Sunday, April 29, 2007

Has the Countdown Begun?

On Saturday we carried a report on Israeli Premier Edhud Olmert threatening Iran with firing 1,000 Tomahawk missiles in a 10-day strike against the country’s nuclear installations. Later that day an Israeli government spokesman denied that Olmert had made the statement in an interview with the German magazine Focus. Today the Focus editors told the Israeli Ynet News that the text of the interview circulated on the websites was correct and they stand by their initial reporting and the interview will be published on Monday as scheduled. It seems that the Israeli leader had indeed threatened Iran with a devastating missile attack.

Ynet today also published an op-ed piece by Orli Azulay titled “Countdown Has Begun.” In the article Azulay argues that the new US intelligence information leaked to and broadcast by CBS News that Iran is making accelerated progress in developing its first atomic bomb is part of a plan to attack Iran. When the intelligence information was revealed to CBS (see the entry on Friday 27 April on this blog), the senior Pentagon officials were quoted as saying that now there will be more pressure on Israel to carry out a preemptive strike on Iran.

Less than two days since the broadcast by CBS, the Israeli Prime Minister outlines the possibility of such an attack, 1000 Tomahawk missiles fired over 10 days.

As Ynet article has put it, the countdown for attacking Iran might have begun.

Iran Denies Siege of Consulate in Karbala

Al-Arabiyah network reported today that the Iran’s consulate in Karbala has been surrounded by US forces. The Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini denied the report and said the US forces have not besieged the consulate.

Iran Will Attend Sharm el-Skeikh

Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki will attend the Sharm el-Skeikh conference on Iraq later this week.

US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice will be also attending the conference and she is expected to meet with Mottaki. Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari welcomed Rice-Mottaki talks as a breakthrough in reducing tensions in the region.

The Iranian government had set the release of the five Iranians held by US forces in Iraq as a precondition to attend the Sharm el-Skeikh conference. The US government refused to release the five, but the Iranians decided to attend anyway. The move is seen as a major political setback for the Islamic Republic.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Israelis Try to Soften Olmert’s Remarks

A spokesman for the Israeli Prime Minister’s office said Olmert did not threaten Iran with missile attack on its nuclear facilities, as reported today by German magazine Focus.

The Israeli spokesman said that Olmert did not actually have a formal interview with the magazine, and had only given a background briefing to its reporter and was speaking off the record. The reporter in question is Amir Taheri, an Iranian-born journalist. Taheri and Olmert had apparently held a 35-minute-long conversation.

Taheri is quoted by the Israeli prime minister spokesman as saying that there had been a misunderstanding between the prime minister and himself, who had been under the impression that he was indeed conducting an interview.

Speaking off the record, however, is at times as important as a formal interview. The Israeli premier’s description of a possible missile attack on Iran remains as dangerous even if it was made off the record.

Israel Warns of a Missile Attack on Iran

The Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert today told a German weekly that a rain of missiles could degrade Iran’s nuclear program and set it back years. Olmert told the magazine Focus that the strike might not destroy all of the Iranian facilities, but it would damage the program in a way “it would be set back several years.”

Olmert said that the strike would require 10 days and the launch of a thousand Tomahawk missiles.

Olmert said Israel can not exclude military action against Iran if the Islamic Republic continued to defy UN resolutions calling for a halt of its uranium enrichment program.

The Chairman of Majlis’s Foreign Affairs Commission, Alladin Borojerdy, immediately voiced the Iranian government reaction to Olmert’s remarks by saying that the United States and Israel know what the “consequences will be for themselves.”

Meanwhile, the EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana yesterday called for the US to open a channel of communication with Iran on all outstanding issues. Solana and Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani held talks in Ankara on Wednesday and Thursday. The reports indicate that a modified “double suspension” compromise on Iran’s enrichment program is being fine-tuned by the two sides.

Today’s comments by the Israeli premier, however, indicate how tense the situation remains on the ground.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Is Iran Closer to Nukes?

CBS News reported that a new intelligence report on Iran says the country is much closer to build a nuclear weapon than previously thought. According to David Martin, CBS News national security correspondent, US intelligence officials now estimate that Iran can enrich enough uranium for a single nuclear weapon in less than three years. Previously the officials had estimated it will take Iran until 2015 to become a nuclear power.

CBS quotes Pentegon officials as saying that the new report narrows the window in which Israel might launch a preemptive strike against Iran.

Prior to Iraq war, the reports had also estimated that the country could build nuclear weapons in a short order. No weapons of mass destruction, however, were ever found in Iraq.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Majlis Elections a Year Away, Yet So Near

Mohammad Reza Bahonar, a spokesman for the fundamentalist faction in Majlis, yesterday surprised all politicos in Tehran with a bold assertion that there was no way imaginable for the fundamentalists to loose the elections for the 8th Majlis ( scheduled for May 2008). The moderates protested the remarks by the deputy speaker. It was not clear to them whether Bahonar was just making a wild prediction, or was delivering a veiled threat on behalf of the right-wingers that they would not accept a defeat, peoples’ votes notwithstanding.

Just four months ago the Guardian Council used its vetting process to disqualify 340 candidates for the Assembly of Experts, a stunning 67% of all the hopefuls. Bahonar’s prediction, in the face of the growing unpopularity of the government, can indeed be viewed as a threat, if not as a wishful thinking that God might answer the fundamentalists' prayers.

Report on Larijani-Solana Talks

Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, and EU foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, today continued their talks on the standoff over Iran’s nuclear program. The talks started yesterday in Ankara amid reports that the West was prepared to soften its stance toward Iran. AP had reported that the Solana was prepared to offer Larijani a modified “double suspension” compromise, whereby Iran would keep some part of its uranium enrichment activities.

The sticking point during the negotiations has been the status of the uranium-enriching cascades of centrifuges at Natanz. According to reports widely circulated today the talks have been centered on a proposal by Switzerland not to dismantle the cascades but to put them in a “cold reserve” status. In effect under the Swiss proposal the cascades will remain linked up but will not be turned on. Iran has so far accepted a “hot reserve” alternative, whereby the centrifuges still operate but would not enrich the uranium gas. Iran’s proposal would allow it to start up the cascades at any moment.

The two sides announced that they will continue their talks beyond today. The major powers are scheduled to meet in London on 2 May. It is expected that Solana and Larijani finalize their agreement prior to the meeting to allow the London group to approve the compromise.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Iran and the West Are Reaching a Compromise

Reports from the Western capitals this afternoon indicate that a compromise with Iran over the uranium enrichment standoff is on the making. The diplomats and Western government officials have told the Associated Press that during the Larijani-Solana talks tomorrow in Ankara, the West would allow Iran to keep some of its uranium enrichment programs intact.

If Iran can pursue some degree of enrichment activities, the leaders in Tehran will be able to save face and sign a nuclear agreement with the West. The two sides could agree to the double suspension of UN sanctions and most of Iranian enrichment activities until a final and comprehensive nuclear agreement between Iran and EU could be reached. The US government and the UN Security Council are expected to sign off on the proposed compromise.

What parts of the enrichment program Iran would be able to keep is unclear this afternoon. However, it is expected that the West would accept a scientific and research-based enrichment program by Iran.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Ahmadinejad Rejects Nuke Compromise

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad today ruled out any possibility of a suspension of uranium enrichment. Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator is scheduled to meet the EU officials on Wednesday, but Ahmadinejad’s announcement makes those talks irrelevant.

An EU spokesman said today that its foreign policy chief Javier Solana would still try to persuade the Iranian negotiator Ali Larijani to accept a double suspension of uranium enrichment and UN sanctions to allow time for negotiations.

Ahmadinejad told Reuters in an interview that Iran will not accept the double suspension solution because the UN sanctions are not legal.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Crackdown against Women

The police today started a crackdown on women’s dress considered not compatible with the strict Islamic dress code. Violators can receive lashes, fines or imprisonment.

A growing number of young women have ignored the dress code in the past and it is expected that they will confront the police if the crackdown continues.

President Ahmadinejad has in the past taken a different path than the traditional conservatives over the women’s dress code. During his elections campaign, Ahmadinejad had said that the women’s dress was not a national issue. His stance on the new crackdown is yet unclear.

The issue of women’s rights in the Islamic Republic, including the freedom of dress, is rapidly growing into a major challenge for the authorities. The One-Million Signatures Campaign of the recent weeks has become a nationwide women’s movement calling for the equality of men and women. The women’s issues can indeed prove to be the Achilles’ heel of the Islamic Republic.

Majlis Cuts Ahmadinejad’s Term

Majlis today passed a new elections law setting November 2008 as the date for a combined presidential elections and the elections for the 8th Majlis, effectively cutting Ahmadinejad’s term by 4 months while prolonging their own term by 7 months. The Majlis members said the change would save cost. The critics said the move is unconstitutional.

Majlis has in the past approved a similar plan which was vetoed by the Guardian Council. If, as expected, the council rejects the new resolution, the standoff needs to be resolved by the Expediency Council.

No Suspension!

Iran ruled out suspension of its enrichment program ahead of talks with the EU. Ali Larijani, Iran’s chief negotiator, is scheduled to meet Javier Solana, EU’s foreign policy chief, next Wednesday. The suspension of uranium enrichment has been the chief demand of the EU.

The Iranian foreign ministry spokesman said today that halting uranium suspension is “definitely deleted from the literature of Iran’s nuclear program.”

Also today the Russian contractor building Bushehr nuclear reactor said that it has signed a protocol with Iran outlining measures to guarantee future payments for the project. The company, Atomstroiexport, did not say when it will restart the construction work. Published reports earlier in the week had indicated that until the issue of Iran’s enrichment program and its standoff with the UN is resolved, the Russian company will not restart its work at Bushehr even if it resolves its financial disputes with Iran.

Referring to UN Security Council resolutions against Iran, the Israeli premier Ehud Olmert said today that there is a possibility to stop Iran from going nuclear without a military operation. He said Iran was far from crossing the nuclear threshold.

Friday, April 20, 2007

News from Iran

The news surrounding the expansion of the uranium enrichment program in the country dominated the coverage in the Iranian media. President Ahmadinejad announced a technical “breakthrough” in Iran’s abilities to start thousands of uranium enriching centrifuges at Natanz nuclear facility. Ahmadinejad said that Iran will defend its nuclear program “to the end.” Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator discounted doubts expressed over Iran’s achievement and said that Iran will have more than 50,000 centrifuges in place within two years. On regional issues, Iran threatened a boycott of Sharm Al Sheikh conference on Iraq. The foreign ministry said that that if the five Iranian nationals held by the US forces in Iraq are not released beforehand, Iran might not attend the conference.

Iran Nuclear Program
· Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Iran resists to the end in defending its right to enrich uranium on its soil; he warned that Iran will reveal new developments in the nuclear field if the West pressures UN to impose new sanctions against Iran.
· Iran’s Chairman of Atomic Energy Commission, Reza Aghazadeh, said Iran will install 50,000 centrifuges at Natanz uranium enrichment facility within the next two years; Aghazadeh also said that 3,000 centrifuges are already installed and are operational in Natanz.
· The EU announced its willingness to restart negotiations with Iran to resolve the nuclear standoff; Ali Larijani, Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator, also said that a positive atmosphere has been created allowing Iran to restart negotiations; Larijani said, however, that Iran would in no way accept the suspension of its uranium enrichment program.
· The government announced that it will build two new nuclear reactors.
· Iran restarted its negotiations with the Russia over the completion of Bushehr nuclear reactor; the Russian contractor had stopped work on the plant citing financial issues.

Leading Domestic Storylines
· Iran might not attend the foreign ministers conference on Iraq which is scheduled to be held in Sharm Al Sheikh, Egypt on May 3rd; Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi said that if the five Iranians held by US forces in Iraq are not released beforehand, Iran might boycott the conference.
· Jalal Sharafi, the Iranian diplomat assigned to the Embassy in Baghdad, said that the CIA integrators tortured him while he was in their detention; Sharafi said he was kidnapped by Iraqi uniformed officers while exiting a bank building in Baghdad; Iranian television stations showed images of Sharafi’s wounds.
· The Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said he is hopeful that the five Iranians being held by the US forces will be freed soon; Mottaki said he has received signals that the US will release the detainees in the coming days; he did not elaborate on the signals.
· The Intelligence Minister, Mohseni Ejeie, said that the authorities have arrested more than 90 members of Jundallah organization; he said the detainees have taken part in various terrorist attacks in the province of Baluchistan; the minister of intelligence also accused Britain of encouraging terrorist activities within Iran; he said the British were aiding terrorist groups in Khuzestan; Ejeie did not give any details on British actions in Khuzestan.
· Russian foreign ministry announced that Iranian Revolutionary Guard General Zolghadr’s recent trip to Moscow did not violate the UN sanctions against Iran; the spokesman for the foreign ministry said that the UN Security Council resolution on Iran sanctions allows limited travel by targeted Iranian officials as long as the travel plans are reported to the UN beforehand; Russia, he said, had already informed the UN of Zolghadr’s itinerary.
· Iranian media extensively covered the reports that leading members of US congress have expressed their desire to visit Iran; Chairman Lantos of the Foreign Relations Committee and speaker Pelosi has said they might consider a visit to Tehran to hold talks with Iranian officials.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Iran Started Limited Enrichment

Iran has put into operation only 1,300 centrifuges, according to a report filed by IAEA inspectors after their visit to Natanz earlier this week. The number of centrifuges used to enrich uranium is much lower than the 50,000 threshold needed for an industrial-level production and for making a nuclear warhead.

President Ahmadinejad last week had announced that Iran has achieved industrial-level production and called for a national day of celebration. Nuclear analysts immediately discounted Ahmadinejad’s claims (see the April 10 entry in this blog: Iran’s Enrichment Breakthrough Questioned.)

IAEA inspectors protested Iran’s decision to prevent them from visiting the country’s heavy water facility now under construction. The plant will produce plutonium. Enriched uranium and plutonium can both be used as the fissile core of nuclear warheads.

Monday, April 16, 2007

New Nuclear Achievements: Ahmadinejad

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said today that Iran would “resist to the end” in defending its nuclear program. He said Iran will reveal “new nuclear achievements” if the U.N. Security Council passes another resolution against the Islamic Republic. Ahmadinejad did not specify what new achievements in nuclear technology Iran has reached.

The Security Council in March imposed a second round of sanctions against Iran for refusing to halt uranium enrichment work. That resolution followed one in December. Iran said last week that it was capable of industrial-scale enrichment, which prompted the U.S. to warn Iran that it was likely the U.N. Security Council would impose further and tougher penalties against the Islamic Republic.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

13 Teachers Are Arrested in Tehran and Hamedan

The Defenders of Human Rights Center in Tehran today announced the arrests in recent days of 13 teachers in Tehran and Hamedan. It said that the detentions are a clear sign of human rights being violated.

Nobel Peace Laureate Shirin Ebadi also condemned the detention of teachers who have staged public protests over low wages. The arrests in recent days follow an earlier spate of arrests in March after a series of demonstrations were staged by teachers.

ISNA, the student news agency, also reported today that three persons were arrested on Saturday and transferred to Evin Prison over the March demonstrations. ISNA named them as Hamid Pour-Vosugh, Mohammad Reza Rezai Garakani and Alireza Akbari Nabi.

Pour-Vosugh is the deputy head of the teachers' union, and the other two are directors of a weekly publication called Ghalam-e Moallem (Teacher's Pen).

Thousands of teachers gathered in front of the Iranian parliament in three separate protests in March, demanding higher salaries and accusing President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of not keeping his election promises to spread wealth. Teachers in Iran are forced to take second jobs in the private sector or to work as taxi drivers to make ends meet.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

U.S. Will Not Release 5 Iranians

The Washington Post reported that after intense internal debate, the Bush administration had decided to keep the Iranians in custody and make them go through a periodic six-month review process used for foreign detainees held in Iraq. The next review is not expected until July.

Washington says the five, seized in a January 11 raid by U.S. forces in the Kurdish city of Erbil, are linked with Iranian Revolutionary Guard networks involved in providing explosive devices used to attack U.S. troops in Iraq. Iran says they are diplomats and has demanded their immediate release.

The Post said Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had wanted to free the men because she judged them no longer useful but went along with the decision to retain them in custody that was strongly supported by Vice President Dick Cheney.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Women Activists’ Letter from Evin Prison

Nahid Keshavarz and Mahboubeh Hosseinzadeh of the One-Million Signature Campaign have sent out a letter from Evin Prison. The link below is their letter in Persian.

For more information on the One-Million Signatures Campaign please see the entry in this blog on April 7, 2007.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Democrat Wants to Visit Iran

Democratic representative Tom Lantos, chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the House of Representative told reporters that he wants to visit Iran and has been trying for 10 years to obtain a visa. Lantos is a Hungarian-born survivor of the Holocaust.

Lantos said that he is ready to go, and “knowing the Speaker, I think she might be”. The House Speaker Nancy Pelosi standing next to Lantos at the press conference did not challenge his remarks.

Pelosi said that while she finds Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s remarks on Holocaust to be repulsive and outside the circle of civilized human behavior, the willingness of Lantos, a Holocaust survivor, to meet with Ahmadinejad “speaks volumes about the importance of dialogue.”

The White House said today it would be “unproductive and unhelpful” for the Democratic Leaders of the Congress to visit Iran. White House spokesman Dana Perino said that it’s troubling that there are Democrats in Congress who are making travel arrangements to go to Tehran.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Iran’s Enrichment Breakthrough Questioned

Russian foreign ministry spokesman Mikhail Kamynin said today that Russia does not believe Iran has made any technological breakthrough to allow it to enrich uranium on an industrial scale. Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani had said yesterday that Iran had indeed built 3,000 centrifuges at Natanz, a minimum number needed to start enriching uranium at industrial scale. This is the assertion that the Russians are questioning. They said that they doubt if Iran could inject uranium gas (UF6) into a 3,000-centrifuge facility that is still under construction. President Ahmadinejad had called yesterday a national day of celebration for the breakthrough.

In the enrichment process, UF6 is pumped into centrifuges, which spin and purify the gas. Enriched (or purified) to a lower degree, the result is fuel for a reactor, but to a higher degree it creates the material for a nuclear warhead. 3,000 centrifuges would be enough to build one nuclear warhead within a year. Iran has so far been able to run two small cascades of 164 centrifuges.

The Western nuclear proliferation experts have not been able to verify Iran’s new capabilities. They are not sure if the frenetic activity at Natanz during the past few months is real, a bluff or a little of both. This morning two UN inspectors arrived in Iran to visit the uranium enrichment complex. The Western experts are awaiting their report.

Ahmadinejad has also set a goal of building 60,000 operational centrifuges at Natanz.

Monday, April 9, 2007

Halliburton Completes Work in Iran

US oil service giant Halliburton said today it has completed its contractual commitments in Iran and was no longer conducting any projects in the country.

Halliburton, headed by Dick Cheney before he became vice president, was involved in drilling for gas in Iran. It had won the contract even though a US law threatens sanctions on companies that invest over 40 million dollars in Iran’s energy sector.

Halliburton announced last month that it was relocating its headquarters to Dubai to capitalize on the Persian Gulf’s booming energy market.

Ahmadinejad: Nuke Fuel Production

Preseident Mahmoud Ahmadinejad today delivered the oft-promised “good news” to Iranian public; the Islamic Republic is now capable of producing nuclear fuel on an “industrial scale.” Ahmadinejad did not specify how many centrifuges were now operational at Natanz, but he had said before that the government’s goal was to start with at least 3,000 centrifuges needed to enrich uranium at industrial scale, and to expand the number to 60,000.

Ahmadinejad also vowed that Iran would not give up its rights to enrich uranium. The “good news” announced today will put the country on a collision course with the UN Security Council, who has banned such activities, and with the US that believes that the Islamic Republic’s goal is to produce atomic bombs.

Sunday, April 8, 2007

Iran Will Continue Uranium Enrichment

Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman said today that Iran would not negotiate over its rights to enrich uranium. Mohammad Hosseini said that uranium enrichment was allowed under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). The UN Security Council had demanded the suspension of the enrichment program.

President Ahmadinejad is expected to announce tomorrow the installation and operation of 3,000 centrifuges at Natanz.

Hosseini also warned that the Iranian military is ready to take action against any military strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities.

Iran Snubs Iraqi Leader

Iran refused to allow the Iraqi prime minister to fly across its airspace as he was flying to Tokyo. Nouri Al Maliki arrived in Tokyo this morning half-a-day late. After Iran refused to allow his plane to fly over its airspace, the plane was diverted to Dubai where Al Maliki stayed in the airport for more than three hours while the aircraft was refueled and a new flight plan was filed.

The refusal to allow Iraq’s leader to cross Iran in his government plane was a major snub for Al Maliki. Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Mohammad Hosseini told reporters today that the plane did not have prior authorization to fly across the country.

Al Maliki is in Japan to finalize a $700 million loan to repair and upgrade the Iraqi energy industry. The project calls for construction of oil pipelines and oil facilities in Basra to stabilize and expand Iraq’s oil export capabilities.

Saturday, April 7, 2007

The One-Million Signatures Campaign Continues

Women activists involved in the One-Million Signatures campaign, collecting one million signatures on a petition to change Islamic Republic’s gender-based discriminatory laws, report that five of the campaign workers were arrested last Monday while collecting signatures during the Sizdah-bedar ceremonies at Park Laleh in Tehran. Three were released on Tuesday, but two, Nahid Keshavarz and Mahboubeh Hosseinzadeh, have been transferred to Evin prison.

On Friday, more than 1,000 social activists and leading political and cultural personalities published an open letter asking for the immediate release of Keshavarz and Hosseinzadeh (pictured here).

Women in Iran are calling for equal rights with men, equal rights in divorce, equal rights in child custody, and equal rights in inheritance. Islamic Republic’s disregard of women’s rights and the growing movement to achieve women’s rights is becoming a major political and social movement in Iran.

Ahmadinejad to Announce the “Good News” on Monday!

Monday April 9 is Iran’s national nuclear technology day and President Ahmadinejad who will be visiting Natanz uranium enrichment facilities that day is expected to mark the occasion by announcing the “good news” on Iran’s nuclear program.

Ahmadinejad will confirm the launch of 3,000 uranium enrichment centrifuges at Natanz despite repeated ultimatums from the UN Security Council to suspend the enrichment program. Chief nucler negotiator Ali Larijani announced on Thursday that there would be no freeze on enrichment activities.

Iran’s startup of 3,000 centrifuges will subject the country to a new round of economic sanctions at the UN. It will also strengthen the possibilities of military actions by the West against the nuclear and military installations.

Friday, April 6, 2007

The US Was to Send Aircraft Over Iranian Bases

The United States offered to mount aggressive air patrols over Revolutionary Guards bases during Iran's stand-off with Britain but was rebuffed by London, The Guardian newspaper reported in its Saturday edition. The Pentagon wanted to send combat aircraft over Iranian bases to show how serious the incident was.

The Guardian also quoted an unnamed Iranian official as saying that if the incident was between US and Iran it could have been the beginning of the war.

US-Iran Feud

· The commander of US Central Command admiral William Fallon today denied the published reports in Russian media that a military attack by the US on Iran was imminent.

· Iran again rejected suspension of the country’s uranium enrichment program. Iran chief nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani told the Iranian TV that there is no chance for such suspension.

· US Defense Secretary Robert Gates said today that the US was not inclined to release five Iranians captured by US military in Iraq. The US had accused the five of supporting Iraqi insurgents. After the release of the British detainees by Iran, the US denied that a quid pro quos linking their release with those of Iranian detainees were at work.

· The US indicated today that US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice remains open to have a face-to-face meeting with Iranians when she attends an international conference on Iraq in early May.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Referendum on Nuclear Program

The Iranian Nobel Peace Laureate and human rights activist Shirin Ebadi has proposed a bold initiative to put the government’s uranium enrichment program to a referendum. Let the public decide if with all the political and economic costs associated with the government’s nuclear program it still wants to continue with it. If a campaign to hold a referendum on the enrichment program takes off, the government will be put in an extremely difficult position to refuse it. It professes that a large segment of the population is in favor of the government’s approach to nuclear energy. Let the public decide. If the government is right in its assertions of public support on the issue, why should it fear such referendum?

The government has defined its nuclear program as the cornerstone of Iranian nationalism and the national pride, no matter the costs to the nation. A public debate over this assertion could as easily show that the national pride could not be defined only in terms of uranium enrichment. The love of the country did not start with the enrichment program and will not end with its suspension. The public knows that the world distrusts the Islamic Republic and it would not want it to have a nuclear capability. The question is not Iran’s rights to enrich, but the Islamic Republic’s inability to safeguard Iran’s rights.

What is more important here, however, is the national interest of the country. Is it in our interest to become an isolated nation in an increasingly interdependent globe only to be able to enrich uranium? Is it worth it to push the West (US and Europe), the East (Russia and China), the Third World (South Africa) and the Muslim World (Indonesia and Qatar) into a unified camp to vote against our country in the UN Security Council?

The government has failed. The time has come for the public to discuss the issue and to vote on it. Holding a referendum on the issue is the only logical solution to the standoff. Let the public decide.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

British Sailors Will Be Freed Today

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said he has pardoned the British sailors and marines and they will be freed later today.

Quid Pro Quos

An Iranian representative is to meet the five Iranian officials that have been held in Iraq by US military since January. US President George Bush reiterated the administration position that there would be no quid pro quos with Iran linking the release of the five Iranian officials with that of the 15 British sailors and marines. But the Americans had in the past steadfastly refused any visitations by Iranian officials. The timing for such visit might suggest that there might indeed be a quid pro quos in the working.

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

News from Iran

· The Iranian and British officials were in contact today to resolve the crisis over the detention of 15 British navy personnel.
· The reports from Britain indicate that Iran’s National Security Council Chairman Ali Larijani is acting as the chief negotiator for Iran.
· Larijani had said in an interview yesterday that there was “no need for any trial” of the 15 captured Britons.
· British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s office announced that “both sides share a desire for an early resolution of this issue.”
· World oil prices tumbled today as Iran and Britain signaled that progress had been made to end the British detainee standoff. New York’s futures contract for light sweet crude fell by $1.30 a barrel today.
· In a related matter, the Iraqi foreign ministry said today that the Iraqi government was “intensively” seeking release of five Iranians detained by the US military to help with the release of 15 British sailors and marines detained in Iran.
· US President George Bush said there would be no quid pro quos with Iran, linking the release of the 15 British detainees with that of the 5 Iranian detainees in Iraq.
· A senior Iranian diplomat at Iran’s embassy in Baghdad who was kidnapped last February was released today by his captors. Jalal Sharafi returned to Tehran this afternoon. Iran had accused a group linked to Iraqi defense ministry of being behind the kidnapping.
· Iran inaugurated a power station and a water purification plant at Bushehr’s nuclear reactor site in a sign that it is seriously pursuing to eventually finish the construction of the reactor. Russia has delayed the completion of the project and the delivery of uranium fuel needed to operate the reactor pending a resolution of Iranian nuclear standoff with the West and the UN.
· President Ahmadinejad said today that he will soon have “important news” regarding Iran’s nuclear program and its achievements.

Monday, April 2, 2007

Radical Fundamentalists and New Hostage Crisis

Iranian news agencies reported today that because of changes in Britain’s behavior in the past 48 hours, no more TV footage of British hostages and their alleged confessions will be aired by Iranian TV. The apparent softening of the Iranian position came after a day of violent demonstrations outside the British embassy. The protestors threw rocks and set off firecrackers and clashed with the police in front of the embassy yesterday.

It appears that the radical elements within the country are trying to use the detention of the British sailors and marines into a 2007 version of the Iranian Hostage Crisis. In the original 1979 version, the radical “anti-imperialist” factions within the clerical establishment and the country’s Islamist movement turned the detention of US Embassy personnel into a political campaign to oust the moderate government of Mehdi Bazargan and to purge all moderate and pro-democracy elements within the Islamic Republic. In today’s Iran, the reformist parties and moderate politicians are the target of the radical fundamentalist groups.

The violent and radical anti-British demonstrations in Tehran showed that the hardliners are indeed intent to take the upper hand in the country. During the municipal elections of 15 December, the radical fundamentalists lost miserably. Pro-Ahmadinejad candidates received less than 5% of the popular vote. Creating a new hostage crisis can give the hardliners an opening, albeit outside ballot boxes, to consolidate its power in the Islamic Republic.

The realities of country’s current situation where no factions can dominate the power structure might not allow the hardliners to exploit the situation as in 1979 and eliminate moderate and reformist opposition. However, the radical outbursts of the past few days are reminders of the radical fundamentalists’ desire to turn the present situation into a new hostage crisis.