Iran’s nuclear program continued to dominate the media coverage in Iran. Iran denied reports that it had halted its uranium enrichment program temporarily and was embracing itself for a new UN Security Council resolution that would expand the sanctions regime against Iranian organizations and individuals. Iran also tested its new air defense system around its nuclear sites. The visit to Saudi Arabia by the Iranian president also received prominent media coverage. Iran denied a Saudi Press Agency report that President Ahmadinejad had supported the Arab Peace Initiative during his talks with King Abdullah. The Initiative calls for the recognition of Israel upon Israeli withdrawal of Arab lands occupied since 1967 War. The Saudi foreign minister, however, contradicted Iran’s denial of any talks on the subject. He told the Lebanese newspaper Al Safir that the Initiative was indeed part of the meeting’s agenda.
Iran Nuclear Program
· Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki denied the reports that Iran has temporarily halted its uranium enrichment program; IAEA Chief Mohamed ElBaradei had earlier made a remark that Iran appeared to have paused the development of its enrichment program; Mottaki insisted that there has been no change in the course; Iran's Atomic Energy Organization also announced that the enrichment activities in Natanz is continuing as planned.
· Iran started an air defense exercise at a key nuclear site; Isfahan governor said that the test of the system installed around Isfahan uranium conversion facility took place on Tuesday 6 March; Defense Minister Mostafa Mohammad Najjar said that Iran's armed forces were ready to hit back against any attack; Najar said Iran was ready to confront any national security threat; Brigadier General Ali Reza Afshar, Deputy Chief of Staff of Iranian Armed Forces, had earlier warned that smallest invasion of Iran will be reciprocated by devastation of US interests.
· The UN Security Council’s permanent members and Germany started their deliberations to strengthen sanctions against Iran; the world powers agreed to send the issue of Iran's disputed nuclear program to their UN representatives, after failing to resolve differences during their deputy foreign ministers meeting; UNSC was expected to pass a new resolution that would expand the sanction regime against the Iranian organizations and individuals involved in nuclear program; the new resolution will be a follow-up to 1737, adopted by the Security Council on 23 December.
· International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) announced that its inspectors cannot guarantee that Iran's nuclear program is peaceful; IAEA has investigated Iranian nuclear program for the last four years; IAEA board of governors was to approve the suspension of 22 of 55 IAEA technical aid projects in Iran during its week-long meeting that started on 5 March; IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei told the meeting that Iran’s verification case is “sui generis” (one of a kind); unlike other verification cases, ElBaradei said, Iran's program has been shaken because of two decades of undeclared activities.
· Iran has accepted Iraq’s invitation to a regional conference on security in Iraq; the conference will convene in Baghdad on 10 March; US and other permanent members of the UN Security Council along with all Iraqi neighbors would attend the conference.
· A group of detained Iranian women's rights activists have gone on hunger strike; thirty-three women, including many of the leaders of women’s movement fighting for equal rights in Iran, were arrested on 4 March ahead of international women's day on 8 March; five women activists were being tried in a court for leading a petition campaign dubbed "One Million Signatures", which seeks to change Iran's laws for women by collecting signatures online and in person.
· Iran’s Intelligence Ministry announced the arrest of several Iranian journalists; they were accused of spreading reports to create divisions among Iran’s ethnic minorities; the journalists were further accused of receiving support from foreign powers
· Commander-in-chief of the Islamic Revolution's Guards Corps (IRGC) Major General Yahya Rahim Safavi said members of an armed anti-government group are under siege in northwestern Iran; IRCG had earlier announced that 17 members of an armed group had been killed in Western Azerbaijan province; PEJAK, an Iranian Kurdish group based in the region has been involved in major clashes with IRGC forces in the recent months; Tehran accuses the group of being an operative of foreign powers; General Safavi had earlier threatened to pursue the group inside Iraq if necessary; Safavi was speaking at the funeral for 14 IRGC members killed in a helicopter crash during an operation against PEKAK forces.
· Iran’s central bank announced that it will issue new currency bearing atomic symbol; the new 50,000-rial note will be the largest in circulation; one side of the note bears the atomic symbol of electrons in orbit, while the other side carries a portrait of Ayatollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic Republic.
· Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad visited Riyadh and held talks with Saudi King Abdullah; the leaders emphasized the danger posed by the enemies of Islam to create sedition between the Sunnah and the Shia; the leaders called for closing the Muslim ranks; Ahmadinejad also hailed Saudi efforts to bring peace and security to Lebanon; Saudi and Iranian officials have met several times to mediate between Lebanon’s Hizbollah, supported by Iran, and Lebenon’s Prim Minister Fouad Siniora, backed by the Saudis and the US.
· Saudi Press Agency (SPA) reported that during a meeting with King Abdullah, Iranian President Ahmadinejad voiced support to the Arab Peace Initiative; the Initiative, put forward by the King in 2002, offers recognition of Israel and the signing of peace agreements between Israel and the Arabs in return for Israeli withdrawal from all Arab territories occupied since 1967 War; The office of Iranian president, however, denied the report; Presidential spokesman Ehsan jahandideh said that in the meeting between King Abdullah and President Ahmadinajad it was absolutely no talks about the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative; the Saudi Foreign Minister Nizar Obaid Madani told Lebanese newspaper Al Safir that talks between King Abdullah and President Ahmadinejad included the Arab Peace Initiative.
· President Ahmadinejad, in a visit to Sudan, vowed to defeat the enemies of Islam; Ahmadinejad accused the West of seeking to destabilize Sudan.
· President Ahmadinejad met Hamas political leader Khalid Mashal in Tehran; Ahmadinejad urged Muslim states to firmly support the Palestinian government; he said Israel is in its worst period of its life and is about to face its imminent demise; Mashal thanked Iran for its support and said that the Palestinian government is still in need of Iran's aids to end the economic and political siege of Palestine.
· Iranian police chief Ismael Ahmadi Moghaddam said that Western intelligence services may have kidnapped a former Iranian deputy defense minister who went missing in Turkey; Ali Reza Asgari was on a personal trip and vanished after arriving in Istanbul on 7 February; Turkish newspaper Milliyet said Turkish intelligence and police believed Asgari opposed the Iranian government and had information on its nuclear plans.