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Entries in Manouchehr Mottaki (9)


The Latest from Iran (30 November): Nuclear Distraction, Trashing the Greens?

IRAN NUKES21915 GMT: Quiet Engagement. News is just emerging of five British nationals who have been held by Iran since their yacht Sail Bahrain strayed into Iranian waters on Wednesday.

The significance behind the headline is that the story was kept quiet for five days. That indicates that Britain does not want the matter to escalate into confrontation and that Iran, for now, does not want to use the detention for political advantage.

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The Latest from Iran (29 November): Iran’s Nuclear Bluff

1830 GMT: Just for the Nuclear Record. Iranian Foreign Manouchehr Mottaki used a press conference with the Russian Energy Minister (who confirmed Moscow's intention to complete the Bushehr nuclear plant by March 2010) to denounce the IAEA resolution:

We could not find any logical reason for the Board of Governors' decision. We cannot accept discrimination in international relations. Either there are rights or such rights do not exist. The age of discriminatory policies is over. This is the law of the jungle.

Nothing surprising here and no further indication as to Iran's next step.

1625 GMT: Mehdi Karoubi, in an interview on his website Tagheerwebsite (official website of Etemad-Melli party), responded to accusations from Kayhan newspaper:
I really did not want to point out the arrogance of these guys but when I saw that they repeatedly are talking about “conspiracy”, denying their role in the events after the election, and are influencing the Judiciary system, I decided to respond....My message to the management of Kayhan newspaper is that the our interpretation of Islam is different than yours.

1610 GMT: President Postponed. It appears that President Ahmadinejad's national broadcast (see 0715 GMT) has been postponed to Tuesday night.

1555 GMT: A Detainee Speaks. Amidst a slower afternoon, interesting revelations from Behzad Nabavi, the high-profile reform activist who has recently been given a six-year prison sentence. Nabavi is free on a 10-day release pending appeal: "They asked me the night before my release to sign a paper and agree not to engage in political activities or conduct interviews until the appeals court hearing; they told me not to meet or contact political parties and organizations, but I refused. When they couldn't close the deal with me they gave me [only] a 10-day break from prison [instead]."

Nabavi claimed that the former Tehran Prosecutor General, Saeed Mortazavi, was present for at least one of his interrogations. He also claims that his arrest warrant had been issued on 9 June, three days before the Presidential elections (and six days before the supposed basis for his "crime", presence at the mass demonstration on 15 June).

1255 GMT: Larijani Baffles (Part 2). I have a hunch --- and nothing more -- that Ali Larijani, with his statement on the nuclear programme this morning, is setting himself up as an alternative to President Ahmadinejad, both for elements in the Iranian establishment and for the "West".

But who is the target of this Larijani statement, keeping in mind the shaky translation of the Iranian Labour News Agency: "Commenting on the post-election events, the speaker remarked that the unjustified persistence of certain people on their own views would only benefit others"?

1220 GMT: Report that journalist Hengameh Shahidi has been sentenced to six years, three months, and one day in prison.

1204 GMT: Larijani Baffles. Press TV has summarised this morning's comments by Speaker of Parliament Ali Larijani:
I believe there is still room for diplomacy and it is useful for them [the "5+1 powers] to adopt a diplomatic option. That way Iran would be able to make progress within the framework of International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) while they would also be certain that Iran activities are peaceful. But of course, if they choose to take a different path Iran would also adopt a different stance.

Here's what puzzles me: given Larijani's hostility to the diplomatic process pursued by the Ahmadinejad Government in recent months, criticising apparent Iranian concessions, why is he now embracing "room for diplomacy"? Why not celebrate the apparent demise of the Ahmadinejad strategy?

Suggestions welcomed.

1200 GMT: This is Interesting. Just over a week before the protests of 16 Azar, students from Amir Kabir University have met Mehdi Karroubi in his home.

1100 GMT: Ahmadinejad and Latin America. An EA reader points us to an intriguing discussion between Mohsen Milani, Aram Hessami and Babak Dad, "What is Ahmadinejad searching for in the USA's backyard?" The reader notes Dad's provocative speculation that one purpose of the President's recent tour of Latin America was to prepare a "safe haven" if one should be noted for him and his allies.

1020 GMT: Montazeri Criticises "lllegal" Violence. Lots of chatter this morning about a video of Grand Ayatollah Montazeri denouncing post-election violence by Basiji militia, betraying its mission “unite and mobilise everyone on the path to God not to the path of evil”.

There's more. Montazeri also implicitly attacks the Supreme Leader for his thanks to the Basiji for "defeating the enemy in the events after election”: “Isn’t it a misery that one [i.e., the Basiji] goes to hell (in afterlife) for the wellbeing of others in this world?!” (Summary of remarks on Facebook page supporting Mir Hossein Mousavi)

0940 GMT: You Might Want to Be More Subtle. The head of Iran's nuclear organisation, Ali Akhbar Salehi, kind of gives the political game away today:
We had no plan to build many nuclear sites like Natanz [enrichment facility but it seems that the West do not want to comprehend Iran's message of peace. The West adopted an attitude toward Iran which made the Iranian government to pass the ratification on construction of ten sites.

Hmm....So you haven't make any previous moves to build beyond the enrichment plants at Natanz and Fordoo but now you've going to throw all your resources at a crash construction programme because of Friday's IAEA resolution?

Wouldn't back Salehi as a poker player: this is either clumsy deception --- Iran has already started on other sites --- or clumsy bluff.

0930 GMT: We've posted the second part of Iranian-Canadian journalist Maziar Bahari's interview with CNN. We've also been moved by his comments on the Green movement(s) to consider again how Washington may be viewing (and belittling) the opposition.

0810 GMT: Blackout. Fears are growing that, in addition to "containing" the protest of 16 Azar (7 December) through a 48-hour holiday just before it, the Government may try to pull the curtains down on it through a cutoff of Internet and mobile phone service.

0730 GMT: Sigh. The coverage of Iran this morning on the BBC's flagship radio programme? Declare "time is running out" for Tehran, then turn over seven minutes of airtime just after 7 a.m. to the Israeli Ambassador to the UK, Ron Prosor for comments such as: "Iranians are not just carpet makers but carpet weavers; they will divide one red line into 100 pink lines and then cross the red line"; "Israel's nuclear capability is irrelevant in the current situation"; "all options are on the table".

0720 GMT: Russia Mending Political/Nuclear Fences? Russian energy minister Sergei Shmatko, in Iran for talks with his Iranian counterpart and other officials, has pledged that Iran's first nuclear power station will soon be completely. Shmatko said earlier this month that the Bushehr plant would be delayed beyond its announced opening date of the end of 2009.

The political significance of Shmatko's statement overshadows the technical dimension: days after supporting the International Atomic Energy Agency resolution, Moscow is tacking back politically towards Iran. That means some continuing level of co-operation (though the Russians can always dangle and pull back support) and no sanctions.

0715 GMT: President Ahmadinejad will speak on national television this evening.

0645 GMT: Speaker of Parliament Ali Larijani is now holding a press conference on Iranian television.

0630 GMT: Reality Check. Here are two reasons, courtesy of Gary Sick, why the Iran Government's nuclear announcement is "all mouth and no trousers".

The declaration of 10 enrichment plants is for 500,000 centrifuges. In the last nine years, Iran has constructed and installed fewer than 9000 centrifuges, of which only about half are operating. At that rate, the plans announced yesterday will be completed in the year 2509.

According to documents, construction began on the second enrichment site at Fordoo in 2003. There are still no centrifuges installed, and the site is due for completion in 2011.

At that rate, 10 enrichment plants would take 80 years to construct, if they were built one after another. If they were all pursued at the same time, it would put great strain on Iranian resources and manpower, to say the least. What's more, the proposed plants would be the same size as Iran's primary enrichment facility at Natanz, much larger than Fordoo.

0610 GMT: One week before the demonstrations of 16 Azar (7 December), but all the headlines are far away from the internal conflict in Iran. The Ahmadinejad Government's declaration of "10 new enrichment plants" has successfully walked the international media down a nuclear garden path, even though the proposal at this point is a fantasy. In addition to our coverage in yesterday's updates, we'll have further analysis laying out both the technical and political realities later this morning.

However, while Tehran's move is political symbolism, it reinforces the mood in the US that engagement is now a long-shot. A clear sign of that is in Trita Parsi's piece for The Huffington Post, "Washington Can Give An Israeli Attack On Iran The Red Light". That headline in itself is a hyperbolic diversion --- for reasons beyond the Obama Administration, Israel will not be launching military operations --- but it shows that Parsi, the President of the National Iranian American Council and a fervent supporter of a political settlement with Iran, has now all but given up on the process.

The Latest from Iran (20 November): Manoeuvres in Washington and Tabriz

NEW Iran: The Ahmadinejad Speech in Tabriz (19 November)
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Iran Nuclear Special: What Tehran’s Latest Offer Means (and Why the West Should Consider It)
Iran’s 16 Azar Video: Greens Fight “The Pirates of the Persian Gulf”
Latest Iran Video: “A Death in Tehran” on Neda Agha Soltan (17 November)
The Latest in Iran (19 November): It’s the Nukes Today

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MAKHMALBAF2225 GMT: Today's UN Condemnation of Iran. The Third (Human Rights) Committee of the United Nations General Assembly has "expresse[d] its deep concern at serious ongoing and recurring human rights violations" in Iran. The non-binding resolution passed 74-48, with 59 abstentions.

The Committee voiced "particular concern at the response of the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran following the Presidential election of 12 June 2009 and the concurrent rise in human rights violations", including "harassment, intimidation and persecution, including by arbitrary arrest, detention or disappearance, of opposition members, journalists and other media representatives, bloggers, lawyers, clerics, human rights defenders, academics, (and) students".

The outcome, the Committee asserted, had been "numerous deaths and injuries" Iwith "forced confessions and abuse of prisoners including ... rape and torture".

2115 GMT: The Brussels Non-Talks and Non-Sanctions. The New York Times has snippets of the statement issued by the delegations of the "5+1" powers after their review of the nuclear talks with Iran (see 1240 GMT):

We are disappointed by the lack of follow-up to the three understandings reached [at Geneva on 1 October]....[Iran has] not responded positively to the I.A.E.A. proposed agreement for the provision of nuclear fuel for its Tehran research reactor...[or] engaged in an intensified dialogue. ....[Iran should] reconsider the opportunity offered by this agreement to meet the humanitarian needs of its people and to engage seriously with us in dialogue and negotiations....[We will meet again soon] to complete our assessment of the situation and to decide on our next steps.

Read this carefully and you'll see that "the meeting...a sign of exasperation with Iran" is issuing a holding statement while the "West" tries to figure out a response to the Iran counter-offer, giving the appearance of stern action when nothing has been or will be decided.

It's good enough to take in The Times, which has seems to have no clue about the Mottaki counter-offer (1315 GMT), Iran's manoeuvres with Russia and Turkey (0945 and 1620 GMT), or even the manoeuvres of the International Atomic Energy Agency (1620 GMT). Thus, its simple depiction of the Iranian position as "rejection".

2020 GMT: Today's Media Stupidity Awards. First, the Gold Medal for Reasoned Argument for Mindless Violence. Step up, editorial writers of The Washington Times: "Get Ready to Bomb Iran: It's the last best chance for peace".

And now the Gold Medal for "Intellectual" Dismissal of The Other Side. It's Mamoun Fandy of the Christian Science Monitor:
Should the West trust Iranian promises? The short answer is "no." But the underlying question is "Why not?"

The answer lies in Iranian belief systems – notably the doctrine of taqiyya, a difficult concept for many non-Muslims to grasp. Taqiyya is the Shiite religious rationale for concealment or dissimulation in political or worldly affairs. At one level it means that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his regime can tell themselves that they are obliged by their faith not to tell the truth.

1955 GMT: More on Student Arrests (see 1410 GMT). Radio Zamaaneh have published summaries of the detentions of student leaders this week. Payvand also has information.

1945 GMT: You Better Watch Out. Back from a break for a debate on climate change and the Copenhagen summit to Iran’s Prosecutor General and former Minister of Intelligence, Gholam-Hossein Mohseni-Ejeie, is getting tough with protesters. He warned yesterday on Iranian state television, "The Judiciary is determined to decisively and primitively confront any new unrest [caused] by those against the results of the Presidential Elections of Iran.”

1620 GMT: You Read It Here --- The Iran-Turkey Deal. Mr Smith checks in, and we think he may have an exclusive on the nuclear discussions:
It's interesting to spot smoke signals on the nuclear issue. The meeting of Ahmadinejad and Turkish Foreign Davutoglu meeting in Tabriz makes no sense unless Davutoglu was called in to discuss the nuclear issue, given the frequency of Iranian-Turkish encounters in the past weeks.

And I find El-Baradei's statements in Berlin to be subtly quite important. He said, according to AFP, "We have not received any written response from Iran. What I an oral response, which basically said, 'We need to keep all the material in Iran until we get the fuel.' That to me is a case of extreme mistrust."

This is the gist of what I wrote in my own analysis the other day: mistrust by Iran, low-enriched uranium remaining inside Iran UNTIL fuel arrives. El Baradei's statement cannot be underestimated, as it gives hope to Turkey to be able to broker the deal. Needless to say, this would be the diplomatic coup of the century by Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan. It would raise his stature incommensurably and allow him to press on with the politics of the Nabucco energy pipeline.

1500 GMT: Not much fuss about Friday Prayers today, but there's a short clip up on YouTube.

1455 GMT: Ahmadinejad's Move for Legitimacy. We've posted a copy of the President's Thursday speech in Tabriz.

1410 GMT: Cracking Down on the Students. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty summarises a story we've been following for days: "arrests [as] a move by the authorities to prevent students from protesting against the government on December 7".

1315 GMT: The Mottaki Counter-Offer. Just picking up, after prompting from an EA reader, on an important signal from Iran's Foreign Minister. Most of the Western coverage of Iran's "rejection" of the deal on uranium enrichment (rather than consideration of Iran as taking the next step in negotiations) is based on a weak translation of Mottaki's interview with the Iranian Students News Agency. Almost unnoticed was the Foreign Minister's words to the Hindu newspaper:
We believe that with the continuation of the diplomacy going on now, it is possible to reach an agreement and compromise.... The truth of the matter is [the] interaction [of the "5+1" with the Iran proposal] could somehow build confidence among the Iranians.

1255 GMT: Nuke Discussions Still On. Can't be clearer than this. The US position, as outlined in Kabul yesterday:
The U.S. doesn’t consider the Iranian foreign minister’s rejection of a United Nations- brokered proposal to enrich Iran’s uranium overseas to be “the final word,” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said.

While disappointing, she said, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki’s Nov. 18 statement won’t yet trigger the “consequences” that the U.S. and other nations on the UN Security Council have threatened.

1240 GMT: The Brussels "5+1" Talks. First (non)-news out of Brussels on discussions amongst representatives of the US, UK, France, Germany, Russia, and China after Wednesday's counter-offer by Iran for a "swap" of uranium. The meeting was of Foreign Ministry/State Department officials below ministerial level --- the US was represented by Undersecretary of State William Burns and Russia by Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov. The delegates reviewed the situation but made no decisions.

This is unsurprising. Contrary to the partial and inaccurate reports in Western media this morning (see 0725 GMT), Washington has not closed the door on discussions and is not moving aggressively for more sanctions. This meeting most likely considered a response to the Iranian counter-offer --- expect to see signals at the start of next week.

1155 GMT: Mahmoud is Proud of His Election. In his tour of Tabriz, President Ahmadinejad is emphasising that while elections in other countries are "entirely predetermined", the 85 percent participation in Iran's Presidential election in June shows the endpoint of the Islamic Republic's development.

Ahmadinejad also spoke about his economic plans, including subsidy and tax proposals, but it is notable that he --- or at least the Islamic Republic News Agency --- relegate this to a secondary position behind the President's words about an election hed more than five months ago.

0945 GMT: Two Smoke Signals on the Nuclear Deal. Turkish Foreign Ahmet Davutoglu will meet President Ahmadinejad in Tabriz today "to discuss the latest developments in Iran's nuclear case" with a view "to solv[ing] tensions between Iran and the West".

That reads as an effort by Iran to get Turkey's support for the "swap" of uranium inside Iran, rather than sending Tehran's uranium stocks outside the country for enrichment. It should be considered alongside Iran's manoeuvres with Russia: it is being reported that Russian Energy Minister Sergei Shmatko has told the Iranian Ambassador that "Russia will continue its cooperation with Iran".

0900 GMT: We've now posted an analysis of the significance of the mission by Mohsen Makhmalbaf, the campaign spokesman for Mir Hossein Mousavi, to Washington.

0725 GMT: On the surface, a quiet morning and a day that --- for the "Western" media --- will again be dominated by coverage of developments in the nuclear talks.

If last night's advance copies of articles are an indication, expect a distorted piece in The Washington Post claiming an Iranian rejection of the "5+1" proposals, highlighting a tough US response, and ignoring the significance of Wednesday's Iranian counter-offer. (That's distorted on two important counts: Tehran, or at least the Ahmadinejad Government is pushing for a deal and may have gotten some movement from the Supreme Leader to make the counter-offer, and the Obama Administration is far from concluding that the talks are over.)

That means a development which is just as important, if not more so, will be missed. The Wall Street Journal breaks the news of an "unofficial" visit by filmmaker Mohsen Makhmalbaf (pictured left) to Washington. Makhmalbaf, the spokesman for Mir Hossein Mousavi's Presidential campaign, "called for President Barack Obama to increase his public support for Iranian democrats and significantly intensify financial pressure on Tehran's elite military unit, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps".

A disturbing piece of news. Sources are claiming that Iranian security services are sending ominous SMS texts warning against further demonstrations.


The Latest in Iran (19 November): It's the Nukes Today

NEW Iran: What Happened on Election Night? The Ghalam News Editor’s Account
NEW Iran Nuclear Special: What Tehran’s Latest Offer Means (and Why the West Should Consider It)
NEW Iran’s 16 Azar Video: Greens Fight “The Pirates of the Persian Gulf”
The Latest Iran Video: Demonstration at University in Karaj (17 November)
Iran: Re-Evaluating the Green Movement After 5+ Months
The Iran Cul-de-Sac: 4 Points on Obama’s Embrace of Ahmadinejad (and Rejection of the Green Movement)
The Latest from Iran (18 November): Bubbling and Surfacing

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Buy Us A Cup of Coffee? Help Enduring America Expand Its Coverage and Analysis

IRAN NUKES2055 GMT: Keeping the Students Down. The Government effort to contain student protest continues. Iran's national student organisation Daftar-Tahkim-Vahdat reports that its political director, Abbas Hakimzadeh, has been arrested.

Kohzad Esmaili, head of the Gilan branch of the alumni organisation Advar-Tahkim-Vahdat (Office of Strengthening Unity), has been re-arrested after being freed on $20,000 bail.

2045 GMT: A Non-Crowd Story? While those pre-occupied with the nuclear issue try to read Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's Tabriz speech for signals (see 1425 GMT), the Green movement has other concerns, namely those who did or did not turn out:
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad received a very cold welcome from the citizens. Yoldash, the Green news organisation in Tabriz, reported that, despite the fact that the chief of "popular welcoming staff" of Ahmadinejad assured 100,000 people would be present at his speech today, only about 10-15,000 people participated in this event which can be easily recognized in the pictures taken by pro-coup Mehr news agency.

An EA source says that the Government tried to ensure a large turnout by giving university students, school children, and workers time off and transport to the rally. However, possibly because of the rain, possibly for other reasons, seats remained empty.

1805 GMT: Is Rafsanjani Lining Up with the Government's Nuclear Proposal? Former President Hashemi Rafsanjani has told the Swedish Ambassador to Iran that the International Atomic Energy Agency is legally obliged to provide 20 percent nuclear fuel to Tehran.

Sweden currently holds the European Union's rotating presidency.

1800 GMT: Clinton Speaks Out? Secretary of State Hillary Clinton declared to journalists in Kabul:

It is a very unfortunate, distressing development to see these sentences handed down in Iran, imposing the death penalty on people who participated in expressing their opposition to the government in demonstrating in the streets.It underscores the approach that the government in Iran takes for their own people.

We will continue to stand up for the rights of the people of Iran to speak for themselves, to have their votes counted, to be given an opportunity to have the measure of freedom and rights that any person deserves to have

1755 GMT: What Happened on Election Night? We've posted the account of Abolfazl Fateh, the editor of Ghalam News, a paper close to Mir Hossein Mousavi.

1550 GMT: Football Politics. In its latest friendly match, Iran's national football team drew 1-1 with Macedonia. The Tehran Times says 1000 people attended; an EA source says the number was closer to 500.

Still, that's better than the 100 who turned up at the match earlier this month with Iceland.

1455 GMT: The Clerics Plot. An EA source brings intriguing information from Qom. On Wednesday, Ayatollah Makarem-Shirazi and Ayatollah Nouri-Hamedani, whom Karroubi wrote last week, discussed next moves in the post-election crisis. Nouri-Hamedani reportedly said,  "I am ready to go to Tehran and talk to both sides" about a plan for national unity, and the two clerics (possibly joined by others) decided to seek a meeting with the Supreme Leader.

1440 GMT: And What is "The West" Doing? "Six world powers will meet in Brussels to discuss what measures could be applied against Tehran for its refusal to halt its nuclear enrichment program, an EU official said Thursday. Friday's meeting will include the U.N. Security Council's permanent members — Britain, China, France, Russia and the U.S. — plus Germany, the official said on condition of anonymity because she was not authorized to disclose details of the gathering."

1435 GMT: Negotiating from Strength, I Tell You. And hundreds of miles away in The Philippines, Foreign Minister Mottaki --- having put the Iranian counter-offer on uranium enrichment --- is serving as Ahmadinejad's wingman, warning against further sanctions on Iran: "“I think they [the world powers] are wise enough not to repeat failed experiences. Of course it's totally up to them."

1425 GMT: Mahmoud's Negotiating from Strength. Back from an academic break to read about President Ahmadinejad's speech in Tabriz today. His twin-track rhetoric is now established: the door is open to agreement with "the West", but Iran is holding that door open out of its principled leadership in the world, not out of weakness:

Iran is a nation supportive of peace and friendship and backs constructive cooperation on the international arena. Tehran is therefore ready to cooperate with the international community in different arenas including the revival of economy and the establishment of stable security across the globe....

....Iran is not after aggression. It only seeks its legal rights ... Those who say they want constructive interaction should know that...if the Iranian nation witnesses a genuine transparent change of their policy…if they respect the rights of the Iranian nation…if they honestly extend their hand of friendship then the people of Iran will accept [such overture]....

But the President added, "They should also know that if they are after deception and corruption in our region,” the Iranian nation would be the same “decisive” answer that it has already given to arrogant powers.

1140 GMT: Worst Media "Analysis" of the Day. In The Wall Street Journal, Mark "Black Hawk Down" Bowden explains, "How Iran's [1979] Revolution Was Hijacked". The historical part of the article is OK, with Bowden --- who has written a book on the US Embassy crisis -- claiming, "Nine months after Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi fled it was still unclear what kind of government Iran was going to have....[Ayatollah Khomeini] was ambivalent about the idea of clerical rule."

It's Bowden's jump to 2009 that turns reflection into farce: "So 30 years after seizing power, the mullahs of Qom find themselves in a difficult spot. To turn back the domestic tide of reform they must employ the very tools employed by the despised shah—mass arrests and trials, torture, execution and censorship."

Which "mullahs of Qom" would these be? Montazeri? Sane'i? Bayat-Zanjani? Dastgheib? Safi Golpaygani? Makarem Shirazi?

1050 GMT: The Preview of the Deal? Press TV, quoting from the Islamic Republic News Agency, has just posted a significant statement from Iran's envoy to the International Atomic Energy Agency, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, who says that UN inspectors will visit the second uranium enrichment facility at Fordoo today.

Here is the key line, however, from Soltanieh: "This site will from now on be under the IAEA supervision." That may be an unsubtle olive branch to the international community for the bigger deal: you can oversee our facilities inside Iran, so you can trust that we'll let you oversee uranium stocks as well.

1000 GMT: So What About Those Sanctions? President Obama may be issuing the warning that he's opening up a can of economic pain if Iran does not accept a nuclear deal, but the signals --- which we've noted for weeks --- are that the US is limited in what it can do:
Western powers are gearing up for talks on a fourth round of U.N. sanctions against Tehran over its nuclear program but will not target Iran's energy sector to ensure Russia's and China's support....The scaling back of the West's expectations for new U.N. steps against Iran for defying Security Council demands to stop enriching uranium shows that the Europeans and Americans have accepted that Moscow and Beijing, with their close trade ties to Tehran, will not let Iran's economy be crippled.

Diplomats said the Western powers are eager to ratchet up the pressure on the Islamic Republic. But they also need to keep Moscow and Beijing on board to send a clear signal to Tehran that the world's big powers are united against it.

If there is a move for UN sanctions, they will target "at least another bank, more individuals, more companies -- possibly a shipping company -- a tighter ban on arms, possibly political measures". Meanwhile, Washington will fall back on the notion that it can organise multilateral restrictions outside the United Nations. Steps could include a ban on Euro transactions for Iranian and withholding technology to produce liquefied natural gas.

0855 GMT: Extending our initial update (0650 GMT), Mr Smith brings us the Analysis of the Day, considering the latest Iranian offer in the nuclear talks and advising the "West" how to respond to it.

0815 GMT: Anticipating the protests of 16 Azar (7 December), we have posted a video "advertisement" for the demonstrations which is a pretty good parody: Welcome to "The Pirates of the Persian Gulf".

0800 GMT: Away from the nuclear issue, Michael Slackman of The New York Times has picked up on the case of Ramin Pourandarjan, the 26-year-0ld physician at Kahrizak Prison who died in mysterious circumstances (see our updates throughout this week).

0650 GMT: International media is likely to be dominated this morning by stories on the nuclear negotiations. Most outlets have noted Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki's counter-proposal, replacing the delivery of 50-80% of Iran's uranium stock to Russia with a "swap" inside Iran of 20% enriched uranium for Tehran's 3.5% supply. And almost all are jumping on the soundbite reactions, from French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner to President Obama.

Obama warned again that time was short for a deal and "consequences" would follow if Iran did not accept an agreement. He did the same on Sunday but, on this occasion, he added a tough if vague post-script: "Our expectations are that over the next several weeks we will be developing a package of potential steps that we could take that will indicate our seriousness to Iran." (It's notable that not only international media like Al Jazeera but also Iran's state broadcaster Press TV are carrying the story.)

But do the news agencies really have a handle on what is going on? CNN, for example, headlines, "Iran rejects key part of nuclear deal" and drops in, as one line in a 26-paragraph story, "Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said Iran might allow its nuclear material to be reprocessed inside Iran."

In contrast, the Los Angeles Times devotes almost all of its article to Mottaki's statement. Its headline and opening sentence, however, are just as negative: "Iran's foreign minister vowed Wednesday that his nation wouldn't allow any of its enriched uranium supply out of the country." This is "either a dismissal of a U.S.- and United Nations-backed proposal to ease international tensions over Iran's nuclear program by lowering Tehran's supply below the threshold required to make a bomb, or an attempt by Iran to haggle over the deal".

None of the coverage considers that, from the perspective of the Ahmadinejad Government (and possibly others), Mottaki's response is far from a rejection or a dismissal. Instead, it is a counter-offer which keeps the discussions alive --- indeed, I suspect it may have come out of talks with International Atomic Energy head Mohammad El Baradei. It puts the question to the US and its partners: will they accept a bargain in which Iran's uranium supply is swapped for 20% fuel which is for civilian rather than military purposes? Or is the initial export and warehousing of the majority of Tehran's low-enriched supply an unconditional requirement?

Beyond the negotiating table, Mottaki's statement is a pointer to another story, one which I suspect will go unnoticed today. In the context of the Iranian establishment, this is an attempt to bring peace between battling factions. President Ahmadinejad wants an agreement --- not perpetual "haggling" but an agreement --- and Mottaki's suggestion keeps open that prospect. Others (the Larijanis? the Supreme Leader?) have consented to or been forced to accept the opening.

If the Washington-led "5+1" powers reject that proposal, however, what next? What next not only for the nuclear discussions but also for the interna contests in Iran?

Iran Nuclear Special: What Tehran's Latest Offer Means (and Why the West Should Consider It)

The Latest in Iran (19 November): It’s the Nukes Today

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IRAN NUKES2Enduring America's Mr Smith carries out a close reading of the latest Iran move in the nuclear negotiations and how to respond to it:

Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki's remarks on Thursday, reviewing the the nuclear dispute between Iran and the West, are a clear departure from the proposal floated in October by the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohammad El-Baradei. Indeed, that proposal now appears dead in the water. Iran is progressively coming out with a spirited defiance against the idea of having its low-enriched uranium (LEU) processed abroad and returned in the form of 20% enriched nuclear fuel, suitable for its Tehran medical reactor.

The reasons behind this position are not irrational. Russia has once again delayed the operational start of the Bushehr nuclear reactor, cold-shouldering Iran as it has frequently done on the issue in the past decade. Historically, France has manipulated provision of nuclear fuel from the Eurodiff consortium, in which Iran is a dormant stakeholder. So, in the eyes of Tehran, both parties to the El-Baradei deal have a poor track record and therefore cannot be trusted to deliver nuclear fuel on time.

Iran's counter-position is not entirely unreasonable, either. Mottaki's statement was not technical and contained a degree of vagueness, but the offer amounted to a simultaneous exchange of some parts of the Iranian low-enriched uranium stock for the 20% nuclear fuel, which would now be processed abroad and delivered, ready for use, inside Iran. This arrangement would allay Iranian fears that its uranium supply might be held indefinitely by some foreign party, including Russia.

What is uncertain is the fate of Iran's uranium stockpile. Mottaki's statement is not clear this would be stored permanently inside Iran, as most news services reported today or whether it could eventually be transported abroad. It is clear, however, that the Iranian Foreign Minister is talking about an uranium "exchange" to be agreed a new technical meeting in Vienna.

The West has to approach this Iranian counter-proposal carefully, avoiding gut reactions like that of French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner. The end-goal of the West is to ensure that Iran is unable to use its stock for weaponisation, so it has to push for the neutralisation of the low-enriched uranium, a task that can take place even inside Iran if the IAEA is able to coordinate it. It should be noted that Iran is now willing to relinquish total control of its uranium, a concession that was unthinkable a few months ago.

Mottaki's opening is therefore worth consideration by the Obama Administration and the Europeans, even as they face increased pressure from the Israeli Government and US neo-conservatives in Washington that Mottaki's statement is further proof of the military goals of Iran's programme. The ideal course of action is to corner the Iranians into giving up control of their stock, wrestling as many concessions as them as possible to get leeway on the issue of shipping uranium out of Iran.

In the end? It's far better to have as much low-enriched fuel locked up securely inside Iran, rather than slapping on further sanctions while Tehran keeps its hands firmly on its uranium.

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RAFSANJANI2105 GMT: Apparently Saeed Sharati was freed "on the order of Tehran's Revolutionary Court", which seems like an acquittal. If so, that would be to my knowledge the first release of a prominent reformist after a trial.

2045 GMT: Carrot and Stick. Is the Government showing confidence that it has the reformists under control with a combination of jail sentences for some and releases for others? Saeed Shariati, a high-ranking Islamic Iran Participation Front members detained for more than three months, and Ashkan Mojallali, Mahdieh Minooie, and Iman Mirabzadeh, arrested at a prayer gathering last month, were freed --- presumably on bail --- earlier today.

1820 GMT: When Analyses Attack. From this morning's post: "One explanation for the shift may be that the Government’s 5+ months of restrictions on the communications and movements of the oppositonal leadership, “supported” by detentions and trials, have worn down the scope of the leadership’s declarations and ambitions."

This afternoon's news: "Rasoul Montajeb-Nia, the vice chairman of the Etemad Melli party [of Mehdi Karroubi] in an interview said that they are waiting for the authorities to remove the ban on this party's main office for further legal operation and activities."

Meanwhile, former President Mohammad Khatami visited Fatemeh Shahidi, a journalist for the reformist (and suspended) Etemade Melli newspape,) who was recently released after months in detention.

1355 GMT: Is This the End of the Nuclear Deal? Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki has made a declaration to the Islamic Students News Agency which appears to be significant:
We reviewed [the Vienna proposal] from an economic and technical aspect. We will definitely not send out our 3.5 percent enriched uranium....We will [instead] consider swapping the fuel simultaneously in Iran....Iranian experts are reviewing the issue of swap to see how much fuel can be transferred. The amount they mentioned for the swap is not acceptable ... and our experts are still studying it.

If I read this correctly, Iran is proposing that a delivery of "20 percent uranium" be brought in from outside the country and swapped for Iran's "3.5 percent uranium". That would mean no initial reduction in Iran's overall uranium stock of 1500 kilogrammes --- the Vienna proposal would have taken up to 80 percent outside Iran for enrichment in Russia.

Considered this way, the question thrown back at the "5+1" countries is whether they can accept that the existing level of uranium production and stock will remain inside Iran's border and thus in its control. That's not a death blow to the negotiations; as Mottaki noted in another interview:
Q: From what I gather, you are looking to modify the basic P5+1 proposal but U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has said this is a ‘take it or leave it’ offer.

A: In diplomacy, we do not have zero or hundred. Therefore, flexibility is considered the essence of diplomacy. I believe this, and I guess the American side will understand this point as well…. Earlier, when they wanted to talk to us, they put some preconditions (like suspension of enrichment).But today they are talking and participating in talks without any preconditions.

However, the swap suggestion could be a measure too far for the US and European countries. As Mottaki noted, "We have called for another meeting of the technical people who were part of Vienna talks and we will explain our considerations. But so far such meeting has not convened."

1305 GMT: Iran's chief of police Esmail Ahmadi-Moghaddam has declared that the death of Ramin Pourandarjan, the 26-year-old physician at Kahrizak Prison, "was the result of suicide. The doctor had complaints of being threatened with a five-year jail term and had lost his spirit." Previously, state media said Pourandarjan had suffered a heart attack or stroke (see updates earlier this week).

"He committed suicide after he was summoned to the court."

1255 GMT: Journalist Kambiz Norouzi has been sentenced to two years in prison and 76 lashes after conviction "advertising against the establishment" and participating in post-election protests.

Ali Behzadiyan-Nejad, the nephew of Mir Hossein Mousavi's campaign manager, has been sentenced to six years in prison for “disturbing the security of the country” and “advertising against the establishment”. Behzadiyan’s lawyer said some of the evidence used against  by the prosecutor were “comments people wrote in [Behzadiyan's] personal blog”.

1225 GMT: Don't Do It. The commander of Basij militia, Mohammad Reza Naqdi, has warned that his forces will confront any further "street riots". Naqdi claimed that demonstrators had staged riots in response to calls from US-based satellite stations run by Iranian expatriates: "Those groups that chant slogans against the revolution's values ... should know that they will be confronted by Basij."

1015 GMT: The Banknote Rebellion. Soon after the post-election crisis began, protesters began inscribing Green slogans and criticism of the Government on Iranian banknotes. An EA reader points us to the follow-up story that the Central Bank of Iran has tried to take the banknotes out of circulation, but with so many about, they have given up the effort.

1000 GMT: Nuclear Manoeuvres. Trying to offset apparent pressure from Russia, the spokesman for Parliament's National Security Commission insists that the Bushehr nuclear reactor will soon be operational. Russian officials said earlier this week that the plant would be delayed past its proposed opening date of the end of 2009.

0930 GMT: A Surfacing from Raf? An interesting article, given the relative silence of former President Hashemi Rafsanjani since August. Emrooz, the newspaper linked to Tehran mayor Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, claims inside information from a meeting of Rafsanjani with several former members of Parliament.

One of those former MPs says Rafsanjani set four conditions, first offered in his 17 July sermon, for his return to Tehran Friday Prayers: the release of political prisoners, support for those injured in post-election conflict, rebuilding of relations with Grand Ayatollahs and clerics, and an opening-up of state radio and television to different viewpoints. Another source claims, “Without naming any specific individual, Hashemi warned against the growth of a movement that seeks to ignore the regime’s achievements and implicate everyone who cares about the regime.”

0920 GMT: A later start this morning, as we worked on an analysis of the shifts in the Green movement and their significance; even as leaders show caution in their statements, the signs of a long-term but far-from-disappearing movement persist. We have also posted the Public Broadcasting Service documentary, shown in the US last night, "A Death in Tehran" on the story of Neda Agha Soltan and the post-election protests.

Regular readers will note our frequent references to and use of sources from the Facebook page supporting Mir Hossein Mousavi. Tehran Bureau has a profile of the man behind the site, Mohammad Sadeghi.