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News | Iran's Threat and the Western Reaction; Alleged CIA Spy on Trial

by MUHAMMAD SAHIMI in Los Angeles

29 Dec 2011 22:00Comments

Press Roundup provides a selected summary of news from the Farsi and Arabic press and excerpts where the source is in English. Tehran Bureau has not verified these stories and does not vouch for their accuracy. Any views expressed are the authors' own. Please refer to the Media Guide to help put the stories in perspective. You can follow breaking news stories on our Twitter feed.

Iran Standard Time (IRST), GMT+3:30

StraitOfHormuzMap.jpg10:00 p.m., 8 Dey/December 29 Mohammad Reza Rahimi, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's first vice president, threatened that if the West imposes further sanctions on Iran's oil and gas industries, the Islamic Republic will block the Strait of Hormuz and not allow "even one drop of oil" to reach international markets from the Persian Gulf. He added, "The enemy will stop its plots against us only when we put them in their place with power." Iran's naval chief, Rear Admiral Habibollah Sayyari, amplified the threat on Wednesday when he said, "Closing the Strait of Hormuz for Iran's armed forces is really easy, or as Iranians say, it will be easier than drinking a glass of water. Iran has comprehensive control over the strategic waterway. But right now, we don't need to shut it." Most analysts believe that closing the strait -- where the Iranian Navy is in the midst of ten days of exercises -- would not be easy and that, even if it succeeded, would do as much harm to Iran as any other nation.

In response, Pentagon spokesman George Little said, "This is not just an important issue for security and stability in the region, but is an economic lifeline for countries in the Gulf, to include Iran. Interference with the transit or passage of vessels through the Strait of Hormuz will not be tolerated." The U.S. 5th Fleet, whose headquarters are in Bahrain, issued a statement on Wednesday saying that it would not allow any disruption of traffic in the strait: "Anyone who threatens to disrupt freedom of navigation in an international strait is clearly outside the community of nations; any disruption will not be tolerated." A spokeswoman for the 5th Fleet added that the U.S. Navy is "always ready to counter malevolent actions to ensure freedom of navigation."

Separately, France called on Iran Wednesday to respect freedom of navigation in international waters and straits. A spokesman for the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs said, "The Hormuz strait is an international strait. Therefore, all ships...have a right of transit passage, in conformity with the United Nations convention on sea laws." As a result of Iran's threat, the price of oil in New York market climbed to more than $100 a barrel.

Trial of alleged CIA spy

The trial of Amir Mirzaei Hekmati, the Iranian American accused of being a CIA spy assigned to penetrate Iran's Ministry of Intelligence, has begun. The prosecutor spoke about Hekmati's trip to the U.S. military base in Bagram, Afghanistan, and his access to classified information, and then his trip from Afghanistan to Iran. He also declared that Hekmati has "confessed." Hekmati reportedly repeated his confessions before the court, saying, "The CIA told me to go to Bagram to collect information and then go to Iran and give it to the ministry and receive money for it. 'After you return [to Washington], we will give you another mission.'" The statement is odd, given that any information Hekmati might have collected at Bagram could have been given to him directly by the CIA. Behnaz Hekmati, his mother, said that her son had gone to Iran to visit his grandmothers and has confessed only under pressure. The government has refused to allow diplomats from the Swiss Embassy, which represents U.S. interests in Iran, to visit with Hekmati. The United States has demanded his release.

Karroubi calls for boycott of Majles elections

Fatemeh Karroubi, wife of Mehdi Karroubi, said that, regarding the Majles elections next March 3, her husband told her,

I heard the views of the secretary-general of the Guardian Council [hardline cleric Ahmad Jannati], the minister of intelligence, and other officials on national television. They believe that the Revolution's enemies want to take advantage of the elections and disturb the security of the country. My impression is that these gentlemen are well aware of the continuing dissatisfaction of the people and wish to hold sham elections, and -- by rejecting the qualifications of some [candidates, through the Guardian Council's vetting power], nullifying votes in some districts, and filling up the ballot boxes in other places, and then by arresting some and creating a terrifying security environment -- repeat the elections of 2009, and ask the candidates to disown the "sedition current" [the Green Movement] and the "perverted group" [the inner circle of Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, Ahmadinejad's chief of staff and close confidant]. Needless to say, linking the "perverted group" to the Green Movement is a worn-out scenario, and I believe that people are well aware of this.

He then suggested that Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei appoint the Majles deputies via a hand-picked commission, rather than stage meaningless elections.

Outspoken reformist Mostafa Tajzadeh, deputy interior minister during the first Khatami administration, who has been in jail since soon after the June 2009 vote, has also called for a boycott, saying, "I do not take part in sham, undemocratic elections."

Harsh criticisms of hardliners

Seyyed Fazel Mousavi, secretary-general of the Majles's Article 90 Commission, which investigates citizens' complaints against the government, said that Ahmadinejad's foreign policy positions have provoked the imposition of more severe economic sanctions on Iran. He said, "The Holocaust problem had been forgotten, but your position [on the issue] pushed forward by ten years the sanctions against our country. Do you know the consequences of calling the sanctions a piece of paper?" He continued, "If normal conditions prevail in the nation, 65-70 percent of the people will support groups other than the ruling group." (Most analysts believe that the percentage will be much higher.) Regarding the continuing detention of Karroubi and Mir Hossein Mousavi, the Majles deputy said, "The judiciary must think of a way to [end] the house arrests. It should act legally. Should it not tell [the accused] what their charges are?" Concerning the giant South Pars gas field in the Persian Gulf that Iran shares with Qatar, Mousavi said, "Has the government thought of a way [to counter] the $1.4 trillion [worth of natural gas] that Qatar has obtained from South Pars? Can the government not do something to use this vast wealth of the nation to address the unemployment problem? Are you aware that our neighbors are looting Iran's huge natural resources?" Mousavi's speech was repeatedly interrupted by hardliners' shouts of "Death to the opposition to Velaayat-e Faghih" (guardianship of the Islamic jurist, as represented by Khamenei), but was also met with cries of "Well done, well done" from the reformists and some of Ahmadinejad's critics in the parliament.

Reformist deputy Masoud Pezeshkian, who served as health minister under Khatami, also said recently that if Mousavi and Karroubi have commited any offense, they should be put on trial in a fair and independent court.

Intelligence agents kidnapped in Syria?

A spokesman for the Syrian opposition claimed that the five Iranians who have been kidnapped by the opposition are computer experts who were dispatched to Syria to work with the Assad regime's security forces. He added that they are no longer in Homs, a hotbed of anti-government activities, and have been transferred elsewhere. The total number of kidnapped Iranians, whom the Islamic Republic says are electrical engineers, appears to be seven, but the spokesman talked about only five. It is not clear who kidnapped the other two. A complete list of the kidnapped Iranians has been released.

Majles commission accuses Khatami

The report by the Article 90 Commission on the Green Movement and what happened in the aftermath of the presidential election of June 2009 was presented to the Majles, a summary of which was read by hardline deputy Hossein Fadaei. The report, which reads more like what the hardline newspaper Kayhan publishes than what might be expected from a parliamentary body accused former President Mohammad Khatami of playing a leading role in the "sedition" -- the name given to the Green Movement by Khamenei and adopted by the hardliners. The report accused the United States of planning for the "sedition" since 2005, when Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was elected for his first term. It claimed that Khatami's trips abroad from that point forward were undertaken for the purpose of convincing the West that Mousavi was a suitable presidential candidate who would make "fundamental changes in the power structure" in Iran. It also claimed that foreign agents made repeated trips to Iran to obtain more information about Mousavi, and that the Islamic Iran Participation Front and the Organization of Islamic Revolution Mojahedin -- the two leading reformist parties, which were outlawed after the election -- played lead roles in the scheme for a "soft toppling" of the regime via elections and street demonstrations. Fadaei did not explain why if what he has claimed are true, Khatami, Mousavi, and Karroubi have not been put on trial.

After the summary of the report was read, a group of 20 reformist deputies wrote a letter of protest to Majles Speaker Ali Larijani in which they declared that the report lacks any legal basis.

Khamenei ordered arrests in 2009

Mohammad Hossein Saffar Harandi, former Kayhan editor and minister of culture and Islamic guidance in the first Ahmadinejad administration, strongly implied that it was Khamenei who ordered the arrest of 3,000 people in the aftermath of the June 2009 elections, "90 percent of whom have been released and the rest...put on trial and currently in jail." He added that the government did not believe that Mousavi and Karroubi were controlling the demonstrators, but that "the view of his Agha [his Excellency, Khamenei] was that we must discover the communication network of the 'sedition' with the outside world." He claimed that although the reformists have declared that they will boycott the Majles elections, "in their meetings they say that we must make a comeback" and that they will in fact participate.

Ten million people to be cut from cash handout rolls

In a speech in the western city of Ilam, Ahmadinejad said that the cash handouts to ten million Iranians, which the government pays in lieu of erstwhile subsidies for many basic food items and energy, should be eliminated because it makes no difference to them. He said that he will personally write a letter to them, asking them not to accept the payment. He claimed that if his subsidy elimination plan is implemented completely, "I guarantee that there will be no poor anywhere in Iran." According to him, the government has classified the populace in ten income groups, with the top two needing no cash handouts. Separately, Mohammad Reza Farzin, spokesman for the commission that oversees the subsidy elimination plan, said that on the president's order ten million people will no longer receive the cash handouts. Ali Agha Mohammadi, deputy to First Vice President Rahimi, similarly declared that those for whom the cash handouts have represented 5-10 percent of their income will no longer receive the payments.

Revolutionary Guards and the Majles

Reflecting the hardliners' concerns that Ahmadinejad's supporters may take control of the Majles in the upcoming elections, Ali Saeedi, Khamenei's representative to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, said that the Guards' commanders should seek office. He claimed that legally they can do so, provided that they resign from the corps. This is contrary to the firm position of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who was always opposed to the military's involvement in politics. Since the 2004 parliamentary elections of 2004, many former Guard commanders have become Majles deputies.

Ahmadinejad can resign

Former Guard commander Mojtaba Zolnour, an ex-deputy of Saeedi's, said that Khamenei told Ahmadinejad that he can resign. During a debate with Mostafa Kavakebian, the conservative reformist Majles deputy, Zolnour said, "Ahmadinejad asked the Supreme Leader whether he could resign if he could not work with [Minister of Intelligence] Heydar Moslehi [whom he unsuccessfully attempted to force out of office], and Khamenei responded that he could resign." He also said that Khatami had also threatened to resign from the presidency when the hardliners were pressuring him to fire his minister of culture and Islamic Guidance ,Ataollah Mohejerani, who was instrumental in lifting restrictions on the Iranian press during the first three years of his administration.

President ready to reveal "secrets"?

Ruhollah Ahmadzadeh, head of the Organization of Tourism and Cultural Heritage, said that Ahmadinejad and Mashaei are prepared to "reveal the secrets that are hidden in the 'chest' of the head of the tenth administration [Ahmadinejad]." He accused the president's adversaries of "weakening national security, weakening social stability and people's interests, and weakening the power and authority of the Islamic Republic in the international arena." Ahmadinejad's supporters have repeatedly threatened that he will reveal secrets about corruption among his opposition.

Ninety percent of Tehran Guard strength devoted to "soft war"

Brigadier General Hossein Hamadini, who was recently removed from his post as chief of the Mohammad Rasoulallah Corps, whose mission is to defend the greater Tehran area, said that 90 percent of the Guards' strength in the capital region is involved in what the hardliners call the "soft war" -- a supposed campaign to topple the regime through Internet activity and demonstrations. He claimed that it was he who suggested that Guard head Major General Mohammad Ali Jafari replace him as head of the Rasoulallah Corps on the basis that "an old commander like me is no longer useful.... It needs a young, good-looking, and energetic commander."

Attack on British Embassy "illegal"

The Mashregh News website, which is linked to the Revolutionary Guards, said that the attack on the British Embassy in Tehran was illegal and has had numerous negative consequences for the nation. Beside forcing Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi to promise that such an event will never happen again, making the British government happy, and taking away the initiative from the Islamic Republic, it asked, "What have been the achievements of the attack?" The website's commentary continued, "This attack was neither wise, nor legal.... If one day we are to set the record straight with Britain, it would be in the Persian Gulf, not in Tehran, where the British Navy will be the target of our people's revolutionary anger."

Meanwhile, cleric Abbas Nabavi, a lecturer with the Imam Khomeini Education Institute -- the clerical organization controlled by the reactionary Mohammad Taghi Mesbah Yazdi -- said that Khamenei viewed the attack on the embassy as a bad thing and that he believed that it was not the work of his supporters among university students, as state and regime-aligned media had widely reported. He accused British agents of staging the embassy invasion.

Prison terms for political figures

Dr. Ebrahim Yazdi, leader of the Liberation Movement of Iran, was sentenced to eight years of incarceration and a five-year ban on social and political activities. Yazdi, 80, who suffers from prostate cancer and other illnesses, did not defend himself, declaring that he does not recognize the legitimacy of the court. He was charged with "founding of the LMI" and other "offenses." The LMI was founded in 1961 by Mehdi Bazargan, Dr. Yadollah Sahabi, and Ayatollah Seyyed Mahmoud Taleghani. Mohammad Tavasoli, head of the organization's political directorate, has also been arrested, as have his son-in-law Farid Taheri and Emad Bahavar, head of the group's youth division.

Abolfazl Ghadiani, senior member of the Organization of Islamic Revolution Mojahedin who, at 67, is Iran's oldest political prisoner, has been given a three-year jail sentence for "insulting the Leader." Last year, he was sentenced to one year of incarceration for "insulting the president" after calling him a liar, dictator, and law breaker. Now, as that sentence ends, the new one will be imposed. Ghadiani, who was imprisoned for his political activity in opposition to the Shah before the 1979 Revolution, is also in poor health.

Copyright © 2011 Tehran Bureau

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