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An Iranian man looks at newspapers displayed outside a kiosk in the capital Tehran on November 25, a day after an extension to talks on the country's nuclear program was announced in Vienna.

Iranian reformists and even some conservative newspapers have welcomed the extension of the negotiations over Iran's nuclear program until July 2015.

Hard-line dailies, however, have been sharply critical of the extension that was announced in Vienna on November 24.

The front pages of Iran's major reformist daily "Shargh" and the hard-line "Vatan-e Emruz, a critic of the nuclear negotiations with the West, highlight the divide.

"Shargh" referred to the extension of the nuclear talks for another seven months as the "Extension of Hope."

"Vatan-e Emruz," on the other hand, suggested that the nuclear talks were a failure.

"Nothing!" reads the headline on the newspaper's front page on November 24. The daily wrote that, a year after the Geneva deal, "talks for removing sanctions" failed to bring results.

On November 25, Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei reacted to the extension of the nuclear talks with one sentence:

"In the nuclear issue, the United States and colonial European countries got together and did their utmost to bring the Islamic Republic to its knees, but they failed, and will continue to fail," Ayatollah Khamenei was quoted as saying by Iranian media.

Khamenei has the final say on all issues in the Islamic republic.

--Golnaz Esfandiari

An undated photo of Hossein Derakhshan in Tehran

Iranian blogger Hossein Derakhshan has been released from prison after serving six years of his unprecedented 19 1/2-year prison sentence.

Derakhshan, dubbed Iran's "blogfather" for his role popularizing the medium, wrote on Google+ on November 19 about his release and said that he had been pardoned by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.

"I am free after six years. Thank You, God. Thank you, Your Holiness Ayatollah Khamenei," he wrote.

Derakhshan said that he had been informed of Khamenei's decision after returning to Evin prison following a two-week prison leave that had not been extended.

In past years, despite his heavy prison sentence, Derakhshan had reportedly been in and out of the prison on several occasions on furlough.

Derakhshan, a highly controversial figure, was arrested in November 2008 after returning to Iran from Canada and Britain, where he had been residing.

He was put on trial and sentenced to prison on charges that included spreading propaganda against the Islamic establishment, insulting Iranian leaders, and working with hostile governments, a charge that was reportedly leveled against him over a trip to Israel.

Iranian citizens are banned from traveling to Israel, which Iran does not recognize as a state. Derakhshan said he had traveled to Israel in an effort to bridge differences between Israelis and Iranians.

Derakhshan, who was originally considered a reformist, later became a supporter of the Iranian establishment. He expressed support for former President Mahmud Ahmadinejad and Iran's nuclear activities.

In an interview conducted two years ago by university professor and film critic Shahab Esfandiari, whom Derakhshan had thanked upon release and to whom he referred as his brother, the blogger said that he had been in solitary confinement for eight months without access to books or newspapers.

Esfandiari wrote on Google+ on November 19 that he decided to publish the interview because of the "questions" and "lies" surrounding Derakhshan's release.

Later he said he spent nine months in what he described as "semi-solitary confinement" where he said he had limited access to books and newspapers. He said that during his time in prison he learned some French and Italian and wrote a novel.

The novel, he said, is about a young Iranian who grew up in Europe and is trying to find his true identity. After returning to Iran and under the influence of his "anti-Zionist fiancee," he said, the young man sacrifices his life for an Iranian nuclear scientist and becomes a "martyr."

In the interview, Derakhshan also addressed accusations that he had worked with security forces during his incarceration.

He said after his interrogation sessions had ended, authorities had asked him to offer his analysis about "Western efforts aimed at a soft overthrow of the Islamic republic."

Two months after the disputed 2009 presidential vote and the mass antigovernment protests, Derakhshan said he was asked to offer his analysis of the alleged "soft war" against Iran in a video interview.

He said he later found that his analysis was used in the indictment against those arrested in the postelection crackdown.

In the interview, Derkhshan also said that if released, he'd like to show the world that Iran is treated unjustly because it wants to have a "different system."

-- Golnaz Esfandiari

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About This Blog

Persian Letters is a blog that offers a window into Iranian politics and society. Written primarily by Golnaz Esfandiari, Persian Letters brings you under-reported stories, insight and analysis, as well as guest Iranian bloggers -- from clerics, anarchists, feminists, Basij members, to bus drivers.


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