Wednesday, June 20, 2007

News from Iran

Talks of military attack by the US or Israeli Air Forces against Iranian nuclear installations coupled with the reports on the tightening economic sanctions dominated the coverage in the Iranian media. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad became the first leader in the Islamic Republic to openly raise his concern over a possible US military attack on Iran. Ahmadinejad said the intelligence he has receive indicate that the US is planning for such attack. The Iranian government also moved to ration the consumption of gasoline by government-owned vehicles but it failed to pass similar regulations in the parliament for private cars. Iran imports nearly half of its rapidly growing domestic gasoline needs and it feels vulnerable to US-led sanctions against the sale of gasoline to Iran. On the regional front, the attack in Samarra against the Asgareyn Mosque caused uproar in the media. The country’s Supreme Leader blamed the US as the responsible party for the attack. Iran also denied a claim by US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates that the Islamic Republic was supplying arms to Taliban in Afghanistan. Earlier in the month, the British Prime Minister Tony Blair had made a similar assertion.

Iran Nuclear Program

· Iranian chief nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani and EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana will meet in Portugal on Saturday 23 June to discuss Iran’s nuclear program.
· The Iranian envoy to IAEA, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, said “nuclear Iran” is now a “reality”; Soltanieh said negotiations were the only way to resolve the standoff with Iran over its nuclear program; Soltanieh denied the published report that Iran’s heavy-water reactor being built at Arak poses a danger to anyone.
· IAEA chief Mohammad ElBaradei called on Iran to stop expanding its uranium enrichment program; ElBaradei said Iran did not have any nuclear power plant running and should have no urgency to increase its enrichment capacity; he said the halt in enrichment would open door to talks and would halt further sanctions by the UN against Iran; IAEA had warned of ‘significant rise” in Iran’s enrichment capacity; diplomats close to IAEA had said that Iran will have 8,000 operational uranium enriching centrifuges by year’s end; in April, IAEA had put the number at 1,300.
· Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Iran doesn’t give a hoot for UN resolutions; Ahmadinejad said just as the previous resolutions did not have any effects on Iran; the Iranian people will keep ignoring any future resolutions too.
· King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia called for a peaceful resolution of Iranian nuclear standoff; King Abdullah also said that Saudi Arabia strongly supports non-proliferation of nuclear weapons.
· Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert called for harsher sanctions against Iran; Olmert also called on the West to institute economic sanctions against Iran beyond the UN Security Council requirements.
· Iranian representative to OPEC Hossein Kazempour Ardabili said Iran will not rule out using oil as a weapon if attacked by the US over its nuclear program; he said if Iran stops exporting oil, the prices would climb above $100 a barrel; Kazempour Ardabili also said that Iran will not have any problem importing gasoline; Iran imports about 40% of its domestic gasoline needs; the gasoline import has been identified as a source of leverage by the US against Iran over its nuclear program.

Iran-US Relations

· Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said the intelligence he has received indicate that the US is making plans to attack Iran militarily over its nuclear program; Ahmadinejad said the US will not succeed and Iran will continue to build it nuclear capability.
· US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates accused Iran of supplying arms to Taliban; the Iranian government strongly denied the accusation.
· Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said the US and Israel were behind the bombing at Samarra; the blast destroyed the minarets of the Asgareyn Mosque where two of the Shia Holy Imams, the Asgaries, are buried; Khamenei said the intelligence services of the “occupiers” [US] and the “Zionists” [Israel] designed the crime.
· Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said Iran is studying Iraqi request for another round of talks with the US to discuss Iraqi security; Mottaki said the talks could be held after assessing results of the first round of negotiations, which took place on 28 May in Baghdad.

Leading Domestic Storylines

· The government started a gasoline rationing program for government-owned vehicles; the price of gasoline was increased by 25% to 41 cents per gallon; the plans for rationing the gasoline by private cars was postponed; Iran imports nearly half of its domestic gasoline needs; any disruption in gasoline imports would have profound effects on the Iranian economy; the rationing plan was to minimize Iran’s reliance on foreign sources of gasoline; US has considered to use the gasoline imports as a leverage in stopping Iran’s nuclear program.
· Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini condemned Queen of England’s decision to grant kinghood to British author Salman Rushdie; Sir Salman was condemned to death by the late Ayatollah Khomeini for writing the novel “The Satanic Verses”; Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman called the British decision an insult to Islam.
· Iranian demonstrators thrown paint and eggs at the guests of a British Embassy’s annual party in honor of Queen’s birthday, the demonstrators succeeded in stopping the guest to enter the embassy building in Tehran; they called for the British Embassy to “shut down” and chanted “death to England” slogans.
· A strong earthquake shook central Iranian province of Qum; the Iranian Interior Ministry announced that there were no reported casualty as a result of the earthquake; the epicenter of the 5.9-Richter quake was in the small town of Kohak in Qum province.

Leading Regional Storylines

· Iran’s Chairman of the Expediency Council Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani urged the warring Palestinian factions to end Muslim in-fighting; Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei accused Israel of “provoking” the Palestinian in-fighting.

· Iran's foreign ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini said Iran has received indications from the Russian president that Russia would not follow through with an offer to allow the US to use a radar station in Azerbaijan as part of an American missile defense against Iran; Hosseini said that the use the radar station in Azerbaijan would cause instability and insecurity in the region.
· Russia will not sell its latest jet fighters to Iran and Syria; the Russian defense export agency, Rosoboroneksport, announced the news; Rosoboroneksport chief Sergey Chemezov told Interfax news agency that Russia has no plans to supply fighters to the two countries.

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