Mortazavi's punishment.

Remember, the President's response to this report --- after it was presented to Parliament --- was to proceed with the official ceremony for Mortazavi's appointment as the head of the unit investigating smuggling of currency and drugs. That's a come-and-get-me taunt to those in and close to the Majlis --- Rezaei, Ali Motahari, Ahmad Tavakoli, even Ali Larijani --- who want the President, not one of advisors, to admit errors and injustices. Motahari made that clear in his video interviews last week.

So leave the Green opposition to the side for the moment. One of two scenarios happens:

1. Mortazavi falls, and Ahmadinejad takes a blow to this authority. His Parliamentary and political foes will either then accept that they have contained Mahmoud or, smelling blood and victory, they will press on.

2. Ahmadinejad will not sacrifice Mortazavi, and the fight gets even more intense.

Into this mix let's throw in the Supreme Leader. His speech last Saturday was difficult to read because it had two apparently conflicting messages. On the one hand, as we initially updated, he was warning protesters to shut up and go away, a repetition of his 19 June line that tried to validate the Presidential election. On the other, he was indicating that there had to be some acceptance of excessive measures by security forces and assurances that they would not be repeated.

How to reconcile those signals? Well, by recognising to whom they are directed. The first is simply to keep the opposition at bay and, indeed, far, far away while the regime tries to sort itself out. The second, more immediately important message is to those who nominally support Khamenei. Read it carefully, and I think you've got the Supreme Leader lending some backing to the Parliamentary/political criticism of the Presidential office and, therefore, telling Ahmadinejad and the security forces aligned with him: Be Careful.

Another reminder: this isn't new. Rewind to July and August and there are a series of power plays and disputes between Parliament and the President and even the Supreme Leader and Ahmadinejad. Mahmoud and Company won some of those battles, getting more influence in ministries like Intelligence, and lost some, for example, with the forced climbdown over the appointment of Esfandiar Rahim-Mashai as First Vice President. At that time, however, Ahmadinejad's biggest victories were getting to be President, with his inauguration in August, and getting his big Cabinet picks the following month.

All of this is back in play, however. As a very well-informed source told me last week, "The only way this ends is if and when some [expletive deleted] stabs Ahmadinejad in the back."

Iran Special Analysis: A US Move to "Sanctions for Rights"?

The most interesting spin out of the US in recent days is in a Saturday article in The Wall Street Journal by Jay Solomon, "U.S. Shifts Iran Focus to Support Opposition".

The headline is a bit misleading, since the core issue is whether (in fact, how rather than whether) the Obama Administration will be pursuing and presenting additional sanctions against Iran: "The White House is crafting new financial sanctions specifically designed to punish the Iranian entities and individuals most directly involved in the crackdown on Iran's dissident forces, said...U.S. officials, rather than just those involved in Iran's nuclear program."

The presentation, however, is telling. For weeks, the set-up for sanctions --- for example, in the articles of David Sanger and William Broad in The New York Times --- has been that they were essential to punish Iran for breakdown of enrichment talks and Tehran's move toward a military nuclear capability. Now, for the first time, the message is not just that "rights" should take priority but that there may be a change of power in Iran: "The Obama administration is increasingly questioning the long-term stability of Tehran's government and moving to find ways to support Iran's opposition 'Green Movement'."

Read it: the authority of President Ahmadinejad is no longer assumed, even bolstered, by the US approach. An Administration source declares, "The Green Movement has demonstrated more staying power than perhaps some have anticipated. The regime is internally losing its legitimacy, which is of its own doing."

So which US officials are now tying "targeted sanctions" to this shift away from Ahmadinejad and visions of a new leadership? Here's the big clue:
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gathered over coffee at the State Department this week with four leading Iran scholars and mapped out the current dynamics, said U.S. officials. One issue explored was how the U.S. should respond if Tehran suddenly expressed a desire to reach a compromise on the nuclear issue. Mrs. Clinton asked whether the U.S. could reach a pact without crippling the prospects for the Green Movement.

In September, Clinton and her advisors had a similar discussion. The leading Iran scholars on that occasion? "The Carnegie Endowment's Karim Sadjadpour, the New America Foundation's Afshin Molavi, the National Iranian American Council's Trita Parsi, the Council on Foreign Relations' Ray Takeyh, the Woodrow Wilson's Haleh Esfandiari, Brookings' Suzanne Maloney, and George Mason University's Shaul Bakhash."

In recent weeks, Parsi's NIAC has been pushing the approach of targeted sanctions linked to rights, not the nuclear issue, and Takeyh has been promoting a rights-first policy. So I suspect that The Wall Street Journal article is declaring a convergence between the Obama Administration and the private sphere.

If so, welcome back Green movement. And President Ahmadinejad may have lost his nuclear prop from Washington.

The Latest from Iran (6 January): Distractions

IRAN GREEN2030 GMT: US Walks Tightrope on Green Movement. Earlier today we posted Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's declaration about the "ruthless repression" of the Iran Government. Now State Department official John Limbert, who has direct responsibility for Iran, has put out a longer, more balanced statement.

On the one hand, Limbert continues the rhetoric criticising and cautioning the regime, "I think it's very hard for the government to decide how to react to the legitimate demands of the people. The more violence it uses, the more it will hurt itself in the end....We will never remain silent in the face of state violence and the mistreatment of people."

On the other, Limbert is also assuring that the Obama Administration will not break off discussions with the Ahmadinejad Government: "As you know, the U.S. president is determined to renew ties with Iran despite all the problems -- which we don't underestimate -- based on a new beginning."

NEW Iran: Hillary Clinton on Engagement & Pressure with Regime of “Ruthless Repression”
UPDATED Iran: The 60 Forbidden Foreign Organisations
Latest Iran Video and Transcript: Haghighatjoo and Marandi on CNN (4 January)
Iran: How Outside “Help” Can Hurt the Green Movement

2020 GMT: Setareh Sabety has posted an article commenting on the recent declaration of five Iranian intellectuals living abroad and declaring, "[Their] ten demands...should be embraced because they provide the democratic framework within which we can debate the future of our beloved Iran."

2010 GMT: Kalemeh is reporting the latest statement of Mehdi Karroubi that he is "prepared for everything" and "could not have imagine" the behaviour of the regime in the post-election conflict.

1950 GMT: Mesbah Yazdi Calling for Death Penalty? Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi, close to President Ahmadinejad, ran out the standard line on the "evil" protests as the product of the "West" and Jews today. He allegedly added, however, that the demonstrators were "corruption on earth" and, as such, are subject to the death penalty.

1940 GMT: Iran's Energy Boost. "Turkmenistan has opened a second gas pipeline to Iran....Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad inaugurated the new 30km (19 miles) pipeline with Turkmen President Kurbanguly Berdymukhamedov in a ceremony in the desert near the Iranian border."

What is interesting beyond the story is that the BBC not only reports the development but praises it for "further eroding Russia's historical domination of its energy sector". Not sure the US authorities will see the deal in exactly the same way.

1930 GMT: Oh, Please (with an MKO twist).... We try our bet to limit the damage, but sometimes you cannot keep a bad article down. Laura Rozen of Politico, who normally has the best pairs of eyes and ears in Washington, swallows The New York Times "Iran Nuclear Bunkers/Tunnels" story (see 0640 GMT). What's more, she inadvertently highlights more reasons for concern, quoting Broad:

In late 2005, the Iranian opposition group [Mujahedin-e-Khalq] held news conferences in Paris and London to announce that its spies had learned that Iran was digging tunnels for missile and atomic work at 14 sites, including an underground complex near Qum. The government, one council official said, was building the tunnels to conceal “its pursuit of nuclear weapons”.

Hmm.... That's Mujahedin-e-Khalq, dedicated by all means to topple the Iranian regime. A neutral source for solid, reliable intelligence?

1430 GMT: With continued quiet, I'm off to address the conference in Beirut. Back for evening updates around 2000 GMT.

1305 GMT: Mortazavi Accused? Alef reports that a Parliament committee has unanimously approved a report, after several months of investigation, naming Saeed Mortazavi --- former Tehran Prosecutor General and current aide to President Ahmadinejad --- as chief suspect in the death of detainees in Kahrizak Prison.

1240 GMT: The day continues quietly in Iran, and in the lull more media mischief (see 0640 GMT). The Washington Times declares, "Iran's Al Qaeda Connection in Yemen", based on the suspect testimony of a former Guantanamo detainee, a suspect letter supposedly from Al Qa'eda Number 2 Ayman al-Zawahiri, and the assertion of a Yemeni politician.

For sheer stupidity, however, this pales into insignificance beside the Guardian's allocation of space to a Brian Binley, whose comment, "End Appeasement of Iran's Regime", offers this approach to resistance:
If the British government seriously wishes to find a solution to the Iran problem, they need look no further than the streets of Tehran and the Iranian people's determination to purse democratic ambitions.
For a number of years now, colleagues and I on the British Parliamentary Committee for Iran Freedom have worked with Iran's largest opposition group in exile, the National Council of Resistance of Iran, and its president-elect Maryam Rajavi to strengthen our policy towards Iran whilst seeking increased support for the Iranian opposition movement.

That would be the National Council of Resistance of Iran, the political wing of the Mujahedin-e-Khalq and its often-violent campaign to overthrow the Iranian Government since 1979.

Such political "wisdom" deserves a separate entry, I think.

0920 GMT: Breaking the Movement. Rooz Online reports the Freedom Movement of Iran, many of whose members have been detained, including the recent re-arrest of its head Ebrahim Yazdi, has suspended operations for the first time in its 48 years. The organisation added, “While we express our regret at the regime’s unlawful confrontation aimed at limiting the free flow of information and the demand that the Freedom Movement of Iran stop the activities of its official website and its analytical website Mizan until further notice, we reserve the right to legally pursue our rights in this regard.”

0730 GMT: To Be Fair. Disdain for some of the US portrayals of "Iran" this morning should be balanced with a hat-tip to Robin Wright of The Los Angeles Times, who considers the possibility of "An Opposition Manifesto in Iran":
Three bold statements calling for reform have been issued since Friday, one by opposition presidential candidate Mir-Hossein Mousavi, one by a group of exiled religious intellectuals and the third by university professors. Taken together, they suggest that the movement will not settle for anything short of radical change.

0640 GMT: Not much breaking news from Iran overnight and this morning, with the outcome that the US papers are awash in distracting rhetoric, tangential stories, and even a forceful call to recognise the legitimacy of the Iranian regime.

The rhetoric comes from Emanuele Ottolenghi in The Wall Street Journal. A long-time proponent of regime changes in countries such as Iraq, Ottolenghi grabs the Ashura story of the martyrdom of Imam Hussein to praise "Iran's Righteous Martyrs": "This time we should root for [them]." (Presumably the United States was unable to root for Imam Hussein in the 7th century.)

The Los Angeles Times, in an article by Robert Faturechi, features the claims that the cost of the Green movement's protests has been the "loss" of three detained Americans:
With street protests raging in Iran, political activism is on the rise among Los Angeles' already vocal Iranian American community. Flag-waving demonstrators clad in the opposition movement's signature green have been a common sight outside the Federal Building in Westwood, and Iranian-language media is abuzz with debate.

But when it comes to the three young American hikers being held in Iran on espionage charges the community has been decidedly silent. No large demonstrations, little conversation, virtually no push for action.

For William Broad in The New York Times, the issue is not the politics either of the Iranian protests or the imprisoned US trio, but Nukes, Nukes, Nukes.

In yet another piece fed to him by by "American government and private experts", Broad launches the latest proclamiation of Imminent Iranian Threat: "Iran has quietly hidden an increasingly large part of its atomic complex in networks of tunnels and bunkers across the country."

On a different page of The Times, however, the Iranian Government has a vocal defence team. Flynt and Hillary Mann Leverett, in the latest of their numerous calls for discussion with President Ahmadinejad and his representatives, open with the declaration: "The Islamic Republic of Iran is not about to implode. Nevertheless, the misguided idea that it may do so is becoming enshrined as conventional wisdom in Washington."

To bolster their argument that the Obama Administration has no choice but to engage with Ahmadinejad, the Leveretts throw out a confetti of unsupported assertions:
Antigovernment Iranian Web sites claim there were “tens of thousands” of Ashura protesters; others in Iran say there were 2,000 to 4,000....Vastly more Iranians took to the streets on Dec. 30, in demonstrations organized by the government to show support for the Islamic Republic (one Web site that opposed President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s re-election in June estimated the crowds at one million people)....

Even President Ahmadinejad’s principal challenger in last June’s presidential election, Mir Hossein Mousavi, felt compelled to acknowledge the “unacceptable radicalism” of some Ashura protesters.

The Leveretts do put a series of challenges, discussed also at EA, about the opposition's leadership, its strategy, and its objectives, but this is all to prop up the "default" option that the regime (whose political, religious, economic, and ideological position is not examined beyond that claim of a million protesters on its behalf on 30 December) must not only be accepted but embraced in talks.

Just as the US Government set aside the inconvenience of Tiananmen Square 20 years ago, so it should put in the closet the trifling annoyance of those Iranians who demonstrate against rather than for the Government. The Leveretts conclude:
As a model, the president would do well to look to China. Since President Richard Nixon’s opening there (which took place amid the Cultural Revolution), successive American administrations have been wise enough not to let political conflict — whether among the ruling elite or between the state and the public, as in the Tiananmen Square protests and ethnic separatism in Xinjiang — divert Washington from sustained, strategic engagement with Beijing. President Obama needs to begin displaying similar statesmanship in his approach to Iran.