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Discontent Deepens in Iran as Prices Soar; US Republicans Back MKO

23 Dec 2010 09:433 Comments

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.


Inside Story: Iran's Economic Surgery

Al Jazeera | Dec 22

Prices in Iran Rise after Lifting of Subsidies

Los Angeles Times | Dec 22

The Iranian government's removal of decades-old subsidies for food and energy in an attempt to boost its troubled economy has spurred price increases on everything from fruit and vegetables to gasoline, generated work stoppages and emboldened the political opposition.

In Tehran, the nation's capital, taxi fares that officially were to rise by 10% shot much higher as drivers imposed their own price increases. Some truckers across the country refused to work, complaining of government threats to revoke their permits if they raised their prices to offset higher fuel costs.

The austerity measures, though long anticipated, have brought mounting public anger since they began Sunday. Government critics contend that they will hurt people with modest incomes while leaving the wealthy unscathed.

Already, the prices of produce, diesel, gasoline, cooking oil, water and bread have risen dramatically. In downtown Tehran, the price of a loaf of brick-oven bread doubled overnight to 40 cents. Security forces have been deployed around the country in case public frustration boils over into civil unrest.

Iranian Truck Drivers Stay Off Roads as Gas Prices Rise Steeply

Washington Post | Dec 22

Thousands of Iranian truck drivers began a second day of strikes Tuesday after a sharp increase in the price of diesel fuel, transportation company officials said, as the Obama administration announced a further tightening of economic sanctions intended to pressure Iran over its nuclear program.

The apparently spontaneous strikes in several cities were the first sign of public discontent since President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's government raised fuel prices Sunday as part of an elaborate plan to slash state subsidies in the coming weeks.

"At least half of all truck drivers in the country are on strike or not working," said Mohammad Arjmandi, a manager for a Tehran-based transportation company. Those who were working, he said, had raised their fees for transporting goods by nearly 40 percent.

Under the new plan, truck drivers will have to pay more than 20 times as much for diesel fuel, which has been heavily subsidized in Iran and is still extremely cheap by U.S. standards. Truckers can fill up their tanks once during the next month for the old price of $0.06 a gallon. But after that, they will have to pay $1.32 a gallon.

Iran Deploys Police as Gas, Food Prices Go Up

CNN | Dec 22

Tehran residents said the government was beefing up security. Witnesses saw up to 20 police officers at three major gas stations in central and northern Tehran.

"I hope enough people will protest these ridiculous changes, but they are scared of the security forces because of the past protests where our citizens were beaten," said a civil engineer, who like others interviewed by CNN did not want to be identified for fear of repercussions.

"A lot of people are anxious and confused," said a taxi driver, "They don't know what's coming next but they don't have much choice."

But a courier said he didn't have time to protest.

"They just make prices go higher and life more difficult," he said.

Iran Opposition Leaders Slam Subsidy Cuts

AFP | Dec 22

Iran's opposition leaders have slammed the cut in government subsidies on energy and food products, warning that a "dark future" awaits the nation's economy, an opposition website reported Wednesday.

Opposition leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi acknowledged the necessity of cutting subsidies, but criticised its timing and the ability of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's government to implement the sensitive plan.

"The country is faced with severe international sanctions, the economy is stagnating, unemployment of higher than 30 percent has spread across the country, and inflation is running wild," the website Sahamnews quoted the two leaders as saying during their meeting on Tuesday.

"Implementing the plan at this time is a burden whose pressure will be felt by the middle and lower classes" of society, it reported the pair as adding.

GOP Figures Criticize Obama's Iran Policy in Rally for Controversial Exile Group

Washington Post | Dec 22

A group of prominent U.S. Republicans associated with homeland security told a forum of cheering Iranian exiles here Wednesday that President Obama's policy toward Iran amounts to futile appeasement that will never persuade Tehran to abandon its nuclear projects.

The Americans -- former New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani, former secretary of homeland security Tom Ridge, former White House homeland security adviser Frances Fragos Townsend and former attorney general Michael Mukasey -- demanded that Obama instead take the controversial Mujaheddin-e Khalq (MEK) opposition group off the U.S. list of foreign terrorist organizations and incorporate it into efforts to overturn the mullah-led government in Tehran.

"Appeasement of dictators leads to war, destruction and the loss of human lives," Giuliani declared. "For your organization to be described as a terrorist organization is just really a disgrace."

The four GOP figures appeared at a rally organized by the French Committee for a Democratic Iran, a pressure group formed to support MEK.

See also: "Extra: European Union Calls on US to Drop MKO from Terror List"


Leading Cleric Outraged Over Official's Remarks About Music

Tehran Times | Dec 23

Ayatollah Nasser Makarem Shirazi is outraged over the remarks about music recently made by Presidential Office Chief of Staff Esfandiar Rahim-Mashaie.

Rahim-Mashaie made the remarks during a meeting with a number of artists at the Chahar-Fasl Museum of Arak on December 8 while he was accompanying President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad during a visit to Central Province.

Rahim-Mashaie said, "Some people do not understand music, then say it is haram."

He went on to say that disregard for art and culture will make a society ill and added, "If people are not familiar with music and do not appreciate the literature of Hafez, Sadi, and Ferdowsi, then no love can emerge from their hearts."

Addressing the people who criticize music, he said, "You are unable to comprehend the world of the artist and the poet."

Iran Scours the World for Nuclear Bomb Scientists

Daily Telegraph (via Vancouver Sun) | Dec 22

Iran is operating a worldwide recruitment network for nuclear scientists to work on its weapons program, officials claim.

They say that the country is attracting North Korean and African scientists to work on developing missiles and nuclear production.

North Korea relies on a lucrative financing agreement with Iran to fund its expanding nuclear activities. In return for Iranian money and testing facilities, North Korea sends technology and scientists.

Mohamed Reza Heydari, a former Iranian consul in Oslo, said he had helped scores of North Koreans enter the country while working for the foreign ministry in Tehran's Imam Khomenei airport.

"The North Koreans were all technicians and military experts involved in two aspects of Iran's nuclear program. One was to enable Iran to achieve nuclear bomb capability, and the other to help increase the range of Iran's ballistic missiles," [he said].

"In all our embassies abroad, especially in the African countries, the foreign ministry staff were always looking for local scientists and technicians who were experts in nuclear technology and offered them lucrative contracts to lure them into Iran.

"The facade of the nuclear program is that it is for peaceful purposes, but behind it they have a completely different agenda."

Son of Imprisoned Iranian Filmmaker Jafar Panahi Says His Father Still Sees Beauty

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty | Dec 22

The son of famed Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi, who was sentenced to six years in prison and banned from making movies or traveling abroad for 20 years, says at the time of his father's 2009 arrest he had no thoughts of making a film about opposition activity.

But inspiration was not far behind, and his son [[Panah Panahi] says he was already working on the film at the time of his second arrest, in March. Charged with attempts to make an "antiregime" documentary about the opposition Green Movement that arose after Iran's disputed 2009 presidential election, Panahi was convicted December 20 for "propaganda against the system."

Jafar Panahi was born in 1960 in a poor area in south Tehran, one of eight children.

"My dad was living in a very crowded house during his childhood," Panah says, but he "fell in love with cinema" at an early age, working after school from the age of 12 in order to make money to see films.

"He was always really in touch with the limitations and poverty that surrounded him," says his son. "It was from that time that the kind of social perspective toward cinema took shape in his mind.

"He wants to use the art of cinema to show the pain of human beings in different periods of time," he says. "By showing the limitations, the poverty, sadness, difficult times in human history -- this is the way to achieve a humanistic cinema. And what is more poetic than a humanistic moment?"

Filmmaker Denounced Iran Artistic Crackdown

AFP | Dec 21

Jailed filmmaker Jafar Panahi accused Iranian authorities of "kidnapping" Iranian artists to intimidate them, according to a transcript of his trial plea published in France Tuesday.

"My imprisonment and that of those I work with symbolises the kidnapping by those in power carried out against all artists in the country," he said in his plea to the court on November 7, published by French newspaper Le Monde.

"The message these actions gives seems to me clear and sad: whoever does not think like us will be sorry for it," he added.

"We have been hit by censorship before but this is the first time a filmmaker has been sentenced and imprisoned to stop him making a film," he said in the plea, which described police raiding his home and threatening his family.

US Tightens Sanctions on Iran

VOA | Dec 21

The United States has hit Iran's Revolutionary Guard and its state-owned shipping lines with new sanctions.

The U.S. Treasury Department announced Tuesday it was barring five entities from dealing with the United States for their connections with the Guard and the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines.

Those targeted include two banks, Ansar Bank and Mehr Bank, two financial companies, Moallem Insurance Company and Bonyad Taavon Sepah, and the executive director of one of the companies, Parviz Fattah.

The Treasury Department said the Guard and the shipping lines were "major institutional participants in Iran's illicit conduct and in its attempts to evade sanctions." It also sanctioned Liner Transport Kish for providing material support to Hezbollah, which Western nations consider a terrorist group.

U.S. Tightens Pinch on Iran's Finances, Shipping

Reuters | Dec 21

"Both the IRGC [Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps] and IRISL [Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines] are major institutional participants in Iran's illegal conduct and in its attempts to evade sanctions," said Stuart Levey, Treasury's under secretary for terrorism and financial intelligence.

State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said the new U.S. move against the Revolutionary Guards was a response to efforts by Iran to circumvent the existing sanctions. Iran says its nuclear program is purely for peaceful purposes.

"This is part of the ongoing game of cat and mouse, if you will, between Iran and the international community," Crowley said.

"We continue to look at what's happening in Iran and continue to sanction those entities that we think are controlled by the government and are directly related to their proliferation activities."

Vice President Censures Judiciary Spokesman's Remarks

Tabnak | Dec 23

First Vice President Mohammad Reza Rahimi in a message published on Wednesday has strongly censured Judiciary spokesman Gholam-Hossein Mohseni-Ejei for informing the media about the alleged financial corruption against him.

In a press conference on Monday, Mohseni-Ejei announced that the vice president is accused of financial corruption, adding that the legal proceedings on Rahimi's case is in process and his charges are neither proved nor dropped.

"Over the past few days, the incorrect remarks of the Judiciary spokesman have been widely published, resulting in the spread of defamatory remarks against me and confusion of the public opinion," Rahimi said.

"Because these remarks show the biased and illegal stances of a Judiciary official and go against the Constitution... I decided to hold a press conference and clarify the issue," he said.

Rahimi added that he reversed his decision because he "did not see it expedient to respond to these illegal remarks in the current situation which the implementation of a major economic plan is underway."

The vice president has also criticized the Judiciary for failing to review the complaints lodged by him and other cabinet members.

Afghanistan Says Iran Blocking Fuel Trucks

Daily Times (Pakistan) | Dec 23

Iran is preventing hundreds of fuel tankers from crossing into Afghanistan and supplying US-led NATO troops fighting the Taliban, senior officials in Kabul said Wednesday.

Around 1,600 trucks have been prevented from crossing for three weeks and the situation threatens to push up fuel prices, which have already skyrocketed in recent days, at the start of winter. Although Kabul says the tankers would be used to supply ordinary Afghans, deputy commerce minister Mohammad Sharif Sharifi told AFP that Iranian officials were sceptical.

"I confirm that Iranian officials have been preventing around 1,600 fuel tankers from crossing into Afghanistan for 20 days," he said. "They (Iran) have not officially given us any reason for this blockade but in a meeting that I had with the Iranian commerce attache in Kabul, he said that the Iranian government believes these tankers were going to supply foreign troops in Afghanistan." Sharifi added that unless the situation was resolved, it could cause "serious problems including an increase in fuel prices."

The blockades have occurred at a number of locations, including the main Afghan-Iranian border crossing at Islam Qalah in the western province of Herat. Afghanistan's foreign ministry says it is holding talks with Iranian officials in a bid to convince them that the fuel is not for military use.

Around 30 percent of Afghanistan's fuel is thought to come through transport routes from Iran, with much of the rest coming through the central Asian republics which border Afghanistan. Some other officials at the Afghan customs and commerce ministry said there are as many as 3,000 trucks stranded on the Iranian side of the border that were headed for the eastern Afghan provinces of Farah, Nimroz and Heart.

Iran Stops Fuel Delivery, Afghanistan Says, and Prices Are Rising

New York Times | Dec 22

Abdul Karim Barahwe, the governor of Nimroz Province in western Afghanistan, said the Iranian authorities had started halting tankers bound for Afghanistan about 10 days ago. The effect is driving up fuel prices just as winter is setting in.

"We really don't know the exact cause of the ban; Iran doesn't officially say the cause of the ban," he said. Now, he said, both the Interior and Commerce Ministries, as well as President Hamid Karzai's office, "are trying to sort out this problem with Iran."

There has been no word in Iran about a ban on Afghanistan-bound fuel. The restriction may reflect Iran's own energy problems, caused in part by Western sanctions on the country over its nuclear program, as well as a sharp increase in Iranian fuel prices caused by a government phase-out of subsidies that began this month. Or it could represent an effort to retaliate against the United States for the sanctions, even though the fuel is not supposed to be supporting the American war effort.

Man Tied to Weapons Trafficking via Iran Seized in Kandahar

CNN | Dec 22

A Taliban member suspected of helping to move weapons between Iran and Afghanistan has been seized, NATO's International Security Assistance Force said on Wednesday.

The man, captured in Afghanistan's Kandahar province on Saturday, is thought to have facilitated weapons trafficking between Iran and Kandahar through Nimroz province, the southwestern region that borders Iran.

The Shiite-led Iranian regime and the Sunni Taliban would not seem to have a lot in common, but there have been reports this year that Iran has been planning to ship weapons to the Taliban.

"Iran continues to provide lethal assistance -- including weapons and training -- to elements of the Taliban," according to a Defense Department report on Afghanistan.

Medvedev Calls for Iran to Allow IAEA Inspections of Its Nuclear Program

Bloomberg | Dec 22

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said Iran's policy on its nuclear program is "unreasonably tough" and urged inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency.

"Iran must allow IAEA officials on its territory and make it possible to bring the situation under control," Medvedev said at a meeting with students in Mumbai today. "This is why there are issues with Iran and sanctions against it."

The Persian Gulf state in mid-2010 came under a fourth set of United Nations sanctions, which were supported by Russia, as well as tougher U.S. and European Union measures.

Medvedev said in July that Iran was getting closer to achieving the capability to make nuclear weapons. Iran, the world's fourth-largest oil producer, refuses UN demands to suspend enrichment of uranium, saying the work is necessary for civilian purposes such as power generation.

Romanian Official Renews Bucharest's Support for Iran's N. Rights

Fars | Dec 22

Romanian Foreign Ministry's Director-General Gheorghe Magrow on Wednesday underlined that Bucharest strongly supports Iran's nuclear rights.

"Romania has a clear and transparent stance on Iran's nuclear program and considers use of nuclear energy as Iran's inalienable right," the official said in a meeting with Head of Iran-Romania Parliamentary Friendship Group Ahmad Nateq Nouri here in Tehran today.

Magrow also voiced his country's willingness to further boost friendly ties with Iran, and stated, "We seek expansion of relations in all fields, parliamentary ties between the two countries in particular."


Iranian Writers and Journalists Call for Release of Their Peer Ahmad Gholami

RAHANA | Dec 23

Over 150 Iranian writers, translators and journalists called on Iran's Head of Judiciary to release Ahmad Gholami, prominent Iranian writer and editor-in chief of Shargh newspaper.

In an open letter, over 150 distinguished Iranian writers, translators and journalists urged Ayatollah Amoli Larijani to release their peer, Ahmad Gholami and stress that the arrest of Gholami, who amongst his peers is known for his "moderation and refrain from creating conflicts", is a shock to them all.

The signatories write that Gholami has served his country for years both in the war and through his contribution to the genre of war literature and express concern over the "vagueness" of the charges against him.

Gholami was suddenly arrested about two weeks ago and so far the judiciary has not clarified the charges against him.

Gholami served in the eight Iran-Iraq War and many of his stories are concerned with the events he experienced at this time. He is also one of the founders of the Writers and Critics Press Award and a prominent figure in the cultural journalism of the country.

Nader Asgari, a Former Student Activist, Arrested

RAHANA | Dec 22

Nader Asgari, a former student activist of Tehran University who has been studying for [a] Masters in post-Islam history of Iran at this university, has been arrested after being summoned to [the] intelligence ministry of Yasuj.

Nader Asgari has been summoned while he has been denied the opportunity to teach at Azad Islamic University for the past year and has not had any political activities.

RAHANA reports, he has also been denied the rights to teach due to his trade union activities to protect the rights of teachers of Gachsaran.

[H]is whereabouts are still unknown.


Anisa Safarian, Expelled Baha'i Student of Babolsar University, Arrested

RAHANA | Dec 22

Anisa Safarian, a Baha'i student of [the] Science and Technology University of Behshahr, was arrested [in] her hometown, Babolsar.

On early hours of Monday security forces entered the home of Anisa Safarian, who was earlier expelled from university due to religious beliefs, and after searching the premises arrested her.

RAHANA reports, after searching her house, her personal belongings were confiscated and she was transferred to intelligence agency of Sari.

Anisa Safarian, who was studying Applied Mathematics at [the] Science and Technology University of Behshahr, was expelled earlier for believing the Baha'i faith.

Roya Ghanbari Detained; Security Forces Raid to Arrest Fataneh Nouri

RAHANA | Dec 22

On Monday, Roya Ghanabri, a Baha'i resident of Sari, was detained without a judicial warrant. On Sunday, 11 security agents searched the house of Fataneh Nouri, the wife of Omid Ghanabri, after showing her arrest warrant.

Roya Ghanbari, Omid Ghanbari's sister, who is currently in detention, had appeared at the news unit of the judiciary for questioning and had later contacted her family stating that she had been arrested.

Sari Intelligence Ministry authorities searched the house of Fataneh Nouri's father and father in law and stated that she has been summoned to the Intelligence Ministry for questioning and she also had to deliver the clothes of Roya's brother Omid. When Roya Ghanbari's husband delivered Omid's clothes to the Intelligence Ministry on Monday, the agents threatened that if Roya fails to show up, they will get a judicial arrest warrant.


Mahdieh Golroo and Bahareh Hedayat on Hunger Strike

RAHANA | Dec 21

Starting Saturday December 18th Bahareh Hedayat, a central committee member of the OCU, and Mahdieh Golroo, student activist and member of the Education Rights Committee, have gone on hunger strike to protest the poor prison condition and being denied their visitation rights.

During a conversation with RAHANA reporters, Amin Ahmadian, Bahareh Hedayat's husband stated: "This morning I went to Evin to visit Bahareh Hedayat, but after a long period of wait was told it was impossible. Finally I learned Bahareh has been on hunger strike since Saturday and has not eaten anything since then."

Ahmadian, who is extremely concerned about Bahareh's liver problems, continued: "Bahareh Hedayat's reasoning for her hunger strike is being denied visitation rights, and the extreme conditions at methadone ward of Evin prison. We were only able to meet with her in cabin on weekly basis, and she was denied in person visits and phone calls."

Also, Mahdieh Golroo a student activist whom is also being kept at methadone ward of Evin prison has gone on hunger strike due to being denied visitation rights. Her husband Vahid Lalipoor has also [not been allowed] to visit her in prison today.

[I]n an illegal [move], Mahdieh Golroo, Bahareh Hedayat and fourteen other female prisoners have been transferred to [the] methadone ward of Evin prison in November of this year and have been denied phone and visitation rights since then.

[The] women's methadone ward of Evin prison is a closed hall [...] Prisoners being kept at this ward can only go out to get fresh air for one hour every twenty-four hours and are excluded from all other facilities such as the library.

Mahdieh Golroo, a student activist, was arrested on December 2nd 2009 (Azar 11) with her husband and has been sentenced to two years and four months in prison. Bahareh Hedayat has [...] been sentenced to nine and half years imprisonment.

'Terrorists' Arrested in NW Iran

Tabnak | Dec 20

Four terrorists who planned to carry out bombings in the northwestern Iranian city of Mahabad have been arrested by Iran's security forces, according to Press TV.

"All those arrested are members of one family... three of them were arrested in Mahabad," the city's Prosecutor Samad Hazrati told IRNA on Wednesday.

"Four Kalashnikovs were confiscated from one individual who was trying to escape Mahabad... [He] was severely injured and arrested during a clash and exchange of gunfire with security forces."

In September, a bomb explosion in Mahabad left 12 people dead and at least 80 others injured.

Report: Iran Sunni Militant Group to Kill Hostage

AP (via CBS News) | Dec 22

A spokesman for Iran's armed Sunni militant group says it will kill an abducted Iranian after authorities rejected an offer to swap the hostage for 200 of the group's imprisoned members.

Jundallah spokesman Abdel Raouf Rigi is quoted Wednesday by the London-based Asharq Al-Awsat daily as saying the hostage would be killed "very soon."

The man was identified as a former worker at an Iranian nuclear facility who was kidnapped two months ago.

Iranian Whipped in Public for Drinking Alcohol

Reuters | Dec 21

An Iranian man was given 80 lashes in public for drinking alcohol, ISNA news agency reported on Wednesday, a punishment aimed at discouraging others from such behaviour outlawed in the Islamic Republic.

Under Iran's Islamic law, alcohol is banned and its consumption can be punishable by lashes, but beatings in public are relatively unusual.

ISNA said the lashes were delivered in a public square in the city of Ramshir, southwestern Iran.


Cry Freedom for Jafar Panahi

Peter Bradshaw (Guardian) | Dec 21

Our film industry, and our film journalism industry, can be pretty cynical and exhausted. The idea of failure or career reversal is gossiped about or giggled at with embarrassment or schadenfreude. Did you hear? X's movie has bombed! His opening weekend numbers were soft! Oh dear. He may have to go into TV. I've heard fully paid-up critics -- otherwise as innocent as children about the finances of cinema -- snort knowingly outside screening rooms that such-and-such a film "won't do any business", as if this makes it a bad film.

But just in case we needed a reminder that film-making actually means something, and that something is at stake in being a film-maker, comes some astonishing news from Iran. The director Jafar Panahi has been sentenced to six years in prison and banned from film-making for 20 years due to what appear to be still cloudily formulated offences: chiefly the notion he was inciting protest and discontent with a documentary he was working on. Panahi is a well-known supporter of the Green movement and the opposition to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Iranian president. He has already been arrested and jailed several times following the democratic protests of 2009. During his imprisonment in 2010 Panahi went on a hunger strike, and was bailed in May for the equivalent of $200,000 after an international campaign by film-makers including a dramatic demonstration at the Cannes prize-giving ceremony by Juliette Binoche. Now the Iranian state has spoken with chilling decision.

The social brutality, cultural nullity, political arrogance and geopolitical incompetence of this move is breathtaking. To silence an artist, and indeed to alienate possible constituencies of liberal sympathy for Iran in the west, is fantastically crass.

Panahi is an important, powerful voice. It is disgusting that it should be silenced by the malign clumsiness of the state. British cinemas should continue to show Panahi's films, to remind the world of the humane, civilised artist that is being silenced.

Theocracy Moves to Market Prices

Globe and Mail Editorial | Dec 23

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the Iranian government are acting prudently, for once, by greatly reducing gasoline and other subsidies this week, but this rationality is no assurance that Iran's suspected nuclear-weapons program will be stopped or that barbaric punishments will be abolished.

The rulers of Iran have treated the country's petroleum as if Iranians were simply the natural resource's owners, and could enjoy its use at a deep discount, although there is little refinery capacity in the country. So the petroleum has to be exported and then re-imported -- bought back.

Previously, the low price was not only wasteful and extremely expensive for the government, but made it all too cheap and easy to pollute the air of Tehran.

Sensible fiscal decisions ought to benefit the people of Iran in the medium term. The money until now spent on subsidies, instead of distorting consumers' and businesses' economic choices, should help relieve taxes and provide public services. Some of the savings may go, however, toward mischievous policies such as the nuclear program -- but if petroleum and natural gas are no longer used wastefully, Iran's alleged need for nuclear energy will disappear, and cease to be a cover for the ambition to make nuclear weapons.

Salehi Stands In as Iran's New Foreign Minister -- But For How Long?

Robert Tait (Radio Free Europe/Free Liberty) | Dec 22

Ali Akbar Salehi is said to have fond memories of the United States -- a legacy of five years spent studying for a Ph.D. at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

He has also been described by one British former acquaintance -- recalling the man he knew as Iran's ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna -- as "open-minded," "a modernizer, not a conservative," and "a scientist, not an Islamist."

All of which must have made Salehi appear a rather strange bedfellow of Iran's famously fiery president, Mahmud Ahmadinejad, as the pair arrived in Istanbul together on December 22 for a meeting of the Energy Cooperation Organization, which groups Iran with Turkey, Pakistan, and Central Asian states.

It's Salehi's first official trip abroad since Ahmadinejad appointed him acting foreign minister on December 13 following the unceremonious dismissal of Manuchehr Mottaki.

As the head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization and figurehead of its disputed nuclear program, the 61-year-old's appointment is seen by observers like Trita Parsi, president of the National Iranian American Council, as heralding the "nuclearization" of the Islamic republic's foreign policy.

It's Time to Get Tough with Iran

Sarah Palin, Former Governor of Alaska and U.S. Vice-Presidential Candidate (USA Today) | Dec 22

Iran's nuclear weapons program is not just Israel's problem; it is the world's problem. I agree with the former British prime minister Tony Blair, who said recently that the West must be willing to use force "if necessary" if that is the only alternative.

But we also need to encourage a positive vision for Iran. Iran is not condemned to live under the totalitarian inheritance of the Ayatollah Khomeini forever. There is an alternative -- an Iran where human rights are respected, where women are not subjugated, where terrorist groups are not supported and neighbors are not threatened. A peaceful, democratic Iran should be everyone's goal. There are many hopeful signs inside Iran that reveal the Iranian people's desire for this peaceful, democratic future. We must encourage their voices.

When the brave people of Iran take to the streets in defiance of their unelected dictatorship, they must know that we in the free world stand with them. When the women of Iran rise up to demand their rights, they must know that we women of the free world who enjoy the rights won for us by our suffragist foremothers stand with our sisters there. When Iranians demand freedom of religion, freedom of conscience and freedom to simply live their lives as they choose without persecution, we in the free world must stand with them.

We can start by supporting them with diplomacy and things such as radio broadcasting, just as we did with those who suffered under the former Soviet Empire. Most of all, we should support them with confidence in the rightness of the ideals of liberty and justice.

Just as Ronald Reagan once denounced an "evil empire" and looked forward to a time when communism was left on the "ash heap of history," we should look forward to a future where the twisted ideology and aggressive will to dominate of Khomeini and his successors are consigned to history's dustbin.

A Plea to Western Media about 'Sakineh,' Political Prisoners, and Human Rights

Masih Alinejad (Enduring America) | Dec 22

Sakineh Ashtiani is a 43-year-old Iranian woman who has been under threat of death by stoning since 2007 on charges adultery and complicity in murder. Over the last year, her cause has been taken up in the "West" by politicians, human rights activists, film stars, and musicians. German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicholas Sarkozy have made statements demanding her release. The European Council passed a resolution condemning the stoning sentence. Ashtiani's face adorns the front pages of newspapers across Europe, who report every twist and turn of her case.

Surprisingly, in the Islamic Republic, where no one normally sees the photo of a woman who is to be stoned to death, Ashtiani's case has become fodder for conservative newspapers and the official television stations of the Government, who claim Western interference in an Iranian judicial matter. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has condemned the Western criticisms as a "crime". In late August 2010, the newspaper Kayhan called Carla Bruni, First Lady of France, a "prostitute" who "deserved death" after she condemned the stoning sentence.

Put bluntly, the Government is exploiting the Ashtiani case to divert attention from the deaths and imprisonments of young women and men who oppose the fraudulent outcome of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's re-election. And because the Western media have only highlighted "Sakineh" amongst so many cases of human rights abuses, the Islamic Republic has been successful in manipulating the foreign press.

As we approach the anniversary of those who died in the demonstrations of 27 December 2009, I ask my Western colleagues not to be fixated by the Ashtiani case. I ask them to look at the political prisoners languishing in Iran's jails and the pressures faced by families who lost their loved ones during the protest.

I ask the Western media not just to see one 43-year-old woman fighting for her life. I ask the Western media to take notice of the thousands, inside and outside prison, who are fighting for their lives and those of fellow Iranians.


An Interview with Howard Berman, the Outgoing Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee

Interview by Natasha Mozgovaya (Haaretz) | Dec 20

The debate over the sanctions against Iran remains heated, and Israeli politicians are wondering why the U.S. administration took the military option off the table, even if they didn't say so explicitly.

The military option is not off the table. It's on the table.

The Iranians apparently don't think so.

Who knows what they really think? We don't know if the current strategy is going to work. We do know that two years ago we had the most limited, worthless set of multilateral sanctions on Iran that were not enforced, and all the U.S. efforts to make them stronger were to no avail. And the U.S. position on Iran was not the international position, the U.S. was isolated and everyone wrote that Iran is rising in influence.

Two years later we have tough sanctions at the Security Council, and the U.S. and Europeans imposed more far-reaching sanctions. We have evidence it's causing pain in Tehran inside the regime, Iran feels the pressure and is isolated, and the U.S. position as a result of this administration's policies has developed international support.

What we don't know yet is if it will change the regime's behavior on the nuclear issue. But we are in a much better position to create that change than we were two years ago. And we need to stay very resolved on this, we need to impose sanctions on companies that are undermining our efforts, and we need to build even more international support. This is an example of this administration's effective use of diplomacy.

Where in the world is the biggest concern for the U.S.? Is it Afghanistan? China? North Korea? The Middle East?

Yes, yes and yes. We have a huge number of issues that affect our interests. The global economy, what's going to happen in Pakistan, Iraq is still not a totally done deal, but for me Iran looms at the top of the list. If Iran gets a nuclear weapons capability, at so many levels stability and peace are threatened - for Israel, but also for the whole region and the rest of the world, too. So there are a number of big national security interests, but Iran is, for me, first and foremost.

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I thought Saeed Laylaz was in prison?

Also, regarding Sarah Palin: thanks, but no thanks.

Pak / December 23, 2010 6:09 PM

My question was not rhetorical by the way. I would appreciate if anyone could let me know whether Saeed Laylaz is in prison.

Pak / December 23, 2010 11:06 PM

That explains his rather tired expression. He has been working from a new campus/ministry where many of the best and brightest are located.

pirooz / January 4, 2011 12:38 AM