The US-Iranian relations and their bilateral talks scheduled to be held on 28 May in Baghdad dominated the media coverage in Iran. Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenie reiterated Iran’s position of no negotiations with the US and said that the upcoming talks were to be limited to issues of Iraqi security only. Khamenie also said that Iran was now leader of the global front against the US and is acting as the command center for worldwide anti-US confrontations. On the nuclear front, Iran announced plans to construct the country’s first indigenous nuclear power plant. Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator also hailed IAEA chief’s recent observation that Iran’s enrichment program was at an advanced stage and can not be turned back. On domestic front, Iran charged an Iranian-American academic who was jailed last week with attempting to start a velvet revolution in Iran. The price of gasoline was increased for the first time in years. The gasoline will now cost 38 cents per gallon.
· Iran and US will hold talks on 28 may in baghdad on Iraqi security issues; The US team will be headed by Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker; Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said that Iran will name an experienced diplomat with ambassadorial rank to head the Iranian team; the meeting agenda was limited by both side to the security issues facing Iraq.
· Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei said that the Islamic Republic was leading the world’s nations in their confrontation against the US; Khamenie said that Iran is turned into a “command center” of the anti-US front; he said the Islamic Republic’s system detonated a powerful bomb in the world of politics which was “thousands-fold stronger than the bomb detonated by the US in Hiroshima.”
· Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini said there were no links between the Iraqi security issues to be discussed with the US on 28 May in Baghdad and Iran’s nuclear program; Hosseini said during Iran-US talks, a representative of the Iraqi government will also be present; Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khameneie had said earlier that Iran’s policy of not negotiation with Washington remained intact and that the 28 May talks were limited to Iraq’s security issues.
The Nuclear Program
· The Iranian Atomic Energy Organization (IAEO) announced the start of the construction of the country’s first indigenous nuclear power plant; IAEO deputy director, Mohammad Saidi, said Iran has completed the feasibility studies and has identified the location for the plant; Saidi said the plant was scheduled to be built and fully operationalized within the next ten years.
· IAEO deputy director Mohammad Saidi said Iran will produce nuclear fuel within the next five years; Saidi said that Iran was the first country ever to acquire the nuclear technology through its own indigenous scientists.
· Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani said further sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program will be an act of “international disobedience”; Larijani said the 5+1 push against Iran did not allow the enforcement of relevant international laws; Larijani said if new sanctions are imposed on Iran, the country will play its card too.
· Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani hailed IAEA chief Mohammad El Baradei’s comments that Iran’s enrichment program is a reality that can not be turned back; Larijani said he appreciated El Baradei’s acumenship in realizing the advance stage of the Iranian program.
· The Japanese government implemented the UN resolutions on freezing assets of Iranian individuals and organizations as identified by the UN.
Leading Domestic Storylines
· The Iranian Intelligence Ministry announced charges of enticing velvet revolution in Iran against the Iranian-American academic Haleh Esfandiari; Esfandiary was arrested two week ago and has been prevented from leaving the country for nearly six months; the Intelligence officials said that Esfandiari revealed to the ministry the names of Soros Foundation director and employees in Iran; the ministry charged that Soros Foundation was also involved in promoting velvet revolution in Iran; the colleagues and friends of Ms. Esfandiari have vehemently denied the charges as baseless; the academic world has threatened Iran with an academic boycott if Esfandiari is not released immediately.; the Iranian-American journalist Nazi Azima has also been prevented from leaving the country; Ms. Azima was in Tehran on a personal visit.
· Iranian Intelligence Minister Mohseni Ejeie said the state security case against Hossein Moussavian, former member of the Iran’s nuclear negotiating team, was still open ; Ejeie said Moussavian’s case involves leaking state information to foreign embassies in Tehran; he said after completion of the investigations, a judge will issue the verdict against Moussavian; political observers in Tehran regard the case as politically motivated; Mousavian is a close ally of former president Hashemi Rafsanjani.
· The Iranian ministries of oil and interior announced the launching of new gasoline price; the prices were raised from the equivalent of 38 cents per gallon (from the current 30 cents/gallon); the government postponed rationing gasoline; the rationing start date will be announced in future.
· The bill making the elections for the new term of the Iranian parliament simultaneous with the presidential election, that had been passed by Majlis but rejected by the Guardian Council, was sent for arbitration to the Expediency Council; Majlis wanted to hold both elections on the same day in October 2008; the move would have cut Ahmadinejad’s term as the current president by four months and was strongly opposed by the government; the Guardian Council has rejected the bill as unconstitutional.
· Iranian provincial authorities in Baluchistan announced that during the recent nationwide campaign against the Afghan nationals living illegally in Iran, some 60,000 Afghans have been expelled from Iran; the government has asked all illegal residents to register with the government for orderly repatriation process; the world’s humanitarian organizations have condemned Iran for its harsh treatment and expulsion of Afghan citizens, who have been working in Iran for years.
· Iranian authorities arrested 15 people in Tabriz, the capital of Iranian Azerbaijan, for inciting anti-government demonstrations; the arrests came before the anniversary of the publication of a cartoon offensive to Azeri’s; the cartoon was published last year in Iran newspaper published in Tehran.
· Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said the Iraqi government was directly responsible for the safety and the return of the captured Iranians envoys; five Iranian envoys were seized by US forces during a raid on their office building in Erbil, Iraq; Mottaki said Iran will accept “no excuses” on this issue; Mottaki said the captured Iranians wanted to first meet with Iranian consular officials before meeting their families.
· Abdul Aziz Hakim, the powerful Shia leader of Iraq, arrived in Tehran for medical treatment; Hakim had been diagnosed for lung cancer.
· Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said he was not referring to Palestine, and not to Israel, when he said in Jordan that no country could be wiped off the world’s map; international news agencies had reported that Mottaki’s comments on Israel were in direct challenge to president Ahmadinejad’s proclamations.
· Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad left for Belarus on a state visit; Ahmadinejad was to meet Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenko in Minsk, the Belarusian capital; Ahmadinejad and Lukashenko were expected to sign several agreements on bilateral relations during the visit.
· The Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmad Abu Al Ghayt hailed statements by the Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to restore diplomatic relations with Egypt; Ahmadinejad had called for the restoration of the relationship while on his recent tour of the Persian Gulf states of UAE and Oman.
· Jordan’s King Abdullah said his country opposes any military attack against Iran over its nuclear program; King Abdullah said a strike against Iran would be disastrous.