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WikiLeaks: Iran Is Bomb-Capable Now; Ahmadinejad: West 'Lost in Lust'

21 Jan 2011 15:03Comments

Press Roundup provides selected excerpts of news and opinion pieces from the Iranian and international media. Click on the link to the story to read it in full. Tehran Bureau has not verified these stories and does not vouch for their accuracy. The inclusion of various opinions in no way implies their endorsement by Tehran Bureau. Please refer to the Media Guide to help put the stories in perspective. You can follow other news items through our Twitter feed.

THE LEAD

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WikiLeaks: Iran 'Has Had Nuclear Weapon-Building Capability for Two Years'

Telegraph | Jan 20

Iran gained the technicaly capability to produce highly enriched uranium in sufficient quantities to make nuclear weapons in March 2009, according to US officals.

The leaked diplomatic cables, published by WikiLeaks, published a memorandum of a Vienna meeting in which the US representative said the Iranian nuclear facility in Natanz was capable of enriching uranium stocks into uranium hexafluoride gas in sufficient quantities to make nuclear bombs.

The assessment came just weeks after the International Atomic Energy Agency had concluded that Iran had enriched just over one tonne of uranium to a threshhold level of enrichment and needed just half a tonne more to be ready to manufacture an initial warhead.

It said: "Iran had now demonstrated centrifuge operations such that it had the technical ability to produce highly enriched uranium (HEU) if it so chose".

WikiLeaks Cables: Iran Has Cleared Major Hurdle to Nuclear Weapons

Guardian | Jan 20

Not all western governments share the US conclusion, but if true it suggests international sanctions have failed to deny Iran the know-how required to make a nuclear bomb. The production of HEU is generally agreed to be the most serious obstacle any aspiring nuclear state must overcome.

Leaked US cables describe the outline of [the West's] containment policy. They reveal:

* Russia has vowed never to allow Iran to make its own fuel for a Russian-built nuclear power station at Bushehr.

* In 2008, Washington launched a worldwide campaign to cut off Iran's supplies of a high-strength steel, known as maraging steel, and carbon fibre. Access to these materials has been identified as a bottleneck in its enrichment programme.

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Westerners 'Lost in Desert of Lust': Ahmadinejad

Indian Express | Jan 21

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad today criticised Western culture, saying its people are "lost in a desert of lust," and also took aim at his own country's family-planning policy, the Ilna news agency reported.

"We do not want man lost in the desert of lust but we want man up in heaven," he was quoted as telling a group of provincial administrators in the central city of Yazd.

Rejecting Iran's successful family-planning programme, he told Iranians to procreate, boasting an "Iranian-Islamic" development model can "conquer the world."

Homosexuality 'Against Human Spirit': Iranian Prez

Zee News | Jan 21

"The 'two kids are enough' motto belongs to the West's humanist and liberal system that says 'children are a nuisance, go have fun'," he said of a nearly two-decade-old policy that encourages small families and makes contraceptives free of charge.

"When we said two kids are not enough some opposed it. The two-kids-enough model destroys nations. What would happen in fifty years? The same thing that happened in Europe would befall us," he said.

In 1993, Iran introduced population-control policies in response to the baby boom that followed the 1979 Islamic revolution, when Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini urged Iranians to have more kids.

Since then, the annual population growth rate has dipped to about 1.6 percent from 3.2 percent in the early 1980s, earning the country a United Nations award for the effectiveness of its programme.

Homosexuality 'Against Human Spirit:' Ahmadinejad

AFP | Jan 20

Iran's hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said on Thursday that homosexuality is "against the human spirit," the ILNA news agency reported.

In a 2007 speech at New York's Columbia University, he notoriously said "in Iran we don't have homosexuals like in your country," skirting a question about the treatment of gays in the Islamic republic.

Addressing officials in the city of Yazd on Thursday, he said: "They asked me (at Columbia) why you crack down on homosexuals in Iran? I answered we don't have so many homosexuals in Iran because we believe this act is against the human spirit and humanity."

Gay sex is banned and punishable by death under Iran's sharia-based law.

OTHER NEWS

Iran Nuclear Talks Begin, Expectations Low

Reuters | Jan 20

Six world powers will try to persuade Iran to rein in its nuclear program at talks on Friday, with little expectation of a major breakthrough but hope they can at least agree on a process that will bring more talks.

Western countries believe Iran is working to develop a nuclear bomb. Tehran says its nuclear program is peaceful. Friday's talks in Istanbul are a follow-up to talks last month in Geneva, which were the first held in more than a year.

Ahead of the Istanbul talks, the United States spoke of imposing harsher unilateral sanctions, while Russia reiterated its view the prospects for rolling back sanctions should be discussed to help persuade Iran to cooperate.

On the eve of the talks, Iran's envoy to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Ali Asghar Soltanieh delivered a defiant message, saying Iran's enrichment activities would continue at an underground facility at Fordow, near the city of Qom, even if its nuclear sites were attacked.

A New Round of Iran Nuclear Talks, and Some Optimism This Time

Los Angeles Times | Jan 21

Western diplomats meeting [...] are hoping for at least modest gains in trying to get the Islamic Republic to limit its nuclear development program.

"A good result of the talks would be gaining agreement on a perspective to move forward," Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told journalists in Istanbul a day before the start of the meeting.

Iran's U.N. ambassador, Mohammad Khazaee, told reporters that Iran would "never negotiate on our inalienable right to use nuclear energy for...peaceful purposes."

"It doesn't mean that Iranians are looking for confrontation," he said. "But at the same time...it's not going to work to put a knife [to] the neck of somebody, or your sword, and at the same time asking him to negotiate with you."

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Iran-P5+1 Talks to Start in Istanbul

Press TV | Jan 21

The Iranian delegation, headed by Secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council Saeed Jalili, arrived in the Turkish city of Istanbul on Thursday.

In an interview with NBC channel on Jan. 17, Jalili stated that the two sides will discuss issues of common interests based upon the agreement achieved in the previous talks in Geneva.

Ahead of the Istanbul talks, Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Thursday expressed hope that the issue of unilateral sanctions imposed on Tehran over its nuclear program ranks high on the agenda in the forthcoming negotiations.

Lavrov called upon the six major world powers to move towards lifting the sanctions.

In Talks with Russia, Turkey Urges Iran for Nuke Assurances

Today's Zaman | Jan 21

The Saudi-owned Al Arabiya TV news channel reported on Tuesday Iran would propose a revised version of a deal that was agreed in principle at a 2009 round of talks but then unraveled. But Iranian officials said there were no such plans.

"I haven't heard about it," Ali Bagheri, a deputy to Iran's nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili, told Reuters as the Iranian delegation arrived in İstanbul on Thursday. Another Iranian official said: "There is no new proposal. This is something created by the Western media. Why should we propose such a thing?"

Iran Nuclear Talks in Istanbul: Is a Uranium Deal Back on the Table?

Guardian | Jan 20

The monotony of low expectations surrounding Iranian nuclear talks was momentarily broken today by reports that Iran might be ready to resume bargaining in Istanbul over a 2009 proposal to export part of its enriched uranium stockpile in return for French-made fuel rods for its Tehran Research Reactor.

The Iran delegation [...] denied any such intention, but then Reuters quoted Ali Asghar Soltanieh, the Iranian envoy to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) as telling reporters in Moscow that: "We stand behind the Tehran declaration and are ready to carry out talks with the Vienna Group regarding a fuel swap."

The Tehran declaration was a version of the 2009 deal put together by Iran, Turkey and Brazil. But it was rejected by the West, mainly on the grounds that it contained no Iranian undertaking to stop making 20%-enriched uranium.

Diplomats from the six-nation group (variously known as the 5+1 and 3+3 group) have said they are happy to revisit the fuel swap deal in Istanbul, but 20% enrichment must stop, and the originally negotiated figure for Iranian uranium to be shipped out (1200 kg) has to be revised upwards (probably more than doubled) to take into account all the uranium Iran has enriched since 2009.

U.S. Tempering Expectations for Multinational Talks with Iran

CNN | Jan 20

On the eve of the latest round of talks, a bipartisan group of former high-ranking U.S. officials said time is running out for negotiations. They spoke at a Washington conference sponsored by ExecutiveAction on behalf of its Iranian-American clients, who are opposed to the Tehran regime and support the opposition group Mujahedeen-e-Khalq (MEK).

Except for [former Obama administration National Security Adviser James] Jones, all of the conference participants explicitly favored removing the MEK from the U.S. terrorism list. "There is no reason to be shy about doing more to support the Iranian opposition," said former State Department official Mitchell Reiss. "A good step would be delisting the MEK."

[Former Bush administration Attorney General Michael] Mukasey underscored MEK's assistance to the United States and its ability to undermine the regime.

"It is certainly helpful that MEK remain a bone in the throat of Iran.... It has provided valuable intelligence and information on the Iranian nuclear program to the U.S.," Mukasey said. "It would be fair to say the U.S. would not know a great deal about Iran's nuclear program without the information obtained by MEK."

Documentary Row Deepens Rift between Iran and Canada

Vancouver Sun | Jan 20

Antagonism is deepening between Canada and Iran over failed attempts to derail the Ottawa screening of a film exposing the Iranian government's pursuit of nuclear weapons and terrorism.

The already-sour relations worsened Wednesday when Heritage Minister James Moore ordered Library and Archives Canada to show the documentary Iranium.

"The documentary Iranium will be shown at Library & Archives Canada. New time & date to be announced soon. The show will go on," Moore tweeted.

The ministerial command overturns a Library and Archives' decision to cancel Tuesday's planned showing after the agency received anonymous phone calls vowing a violent protest if the documentary ran.

Canada in Diplomatic Row with Iran, Vows to Screen Documentary Iranium

Yahoo News | Jan 20

"Canada does not accept attempts from the Iranian Embassy to dictate what films will, and will not be shown in Canada," said Mr. Moore.

"The agreement will be kept and this movie Iranium will be shown at Library and Archives Canada. We will not be moving it to a different facility, we're not bending to any pressure.

"People need to be kept safe, but we don't back down to people who try to censor people by threats of violence," Mr. Moore added.

Minister of Immigration Jason Kenney called the cancelation "outrageous."

Stuxnet Authors Made Several Basic Errors

threatpost | Jan 18

There is a growing sentiment among security researchers that the programmers behind the Stuxnet attack may not have been the super-elite cadre of developers that they've been mythologized to be in the media. In fact, some experts say that Stuxnet could well have been far more effective and difficult to detect had the attackers not made a few elementary mistakes.

In a talk at the Black Hat DC conference here Tuesday, Tom Parker, a security consultant, presented a compelling case that Stuxnet may be the product of a collaboration between two disparate groups, perhaps a talented group of programmers that produced most of the code and exploits and a less sophisticated group that may have adapted the tool for its eventual use. Parker analyzed the code in Stuxnet and looked at both the quality of the code itself as well as how well it did what it was designed to do, and found several indications that the code itself is not very well done, but was still highly effective on some levels.

Parker wrote a tool that analyzed similarities between the Stuxnet code and the code of some other well-known worms and applications and found that the code was fairly low quality.

"This was probably not a western state. There were too many mistakes made. There's a lot that went wrong," he said. 'There's too much technical inconsistency. But, the bugs were unlikely to fail. They were all logic flaws with high reliability."

Lame Stuxnet Worm 'Full of Errors', Says Security Consultant

Register | Jan 19

Nate Lawson, an expert on the security of embedded systems, also criticised the cloaking and obfuscation techniques applied by the malware's creators, arguing that teenage Bulgarian VXers had managed a much better job on those fronts as long ago at the 1990s.

"Rather than being proud of its stealth and targeting, the authors should be embarrassed at their amateur approach to hiding the payload," Lawson writes. "I really hope it wasn't written by the USA because I'd like to think our elite cyberweapon developers at least know what Bulgarian teenagers did back in the early 90′s."

He continues: "First, there appears to be no special obfuscation. Sure, there are your standard routines [...] But Stuxnet does no better at this than any other malware discovered last year. It does not use virtual machine-based obfuscation, novel techniques for anti-debugging, or anything else to make it different from the hundreds of malware samples found every day.

"Second, the Stuxnet developers seem to be unaware of more advanced techniques for hiding their target. [...] If this was some high-level government operation, I would hope they would know to use things like hash-and-decrypt or homomorphic encryption to hide the controller configuration the code is targeting and its exact behavior once it did infect those systems," he adds.

A Researcher Suggests the Notorious Stuxnet Worm Was Not Actually Technically Astounding

IT Pro | Jan 19

Mikko Hypponen, chief research officer at F-Secure, suggested Stuxnet authors may not have added encryption and anti-debugging features "because they wanted to make the program look as 'normal' as possible."

"Most AV labs use automation to find 'suspicious' samples," Hypponen told IT PRO.

"Stuxnet didn't look suspicious. It looked like an automation toolkit that would install signed device drivers."

Public Theatres Airing Football Matches Closed to Iranian Women

Radio Zamaneh | Jan 20

Iranian authorities have forbidden women from viewing football matches in public screening rooms. Khabar on line reports that Iranian public theatres are to refuse women patrons from attending public screenings of football matches from now on.

The decision was taken after football enthusiasts watched Iranian national team triumph over UAE in yesterday's Asian Cup games in three theatres of Mellat Cinema.

Women who are already forbidden from watching the games in stadiums, will now also be excluded from public theatres where the games are aired.

The airing of the games in public theatres began in 2010 which hasgained great public demand with the start of the Asian Cup games in Qatar.

In view of the new decisions, on Saturday when the Iranian national team faces South Korea in the quarter finals, women will not be allowed in the public theatres.

TSE's Index Hits Record High

Mehr | Jan 19

Tehran Stock Exchange's index reached 20,075 on Wednesday as an all-time high this Iranian calendar year (started March 20, 2010). Its previous record was set on January 3, 2011, when it hit 19,000.

Tehran's capital market value stood at 954 trillion rials (some $95 billion), the Mehr News Agency reported.

Iran is among the few major economies that has maintained positive economic growth despite the 2008 global financial crisis

The world's fifth-largest oil exporter hopes to raise $12.5 billion by privatizing over 500 state firms during the 2010-11 year, and plans to sell all of its refineries and petrochemicals units, promising potential investors a solid return from the IPOs.

Senegalese Ambassador Returns to Iran after Dispute Over Weapons Shipment

Bloomberg | Jan 21

Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade told his government to return the country's ambassador to Tehran, five weeks after the official was recalled following a diplomatic dispute over a seized Iranian arms shipment.

Wade's decision, detailed in minutes published on the government's official website today, follows a 24-hour visit to Senegal by Iran's interim foreign minister, Ali Akbar Salehi. The partial normalization of relations between the two Muslim nations was mediated by Turkish President Abdullah Gul, according to the minutes.

Iran plans to provide as much as $200 million dollars for joint economic projects between his country and Senegal, Salehi said yesterday in an interview with the state-run Islamic Republic News Agency.

Iranian Lawyers Warned against Media Interviews

Radio Zamaneh | Jan 20

Iranian judiciary once more condemned lawyers who give out interviews to the media maintaining that such activities detract from the Islamic Republic system.

Ayatollah Larijani, head of Iranian judiciary told a gathering of judiciary officials: "Unfortunately some lawyers are failing to attend to their main responsibility while they can avoid many tensions by doing so." Iranian media report.

"These lawyers have no regard for the conditions of their licence and harm the Islamic regime with their interviews and actions," he added; "and we hope this trend will be rectified."

Iranian law however has no restrictions for lawyers on giving interviews to the media.

China Renews Iran Crude Deal with Steady Volume -- Sources

Reuters | Jan 21

China has renewed crude import pacts with Iran for 2011 by keeping the total supply amount almost the same as last year at about 460,000 barrels per day, two industry sources with direct knowledge of the deals told Reuters.

Chinese state oil trader Zhuhai Zhenrong Corp, the world's largest lifter of Iranian crude by company, has agreed with National Iranian Oil Co (NIOC) to buy 240,000 barrels per day of Iranian crude for 2011.

Sinopec Corp (0386.HK)(SNP.N), Asia's top refiner and the country's ultimate dominant procecessor of Iranian oil, separately agreed to take 220,000 bpd of oil from NIOC for this year, a volume steady with last year.

"No change in volume, no change in the grades of oil supplies. All is the same as last year," said the source, referring to the Zhenrong-NIOC agreement.

Team Obama: China Is Acting Responsibly on Iran, for Real

Foreign Policy | Jan 20

The common perception on Capitol Hill is that China is not doing its part to support the international community's drive to halt Iran's emerging nuclear program. Not so, two senior administration officials said on Wednesday, as they praised China's action on Iran in a conference call with reporters on President Hu Jintao's visit to Washington.

The Chinese have stopped new investments in Iran's energy sector, improved their controls over weapons technology exports to Iran, and Chinese state-owned corporations are not backfilling business opportunities left open by other countries that are leaving Iran, the senior administration officials said.

"In all the meetings between the president and President Hu and our high-level interactions, there was no issue that occupied as much time and attention as Iran. It was absolutely at the top of the agenda in pretty much every meeting," one of the senior administration officials said, explaining that recent Chinese action vis-à-vis Iran "demonstrates positive results of that focus."

One of the top concerns in Congress right now about the U.S.-China relationship is that Beijing is not enforcing international arms sanctions against Iran and that Chinese companies have not stopped doing business with Iran's energy sector. Last week, two leading senators wrote to President Barack Obama warning that if the administration doesn't enforce U.S. sanctions law on Chinese companies, Congress will act.

"In fact, in the last seven months since the passage of the resolution I'm not aware of any new Chinese investments in the energy sector," another senior administration official said, apparently not counting ongoing deals between China and Iran to develop gas fields as "new".

Political Activist Mehdi Yarmohammadi Sentenced to 4.5 Years in Prison

RAHANA | Jan 21

Mehdi Yarmohammadi, a member of Mousavi's Campaign, who had been sentenced to 18 months in prison for anti-regime propaganda and insulting the Supreme Leader, has been sentenced to 3 years of imprisonment in a second case.

His trial was held in November and Judge Moghayeseh convicted him of participating in the Tehran gatherings, illegally leaving the country, applying for asylum in Turkey and collaborating with foreign media.

He has received a one year sentence for acting against national security by his participation in the gatherings, one year for seeking asylum after his first verdict was issued and one year in prison for collaborating with foreign media.

Previously, he had been sentenced to 18 months in prison in another case for insulting the Supreme Leader and anti-regime propaganda.

Kurdish Activist Badie Hossein Panahi Sentenced to One Year in Prison

RAHANA | Jan 21

Kurdish political and civil rights activist Badie Hossein Panahi has been sentenced to one year in prison.

[He] has been sentenced to one year in prison and is held in the Gharveh Prison. According to RAHANA, his charges include disturbing public order by organizing protests next to the Sanandaj Judiciary in order to object to the death sentence of Anvar Hossein Panahi. Anvar had been sentenced to death for collaborating with Kurdish groups and his sentence was later reduced to 16 years in prison.

Ahmad Mohammadnia Sentenced to 6 Months in Prison

RAHANA | Jan 21

Ahmad Mohammadnia, a student activist at Babol Noushiravani University of Technology and a member of Karroubi's Campaign, has been sentenced to 6 months in prison.

The first branch of the Babolsar court presided by Judge Bagherian has sentenced Mohammadnia to 6 months in prison served as 5 years of suspended imprisonment for acting against national security by anti-regime propaganda, and encouraging others to strike.

He is a former member of Karroubi's Campaign in the 2009 disputed presidential elections.

He was arrested in June and was reportedly held next to dangerous prisoners.

Some Worrying News About the Appalling Winter Conditions of Female Prisoners and the Possibility of Three Executions to Be Undertaken Soon

RAHANA | Jan 20

The women in Evin prison are in poor conditions. Some of them in kept in the notorious Block 209, others are being held in general block, Methadone ward whilst three more are kept in the same room which the prominent Shahla Jahed was kept before execution.

Nazanin Khosravani is being held in Block 209 of Evin Prison. Her family have been quoted saying:" Nazanin has told us that the cell is so cold that it is comparable to sleeping on a sheet of ice". They added: "We have sent some warm cloths to Nazanin but we don't know why prison staff haven't delivered them".

It is unknown how many prisoners are kept in 209 of Evin prison but according to the news received by "Change for Equality", three prisoners, Hengameh Shahidi, Faremeh Khoramjou and Zahra Bahrami, are being kept in the former cell of Shahla Jahed and with the remainder held in the Methadone ward. The prisoners in latter section are taken outside at different times from the other prisoners and are not allowed to make telephone calls. Also, in the general Block, there is no hot water and food is poor. In ward 2 of general Block, there is a ratio of 4 telephones to 300 prisoners. Prisoners are allowed to talk on phone between 8 AM and 10 PM, giving each prisoner only about 3 minutes to talk.

In the corridors of [the] Methadone ward [...] tension is high with rumor of the early execution of Kobra Rahmanpour, Lida Tavakoli and Sowgand Jahani. Jahani is less than 20 years old and is accused of the murder of her husband.

Ashura Detainee Behzad Arabgol Sentenced to 6 Years in Prison

RAHANA | Jan 19

Judge Salavati, the presiding judge of the 15th branch of the Revolutionary Court, has sentenced Arabgol to 6 years in prison.

He has been sentenced to 6 years in prison for assembly and collusion and 1 year in prison for rebellion which adds up to 6 years of imprisonment

He had been imprisoned for 6 months, 50 of which were spent in solitary confinement. He is a construction worker and has 2 children who are 2.5 and 5 years old.

Fatemeh Salbehi, Convicted of Murder at the Age of 16, Faces Execution

HRANA (via Persian2English) | Jan 18

During a rushed court session, a 16-year-old high school student was charged with murder and sentenced to death. Her sentence was then confirmed by the Supreme Court.

Fatemeh Salbehi -- born in November 1991 -- was found guilty after being accused of murdering her husband, Hamed Sadeghi.

On Mohammad Mostafaei's weblog it reads, "In 2007, when Fatemeh was only 16 years old, Hamed Sadeghi married her. He was approximately 30 years old, twice her age."

Fatemeh and Hamed were distant relatives but had not met before their marriage. Hamed's mother proposed to Fatemeh's family and they accepted. Fatemeh then got married to Hamed.

One spring day in May 2008, Hamed was found dead in his house while Fatemeh, like any other day, had gone to school. Since his body was found in the house, Fatemeh was arrested, imprisoned, and charged with murder.

In the initial interrogations -- which were done without a lawyer, just like other interrogations in Iran -- Fatemeh made some contradictory statements. She [first] confessed to the murder, but then said two people broke into their home and killed her husband.

The Shiraz Court of Justice ignored the fact that the defendant was a teenager under the age of 18 years at the time [of being charged] and sentenced her to death, against the universal standards of human rights to which Iran claims to be committed to.

Round the Clock Service for Iranian Nationals Abroad

Tabnak | Jan 19

Iranian nationals residing abroad can easily contact Iranian officials through telephone number 0098212777 at any time they wish, It was announced on Wednesday.

Head of information center in charge of resolving problems of Iranian expatriates, Ali Shabani said that through the number, the Iranian nationals can express their problems or suggestions to Iranian officials and get proper response to their problems within 72 hours, IRNA reported Wednesday.

These problems may pertain to various judicial, political, cultural sectors and the likes.

Iranian nationals can also be in direct contact with various offices inside the country to resolve their problems through the same number.

OPINION & ANALYSIS

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A Sign of Anger in the Iranian Winter

Golnaz Esfandiari (Persian Letters/RFE/RL) | Jan 20

Most probably, the last time you remember hearing about "Death in the Dictator" chants in Iran was in the summer of 2009 and the unrest that followed Iran's disputed presidential election.

More than a year has passed. It's cold and snowing in some cities in Iran. But some Iranians don't seem to have contained their anger against Iran's leaders. Or so it seems, according to this recent picture we received from Iran.

It reads, "Death to the Dictator."

Ahmadinejad the Surefooted Survivor?

Nima Tamaddon, IWPR Iran Editor (IWPR) | Jan 20

Cuts to the cumbersome and costly system of price subsidies were launched a month ago, yet perhaps surprisingly, there have been no protests by Iranians angered by the rising cost of living. At the same time, the Iranian president got rid of 14 special advisers, a few months after sacking his foreign minister, which seems to suggest political turbulence within the regime.

On the face of it, the Iranian president seems relatively unscathed by the economic and political challenges he's faced at home. Is that true, or is he really under a lot more pressure than we think?

His position actually looks assured, for several reasons. First, he's been successful in crushing or at least neutralising all the critical voices ranged against him. A year-and-a-half after the disputed presidential election, opposition activists and other dissidents are still being harassed on a routine basis.

Why has he now embarked on such a tough programme of cutting subsidies on fuel, food and other essentials?

Ahmadinejad and his government had long wished to reduce subsidies on water, bread, electricity, petrol and so on, as they urgently needed to save on expenditure in the face of international sanctions.

The actual timing -- beginning in December 2010 -- makes a lot of sense strategically.

Since cracking down hard on the protests that followed the 2009 election, the government has succeeding in keeping the streets quiet through a strong security presence. People were worn down by the months of fruitless protest. As one journalist in Tehran put it, the crackdown "vaccinated" the system against further revolts, at least for the short term.

Iran's Foreign Policy and the Subsidy Reform Plan

Editorial (Mehr) | Jan 19

[T]he main question is why the Iranian government took the risk of implementing the subsidy reform plan, which has been called major surgery on the country's economy, in the current situation.

First of all, the Iranian government is confident that it has efficiently addressed the most severe pressure so far. The countries which were seeking to halt Iran's uranium enrichment program have now agreed to negotiate with Iran. This shows Iran's "power of logic" has been superior to their "logic of power".

Iran has announced that it wants to reach a win-win agreement with the major powers within the framework of the talks. So, the government is confident that it can implement major projects like the subsidy reform plan.

In addition, the Iranian government is certain it has the nation's support. Due to the close relationship between the people and the government, the people easily accept the government's decisions in economic matters.

Ari Shavit: Meir Dagan Poses a Threat to Everyone Who Hyped The Iranian Nuclear Threat

Ira Clifton (Lobelog.com) | Jan 20

Right wing rage towards Meir Dagan over his announcements that Iran cannot produce a nuclear bomb until 2015 and that a military attack on Iran would be disastrous has boiled over onto the editorial pages of Haaretz. (Although Dagan's comment about a military strike is hardly a novel revelation, having a former Mossad head state the obvious does offer a certain degree of gravitas.)

In Haaretz, Ari Shavit, a member of the paper's editorial board, lashes out at the former spy chief for undermining the possibility of "the military option" against Iran.

Shavit writes:

The prime minister responded with rage to the former Mossad chief's statements. Benjamin Netanyahu thinks Dagan has sabotaged the diplomatic effort to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. But Netanyahu isn't alone. Senior officials in the United States, Britain and France this week castigated Dagan for his utterances. The White House and Capitol Hill expressed shock and anger. Major allies of Israel saw the former Mossad chief's briefing as incomprehensible and irresponsible.

Shavit claims that Dagan's "utterances" may have undermined the glue that holds together the Western powers' ability to "adopt a firm approach to Iran."

The success [of this strategy] stemmed in part from the feeling of urgency Israel instilled in the powers. Now comes the former Israeli Mossad chief and blurs the sense of urgency. The Russians, Chinese, Germans and Italians cannot be expected to be more Catholic than the pope. Dagan hurt Israel's allies and played into the hands of officials abroad who dismiss the Iranian danger and seek an excuse not to address it.

It sounds like Shavit is acknowledging that some factual exaggeration may have occurred when Israel made the case that Iran's nuclear program presented an imminent existential threat.

Iran Expects to Fill Power Vacuum in Lebanon

Shayan Ghajar (insideIRAN) | Jan 19

The recent collapse of Lebanon's unity government under the leadership of Saad Hariri leaves a void that Iran intends to fill, as statements from Iranian officials and military commanders demonstrate. Although Iran faced opposition to its influence in Lebanese politics during Saad Hariri's tenure both within Lebanon itself and internationally, events indicate that the Islamic Republic's ability to dictate Lebanon's future is rising. While the Western-backed Hariri must step down, and Saudi Arabia bows out of the consensus-building efforts, Iran appears to be more ready than ever to make its presence felt on the streets of Beirut.

In a major televised speech in one of Iran's provinces today, Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad made clear that Iran expects the West to stay out of Lebanon's politics or suffer the consequences. "If you do not stop your malicious moves, the Lebanese nation and the regional nations will cut off your dirty hands," he declared. "Do not make your record darker by undue interference."

Ahmadinejad's speech reiterated a point many other Iranian officials and military commanders have made in recent days: Iran intends to block every Western effort to influence the formation of a new Lebanese government, and is perfectly willing to demonstrate its power in Lebanon if necessary.

Ex-Hostage: Time to Build Trust with Iran

Bruce Laingen (Baltimore Sun) | Jan 19

It is time, long overdue, to get serious about talking with Iran. Thirty years ago today, this country saw the end of its 444-day vigil with 53 Americans -- I was one of them -- who had been taken hostage Nov. 4, l979 by militant students in Iran.

Thirty years since that fateful day that saw, that morning, the end of the last formal dialogue with the Islamic Republic. Thirty years that mark the longest gap in relations with another country in the history of American diplomacy. All that with a country and a people with whom America once had a remarkably close and strategically productive relationship.

It is 30 years since I said to the senior hostage taker, Ahmed Azizi, while preparing to board an Algerian plane to freedom, that I looked forward to the day when his country and mine would again have a normal diplomatic relationship. (There was no audible response.)

That day has yet to come. Why? Because two sovereign governments still live with the poisonous legacy of 30 years of mutually corrosive rhetoric and only occasional and never sustained diplomatic efforts by both governments.

Jundallah Remains a Danger and a Thorn in Iran's Side

Alex Vatanka (The National) | Jan 19

Since the establishment of the Islamic Republic in 1979, no domestic group has embarrassed the authorities in Tehran more than Jundallah. Its deadly attacks not only highlight Iran's internal security predicament but also show the limits of Tehran's attempt to project strength at a time when Iran wants to be seen as a regional power.

The ethnic Baluch and Sunni group's latest blow came last month, when it carried out twin suicide attacks at the port of Chabahar. Targeting a Shiite religious procession, two teenage bombers killed some 40 people, making it the deadliest attack since armed Jundallah rebels first emerged in Iran's southeast region of Baluchistan in 2003.

But the terrorist strike did more than kill scores at an Iranian mosque. It also highlighted two simple truths about Jundallah's threat to Tehran. For one, it demonstrated the ability of the group to persevere despite repeated promises to eradicate it. Secondly, the attack came at a time when the regime of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and the Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad speak of Tehran's invincibility in the face of its internal and foreign enemies. Jundallah poses a severe test of Iran's self-declared invincibility.

Basij Force Infiltrated by Anti-Revolutionaries

Bahram Rafiee (Rooz) | Jan 19

Ever since protesters were brutally suppressed in Iran because of the demonstrations against the results of the 2009 presidential elections, discontent among the various layers of the military and police personnel regarding the deployment of the forces against protesting civilians has been on the rise. High-ranking commanders of these forces have become highly suspicious of the spread of such negative sentiments even among the voluntary paramilitary Basij force. Recently this sense of suspicion has been expressed by various news sites affiliated with the IRGC and Basij. Internal bulletin boards for political officers of the Pasdaran Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) have warned of "the infiltration of Basij centers by anti-revolutionaries" and have stated that "just recently anti-revolutionary groups had ordered their followers to enroll at and infiltrate Basij compounds, and receive Basij active force ID cards."

Officials in charge of the "Analysis and Justification Office of IRGC" have linked this announcement to the activities of "a terrorist group in the west of the country" and have explained the reason behind this alleged infiltration as a way "not to be identified when going about their missions of causing terror and destruction". But such warnings have been reiterated time and time again by high commanders of IRGC and Basij, several extremist clerics and even the supreme leader ayatollah Khamenei.

Ahmadinejad Ransoming Khamenei?

Mohammad Reza Yazdanpanah (Rooz) | Jan 18

Through their separate remarks two days ago, Jaafar Shajooni, a cleric supporting Ahmadinejad's administration, and Ali Motahari, a principlist member of the Majlis critical of the administration, revealed the existence of differences between Iran's leader ayatollah Khamenei and the head of the tenth administration Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on current issues facing the country.

Speaking to KhabarOnline website close to Majlis Speaker Ali Larijani, Ali Motahari implicitly disclosed ayatollah Khamenei's displeasure with the recent policy of lifting government subsidies was implemented. This Majlis representative pointed out to what he called "insistence" of Ahmadinejad and Mashai on their views and said, "The leader knows that the president does not retreat from his positions and so he normally does not intervene" in the latter's work.

The example Motahari gave for his observation was the implementation of the recent law that rearranged the government subsidies on some basic goods to the public. "What is taking place right now, regardless of whether it is good or bad, is not according to the law that Majlis passed. It is something that Mr. Ahmadinejad has been pressing for from the beginning, and now is not the time to explain in this in more details," the conservative lawmaker said.

Jaafar Shajooni, a cleric who is a member of the ruling body of the Majmae Rohaniyoon Mobarez (The Association of Combatant Clerics, a reformist clerical group) and the Motalefe party is also a principlist member (a Majlis faction that has expressed criticism over some of the administration's policies) also spoke of differences between Khamenei and Ahmadinejad. In his interview with Hamshahri Mah newspaper, he spoke of Ahmadinejad's disregard for the views of the clerics and the senior ayatollahs and the supreme leader's weak posture towards the administration.

DOCUMENTS & DECLARATIONS

Daughter of Ashura Death Row Prisoner: Mom's False Confessions Based on Promise of Release

Interview with Banafsheh Nayebpour by Masih Alinejad (Rah-e Sabz [Jaras] via Persian2English) | Jan 18

Zahra Bahrami is a woman arrested in the wake of the 2009 Ashura protests (December 27, 2009), but was sentenced to death on drug charges. Her daughter, Banafsheh Nayebpour has objected to the attempts made [by Iranian regime authorities] to depoliticize the case and to present it as dealing with a common offence. She said, "The death sentence issued to my mother is completely political and I implore people, the media, and all human rights activists to not believe the fabricated and trumped-up charge of 'possession of narcotics' [levelled against my mother]. The accusation is meant to distract and deceive people to believe the reason behind the death sentence is 'possession of drugs' so they refrain from supporting and helping us."

Zahra Bahrami is an Iranian-Dutch citizen who, according to her family, was violently arrested on Shademan Street in Tehran two days after the Ashura protests. She was later sentenced to death by the Revolutionary Court on the charge of 'possession of narcotics', and all her belongings were confiscated.

According to some families of prisoners of conscience, in the course of the 2009 Ashura protests and prior, many prisoners received politically-motivated death sentences on non-political charges.

***

Ms. Nayebpour, the news of your mother's death sentence has received extended media coverage. Can you please tell us why, since December 2009 when your mother was arrested, you did not talk to the media about the case until now?

Initially, after my mother's arrest, there was no information available on her whereabouts. I even thought that my mother had left Iran. I was really worried. I wanted to know where my mother was and why she was not contacting us. Three months after [her disappearance], my mother contacted us from prison.

After you found out that your mother was arrested, did you still opt for silence? I would like to know whether there was a specific reason behind the family's silence?

Yes, I was threatened into silence. After we found out, I tried to contact the Dutch government through the Netherlands's embassy [in Tehran], the Dutch media, and my mother's lawyer in the Netherlands. However, [agents from Iran's] Ministry of Intelligence threatened me a few times and made me [promise] to not give any interviews to the Dutch media and to not have any contacts with the Dutch embassy and government under any circumstances. I wrote and signed a written promise to not talk about it. The [agents] told me I could be arrested if I gave interviews. A week after the last time I was threatened, I received a phone call from the Prosecutor's office. Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi [the Tehran Prosecutor] along with his secretary took me to Evin prison. He said to me in front of my mother, "If you do not give any interviews, I promise to do my best to secure the release of your mother." I, in turn, promised to not give any interviews. But, not only was my mother not released, but she received the death sentence as well.

Did you bring this matter up with the Prosecutor at a later date?

Actually, then, Mr. Dolatabadi told me that if I needed any help regarding the case, I could come to the Prosecutor's office and ask to see him and enter directly. However, after the meeting when he asked to see me, every time I went, he did not see me and nobody answered my inquiries either. Then, they issued a death sentence for my mother. It was after the [issuing of the sentence] that I decided to give interviews, because they did not keep their promise. The Prosecutor had even promised my mother that if she confessed, she would be released. My mother replied, "Alright, just to save myself from these conditions, I will say whatever you want and I will confess." Now, my mom really regrets [her decision to confess].

IABA And Partner Organizations File Amicus Brief in United States v. Banki

News Release from Iranian American Bar Association (IABA) | Jan 20

On November 10, 2010, the Iranian American Bar Association along with 10 partner organizations filed an amicus brief before the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in the matter, United States v. Mahmoud Reza Banki, Case No. 10-3381-CR.

On August 16, 2010, Iranian-American Mahmoud Reza Banki was sentenced by the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York to two and a half years in prison and ordered to forfeit $3.4 million by a judge who noted that Banki did not support terrorism or funnel money to Iran's government.

Banki was born in Tehran and is a U.S. citizen. He holds a doctorate in chemical engineering from Princeton University and undergraduate degrees from the University of California, Berkeley.

The U.S. Government accused Banki of transferring money between Iran and the U.S. using an informal banking system called hawala. The Government alleged that the transfers allowed for equal amounts of money to move into Iran in violation of U.S. sanctions against Iran. Banki argued that the $3.4 million deposited into his bank accounts were his mother's marital estate which he was seeking to protect from Iran's divorce laws and that he was unaware that hawala allowed for an equal amount of money to move into Iran. Letters from the jury indicate that that they found him guilty for the transfer of $6,000, and not $3.4 million. During sentencing, Banki received letters of support from Nobel Peace Laureatte Shirin Ebadi and ex-Director of the Office of Foreign Assets Control Richard Newcomb who warned that sanctions were "never intended to target the Iranian people" and that "the Iranian-American community commonly and openly uses remittance forwarding service providers, including hawalas to move family funds back and forth between the United States and Iran, typically with no penalty, civil or criminal."

In its amicus brief, IABA and partner organizations argued that U.S.-Iran sanctions "are not aimed at the Iranian people, and therefore they contain exemptions permitting certain humanitarian transactions and family remittances." The brief reasons that "[d]espite the regulation's clear language, the District Court refused to instruct the jury that family remittances are permitted under the [Itranian Transaction Regulations].... This outcome squarely conflicts with the plain language and purpose of the ITR -- not to mention the practices of the Iranian American community and their reasonable belief that they act legally when they send money to or receive money from family members in Iran." The amicus cautions that "[a]side from being an untenable reading of the regulations, the District Court's determination that family remittances are permissible only if they go through U.S. banks has the practical impact of misleading Iranian Americans about the legality of hawala."

The amicus brief was authored and filed by Raymond Cardozo and Paige Forster of the international law firm of Reed Smith LLP. Partner organizations who signed onto the brief include the Asian Law Caucus, Bay Area Association of Muslim Lawyers, Equal Justice Society, Muslim Advocates, National Iranian American Council, Network of Iranian American Professionals of Orange County, Omid Advocates for Human Rights, Persian Center, Progressive Jewish Alliance, and Society of Iranian American Professionals.

Iranian Photo Exhibit at the National Press Club

News Release from National Press Club (PR Newswire) | Jan 20

Marking the 30th anniversary of the release of American Embassy hostages in Iran, an exhibition of photos by Peter Bregg focusing on developments in Iran during the 444 days that the hostages were held will be on display in the National Press Club lobby from Jan. 21 through Feb. 4.

The 35 images provide a haunting look back at events and personalities surrounding the seizure of the embassy.

The formal opening of the exhibition will be at a reception from 6 to 8 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 21, with remarks in the Conference Rooms at 6:30 p.m.

Bregg will speak about how he covered the hostage crisis as a photographer for Canadian Press. Canadian journalists were allowed entry into Iran during that period.

The event is open to the general public. Journalists who covered the Iran hostage story are welcome to attend and take part in a discussion about their reflections from that period.

Bregg's long professional career also includes assignments as a photographer and photo editor with The Associated Press in London and Washington, where he was a member of the White House News Photographers Association, and as photo editor of Macleans Magazine in Canada. He now teaches photojournalism at Ryerson University School of Journalism in Toronto and freelances as a photographer.

The exhibition is co-sponsored by the International Correspondents Committee and the Photography Committee.

Former American Hostages Remember Iranian Hostage Crisis on the 30th Anniversary and Announce Formation of Foundation

News Release from Iran Study Group | Jan 19

Iran Study Group seeks to improve failed relations resulting from the 1979 Embassy seizure in Tehran

Americans once held hostage during a diplomatic crisis between Iran and the United States are celebrating the 30th anniversary of their release from captivity and are seeking to bridge the diplomatic divide which developed between the U.S. and Iran as a result of their taking. Hostages are remembering this day by spending it with United States Military Academy (USMA) Cadets at West Point, where they initially returned upon their release from captivity.

Led by the very Americans held hostage for over one year during the Iranian Revolution, The Iran Study Group is dedicated to education, public affairs, and policy support concerning Iran, specifically on reconciliation, democracy, and nuclear non-proliferation. The hostages have a unique perspective into the original rupture between Iran and the United States.

"I am confident that all will enthusiastically support the potential birth of a unique foundation aimed at moving the U.S. and Iran toward a more normalized relationship," said Colonel USAF retired and former hostage, Dave Roeder. "The very fact that those who suffered the most during the 444 days after the seizure of our embassy in Tehran are willing to look forward rather than dwelling on the past deserves both the support needed to make this initiative a reality and the chance to succeed," added Roeder.

Ambassador John Limbert, former hostage, recalled "When we flew out of Tehran in 1981 I believed that in five or seven years the United States and the Islamic Republic would be talking to each other. I was wrong. Thirty years later both sides still glare at each other across an abyss, and exchanges consist mostly of threats and insults. Those sterile exchanges have accomplished nothing, and Tehran and Washington clearly need to change the way they deal with each other."

About Iranian Hostage Crisis

The Iran hostage crisis was a diplomatic crisis between Iran and the United States. 52 US citizens were held hostage for 444 days from November 4, 1979 to January 20, 1981, after a group of Islamic students and militants took over the Embassy of the United States in support of the Iranian Revolution.

The episode reached a climax when, after failed attempts to negotiate a release, the United States military attempted a rescue operation, Operation Eagle Claw, on April 24, 1980, which resulted in a failed mission, the destruction of two aircraft and the deaths of eight American servicemen and one Iranian civilian. It ended with the signing of the Algiers Accords in Algeria on January 19, 1981. The hostages were formally released into United States custody the following day, just minutes after the new American President, Ronald Reagan, was sworn in.

About the Iran Study Group

The Iran Study Group was created to support diplomacy efforts between the U.S. and Iran through education, public affairs, and policy support. The creation of The Iran Study Group also adds a third option to the current official US Government policy of sanctions or military strikes. The Foundation seeks to promote reconciliation, democracy and nuclear non-proliferation in Iran. As former victims of the 1979 Embassy taking in Tehran, the Foundation's leadership remains acutely aware of Iranian foreign policy and today is leading high level sessions with cadets at West Point to learn from the historical event and remember those hostages whom are no longer living. For more information on the Iran Study Group, please visit our Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/#!/pages/The-Iran-Study-Group/195198370495440?v=wall.

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