Monday, June 06, 2011

EYE ON IRAN 06/06/11

Courtesy UANI
AFP: "The UN atomic watchdog opens a week-long meeting Monday, with the United States and its western allies looking to pass a resolution against Syria over its alleged illicit nuclear activity... But it will once again be the long-running investigations into illicit nuclear programmes in both Iran and Syria that will be the main focus of attention. While Iran has tended to be the dominant issue at board meetings in the past, Syria looks set to take the hot seat this time round after IAEA chief Yukiya Amano stated unequivocally for the first time his conviction that a remote desert site that was flattened by Israeli bombs in September 2007 was 'very likely' to have been an undeclared covert nuclear reactor... ran, too, will be in the spotlight after Amano, in his latest report, complained that the Islamic republic is continuing to stockpile low-enriched uranium, in defiance of multiple UN sanctions, and refusing to answer allegations of possible military dimensions to its contested nuclear programme. Iran responded at the end of last month, but diplomats who said they have seen the six-page reply said it contained nothing substantively new and, in the view of one diplomat, only confirmed that Tehran is 'unwilling to change course from its policy of non-cooperation.'"

AP: "Venezuela's relations with the U.S. are frozen and President Hugo Chavez's government sees no possibility of improving them after its state oil company was hit with sanctions by Washington, the country's top diplomat said Sunday. Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro said Venezuela had been trying to establish a dialogue with U.S. officials since Barack Obama assumed the presidency after George W. Bush, but those attempts were spurned... The U.S. imposed sanctions on PDVSA and six companies from other countries for doing business with Iran that helps finance the Iranian nuclear program. The State Department said PDVSA delivered at least two cargoes of refined petroleum products worth about $50 million to Iran between December and March. Venezuela's close ties with Iran have raised concerns among officials in Washington, who believe Iran is trying to build nuclear weapons. Iran says its program is meant only to generate electricity using nuclear reactors. Chavez has persistently defended Iran's nuclear energy program, saying it is for peaceful uses."

Daily Telegraph: "Senior Foreign Office sources said that there is 'credible information' that Tehran is providing riot control gear and paramilitary training to Syrian security forces. Moreover, members of Iran's Revolutionary Guard have been providing technical advice and equipment to forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad, the sources said. The accusation comes as the Assad regime's policy of shooting down protesters on the streets of Syria's major cities shows no sign of let-up. A Syrian human rights group said 38 people had been killed in the northern town of Jisr al-Shughour, 10 on Saturday and 28 on Sunday. With 65 people also reported killed in the town of Hama on Friday, the number of dead since the uprising began in March is now estimated at 1,200."

Nuclear Program & Sanctions

Bloomberg: "Iran's nuclear program is raising new concerns at the United Nations atomic agency after inspectors received information showing work on weapons may have gone on longer than suspected. The International Atomic Energy Agency 'received further information related to possible past or current undisclosed nuclear-related activities' that 'may have continued until recently,' Director General Yukiya Amano said today in a statement in Vienna. The IAEA's 35-member board convened for a one-week meeting. The agency, which has been investigating alleged Iranian nuclear-weapons work since 2003, is assessing new data it received on high-explosive, electronic and missile warheads, it said in a May 24 report. Amano sent a June 3 letter to Iranian Vice President Fereydoun Abbasi reiterating the IAEA's desire to gain access to suspected sites and speak with scientists."

YnetNews: "The Iranian regime is closer than ever before to creating a nuclear bomb, according to RAND Corporation researcher Gregory S. Jones. At its current rate of uranium enrichment, Tehran could have enough for its first bomb within eight weeks, Jones said in a report published this week. He added that despite reports of setbacks in its nuclear program, the Iranian regime is steadily progressing towards a bomb. Unfortunately, Jones says, there is nothing the US can do to stop Tehran, short of military occupation. The researcher based his report on recent findings by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), published two weeks ago. Making the bomb will take around two months, he says, because constructing a nuclear warhead is a complicated step in the process... According to Jones, Tehran has produced 38.3 kg of uranium enriched at 19.7%. If its centrifuges continue to work at the current capacity, it will take around two months for the Iranian regime to produce the 20 kg of uranium enriched to 90% required for the production of a nuclear warhead."

AP: "An Iranian man who lives near Philadelphia has been sentenced to nearly three years in prison for shipping banned products and equipment to his native country. A federal judge in Philadelphia on Friday sentenced 43-year-old Mohammad Reza Vaghari (vuh-GAIR'-ee) of Broomall to 33 months behind bars. Prosecutors say Vaghari and another man sent laboratory equipment, laptops and other products to Dubai, where co-conspirators forwarded them to Iran. Vaghari was convicted of conspiracy and other offenses in February for the scheme that authorities say ran from 2002 to 2005. Deportation proceedings will begin after he serves his time. Vaghari's attorney says he conceded the items were shipped to Dubai but denied they ever reached Iran."

JPost: "Defense Minister Ehud Barak criticized former Mossad chief Meir Dagan on Monday, saying his recommendation against attacking Iran was a serious offense, and could likely jeopardize Israel's deterrence capabilities, Army Radio reported. According to Barak, several options for action against Iran remain open, and Israel's discretion on the matter is key in maintaining optimum deterrence. The defense minister did tell Israel Radio, however, that Israel has made no decision to strike Iran or any of its nuclear reactors. Also on Monday, former Mossad chief Shabtai Shavit also spoke out against Dagan and former IDF chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi's statements."

NYDN: "A rug store owner convicted of violating the Iran Trade embargo was sentenced Friday to a relatively light 10 months in prison. Reza Safarha, 56, helped a government informant send nearly $300,000 of what he thought was stolen money to Iran. Safarha faced as much as 20 years in prison after he was convicted in a bench trial before Federal District Judge Richard Sullivan in February. Federal guidelines called for him to be sentenced to as much as eight years. But Sullivan noted that Safarha had no record, was not a terrorist, was far less culpable than others who had broken the embargo and had struggled to support his family since immigrating to the U.S. from Iran after the fall of the Shah."

Human Rights

AFP: "Iranian security forces on Saturday fired in the air to disperse several hundred people protesting against the death at her father's funeral of political and social activist Haleh Sahabi, witnesses said. The protesters had tried to gather to gather in silent groups outside the Hosseini Ershad mosque in northern Tehran, a traditional site for reformists in the Iranian regime, the witnesses told AFP. Security forces used batons and fired shots in the air to disperse them, and made around 15 arrests, they said. AFP was not able to confirm the information directly, as the foreign media are forbidden from covering opposition demonstrations in Iran. There had been calls on Facebook and several opposition websites for a protest at the mosque against the death of Sahabi, daughter of veteran opposition figure Ezatollah Sahabi."

AP: "Friends and colleagues of Josh Fattal gathered in Oregon at the weekend to celebrate his 29th birthday and mark his second one in prison in Iran. He is one of two young American hikers the Iranian government has been holding since July 2009 on espionage charges. Before he went hiking near the Iraq-Iran border, Fattal worked on sustainable farming practices at the Aprovecho Research Centre in Cottage Grove, south of Eugene. Fattal's brother Alex said about 40 friends gathered in Cottage Grove, at one point exchanging gifts that had relevance to his brother. The other hiker is Shane Bauer."

LAT: "During the nearly 14 months Sarah Shourd spent in an Iranian prison cell, she went on a hunger strike four times. It was the only way she had to protest her prolonged detention. On Friday, she fasted again, this time in solidarity with the two fellow UC Berkeley graduates left behind in Tehran's Evin Prison when she was freed in September on $500,000 bail: her fiance, Shane Bauer, and their friend Joshua Fattal. 'They have committed no crime,' Shourd said between media appearances in Los Angeles to promote their cause. 'They have done nothing wrong, and they don't deserve to be there a minute longer than I was.' Shourd and Bauer had been living in Damascus, Syria, for a year when Fattal came to visit them in July 2009. Shourd, 32, was teaching English to Iraqi and Palestinian refugees and Bauer, 28, was working as a photojournalist."

Domestic Politics

AFP: "Ruling conservatives in Iran kept up their criticism of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's inner circle on Monday, despite a plea for calm by all-powerful supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. In the latest broadside, Hojatoleslam Mojtaba Zolnour, Khamenei's deputy representative to the elite Revolutionary Guards, accused Ahmadinejad's entourage of seeking to weaken the foundations of the Islamic republic. 'The current of deviation seeks to weaken the foundations of the Islamic establishment... I believe this movement is the gravest danger in the history of Shiite Islam,' Mehr news agency quoted Zolnour as saying. 'Current of deviation' is a term coined by Ahmadinejad opponents to define an ideological movement they believe to be too liberal, nationalist and not nearly religious enough to coexist with the ruling conservatives in Iran. The conservatives accuse Esfandiar Rahim Mashaie, a close Ahmadinejad relative, confidant and chief of staff, of leading the movement. 'The head of this new sedition should be removed if the government wants to be clean... We hope this problem will be resolved, but it seems very unlikely such a thing will happen in the near future,' Zolnour was quoted as saying. On Saturday, on the 22nd anniversary of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's death, Ayatollah Khamenei called on the ruling conservatives to end the crisis, urging respect for diversity of political opinion within the regime."

Reuters: "Iran has yet to decide who will head its delegation at this week's meeting of OPEC oil producers, its OPEC governor was quoted as saying on Sunday by the Fars news agency. OPEC meets on Wednesday and may consider raising output to dampen prices but ahead of the meeting President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad sacked his oil minister, leaving a question mark over who would represent the group's second-largest producer nation. Iran's envoy to the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, Mohammad Ali Khatibi, told the semi-official Fars agency the decision had yet to be finalised. 'Because I was travelling abroad I do not have any information about the announcement of the new caretaker of the Oil Ministry,' Khatibi told Fars."

Foreign Affairs

WSJ: "Several Persian Gulf countries favor an increase in OPEC's oil output, setting the stage for a public fight with Iran when the group meets this week. The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries is scheduled to meet on Wednesday in Vienna... Iran's OPEC governor, Muhammad Ali Khatibi, said a move to boost output was 'difficult to understand' in light of high inventories and the recent drop in oil prices. 'We should respond based on facts and figures, not based on rumors or expectations from OPEC,' Mr. Khatibi said in a telephone interview."

AFP: "Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Friday repeated his assertion that there will be no tranquillity in the Middle East as long as Tehran's archfoe, Israel, continues to exist. 'As long as the Zionist regime exists, if only on a small piece of land in Palestine, the region will not see tranquillity' he said to a crowd gathered at the mausoleum of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini on the eve of the 22nd anniversary of the revolutionary leader's death. 'So all the people of the region shall move towards the disappearance of American domination in the region and the disappearance of the Zionist regime,' Ahmadinejad said in the speech, which was broadcast live on state radio. The hardliner has drawn international condemnation for his vitriolic attacks on the Jewish state and his dismissal of the Holocaust as a 'myth.'"

AP: "FIFA says its match officials were right to stop Iran's women's team from playing a 2012 Olympic qualifier wearing Islamic head scarves. Iranian officials were 'informed thoroughly' before Friday's match against Jordan that the hijab scarf covering a women's neck is banned for safety reasons, FIFA says. Iran's soccer association has said it will complain about the FIFA delegate from Bahrain who ordered the match abandoned. Jordanian officials accepted the rule and 'decided not to select a number of players,' FIFA says. FIFA banned the hijab in 2007 and has extended the safety rule to include neck warmers."

WashPost: "In honor of the two-year anniversary of the Iranian elections, hacker collective Anonymous conducted an attack on Iran's foreign ministry, according to a report from The Next Web. Not content with its standard procedure of executing a denial-of-service attack, the group also took about 10,000 e-mails containing scans of Iranian passports. The group says it has something big planned for the actual anniversary of protests over the results of the Iranian elections in 2009. 'For the election's anniversary, we have a complete DDoS attack day' planned, an Anonymous member told The Next Web. The attack will be targeted against a branch of the Iranian government, but the Anonymous member said the group will not target the media."

Opinion &Analysis

Tony Karon in TIME: "The Arab Spring has, over the past five months, largely eclipsed the Iran nuclear standoff on the global agenda -- and that may have come as a relief from a strategic headache for Western decision-makers. Because as the issue begins to make its way back into the headlines, the stalemate is more entrenched than ever. New sanctions legislation is currently making its way through Congress, and the U.S. is expected to push for a tightening of U.N. Security Council measures aimed at forcing Iran to suspend enrichment of uranium in order to satisfy the transparency requirements of International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The IAEA's latest report raises new questions about aspects of Iran's program, warning that failure to cooperate in resolving them would prevent the agency from allaying suspicions of possible military intent in a nuclear program Tehran insists is simply for energy purposes. But Russia is pressing in the opposite direction, urging an easing of sanctions in order to create a climate for a diplomatic solution. Despite the unprecedented sanctions the Obama Administration has put in place, Iran is not backing down. Successive rounds of negotiation between Western diplomats over the past year have yielded no progress, and no further talks are currently scheduled. Despite the economic pressure of sanctions and domestic policy mismanagement, Tehran's ability to withstand economic pressure buoyed by rising oil prices -- and by its expanding economic ties with some of the more dynamic centers of the global economy right now, such as China, Turkey and Brazil. Except in the case of the challenge to its Syrian ally, President Bashar al-Assad, the Arab Spring has been welcomed in Tehran. It has weakened pro-Western Arab autocrats allied with the U.S.-Israeli narrative of Iran as a rising danger to the Arab world, while the newly empowered Arab public has never bought into that schema. Egypt's decision to restore diplomatic relations with Iran may be emblematic of where things are headed in the region: Not that Egypt has become an ally of Iran, or accepts Tehran acquiring nuclear weapons, but that it has followed the example of Turkey in breaking from the U.S.-led strategy to resolve the issue. So, Iran believes -- not without reason -- that time is on its side in the stalemate."

Daniel Dombey in FT: "The US and its allies are pushing the UN to declare that Iran has operated a nuclear weapons programme in the past and that related activities are continuing, despite Tehran's assurances to the contrary. Such a move would heighten the pressure on the Islamic republic at a time when its nuclear programme is rebounding from the effects of the Stuxnet computer virus and international attention has been focused on the Arab uprising. 'Many countries, including the US, have urged the International Atomic Energy Agency [the UN's nuclear watchdog] to draw some conclusions,' said a senior US administration official, in comments echoed by counterparts from the UK and France. 'In the absence of real co-operation and real transparency, the agency will have no choice on Iran but to proceed with its own assessment.' Iran's nuclear programme, which Israel depicts as a threat and the US as deeply destabilising for the region, has already been subjected to sanctions by the UN, the US and the European Union. But the IAEA has never formally found the programme is militarily oriented. Instead, the agency says it has been unable to verify that it is exclusively peaceful - and despite the sanctions Tehran has continued to enrich uranium, a process that can produce both nuclear fuel and weapons-grade material. Yukiya Amano, IAEA director-general, wrote last month to Iran demanding answers to questions about possible military-related nuclear activities, issues he says Tehran has failed to address since August 2008. US officials say Mr Amano's letter could pave the way for a formal finding about Tehran's programme. In total the IAEA has identified seven areas of concern about possible military dimensions to the programme, which Iran has long insisted is purely peaceful."

No comments: