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Iran Claims Uranium Self-Sufficency; Plans to Winnow UN Nuke Monitors

06 Dec 2010 15:29No Comments

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Iran Now Self-Sufficient in Yellowcake Production

Tehran Times | Dec 6

The first batch of domestically produced uranium yellowcake has been delivered to Isfahan's Uranium Conversion Facility, an Iranian official announced on Sunday.

The first consignment of yellowcake, the raw material for uranium enrichment, was shipped from the Gachin mine, which is located near Bandar Abbas, under the supervision of the International Atomic Energy Agency.

The Islamic Republic has achieved self-sufficiency in producing yellowcake, Atomic Energy Organization of Iran Director Ali Akbar Salehi told reporters afterwards.

"The West had counted on the possibility that Iran would get into trouble over raw material, but now we have sent the first batch of yellowcake from the Gachin mine to the Isfahan facility," Salehi stated.

Iran cannot reveal any information about the amount of the consignment, but Tehran will formally notify the IAEA about its yellowcake production, he added.

Iran Says It's Now Fully Self-Sufficient at Producing Uranium

Los Angeles Times | Dec 5

The announcement comes on the eve of talks on Iran's nuclear program Monday in Geneva and may be aimed at bolstering Tehran's bargaining position. It also follows attacks Monday on two Iranian scientists, one of them Majid Shahriari, who was killed in what Iran described as a Western or Israeli operation.

"The enemies and ill-wishers have always tried to create despair and disappointment among our youth, academicians, engineers and our nation, but today we witness the delivery of the first batch of yellow cake that is produced inside the country," Salehi said at a news conference broadcast on state television.

Salehi said the announcement meant Iran would be attending the upcoming talks "with power and authority and that we do not seek favors from any party."

Iranian officials immediately dismissed a U.S. proposal announced last week to create an international enriched-uranium fuel bank that nations could use to create nuclear energy without mastering the fuel themselves. It is "monopolization of technology and science and nuclear apartheid," Iran's envoy to the International Atomic Energy Agency, Ali Asghar Soltaniyeh, said in Vienna on Thursday, the official Islamic Republic News Agency reported.

See also: "Fuel Bank Is a Path to Nuclear Apartheid, Iran Envoy Says" (Mehr)

Iran Unveils Use of Locally Mined Uranium for the First Time

Guardian | Dec 5

The mining and milling of uranium ore is not banned by UN resolutions (which focus on uranium enrichment), but one of the ways the international community has sought to close down Iran's nuclear programme is to stop it importing yellowcake.

Today's announcement appeared to a signal that such measures would not stop Iran pursuing its nuclear ambitions. For the time being, however, it is little more than a symbolic step as Iran's ore deposits are mostly low grade and its capacity to produce yellowcake is limited.

The P5+1 group may draw some comfort from today's announcement on the use of Iranian yellowcake, seeing it as confirmation that their efforts to cut Iran off from external supplies is working.

A year ago, it was reported that a clandestine attempt to import 1,350 tonnes of purified ore from officials in Kazakhstan was thwarted when the Kazakh government discovered the deal. Tehran denied the report as baseless.

The yellowcake delivered to Isfahan today came from the Gchine mine at Bandar Abbas on the Persian Gulf. It is an open-cast mine described by International Atomic Energy Agency of having "low but variable grade uranium ore". The agency predicted it would produce 21 tonnes of yellowcake a year -- about one-tenth of the amount that an industrial reactor would require.

Iran Claims Advance with Uranium from Its Own Mine

New York Times | Dec 5

Iran bought yellowcake from South Africa in the 1980s, but those supplies are running low.

Even so, Western experts say Iran can keep the centrifuges at its Natanz plant in the desert running for decades because over the years it has converted so much yellowcake to uranium meant for enrichment.

"This is a face-saving announcement," David Albright, president of the Institute for Science and International Security, a private group in Washington that tracks nuclear proliferation, said in an interview. "For years, they've been saying that they are mining. So here's finally some proof."

In a statement, a spokesman for the National Security Council, Mike Hammer, said Iran's yellowcake announcement was "not unexpected" given that Iran is now banned from importing the material under United Nations sanctions and that it has worked to develop its own program of mining and indigenous production.

"However," he added, "this calls into further question Iran's intentions and raises additional concerns at a time when Iran needs to address the concerns of the international community."

Iran Nuclear Program Self-Sufficient, Top Official Claims

CNN | Dec 6

[The Gachin] mine is too small to produce all the yellowcake for a nuclear energy program -- Iran's official reason for building nuclear reactors -- but could be useful for a secret nuclear weapons program [...] Albright told CNN.

"The Gachin mine is tiny relative to what is needed for a nuclear power program," he said. But it "could be significant from the standpoint of a covert nuclear weapons program, since it could produce plenty of uranium for an Iranian nuclear weapons program."

Iran has another mine [at Saghand in central Iran] and mill, but they are not yet operating, he said. That mine is twice as large, though still small from the point of view of a nuclear power program.

The United Nations nuclear watchdog does not inspect Iran's uranium mines and does not know how much uranium Gachin produces, Albright said.

"So the main interest in Gachin is finding ways to ensure that all its uranium is accounted for. Iran has little interest in allowing that right now," he concluded.

Weapons-Grade Uranium Process Explained

Guardian | Dec 5

* 1. Uranium ore: The mildly radioactive ore is mined from underground or open cast deposits. Iran has mines at Gchine on the Persian Gulf and at Saghand, in the middle of the country.

* 2. Yellowcake: When ore comes out of the ground it can be less than 1% uranium oxide. Uranium oxide is leached out of the ore with strong acids or alkaline solutions and dried to 'yellowcake', which is more than 80% uranium oxide. Iran has mastered this process.

* 3. Conversion: Yellowcake is processed into a gas, uranium hexafluoride. Iran's conversion plant is at Isfahan.

* 4. Enrichment: Uranium hexafluoride can be fed into centrifuges which separate out the most fissile uranium isotope U-235. Low enriched uranium for civilian reactors has a 3%-4% concentration of U-235. 'Weapons-grade' uranium is 90% enriched.

* 5. Fuel fabrication: The uranium hexafluoride can be converted back to uranium oxide, which is pressed and baked into pellets. The pellets are put in metal rods, which are used in a reactor. Iran has yet to master this stage.

* 6. Reactor: The fission of U-235 produces energy which heats water into steam that drives turbines. Iran has a research reactor in Tehran and an industrial-scale one at Bushehr.

* 7. Reprocessing: Uranium and plutonium can be removed from the spent fuel, and reused. The plutonium can also be used to make weapons.

'Iran to 'Filter' Out Inspectors Spying on Its Nuclear Program'

Tehran Times | Dec 6

Majlis National Security and Foreign Policy Committee Chairman Alaeddin Boroujerdi has said that the inspectors of the International Atomic Energy Organization will go through a more rigorous process of selection before being granted admission to Iran's nuclear facilities in order to prevent spying.

"The inspections of our country's nuclear facilities by the IAEA (inspectors) will continue, (but) to prevent issues such as spying, the inspectors should go through tougher filters," Boroujerdi told the ISNA news agency on Sunday in response to the recent intelligence reports that there have been some spies among the IAEA inspectors who have visited Iran.

"The inspectors have breached the law for several times. This is an important issue...so from now on we will be more careful about the selection of inspectors," he said.

Intelligence Minister Heydar Moslehi said on Saturday that some IAEA inspectors assigned to monitor Iran's nuclear facilities are the agents of the Western countries' intelligence services.

"The International Atomic Energy Agency should explain why it sends some spies of the Western intelligence services to Iran as experts," Moslehi said.

Iran has frequently expressed displeasure at the leakage of its nuclear information through the IAEA inspectors and has demanded that the IAEA meet its commitment to protect the member countries' nuclear information.



Choking Air Pollution in Tehran

Mehr | Dec 5

Despite all emergency measures adopted over the past days, such as closing schools, universities, and government offices as well as imposing special traffic restrictions, the choking air pollution problem has not yet resolved in the metropolis of Tehran. [Photographs by Mohamad-Reza Abassi]

Nightmarish Blanket of Brown Smog Continues to Choke Tehran

Los Angeles Times | Dec 4

On Saturday, normally the start of Tehran's busy week, officials shuttered all kindergartens and primary schools, according to media reports.

Officials have tried quick fixes. They imposed rules allowing cars to be driven only on alternating days; drivers with even- and odd-numbered license plates take turns. And about 88,000 fines of $13 each have been issued to violators. Already, only cars with special permits can drive into the center of Tehran.

The Tehran municipality has begun erecting oxygen tents in city squares for the elderly and even gasping police officers who must spend their days outdoors, according to the daily newspaper Aftab.

The newspaper said the shuttering of offices may or may not be reducing air pollution, but it's definitely hurting the economy -- to the tune of an estimated $350 million a day.

The daily newspaper Jomhouri Eslami quoted former lawmaker and economist Hadi Haqshenas (in Persian) as saying the pollution holidays have cost the country at least $1 billion.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is getting some of the blame. For months he's held up funds for expanding the Tehran subway system, in part, analysts say, because he doesn't want to boost the political prospects of one of his rivals, Tehran Mayor Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf.

Hamshahri, a newspaper close to Qalibaf, published a commentary Saturday blaming Ahmadinejad's government of failing to implement plans for electronic banking and governance that would reduce the motor vehicle traffic that is the greatest cause of pollution.

Pollution has also reached crisis levels in Esfahan, south of Tehran.

Planes to Spray Water Over Suffocating Tehran

Uskowi on Iran | Dec 6

Iran's Environment Protection Organization (IEPO) will start spraying water on Tehran, the suffocating capital of Iran, to dilute the city's air pollution that has reached alarming and dangerous levels in recent days. The worsening situation forced the closure of offices and schools in the last few days.

IEPO Director Mohammad Javad Mohammadizadeh told reporters in Tehran that 10 airplanes will sprinkle water over the city on Monday or Tuesday. He added that IEPO's researchers are trying to find ways to shake up the atmosphere to produce rain or create artificial wind corridors to blow the thick haze away [Fars News Agency, 6 December].

According to a research carried out by the IEPO and the Tehran Municipality, over 80 percent of the air pollution is due to the 3.5 million automobiles plying the almost permanently clogged streets in the Iranian capital [Press TV, 6 December].

The geographical location of Tehran, wedged between mountains, is also a contributing factor in the pollution's chronic choke of Tehran.

Iran Talks Start after Strong Rhetoric, Low Hopes

AP | Dec 6

Iran and six world powers began negotiations about the country's nuclear program Monday with low expectations, at odds on what to talk about and with tensions high over the assassination of one of Tehran's most prominent scientists.

The talks in Geneva -- the first in over a year -- are meant to ease concerns over Iran's nuclear agenda. Tehran says it does not want atomic arms, but as it builds on its capacity to make such weapons, neither Israel nor the U.S. have ruled out military action if Tehran fails to heed U.N. Security Council demands to freeze key nuclear programs.

The meeting formally began shortly after 10 a.m. (0900 GMT) after limousines brought participants to a conference center near the Swiss mission to the United Nations in Geneva.

The delegations of Iran, the European Union, the United States, Russia, Britain, France and Germany hurried inside to escape pouring rain, and EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton met Saeed Jalili, Iran's chief negotiator, in the foyer of the conference room.

Despite the friendly atmosphere, expectations were low.

"Don't expect much of anything," a chief negotiator from one of the six powers inside the meeting told a reporter shortly before the talks convened.

Canadian Resident Sentenced to Death in Iran, Supporters Allege Abuse

CP (via Winnipeg Free Press) | Dec 6

An Iranian-born Canadian man has been sentenced to death in Tehran in a case his supporters say is rife with torture and human rights abuses.

A website run by those campaigning for Saeed Malekpour's release from an Iranian prison says the 35-year-old was sentenced to death Saturday.

Malekpour's supporters say an Iranian judge told his lawyer the death sentence was not his decision but one made by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard.

Malekpour is a website developer who became a permanent Canadian resident in 2004.

His supporters, including his wife who now lives in Richmond Hill, Ont., say he was arrested in Iran in October 2008 after a trip to visit his ailing father.

He has been held in Tehran's Evin Prison in relation to a case of "Internet offences" linked to a program he made for what turned out to be an adult website.

The charges against him include "taking action against national security by designing and moderating adult content websites," "agitation against the regime" and "insulting the sanctity of Islam." His supporters say Malekpour wasn't aware the program he made would be used for an adult website.

Malekpour wrote an open letter to Iranian officials in March this year alleging forced confessions, torture which includes lashings, and physical abuse resulting in broken teeth and bodily infections.

"Most of the time, the tortures were performed by a group," he wrote. "While I remained blindfolded and handcuffed, several individuals armed with cables, batons, and their fists struck and punched me."

Malekpour said his mistreatment was aimed at forcing him to admit to a false confession before a camera, based on scenarios his interrogators were dictating

How the US Aims to Reduce Iran's Oil-Barter Power

Telegraph | Dec 6

When talk of Iran's nuclear ambition is on the table, the words oil and gas are never far behind.

And sure enough, last week's explosive Wikileaks cables show that US diplomats are deeply concerned about Iran's role in the world energy market. Equally, they confirm the country's paranoia that the West is intent on sapping its huge reserves.

"Even if Iran compromises on the nuclear issue, the United States would always find another reason to criticize because they hate us -- all the United States wants is to conquer the entire region and steal the oil."

According to the intelligence documents, this is what Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei told the Kazakh president, who later recounted his meeting to the Americans.

General David Petraeus, former commander of the Gulf surge, responded to the slight by interjecting: "We could have bought all the oil in the region for 100 years for what we've spent in Iraq!"

However, the Wikileaks cables do not prove that America is out to get Iranian oil.

In the short term, America is apparently desperate to do the exact opposite, wean the world off its supply.

This emerges most strongly in the plots to stop China using petroleum exported by the world's fourth largest producer.

Iran is sitting on 137bn barrels of oil. It now produces less than it did in the 1970s, but it is still a major exporter, sending out 3.8m barrels per day to countries such as China, Japan, Brazil and Turkey. Throughout the documents, there are repeated conversations about pressuring China to stop co-operating with Iran.

In a February briefing note for the US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, diplomats wrote: "Saudi Arabia has told the Chinese that it is willing to effectively trade a guaranteed oil supply in return for Chinese pressure on Iran not to develop nuclear weapons."

There is also agitation on this front from Bahrain. Its Crown prince "lamented that Gulf countries had few levers on China. He thought that if Saudi Arabia were to sell more oil to China, it would help provide some leverage."

However, erasing Iranian oil from the world stage is easier said than done, according to the experts. No other country can suddenly turn on enough new wells to replace its output and China needs all the barrels it can get.

Iran Overture Gets Wary Gulf Arab Response

Reuters | Dec 6

In the run-up to its talks with world powers on Monday, Iran extended an olive branch to Gulf Arab states who share Western concerns about its nuclear aspirations.

The initiative fizzled: Iran's neighbours -- global energy suppliers whose shipments would be disrupted in the event of any conflict -- reacted with a mixture of suspicion and resignation.

Traditional rivals of Tehran, Gulf Arab states have yet to develop a coherent strategy of their own to counter Iran's rising influence across the Middle East, and must rely on a U.S. ally they say is not fully attuned to their concerns.

It's a dilemma Iran did its best to highlight at a Gulf security conference in Bahrain at the weekend.

"The era of the atomic bomb is over," Iranian Foreign Minister Manoucher Mottaki told Gulf Arab officials.

"What is the use of an atom bomb other than annihilation?"

Any Iranian hopes Mottaki's overture would put relations with Gulf Arab neighbours on an even keel proved misplaced.

"Iran is our neighbour, but at the same time Iran should be the one to make the first step to dissipate this fear we have of it," said former Saudi intelligence head Prince Turki al-Faisal.

A Gulf Arab academic who declined to be identified described Mottaki's remarks as words purely for external consumption. He said they stood in contrast to sentiment among hardliners in Tehran that saw conservative Gulf Arab rulers as stooges of America.

Lebanon Told Allies of Hezbollah's Secret Network, WikiLeaks Shows

Guardian | Dec 5

Lebanon's western-backed government warned its friends that "Iran telecom" was taking over the country two years ago when it uncovered a secret communications network across the country used by Hezbollah, according to a US state department cable.

The discovery in April 2008 came against a background of mounting tensions between the Beirut government and the Iranian-backed Shia organisation, which escalated into street fighting in the capital just weeks later.

Marwan Hamadeh, the Lebanese minister of communications [...] told the Americans that the network ran from Beirut, into the south below the Litani river and back up through the Bekaa valley to the far north, covering Palestinian camps, Hezbollah training camps and penetrating deep into Christian areas. He cited the Iranian Fund for the Reconstruction of Lebanon as the source of the funding. This group had been rebuilding roads and bridges since the 2006 war and had been accused of installing telecommunications lines in parallel with new roads.

Other leaked US cables underline the nervousness of the Lebanese government over the fibre-optics affair: "A...public accusation against Hezbollah would beg the same question as to why the government of Lebanon did not remove Hezbollah's tanks, and entailed military risks for the government," the embassy reported later.

"Hamadeh highlights the system as a strategic victory for Iran since it creates an important Iranian outpost in Lebanon, bypassing Syria," Washington was told. "He sees the value for the Iranians as strategic, rather than technical or economic. The value for Hizballah is the final step in creating a nation state. Hizballah now has an army and weapons; a television station; an education system; hospitals; social services; a financial system; and a telecommunications system."

Hamadeh has described the US cable quoting him as "a story full of slanders and fabrications" and declined to comment further to Lebanese media.

Iran to Supply Gas to Cuba

Cuba Standard | Dec 5

Iran will export liquefied natural gas to Cuba, Iran's Mehr news agency reported, citing the managing director of Iran's LNG Company.

Under a letter of intent recently signed with Venezuela, Iran will supply gas also to Argentina. Venezuela has long-term agreements to supply both Latin American countries with natural gas beginning in 2013, according to Mehr.

Iran already produces considerable amounts of gas and has completed 40 percent of an LNG plant, while Venezuela is in the process of ramping up its gas production and planning to build a 5.4-million ton LNG plant, with Iranian help.

Crackdown on Sunni Clerics in Iran's Southeast

IWPR | Dec 3

The leaders of Shia-majority Iran are growing increasingly impatient with the Sunni clergy in the southeastern province of Sistan-Baluchestan. The shift in official mood appears to reflect falling confidence in once-favoured Muslim leaders, in a region where the government worries about Sunni fundamentalism and separatism.

In October, two son-in-laws of Maulana Abdulhamid Esmail-Zehi, the most prominent Sunni cleric in Iran, Abdulalim Shahbakhsh and Hafez Esmail Molla-Zehi, were arrested.

Fars News Agency, which is affiliated to Iran's Revolution Guards, said Shahbakhsh was accused of being in contact with "foreign elements".

Shahbakh's passport had been already been confiscated, after he returned from an Islamic conference in Turkey in July. Maulana Abdulhamid's passport was seized after he came back from the same event, and he was barred from going to a conference in Saudi Arabia.

The authorities have also seized the passports of other prominent Sunni clerics of Baluchi origin such as Maulana Abdulghani Badri, director of education at the Makki seminary in Zahedan, and Maulana Osman Ghalandar-Zehi, director of Madinat ul-Ulum, an Islamic school in the town of Khash.

The arrest of Maulana Abdulhamid's son-in-laws is perplexing, as he has always been seen as a moderate who spoke out against attacks committed by Jundullah, a Baluchi insurgent group that Tehran says has links to Al-Qaeda.

Iran to Set Up Intl. Insurance Firm

Mehr | Dec 5

The finance and economic affairs ministry of Iran has issued an order for setting up an international insurance company aiming to overcome global sanctions in this field, the managing director of Iran Insurance Company said here on Sunday.

Javad Sahamian-Moqaddam added that legal and individual entities which are interested in playing a role in Iran's economy are permitted to have a share in the company.

On 26 July, the European Union imposed sanctions on Iran, hitting the energy, transport, finance and insurance sectors, as well as expanding the number of "listed" individuals and entities with whom commercial dealings are prohibited.

Ahmadinejad Nod Fuels Talk of Maradona Coaching Iran

Mehr | Dec 6

It takes little to fuel speculation about the career of Argentine soccer great Diego Maradona but one nod from President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was enough for a newspaper to report he is line to coach Iran.

"President Ahmadinejad: Maradona might be head coach of the national team," read the headline splashed across the front page of Iranian daily Ebtekar on Monday, along with a large photograph of the World Cup winner.

Rumours have swirled in recent months of Maradona, who took Argentina to the quarter finals of this year's World Cup, taking charge of an Iran side which last qualified for the tournament in 2006.

At a ceremony held to honour medal winners from the recent Asian Games in China, Ahmadinejad confirmed that Maradona was due to visit the Islamic Republic at some time in the future.

"When asked about reports of Maradona becoming Iran's new head coach, he nodded his head," the newspaper reported.


WikiLeaks Promoting Iranophobia

Tehran Times Editorial | Dec 6

Last week WikiLeaks released several classified cables, raising issues which caused controversies around the world.

What are the objectives behind raising such issues and why is there so much media hype about these cables?

First of all, the West seeks to provoke Iranophobia in the region by raising concerns about Iran's nuclear program and defensive missile capabilities.

After WikiLeaks claimed that certain Arab states are concerned about Iran's nuclear program and have urged the U.S. to take action to contain Iran, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton took advantage of the issue and said that the released cables showed U.S. concerns regarding Iran's nuclear program are shared by the international community.

In addition, the allegations that missiles were sold to Iran that give it the ability to target Western Europe and Russia could cause concern for these countries.

And it seems that Western media outlets seek to sow seeds of discord between Iran and its neighbors.

Each time that WikiLeaks has made unfounded claims about Iran, Western media outlets have created a brouhaha and played up the issue, with the aim of undermining Iran's relations with Russia, neighboring Arab states, Azerbaijan, and other regional countries.

Also, the claim about a missile sale to Iran seems to be meant to cast doubt on Iran's capability to manufacture the missiles it needs to defend itself.

The claim that Iran has obtained long-range missiles from North Korea came shortly after Iran displayed its military and missile capabilities in war games in November.

As the final point, it should be mentioned that there is a plausible hypothesis about the disclosure of classified U.S. documents by WikiLeaks, namely that the U.S. government itself is behind the release of the cables.

A number of the documents target the United States' rivals, such as Iran, China, and Russia, and this supports the abovementioned hypothesis.

Iran and the Bomb

Hendrik Hertzberg (New Yorker) | Dec 13 [Dec 6]

Before and after he was elected, Barack Obama said that a nuclear-armed Iran would be "unacceptable," and for good reasons. Iran's authoritarian government is an opaque, brutal theocracy with a long record of aiding terrorism. The fanatical, ignorant, fraudulently elected President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is a Holocaust denier who talks about erasing the Jewish state -- a vile pairing, with historical resonances that frighten many Israelis, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who calls the prospect of an Iranian bomb an existential threat. It is true that Iran's actual behavior has been cautious. There is no evidence that Ayatollah Khamenei, Ahmadinejad's superior and the Islamic Republic's "Supreme Leader" in fact as well as in name, would provoke the annihilation of everything Iranian -- the cities, the people, the future, and, of course, the regime -- by launching a nuclear attack, directly or by terrorist proxy, on a country that is known to possess a large nuclear arsenal, and an ability to use it in a second strike. But the consequences of the mere existence of an Iranian bomb would be devastating all the same -- and not just for Israel, whose enemies would be emboldened, whose mystique of invincibility would be shattered, and whose people would live under a new and newly demoralizing pall of fear. America's freedom of action in the region would diminish as sharply as Iran's would grow. Worst of all, we might be unable to prevent Arab governments like those of Egypt and Saudi Arabia from pursuing their own nuclear "programs." The prospect of a nuclear arms race in the world's most volatile region would be an unparalleled nightmare.

All that is indeed unacceptable. But if diplomacy and pressure fail, and if an Iranian bomb is built or advances to the very threshold, the supposed remedy of a "military solution" would be more unacceptable still. A bombing attack on Iran's far-flung, fortified nuclear facilities -- and it would matter little whether the attacker was Israel or the United States -- would not be a surgical operation that ended with the patient stitched up in the recovery room, promising the doctor to change his unhealthy habits. It would be the start of a war of unknown duration and immense human, material, and political cost. In return for merely postponing Iran's acquisition of nuclear weapons (for two or three years, in the estimate of Secretary of Defense Robert Gates), it would change the Iranian public's attitude toward the ruling mullahs (and their nuclear ambitions) from unhappy resignation to inflamed support. It would provoke extreme violence, even a bloody region-wide conflict. Islamist terrorism would spike; so would the price of oil, with catastrophic consequences for the already ailing economies of the West. Israel's isolation would deepen, and its relations with the rest of the world, the United States included, would be strained to the point of rupture. In the past decade, we have been drawn into two wars on Muslim soil. Both began with promises of quick and nearly bloodless (for us) "victory." Neither has ended. We cannot afford a third.

Perhaps, against the odds, Obama's two tracks will lead somewhere, and the Islamic Republic will forgo the mushroom cloud in favor of the vine and the fig tree -- watered, of course, by peaceful, internationally inspected nuclear power. More likely, in the near term (and, one devoutly hopes, more likely than either of the unacceptables), is a continuation of the present anxious standoff, a miniature Cold War that alternates between periods of greater and lesser tension--a diplomatic version of Zeno's Paradox, with Iran edging ever closer to a bomb but never quite building and testing one. The regime that oppresses Iran thrives on anti-Americanism, grievance, and paranoia, and would be loath to give them up. But Iran itself is an enduring civilization of enormous positive potential, with an educated populace, a strong middle class, and a substantial, if for the time being quiescent, political opposition. One day, sooner or later, the mullahs will be gone, and it is only the people of Iran who can send them packing. But in order for that day to come the United States may need to exhibit -- and induce Israel to exhibit -- the kind of steady vigilance, strategic patience, and stomach for twilight uncertainty that allowed the full-sized Cold War, and, with it, a secular form of Manichaean ideology, to die a natural death.

Israel on Iran: So Wrong for So Long

Justin Elliott (Salon) | Dec 5

Officials at the U.S. Department of State, we learned from the secret cables released by WikiLeaks last week, have serious questions about the accuracy -- and sincerity -- of Israeli predictions about when Iran will obtain a nuclear weapon. As one State official wrote in response to an Israeli general's November 2009 claim that Iran would have a bomb in one year: "It is unclear if the Israelis firmly believe this or are using worst-case estimates to raise greater urgency from the United States."

So we thought this was as good a time as any to look at the remarkable history of incorrect Israeli predictions about Iran -- especially given that the WikiLeaks trove is being used to argue that an attack on Iran is becoming more likely.

According to various Israeli government predictions over the years, Iran was going to have a bomb by the mid-90s -- or 1998, 1999, 2000, 2004, 2005, and finally 2010. More recent Israeli predictions have put that date at 2011 or 2014.

None of this is to say that Iran will not at some point get a nuclear weapon -- though the Iranian government has maintained that its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes. That said, Iran has not fully cooperated with international inspectors. But even assuming that Iran is seeking a nuclear weapon, estimates still vary widely on when it will reach that goal.

So what the below timeline [see article on Salon] should show us is a few things: making accurate predictions about the future is difficult; the Israelis are almost certainly not always offering good-faith assessments of intelligence on Iran; and reporters and the public should demand evidence for assertions about an Iranian nuclear program, whomever the source.

Why Iran Loves WikiLeaks

Chas Freeman, Former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Defense and Ambassador to Saudi Arabia (New York Times) | Dec 4

THE editor of WikiLeaks, Julian Assange, has much in common with the anarchists of the early 20th century: he aims to disrupt the established order by impairing its alliances and violating its proprieties. With the release of a quarter-million documents written by American diplomats at home and abroad, many of them shockingly candid, he has gone some distance toward accomplishing this. Take the Middle East, for example.

Most striking were the leaks regarding Arab concerns about Iran's aspirations for regional hegemony and its nuclear programs. According to the documents, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia exhorted the United States to cripple Iran's nuclear programs with air strikes, urging us to "cut off the head of the snake." While some hard-line analysts and pundits are relieved to find the Arabs "on our side" and feel that this disclosure will help us form a stronger alliance against Tehran, it's more likely that the leaks will simply raise Iran's prestige by adding to the persistent overestimation of its influence and abilities.

More troubling, the leaks will reduce the candor of American dialogue in the region and elsewhere. Arab leaders in particular will now think twice before either speaking honestly or telling American visitors or diplomats what Washington wants to hear.

Yes, Israelis fear that Iran might gratuitously attempt another Holocaust by attacking them. But the leaked documents also show that one of the main worries Israel has about Iran's nuclear ambitions is that it could lose its regional monopoly on nuclear weapons, limiting their leverage on a whole range of issues. One doubts the Gulf Arabs share that concern.

In the end, contrary to the hopes and fears of some, the leaks do not make war with Iran more likely or demonstrate a basis for Arab-Israeli solidarity against Tehran. Mr. Assange's grand accomplishment will be nothing more than to make it far harder for American diplomats to get candid answers from their Gulf Arab and Israeli counterparts.

WikiLeaks Paints More Nuanced Picture of Iran Entering Nuclear Talks

Alex Johnson (MSNBC) | Dec 3

Classified U.S. diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks suggest that Iran goes into next week's nuclear talks with few remaining allies, increasingly isolated not only from the United States and Europe but also from most of its Muslim neighbors in the Middle East.

Other documents suggest that the United States and its allies could use divisions in Tehran to maneuver Ahmadinejad into agreeing to limit his nuclear ambitions. Middle East sources quoted in the cables said that regardless of what it may say in public, Iran's religious leadership pays attention to opinion in the rest of the Arab world and may be increasingly disenchanted with Ahmadinejad, partly because of international condemnation of the June 2009 elections that kept him in power.

Shortly after the vote, Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora told Gen. David Petraeus, head of U.S. Central Command, that the disputed election and the protests that followed it had revealed "definite cracks in the Iranian system" that "should be exploited," the U.S. Embassy reported in a July 20, 2009, cable classified "confidential."

Eight months later, President Ilham Aliyev of Azerbaijan -- Iran's northern neighbor -- was still smoldering over "outrageous" corruption in the election, the U.S. Embassy in Baku reported in a "confidential" cable recapping Aliyev's meeting with Undersecretary of State William J. Burns.

"He viewed the situation as very tense within Iran and believed it could erupt at any time," the cable said.

The assessments mirror those of numerous Arab commentators and scholars surveyed after the Iranian campaign by diplomats monitoring Iran from Dubai. In an Aug. 3, 2009, cable classified "secret/noforn," the diplomats reported that "for the very first time," Arab commentators had been emboldened by the election protests to speak out against Ahmadinejad, who they said had "lost standing among some moderate Arabs, who have come to view Ahmadinejad's administration as oppressive, unpopular and undemocratic."

The backlash against the elections "poked a hole in the veneer of the Islamic Republic's internal political system and explored its underpinnings more closely, often challenging the system's very legitimacy," the cable said.

Tehran's Pollution Menace, Déjà Vu All Over Again

Salman Ansari Javid (Tehran Times) | Dec 6

Twelve years ago I returned to Tehran after a long extended trip abroad. I was surprised to see people walking in masks on the streets of Tehran. At that point plans for the inauguration of the Tehran Metro along with introduction of Bus Rapid Transportation (BRT) system were being finalized and despite the smog there was hope in the air.

More than a decade later, after the implementation of these plans, Tehran's traffic remains a nightmare and its pollution levels dangerously high. As a result until recently elementary schools remain closed and many government offices and banks were running on skeleton staff.

The effects of the pollution choked the capital's economy. Critics say that every such holiday costs the country $130 million.

Retail private businesses will be the first to point that out. "There is no point of going to work these days. Sales are down 100%," pointed out a clothing retailer H. Mohammadi who had abandoned his shop and was sitting in a sauna.

Retail business was already in a downhill direction before the pollution menace hit Tehran. As people prepared to see the impact of the subsidy reform plans many hesitated to shop. A lower demand should push the prices down in ordinary circumstance. But Mohammadi tends to disagree: "When the price of raw materials and labor cost go up how can I decrease the prices?"

"I am not planning to make any drastic measures, not until Nowruz (March 2011). If things remain like this I will have to make some U-turns," comments the businessman and asks: "Which husband will bring his wife to buy a manteau in this smog?"


Punishing Stars: Systematic Discrimination and Exclusion in Iranian Higher Education

Report by International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran (ICHRI) | Dec 4

Executive Summary

Soon after Mahmoud Ahmadinejad became President of the Islamic Republic of Iran in 2005, the term "starred students" entered Iranian discourse on higher education. Starring became synonymous with a mechanism for discrimination against, and exclusion of, students from higher education based solely on their political beliefs, the exercise of their freedom of expression, and in the case of Baha'i students, their religious beliefs.

Authorities under Ahmadinejad's administration, tasked with managing the country's institutions of higher education and relevant admissions processes, began to flag the academic records of student activists and government critics, as well as Baha'i students, with one to three "stars." These stars denote the barring of an applicant from gaining admission to bachelor degree programs or from continuing their education in graduate programs. In some cases, authorities have refused to release the results of applicant test scores altogether.

The Ministry of Intelligence has played a prominent role in this process, underscoring the politicization of student selection and enrollment. Generally, the Ministry of Intelligence is engaged in monitoring and detaining critics and dissidents throughout the country. By increasingly using university admissions and disciplinary mechanisms to bar targeted students, the Ministry has expanded its reach into academic environments.

Ministry of Intelligence agents used threats, intimidation, and even detention to silence students who attempted to seek accountability and legal justification for their deprivation from higher education.

The starring process constitutes a systematic violation of the rights to expression, assembly, and conscience. It represents a form of religious persecution and a serious breach of the right to education.

During the past five years, hundreds of students have been barred from higher education through this process. The International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran interviewed 27 students barred from higher education. Additionally, the Campaign compiled a list of 217 students who were denied their right to education. The true numbers are believed to be much higher, as many targeted students have preferred to remain silent and not make their case public, fearing further persecution and prosecution, or hoping that they can reverse their education bans by giving written guarantees to cease future activism.

Starring and excluding students from higher education has had nothing to do with academic performance or rankings in highly competitive entrance examinations to bachelor and graduate programs. Indeed, in all cases reviewed in this report, students ranked high enough on entrance exams to gain admission. Nonetheless these candidates faced systematic, politically motivated discrimination and exclusion.

In tandem with discriminatory enrollment policies, authorities also extensively relied on Disciplinary Committees in universities to summon and suspend students already enrolled in programs of higher education based on their social and political activism, involvement in student publications, and participation in student associations. Repeated suspensions through this mechanism have also resulted in effectively denying the rights of targeted students to complete and continue their studies.

An Injury to One Is an Injury to All

Statement by Haft Tapeh Sugar Company Union (Iran Labor Report) | Dec 4

The following is the statement released by the Haft Tapeh Sugar Union on the recent ruling for the arrest of their leader, Reza Rakhshan.

In the end, Reza Rakhshan, the head of our syndicate, has also been sentenced by (city of) Ahvaz Appeals Court to six months in jail for alleged "propagation of lies". This ruling was passed while Reza Rakhshan was acquitted of the charges of "propagation of lies" and "inflaming the public" in a lower court and released on a $30,000 bail.

He has been sentenced for "propagation of lies" at a time when the executive board of the syndicate together with their families had, in a joint letter addressed to the appeals court, declared the infractions attributed to Reza Rakhshan to be in full accord with his union responsibilities. They had emphasized that none of his activities- including writing the text "We Are One Family" which is now used as material evidences against him- must be seen as actions of one individual; that he bears no personal responsibility for them.

Nevertheless, the Ahvaz appeals court, disregarding all evidence and testimonies, has actually added new charges to the old one, sentencing him to six months in jail for "propagation of lies".

It is noteworthy that under present judicial rules, the charges of "propagation of lies" can only be upheld in the judiciary's courts when there is actually a private plaintiff present. [Article 698 of the Islamic Criminal Code on propagation of lies and inflaming public sensibilities is about the foregoing. At the same time as described by article 727 of the Criminal Court, this charge cannot be prosecuted unless a private plaintiff exists on the case.] In the case of Reza Rakhshan no private plaintiff has been produced.

Reza Rakhshan is the second head of the (Haft Tapeh) executive board, after Ali Nejati, to be sentenced to jail. Earlier, other board members such as Fereidoun Nikoufard, Ghorban Alipour, Mohammad Heidarimehr, and Jalil Ahmadi also served six months in jail for their union activities.

We consider this ruling to be extremely harsh and unjust and insist once again on our lawful rights to defend our livelihood and that of our families and to defend the legal rights of the Haft Tapeh workers.

Haft Tapeh Syndicate is the elected organization of the Haft Tapeh Sugar Cane Company workers and finds itself duty-bound to advance the tasks for which it has been called on.

'Majles Speaker Larijani Was Aware of the Rapes of Election-Related Prisoners'

Cable from U.S. Mission in Vienna, to the Office of the U.S. Secretary of State (Wikileaks) | Dec 9, 2009

1. Summary. On December 3, former Austrian Ambassador to Tehran Michael Postl (please protect) debriefed MsnOff [U.S. Mission officer] on his final calls on Iranian officials as he left post. He noted that former Presidents Khatami and Rafsanjani both had extracted themselves from the normal political scene and were focused on tangential issues where their weight could still be felt. Nevertheless, Rafsanjani suggested that it would be helpful if the West spoke out against the election fraud and human rights violations that followed.

2. Postl said that President Ahmadinejad's chief of cabinet, Mashaie, made clear to him prior to the Geneva talks that Iran was planning to approach the talks with a spirit of compromise and that Postl would be "surprised" by Iran's attitude. Postl explained the lack of follow-through in the wake of the talks as a probable decision by Supreme Leader Khamenei that the West was not trustworthy or that Iran could get more from the P5 plus 1 than the six offered in Geneva. Majles Speaker Larijani's outspoken disapproval of the Tehran Research Reactor deal advocated by Ahmadinejad could have been an exercise of Larijani's first opportunity to undermine Ahmadinejad after he was pressured to disavow himself of knowledge that Iranian prisoners were being raped in jail, which lost him credibility with the Iranian public. Finally, Postl argued that the U.S. should focus its outreach to Iran on formats that Iranians perceive are less biased, such as BBC Persian's version of Hardtalk or Press TV. End Summary.

3. On December 3, former Austrian Ambassador to Tehran Michael Postl gave MsnOff a readout of the state of domestic political wranglings in Tehran prior to his departure from post in October. Now posted in Vienna, Postl noted that he still advises the Austrian government on Iran issues and that he was recently asked to see if his contacts in Iran would meet with him even though he had departed post. Many said that they would, so he may be asked by the Austrian Foreign Ministry to return to Iran periodically to make use of the excellent contacts he was afforded given his Farsi skills and native Iranian wife.

4.Postl recounted his final calls on contacts in Iran before leaving post, noting that many who had refused meetings with him after the elections were now willing to meet him. When he met with former President Khatami, Khatami noted that because of the post-election environment, it did not make sense to talk about politics. Postl suggested that they discuss the possibility of Khatami pursuing a dialogue of civilizations or religions that might give him an opening to the West. Khatami noted that he did want to focus more on that kind of dialogue and engagement and that he might come to Austria next year in pursuit of such discussions.

Final Calls Reveal Disillusionment with the Possibilities for Change

5. Postl noted that in his final calls, he sought out a meeting with the new health minister, Marzieh Vahid Dastjerdi since he was interested in meeting the Islamic Republic's first female minister. Postl described her as "sort of a puppet" and very insecure despite her good credentials for the job. She is a member of the Larijani family, giving this influential clan placement in the executive branch, in addition to the leverage they hold through the key posts of Ali Larijani as Majles Speaker and Javad Larijani as head of the Judiciary. In their meeting, Dastjerdi and Postl discussed possible cooperation between Iran and Austria in hospitals, training, and person-to-person contacts in the medical field.

6. Postl also called on the powerful new chief of President Ahmadinejad's cabinet, Mashaie. Postl said that many believed that Mashaie's rejection for a vice presidential post showed that there were disagreements between Ahmadinejad and the Supreme Leader, but the fact that he was given the slot as head of the cabinet means that Khamenei must not be fundamentally opposed to him. Postl was candid with Mashaie, noting that although the Iranian elections were an internal matter, the treatment of civilians in the aftermath of the elections was wrong by any calculation. Postl assessed that using Farsi instead of English made a difference in the reaction he received to this candor, and Mashaie said that he would be pleased to meet with Postl again if he were in Iran.

7. In what Postl believes was the first meeting former President Rafsanjani had granted to a Westerner -- and perhaps the first meeting with a foreigner -- since the elections, the two discussed economic cooperation, which Rafsanjani said was his primary focus. They avoided the topics of the election and the nuclear issue, especially given the presence of 10 to 15 "watchers" from different veins of the Iranian government. Rafsanjani was very interested in non-nuclear energy cooperation and asked very detailed questions about wind energy, which Postl said Austria would be able to help with. Rafsanjani also discussed his sense of how the Iranian government could evolve, arguing that change must come from within Iran and that interference from foreigners was not welcome in most circumstances. Nevertheless, Rafsanjani believed that the best help possible from foreigners would be to say that the elections were not fair and to note the human rights violations in the aftermath, though he was not specific about what he thought the influence of such statements would be. Postl noted that recent months clearly had been hard on Rafsanjani; he looked pale and had lost a lot of weight, but his eyes were still "active," according to Postl.

8. Postl described the positions of presidential candidates Karrubi and Musavi as children of the revolution and argued that neither of them wants systemic change. Rather, they hoped to give Iran a "human face." Since the "population of Iran," according to Postl, opposes the Islamic system, the people are not very strongly behind either of these candidates. In closing out his comments on his final meetings in Tehran, Postl noted that after he departed post, his contacts were questioned thoroughly and aggressively, which Postl described as a reality of life in Iran and contact with a Westerner.

Infighting and Confusion Driving the Nuclear Issue

9. In his discussions at the end of September with Mashaie, Postl encouraged him to ensure that Iran did not "miss the opportunity" presented by the talks in Geneva. Mashaie responded that Iran would be "sure to take" advantage of this opportunity and told Postl that Postl would be surprised at Iran's approach, that Iran would come with seriousness and an attitude of compromise. Postl's assessment is that Iran decided that this was the right time to show flexibility in order to get an agreement, especially since Ahmadinejad wants to claim responsibility for an agreement with the West. Postl believes that Nuclear Negotiator Jalili came to Geneva with this spirit of compromise and was following direction, presumably from Ahmadinejad. Iran's failure to follow through on these agreements may have been due to a decision by Khamenei either that the West was not trustworthy despite Iran's supposed good intentions or that Iran could get more from the West or P5 plus 1 than was offered in Geneva. Despite the fact that people close to the President say he wants "more," the system gets in the way as do Ahmadinejad's bad advisers. Postl's interlocutors say that if Ahmadinejad alone were to decide about engagement with the West, "things would move more quickly." Postl noted that Khamenei is still respected in Iran and, in his personal opinion, there is no essential divergence between the Supreme Leader and Ahmadinejad. On issues where the Supreme Leader's opinions were clear, Postl argued that other influential Iranians would not "touch on issues," even to undercut Ahmadinejad. The only way to challenge these leaders was to focus on "unjust" or un-Islamic behavior.

10. Postl said that Majles Speaker Larijani probably was not in favor of the Tehran Research Reactor (TRR) deal, but when MsnOff questioned whether he really opposed the deal or was responding to the fact that Ahmadinejad came out in favor of the deal, Postl recounted another possibility tied to the post-election environment. Postl noted that he had asked someone close to Larijani whether he was aware of the rapes of election-related prisoners. The interlocutors said that not only was Larijani aware, but all officials were aware of what was going on inside the prison. Nevertheless, when Larijani spoke publicly about the issue, he stated clearly that the rapes are not occurring and thus lost some credibility with the Iranian public. To have not given a more ambiguous response, such as that he would look into the situation, Larijani must have been under strong pressure from above, in Postl's estimation. Given the clarity that what Ahmadinejad had done after the election was wrong and Larijani's distaste for Ahmadinejad, the TRR proposal may have been Larijani's first opportunity to strike back at Ahmadinejad.

11. Postl also noted that Iran probably has whiplash from the international community's response to the Fordow Fuel Enrichment Plant (FFEP), which will complicate our efforts to press Iran into compliance with its obligations. Although IAEA Director General ElBaradei said after the first inspection of the FFEP that it was nothing more than "a hole in a mountain," the IAEA Board of Governors passed a resolution against Iran, citing the FFEP as one of its main points (ref A). Postl argued that this probably leads Iran to believe that the international community is not serious about the issue, and that, rather, this is "a game."

12. One of Postl's contacts close to the Supreme Leader pointed him to a Kayhan article from December 1, written by editor Shariatmadari, which espouses the views of Khamenei on the nuclear issue. The article argues that Iran has gotten nothing from cooperation and should withdraw from the NPT immediately. Since Khamenei has said that he is not opposed to an opening with the U.S., it becomes about Washington presenting the right arguments at the right time. However, Postl said that bringing up the issue of the detained Americans at Geneva probably fell flat with the Iranians. Iranian officials told Postl that they were surprised that American officials raised this issue at those talks. This was the wrong time to bring up this issue, Postl argued, since these issues are not connected in the minds of the Iranians. (We will explain to the Austrians why this issue is so important and resonates so much to the U.S.) Postl suggested that the UK model was better: when their sailors were captured, UK officials said that this issue had nothing to do with the political problems between the two countries. The dissociation of the issues worked in favor of getting the sailors released. Pressed on when might be such a right time to address the U.S. detainees, Postl suggested that one such way might have been to capitalize on the October 1 Geneva talks by following up quickly with a call from Under Secretary Burns to Jalili "in the spirit of Geneva." During that phone call, Burns could engage Jalili on the detainee issue as an aside. Postl also noted that some of his Iranian government contacts had noted with pleasure the appointment of Ambassador Limbert to deal with the Iranian file given his understanding of Iran.

Postl's Tehran Retrospective

13. Looking back on his tenure as Ambassador to Iran, Postl noted that the biggest "game changer" had been this past summer's presidential elections. The events were causing backlash from much of the population. Parents and grandparents were saying, according to Postl, that they do not want their children to be forced to experience the same Iran that they, themselves, have been living under for the last 30 years. For the first time, one can see "kill Khamenei" and "death to Khamenei" scrawled on walls in Tehran. These direct challenges to Khamenei's authority are new and significant. Additionally, Postl expects that the population was disillusioned by the overwhelming fraud in the elections and many will not vote in the future.

14. On engagement, Postl suggested that some ways forward for the U.S. and Iran might be to look into using a route from Chah Bahar, on Iran's southern coast, to get U.S. supplies into Afghanistan and using the assumption of office by new IAEA Director General Amano to press for "a new start" on the Additional Protocol and additional transparency measures discussions.

15. Postl reiterated his message that Iranian citizens see the Voice of America (VOA) as biased and asked that we not underestimate their frustration. If they see a pervasive media outlet as biased, this presents the U.S. in a negative light and works against U.S. messaging. He said that Iranians currently are faced with two biased choices: VOA and Iranian Broadcasting (IRIB). In response to a MsnOff question about how BBC Persian is perceived, he noted that it is seen as more neutral, but has the stigma of being associated with the UK. Postl floated the idea of U.S. support to Euro News to start broadcasting in Farsi. He also suggested that doing Hardtalk in Persian might be one of the best outlets for U.S. arguments since the format of pitting opposing viewpoints against one another would counteract the perception of bias, but suggested that if our arguments to the Iranian people are not convincing, this quickly would become clear. Finally, Postl noted that the U.S. should not shy away from interviews with Iranian media outlets, suggesting Press TV because it is in English and it is watched in Tehran. A program built around broadcasting the differing opinions of the U.S., India (because its opinion is well-respected given its influence as a leader in the Nonaligned Movement), and Iran might be a useful way to get our messages across while counteracting perceptions of bias.


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