Wednesday, May 30, 2007

News from Iran

The news of the meeting in Baghdad between US and Iran delegations dominated the coverage in the Iranian press. The meeting was the highest-level official talks between US and Iran since the countries severed diplomatic relations in 1980. The two sides reported that the focus of the discussions was Iraq and that they agreed broadly on policy toward Iraq. The US, however, kept the military pressure on Iran. Two US carrier groups sailed through Strait of Hormuz in the Persian Gulf two days after the meeting.

On nuclear front, President Ahmadinejad again likened Iran’s nuclear progress to a train which has no breaks or reverse gears. Ahmadinejad declared that Iran’s uranium enrichment program will not be suspended. The new IAEA report to the UN Security Council indeed indicated the heightened level of enrichment activities in the country.

On the domestic front, Iranian security agencies arrested three Iranian-American academics and journalists and charged them with spying for the West and fermenting a velvet revolution in Iran.

Iran-US Relations

· US and Iran delegations met in Baghdad, ending a 27-year diplomatic freeze; the US Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker, the head of US delegation, said the talks went on for four hours, and the two sides agreed broadly on policy toward Iraq; the Iranian Ambassador to Iraq Hassan Kazemi Qumi, the head of the Iranian delegation, said he told the Americans that Iran was ready to train and equip the Iraqi army and police to create a new military and security structure; Kazemi also said that the next meeting between the two sides will take place in Iraq in less than one month; Crocker described the meeting as businesslike; he said he told the Iranians they needed to stop arming, funding and training the militias in Iraq; the two sides reported that the focus of the discussions was Iraq; the meeting was the highest-level direct official talks between the US and Iran since the countries severed diplomatic relations in 1980.
· Tehran Friday Prayer leader, Ayatollah Seyyed Hassan Khatami, said during his Friday sermons that there would be no negotiations between Iran and the US; he said the Supreme Leader has rejected Iran’s talks with the US on every subject including Iraq; the prayer leader added that the Supreme Leader is following the advice of the late Imam Khomeini who had called America the great Satan; an hour after the sermons, the Iranian foreign ministry spokesman announced that the Iranian delegation for talks with the US will be headed by Iran’s ambassador to Iraq, Hassan Kazemi.
· US TV network program ABC News reported that President Bush has authorized new covert action against Iran; current and former US intelligence officials have told ABC that the covert “black” operation is to destabilize the Iranian government; the reported plan will include a coordinated campaign of propaganda, disinformation and manipulation of Iran's currency and international financial transactions; the sources told ABC that the CIA developed the covert plan over the last year and has received approval from the White House; a recently-retired senior CIA official with direct responsibility over Iran told ABC that economic pressure on Iran may be the most effective tool available, particularly in going after secret accounts used to fund the nuclear program.
· The US engaged in a show of force in the Persian Gulf this week; US warships carrying 17,000 personnel entered the Gulf in what was termed as the largest US naval presence in the Persian Gulf since the 2003 Iraq war; the carriers USS John Stennis and USS Nimitz sailed through the Strait of Hormuz into the Gulf along with a helicopter carrier and amphibious assault ships.

The Nuclear Program

· President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad addressing a political rally in Isfahan again likened Iran’s nuclear progress to a train which has no breaks or reverse gears; Ahmadinejad said Iran not only does not suspend its uranium enrichment activities but it is actually boosting its nuclear fuel cycle capabilities; he said Iran’s goal is to become an exporter of nuclear fuel.
· The UN nuclear watchdog agency IAEA reported to the UN Security Council that Iran has indeed expanded its uranium enrichment program; the IAEA report said that Iran has installed 1,300 centrifuges in Natanz with hundreds more in pre-installation final test phase; UN Resolution 1747 required Iran to suspend all its uranium enrichment activities.
· The Iranian ambassador to IAEA Ali Soltanieh said the new IAEA reports shows Iran has not breached any of its international commitments; he added that Iran’s activities have no deviation from peaceful objectives; the deputy Director of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) Mohammad Saidi also said the report clears Iran on any reprocessing activities as well as on the issue of plutonium.
· IAEA chief Mohammad El Baradei said that in order to make progress, Iran might be allowed to develop limited research on uranium enrichment activities; he said the precondition for such proposal was that Iran did not build the industrial productive system for uranium enrichment and would be subject to the strict inspection of the IAEA; the US objected to El Baradei’s proposal and asked Iran to suspend all its enrichment activities.
· President Bush called for much severer sanctions against Iran for its continued defiance of the UNSC resolutions; the new French foreign minister, Bernard Kouchner, also said that France is in favor of the rapid adoption of new sanctions against Iran; Russian President Vladimir Putin called for a diplomatic solution to the nuclear standoff with Iran; Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Kislyak said that Iran’s failure to comply with UN resolutions is “deeply disappointing”; he urged Iran to resolve the problem through dialogue.
· EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana and Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani will meet in Madrid on 31 May; Solana said they will discuss concerns over Iran’s nuclear program.
· The Russian nuclear agency RosAtom announced that Iran seems to have lost interest in the completion of the Bushehr nuclear power plant; RosAtom spokesman said Iran is not financing the project properly; the spokesman said Iran was scheduled to pay the Russians $25 million a month but in the first five months of the year it has only paid a total of $20 million; If they pay, work will proceed, RosAtom spokesman added.

Leading Domestic Storylines

· Iranian security officials have charged three Iranian-Americans of spying; Haleh Esfandiari and Kian Tajbakhsh, both scholars, have been arrested on espionage charges; Parnaz Azima, a reporter for US government-sponsored Radio Farda, has also been charged and prevented from leaving the country; a growing movement by academics and human rights organization have demanded the immediate release of Iranian-American detainees; the intelligence ministry has also arrested Ali Shakeri, another Iranian-American human rights activists; no charges against Mr. Shakeri has been announced yet.
· Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini said that the German Chancellor and the current EU President Angela Merkel’s remarks on human rights condition in Iran were “interference” in Iranian internal affairs; EU has severely criticized Iran’s human rights records.
· Iran’s ministry of intelligence announced that several “spy networks” have been uncovered in Iran; the ministry linked the networks to US intelligence agencies; the Iranian foreign ministry summoned the Swiss ambassador in Tehran, who represents the US interests in Iran, to protest against the existence of several US spy networks in Iran; these networks were planning to carry out sabotage in the west, southwest and central regions of Iran.

Regional Storylines

· Iran’s chief international negotiator, Ali Larijani, said Iran was ready to cooperate with France on a peace plan for Lebanon; the proposed Iranian plan calls for the formation of a national government representing all factions and a new presidential elections; Iran was also proposing that a national tribunal be formed to try suspects in the assassination of former Lebanese premier Rafiq Hariri; after these steps to normalize the political situation in Lebanon, Iran would make efforts to “persuade” the Hezbollah to participate in political process and integrate its forces within the Lebenese military.
· Egypt welcomed resumption of ties with Iran; Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said he received a message from his counterpart, Ahmed Aboul Gheit, who welcomed President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's offer to re-establish full diplomatic relations; the Egyptians have demanded that prior to the resumption of relations, the Iranians name to change a street name in Tehran honoring the murderer of former president Anwar Sadat.
· Iran, India and Pakistan agreed to sign a gas pipeline agreement; the pipeline, when built, will transport Iranian natural gas to India and Pakistan.

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