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Iranian Officials Rule Out Talks With US Amid Economic Troubles

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Top Iranian leaders and officials say they have no intention of conducting negotiations with the United States.  Meanwhile, a strike by merchants appears to be continuing in several Iranian cities.

Although top Iranian leaders say they will not negotiate with the United States, that did not prevent foreign visits with Western officials by Iranian Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani and Foreign Minister Manouchehr Muttaqi.  Larijani met with Western parliamentary leaders in Geneva, while Muttaqi addressed an international conference on Afghanistan in Kabul.

In Tehran, Iran's Deputy Parliament Speaker said the United States "humiliated and opposed the Islamic Republic," precluding any "reason for negotiation."

Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast presented a similar line of reasoning at his weekly press briefing.  Mehmanparast says Washington's pursuit of economic sanctions against Iran, in addition to what he claims is U.S. maltreatment of Iranians, mean there is no real reason to negotiate.

As Iranian media continued to focus on international issues, the economic crisis inside the country appeared to worsen, according to many analysts.

Iranian television showed officials inaugurating new electricity plants and saying more gasoline is available, contrary to scattered reports from inside the country that gas stations are running low on fuel and that electricity brownouts are causing major disruptions.

Former Iranian President Abolhassan Bani Sadr, who lives in exile in France, says an intermittent general strike in Tehran's bazaar reportedly began about 10 days ago.  He says the strike began in response to a new 70-percent tax on merchants by the government, and the strike has continued despite major government concessions.

Bani Sadr says the strike is continuing because the country's economic crisis has been exacerbated by the government's bad policies.  The former president says that merchants see a bleak economic future for Iran because of rising prices, lack of investment, lower oil revenues and the elimination of price controls.  All of this, he says, also has been compounded by new economic sanctions imposed by the United Nations and the U.S.

Analyst Houchang Hassan-Yari of Canada's Royal Military College says Iran's economic situation is compounded by a growing religious opposition to the government.  Pious bazaris, he says, are angry that religious figures they admire are being insulted and marginalized by the government.

"Through the association that the bazaris have with different religious leaders, they see clearly that those leaders are maltreated by the Islamic Republic, and the Islamic Republic is taking distance from the original ideas of the [1979 Islamic] Revolution, and the kind of society that it promised to create," said Hassan-Yari.

Iran's merchants were an important part of the opposition movement that swept Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi from power in 1979.  Abolhassan Bani Sadr, who was Iran's first president after the Islamic Revolution, says the power of the bazaar has diminished since that time, but that that it still carries considerable weight.

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