The campaign for 14 March parliamentary elections in Iran got under way. Reformist parties endorsed unified candidate lists, while rival conservative factions presented two separate endorsement lists. The division among the conservatives would ensure the presence in new Majlis of reformists and some conservatives highly critical of Ahmadinejad’s administration. On regional front, Iran actively pursued a break in the impasse over Lebanese presidential elections. Iranian foreign minister held talks with his Saudi, Syria, Qatari and Omani counterparts to broker a deal. Iran did not want the Lebanese impasse affect the upcoming Arab Summit to be held in late March in Damascus. Iran and Syria were hoping to use the summit to push an anti-Israeli agenda.
Iran Nuclear Program
· Iran ready to hold talks with 5+1 on nuclear issues; Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Mohammad-Ali Hosseini said Iran was ready to hold talks with Group of 5+1 and Europeans over Iran’s nuclear program.
· Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said no more negotiation outside IAEA; “Iran will not negotiate the nuclear issue with any country outside the IAEA anymore,” Ahmadinejad said in Tehran.
· Iran's Under-Secretary of the Supreme National Security Council Javad Vaidi said Iran will continue with its nuclear activities; ”We will say ‘no’ to the ‘no’ which obstructs Iran's progress in nuclear field,” Vaidi said.
· Secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council Saeed Jalili said Iran will ask for compensations from EU-3 for damages caused by Iran’s suspension of uranium enrichment activities between 2003 and 2005; “those who made us stop uranium enrichment based on false accusations will have to pay for compensations as a result,” Vaidi said.
· Iran's Oil Minister Qolam Hossein Nozari said latest UN sanctions against Iran would not affect country’s oil sector; Nozari said Iran's oil industry is mature enough to be impacted by UN sanctions.
· Iranian Foreign Ministry's Institute for Political and International Studies held an international conference in Tehran on Iran’s nuclear program; forty scholars from 30 countries were in attendance.
Leading Domestic Storylines
· Iranians are to go polls on 14 March to elect a new parliament, the 8th Majlis; Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei urged voters to register their defiance of “enemies,” referring to US and the West; Khamenei added the West wants to “dishearten” people and “dissuade” them from taking part in elections.
· Reformist and moderate parties presented unified endorsement list for Tehran and some provinces; conservative factions endorsed two different lists of candidates, with only eight common names among them.
· Tehran residents staged rallies to protest “insults” to Prophet Mohammad in European press; protestors also condemned Israel's attacks against Palestinians in Gaza; they chanted anti-US and anti-Israel slogans in a ceremony at Tehran’s Palestine Square.
· Iran is to boost its crude oil production to 4.27 million bpd; production increase is to start in late March.
· Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Mohammad-Ali Hosseini said no bilateral talks with US were on Tehran's agenda; Hosseini said Washington has intensified its hostile policy towards Iran.
· US negotiators did not show up at Iran-US talks on Iraqi security in Baghdad; Iranian delegation led by Reza Amiri Moqadam had arrived in Baghdad as scheduled; US-Iran talks on Iraq’s security were to be held at request of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Iran’s delegation left Baghdad after US refused to take part in meeting.
· Iraqi government spokesman said US is responsible for postponement of fourth round of Iran-US talks on Iraqi security; failure of US to attend a scheduled meeting with Iranians was “the reason for postponement,” explained Iraqi government spokesman.
· Secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council and the country’s chief nuclear negotiator, Said Jalili, said he will not hold talks with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice over Iran’s nuclear program.
· Iran and Iraq set to establish border region free trade zones (FTZ); investors would be free from paying tax for 30 years in FTZ’s; Iran set no limitation for foreign entities established in FTZ’s.
· Iran, Iraq trade and tourism increased in 2007; non-oil trade between Iraq and Iran reached about $2 billion; travel between the two countries, especially for religious pilgrims, increased considerably.
· Iranian and Saudi foreign ministers discussed Lebanon; Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki and Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal met at Cairo airport to resolve crisis over Lebanese presidency; Iran has voiced support for a coalition government; Saudis support Prime Minister Fouad Siniora’s government; Prince Saud al-Faisal later met with US Assistant Secretary of State David Welch; Weich flew in from Amman to discuss Lebanese crisis.
· Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki flew to Damascus airport for a meeting with foreign ministers of Syria, Qatar and Oman, four foreign ministers had gathered at Damascus airport to discuss crisis Lebanese crisis.
· Iranian Ambassador to Lebanon Mohammad Reza Sheybani conferred with Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora; Sheybani and Siniora discussed Iran’s cooperation in rebuilding of Lebanon.
· Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said resistance was only way to “defeat Zionists and their masters”; Ahmadinejad spoke at a ceremony in Tehran honoring Secretary General of Islamic Jihad Ramadhan Abdullah; “the collapse of the fabricated Zionist regime has begun,” Ahmadinejad added.
· Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad sent congratulatory message to Dmitry Medvedev on his victory in Russia's presidential elections; Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini said Tehran does not predict any change in Moscow's policies under Medvedev.
· Indonesian president arrived in Tehran; President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono headed a high ranking delegation; Yudhoyono held talks with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and other senior Iranian officials.
· Iran and Sudan signed defense cooperation agreement; agreement was signed in Tehran by Iran's Defense Minister Brig. Gen. Mostafa Mohammad Najjar and his Sudanese counterpart General Abdulrahim Mohammad Hussein; Gen. Najjar said Iran supports sovereignty of Sudan and “condemns interferences” in its domestic affairs.
· Tehran ready to sign Iran-Pakistan-India (IPI) gas pipeline; Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Mohsen Talaei visited Mumbai to push final agreement with India; Talaei said Iran is proposing an acceptable price and transition fees to get Indian and Pakistani agreements.