Tuesday, June 12, 2007

News from Iran

Iran’s worsening relations with the US dominated the media coverage in Iran. The reports on possible military attacks on Iran’s nuclear installations by the US and Israel were extensively covered. Iranian media also covered the reports of a joint air maneuvers by the US and Israeli Air Forces in Negev Desert in Israel. The exercises were seen as mimicking an actual joint operation against the country’s nuclear installations. The government vowed to continue the uranium enrichment program. It warned the West of worst consequences for Western interests across the world if attacked over its nuclear program.

Iran Nuclear Program

· Ali Asghar Soltaniyeh, Iran's ambassador to International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), said Iran will continue its uranium enrichment program without delay.
· IAEA chief Mohammad El Baradei said that the “brewing confrontation” with Iran over its nuclear program must be “defused”; El Baradei said he was increasingly disturbed by the current stalemate over the issue; he urged all parties concerned to urgently break the stalemate and defuse any future confrontation.
· Javad Vaidi, a senior nuclear negotiator for Iran met in Vienna with Robert Cooper, a top aid to EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana; Vaidi and Cooper told reporters that they prepared the groundwork for another meeting between Solana and Iran’s chief negotiator, Ali Larijani; however, Vaidi’s scheduled meeting on that day with IAEA’s Olli Heinonen was cancelled; reports from Vienna indicated Vaeedi’s refusal to engage in any substantive discussion over Iran’s nuclear program during his meeting with Cooper led to cancellation of the meeting by Heinonen.

Rising Tensions over Iran Nuclear Program

· US and Israeli Air Forces started a week-long air maneuvers in the Negev Desert in Israel; the exercised are to mimic a possible US-Israeli air attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities; according to video reports of the exercises shown on Lebanese TV, a score of warplanes were being used in the maneuvers; the exercises were dubbed Joint Military Strike against Iranian Nuclear Facilities.
· A senior US military officer has told The Jerusalem Post that senior officers in the US armed forces have thrown their support behind President Bush over any operation against Iran to stop its nuclear progress; he Post quotes the senior officer as saying that the US Navy has also drawn up plans for a naval blockade designed to cut off Iran’s oil exports; according to the report, the US Navy would not block the Straight of Hormuz but instead would patrol farther out and turn away tankers on their ways to load Iranian oil.
· The Pentagon announced that Admiral Michael Mullen, currently Chief of Naval Operations, will become Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; The top two military officers with responsibilities over any US military operation in Middle East are now navy admirals, although the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are “ground wars”; the selections indicated that the Pentagon is thinking more about Iran and is selecting commanders best suited to manage future conflicts in the Persian Gulf.
· Iran's acting Deputy Interior Minister Mohammad Bagher Zolghadr said the US interests all over the world would be exposed to danger if Washington launched attacks on the Islamic Republic; Zolghadr said the U.S. bases in the region are within the range of Iran’s medium-range weapons; he said if the security of the Persian Gulf is disturbed, the oil prices will hit $250 a barrel.
· Ali Aqamohammadi, a senior advisor at Iran’s National Security Council, warned that lack of flexibility by the West toward Iran’s nuclear program will have “negative consequences for the world.”
· Iran’s director of the Center for Strategic Studies and former defense minister Rear Admiral Ali Shamkhani denied a DefenseNews.com report that during an interview he had threatened the Arab states of the Persian Gulf; Shamkhani was quoted as saying that Iran will hit the Persian Gulf states militarily and will destroy them if the US or Israel attack Iran; Shamkhani denied the report and characterized the interview as a “total fabrication”; DefenseNews.com said the interview did take place and defended the accuracy of it reporting.
· Israel launched Ofek 7, a satellite for military use; Ofek 7 will concentrate on gathering intelligence on Iran.

Worsening Iran-US Relations

· Iran’s Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki called the continued detention of five Iranian officials by the US military in northern Iraqi city of Erbil “illegal and illegitimate”; Mottaki said Iran “will make the Americans regret taking this illegal and indecent act”; the Iranian foreign ministry has submitted a request to the Swiss Embassy in Tehran [which represents US interests in Iran] asking to meet the five detained Iranian diplomats.
· The Iranian ambassador to the UN filed a complaint with the UN General Assembly and the Security Council against US support of the armed opposition group Jundallah; Jundallah has carried out terrorist attacks in southeastern province of Baluchistan; the Iranian government accused the US support of blatant interference in Iran's domestic affairs.
· Iran criticized the US government for failure to react to a threat against Iran launched by US Senator Joseph Lieberman; Lieberman had called for “aggressive” actions against Iran; he told the CBS news program Face the Nation that any action against Iran could include a military strike.

Leading Domestic Storylines

· Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini confirmed that Ali Shakeri had been the fourth Iranian-American detained in Iran; the authorities had previously confirmed the detention of Haleh Esfandiari, Kian Tajbakhsh and Nazee Azima; a growing number of prominent human rights organizations as well as political figures have asked Iran to release the four Iranian-Americans without delay.
· Iran’s National Gasoline Smart Card Program went into effect (3); only people with the Smart Cards can purchase gasoline; Naseri, the spokesman for the program, said people who have not received their cards should borrow a card from friends or family members before the rationing is introduced; there were no indications when that the rationing of gasoline would be introduced.

Leading Regional and International Storylines

· Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said if the US freezes its plans to build a missile defense shield in Europe, the Iranian nuclear problem could be resolved; Lavrov told ITAR-TASS that building the shield would “seriously complicate” efforts to end the standoff over the Iranian program; Iran analysts believed that Russia was using Iran as a bargaining chip to stop US missile defensive shield program.
· Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega arrived in Tehran; Ortega said his visit to Iran indicated the start of a new chapter in the expansion of the two countries’ relations; Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said that Tehran and Managua will always side with each other and will strive for the establishment of a world order based on justice, peace and brotherhood.

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