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Grand Ayatollah Challenges Regime; Report: 7 al-Qaeda Arrested

31 Dec 2010 01:038 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.



Leading Cleric Defies Tehran on Confessions

Financial Times | Dec 29

In a rare public challenge to the Iranian regime, the country's highest-ranking cleric has warned that prisoners' confessions are invalid, signalling a deepening gulf between the political establishment in Tehran and clerical establishment in the holy city of Qom.

"Confessions of prisoners have no validity and if a judge uses confessions for issuing verdicts that judge is no longer qualified," Grand Ayatollah Hossein Vahid Khorasani told students this week, according to domestic websites including Parlemannews, which is run by reformist parliamentarians.

His statement is not only a religious decree that his followers must obey but a warning from the country's most senior cleric to politicians that Qom's religious establishment should not be ignored.

The decree also challenges the position of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's supreme leader, who accepts the confessions of prisoners about their own acts -- not those of others -- as evidence during trial proceedings.

See also: "The Missing Ayatollah" (Iran Almanac)

Iran Reports Arrest of 7 al-Qaida Suspects

AP (via MSNBC) | Dec 29

Iran's state news agency reported Wednesday that security forces have arrested seven people near the border with Iraq and alleged they are al-Qaida suspects.

It was the first report in years in Iran of an al-Qaida arrest, although in the past the country has reported hundreds of such arrests.

IRNA didn't provide further details but said the seven were propagating Wahhabism, an austere version of Sunni Islam practiced primarily in Saudi Arabia.

There was no indication if those arrested were Iranians or foreigners.

Many al-Qaida operatives are believed to have fled to Iran after the overthrow of the Taliban regime in neighboring Afghanistan in late 2001.

Iran Arrests Seven Qaeda Militants: TV

AFP (via Arab Times) | Dec 30

The group was arrested in the city of Sardasht in West Azerbaijan, the website of Iran's English-language television network reported, citing an informed but unnamed source.

"These people were identified over the past month and arrested on orders of the judiciary," the report said. [...] "They were also trying to divide the Shiites and the Sunnis."

The latest announcement comes just days after British daily The Times reported the Islamic republic had released a string of top militants belonging to the terror network.

Suspected Al Qaeda Members Arrested with Alleged Propaganda

Los Angeles Times | Dec 30

Does being a proponent of the kind of puritanical strain of Islam touted by Osama bin Laden automatically make you a member of Al Qaeda?

According to the Iranians, [the seven detainees] are accused so far only of using books and leaflets to promote "Wahabbi" or Salafist Sunni Islam in predominantly Shiite Muslim Iran.

"The suspects were nabbed with an appreciable number of books, leaflets and documents about Wahhabism and other depraved cults," [an] official said. "They sought to sow sectarian discord, but they were finally arrested by security forces and handed over to the judiciary."

No Al-Qaeda Members in Iran, Tehran Says

Tehran Times | Dec 29

The Iranian Foreign Ministry has rejected reports by certain Western media outlets claiming that members of the terrorist group Al-Qaeda are hiding in Iran.

Such claims are part of an old scenario, which is meant to promote Iranophobia in the region, Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said during his weekly press briefing on Tuesday.

Mehmanparast stated that Iran is one of the victims of terrorism and would never compromise with terrorists and would never provide a safe haven for them.

Terrorist groups are operating in the region, with the support of the West, but extremism and terrorism can only be eradicated in the region through a regional solution, he added.



Iran Is Three Years from Nuclear Bomb, Israeli Minister Says

AFP (via Herald Sun) | Dec 30

Iran is still three years away from being able to build nuclear weapons due to difficulties with their nuclear program, Israel's strategic affairs minister has claimed.

"The Iranian nuclear program has a number of technological challenges and difficulties, so it has not succeeded," Moshe Yaalon, who is also a former Israeli military chief, told public radio.

He did not spell out the problems affecting the Iranian program or claim any Israeli involvement.

However, there was widespread speculation that Israel was behind the Stuxnet worm that attacked computers in Iran, and Tehran blamed Israel and the US for the killing of two nuclear scientists in November and January.

"These difficulties have postponed the timetable," said Mr Yaalon. "So we can't talk about a point of no return. Iran does not have the ability to create nuclear weapons by itself at the moment."

Iran Nuclear Program Delayed, Says Israeli Minister

Christian Science Monitor | Dec 30

The Daily Telegraph notes that a report written for the Institute of Science and International Security (ISIS) and released last week says the Stuxnet worm likely damaged the program and forced the replacement of some 1,000 centrifuges in the Natanz plant.

In contrast, the Financial Times reports that the US government is concerned that Iran may acquire new technology that would accelerate its progress to acquiring a nuclear weapon. Iran is currently using centrifuges based on 1970s technology, but is experimenting with second-generation centrifuges which, according to an unnamed administration official, "could dramatically reduce" the time needed to create a nuclear weapon if employed in sufficient numbers.

However, David Albright, director of ISIS, told the Financial Times that Iran probably has not yet adopted such technology for fear of provoking a military strike.

Yaalon's estimate marks a significant rollback of the deadline Israel has claimed for stopping Iran's nuclear program. According to US diplomatic cables released in the WikiLeaks cache last month, Israel had claimed the threat to be more immediate.

Iran Executes Alleged Israeli Spy

MSNBC | Dec 28

"Ali Akbar Siadati, who spied for Israel's Mossad, was hanged inside the Evin prison this morning," IRNA said.

Ali Akbar Siadati had been accused of providing Israel with classified information on Iran's military capabilities, including details about military maneuvers, bases, operational jet fighters, military flights, air crashes and missiles, IRNA reported.

According to IRNA, Siadati confessed to spying for Israel starting in 2004 in return for $60,000, as well as an additional $7,000 each time he met with Israeli handlers. IRNA said he met up with Israeli intelligence agents during "foreign trade" trips to Turkey, Thailand and the Netherlands and that he transferred data through a digital camera, transmitters and laptop.

IRNA also reported that another Iranian, identified as Ali Sarami, was hanged on Tuesday in Evin after being convicted of membership in an exiled opposition group, the Mujahedeen-e Khalq Organization. It said he had been arrested several times since 1982 for membership in the group but had continued his activities each time. He was detained in 2007 for the last time and was sentenced to death, IRNA reported.

MEK in a statement Tuesday claimed Sarami's wife and daughter as well as two other supporters were arrested while protesting outside Evin prison after his execution.

Iran Urges UN Action on Asgari Case

Tabnak | Dec 30

Iran's caretaker Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi has urged the United Nations to help determine the fate of an Iranian national who reportedly died in an Israeli prison, according to Press TV on Thursday.

Ali-Reza Asgari, a former deputy defense minister, mysteriously disappeared in Turkey in 2007. He was believed to have been abducted and transferred to Israel.

A Ynet report on Tuesday stated that a prisoner had committed suicide in solitary confinement in Israel's Ayalon prison.

The Eurasia Review website claimed that a source within the "inner circle" of the Israeli Defense Ministry had identified the prisoner as Asgari and that his death could have been murder and not suicide.

"Publication of such reports strengthens suspicions over the abduction of aforementioned individual [Asgari] by the Zionist regime [of Israel]," Salehi said in a message to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on Thursday.

Asgari's abduction has taken place "against all recognized principles of international law and is an explicit example of the Zionist regime's state terrorism," the Iranian official said.

India Struggles to Protect Flow of Iranian Oil

New York Times | Dec 30

Officials in India and Iran scrambled Thursday to keep the $11 billion in oil and gas trade between them going after India's central bank declared last week that a regional clearinghouse could no longer be used to settle such transactions.

The move, which was long sought by the United States as a way to tighten sanctions against Iran, makes it tougher for Indian firms to buy Iranian oil and gas because they can no longer use the Asian Clearing Union, which was set up by the United Nations in the 1970s to ease commerce between Asian countries, to handle payments.

The clearinghouse allowed Indian companies to pay Iranian companies via the two countries' central banks. But it also meant that the transactions were less transparent, making payments to companies linked Iranian companies controlled by groups banned under the sanctions regime more obscure.

Iran Currency Gridlock May Raise India's Oil Costs

Bloomberg | Dec 30

Indian refiners including Indian Oil Corp. may be forced to buy crude at higher prices from the spot market as they seek details from India's central bank on the method of payment to Iran, its second-biggest supplier.

"We are awaiting clarity on the payment mechanism," B.M. Bansal, chairman of Indian Oil, the nation's biggest refiner, said by telephone from Chennai. "If the volumes we import from Iran becomes unavailable, we may have to go elsewhere for the crude and that may impact prices."

India's central bank on Dec. 27 said companies will be allowed to settle current account and trade transactions with Iran outside the Asian Clearing Union or ACU, a regional payment arrangement. This dismantled a mechanism used to complete payments for oil. Participants in the ACU settle transactions in either dollar or euro, according to the ACU's website.

The central banks of India and Iran may meet in Mumbai tomorrow to discuss the payment mechanism for crude purchases, Oil Secretary S. Sundareshan told reporters in New Delhi today.

"We are hoping an alternate payment mechanism will be in place in the next few days," he said. "Alternate mechanism payments could be in any currency, yen, their local currency."

On U.S. Request, India Shuts Payment Route for Iran Oil Imports

The Hindu | Dec 30

A few weeks ago, the India-Iran Joint Working Group met in Tehran with the express intention of attempting to advance cooperation between the hydrocarbon majors of both countries while keeping in view the sanctions regime. The discussions were inconclusive.

"When companies associating with the Iran oil sector are also dealing with the U.S. and EU, it becomes a problem. We have to find ways and means of addressing the issues that arise. Companies can't deal with the U.S. and EU companies if they have invested over $20 million in Iran," government sources told The Hindu.

The sources did not say whether there was direct U.S. pressure on Indian companies to withdraw from Iran if they wanted to keep their prospects alive in the shale gas sector. But according to WikiLeaks, U.S. government officials had, in no uncertain terms, warned executives of France's Total and Italy's Eni SPA that investments in Iran "could possibly impact Total's recent shale gas investments in the U.S." The Wall Street Journal recently reported that U.S. officials had made a similar pitch to the Indians.

The ACU was crucial to allowing Indian companies to deal with Iran because such transactions are hard to trace by third countries unless the central banks concerned themselves release the information. Without mentioning Iran, the RBI cited unspecified "difficulties being experienced by importers and exporters" while asking companies to stop using the ACU.

Student Activist Faces New Charges in Prison

ICHRI | Dec 29

Student activist Mahdieh Golroo's husband told the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran that Golroo, arrested in December 2009 and currently at Evin Prison, has been informed of new charges against her. "I do not know how someone who is in prison could disturb public order! It's amazing! Nowhere in the world would someone, whose court ruling has been issued and is serving her sentence, be informed of new charges. What could she have done to disturb public order from inside the prison?," said Vahid Lalipour, the Student activist's husband.

Mahdieh Golroo, who is a member of the Right to Education Council, has been under visitation ban for the last two weeks. She is now with the rest of female political prisoners inside Evin Prison's Methadone Ward. Yesterday she was charged with "disturbing public order" at Branch 4 of Evin Prison Court. "I do not know, I try not to think about the reasons any more," said Vahid Lalipour when asked about the reasons for the new charges.

"Today I contacted everyone I could to see Mahdieh, or to at least find out how long her visitation ban would continue, but no one was accountable. I went to the Prosecutor's Office, the Evin Prison Court, and to the prison, but they all said 'we don't know about this, just like you.' It is now two weeks that I don't have any news about Mahdieh. No contact, and no visit," Mahdieh Golroo's husband said about her visitation ban.

It is said that the new charge against Mahdieh Golroo is related to letters attributed to her on the occasion of Student Day (7 December). The letters were published in the media, and were well-received in student circles inside and outside the country. Bahareh Hedayat and Majid Tavakoli are two other imprisoned students who have received similar charges due to writing a joint letter from prison on the occasion of Student Day.

Two Women's Rights Activists Get Six Months in Prison for Signatures

ICHRI | Dec 30

An appeals court upheld the sentences of Maryam Bidgoli and Fatemeh Masjedi who are women's rights activists and members of the One Million Signatures Campaign. Bidgoli and Masjedi will now begin serving sentences of six months in prison and will pay fines of $200 in cash in the coming days.

In the final ruling was issued by Branch Three of the Qom Province Judiciary and has been reviewed by the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran. The ruling stated that collecting signatures for the Campaign for Equality is "propagation against the regime," and a factor in upholding the sentence is the signing of a statement in which the Islamic Republic is characterized as "without merit for filling a seat on the United Nation's Commission on the Status of Women."

Iranian authorities, such as President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Head of the Judiciary's Human Rights Council Mohammad Javad Larijani, have repeatedly spoken of freedom of expression in Iran during trips abroad. However, courts found Bidgoli and Masjedi guilty of "propagation against the regime" for their activism and signing a statement expressing their opinions about the conditions of human rights and discriminatory laws in Iran.

Shargh's Chief Editor, Financial Investor Released from Prison

Tabnak | Dec 30

Shargh newspaper have been set free on Wednesday, Fararu news website reported.

Shargh's editor-in-chief, Ahmad Gholami, and its financial investor, Ali Khodabakhsh, were released after spending some 23 days in custody.

The report did not elaborate on their charges or whether they were released on bail.

Gholami and Khodabakhsh were arrested on Dec. 7 along with political desk editor Kayvan Mehrgan, and the international desk editor Farzaneh Roostaei.

Tehran's prosecutor Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi had said that the arrests were made because they committed "security crimes".

None of those arrested had any prior records of political activity. Gholami was the literary editor of Hamshahri newspaper before joining Shargh.

There was no word on the fate of the other two Shargh editors in the report.

Thatcher Used Ending of Iranian Embassy Siege to Plead for U.S. Hostages

Bloomberg | Dec 29

The government documents, released by the National Archives after 30 years, show how Middle Eastern diplomats in London continued to debate whether to attempt to intervene in the six-day siege, unaware that Special Air Service soldiers were already storming the building, which had been seized by Iranian dissidents on April 30.

While the successful SAS raid, in which 19 hostages were freed, helped build Thatcher's reputation as an uncompromising leader, in private she took a conciliatory tone with Khomeini, Iran's supreme leader. She asked that he order the release of the American hostages "as a gesture of goodwill to the brave men who risked their lives to free the Iranian hostages."

Thatcher followed up the lifting of the siege in London by sending John Green, Britain's ambassador to Iran, back to the country bearing a personal message from her to President Abolhassan Bani-Sadr. Green told Bani-Sadr the Americans weren't aware of the U.K. approach and offered to visit Khomeini himself "to plead with him."

The pleas came to nothing, and instead relations with Iran turned to wrangling over who should pay the estimated 790,000 pounds (then $1.85 million) to repair damage done to the London embassy during the raid.

Afghans Feel Pinch of Iranian-Border Fuel Blockade

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty | Dec 30

Afghans are grappling with rising fuel prices and dwindling supplies in the depth of winter, while convoys of relief stand idle just across the border with Iran.

Thousands of fuel tankers and trucks carrying compressed-gas cylinders used for cooking and heating were stranded after Iranian officials imposed a blockade on the Afghanistan-bound deliveries because they claim such supplies would help NATO forces.

Following official assurances that the supplies were intended solely for use by Afghan civilians, Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad promised visiting Afghan Vice President Mohammad Qasim Fahim on December 26 that the blockade would be lifted.

But days later only a handful of trucks have been allowed to continue on to Afghanistan, while thousands remain backed up at two key border crossings -- at Islam Qala, in western Afghanistan, and Zaranj, 500 kilometers farther south -- with no explanation from Tehran.

Afghans affected by the resulting fuel shortages say they believe the crisis is Tehran's retribution for crippling sanctions imposed by the United Nations Security council this past summer. Analysts in Kabul link it to Iranian resentment over being left out of a multibillion-dollar gas-pipeline deal worked out among neighbors Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, and Tajikistan.

Nigeria Arms Scandal Hurts Iran in Africa

UPI | Dec 30

Iranian efforts to woo governments in Africa, where Israel has long cast its diplomatic net, have taken heavy knocks in recent days at a time when Tehran needs every friend it can get.

The West African states of Senegal and Gambia have put relations with the Islamic Republic on hold after Tehran was implicated in a big shipment of Iranian arms seized Oct. 26 in Nigeria.

Gambia, a tiny state with a nasty authoritarian regime, gave no reason for severing ties with Iran Nov. 23.

But Nigerian officials said Gambia was the intended destination of the Iranian arms, which included 107mm rockets, 120mm, 80mm and 60mm mortars and a large amount of small arms ammunition.

Neighboring Senegal, a predominantly Muslim state in Francophone Africa that has influence at the United Nations, followed suit Dec. 16, giving Iranian diplomats 48 hours to leave the capital, Dakar.

Egypt Allows Asia to Gaza Caravan Entry, Excludes Iranians

Ahram Online | Dec 30

Cairo has finally given approval to the Asian aid convoy to enter Gaza via Al-Arish, but has denied entry to Iranian activists

Egypt yesterday gave permission for the Asia to Gaza Caravan -- or Asia1 -- to pass through Egypt to Gaza, according to Khaled Abdel Megid, a member of the Palestinian National Congress.

He said the Egyptian embassy in Damascus informed the convoy of the permit that allows only 120 activists entry to Egypt and then Gaza. It denied entry to 46 activists from Iran and Jordan.

Egypt will not allow 10 generators donated by the Iranians to enter to the besieged Gaza Strip. This will decrease the size of the humanitarian aid convoy to below 300 tons, which will be limited to food and medical aid in addition to toys.

'The Case Did Not Follow Its Legal Course,' Says Executed Man's Lawyer

ICHRI | Dec 29

Hossein Aghili, lawyer of political prisoner Ali Saremi, who was abruptly executed on Tuesday, 28 December, talked to the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran about his client's case. "I am about to have a meeting with Tehran Judicial authorities about this right now, and I hope to be able to find an appropriate answer for this case," he said. Ali Saremi's daughter had told the Campaign earlier that the family had not been informed of Saremi's execution orders, and that even when they had gone to Evin Prison to at least see Saremi for the last time, they had faced the prison personnel's denial of the execution.

Hossein Aghili told the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran that he doesn't have any information over and above what everyone else knows. "The execution orders were served neither to myself nor to Mr. Saremi's family. Suffice it to say that after the last session of his trial in the lower court, we were never informed about how the case proceeded," said Hossein Aghili.

Prisoner of conscience Ali Saremi was arrested on charge of affiliation with the Mojahedin-e Khalgh Organization (MEK). In February 2009, there were media reports that he had been sentenced to death on this same charge, but neither Ali Saremi, nor his lawyer ever received the execution orders. He had been transferred to Rajaee Shahr Prison since September 2010. One day before his execution, he was transferred to Evin Prison, where he was hung.

His wife, Mahin Saremi spoke with the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran last October. "How can a person be executed for his beliefs? Yes, my husband had sympathy for the MEK, but can a person be hung because he likes a political group? His activities were limited to going to grave sites of people who shared his way of thinking and reading prayers for them," said Mahin Saremi.

Pakistan Refuses to Comment on Rigi's Arrest

IRNA | Dec 30

Pakistan Foreign Office spokesman Abdul Basit on Thursday refused to comment on media reports about the arrest of terrorist leader Abdulrauf Rigi by Pakistani security forces.

According to News daily of Pakistan, Abdul Rauf Rigi, brother and successor of the executed Abdolmalik Rigi, was tracked down by Pakistani authorities through his wireless set while he was making a call on December 21 to a London-based newspaper from his Pakistan-Iran border area hideout in Balochistan region.

Pakistan Foreign Office spokesman Abdul Basit at his weekly briefing said that he has no knowledge of the arrest of the terrorist leader.

"Not to my knowledge, I can't give you any response", said Mr. Basit replying to a question by IRNA.

Iran Plans to Set Up 5 Drug Rehab Centers

Press TV | Dec 30

Iran plans to set up five new rehabilitation centers to treat thousands of drug addicts in the provinces of Isfahan, Kerman, Khorasan, Sistan-Baluchestan, and Tehran.

"Nearly 600 billion rials ($60 million) has been allocated to constructing the rehabilitation centers. Addicts who are introduced by their families will also receive medical treatment to kick the habit and receive vocational training," Iran's Interior Minister Mostafa Mohammad-Najjar said on Wednesday, IRNA reported.

Mohammad-Najjar, who also is chief of the anti-drug taskforce, noted that at least 36,000 inmates serving time for drug-related offenses would be moved to new camps.

Interior Minister: West Seeking to Hit Muslim Nations with Drugs

Fars | Dec 29

Iranian Interior Minister Mostafa Mohammad Najjar on Wednesday cautioned that the arrogant powers, particularly the US, are promoting drugs and addiction in the Islamic societies as part of their multisided plans for destroying Muslim nations.

"The world arrogant powers have prepared a well-assessed and targeted plan to destroy societies and confront the freedom-seeking nations," Najjar, who is also Secretary of Iran's Drug-Campaign Headquarters, said in a conference of anti-drug police chiefs here in Tehran on Wednesday.

"The plot hatched by the global arrogance is a multifaceted puzzle that includes terrorism, illicit-drugs and lawbreaking in the region. Essentially, focus on the Islamic states is one of the other aspects of the arrogant powers' plots," Najjar stated.

Meantime, the Iranian minister warned that increased drug addiction is at the core of the enemies' soft war against Iran and the Muslim and independent states, and added that enemies are "promoting idleness, social disorder and alcoholism" in a bid to undermine the younger generation in the Muslim societies.

"These moves are aimed at undermining and breaking apart the foundations of family in the Muslim societies," he stated.

"A silent genocide is, indeed, in action," Najjar stressed.

Leader: Iran Defused Enemies' Sedition

Press TV | Dec 29

Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei says the Iranian nation succeeded to defuse sedition incited by enemies after the June 2009 presidential election in the country.

Ayatollah Khamenei described as a "big challenge" the last year's sedition and said, "In this big challenge, the enemy supported sedition provokers on one hand and even announced their names but on the other hand, the Iranian nation had a strong presence in the scene," Ayatollah Khamenei underlined.

"As the Iranian nation showed its initiative and bravery during the (eight-year Iraqi) imposed war, it also defused the enemies' sedition in this eight-month soft war," he added.

The Leader made the remarks in an address to thousands of enthusiastic people from the northern Iranian province of Gilan on Wednesday, IRNA reported.

Ayatollah Khamenei emphasized that the Iranian nation thwarted efforts made by those who intended to incite sedition in the country in a "spontaneous move" and gave them a crushing response.

MP: Decision to Cut Ties with Britain Iranian Nations' Response to Enmities

Fars | Dec 29

Parliament's initiative to sever relations with Britain was demanded by the Iranian nation who were furious at the hostile stances shown by London against Tehran in recent years, a senior Iranian legislator stressed on Wednesday.

"Cutting ties with evil Britain is the powerful reaction of the Iranian nation to the numerous malignancies of the British colonialism," member of the parliament's National Security and Foreign Policy Commission Parviz Sorouri told FNA.

Sorouri also called on the Iranian officials and people to assist the parliament and government in cutting the hands of Britain from the country, and said all the people and organizations should mobilize to decrease political, economic and cultural relations with London.

Britain Forms Plan for Gulf Evacuation in Event of War with Iran

Daily Telegraph | Dec 28

The British armed forces are drawing up contingency plans to evacuate hundreds of thousands of British residents and tourists from Dubai and other Gulf cities in the event of war with Iran.

The Coalition government under David Cameron ordered an immediate review of British military planning in the Gulf after the election last May. The Daily Telegraph can reveal that new proposals are being drawn up to coordinate military activity in the region with local allies hostile to Iran, particularly the United Arab Emirates.

Planners have realised they had to tear up existing emergency plans for local British residents. Since the previous review in the 1990s, the expatriate population has grown to more than 100,000 in the UAE alone, while a million British tourists, from businessmen on stopovers to England footballers with marital problems, come to Dubai every year.

It is feared they might be at risk if, as it has promised, Iran retaliates for any military strikes on its nuclear sites with missile attacks on "western interests" in the Gulf.

President Ahmadinejad to Sell Car for Charity

Fars | Dec 30

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad plans to put his 33-year-old car up for auction for a charity that funds housing projects for young people.

"The Peugeot 504 (produced in 1977) belonging to President Ahmadinejad will be on a show of classic cars" in Iran's Southwestern city of Abadan, Ali Asqar Parhizgar, managing-director of Arvand Free Zone was quoted as saying.

The show will be held in mid-February in the Arvand Free Zone in Abadan, the Islamic republic news agency quoted Parhizcar as saying.

Upon an agreement by Iran's Minister of Welfare and Social Security Sadeq Mahsouli and Head of the Presidential Office Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, President Ahmadinejad's 1977 car will be auctioned, he noted.

"President Ahmadinejad's automobile will be put on display along with 70 other classic cars from various countries," the official further explained.


The Next Iranian Revolution?

R. R. Reno (First Thoughts/First Things) | Dec 30

Iran, it seems, is experiencing a textbook case of conflict between the aggressive and absorptive power of the secular state and religious authority.

In today's Financial Times, Najmeh Bozorgmehr reports that Iran's highest ranking cleric is getting sideways with the officially Islamic regime in Tehran, a symptom, perhaps, of clerical unhappiness with the tendency of the modern state--especially those that claim religious sanction--to become the sole arbiter of all dimensions of society, including the sacred dimensions.

The particular issue is narrowly legal. Grand Ayatollah Hosein Vahid Khorasani has told his students that self-incriminating confessions made under the duress of imprisonment are not valid. This bears on the controversy surrounding a woman condemned to be stoned to death after confessing to having engaged in an adulterous affair.

There are doubtless many subtle undercurrents at work in Iranian society and politics. But it is a mistake, I think, to try to plot this episode (which is not the first--this summer the clerical establishment spoke out against the claims by the Iranian regime to define Islamic law) according to a secular left/right distinction between "reformers" and "hardliners." And indeed our policy wonks consistently make this mistake.

The larger issue, it seems to me, is classical and has a long history in the West: Who will speak for God?

Iran's Defense Minister Confirms Asgari Death, IDF Warns of Iranian Revenge Attacks

Richard Silverstein (Tikun Olam) | Dec 30

The Kabuki-like drama of the suicide/murder of Iranian Revolutionary Guard general Ali Reza Asgari in Ayalon Prison continues to deepen. Today, Ynetnews reports that the IDF circulated an unprecedented warning letter to all reserve officers warning them that Iranian agents might take revenge on them inside Israel or abroad.

What's astonishing about this is that until now Israelis could always count on being immune to retaliatory domestic terror attacks from foreign enemies like Syria, Iran, Hezbollah, etc. Israel was impregnable from that perspective. Palestinian terror attacks have of course happened. But they were indiscriminate, and except in very rare instances did not kill senior IDF officers or political leaders. But now even Israel is conceding that it is not as inviolate as it previously believed.

[F]or the real reason motivating this warning I believe you have to look to the suicide/murder of Asgari reported here in the past few days. While Iran certainly would be angry with killings of its nuclear scientists, the outright murder of one of its generals and senior ministers would rankle even more since Israel kidnapped him, likely tortured him and drained him of whatever useful intelligence he might offer concerning his work as liaison to Hezbollah and more, then possibly murdered him in a dark Israeli prison. For those who understand the outpouring of emotion and trauma that accompanied the capture and eventual death in captivity of IAF pilot Ron Arad (an event Israel believed Asgari played some role in), imagine the average Iranian feeling the same sense of national outrage.

This news, Israel fears, will truly provoke a violent reaction in Teheran. Hence the warning letter.

There are a few other interesting phenomena to note regarding the letter. Assuming Asgari was murdered, what better way to deflect blame and attention both within Israel and abroad than to warn of an imminent (trumped-up) revenge terror attack planned by Iran.

Iran Spat Pits President against Supreme Leader

Mike Shuster (NPR) | Dec 30

Political turmoil seems to be the norm in Iran: Last year it was the reformist opposition taking to the streets challenging what they saw as the fraudulent re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Now another political fissure has emerged within the conservative camp, threatening possible open conflict between Iran's president and its supreme leader.

There are significant differences among conservatives in Iran over many issues, but right now the focus is on [the elimination of] economic subsidies.

Ahmadinejad moved to seize the revenues that would have been used for subsidies for his own purposes. He has begun paying the poorest segments of Iranian society to help mitigate the pain of the [recent] price increases.

Some estimate the value of the revenues saved at $100 billion, says Abbas Milani, director of Iran studies at Stanford University.

Conservatives in the Parliament wanted to control these funds, but Ahmadinejad quickly recognized their enormous political value, Milani said.

"Basically Ahmadinejad has created an enormous system of patronage for himself that he will use to either prolong his own stay in power or put one of his cronies in the presidency," he said.

The Struggle for a New Iran

Ray Takeyh, Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations (New York Times) | Dec 27

The Islamic Republic today is garnering attention primarily for its nuclear defiance. However, beneath the glare of inconclusive summits and boisterous claims of economic empowerment, a critical question remains: Just how stable is Iran's clerical regime?

For much of the Washington establishment, the opposition Green movement is a faded memory, a protest wave against electoral fraud that was suppressed by the Islamist regime to the point of exhaustion if not extinction. Such sentiments fail to engage with a more fundamental question, namely how to assess the viability of an opposition movement in a country whose politics have proven so evasive.

The Islamic Republic is not a typical authoritarian state but a distinct ideological construct. Such regimes require an explanation, an argument to justify their repression and meddlesome adventures abroad. The custodians of the theocratic state may engage in atrocities, but they are doing so to advance history's cause, to realize a certain sublime ideal. In such a state, the uniformed officer, the plainclothes policeman, the Revolutionary Guard all require an overweening ideological cover to justify their brutalities to themselves.

The subtle and subversive victory of the Green movement is to hollow out the state and demonstrate to its loyalists that they are not defending a transcendent orthodoxy but craven and cruel men addicted to power at all cost. In the words of the reformist cleric, the late Ayatollah Hossein Montazeri, in the violent crackdown following the elections in June 2009, the Islamic Republic ceased to be either Islamic or a republic.

The Shah's Atomic Dreams

Abbas Milani, Director of Iranian studies at Stanford University, Co-Director of the Hoover Institution's Iran Democracy Project (Foreign Policy) | Dec 30

Of the many inaccuracies and obfuscations of the Iranian nuclear negotiations, one of the most persistent has been the claim that, in questioning the ultimate goals of the Islamic Republic's nuclear program, the West is seeking to enforce a duplicitous double standard. According to this line of rhetoric, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the last shah of Iran, was a Western ally -- or, in the language of the regime, a "lackey" -- and thus America and Europe were willing and eager to help him get not one, but many, reactors. But since the creation of the Islamic Republic in 1979, these critics allege, Iran is being singled out and persecuted. In 2006, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told Der Spiegel, "It's interesting to note that European nations wanted to allow the shah's dictatorship the use of nuclear technology.... Yet those nations were willing to supply it with nuclear technology. Ever since the Islamic Republic has existed, however, these powers have been opposed to it."

Even some progressive intellectuals in the West have bought into this story, either supporting the regime's program or at least criticizing the U.S. stance on Ahmadinejad's current program as hypocritical given its past lenience toward the shah. The U.S. government itself, in what must be considered an inexplicable failure of public diplomacy, has never challenged this narrative -- although it has access to hundreds of pages of documents that disprove the regime's allegations.

In fact, Washington was involved in a long-standing and frequently behind-the-scenes diplomatic tussle with the shah over the purpose of his nuclear program. Recently declassified documents from the Carter and Ford presidential libraries; the departments of defense, energy, and state; and the National Security Council (NSC) show that every element of today's impasse between the U.S. government and the Islamic Republic was also present in the negotiations with the shah.

Is Iran About to Test a Nuclear Bomb In North Korea?

Reza Kahlili, Pseudonymous Ex-CIA Spy (Fox News) | Dec 30

On December 24, a research report from the South Korean Foreign Ministry Institute indicated that North Korea would carry out another nuclear bomb test after the beginning of the year. -- South Korean media reported earlier this month that the North was digging a tunnel in preparation for such a nuclear test.

At the same time, reports from inside Iran indicate that a team of Iranian nuclear scientists have been sent to North Korea and that the two governments have agreed on a joint nuclear test in North Korea with a substantial financial reward for the Kim Jong-Il government.

It is no secret that Iran and North Korea are collaborating in a ballistic missile program. The North Koreans provided Iran with the technology and know-how to build the Shahab-3 medium-range ballistic missile, which is a copy of the Nodong-1 missile. The Shahb- 3 missile has a range of 2,000 kilometers (1,240 miles) covering all of the U.S. military bases in the Middle East and the entire country of Israel.

Most alarming, recent WikiLeaks releases reveal that Iran obtained a cache of advanced missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads (based on a Russian design) from North Korea. Now, for the first time, Iran has the capability to target every capital in Western Europe.


A Call to Boycott State-Sponsored Fajr Film Festival in Defense of Jafar Panahi & Mohammad Rasoulof

Statement by Committee in Support of Jafar Panahi and Mohammad Rasoulof (Persian2English) | Dec 28

Due to the current conditions and heavy sentences passed down to Jafar Panahi and Mohammad Rasoulof, we believe it is our duty to ask all international festivals and all those who are involved in cinematic work around the world and also all international filmmakers to boycott the Islamic Republic of Iran's Fajr Film Festival to be held in February 2011.

It is clear that the organizers of the Fajr Film Festival pretend like the political, social, and cultural situation in Iran is completely normal and calm. It is also clear that because of the security situation we cannot expose the names who called for this boycott.

The Committee in Support of Jafar Panahi and Mohammad Rasoulof - Tehran.

Distribution of this call outside Iran, Pouya Cultural Center, Paris

December 25, 2010

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Interesting FT report of Vahid Khorasani, though puzzled by opening breathless reference to him as "the country's highest ranking cleric." According to whom, pray tell?

anonymous / December 31, 2010 3:27 PM

Why are you posting misinformation that has been thoroughly shot down by informed individuals? At least provide links to articles that have pointed out that this news item is totally false? No, I won't provide those links...that's your job.

"Most alarming, recent WikiLeaks releases reveal that Iran obtained a cache of advanced missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads (based on a Russian design) from North Korea. Now, for the first time, Iran has the capability to target every capital in Western Europe."

And the source is Fox News!

Just exactly what are you attempting achieve with this post and quote? To reinforce the misinformation?

Sloppy, unprofessional, and bad news reporting.

Mohammad Alireza / December 31, 2010 5:57 PM

Mr. Alireza, it seems that you have misread the press roundup. The excerpt to which you refer is not a news item. It is the last in a series of six opinion items, clearly so labeled. If the intent was to "reinforce the misinformation," it could have been positioned much more prominently or, indeed, (mis)presented as a news item. The intent is rather to track the narratives being promulgated by media outlets with various ideological leanings and affiliations. Given the nature of those outlets and their interests, the top of each roundup advises, "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." This item in particular is identified as being authored by a "Pseudonymous Ex-CIA Spy," which should be caveat enough to take it with a very large grain of salt.

The fact is that the roundup has excerpted multiple items in recent weeks that cast serious doubt on the North Korean "advanced missile" claim, which happens to be a matter of only subsidiary interest in the present excerpt. The excerpt's primary interest is that it evidences a new narrative concerning supposed plans for a collaborative nuclear test. If the narrative has any staying power, the roundup will of course present items that offer countervailing views, as they arise.

Dan Geist / December 31, 2010 8:19 PM

Good answer, Dan. I must admit to being very impressed by HOW MANY red flags you included in the link text you wrote for 'Is Iran About to Test a Nuclear Bomb In North Korea?'
- Reza Kahlili
- Pseudonymous Ex-CIA Spy
- Fox News

Good job, per usual.
Happy News Year!

Catherine / January 1, 2011 12:04 PM

Here's an article on the Parazit VOA programme TB has reported on before:
'Daily Show'-type satire finds an audience in Iran, and a big enemy

catherine / January 1, 2011 2:35 PM

Thank you for your response Mr. Geist, which contains such, nuanced sophistication that I had to make sure we were referring to the same Press Roundup section. Unfortunately it seems the Press Roundup that you see is very different to the one I read.

Generally speaking the Press Roundup section is late on posting news items, provides very limited coverage, rarely provides a rounded presentation so that the reader can become familiar with influential warmongers like Michael Ledeen, William Kristol, and other neocons, plus members of Congress and the Senate that have a say on funding for PBS … and are MEK supporters.

As for countervailing views, how about posting items by Sasan Fayasmanesh, or Noam Chomsky, or Gareth Porter, or Juan Cole, or Robert Dreyfuss, or Ray McGovern, or Abbas Edalat? Even though Dr. Mahammad Sahimi's articles are excellent the missing voices of those just listed is clear evidence that a site that focuses entirely on Iran is leaving out vast chunks of view points that disagree with America's foreign policy as it concerns Iran. Is this intentional? Will it threaten your funding if you post "anti-American" commentary by individuals that clearly would qualify as "Iran experts"?

You write: "The excerpt's primary interest is that it evidences a new narrative concerning supposed plans for a collaborative nuclear test."

"Supposed plans" which are referred to by a very shady character and you are pointing at his article be cause he "evidences"?!?

Do you really think Iran is going to participate in a joint nuclear test with the North Koreans? Do you realize how stupid this would be and how much it reeks of disinformation?

Come on Dan, admit it, you believe Iran is building a nuclear bomb, don't you?

Mohammad Alireza / January 2, 2011 1:09 AM

Mr. Alireza, Thank you for revealing your true colors. You have made clear that you perceive no difference whatsoever between actual news and opinion. We can only conclude that you are an employee of either or both (a) Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting and (b) Fox News. As far as truth value goes, it hardly makes a difference.

By the way, you would serve your masters better if you bothered to actually take the time to read and comprehend what others write before commenting here. I am confident that our readers who actually care about the communicative process understand the point I made: "Kahlili"'s column evidences the promulgation of a certain new narrative. That is very different from providing evidence for the dubious claim embodied in that narrative. Do you have the intellectual capacity to understand the distinction, Mr. Alireza?

On the other hand, I am most gratified to learn that someone with such a low opinion of our press roundup nonetheless finds it so compelling that he actually reads down to and comments on its thirty-third item. Thanks to you, I am a very proud rounder-up tonight.

Dan Geist / January 2, 2011 8:45 AM

Not every self-righteous, arrogant, incoherent rant deserves a tailor-made response.

This guy goes past news items from Tehran Times, Tabnak(x2), IRNA(x2), PressTV(x3), FarsNews(x3) and complains about an opinion piece from Fox News. The comprehensive Press Roundups at Tehran Bureau are one of the singular highlights of the site. Not least because of all the junk that they inevitably have to feature!

Cy / January 2, 2011 9:35 AM