Secret Talks on Nuke Swap, Halting Enrichment; Heavy Security on Ashura
17 Dec 2010 23:20
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Iran in Secret Talks on Nuclear Swap in Bid to End Sanctions
Daily Telegraph | Dec 16
Iran has begun secret negotiations on proposals to surrender a substantial part of its uranium stockpile and suspend enriching nuclear fuel in return for an end to sanctions that have crippled the country's economy.
The Turkish-led deal calls on Iran to ship about 1,000 kilograms of its low-enriched uranium, as well as its entire 30 kilogram stockpile of 20-per cent enriched uranium, to a safe location.
In return, France and Russia will supply ready-made fuel rods for the medical isotope reactor for which Iran says it has been enriching uranium to 20 per cent -- a level which halves the time needed to manufacture weapons-grade material.
"We think the deal is doable," an official involved in the negotiations said, "but there's still a lot of detail to be worked through." Turkish and Iranian negotiators, diplomatic sources say, have met several times to discuss the contours of the deal, which they hope to bring to the table next month at a meeting with an international consortium called the P5+1 -- the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council and Germany.
France, Russia and the United States have also been involved in the negotiations, which began after a meeting between Ahmed Davutoglu, Turkey's foreign minister, and Iranian officials in Bahrain earlier this month.
Ashura 2010, Iran: Gatherings, Heavy Security, and Arrests
Persian2English | Dec 16
Based on reports by the Centre to Defend Families of those Detained and Slain in Iran, a group of mothers and the families of those killed in last year's protests went to Behesht-e Zahra cemetery to honour those killed during the Ashura 2009 (December 27, 2009) protests. When some of them tried to visit the graves of other martyrs of post-election events, they were confronted by security agents who told them, "Go and pray only at the grave of your own loved ones. Why are you visiting other graves?" The families of the martyrs protested to the police's interference and meddling in their mourning.
Every year Ashura mourners in Tehran are permitted to pray in public and many gather near Jomhouri street in Tehran to do so. This year, security forces banned public praying in fear of protests from freedom loving Iranians.
Police helicopters patrolled Tehran from the skies. Police forces on the ground were armed with new equipments: Honda 250 motorcycles, white and khaki helmets, and new body armours. All the preparations are aimed at confronting possible protests by the people taking part in religious ceremonies and Ashura rituals.
There was a heavy concentration of security, anti-riot, and police forces stationed on Imam Hossein Square in Tehran. Some intersections had 100 regime forces along with Basij and plainclothes forces gathered. Regime forces stood in the way of religious mourners to prevent them from entering Enghelab Street.
At 11:30am on Navab Street, security forces clashed with Ashura mourners who attempted to enter Enghelab Street. Five people were injured and 13 people were arrested. People chanted, "O, our martyr Imam Hossein, Iran has become just like Karbala (the place where Imam Hossein died)."
11:50am: Based on reports by Iran News Agency, near Enghelab Square, nearly 30 students carrying a red flag with the words "O Hussein" and "Hail to Hussein" while chanting "God is Great (Allah-o-Akbar) and "Iran has turned into Karbala, O Muslims Rise up" attempted to enter Enghelab Square. They were confronted by police forces who charged toward them. The students spread to the nearby alleys and began to throw stones. Three students were injured in the clashes.
From 12:00pm, over 100 people in Tehran intended to go from Hafez Street to Enghelab Street but were stopped by security forces. 10 people were reportedly injured.
1:15pm: Ferdowsi Street, near Ferdowsi Square: clashes occurred between security forces and Ashura mourners. Security forces used batons to disperse people and the people resisted. Three security forces and 13 mourners were reportedly injured.
Subsidy Reforms to Start on Saturday
Uskowi on Iran | Dec 17
According to informed sources in Tehran, President Ahmadinejad on Saturday will announce the start of long-awaited subsidy reforms. Sixteen consumer products will gradually lose all government subsidies within the next five years. The list includes gasoline, diesel, natural gas, kerosene, electricity, water, bread, sugar, rice, cooking oil and milk. Helping people to cope with expected sharp rise in prices, the government has started handouts of $40 per month to 80% of the citizens.
Media Asks How Long Iran's New Foreign Minister Will Keep His Job
The National | Dec 17
Iran's new caretaker foreign minister, Ali Akbar Salehi, is regarded as an urbane, moderate and open-minded technocrat by western officials and academics who have met him in his capacity as his country's top nuclear official, a post he still holds.
One described him as "a man of peace" who seemed pained and baffled by the "unremitting" hostility of hawkish American neo-conservatives to the Islamic Republic.
Mr Salehi, 61, spent five years studying in the US in the 1970s and is said to be in favour of resolving Iran's nuclear dispute. But he insists on his country's right to pursue peaceful nuclear technology and not to make concessions.
"He was always a very pleasant and amenable person to deal with, a good functionary and civil servant," said a former European diplomat in Tehran. "He was somebody who could stick to his positions but was at the same time good at communicating with others."
Mr Salehi, however, is unlikely to have much room to manoeuvre because the framework and tenor of Iran's foreign policy are set by the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
But foreign envoys hope that their contacts with Iran's foreign ministry will now be more fruitful. Open bickering in recent months between the president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and Manouchehr Mottaki, the long-serving foreign minister he sacked without explanation on Monday, made it confusing and difficult for diplomats.
9 Suspected of Involvement in Chabahar Blast Arrested
Mehr | Dec 17
Nine suspects have been arrested in connection with a suicide bomb attack in the southeastern city of Chabahar, Interior Minister Mostafa Mohammad Najjar announced on Friday.
On Wednesday, a suicide bomber blasted himself outside a mosque during Ashura ceremony in Chabahar, Sistan-Baluchestan province, killing 35 people and wounding more than 100 others.
Analysts have said the purpose behind such moves is to stoke conflict between Shias and Sunnis in the province. Sunnis were also among the martyrs.
The terrorist group Jundullah claimed responsibility for the blast, saying it was retaliation for the execution of the group's shadowy leader, Abdolmalek Rigi, in June.
In a televised confession in February 2010, Rigi confessed that the U.S. administration had assured him of unlimited military aid and funding for waging an insurgency against the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Talking to reporters in Chabahar, Najjar said given the method of the terrorist operation and the equipments used, it seems that foreign intelligence services including Mossad were behind the attack.
Earlier, an informed Intelligence Ministry official said, "In a special intelligence operation, Intelligence Ministry personnel succeeded in arresting eight other terrorists behind and related to this crime in the cities of Chabahar, Nikshahr and Konarak, Sistan-Baluchestan province this morning (Thursday)."
Najjar added, "Such moves are guided by the hegemonistic powers' intelligence agencies with the aim of creating insecurity and preventing the economic prosperity of the country's southeastern region".
The Intelligence Ministry also said that two more terrorists, planning to detonate bombs in southern and eastern parts of the country, were identified. One of them was killed in clashes with the Intelligence Ministry personnel, while the other one was arrested as he tried to flee the country.
Journalist Mashallah Shamsolvaezin Sentenced to 16 Months in Prison
RAHANA | Dec 17
Mashallah Shamsolvaezin, the vice-president of the Journalists Union and the spokesperson for the Freedom of Press Committee, has been sentenced to 16 months in prison.
He has been accused of "insulting the president" for having called Ahmadinejad an "oppressor" and "Majnoun" (meaning insane in Persian) in an interview with the Arabic-language news network Al-Arabiya.
Shamsolvaezini explained that he had not called Ahmadinejad "insane" but that the court's verdict was the result of misinterpretation of the interview in Arabic. He said that he had indeed described Ahmadinejad as a self-opinionated person, but "I didn't say that he was insane," he added.
Regarding the charge of "weakening" the Islamic Republic, Shamsolvaezini said that it was based on his interviews with the BBC, Al-Arabiya, Der Spiegel, and the pro-reform website Rooz Online. He was accused of having "vilified" the Islamic Republic by referring to it as an "expressive state" and suggesting that Iranian journalists had been caught in the "claws of the regime."
The court accused Shamsolvaezini of "weakening" the Iranian regime by making such statements as well as defending an imprisoned employee of the French Embassy in Iran, which earned him a year in prison.
Shamsolvaezin was the editor-in-chief of banned Iranian newspapers Jame'eh, Tous, Neshat, and Asre Azadegan. He was arrested following the Ashura protests in late December 2009, but was released from prison two months later.
Reformist Cleric Hojjatoleslam Soleimani Detained
RAHANA | Dec 17
Agents from the Intelligence Ministry who were accompanied by the plainclothes agents riding motorcycles have detained Hojjatoleslam Soleimani, a member of the Assembly of Qom Seminary Scholars and Researchers.
Dr. Soleimani was once detained last summer in the Beheshteh Zahra Cemetery. Soleimani had appeared at the cemetery along with Ayatollah Mousavi-Tabrizi to commemorate the post- election victims when the security forces arrested him.
Three Charged in Scheme to Send Money to Iran
Reuters | Dec 16
Three people were charged on Thursday with conspiring to defraud the United States and launder money in a scheme that prosecutors said sent $1.8 million to Iran.
Married couple Hossein Lahiji, 47 of McAllen, Texas and Najmeh Vahid, 35 of San Antonio Texas, along with Ahmad Iranshahi, 53, of Tehran, Iran were charged in the two count indictment, according to an announcement.
"These defendants are charged with going to extraordinary lengths to conceal the transfer of large sums of money in violation of the trade restrictions with Iran that have been in place for well over a decade," Dwight Holton, U.S. Attorney in Portland said in a statement.
The indictment alleges that the defendants transferred $1.8 million in supposed donations to a Portland charity called The Child Foundation from 1995 to at least 2008. The funds were then invested in Iran in violation of the embargo of Iran.
The two "retained interest and control in Iran over a significant part of the transferred funds," the statement says. But, the two claimed them as charitable deductions on their U.S. tax returns.
The Child Foundation, listed as a co-conspirator, allegedly worked with the Iranian government.
Founders of The Child Foundation "consulted with and sought approval, support and monetary assistance" from "the Hizballah brothers, Iranian diplomats, Iranian ayatollahs and other Iranian governmental representatives," the indictment alleges.
The indictment also charges that Iranshahi and the Child Foundation "would split the proceeds of certain donations with Iran's Grand Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi."
See also: "Texas Couple Accused of Funneling Money to Iran" (Washington Post)
Ebrahim Yazdi's Deteriorating Health in Evin Prison
ICHRI | Dec 16
A reliable source recently spoke with the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran regarding the case of Ebrahim Yazdi. In the interview, the source alleged that security officers have demanded that in return for Yazdi's release from prison, he promise not to have meetings with ambassadors from Islamic countries after his release. "Dr. Yazdi told them that these individuals have been my friends for many years and I cannot cut off relations with them. The interrogators have set one of the conditions for Mr. Yazdi's release as his retirement from political activities, asking him to resign from all political activities. This is an issue Dr. Yazdi has not accepted to oblige in no uncertain terms," the source said.
According to the source, Yazdi who is detained inside ward 209 of Evin prison, has been transferred to the prison infirmary several times during his detention. Yazdi is a cancer patient who suffered extensively during his detention and interrogations last year, developing a heart condition and being forced to have open heart surgery. "He suffers from high blood pressure, too; keeping an 80-year old man in small and gruesome cells inside ward 209, the interrogations, and blindfolds for any coming and going, even for using the bathroom, have created conditions that at any moment might lead to his death in this ward," the source told the Campaign.
"He has not had telephone contact with his family during his detention. He has only been able to see them once through a booth. Mr. Yazdi is kept in a very small cell and without any facilities in the same cell with a man who is accused of financial crimes. During his detention, every day or every other day his blood pressure has fluctuations which cause him to pass out. The physicians and medical assistants go to his side, transferring him to Evin prison's infirmary, stabilizing him through injections and IV's. Doctors inside the ward 209 infirmary have told his interrogators several times that even one hour of detention inside ward 209 and the prison as a whole, is dangerous and anything could happen to him," added the source.
Political Prisoners' Families Detained, Interrogated, and Verbally Abused
ICHRI | Dec 16
A few hours after Fatemeh Maleki, wife of imprisoned Iranian filmmaker and blogger Mohammad Nourizad, was transferred to Tehran's Modarres Hospital, the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran reached a source who told us about Maleki's arrest and hospitalization. "Her psychological state was so poor after the interrogations, she was unable to stand up and as soon as the interrogations were completed, she was transferred to a hospital by her family. Mrs. Nourizad has a history of high blood pressure and her family are seriously concerned for her and the stress she has endured recently," the source said.
On Thursday, 16 December, Mohammad Nourizad's family, along with Fakhrossadat Mohtashamipour, wife of imprisoned reformist Mostafa Tajzadeh, were arrested in front of Evin Prison on the charge of "congregation." The arrest followed news published on Nourizad's website, announcing his transfer to a hospital, following deterioration of his physical condition as a result of his hunger strike. Family of the imprisoned filmmaker and blogger had gathered outside Evin Prison to inquire about his health when they were arrested. For the past two weeks, Mohammad Nourizad has not been allowed to have any visitors. Over the past few days, Fatemeh Maleki had told reporters that she is concerned as she has no information about her husband and his condition.
The informed source told the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran that families of Nourizad and Tajzadeh had gone to Evin Prison because of their concern for their health. "They arrested and took all members of the Nourizad family and Mr. Tajzadeh's wife to the Detention Center on Vozara Avenue. All Nourizad family members, including his brothers, sisters-in-law, and sisters who had been arrested were interrogated separately," said the source.
"From the very beginning, the arrests and interrogations were accompanied by violence and verbal abuse of the officers. During the interrogations, the group was asked about the reason for their congregation, and who had organized the gathering. Families of both prisoners told the officers that they did not intend to have a congregation, but only to find out news about their imprisoned relatives on Ashura Day," the source told the Campaign.
Mohammad Nourizad's health deteriorated during the sixth day of his dry hunger strike; he remains in prison at this time.
U.S. Readies New Sanctions on Iran Ahead of Talks
IPS | Dec 15
The Barack Obama administration is preparing a new batch of sanctions against Iran to be announced next week in advance of nuclear talks in Turkey.
Two Iran experts in Washington who are usually well briefed about U.S. Iran policy said more Iranian officials would be designated as abusers of human rights on top of eight sanctioned earlier this year. That would deny them the right to travel to the U.S. and freeze any assets they might hold in this country.
Gary Samore, White House coordinator on non-proliferation, told a neoconservative organisation, the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, last week that the U.S. would "maintain and even increase pressure" against Iran so long as negotiations produced no progress on curbing Iran's nuclear programme.
Asked by IPS if that meant new punishments before a meeting expected in January in Istanbul, Samore said, "I think it would be an important message to send to take additional measures."
WikiLeaks Cables: Chevron Discussed Oil Project with Tehran, Claims Iraqi PM
Guardian | Dec 15
The US energy firm Chevron negotiated with Tehran about developing an Iraq-Iran cross-border oilfield in spite of tight US sanctions, according to the Iraqi prime minister in leaked diplomatic cables.
Nouri al-Maliki's claim, reported in the cables, that Chevron was in discussions with the Iranian government will raise eyebrows in Europe and other parts of the world where international companies have come under significant pressure from Washington to end investments and other financial dealings with Tehran.
Chevron declined to either confirm or deny that it had been in contact with Iran, and confined its reaction to a statement saying it had not done, and would not do, anything in violation of US law.
The leaked cable from the US embassy in Baghdad provides intriguing details of a discussion between Maliki and the then US charge d'affaires in Iraq, Patricia Butenis, on 19 March last year.
Butenis says: "With regard to hydrocarbons, the PM asked for the US position on direct contracts with US firms and on US firms developing cross-border fields on the Iran border."
She adds: "The PM said he is currently in negotiations with Chevron to develop various oilfields to include a cross-border oilfield with Iran (NFI). The PM claimed that Chevron had told him that it had already raised the issue of a cross-border development with Tehran as well. (Note: We have no independent confirmation of this; end note.)"
Iran Electricity Exports up 6%
Mehr | Dec 17
Iran's electricity exports have increased by six percent from the beginning of current Iranian calendar year (March 21, 2010).
According to a statement released last week by Iran's Energy Ministry the country has exported 4,630 gigawatt hours (GWh) of electricity to its neighboring states during the period. The report didn't specify the exact date this period covered.
Iran also increased its electricity imports from 1,632 GWh to 2,373 GWh during this time span. The figure shows a 45.34 percent increase in Iran's electricity imports.
Iran's electricity network has been integrated into the power grids of seven neighboring countries, including Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Turkey, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan.
Iran exported more than 5.5 billion kWh of electricity to neighboring countries during the past Iranian year, IRNA reported.
Iran is the 19th largest producer and 20th largest consumer of electricity in the world.
Earlier this year, Iranian Energy Minister Majid Namjou said Russia, India, Qatar, the UAE, Jordan, Syria and Oman are the new countries demanding electricity from Iran.
OPINION & ANALYSIS
The Value of a Nuclear Iran
Chan Akya (Asia Times) | Dec 18
Ever since the UN Security Council imposed new sanctions on Iran last week after the country refused to stop enriching uranium, concerns have mounted over the possibility of a nuclear-type conflict in the Middle East involving the United States, Israel, Iran and perhaps a host of Arab countries including Saudi Arabia.
Whilst the descent towards war may well prove inevitable over the course of 2011, this article explores the strategic necessities of the other side of the equation; namely the question of just how bad a nuclear-armed Iran would be in what is considered the most volatile neighborhood in the world.
A closer look at the exclusively Arab portions of the "oil map" is disturbing to say the least for the average Sunni fanatic. A number of key oil fields in various Arab states adjoining the "Arabian" Gulf (which is of course called the "Persian" Gulf in the rest of the world) are in areas with predominantly Shi'ite populations, the principal ones being Bahrain and Al-Hasa (a region that was under Bahrain during the time of the Ottoman empire).
This then is the core of the Saudi worry about Iran. An expansion of the Shi'ite state could provoke grave unrest within Saudi Arabian borders but also limit the country's ability to suppress dissent from its young and restless, a scenario that must provoke the greatest concern among all the crown princes as they mull the succession from King Abdullah.
The prospect of a nuclear Iran certainly creates its share of worries, not the least of which is the likely expansion of a theater of war away from the Middle East towards Europe and Asia. The country's attitudes towards Israel are also a matter of deep concern. However, if one assumes that an expansion of the Iranian military in non-conventional weapons is a certainty in an environment where the United States as a declining superpower is unable to intervene militarily, then the next best option -- namely to harness this new emerging power -- should certainly be examined closely.
The primary advantage of a nuclear Iran and a rising Shi'ite state would be the instability it engenders in today's predominantly Sunni- and Wahhabi-controlled Middle East. That is not a bad thing as both America and Europe have precious little to show for their engagement of Saudi Arabia and neighboring kingdoms in the nine years since 9/11 and the West's attempts to curtail al-Qaeda. Instead, the rise of Iran could well promote the kind of reforms that have thus far been eschewed by Arab kingdoms, and in turn create the conditions for greater stability over the long run.
Imagining an Iranian ICBM
Jonathan Kay (National Post) | Dec 16
Last week, I [attended] a two-day conference dedicated to "Countering the Iranian threat," put on by the Washington, D.C.-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies. [...] The most interesting speaker was a gruff Israeli engineer named Uzi Rubin, the former head of Israel's Missile Defense Organization.
He's spent much of his professional life carefully scrutinizing Iran's growing inventory of WMD-related technology. His research is guided by the simple question: What are these people building?
Rubin's presentation on Iran's missile program showed how quickly Iranian technology is advancing. During the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s, Iran was so backward that it had to import its missiles from Libya. Today, the country flies its own satellites.
Along the way, Iran has developed an indigenous missile-production infrastructure. The country now has the capability to design, construct and deploy multi-stage solid-fuel systems roughly similar to the U.S. Polaris A1 and Minuteman I.
"Don't be fooled by those who say the Iranians are incapable of [advanced projects]," Rubin told the conference. "I can see the confidence of their engineers. I've seen the technology. I can see the way they are solving problems faster and faster."
In the final minutes of his presentation, Rubin concluded by ticking off the elements of Iran's advanced tech research: (1) nuclear enrichment, (2) solid-propellant ballistic missiles, (3) space-launch technology. Then he asked: "If a scientist from Mars would come down and say 'Hey, there's a country on Earth that has these three programs -- what does it want?', the answer is obvious: A nuclear ICBM."
No one is arguing that Iran will rain death on the world as soon as it gets a fleet of intercontinental ballistic missiles (assuming it builds them at all). What is more likely is that Iran aspires to join the superpower club, and ownership of an ICBM is the official condition of entry.
The Case against Bombing Iran
Jonathan Kay (National Post) | Dec 17
When the case is made for bombing Iran's nuclear sites, a word that often comes up is "Osirak" -- the name of the Iraqi reactor successfully attacked by Israeli F-16s in 1981. If a pre-emptive bombing run worked 30 years ago, the reasoning goes, it will work today.
But many analysts draw the opposite conclusion from Osirak -- including Iran expert Ken Pollack, who spoke on the subject at last week's Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) forum in Washington D.C.
"The Osirak strike did not turn off the Iraqi nuclear program," he told the audience. "Instead, it caused Saddam to redouble his efforts. He went from a small, actually quite backwards program that most estimated would take about 10 to 15 years to create a weapon, to a much more aggressive, much more extensive, much better concealed program, going from a single track to six different tracks across the country -- at least three of which, the IAEA concluded afterward, could produce a bomb. What prevented the Iraqis from acquiring that capability wasn't Osirak. It was Desert Storm."
As for the idea that ordinary Iranians would respond to the bombings by overthrowing their government, Pollack says, the precise opposite is more likely. When people are bombed, they tend to rally around the flag and heap blame on the people dropping the actual bombs. "I'm a student of military history," Pollack said. "I teach courses on it. I've spent my whole life on it. The idea [that bombing can lead to regime change] is an incredibly seductive one that people have believed for decades. The problem is that we have tremendous amounts of evidence: It has never happened. Never."
You could hear a pin drop when Pollack said these things: The hawks in the room didn't know quite how to respond.
The best model for dealing with Iran isn't Osirak, Pollack concludes. It's South Africa. Regime change in that country didn't take place through a single dramatic gesture, but a sustained international campaign that turned the country into a pariah state.
That means keeping up the pressure with sanctions, shaming Iran by listing off its numerous human-rights violations, and publicly expressing solidarity with the nation's Green movement. (The latter two steps, incidentally, encapsulate the two pleas you tend to hear most often from actual Iranian dissidents who speak to Western reporters: They would like to hear less talk of bombing, and more outrage about Iran's use of torture, rape and executions.)
Iran Nuclear Crisis Forges Coalition for Containment
The fractious Arab nations are uniting in their opposition to a common enemy in a way arguably not seen since the pan-Arab nationalism of the 1950s and 1960s led by Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser. Besides privately urging the United States to attack a fellow Muslim neighbor, Persian Gulf royals have channeled their fear into a very public buying spree of advanced weapons, most of them U.S.-made, that collectively will top an estimated $120 billion in the next few years.
Hoping to turn that fear into an opportunity and to leverage close bilateral relationships in the region, the Pentagon and U.S. Central Command have been quietly urging more multilateral security cooperation among Gulf States in areas such as maritime security, counterterrorism, early warning, and missile defense. The long-elusive goal is to establish a de facto U.S.-led coalition in the Gulf as a counter to Iran's dreams of regional hegemony.
"In the past, there haven't been a lot of avenues for multilateral security cooperation among the Gulf countries because there's a lot of mutual suspicion among them," a senior defense official said. "Starting from the point that we all increasingly see common threats, most notably from Iran, we are trying to stitch together the efforts of all these countries into a regional security architecture."
Recent Middle East trips by Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton suggest that the United States continues to assemble the pieces of that new security architecture. The effort is in its relative infancy, and major components are still missing. The administration has yet to even articulate an overarching strategy for the informal alliance. Yet if the United States were intent on laying the foundations for the containment of a nuclear-armed Iran, a close inspection of its actions in the region has convinced some experts that this is what it might look like.
DOCUMENTS & DECLARATIONS
Report: Mobilizing Toddlers for Basij Membership
Photo Essay (Mehr via Rahesabz) | Dec 15