Tuesday, June 5, 2007

News from Iran

This week Iran commemorated the 18th anniversary of Ayatollah Khomeini’s death. During the memorial services the Iranian leaders took hard lines on nuclear issues and harshly criticized the US for pushing a new round of sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program. Ayatollah Khamenei and President Ahmadinejad both repeated Khomeini’s characterization of the US as an enemy of Iran and pledged that they would counter any US attempt to halt or to destroy Iran’s nuclear program. The rhetoric coming from Tehran during the week was the harshest heard in recent years.

On regional issues, Iran denied arming the Taliban in Afghanistan to inflict more casualties on Western troops, as alleged earlier by the British Prime Minister Tony Blair. The Iranian president also denied published reports that Iran was supporting militarily and financially the Iraqi militias, especially in Basra region.

Domestically, Iran set the date for the elections of the new parliament, Majlis. The date, 18 March 2008, is already proving to be controversial due to its closeness to Iranian New Year (21 March) and its holiday period. The reformist newspapers are charging that the government wanted to prevent a high turnout which normally favors the moderate and reformist candidates.

Iran continued its detention of the four Iranian-Americans it arrested last month despite calls for their immediate and unconditional release.

The Nuclear Program

· Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said Iran will not beg for the right to attain nuclear technology; Khamenei said that Iran will defend its rights and will never retreat in face of dange; President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said it was “too late” to stop Iran’s nuclear program; Iran has passed the point where the West wanted it to stop, he said; Ahmadinejad said Iran would not back down in its standoff with the west over the nuclear issue; he said imposing new sanctions against Iran was like playing with the “lion’s tail”; Ahmadinejad added that the Islamic Republic is “invincible” in the face of Western threats; the foreign ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini said a probable new set of sanctions by UN Security Council against Iran will not dissuade the country from its nuclear course.
· Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, said after his meeting with EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana that the nuclear standoff could still be settled in the coming weeks; Larijani said for the talks to continue, the UN Security Council must drop preparations to debate a new round of sanctions against Iran; Larijani made a pledge to Solana that Iran will provide answers on past suspicious activities to IAEA.
· Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani met German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier over Iran’s nuclear program; Larijani met Steinmeier on the eve of Group of Eight (G8) summit in the German town of Heiligendamm; G8 leaders were expected to discuss the Iranian nuclear issue during their meeting.
· US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Iran’s nuclear civilian program can not have nuclear fuel production capabilities; Rice said the west could not engage in endless negotiations with Iran, while Iran was perfecting its nuclear technology.
· US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates urged the world powers to impose stronger sanctions against Iran to pressure it to halt uranium enrichment; Gates said Iran will be able to build nuclear weapon between 2010 and 2015; Gates added that that some analysts believe Iran could make the weapons as early as 2008 or 2009; Gates said resolving Iran’s nuclear problem militarily is in no one’s interest.

US-Iran Relations

· Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini said Iran did not need US advice about how to deal with Iranian-Americans who have been detained in Tehran; US President George Bush had condemned the arrests and had called for the immediate and unconditional release of the Iranian-American detainees; Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said that the arrest were a judicial matter, independent of the country’s executive branch; the daily Keyhan, part of the Supreme Leader’s House, reported that the detained Iranian-Americans have been charged with fomenting “velvet revolution” in Iran.
· US warned Iranian-Americans and other US citizens against travel to Iran; the State Department said in a statement the American citizens may be subject to harassment or arrest while traveling or residing in Iran.
· Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani said the US plan to set up a missile interceptor system in Europe to counter threats from Iran was a “joke”; Larijani said Iran did not have long-range missiles capable of reaching Europe; he also that Europe as Iran’s biggest trade partner and not an adversary.

Leading Domestic Storylines

· Iran commemorated the 18th anniversary of Ayatollah Khomein’s death.
· Iranian ministry of interior set 14 March 2008 as the date of the next elections for the parliament, Majlis; reformist newspapers said the date was very close to the start of the Iranian New Year holidays and coincided with an Islamic holiday; they said the ministry’s choice for a date like that was to minimize popular participation in the all-important elections; high turnouts has always favored moderate and reformist candidates.

Leading Regional Storylines

· President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said with the help of Palestinian and Lebanese people, “the reverse countdown for the destruction of Israel has begun”; Ahmadinejad said the world will witness the destruction of Israel in “near future”.
· Spain strongly condemned the remarks by President Ahmadinejad on Israel’s destruction; Spanish foreign minister Miguel Angel Moratinos told Iran ambassador to Spain that Madrid totally rejects those remarks; the French foreign minister Bernard Kouchner also condemned the remarks; Kouchner called them “unacceptable”.
· Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad denied US accusations that Iranian intelligence agents were helping fellow Shia militants in Iraq; the Iranian government has denied arming Iraqi militias with advanced missile, including Fajr-3.
· Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said Iran will not hold fresh talks with the US on Iraqi security if the US did not change its policies in Iraq; Mottaki said the continuation of the US occupation in Iraq was the root cause of the Iraqi insecurity.
· Afghan President Hamid Karzai said there was no hard evidence of Iran’s shipment of arms to the Taliban; British prime Minister Tony Blair had wrote in an article that appeared in The Economist, that Iran was arming the Taliban in Afghanistan to inflict casualties on Western troops; after a meeting with Karzai, US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates also told reporters that there were no proof Iran had sent arms to the Taliban; Gates said that there were indications weapons were flowing from Iran to Afghanistan into the hands of Taliban fighters, but it was unclear whether Iran was behind the shipment.
· Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said the US and Israel seek continuation of tension in Lebanon; Mottaki made the remarks in a meeting with the Syrian President Beshar Al Asad in Damascus; Mottaki added that the US and Israel want to prevent unity among the Lebanese.

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