Friday, June 03, 2011


Reuters: "Iran has rebuffed a request by the U.N. nuclear chief for prompt cooperation with a probe into possible military aspects of Tehran's atomic activities, in a defiant letter underlining increasingly strained ties. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the Vienna-based U.N. nuclear watchdog, is voicing growing concern about allegations Iran may have carried out military-related atomic work -- a charge the Islamic Republic denies. IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano wrote to the head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organisation on May 6, asking Fereydoun Abbasi-Davani to help answer the agency's queries and provide access to locations, equipment, documents and officials. The IAEA, tasked with ensuring that nuclear technology is not diverted for military aims, says Iran has not engaged with the agency in substance on these issues since mid-2008. For several years, the IAEA has been investigating Western intelligence reports indicating Iran had coordinated efforts to process uranium, test explosives at high altitude and revamp a ballistic missile cone so it can take a nuclear warhead. In a five-page response to Amano's letter, dated May 26 and obtained by Reuters on Friday, Abbasi-Davani reiterated Iran's often-stated position that the allegations were 'fabricated and acts of forgery'. It gave no indication that Iran would be prepared to heed Amano's demands, referring instead to a 'work plan' agreed between Iran and the agency in 2007, which it said envisaged no inspections, meetings, or interviews with officials."

Reuters: "The U.N. nuclear agency urged Iran on Thursday to join a 72-nation atomic safety convention, as the earthquake-prone Middle East country prepares to bring its first nuclear power station into service. The 1996 Convention on Nuclear Safety was designed to boost safeguards after the 1986 Chernobyl disaster, an issue that has gained fresh urgency following Japan's Fukushima nuclear crisis this year, through a system of peer review and mutual oversight. Denis Flory, deputy director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), said Iran would be the only country operating a nuclear power plant not to belong to the convention. 'Our first wish would be that all (IAEA) member states operating nuclear power plants in the world are parties to the convention on nuclear safety,' Flory told a news conference. Iranian media reported in early May that final tests were being conducted at the Bushehr plant and that it was expected to start generating electricity in the next two months... A London-based think-tank, the International Institute for Strategic Studies, said in a report after the Fukushima accident that Bushehr's location on the Gulf coast made the safety of Iran's nuclear programme a 'regional security concern.' It noted that Bushehr, like Fukushima, is in an earthquake zone. But Iran does not need to fear a tsunami of the size that knocked out the electricity and back-up cooling systems at Fukushima, as Bushehr is not located by an ocean." h

AP: "President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad withdrew as the caretaker chief of the country's vital oil sector and named an ally to run the ministry, state TV reported on Thursday. A day after Iran's parliament voted to take Ahmadinejad to court for taking over the ministry, the president handed the job to 54-year-old Mohammad Aliabadi. He has served as head of Iran's national Olympic committee, vice president in charge of physical education and head of the fishery organization. The threat to take Ahmadinejad to court reflected the escalating power struggle between the president and the hard-line establishment that has turned on him in advance of parliamentary election next March and the presidential vote in mid-2013... Also on Thursday, cleric Mojtaba Zolnour, a top official with Iran's elite Revolutionary Guard, indirectly warned Ahmadinejad that the force might withdraw its support for him should he continue his disobedience of supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has final say on all state matters."

Nuclear Program & Sanctions

Reuters: "The Obama administration told Congress on Thursday it strongly supported a Southern Corridor pipeline to bring natural gas from the Caspian region to Europe, which would reduce the role of Russian supplies... Three pipeline consortiums are competing to bring natural gas from Azerbaijan's Shah Deniz gas field to Europe, and the investment decisions to make that possible should be made by the end of this year, Morningstar said... However, the United States does not want the pipeline to move gas from Iran, Morningstar reiterated. Morningstar said the United States faces a difficult decision if it chooses to sanction the Shah Deniz gas project because a subsidiary of Iran's national oil company owns 10 percent of the operation. 'The unintended consequence is the resources, which are absolutely necessary for the Southern Corridor, wouldn't go to Europe,' he said. Instead, the gas would likely go to Russia, China or Iran, Morningstar said. He said Iran would probably benefit if the project were hit with sanctions, because Iran needed gas. 'It's a serious policy issue,' he said." 

AP: "An Israeli billionaire at the center of a recent scandal involving trade with Iran died Friday in Tel Aviv. He was 89. Shipping magnate and philanthropist Sammy Ofer was listed last year by Forbes as Israel's richest person, and appeared as number 109 on the magazine's list of the world's richest people. Ofer's family released a statement saying he died Friday morning at his Tel Aviv home after a long illness. A funeral will be held Sunday in Tel Aviv, a family spokesman said. Ofer's name had been in the news since the U.S. government sanctioned his company, Ofer Brothers Group, last month for selling an oil tanker to Iran's national shipping company through a Singapore subsidiary. The move violated U.S. trade restrictions on Iran... The Ofer brothers did not comment publicly on the U.S. charge. A spokesman said the $8.5 million deal, small for the massive conglomerate, was conducted unwittingly with an Iranian shell company. Nonetheless, the company said it was embarrassed."

Human Rights

CNN: "The three Iranian security officers rang the doorbell, politely informed the man of his arrest, thoroughly searched the house, confiscated high-tech gear and books, and whisked him away to the nation's notorious Evin Prison. The early Sunday morning raid took three hours. Now, every second seems like an eternity for the man's anguished family members, praying for his physical safety, hoping for his release, and getting their heads around the prospect of a long stint in prison, his relatives told CNN. His family says the reason for his arrest is his religion. The man is one of 16 Baha'is swept away in raids on or after May 21 targeting educators dedicated to teaching members of their community who are denied entry to universities in the Islamic Republic of Iran. Of those 16, nine have since been released. But this educator remains in prison, a Baha'i official told CNN. The crackdown is the latest example of the Shiite Muslim regime's relentless persecution of those who adhere to a faith deemed heretical by the ruling ayatollahs."

Domestic Politics

Reuters: "The man President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has appointed oil minister is the 'worst choice' who will damage Iran's vital energy sector, the head of parliament's energy committee said on Friday. The stinging criticism comes after Ahmadinejad finally relinquished the role of caretaker oil minister himself -- a role the both parliament and Iran's constitutional watchdog said was illegal -- and appointed Mohammad Aliabadi, one of his close allies, to the post. 'Selecting Mr Aliabadi might be the best choice for Mr Ahmadinejad, but, from the national perspective, this is the worst choice for the oil and gas industry in the current situation and these kinds of decisions will jeopardise the country,' Hamid-Reza Katouzian was quoted as saying by the semi-official Mehr news agency... By appointing Aliabadi, head of Iran's Physical Education Organisation and its Olympic Committee, Ahmadinejad may have hoped to shake off the criticism, but Katouzian was unequivocal that he was not the right person for the job. 'In my opinion, this is an unjustifiable choice and the oil and gas (industry) will be harmed by these kind of decisions.' 'Oil and gas is a completely professional field of which Mr Aliabadi does not have any experience,' he continued. 'It is not right to introduce someone even as a caretaker of the Oil Ministry who does not know the language of communication with the body of the Oil Ministry.'"

Guardian: "With soaring fuel costs, chronic traffic jams and the devil-may-care recklessness of fellow drivers, Iranian motorists probably thought they already had enough to contend with. Now a new hazard has appeared to further complicate matters: rising camel prices. Insurers, motorists and even President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad have got the hump over a decision to link compensation payments for accidents on the country's notoriously high-speed roads to the market price of the slow-moving beasts more commonly associated with desert travel. Iran's judiciary - which is independent of Ahmadinejad's government - has decreed that from next week compensation or 'blood money' for relatives of fatal road accident victims should equal the price of 100 camels. That will have the effect of doubling compensation payouts from 450m to 900m rials (�52,000).

Opinion & Analysis

Amb. Mark Wallace & Frances Townsend in WT: "Many Americans understandably look at Iran's nuclear weapons program and its support of terrorist groups in the Middle East as problems to be solved by Washington and, of course, the broader international community. It may come as a surprise, however, to learn that some U.S. businesses are indirectly playing a part in Iran's attempts to acquire a nuclear weapon and its sponsoring of terrorist groups like Hamas - groups publicly mourning the death of Osama bin Laden. Consider the French-based shipping giant CMA CGM. This company has its U.S. headquarters in Norfolk, Va. What makes CMA CGM so special is that it has become the de facto shipping carrier of choice for Iran and other terrorist states, such as North Korea, for evading international sanctions. This was highlighted in March when the Israeli navy stopped the Victoria, a cargo ship carrying a 50-ton shipment of weapons, including sophisticated land-to-sea missiles, destined for Hamas in Gaza. Upon seizure of the weapons, CMA CGM quickly attempted to absolve itself of any responsibility by proclaiming that the 'ship's manifests do not show any cargo in contravention [of] international regulations.' This is not the first time CMA CGM has fallen victim to a false cargo declaration. In October, Nigerian authorities seized 13 shipping containers carrying artillery shells, explosives and rifle ammunition labeled as glass wool and pallets of stone. The vessel MV CMA CGM Everest had picked up the containers from the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas. In July 2009, the United Arab Emirates stopped another CMA CGM shipment of weapons from North Korea destined for Iran in violation of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1874, which bans all North Korean arms exports. This time, CMA CGM apparently was fooled (again) by a false manifesto declaring the shipments to be 'oil boring machines.'

The international security implications of these incidents are obvious, as is the need for private-sector companies like CMA CGM to stop helping serial proliferators such as North Korea and Iran from arming the world. In the case of the North Korean shipment to Iran, it is believed that it also contained parts for the BM-25, a nuclear-capable missile based on original Russian technology with a presumed range of 2,400 miles. This puts Western Europe and Moscow, not to mention Israel and U.S. forces in the Gulf, well within Iran's cross hairs. It is irresponsible for CMA CGM to be doing business with a brutal regime that threatens world peace, and it is even worse that the business it is doing is facilitating the worst of Iran's behavior... Iran's deceptive ways do not give private shipping companies a free pass or absolve them of responsibility. Indeed, they reinforce why the companies should stop doing business there.

More broadly, the U.S. Congress should hold hearings to determine exactly how and why such lapses occur, particularly because CMA CGM has been the recipient of lucrative U.S. government contracts in the past. The U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia should immediately launch an investigation into why CMA CGM's compliance record is so abysmal. Americans in Virginia and across the country can lend their voices to this effort and let corporate executives in Norfolk know that CMA CGM's irresponsible business in Iran is unacceptable. The danger of Iran is international in scope, but by acting locally, it's possible to put pressure on CMA CGM to change course... It is simply unacceptable for a company to hide behind the excuse of false words written on a piece of paper, especially with the stakes so high. Ultimately, ship owners must partner with governments to enforce sanctions, and that includes being held accountable for what they transport."

WSJ Editorial Board: "Starting with Jimmy Carter, successive U.S. Administrations have tried to exploit rifts within Iran's ruling theocracy to boost supposed liberals. It always ended in disappointment. Iranian elites are feuding again, but this time there's no room for misunderstanding the nature of the regime. The free world and millions of Iranians who dream about joining it don't have a dog in the fight between President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. Iran will remain a repressive state and a terrorist and nuclear threat no matter which side prevails. But we can hope this spectacle continues for as long as possible, and in the meantime the West can keep up the heat on the regime. The dispute is over power and its spoils. President Ahmadinejad will see his second-and by Iranian law last-term end in 2013. He serves at the pleasure of Mr. Khamenei but wants to hold on longer. There's talk among his supporters of dropping the term limit, or taking a page out of Vladimir Putin's Russian playbook by installing an Ahmadinejad cipher in the presidency. These intrigues pose a threat to the cleric's supreme, supposedly divine political authority.

Mr. Khamenei sprung to the president's defense in 2009, after millions came out to protest the blatant fraud used to re-elect Mr. Ahmadinejad. But now the clerics, along with their allies in the security services, want to put the president in his place. Mr. Ahmadinejad's ambitions and appeals to a new type of Iranian nationalism challenge the legacy of the 1979 Islamic Revolution... As both sides trade charges of corruption and misrule, Iran's public is getting a useful education. Iranians might better understand why their oil-rich nation is economically destitute and politically repressive. It further weakens an unpopular and vulnerable regime. Though violently repressed, the democratic movement isn't dead.

A protest is planned for Sunday, the second anniversary of the stolen presidential election. The Obama Administration wasted nearly two years 'extending a hand' to Tehran. As talks got nowhere, the U.S. and Europeans moved to turn the screws on the regime. Economic sanctions have hit them where it hurts most-in the pocketbook. That's the one policy that works with Iran: To keep the pressure on the regime, support the movement for freedom and hope the Iranian people summon the courage again to rise up and bring the regime down.

James Phillips in Heritage: "According to unconfirmed reports, two missile warheads capable of being armed with a nuclear weapon have been acquired by Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. Reza Kahlili, a former member of the Revolutionary Guards who became a spy for the CIA before defecting to the United States, charged in an article posted on that the missile warheads were produced by a 'joint military-industrial project' that included Iran, Pakistan, China, and Ukraine.

According to Kahlili, 'The Ukrainians provided the design for the warheads, while the Chinese and Pakistanis delivered the technology, machining and tooling. The Iranian Ministry of Defense coordinated the interface with all three.' It would be surprising if the governments of these disparate countries would directly enter into such a high-risk joint venture to help Iran in violation of U.N. sanctions, but companies and proliferation networks from all three countries separately have sold Iran sensitive technologies in the past. And Iran has established a global smuggling network to acquire technology for its ballistic missile and nuclear programs. On Tuesday, an Iranian businessman operating in California pleaded guilty to conspiring to illicitly export missile parts from the United States to Iran.

Kahlili based his charges on reports from a mysterious group, the 'Green Experts of Iran.' Curiously, North Korea, which is known to work closely with the Iranian regime on its ballistic missile program, is missing from the list of countries reportedly involved in the joint project. Last month, a U.N. panel of experts submitted a confidential report to the Security Council that charged that Iran and North Korea had regularly been exchanging ballistic missile technology, often trans-shipped through China.

There is no doubt, however, that the transfer of nuclear warhead technology for a ballistic missile delivery system to Iran, let alone intact warheads, would be a grave development. Accordingly, the U.S. and its allies would be foolish to discount the possibility of such transfers. Circumstantial evidence, if anything, suggests that the U.S. government should look more deeply into this possibility. Iran's missile development program appears to be even more aggressive than its nuclear weapons program. It is hard to believe that Iran would go to all the effort it is putting into its missile program-particularly for developing intermediate- to long-range missiles-only to arm the missiles with conventional warheads."

ISIS: "Much has been made in the media about the power struggle between Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei-with the backing of the Iranian parliament (Majles)-and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The struggle may make less likely the prospect that Iran will be able (if it is indeed willing at all) to negotiate a diplomatic deal over the nuclear crisis in the near future, though it may still be willing to meet with the P5+1. Iran has thus far been unwilling to suspend its enrichment program as called for by the United Nations Security Council or answer questions about its past work on nuclear weapons.

President Ahmadinejad may want to negotiate a weakened deal while the Supreme Leader may not want a deal at all, preferring the status quo. A weakened deal could involve Iran attempting to convince the international community to abandon its demand that Iran suspend enrichment, with the ultimate goal of legitimizing continued enrichment in Iran. Yet, since the Supreme Leader has shown a willingness to publicly and forcefully assert his authority over Ahmadinejad, and appears unwilling to negotiate an end to the nuclear issue, any deal is unlikely. This could make any meetings with the P5+1 simply an empty exercise on Iran's end."

Courtesy Mark Wallace

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