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Entries in The Guardian (9)


Latest from Iran (30 October): Now to the Real Contest

NEW Video: Tonight “Allahu Akhbars” at Sharif University
More Time, Please: Ahmadinejad’s Legitimacy and Iran’s Nuclear Talks
Iran: Text of Ahmadinejad Speech in Mashaad (29 October)
Iran: The Mousavi-Karroubi Meeting
Iran: The Supreme Leader’s Threat — Strength or Weakness?
Video: The Announcements for the 13 Aban Marches

The Latest from Iran (29 October): Opposition Momentum?

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GHOOCHANI2000 GMT: We've posted video of tonight's protests at Sharif University in Tehran.

1840 GMT: Meanwhile, despite Larijani's harsh and perhaps troublesome intervention, the Government strategy --- as signalled by the President --- unfolds. The Islamic Republic News Agency is quoting an "unnamed source" that Iran has not given an "answer" to a specific deal on third-party enrichment. Instead, "The Islamic republic only announced its positive view to the negotiation and has said it is ready to have negotiations based on its technical and economic considerations regarding how to procure fuel for the Tehran reactor." (English summary in Agence France Presse article)

Translation? Iran is trying to take the proposal for shipment of 80 percent of stock off the table, beginning from scratch on the questions of timing and amounts to be delivered to Russia. That in effect undoes three months of talks on the US-led plan while maintaining Tehran's claim that it is still committed to discussions.

1835 GMT: Larijani the Hard-Liner. What is Iran's Speaker of the Parliament playing at?

Almost two weeks after the Sistan-Baluchestan bombing, Ali Larijani cast blame upon the United States:

Reliable evidence shows the US played a role in the recent move. The Iranian nation should correctly recognize the US for what it is. The United States and Israel are the main culprits of these events and known enemies of the Iranian nation.

Larijani has now publicly levelled these charges on at least three occasions, while no one in the Ahmadinejad Government --- as the President welcomes Western concessions towards Iran in nuclear talks --- has done so. So is the Speaker of the Parliament, as we speculated earlier this week, representing the Supreme Leader's specific disquiet over the handling of the bombing? Or is this a wider effort to undermine Ahmadinejad's manoeuvres in a continued "engagement" on the nuclear issue?

1820 GMT: The Price of Defiance. Yesterday we reported --- and readers added information --- on a mathematics student from Sharif University who challenged the Supreme Leader, during his Wednesday speech to "academic elites", with a series of questions.

Well, it is reported today by Sharif University students that their classmate, Mahmoud Vahidnia, was taken away on Thursday night by Revolutionary Guard agents for questioning. His family were told he would only be detained for an hour but have still not heard from him; they have been told by other students that he is fine but cannot talk. It is also claimed that the family has been warned not to speak about the case.

1800 GMT: There are some interesting points on Iran's uranium enrichment coming out of an article by Julian Borger of The Guardian, "The fading of an Iranian mirage". Borger's piece is useful primarily for his exposure of the US-led strategy behind the third-party enrichment deal, "[Iran]wants to hand over the uranium in batches as the fuel rods are delivered. In that scenario, Iran's stockpile of LEU – currently enough to make a bomb – is not reduced, even for a few months. There is no diplomatic dividend, in the form of reduced tensions and negotiating space."
The real meat for discussion about the Iranian programme are in the comments being made by readers about the uranium stockpile.

1425 GMT: And Now, Your Friday Prayer from Tehran, Courtesy of Ayatollah Emami-Kashani.

1. Foreigners Are Devious: "We must identify where the enemy seeks to penetrate the Islamic establishment and then counter it."

2. But Other Foreigners Think Iran's Science (and Nuclear Programme?) Is Fabulous. "We must realize that aside from enemy media outlets, the rest of the world supports the Islamic and scientific movements in Iran. When science is founded upon faith and Islam, no one will be able to stop it."

3. But Remember, Those First Foreigners Are Devious and Jealous. "History has shown that the Islamic civilization, which incorporates science, faith and effort, was taking over the world, when certain parties stepped in and laid claim to the achievements of Muslims. They proclaimed themselves as the owners of the world and enslaved Muslim countries."

4. So Don't Think of Criticising Us. "Criticism that is intended to help make progress is good, but views that are expressed to belittle [the] others are not acceptable in any way."

1405 GMT: Report that all the workers arrested last week in connection with a strike at an Ahwaz pipe factory have now been released.

1400 GMT: Tagheer, the website associated with Mehdi Karroubi, has published a series of photos of Etemade Melli editor-in-chief Mohammad Ghoochani (left), released on bail today after 131 days in detention (see 0945 GMT).

1310 GMT: Ayatollah Montazeri, in solidarity with detainees and their families, has declared that he will not be celebrating Imam Reza's birthday. (English summary on Facebook site associated with Mir Hossein Mousavi)

1300 GMT: Report that Iran's Prosecutor General has confirmed three death sentences previously announced for post-election detainees are final.

1050 GMT: Grand Ayatollah Bayat-Zanjani, a fervent critic of the Government during the post-election crisis, has suffered a heart attack and is in intensive care in a hospital in Qom.

0945 GMT: Islamic Labour News Agency is confirming the report that Mohammad Ghoochani, the editor-in-chief of Etemade Melli newspaper, has been released on $100,000 bail after 131 days in detention.

An EA source adds that Ghoochani was freed at midnight, with no notice to his family, and took a taxi home.

0700 GMT: A slow start to the day so we've focused on an analysis of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's political move yesterday, using the nuclear issue to shore up and boost his Presidential legitimacy. We've also posted an extract from his speech in Mashaad.

The quick summary? While the Western media worries over the nuclear question, the sharper-eyed should look towards the bigger issue and bigger battle: Ahmadinejad's quest to establish his authority both against the opposition and against challengers within the regime. We now have the English translation of this week's meeting between Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, setting up their next moves, and the videos being circulated for the 13 Aban demonstrations.

It is five days to 13 Aban (4 November).

The Iran-Turkey-Israel Triangle: Erdogan in Tehran

The Latest from Iran (28 October): No Lull

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moghimi20091027183213890On Tuesday, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad signed economic agreements and discussed regional politics.

Ahmadinejad praised Erdogan's stance against Israel, describing the country as a "threat to all nations":
When an illicit regime possesses nuclear arms, one cannot talk about depriving other nations of a peaceful nuclear program. Your clear stance toward the Zionist regime had a positive effect in the world, especially the Islamic world, and I am sure that everyone was satisfied.

The more regional countries expand their ties and get closer to each other, the more they can remove their problems and limit the ill-wishers that have plots against them.

Iran-Turkey cooperation would benefit both countries, the region and the whole Islamic world.

Ahmadinejad also praised Erdogan's stance on Tehran's nuclear programme, after the Turkish Prime Minister told The Guardian that "Iranians are working on nuclear power for the purposes of energy only".

Under the Iran-Turkey economic agreement, both countries commit themselves to trade through their own currencies instead of the dollar or euro. Turkey has signed similar accords with Russia and China.

Israel's Diplomatic Albatross? Avigdor Lieberman

Israel-Palestine: Clinton Tries to Help Abbas
Israel: Netanyahu and Barak Limit the Gaza Inquiry

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avigdor-liebermanThis week the meeting of foreign ministers of Mediterranean Union countries was postponed by France after efforts to bring Egypt to the table failed. Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit had stated that he would not attend if Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman was present. France is considering an invitation to prime ministers to rescue the summit.

Lieberman's effect is being felt elsewhere, however. In an interview given to The Guardian, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan stated that Lieberman had threatened the region with the use of nuclear weapons in Gaza during the Operation Cast Lead. In contrast Erdogan, who will visit Tehran next week, said Iran is not pursuing nuclear weapons and "is Turkey's friend."

UPDATED Iran's Nukes: The Real Story on Vienna Talks and the Deal for Uranium Enrichment

Iran-US-Russia Deal on Enrichment, The Sequel
The Latest from Iran (20 October): Green Waves or Green Mirage?

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UPDATE 1930 GMT: Talks have ended for the day, to be resumed tomorrow. IAEA head El-Baradei said that negotiations were moving forward though more slowly than he had expected.

Julian Borger of The Guardian has a useful summary.

UPDATE 1825 GMT: Yep, that's where the not-so-silly games are heading. Iran, wanting France out of the loop, is talking directly to the US delegation, according to Lara Setrakian of ABC News.

Press TV gives more details: An Iranian source confirms the "positive and constructive" bilateral discussions, adding, "It was agreed that more studies should be held on...renewing the secondary, control and electronic facilities" of the medical research reactor, the source added.

UPDATE 1810 GMT: Oh my, the Iranians are playing silly games now. Having wound up the media with their pre-talk threats, Tehran's delegation decided today to give France a poke in the eye by never showing up at discussions. Other diplomats are insisting that this is not a walkout, and the French Foreign Ministry maintains, "It is a meeting of experts, in which we are participating." However, Iranian officials via Press TV are declaring, "The elimination of France from the deal's draft is certain."

There is a likely explanation for this rather comic manoeuvring. Under the "third-party enrichment" proposal backed by the US, Iranian uranium is to be enriched by Russia and then sent to France to be shaped into metal plates. Tehran may be insisting that Paris is cut out of the process, with Russia sending the uranium, raised to 19.75 percent, directly back to Iran.

Some of the media coverage of yesterday's opening of the Vienna technical talks on Iran's uranium enrichment was beyond hopeless.

It was unsettling to see international broadcasters suddenly and excitedly discovering that there were talks and then, when those talks did not produce an outcome within hours, suddenly and not-so-excitedly proclaiming disappointment. At least, however, that produced comic moments such as CNN's Matthew Chance, like a boy discovering there was no candy in the shop, sinking from "lot of anticipation" to "jeez...all day the talks have broken up".

Far worse this morning is the spectacle of reporters, despite having some time to collect information and consider, repeating distracting and irrelevant spin as "analysis". The Wall Street Journal goes off on a tangent into nuclear Never-Never Land, "Iran Drops Deal to Buy Uranium in France". Swallowing Iran's eve-of-talks posturing rather than understanding it, The New York Times and David Sanger declare, "Iran Threatens to Back Out of Fuel Deal" with Tehran's "veiled public threats".

Really? Then how does Sanger explain the comment of the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohammad El Baradei, "We're off to a good start" in the second paragraph of his story? Maybe he could reflect a bit more on the quote handed to him by "a participant" (fourth paragraph):
This was opening-day posturing. The Iranians are experienced at this, and you have to expect that their opening position isn’t going to be the one you want to hear.

The real story, which EA has reported since Glenn Kessler's breakthrough story in The Washington Post last month, is that the deal to ship 80 percent of Iran's low-enriched uranium for processing in Russia and to use that uranium in a medical research facility (rather than for bombs) is on the table. Yesterday's public chest-puffing by Tehran does not change that agenda.

Indeed, both Time magazine and Sanger add details to that deal (although Time, in particular, does not have the professional decency to acknowledge Kessler's original article). Approaching the IAEA, Iran revived the idea --- broached by other countries months earlier --- of third-party enrichment of its uranium stock for the medical facility, and the Obama Administration ran with it during the President's trip to Moscow in early July. The top US official for nonproliferation, Gary Samore, put the proposal to the Russians.

Discreet talks between Iran, the IAEA, Russia, France (which would shape the enriched uranium as metal plates before it was returned to Tehran), and the U.S. followed. On three occasions, twice with El Baradei and once with Russian President Dmitri Medvedev, President Obama stepped in to confirm and advance the initative. The deal was considered at the first direct talks between Iran, the US, and the other "5+1" countries at Geneva on 1 October, producing the agreement for further technical discussions in Vienna.

The very fact that the Administration would be is leaking so much information to well-placed reporters should indicate that the real story here is that the US, irrespective of Iran's public posturing, is going to persist with this proposal. That trumps any misleading headlines from journalists who yearn for drama to break "all day silence" and are prone, beyond the details in their own articles, to the image of a talk-stalling, deal-breaking Iran.

The Latest from Iran (19 October): Beyond Bombings, The Pressure on the Government

NEW Iran Snap Analysis: Mousavi’s Webcast Takes “National Unity” Beyond Politics
NEW Iran Discussion: The Bombings, Jundallah, and the US
NEW Video: Mousavi’s First Post-Election Webcast (18 October)
NEW Video: Larijani on The Bombings, Jundallah & The US (18 October)
Iran Newsflash: National Unity Plan Submitted to Supreme Leader

Iran: The Great Supreme Leader Health Mystery
Video: Blame on Sunni Group Jundallah, US For Bombing
The Latest from Iran (18 October): Today’s Bombings

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IRAN 3 NOV DEMOS1910 GMT: In case you're wondering why, after the initial media distractions (0825 and 1355 GMT), there were no updates on today's talks between Iran and the "5+1" powers over uranium enrichment....

Well, there was precious little to report, as all delegations stayed tight-lipped. The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohammad El Baradei, offered some general encouragement, praising "a good meeting....We are off to a good start," but saying only that talks would resume Tuesday morning.

This was always the most likely outcome, since details of uranium enrichment and the logistics of transport and processing can be surprisingly complex. However, it appears that some of the international media were expecting the drama of either an agreement or a breakdown within hours, if not minutes. That foiled expectation produced the day's alternative high point, the tragi-comedy of CNN's Matthew Chance sinking from excitement into chilly whimpering:

1. just did first live shot....talks not even started yet, but lot of anticipation
2. ok talks finally begun
3. gonna do live right now
4. freezing out here...
5. jeez..all day silence... now the talks have broken up....

1840 GMT: Clerical Hope. Grand Ayatollah Sane'i, meeting members of the Qom branch of the “Green Path of Hope”, has said different views should not lead to division and should be resolved through dialogue and negotiation. He asked, however, how one can speak to a Government that calls people agents of traitors and foreigners and that insults the families of martyred heroes. (English summary on Mousavi Facebook site)

1815 GMT: Khamenei Speaks (or At Least His Official Site Does). Back from an academic break to find the official statement from the Supreme Leader on the Sunday bombings: "The Islamic system shall not withhold any energy to defend the region and the people" against the terrorists and enemies "backed by arrogant governments".

1555 GMT: Supreme Leader Speaks? Reuters reports, from Press TV, that Ayatollah Khamenei has said that Iran will "punish" those responsible for Sunday's bombings and that enemies "can't harm the unity" amongst Iranians. It is unclear, however, whether the Supreme Leader's statement was in a message on his website or in a public appearance.

1545 GMT: Political Terms. We have been referring to Jundallah in the last 48 hours as a "Sunni group", but my impression is that a more accurate description would be "Baluch insurgent group", reflecting the regional emphasis of its objectives. Any comments most welcome.

1505 GMT: We have moved our snap analysis of Mir Hossein Mousavi's webcast on "National Unity" to a separate entry.

1435 GMT: Here They (the Revolutionary Guard and the "Western" Media) Go Again. A predictable if ridiculous escalation in the Iran v. US narrative. The commander of the Revolutionary Guard, General Jafari, makes his comments to Iranian journalists denouncing the US, Israel, and Pakistan in Sunday's bombings by Jundallah and promises to "retaliate" (see 0850 GMT). Reuters turns Jafari not only into the Ahmadinejad Government but all of Iran, as in its headline, "Iran Threatens Britain and US After Guard Bombing".  The Guardian gives a token nod to Islamabad but does no other reporting beyond Reuters' declaration with its  "Iran blames Pakistan and west for deadly suicide bombing: Iran vows revenge".

None of the "Western" journalists, to our knowledge, take any notice of last night's Cabinet meeting, which distanced itself from criticism of the US. Indeed, no one seems to bother to ask, "If Iran really blames the US for this act, why is it negotiating with Washington at the Vienna talks today?"

1355 GMT: A Non-Threat. Let's hope the Western press don't swallow this (frankly ridiculous) media bait on today's enrichment talks. Press TV is featuring the declaration, from "a source close to the meetings", "Iran Rejects 'Direct Talks' with France in Vienna".

Since Iran is not speaking directly to France but to the "5+1" powers, this is the reddest of red herrings having no significance whatsoever.

1345 GMT: Montazeri E-Mails the BBC. Grand Ayatollah Montazeri has responded to a series of questions from the BBC on the Iranian Government and the Islamic Regime. After a rather fatuous start, "What is your view of claims that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is in contact with the Hidden Imam and that his government is working for the return of the Mahdi?", the interview produces Montazeri's declaration, "Due to the short-sightedness, ineptitude and lack of wisdom, as well as arrogance and neglect of the demands of the majority of the people by a small inefficient minority, many of the initial ideals of the revolution have not been fulfilled." And he repeats his warning to the Supreme Leader:
As, in my view, the government will not achieve legitimacy without the support of the people, and as the necessary and obligatory condition for the legitimacy of the ruler is his popularity and the people's satisfaction with him; therefore, the present dissatisfaction - which is unfortunately increasing - will have a direct bearing on the legitimacy of the ruling establishment, unless the wiser figures in the nation can think of a solution by changing the current policies, and can remove the causes of the dissatisfaction of the majority of the people, and deal with the people with kindness, mercy, compassion and humility.

1315 GMT: Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi have each issued statements condemning Sunday's bombings.

1230 GMT: Another Post-Election Prison Sentence. Hedayat Aghaei, a senior member of the Kargozaran Party, has been sentenced to five years in prison for "disrupting the public order by provoking people to riot, propagating against the Islamic republic...and acting against national security”.

The twist in the tale is that Kargozaran has been seen more as a party linked to Hashemi Rafsanjani, raising the question of how much this is a symbolic move against the former President.

1045 GMT: Where is Khamenei? At the risk of re-igniting rumours and speculation, a question: is it unusual for no statement or appearance from the Supreme Leader given the death toll from yesterday's bombings in Sistan-Baluchestan?

1040 GMT: Hammihan News reports that journalist Masoud Bastani, detained in early July, has been sentenced to six years in prison.

0850 GMT: The Government's Disarray Continues. President Ahmadinejad may want to get a hold of his Revolutionary Guards commander, General Mohammad Ali Jafari. Jafari has upset the Cabinet's attempts to damp down talk of US-first responsibility for the Sunday bombings, telling journalists that Washington and Israel are behind the attack and claiming links of Jundallah head Abdolmalek Rigi with US and Pakistani intelligence services.

0840 GMT: The Pakistani Government has denied any link to Sunday's bombing in southeastern Iran. "Pakistan is not involved in terrorist activities ... we are striving to eradicate this menace," Foreign Ministry Spokesman Abdul Basit told the Daily Times newspaper .

Pakistani President Asif Zardari has called Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to offer his condolences and reaffirm Pakistan’s commitment to fighting extremists.

0825 GMT: As the technical discussions between Iran and the "5+1" powers (US, UK, France, Russia, China, and Germany) open in Vienna, Tehran is throwing up a lot of chaff to divert the media. Following yesterday's assertion that Iran was not looking for third-party enrichment but would seek to buy high-enriched uranium from the US and other countries, a spokesman for Iran's nuclear energy authority declared this morning, "If the talks do not bring about Iran's desired result ... we will start to further enrich uranium ourselves."

Don't be distracted. The main proposal on the table is still the US-developed plan, after Iranian signals in June, for 80 percent of Iran's low-enriched uranium to be processed to 19.75 percent in Russia. (Here's our reminder of the details of the plan and negotiations.) That is the message between the lines of this report from Press TV, under the cover of "local enrichment", "The United States is considering ways to officially announce that it has agreed to Iran's demand to locally enrich uranium, sources say. The US has held private meetings with its European allies in order to inform them about the decision."

0815 GMT: EA's Mr  Smith and Chris Emery met up last night for a chat about the Sunday bombing, Jundallah, and the allegations of US involvement. The outcome is in a separate entry.

0725 GMT: The effects of yesterday's bombings in southeastern Iran still resonate, with people inside and outside the Government trying to assess the political as well as "security" effects. The immediate impression is that the regime is in a bit of disarray, both from the shock of losing six senior Revolutionary Guard commanders and from the symbolic significance of a suicide attack inside Iran.

The immediate reaction of the Revolutionary Guard and, more interestingly, Speaker of Parliament Ali Larijani (see separate video) was to blame "foreign elements" such as the US Government for the attacks, but this only caused further political complications. With an Iranian delegation meeting American counterparts and representative of the other "5+1" countries today for technical talks on uranium enrichment, the aggressive line risked a breakdown of engagement and, thus, the threat of harsher economic sanctions on Iran.

So the Ahmadinejad Cabinet, reviewing the situation last night, re-focused Tehran's strategy. blaming Pakistan and pressuring it to co-operate in the pursuit of Jundallah, the insurgent group blamed for the bombings. Given the complexity of Pakistani politics and its own tangled internal situation, that pressure is unlikely to lead to a resolution in the near-future.

But this is the only start of the bombings' political effects.

No doubt the Government will gather itself to put the attacks within the context of post-election "disturbances" by the opposition, but this is not the easiest of propositions. Jundullah is a political light-year away from the nature and content of the Green movement, and of course no one in the opposition is going to offer any public sympathy for violence against Iranian officials or the military, even the Revolutionary Guard.

So, while Ahmadinejad and advisors try to re-align the security situation, internal politics, and their international manoeuvres, there is a space for others to take advantage. And, indeed, yesterday's "other" events may prove more significant than the Baluchestan bombing. The revelation that the National Unity Plan has now gone to the Supreme Leader for consideration (see separate entry) establishes that, despite all the pressure from Ahmadinejad supporters to contain and even sabotage the Plan, a cross-section of groups --- and, yes, former President Hashemi Rafsanjani --- have persisted. We are still in the dark about the details of the Plan, but it has long been clear that its proposals for system reform, first and foremost in the short-term, will put limits and possibly pressure on Ahmadinejad.

So it is far more than notable that Mir Hossein Mousavi made his own intervention yesterday, for the first time using an Internet interview (see separate video) to set out his political vision and call on the Iranian people to persist in their efforts for change. Most importantly for now, he opened by aligning himself with the National Unity Plan while, at the same time, encouraging the Green movement to use "virtual media" to ensure its voice was heard.