The parliamentary elections in Iran dominated media coverage. The hard-liners, or the “principlists,” won a majority of seats decided in the first round. But principlists were divided in two competing factions. Radical Pro-Ahmadinejad United Front of Priniplists (UFP) won 35% of the seats while the traditional conservatives, Inclusive Coalition of Principlists (ICP), also won 35%. The reformists and independents won 30%. Editorials in reformist newspapers expressed belief that the new parliament, with a majority critical of Ahmadinejad’s polices, would challenge the president on major policy issues. On nuclear front, Iran rejected any talks with world powers over its nuclear program.
Leading Domestic Storylines
· First round of elections for Iran’s parliament were held on 14 March; results for 190 seats (out of 290 seats) were decided during first round; 58% of eligible Iranians cast their votes; remaining seats are to be decided in second round of voting next month.
· Election results indicated “principlists” (fundamentalists) won 70% of seats decided in first round; reformists and independents captured 30%; principlists were divided into two groups, United Front of Priniplists (UFP) and Inclusive Coalition of Principlists (ICP); pro-Ahmadinejad UFP was expected to receive 35% of seats; the conservative ICP, which includes many critics of Ahmadinezhad, is also expected to control 35% of seats.
· The government was being accused by both the reformists and the conservative opponents of Ahmadinejad of committing irregularities at polling stations and in vote counting; election workers and observers were the same people in many voting places; representatives of opposition candidates were banned from observing the process; opponents complained of “numerous violations” by the pro-government UFP on the elections day and during the vote-counting process.
· The critics of the government had already held it responsible for the disqualification of numerous reformist and moderate candidates for the 14 March elections; they had warned against the government’s tendency to increasingly act as if it were an absolute monarchy.
· Iran slams “opportunist” EU election stance; Tehran accused EU and other Western critics of “unacceptable behavior and political manipulation” after calling Iran elections “unfair”; EU said disqualifying candidates in pre-vote vetting meant election “was neither fair nor free.”
· US claimed Iran election results “cooked”; State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack said Iranians were not able to vote for “full range” of candidates; Iran’s Foreign Ministry Spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini called Western criticism of Iran election “unacceptable behavior and political manipulation.”
· Iranian security forces destroyed “terrorist cells” on Iraqi border; “all members of two terrorist cells were killed and many arms have been seized,” said Iraj Hassanzadeh, spokesman for Iranian Kurdistan province; Iran has been fighting Kurdish separatist rebels of the Party of Free Life of Kurdistan (PJAK)); Iranian military also shelled three Iraqi border villages, apparently aimed at PJAK bases in the area.
· Iran warned Dutch lawmaker's anti-Quran film would “breed violence”; Iran's Deputy Foreign Minister Mehdi Safari said Geert Wilders’s film should be banned for “just requirements of morality, public order and the general welfare in a democratic society.”
· The Iranian government banned pictures of foreign film stars, including those of Nicole Kidman and Reese Witherspoon; nine cinemas and lifestyle magazines were banned for publishing images of “corrupt” foreign stars.
The Regional Storylines
· Iran said it spares no efforts to help Afghans; Iran's Deputy Ambassador to UN Mehdi Danesh-Yazdi said Iran has consistently provided help to Kabul for its reconstruction and economic development; Danesh-Yazdi said impacts of Iran's assistance to Afghanistan were evident in the daily lives of Afghan people.
· Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki is to attend this month's Arab summit hosted by Syria; Arab Summit is expected to be dominated by political crisis in Lebanon; standoff between Hezbollah-led opposition and pro-government parties prevented election of Lebanese president; Iran insists it wants to see a solution in Lebanon acceptable to all religious and ethnic groups.
· Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad attended Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) Summit in Senegal; Ahmadunejad delivered speech on Islamic solidarity at OIC summit; summit condemned Danish media insulting Islam.
· Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called for joint action with Iraq, Turkey against PKK; speaking at OIC summit in Dakar, Ahmadinejad said three countries needed to work together if the PKK separatists were to be defeated.
Iran’s International Relations
· Iran dismissed bilateral talks with US; Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini said bilateral talks with the US are not on “Tehran's working agenda.”
· President Bush extended US sanctions against Iran for another year; Bush sent a notice to Congress alleging that Iran “remains a threat to the US”; Iran sanctions were first imposed by President Clinton in 1995.
· Deployment of US missiles in Middle East is doomed, Iran’s Foreign Ministry Spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini said; Hosseini said such plan will “trigger an arms race”, he added US missile base in Turkey is “military and security threat” to the region.
· Qatar warned of frenzied oil prices in case of US attack on Iran; Qatar's Energy Minister Abdullah bin Hamad Al Attiyah warned crude oil prices could reach $300 per barrel or more if US were to attack Iran.
· Iran is to set up a television network in Bolivia; in February, Iran opened an embassy in La Paz; Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) would install three TV channels in Bolivia.
· Iran praised Scotland's anti-war stance; Iranian Ambassador to Britain Rasoul Movahedian said Iran and Scotland shared “similar views” on many issues such as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
· Pakistan Navy Mission comprising submarine Hurmat, Mine Counter Vessel Muhafiz, Missile Boat Jurrat, and Coastal Tanker Gawadar arrived on a goodwill-training cruise to Iran.
Iran’s Nuclear Program
· Iran rejected any talks with world powers over its nuclear program; “the issue of nuclear talks with 5+1 countries is over,” government spokesman Qolam Hossein Elham said; Elham confirmed remarks by President Ahmadinejad that Iran was strongly against any talks between EU foreign policy chief Solana and Iran's top nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili; “IAEA is the only legal body for this issue,” Elham added.
· Iran ready to talk on nuclear issue; Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini said Tehran has never said it was not ready to talk over its nuclear activities.