Tuesday, June 07, 2011

EYE ON IRAN 6/7/11

Courtesy UANI

Reuters: "Iran seems to have carried out nuclear-related work with possible military links until recently, the U.N. atomic watchdog chief said on Monday, citing new information adding to concerns about Tehran's activities. Yukiya Amano, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, made clear in a speech to the IAEA's 35-nation governing board his growing frustration at the Islamic state's failure to answer agency queries about its nuclear program. His remarks are likely to be welcomed by Western powers as a sign that he is gradually ratcheting up the pressure on Iran. The United States and its allies accuse Iran of seeking to develop an atomic weapons capability.

Iran rejects the accusation, saying its nuclear program is aimed at generating electricity so that it can export more of its oil and gas. For several years, the IAEA has been investigating Western intelligence reports indicating Iran has coordinated efforts to process uranium, test explosives at high altitude and revamp a ballistic missile cone so it can take a nuclear warhead. Western diplomats believe Amano is in effect warning Tehran to cooperate or face a possible assessment by the IAEA on the likelihood it has conducted nuclear activity with possible military aspects. Such an assessment could lend weight to any renewed Western push to tighten sanctions on the major oil producer."

BBC: "Evidence is mounting that Iran is supplying weapons to the Taliban - and that British and other foreign troops are dying in Afghanistan as a result. 'Hypocritical, two-faced and highly dangerous.'Strong words from British Foreign Office Minister, Alistair Burt, referring to Iran's flouting of UN sanctions to sell arms to militant organisations like the Taliban. Mr Burt's fury was sparked by a consignment of powerful rockets which was discovered in February in the hands of insurgents on an Afghan battlefield. Investigators found the rockets were fitted with fuses which could only have come from Iran. 'Iran knows exactly what it's doing,' Mr Burt told the BBC. '

On the one hand it claims to want to come back into the international community, and the next thing they're doing something that it knows is contrary to what the international community has decided.' The BBC has seen a letter from the UK Mission to the United Nations, addressed to the chairman of the Security Council committee on Iran, which states without hesitation that Tehran supplied the rockets to the Taliban."

AP: "Iran has sent submarines to the Red Sea in the first such deployment by the country's navy in distant waters, a semi-official news agency reported on Tuesday. The deployment reflects Iran's efforts to show off its naval power. Iran has long sought to upgrade its air defense systems and navy to portray itself as a regional military superpower, as well as prepare for any possible future attacks against the country, saying they would most likely be air and sea-based. The Fars news agency, which is close to Iranian military officials, said the submarines would collect data in international waters and identify warships of other countries.

The report quoted an unnamed government official as saying the submarines accompanied Iranian warships on an anti-piracy route in the Gulf of Aden before they moved into the Red Sea earlier this month. Fars gave no details on the number or capabilities of the submarines. Iran has long had three Russian-made submarines and last year, four new small Iranian-built submarines were delivered to its navy."

Nuclear Program & Sanctions

Reuters: "A top U.S. Treasury Department official is set to travel to Japan and South Korea this week to encourage tough implementation of international sanctions aimed at Iran's nuclear program. Acting Under Secretary David Cohen 'will emphasize the importance of continuing robust implementation of international sanctions to prevent Iran from accessing the international financial system to facilitate its illicit nuclear and weapons program,' the Treasury Department said in a statement. The United States and its allies accuse Iran of seeking to develop the means to make a nuclear bomb. Iran rejects the accusation, saying its nuclear program is aimed at generating electricity so that it can export more of its oil and gas. Cohen, who oversees Treasury Department operations on terrorism and financial intelligence, will visit Japan and South Korea from Tuesday to Friday, the department said."

AP: "Mideast turmoil, a faltering world economy and divisions on whether to raise crude production promise to make this week's OPEC meeting one of the more volatile in recent history. In the end, the 12-nation group will probably opt to increase output levels to reduce international concerns about the high price of oil. But some influential members are looking to raise the cost of crude... Once again, the Saudis - who account for around a third of OPEC production - will be the main champions of hiking the production ceiling to drive prices down, in line with their view that crude should be fetching between $70 and $80 a barrel. Opposing them is Iran, OPEC's No.2 producer, which argues that world inventories are already high and an increase in output targets would lead to a glut and a corresponding price drop."

Human Rights

Guardian: "Iran's supreme court has quashed the death sentence for Saeed Malekpour, a web programmer who was facing execution on charges of developing and promoting porn websites. The 35-year-old was convicted of designing and moderating adult materials online although his family said he was a web programmer whose photo uploading software was used by a porn website without his knowledge. Defence lawyers said the conviction was quashed after they provided the court with expert evidence. Malekpour, a Canadian resident who was arrested in October 2008 on arrival in Tehran, will remain in jail while a judicial review into his case is held.

Speaking from Toronto, his wife, Fatima Eftekhari, said: 'This a sigh of relief for me, I'm very pleased that his life is finally saved. It's unbelievable that someone in this world has spent three years of his life in jail for merely designing software and was until now facing execution for that.' According to Eftekhari, the campaign by human rights groups in support of her husband was crucial in saving Malekpour's life."

Domestic Politics

Bloomberg: "Iran's Mohammad Aliabadi, appointed last week by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as the nation's acting oil minister, will represent the nation when OPEC members meet this week, the ministry's news website Shana said. Aliabadi, former head of Iran's Physical Education Organization, will participate in the June 8 OPEC meeting, Vice President Mohammad Reza Rahimi said today, according to Shana. Iran, the second-biggest producer in the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries after Saudi Arabia, holds the group's rotating presidency this year. Ahmadinejad appointed Aliabadi as a caretaker for the oil ministry on June 2, a day after Iran's parliament voted to ask the courts to review whether the president broke the law by failing to appoint a temporary oil minister after he fired the previous one and put himself in charge."

Bloomberg: "The Iran Mercantile Exchange has started trading fuel oil in the Persian Gulf's island of Kish, according to the Fars news agency. Fuel oil totaling about 35,000 metric tons was offered on June 1 on the free trade zone at a base price of $621.35 a ton, the report published today on the state-run news agency showed. Payments will be made in euros and dirham through accounts held overseas under the supervision of the National Iranian Oil Co., it said, without specifying details of the transactions."

Foreign Affairs

AFP: "Three marathon runners from Taiwan and China allegedly had their drinking water spiked with 'date rape drug' Rohypnol while in Iran, their team and Taiwanese media said Tuesday. Taiwanese runner Kevin Lin was hospitalised along with two Chinese team mates Bai Bin and Chen Jun on Monday after the incident, the organiser of his trip said. 'The runners are fine now after hospital treatment and the Iranian government is investigating the incident,' the Home Expedition said in a statement, without elaborating. Taiwan's CTI cable news channel, which is covering Lin's trip, quoted a local hospital as saying that the trio were drugged with Flunitrazepam, better known as the powerful sedative Rohypnol."

AP: "Iran's ambassador says FIFA's headscarf ban affecting the Iran women's team is 'inhumane' and 'politically motivated.' It is the first public Iranian comment since the team forfeited a 2012 Olympic qualifier against Jordan last Friday because it wouldn't play without the headscarves. FIFA says the ban on the Islamic scarf covering a women's neck is for safety reasons. Mustafa Musleh Zadeh says Iran will complain to the Asian Football Federation. He called FIFA's ban 'extremism,' similar to Afghanistan's Taliban restrictions on women in sports."

Opinion & Analysis

Bret Stephens in WSJ: "When does a half-cooked notion, a conspiracy theory or a tissue of vaguely sourced and improbable claims become an item of journalistic 'fact'? If you're a person of normal intelligence, the answer is: never. If, however, you're a faithful reader of the New Yorker, it happens roughly every time investigative reporter Seymour Hersh commits a word to print, presumably after having undergone the rigorous review of the magazine's world-famous fact-checking department. So it was with some anticipation that I agreed last week to debate Mr. Hersh on CNN about his latest bequest to what the magazine likes to call its 'Annals of National Security': Several thousand words in the June 6 edition on the subject of 'Iran and the Bomb,' along with the portentous subtitle, 'How real is the nuclear threat?'

For readers who fail to grasp Mr. Hersh's point from the subtitle alone, his central contention is that there exists no 'irrefutable evidence of an ongoing hidden nuclear-weapons program in Iran'-which is surely right, since the word 'irrefutable' allows for no ambiguity. As for his subtext, this too was clear: By taking an increasingly hard line on Iran, the Obama administration risked blundering into another Iraq-style intelligence fiasco. Might this be true? Who knows: Mr. Hersh loves to affect the air of a journalist who has been brought into the loop of the most sensitive national security secrets. His expectation of readers is that they will take him at his word that the typically anonymous sources for his most explosive claims-often concerning highly specific descriptions of CIA operations in enemy nations-are credible and sober government officials (or former officials) who would never compromise vital secrets to our enemies.

Yet these same insiders, Mr. Hersh would have readers believe, would gladly see those secrets disclosed in the pages of the New Yorker... How, then, does this bear on Mr. Hersh's current reporting about Iran? The article makes much of a 2007 National Intelligence Estimate that found that in 2003 Iran had halted its nuclear-weapons program. And he hints that an as-yet unreleased 2011 NIE says much the same thing. Yet what's mainly remarkable about Mr. Hersh's reporting is that it makes no mention of what the IAEA itself says about Iran's most recent nuclear progress. 'As previously reported by the Director General,' goes the May 24 report, 'there are indications that certain of these [undisclosed nuclear related] activities may have continued beyond 2004.'

Among those activities: 'producing uranium metal . . . and its manufacture into components relevant to a nuclear device'; 'testing of explosive components suitable for the initiation of high explosives in a converging spherical geometry'; 'experiments involving the explosive compression of uranium deuteride to produce a short burst of neutrons'; 'missile re-entry vehicle redesign activities for a new payload assessed as being nuclear in nature.' It is in the nature of the journalistic enterprise that most of what we think we know is subject to amendment and revision. In this sense, Mr. Hersh is no different from his peers.

But it is also the invariable mark of a crackpot to believe that truth, by its very nature, must be hidden; and that the simplest explanation is always suspect. Through this device, Mr. Hersh has led generations of readers-and policy makers, too-to believe fantasies while missing dangers that stand in plain sight. As for that TV appearance, Mr. Hersh, according to a CNN producer, backed out at the last minute on grounds that he would not debate me. Should he change his mind, I'm ready any time he is."

Jeffrey Goldberg in Bloomberg: "The Iranian government, which is known neither for transparency nor candor, has insisted for many years that the goal of its nuclear program is entirely peaceful. And for many years, the International Atomic Energy Agency, whose motto is 'Atoms for Peace,' has tended to give the ayatollahs the benefit of the doubt on this question. The agency's former chairman, Mohamed ElBaradei, now a candidate for the presidency of Egypt, seemed to take the attitude that anxiety about Iran's nuclear objectives was motivated by the strategic self-interest, even the paranoia, of the U.S., Israel and the Arab states near Iran, rather than by the reality-based worry that bloody-minded mullahs bent on dominating the Middle East aren't the sort of people who should have the bomb.

The new chairman of the IAEA, Yukiya Amano of Japan, seems more skeptical of Iran's claim of nuclear virginity. He is, by many accounts, preparing a comprehensive indictment of Iran's nuclear program to be issued later this year. As an interim step, his agency recently issued a report on Iran's nuclear activities that might help concentrate the attention of a world that has lately been preoccupied by the revolutions in Libya, Yemen and Syria. These are important events, but an Iran with a bomb? This would bring about a nuclear arms race in the world's most volatile region. It would pose a serious threat to the smooth flow of oil out of the Persian Gulf.

And it would mean the end of American influence in the Middle East. Not to mention the potential for an actual nuclear exchange between Israel and Iran. The IAEA's new report makes for dry reading -- the agency doesn't turn out propulsive narratives -- but strongly suggests that the mullahs haven't gone into the nuclear business because of their keen interest in clean energy. Using information gathered from member states' intelligence agencies, it cites seven possible 'undisclosed nuclear related activities' on the part of Iranian nuclear scientists.

These include experiments to build atomic triggers, studies of the type of instruments needed for testing explosives underground, and the development -- this is a mouthful - 'of explosive components suitable for the initiation of high explosives in a converging spherical geometry.' Iran's nuclear scientists might be building atomic triggers as a weekend hobby, and they might have discovered a sports- related reason to initiate explosives in a converging spherical geometry. But if the IAEA's suspicions prove correct, then Iran is actively trying to make a nuclear warhead."

Farideh Farhi in The Iran Primer: "Two years after his controversial re-election, President Ahmadinejad faces mounting pressure from the supreme leader, parliament and the Guardian Council on several issues. Is his presidency really in jeopardy? President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad may or may not survive his second term. His political fate will depend on whether he continues to try to shift political power towards his office and coterie of loyalists in ways that challenge both the supreme leader and the predominantly conservative parliament. Tensions became public when Ahmadinejad fired the intelligence minister in April, only to have Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei reinstate him. During the crisis, Ahmadinejad did not show up for work or key cabinet meetings for 11 days. Khamenei refused to coax or woo the president to return to office. Indeed, he even initially signaled his willingness to let Ahmadinejad resign for refusing his dictates, despite the potential political costs to the regime.

The same tensions are likely to play out for the remainder of Ahmadinejad's term. Khamenei apparently now wants the embattled president to serve out the final two years of his term, according to parliament's deputy speaker Mohammad-Reza Bahonar. Ahmadinejad also will no longer have the supreme leader's protection in political showdowns with the judiciary, parliament or Guardian Council. As a result, all three institutions have more aggressively challenged the president's recent actions, including cabinet appointments, merging ministries or disbursement of state funds. Ahmadinejad's future will depend on whether he persists in doing political battle or agrees to serve as a weakened lame-duck."

No comments: