LATEST: Interior Minister Slams “Global Inaction” on Abducted Border Guards


UPDATE 2045 GMT: A “senior US Administration official” — probably lead US negotiator Wendy Sherman — was cautious in remarks to journalists about the Vienna talks: “(There is) a gap (on enrichment of uranium) that’s going to take some hard work to get to a place where we can find agreement.”

The official said elements that need to be settled include monitoring, the status of the Natanz and Fordow enrichment facilities and the under-construction Arak heavy-water reactor, and Iran’s uranium stockpiles.

However, the official said that she was still hopeful of meeting a deadline of late July for conclusion of a comprehensive agreement.

She said that the US and Iran delegations had an 80-minute bilateral meeting and added, “There are no histrionics, there is no walking out, there is no yelling and screaming. It is very professional, very workmanlike.”

UPDATE 1425 GMT: The statement from the European Union’s Catherine Ashton at today’s conclusion of the Vienna discussions on a comprehensive nuclear deal:

(Iranian Foreign Minister) Minister Zarif and I, together with the Political Directors of China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States, just finished a second round of talks with Iran in our ongoing diplomatic effort to seek a comprehensive agreement on the Iranian nuclear issue….

Based on the framework for the negotiations established at our meeting last month, we had substantive and useful discussions covering a set of issues, including enrichment, the Arak reactor, civil nuclear cooperation and sanctions.

We will meet again on 7 to 9 April 2014 in Vienna and continue our work on the substantial areas which we intend to cover in a comprehensive agreement.

In the meantime, technical experts will meet to further elaborate on the details of the relevant issues.

The next round of high-level talks will be preceded by technical discussions from April 3 to 5.

UPDATE 1415 GMT: Sign of optimism from Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif….

Iran and the 5+1 Powers (US, Britain, Germany, Russia, China, and France) resumed talks on a comprehensive nuclear deal in Vienna on Tuesday.

Little detail was offered on the discussions; however, Iran’s lead nuclear negotiator, Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi, said the dates of April 7-9 has already been set for the third round of talks.

Araqchi said the negotiations on Tuesday were “long and intensive” on three unnamed topics, with a fourth being considered on Wednesday.

The spokesman for the 5+1 Powers, Michael Mann, said the meetings were “constructive”.

The European Union’s Catherine Ashton and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif opened the talks in the morning, with Ashton’s deputy Helga Schmid and Araqchi chairing the negotiations in the afternoon.

Araqchi said the meetings were mainly for “exchanging views” to find common ground before the two sides work on a joint text.

Iran and the 5+1 Powers opened talks on a comprehensive agreement last month in Vienna, following implementation of November’s interim nuclear deal.

Interior Minister Slams “Global Inaction” on Abducted Border Guards

Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli has criticised “global inaction” regarding the abduction of five Iranian border guards by the separatist insurgent group Jaish ul-Adl in the Jakigour region of Sistan and Baluchestan.

Rahmani Fazli claimed “The so-called advocates of human rights should pay special attention to the issue of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s kidnapped border guards.”

He added, “Regarding all efforts, it seems that we will witness promising news about the state of the abducted border guards in the near future.”

Earlier this week, a number of high ranking Iranian military officials were removed from their posts for “negligence” in response to their inability to free the kidnapped guards.

Angry Conservative Reactions to Closure of Hardline “9 Dey” Newspaper

The hardline “9 Dey” newspaper, which was shut down yesterday, was closed for publishing several articles claiming widespread firing of nuclear scientists and criticizing President Hassan Rouhani’s distance with the Supreme Leader’s nuclear policy, according to the official order by the Media Supervisory Board.

Managing Director Hojjat al-Eslam Hamid Rasaei claimed that the media outlet was shut down “due to criticism of Hassan Rouhani’s administration” and wrote retorts to Head of the Expediency Discernment Council Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani (addressing him as “the administration’s primary supporters”), President Hassan Rouhani, and Islamic Culture and Guidance Minister Ali Jannati including quotes from each on media freedom.

National Security and Foreign Policy Parliamentary Commission member and former senior Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) commander Brig. Gen. Mohammad Esmail Kowsari criticized the closure of “9 Dey”, calling it “wrong” to shut down a newspaper “from a party” in retaliation to shutting down a newspaper “from another party.”

Kowsari added, “If a newspaper violates national security, it is another matter. However, it is different if the newspaper or media criticizes an administration or an individual.”

The newspaper is linked to the Endurance Front, which is at the forefront of the conservative challenge to the Rouhani administration.

See A Political Threat to Rouhani? Introducing the Endurance Front

Larijani: Nuclear Talks Must Not Touch on Human Rights in Iran

Senior judiciary official Mohammad Javad Larijani has warned that nuclear talks in Vienna must not touch on human rights in Iran, warning, “The enemies’ ploy is a vicious circle, which changes according to the political situation.”

Iranian officials have harshly criticized UN leaders, including Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, over reports this month that challenged the Islamic Republic over issues such as executions, women’s rights, and political prisoners.

Larijani continued the campaign on Tuesday, rejecting the “3,000 accusations” of the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Iran, Ahmed Shaheed, and describing him as a “media actor”.

The Iranian official, whose brothers are Speaker of Parliament and head of the judiciary, said Tehran would continue to refuse entry to Shaheed, appointed in 2011: “His visit to Iran is not meant to be for verification purposes, but it is for propaganda; how does he want to study 3,000 allegations in just three days?”

Larijani has previously declared that “Ahmed Shaheed supports terrorism extensively”.

He also rejected the purported number of individuals on death row — 8,000 according to reports — as not “correct” and that “80%” of those on death row committed crimes “related to narcotics.”

Responding to Shaheed’s indictment of Tehran’s policies regarding the Baha’i religious minority, Larijani claimed, “We do not have anyone in prison for being Baha’i” and that “criticism” and “freedom of speech” is “prevalent” in the Islamic Republic.

National Security Council Files Complaint Against MP Over Nuclear Remarks

The Supreme National Security Council has filed a complaint against MP Mahmoud Nabavian over his criticism of the interim nuclear deal.

Nabavian, a prominent critic of the Government, has denounced the nuclear negotiations in speeches at several universities. He responded to the complaint by saying that he and other critics “heavily under pressure”: “It seems (they) do not believe in freedom of speech at all.”

Senior Official: We Can Resume Enrichment of 20% Uranium in “2-3 Hours”

The spokesman of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization has said that, if nuclear talks do not progress, Tehran can quickly resume enrichment of uranium to 20%.

Behrouz Kamalvand said Iran had suspended the enrichment under November’s interim nuclear deal “to build trust”. However, the Islamic Republic could resume “in less than a day; two-three hours”.

Uranium enriched to 20% cannot be used for military purposes, but it may be further enhanced to more than 90%, which can fuel nuclear weapons.

Under the interim deal, which came into effect on January 20, Iran agreed to dilute its 20% stock to 5% or to convert it to fuel plates.