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Entries in uranium enrichment (8)


Iran's Nukes: False Alarm Journalism (Sick)

Gary Sick follows up our Sunday analysis of the exaggerated "news" in The New York Times, penned by David Sanger and William Broad, of an impending threat from Iran's nuclear programme:

I was struck by two things in this newly breathless and alarmist front-page NYT report.

UPDATED Iran’s Nukes: The Dangerous News of The New York Times

First, it says its information is based on the word of officials who “insisted on anonymity because the search involves not only satellite surveillance, but also intelligence gleaned from highly classified operations.” Yet the only hard, new information is based on the public statement of the head of the Iranian Atomic Energy Organization [Ali Akhbar Salehi] — all that ultra-classified stuff is by their own admission nothing more than pure speculation.

Second, the other revelation is that no new centrifuges have been added to the Natanz site, which may mean that these are destined for the two new “secret” (but publicly announced) sites. Let’s see, Iran has publicly declared its Qom facility, which is under inspection, and they say that they are going to install 3000 centrifuges there. But the site is not ready, so a less sensational interpretation would be that they are holding their new centrifuges to go there when the site is ready. It’s also not surprising that they are not adding new centrifuges to the Natanz site since more than 50% of the 9000 centrifuges installed at Natanz are not actually producing enriched uranium. Why add to the non-working total?

Why do Sanger and Broad insist on spinning a conspiratorial scenario when there are perfectly rational alternatives? I guess that doesn’t qualify as a scoop, so it doesn’t deserve front-page treatment, and it makes the word of unnamed officials with access to unmentionable intelligence look pretty foolish.

Given the NYT experience with faithfully reproducing sensational and highly selective leaks prior to the Iraq war, which proved to be false and which helped get the US into a war that was initiated on false premises, it is truly difficult for me to believe that the NYT editors still continue to put out this kind of unsourced, circular, prejudicial, and logically challenged reporting — and always on the front page!

UPDATED Iran's Nukes: The Dangerous News of The New York Times

UPDATE 1500 GMT: More signals that the Sanger-Broad "news" of undeclared Iranian enrichment facilities as an imminent threat, either to security or to political strategy, is not supported by most Obama Administration officials . Senior adviser Valerie Jarrett told ABC News this morning:
Here we go again.
We are going to continue to put pressure on Iran,” she said. “We’re going to have a coalition that will really put pressure on Iran and will stop them from doing what they are trying to do. Over the last year, what we’ve seen when the President came into office, there was a unified Iran. Now we’re seeing a lot of divisions within the country. And we’re seeing steady progress in terms of a world coalition that will put that pressure on Iran.

Iran's Nukes: False Alarm Journalism (Sick)

The declared line by both Jarrett and senior advisor David Axelrod is that the US is on the way to "a strong regime of sanctions" against Iran --- today's spin is that Russia is on board --- the more successful undeclared strategy is getting individual companies, both from pressure from the US Government and from Washington's allies, to leave Iran.

There had been a few weeks of silence from the Iran Nuclear Beat of The New York Times --- reporters David Sanger and William Broad --- since the last meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency at the end of February.

On that occasion, their reporting, fed by a set of IAEA and "Western" officials who want a tougher line on Tehran, had declared that the IAEA would issue a much tougher report over Iran's approach to a militarised nuclear programme. In the end, the statement of the IAEA's Secretary-General, Yukiya Amano, offered little new, even if Amano's rhetoric was a bit more strident than that of his predecessor, Mohammad el-Baradei.

Well, the boys are back this morning with a double-barrelled picture of showdown and possible war: the two declare, "Agencies Suspect Iran is Planning New Nuclear Sites", and Sanger adds the speculative piece, "Imagining an Israeli Strike on Iran".

As usual, the Sanger/Broad article is constructed on a patchwork of "Western officials" using the pair as a channel for their line on Iran, some twisting of words, and a disregard for context. The very first sentence is a guide: "Six months after the revelation of a secret nuclear enrichment site in Iran...." ignores the fact that Tehran declared the "secret" site to the IAEA. (There is a justifiable argument that Iran was forced into the declaration because Western officials, based on intelligence, were about to "out" the Fordoo plant near Qom, but that's a complexity beyond the New York Times piece.)

In this case, Sanger and Broad's entire declaration of drama rests on the standard process of IAEA inspectors looking for any sign of undeclared Iranian uranium enrichment sites. This is not earth-shaking: a series of IAEA reports have declared that, while there is no sign that Iran has diverted uranium to enrichment for military purposes, the Agency is looking for full disclosure from Tehran.

So what's new? Here, beyond the breathless invocation that "this article is based on interviews with officials of several governments and international agencies", is the total of Sanger and Broad's research: 1) the head of Iran's nuclear energy agency, Ali Akhbar Salehi, said that Tehran would build more enrichment plants (which indicates that Iran's intentions are not exactly covert and, despite Sanger and Broad's claim, was noted by news sites like EA); 2) some "recently manufactured uranium enrichment equipment" is not yet in the Natanz or Fordoo plants (which leaves the far from ominous possibility that it might be awaiting shipment to those plants or may be put on a 3rd site if Iran backs up Salehi's claim).

And that's it. There is no evidence here --- none, nothing, nada --- that Iran has or is anywhere close to an undeclared operational enrichment site. There is nothing here which indicates that, even if the site existed, it is being set up for a military programme rather than as a plant for enrichment of uranium to the 20 percent allowed by international regulations.

(In fact, a sharp-eyed reader will note that Sanger and Broad weaken the shaky foundations of their analysis with this paragraph slipped into the middle of the article: "American officials say they share the I.A.E.A.’s suspicions and are examining satellite evidence about a number of suspected sites. But they have found no solid clues yet that Iran intends to use them to produce nuclear fuel, and they are less certain about the number of sites Iran may be planning.")

And there is nothing here which indicates that Sanger and Broad have even glanced at their series of articles over recent months which have breathlessly implied Iran's march to a covert military programme for its uranium, articles which have evaporated without support for their claims , propped up by IAEA officials upset with the Agency's leadership or by US Government officials seeking an outlet for political moves rather than by any substantial investigation.

So what's the big deal? If indeed this is poor journalism, it should dissipate just like its predecessors.

Well, even poor journalism can have consequences, especially when it is buttressed by ominous speculation. On the surface, Sanger's "Imagining an Israeli Strike" is an introduction to a simulation played out at the Saban Center of the Brookings Institution in December, one which considered US and Iranian responses to an Iranian attack.

Nothing more here, in other words, than analysts testing out a scenario. Except that the timing of this article, placing it alongside the Sanger/Broad exaggeration of news, is far from subtle: if Iran is hiding uranium enrichment plants, couldn't that bring the bombers in from Tel Aviv?

All too predictably, Sanger and Broad's piece is being splashed across websites who support tougher Israeli and US action, possibly even a military strike, and are looking for "evidence" for their position: Fox News and The Jerusalem Post have circulated the piece. (To be fair, neither has added editorial comment elevating the language of fear and threat; I anticipate, however, that columnists will soon be jumping in.)

It's one thing for a series of commentators to bang the drum for an Israeli or even US strike on Iranian facilities --- almost all of those opinions are marginal in policy discussions in Washington. It's another for two reporters at the leading newspaper in America, under the guise of "news" rather than speculation or editorial comment, to offer support for that action.

That's not just poor journalism. That's dangerous journalism.

The Latest from Iran (18 March): Uranium Distractions

2225 GMT: Rafsanjani Watch. This could be interesting --- Hossein Marashi, cousin of Hashemi Rafsanjani's wife and a Vice Secretary-General of the Kargozaran Party. has been arrested.

2220 GMT: Edward Yeranian of the Voice of America offers an analysis, "Iranian Government Releases Prisoners for Persian New Year", with contributions from EA staff.

NEW Latest Iran Video: Mousavi's and Rahnavard's New Year Messages (18 March)
NEW Iran: Reading Mousavi & Karroubi “The Fight Will Continue” (Shahryar)
NEW Iran & the US: The Missed Nuclear Deal (Slavin)
Iran Labour Front: Minimum Wage, “Unprecedent Poverty and Hunger”, and Strikes
Iran Analysis: What Does the Fire Festival Mean?
Latest Iran Video: Two Views of the Fire Festival (16 March)
UPDATED Iran Document: Mousavi Speech on “Patience and Perseverance” (15 March)
The Latest from Iran (18 March): Uranium Distractions

2215 GMT: Political Prisoner Watch. Women's rights activist Somaiyeh Farid was arrested on Wednesday. Farid was at Evin Prison enquiring about her husband, Hojat (Siavash) Montazeri, who was arrested on 5 March.

2145 GMT: A Ray of Light. Amidst some poor analyses today of the Iranian political situation and the Green Movement, Melody Moezzi comes to the rescue with this piece in The Huffington Post:
The arrests before Revolution Day last month (11 February) surely dissuaded many opposition protesters not already in jail from pouring into the streets and risking beatings and unlawful detentions. I personally know of several opposition activists who stayed home as a result of the intimidation, and I can't say that I blame them. Still, no matter how few or many pro-democracy demonstrators show up in the streets for Nowruz the Iranian opposition has far from died. Rather, it has merely been pushed underground, but it is germinating like a stubborn hyacinth, taking on a course and a life of its own, teeming with the sweet smell of a freedom to come.

2100 GMT: A slow evening. Only significant news that we've noted is the release of Abolhasan Darolshafaei from detention. He is the last member of the family to be freed, following the releases of daughters Banafsheh and Jamileh and nephew Yashar.

No members of the Darolshafaei family are any longer in custody, just in time for New Year festivities.

1625 GMT: We have posted the New Year's video greetings of Mir Hossein Mousavi and his wife, Zahra Rahnavard, to the Iranian people.

1440 GMT: Political Prisoner Watch. Journalist Bahman Amoui, who has been detained since 20 June (read the letter to him from his wife, Zhila Baniyaghoub), has reportedly been released.

1415 GMT: Political Prisoner Watch: Journalist Akbar Montajabi has been released on bail. So have journalist Keyvan Samimi and Hojatoleslam Mir Ahmadizadeh.

1410 GMT: The Case for Change. Hassan Rowhani, a member of the Expediency Council and ally of Hashemi Rafsanjani, has used a long interview to discuss nuclear issues and to make the case for electoral reforms.

1355 GMT: Escape. The BBC is now reporting the story, which we carried last week, of student activist Ali Kantouri, who has fled Iran after being given a 15-year prison sentence for abduction and extortion.

1340 GMT: We have posted a special analysis by Mr Verde of the political significance of this week's Chahrshanbeh Suri (Fire Festival).

1220 GMT: On the Economic Front. Following up on our Wednesday special on the minimum wage and "unprecedented poverty and hunger"....

Six independent labor organizations have argued that the poverty line is $900 per month and asked for that to be new minimum wage. (The Government has authorised $303.) Economists at Mehr News Agency” have set the poverty line in the coming year at above $1000.

(Persian readers may also be interested in Faribors Raisdana's detailed analysis of minimum wages and labourer's poverty.)

1000 GMT: We have two specials for you this morning (and there's a third on the way). We've posted an excellent account by Barbara Slavin of the US-Iran deal on uranium enrichment that almost came off but then collapsed last autumn, and we have Josh Shahryar's analysis of the latest moves by Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi.

0855 GMT: We're Taking Our Subsidy Bill and Going Home. The ongoing fight between the President and Parliament for control of the budget and expenditure is highlighted by a bad-tempered interview of Ahmadinejad supporter Ruhollah Hosseinian in Khabar Online.

Hosseinian declares that, since the Majlis only gave the President $20 billion of the $40 billion he wanted from subsidy reductions, Ahmadinejad should withdraw the proposal: "It's not clear which portion of the government's revenue will be channeled to other sectors by the Parliament, so I believe implementing subsidy reform bill is against our interests."

Asked how the Administration could avoid implementing a plan which has been passed by Parliament, Hosseinian replied:
Although the bill has become a law, a way must be explored to halt its execution, since enforcing this law in its current form will simply add to the problems. As the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Revolution, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei coordinates the interactions between state branches of the country, a method must be found to annul implementing subsidy reform bill.

0830 GMT: The Uranium Issue. An EA reader asks for clarification on the claim that Iran may be facing a crisis over uranium stock for its medical research reactor.

I am strongly influenced by the knowledge that Iran's approach to the International Atomic Energy Agency last June, which set off this round of talks over uranium enrichment, was prompted by the specific issue of isotopes for medical treatment. I have my suspicions, though no firm evidence, that the renewal of a Tehran push for a deal may also be prompted by this immediate need for 20 percent enriched uranium.

We will soon be posting an excellent investigative piece by Barbara Slavin highlighting this issue.

0605 GMT: Political Prisoner Watch. Amnesty International is featuring the case of student activist Milad Asadi, detained without charge since 1 December.

0555 GMT: We might have been concerned with the Fire Festival and the renewed protest through the statements of prominent opposition figures (Mousavi, Karroubi, Khatami), parties (Mojahedin of Islamic Revolution), and activist groups (Committee of Human Rights Reporters).

Looks like the Ahmadinejad Government wants to talk uranium, however. Iran's atomic energy agency chief, Ali Akhbar Salehi, put out the line that it was time to agree a uranium swap inside Iran. First Vice President Mohammad Reza Rahimi insisted, "During the new year, new nuclear plants will be built and the Islamic Republic of Iran will continue with its path without allowing the arrogant powers to meddle."

But, with the US threatening more sanctions and no sign that the "West" will accept a deal where the swap occurs inside Iran, where is the hope for Tehran? No problem: "Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexei Borodavkin has called for stronger ties...and urged closer cooperation between Iran and Russia to confront existing regional and international threats."

Better hope so. I get the sense that not only is Iran concerned about economic restrictions, primarily through the withdrawal of foreign companies and investment, but also that there may be a crisis looming over uranium for the medical research reactor.

Iran & the US: The Missed Nuclear Deal (Slavin)

For me, Barbara Slavin's article in The Washington Note confirms my view of the uranium enrichment negotiations since June between Tehran, Washington, and other countries: 1) they were genuine, motivated by Iran's crisis of a shortage of 20-percent enriched uranium for its medical research reactor; 2) the primary obstacle to a deal was internal divisions in Washington Tehran.

But now the questions for March 2010: 1) Is there still a crisis in Tehran over uranium stock? (Yes) 2) Does this mean the regime wants to re-open discussions for a deal? (Probably, but  there are still internal manoeuvres to be made) 3) Will the US still be receptive? (Likely) 4) Does this mean "engagement" is back on? (Unknown):

The Latest from Iran (18 March): Uranium Distractions

A senior U.S. official Wednesday confirmed that the United States offered the first civilian nuclear cooperation with Iran in three decades under the terms of a deal that Iran walked away from last fall.

Daniel Poneman, Deputy Secretary of Energy, said that had Iran accepted the deal --- under which it would have shipped out two thirds of its stockpile of low-enriched uranium for further processing abroad --- the U.S. would have inspected a 40-year-old reactor in Tehran to see if it was operating safely.

"We would have been well disposed to be helpful," Poneman said at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy. "We were willing in support of IAEA efforts ... to help assure that the Tehran research reactor was safe."

Iran's ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency, Ali Ashgar Soltanieh, told reporters after the meetings with Poneman in October that "one of the aspects in addition to the fuel is the control instrumentation and safety equipment of the reactor" and that "we have been informed about the readiness of the United States in a technical project with the IAEA to cooperate in this respect."

A U.S. official said on background that the United States would examine the reactor, provided to Iran in the late 1960s when Lyndon Johnson was president and the Shah ruled Iran. However, Poneman's remark was the first on the record confirmation of this.

This deal sweetener was well received by those close to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and allowed him to cast the package in a positive light.

Iranians much prefer U.S. technology to Russian nuclear knowhow. Some Iranians suggested that U.S. assistance might extend to the Bushehr reactor if a deal could be struck on the LEU. Bushehr, which was begun by the Germans in the Shah's time, is now a "mess," one official told me, a "hodge-podge of technologies" that Iran is afraid to run because it might "blow up."

Ahmadinejad's numerous opponents within Iran's complex political hierarchy attacked the LEU deal as a sell-out -- in large part because he had undercut their efforts to reach a nuclear understanding with the United States in the past.

Poneman said Wednesday that the offer remained on the table. Beyond the U.S. examination of the reactor, Russia and France would further refine 1200 kilograms of Iran's low-enriched uranium and turn it into fuel rods for use in the research reactor, which produces medical isotopes for treatment of cancer and other ailments and is due to run out of fuel by the end of this year.

"It has not been formally withdrawn," Poneman said of the deal. However, he confided later that the U.S. is "not chasing Iran" and that the Iranians know who to call if they are interested in coming back to the table. Otherwise, the United States will keep moving down "the pressure track" to increase the cost to Iran of its nuclear defiance, he said.

The Latest from Iran (13 March): Settling In

2250 GMT: Political Prisoner Watch. Rah-e-Sabz has published a list of 192 detainees in Section 240 of Evin Prison. Activists have noted that the list is incomplete.

2240 GMT: Human Rights --- The Regime's Breakdown Strategy. But if the Iranian Government on the one hand is offering release from prison if detainees (including a number of prominent journalists and political activists) are silenced, it is also moving aggressively to break apart the human rights movement.

NEW Iran Special: Zahra Rahnavard on Women’s Rights and The Green Movement
NEW Iran: The Opposition’s New PR Campaign in the US
NEW Iran Analysis: Rafsanjani’s “Finger in the Dike” Strategy
UPDATED Iran Document: The Hardliners’ Project — Full Text (Bahavar)
Iran: An Opening Thought on the Disconnection in Washington
Video: “Iran at a Crossroads” Conference (10 March)
The Latest from Iran (12 March): Assessments

The propaganda strategy of tarnishing human rights activists has been re-doubled tonight with Kayhan joining Fars in declaring that 25-30 activists have been arrested because they serve as "cover" for the Mujahedin-e-Khalq and US-sponsored cyber-warfare.

Human Rights Activists in Iran's websites are still hacked and redirected to (a website reportedly run by the Revolutionary Guard) this evening.

2230 GMT: Political Prisoner Watch --- The Regime's Release Strategy.

One of the two big stories this evening is of a flurry of releases from Evin Prison. According to BBC Persian, prominent journalists Lili Farhadpour, Vahid Pourostad and Somayyeh Momeni have been released, all on personal bail (someone else is ready to go to jail if the terms of bail are broken) or small monetary bails. However, other prominent reporters such as Akbar Montajabi, Ehsan Mehrabi and Emad Baghi, are still behind bars.

An EA source also reports that Iranian-American academic Kian Tajbakhsh, who had been imprisoned for 15 years, has been released. The terms are unknown.

1810 GMT: Cyber-War on Human Rights. Ahmad Batebi, a spokesman for Human Rights in Iran, confirms that all HRA websites have been hacked and visitors redirected to the regime's "cyber-war" site

1800 GMT: Rafsanjani Watch. While his ally Hassan Rohani attacks the Government (see 1340 GMT), Hashemi Rafsanjani continues his political balancing act with a statement that students should not remain silent in political matters but should communicate their demands in a “logical” manner in order to achieve reform.

Rafsanjani advised students to evaluate the current situation so they did not create excuses for people who are trying to use "security" as pretext to take control of society. He expalined added, “The atmosphere needs to remain logical and wise...[so those who] are expressing good ideas will ultimately triumph.” Students should speak in a manner so their enemies could not “take advantage” of them.

1755 GMT: The Attack on Human Rights Activists. The website of Human Rights Activists News Agency, on the same day that HRA was accused of being a cover group for terrorism and cyber-warfare (see 1735 GMT), has been hacked by Iranian authorities. The site re-directs to, which activists claim is a location which tracks its visitors.

1750 GMT: Football and Politics. The latest YouTube video claiming that football has been used as a vehicle for protest comes from a match in Tabriz. Confirmation of the slogan being chanted by the crowd would be appreciated.


1735 GMT: Propaganda (or Worse) Item of Day. Fars News has claimed that Human Rights Activists in Iran is a cover group for the "terrorist" Mujahedin-e-Khalq (MKO) with links to the US Government in a cyber-war against Iran. Naming (in other words, targeting) some of the members, Fars claims that 30 people who provided anti-filtering software have been arrested. It adds that Iranian authorities have asked Interpol to arrest HRA members outside Iran.

1730 GMT: Political Prisoner Watch. Azar Mansouri, a senior member of the Islamic Iran Participation Front, has been sentenced to three years in prison. She was convicted of "disturbing public order while participating in gatherings, issuing propaganda against the regime, spreading lies and plotting to harm national security".

1340 GMT: Rafsanjani Watch (and This is Definitely Worth Watching). Tehran Times have now posted an English version of Rafsanjani ally Hassan Rohani's attack on the Government (0940 GMT) and, even in translation, it is striking:

*Speaking at a ceremony to mark the first death anniversary of the late Imam Khomeini’s wife, Rohani...said, “We should not allow a group to make attempts to eliminate another group.”

Interpretation: The Government should back off attempts to "break" or contain Rafsanjani through pressure on his family. Could Rohani be also be warning against an attempt to break reformist leaders?

*It should not be allowed that some elements dare to make every improper and derogatory remarks against Imam’s household and companions, he emphasized.

Interpretation: Stop attacking Seyed Hassan Khomeini, the Imam's grandson, who has been critical of the Government and supportive of the opposition.

*The cleric added some figures believe that the country can be governed by a particular group, but according to Imam’s teachings all people should be engaged.

Interpretation: If a Government is not legitimate, then....

*He also noted that Imam used to attach high importance to the people’s votes and even put the name of the Islamic Republic to the vote.

Interpretation: Well, in the context of June 2009 and "Where is My Vote?", what would you think?

If Rohani is speaking on behalf of Rafsanjani, this is a powerful signal that the former President is now going to let Ahmadinejad rest easy.

1300 GMT: Iran Nuke Update --- Larijani Yes, Ahmadinejad No. You really can't get much more blatant than this from Khabar Online:
Iran's Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani paid his last foreign visit in the current Iranian year to Japan. As he earlier has made notable diplomatic achievements through his trips, many local analysts believe the diplomacy adopted by Parliament Speaker reveals the flops and drawbacks of governmental diplomacy.

Larijani's diplomacy consisted of putting forth the proposal for Japan to serve as the 3rd country in a deal to enrich Iran's uranium overseas.

1250 GMT: Political Prisoner Watch. Kurdish writer Susan Mohammadkhani Ghiasvand has been arrested at her home in Karaj.

1245 GMT: Student Protests. Students at Mazandaran University have carried out a two-day hunger strike to protest pressure from university officials. About 15 students had been summoned by the university's disciplinary committee.

1230 GMT: Economy Watch. Opponents of the Ahmadinejad economic strategy are warning that workers' "real wages" will drop 50% in this Iranian year. Labour organisations are demanding a guaranteed minimum wage.

1215 GMT: Women's Rights and the Green Movement. We have posted an extensive, illuminating interview with Zahra Rahnavard: "-It is impossible to expect that the general political movement — in this case, the Green Movement — will be able to successfully eliminate inequality and violence against women without help from an established and independent women’s movement."

1010 GMT: Qalibaf Attacks. An interesting intervention from Tehran Mayor Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, who has kept a low profile but has still been linked to an anti-Ahmadinejad group within the conservatives. In an interview, he has pronounced that Iran has "no time for errors" because "for 14 months no serious work has been done in this country". Qalibaf say dissidents should be invited to share revolutionary goals through hard work.

0940 GMT: Rafsanjani Watch. Hassan Rohani, a member of the Expediency Council and an ally of Hashemi Rafsanjani, has  sharply attacked the Government. He said some people want to govern the country with a gang, but Iranians should not allow society to fall into superstition and petrification.

0930 GMT: Rafsanjani Blackout? Rah-e-Sabz has published what it claims is a memorandum from management of the Islamic Republic News Agency, ordering staff not to publish the image of Hashemi Rafsanjani.

0830 GMT: Parliament Slaps Down Ahmadinejad? Have to admit that I missed this while I was on the road....

The latest chapter on the battle over the President's budget has been written over Ahmadinejad's insistence on being able to spend $40 billion of the savings from his subsidy reform plan; Parliament had authorised only $20 billion.

The week began with a meeting between Speaker of Parliament Ali Larijani and the Supreme Leader, a day after Ahmadinejad requested Khamenei's help. It ended yesterday when the President showed up at the Majlis to make a speech (he has done this before in the post-election crisis, even though it is a technical violation of Parliamentary rules). Ahmadinejad insisted, “I don’t believe in inflation, and inflation will decrease next year.”

The speech and the President's personal lobbying were not enough: the Parliament voted 111-105 against the $40 billion proposal.

0825 GMT: We've posted a separate entry on what appears to be a new push by Iranian opposition leaders, through representatives, to sway US political opinion.

0745 GMT: Rumour of Day - Khamenei and Ahmadinejad Split? Tehran Bureau reports the claim of "a senior aide to opposition cleric Mehdi Karroubi that Iran's supreme leader has cooled his support for president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad". The assertion was made to journalists at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace on Friday.

Beyond the headline, it's not much of a story. The senior aide "who worked with [Karroubi] for more than 25 years" is not actually in Iran but living in exile (while he is anonymous in the TB story, skilled Iran-watchers will identify him easily). The claim --- at least as reported in the article --- has no specific evidence but echoes a number of points (such as the incident over Ahmadinejad's close ally Esfandiar Rahim-Mashai) that we have noted since last summer.

What is far more significant is that this is a renewed Green Movement push to get support in the US. Putting forth the vision of a Khamenei-Ahmadinejad rift tries to shift a US Government which is based solely on "engagement"; it may even accept that Washington can work with the Supreme Leader while boycotting the President.

Even more important, but tucked away in the TB story, is this assertion from the senior aide: "The end goal is to have transparent, free and fair elections....Once that happens, you can be certain the Iranian people will elect [a president] who will secure peaceful and friendly relations with the world."

Last October, when a senior aide to Karroubi appeared at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, US journalists criticised the Green Movement's speaker for refusing to declare acceptance of Israel and renunciation of Iran's nuclear programme. In this article, no mention of the Israelis or the Bomb and thus no cause for a dismissal of the Greens.

Instead, the senior aide said that the Obama Administration's nuclear-first approach, at the expense of ignoring Iran's human rights violations, is "exactly what Ahmadinejad wants....If the U.S. reverses this approach and focuses on pressuring Iran for its human rights abuses...this is what the Iranian government fears most." he said.

And another point to notice:
Karroubi's aide recommended the use of "smart sanctions", targeted financial sanctions against members of the Revolutionary Guard. "For such sanctions to be truly 'smart', we need only to look at the multitude of companies set up in Dubai in the past 3-5 years," he said, hinting that much of import traffic to Iran from the UAE happened under the auspices of the Guards....

"As an Iranian, I'd hate to see our citizens suffer. But even if they are hurt in the short term, whatever shortens the life of this government is in the interests of the [Iranian] people."

0720 GMT: A US Rights-Based Strategy? While the panellists at Wednesday's NIAC conference were all focused on a nuclear-first approach to Iran (and I haven't forgotten that I owe you an analysis of the event), there are signs that the US Government is pursuing a more nuanced strategy.

On Friday, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley issued a statement of Washington's "increasing concern" about Iran's "ongoing persecution" of religious minorities, including Baha'is, and called on Tehran to protect human rights at home.

Crowley noted that at least 25 Baha'is have been detained recently and as many as 60 are now imprisoned in Iran "solely on the basis of their religious beliefs". He also asserted that Iranian authorities had detained more than a dozen Christians, "some of whom are being held in custody without substantiated charges".

Crowley's statement follows Thursday's State Department release ofits annual review of human rights conditions around the world, which including a sharply-worded section on Iran. The report claimed Iran is continuing to restrict freedom of expression and assembly, with 70 people killed and 4,000 more detained since June 2009.

0710 GMT: After five days on the road, a chance to catch breath and review the latest in Iran....

We begin with a separate analysis, as Masoud Shafaee considers the manoeuvres of Hashemi Rafsanjani: "While Rafsanjani’s current primary concern may be preventing Ahmadinejad from tearing Iran’s already-polarized political landscape asunder, that may in time prove to be lead to his grander scheme: he was the boy who saved the city from ruin."

A new website publishes (in Persian) details of 109 victims of post-election conflict.

An open letter by activists calls for immediate assistance for more than 5000 Iranian refugees displaced by the post-election crisis and living in Turkey.