Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Brown’s Britain and Iran

Before Gordon Brown came to power, Iranian leaders were expressing hopes that he would revise British policy towards Iran by distancing himself from the US policies on Iran. The wishful thinking that is becoming a part of policy making process in today’s Iran was all but shattered after Brown visited Bush at Camp David yesterday. Radio Iran in a commentary this morning said as much: “Despite earlier speculations that there would be a gradual distancing between Britain and America, Brown wants to portray the notion that London’s policies are close to those of Washington.” (live.irib.ir / 31 July 07)

Mr. Brown himself told Washington Post, the newspaper of Washington’s elite, that under his premiership Britain will remain the nation of Winston Churchill, ever ready to defend liberty and security alongside America. The new British Foreign Secretary David Miliband, in one of his first policy statements, refused to rule out the military option on Iran (even though Jack Straw had done so during Blair era).

The historically close transatlantic relation between the two allies is not the only factor determining the British policy. The memories of the 15 detained British sailors in Tehran are still fresh in everybody’s mind. And the recent reports on Iranian involvement in anti-British operations in Basra have solidified the British view of Iran as an enemy state.

It looks that London’s relationship with Washington is as strong today, and could become stronger as the crisis in the region intensifies.

News from Iran

The growing tensions between the US and Iran and the regional security issues dominated the coverage in the Iranian media. The influential former president Hashemi Rafsanjani warned the nation that “exceptional conditions” exists for the country, with the US, the UK and the Arab states of the Persian Gulf uniting against Iran. The influential conservative daily Keyhan characterized US-Iran talks as “fruitless” and the commander of the revolutionary guards called upon the Moslems to increase their vigilance against the US. The Iranian foreign minister denounced US arms sales to Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states as “mercenary in nature.” On the nuclear front, President Ahmadinejad said that accepting Iran’s uranium enrichment program is the only way to resolve the nuclear standoff with Iran.

US-Iran Relations

· Iran’s influential former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani warned the nation that “exceptional conditions” exists for the country; Rafsanjani said that the common stance adopted by the US president and the British prime minister against Iran during their recent meeting and the visits by the US state and defense secretaries to the region to “strengthen the regional countries against Iran” are manifestations of these “exceptional conditions” in the country; Rafsanjani added that during his presidency friendly relationships with the Arab state of the Persian Gulf were established and they were not uniting against Iran.
· Iran’s foreign minister Manouchehr Mottaki said US has too many problems in Iraq to be able to attack Iran; Mottaki said 170,000 US soldiers in Iraq have been unable to guarantee neither their own safety nor the security of Iraq; Mottaki dismissed any future UN sanction against Iran and said they would not change Iran’s mind to continue its nuclear program.
· Iran’s secretary of supreme national security council Ali Larijani said Iran is in no need for US security guarantees; Larijani said Iran will exercise its rights, including its nuclear rights, regardless if US likes it or not; he added the US does not want Iranians to have the nuclear technology; Larijani chided the US for making a strategic mistake on stopping Iran’s nuclear program because Iran has already acquired the nuclear technology.
· The influential conservative daily Keyhan called the recent negotiations between Iran and US on Iraqi security as “fruitless”; the editorial on 25 July characterized the US as “obstructionist” and “irresponsible”; sensible talks do not get through to the occupiers of Iraq, the editorial concluded.

Iran Nuclear Program

· Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said accepting Iran’s legal rights to enrich uranium is the only solution to the nuclear standoff; They [the West] should come and say this is your right, Ahmadinejad added; he said that security council resolutions against Iran over its nuclear program are illegal; he said the court of public opinion in the world is in favor of Iran and the public opinion has the final say on the world stage today.
· Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani said that enriching uranium is like “breathing” for Iran; Larijani said Iran will not halt the spinning centrifuges at Natanz enrichment plant.
· Iran’s foreign minister Manouchehr Mottaki said new sanctions against Iran would mean “confrontation” with Iran; Mottaki said that Iran would be tempted to do “illegal” things if a new round of sanctions is imposed on the country;
· The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors visited heavy-water reactor under construction at Arak; the inspection took place on 30 July and lasted five hours.
· Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini said Iran has no debts to Russia for the construction of Bushehr nuclear reactor; he rejected Russian claims that Iran has failed to fulfill its financial commitments on Bushehr project; Hosseini added that it would be in the interest of Russia not to waste time and to speed up the plant completion.

Domestic Storylines

· Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Iran is in the process of building satellites; he said Iran must have its own satellite in the orbit; “We have to build it. We are doing it right now,” Ahmadinejad said.
· President Ahmadinejad said that fuel consumption in the country was much more than the global average and rationing gasoline was a necessity; he said that gasoline rationing was favored by Majlis (the parliament) and the government decided to implement it; he said the rationing program has resulted in a drop in gasoline consumption of 23 million liter (6 million gallon) per day; the program limits the gasoline consumption to slightly less than a gallon per car per day.
· President Ahmadinejad said he has not yet thought about running for re-election; responding to a reporter’s question on the unpopularity of the government’s gasoline rationing program and the risks to his re-election chances, Ahmadinejad said what he says and what he does is not meant to win votes.
· Iranian judiciary spokesman Ali Reza Jamshidi said two Iranian Kurdish journalists have been sentenced to death for being "enemies of God"; Adnan Hassanpour and Abdolvahed "Hiva" Botimar were sentenced to death on July 16 by a revolutionary court in Marivan, in Iran's northeastern Kordestan province.

Regional Storylines

· Iranian foreign minister Manouchehr Mottaki denounced US arms sales to Saudi Arabia and other Arab states of the Persian Gulf as “mercenary” in nature; Mottaki said that the sales is to help US defense contractors from going bankrupt; Mottaki said “the White House politicians are major stakeholders in big arms companies trying to abuse their remaining months in office to whip up a delusional atmosphere, bring big profits to those arms companies and present the outcome as a move to enhance regional stability and security”; Iranian Defense Minister Brigadier General Mohammad Mustafa Najar also accused the US of seeking to “spark an arms race in a bid to keep their giant weapon production companies away from the danger of bankruptcy.”
· The Commander of Islamic Revolution Guards Corp. (IRGC) Major General Yahya Rahim Safavi said Muslims should increase their vigilance against the US; Gen. Safavi said Iraq is becoming another Vietnam for the US.
· Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini said if the US abides by the outcome of US-Iran talks on Iraq and fulfills its commitments, it must help bolster the Maleki government; Hosseini expressed concerned over recent development to weaken the Iraqi government and pledged Iran’s full support for Maleki.
· Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini denied published reports that Iran is promoting violence in Basra; UK Consul in Basra, Richard Jones had accused Iran of promoting violence to hinder UK plan to hand in the city’s security to the Iraqis.
· Iranian speaker of parliament, Gholam Haddad Adel, said the victory of Hezbollah over Israel belongs to the entire Moslem world; Adel wished Hezbollah “greater victories in future fight against Zionism.”
· Iran’s influential conservative daily Keyhan, commenting on the recent elections results in Turkey, wrote that Iran’s own Islamic revolution inspired the wave of Islamism in Turkey and in the entire region; Keyhan added that the “green revolution” in the Middle East is superseding the Western-inspired velvet revolutions that took place elsewhere; the reformist daily Aftab Yazd commenting on the same election results criticized Keyhan and the government for not understanding that the victory by Islamic Justice and Development Party (AKP) does not represent victory of Islamism, Aftab Yazd wrote that AKP is committed to the country’s “general secular framework” and although their leaders are personally practicing Moslems but they have accepted the secular nature of the Turkish state.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

On the Winds of War - Ahmadinejad’s Journey to Damascus

Ahmadinejad and Asad in Damascus. 19 July 2007. MEHR News

On 19 July, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad arrived in Damascus to meet his Syrian counterpart, Bashar Al Asad. Ahmadinejad had come to the Syrian capital 48 hours after Asad had taken the oath of office at the start of his second term as the country’s president. As customary, Ahmadinejad had brought a gift for the re-elected president. What the gift was has since become a source of speculation, denial and a call to arms.

The London-based Pan Arab daily Asharq Al Awsat, quoting an identified source close to Ahmadinejad, reported that in his meeting with Bashar, the Iranian president offered a grant of one billion dollars to Syria in return for Syria’s pledge not to start any peace talks with Israel (Asharq Al Awsat, 21 July).

Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman denied that Ahmadinejad had pledged one billion dollars in aid to Syria for purchasing weapons from Russia and North Korea (IRNA, 22 July).

And the Israelis were quick to react. Israel’s minister of strategic threats Avigdor Liebeman urged prime minister Ehud Olmert and the chairman of the opposition Binyamin Netanyahu to form a national unity government in light of the strategic threat posed by the tightening ties between Syria and Iran (Haaretz, 21 July). Yitzhaq Ben Yisra'el, a senior Knesset member from the ruling Kadima party, also urged Olmert and Netanyahu to form a “national emergency government” to deal with Iran (Ynetnews, 21 July).

Immediately after his meeting with Bashar Asad, Ahmadinejad met with Hizbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah and Hamas politburo chief Khaled Mishaal (IRNA, 19 July).

The speculations raised by Asharq Al Awsat, denials by Iran and a call to arms by influential Israelis, all in a span of a single weekend, show the tense atmosphere surrounding the alliance formed by Iran, Syria, Hamas and Hizbollah against Israel.

Iran’s strategy is seemingly simple: lead a coalition with Syria, Hamas and Hizbollah as members, drive the US out of the Middle East, and wipe Israel off the map. Syria’s buying into the strategy is a bit more perplexing. Bashar must feel abandoned by the Arabs and shunned by the US and the Europeans. Reliance on the Islamic Republic seems to be his only hope to regain the Golan. Hamas, now governing a land on the border of Israel, needs Iran for survival. Hizbollah, which was formed with the help of Iran’s revolutionary guards, needs Iran not only to confront Israel, but also to face an intractable domestic Lebanese front.

Iran’s strategy, however, seems to have big holes in it. To begin with, the Islamic Republic is facing one of the toughest years of its existence when it comes to matters of economy and public discontent. The world’s second biggest oil producer had to ration gasoline with a draconian measure of less than a gallon per car per day. In a public opinion poll conducted last June, 75% of the people felt they were not benefiting from the surging oil revenues (Please see 18 July entry in this blog: The Views of Iranians). One billion dollar grant to Syria will not go well at home, hence the quick denial by the government. Iran is also facing a financial crisis as a result of the growing sanctions against its banking and financial institutions. A promise of one billion dollar in cash to Syria is easier said than done.

Syria, Hamas and Hizbollah might not be all that powerful allies either. Syria, isolated in the Arab world, is not ready for a war with Israel and might actually fear an Israeli attack. The alliance with Iran could well be a defensive strategy for Damascus. Hamas has its hands full holding on to Gaza in the face of a world increasingly united against its rule. Hizbollah is not ruling Lebanon, as they expected only a year ago. The Lebanese Army is coming out of a major fight with Al Qaeda stronger in morale despite its casualties and the Sionora government is showing a renewed sense of purpose. It’s Nasrallah’s life that has become more complicated. The alliance of Iran, Syria, Hamas and Hizbollah looks much stronger on paper.

Ahmadinejad’s journey to Damascus and the summit of the four leaders should be taken very seriously. This alliance, however weak internally, needs to create tension to justify its members’ hold on their people. But heightening tension in an already tense region can be a recipe for war. What Iran needs to fear most is that creating winds of war can produce its own nightmare: a pre-emptive attack on its military and nuclear facilities by the Israelis or the Americans or both.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

News from Iran

The news and editorials on the new rounds of US-Iran and IAEA-Iran talks which were held in Baghdad and Vienna respectively dominated the coverage in the local media. The conservative press warned against the “double-edged” sword of any agreements with US or IAEA for fear of loosing the country’s allies in the region and of abandoning Iran’s advancement in the nuclear field. The reformist press welcomed both sets of negotiations and called upon the government to help with Iraq’s security and to prevent imposition of new sanctions against the country over its nuclear program. Iran also denied published reports that it has offered Syria $1 billion financing to purchase arms from Russia and North Korea in return for Syria’s refusal to start any peace talks with Israel.

Iran Nuclear Program

· Iran and International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) held a new round of talks in Vienna over Iran's nuclear program; the Iranian delegation was headed by deputy national security chief Javad Vaeidi and Iran's ambassador to IAEA, Ali Asghar Soltanieh; the meeting was aimed at drawing up a plan to clarify ambiguities in program’s past and the scope and content of Iran’s uranium enrichment program; Soltanieh said that IAEA and Iranian experts would seek to put together a working framework of precise rules covering inspections of Iran's nuclear facilities; Iran and IAEA agreed to continue the next round of talks on 20 August in Tehran.
· Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani and EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana agreed to hold another meeting in the coming days; Solana said the meeting will be held to discuss Iran’s nuclear program and to take the matter forward; Solana briefed EU foreign ministers on the latest developments regarding Iran’s nuclear program; Larijani and Solana last met on 23 June in Lisbon.
· Iran's deputy foreign ministry Mehdi Safari accused Russia of playing politics in delaying the construction of Bushehr nuclear reactor plant; Safari said the Bushehr power plant was supposed to be finalized by September 2007, but for the past four months the Russians have started to bring various excuses and now they say they will not be able to honor the contract.
· New British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said there will soon be a third UN Security Council resolution against Iran; Brown warned Iranian leaders that the world fear the development of a nuclear weapons program in Iran; the French foreign ministry also called upon the UNSC to start consultations for a third resolution against Iran; a French foreign ministry spokesman said that the new resolution should be firm, and should harm Iran’s economy, its population and its global relations.
· Ahmad Avayi, a member of Majlis (Iranian parliament) National Security and Foreign Policy Committee, said Europeans will be the major losers in adopting sanctions against Iran; Avaii sated that UN sanctions can not change Tehran’s political attitude; he said previous UN resolutions were not been able to restrict Iran’s ability to acquire missile technology and to develop its military industry.

Iran-US Relations

· The US and Iranian ambassadors to Baghdad held the second round of their meeting to discuss security issues in Iraq; Iranian ambassador to Iraq, Hassan Kazemi Qomi, said that Iraqis were victimized by terror and the presence of foreign forces on their territory; Iran, Iraq and the US, however, agreed to set up a security subcommittee to carry forward their talks on restoring stability in Iraq.
· Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini said the US has always wanted to topple the Islamic Republic; Hosseini said the recent “confessions” by Iranian-Americans Haleh Esfandyari and Kian Tajbakhsh displayed the United States' long-term plans for changing the Iranian government.
· Iran’s foreign minister Manouchehr Mottaki said that the US is in no shape to threaten Iranian nuclear facilities; Mottaki said that Iran’s new round of talks with the International Atomic Energy Agency is proof that Iran is after resolving the nuclear standoff with the West through negotiations and peaceful methods.
· Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini said Iran uses all potentials and capabilities to release its five diplomatsdetained in Iraq by US forces; Hosseini said the issue was on the agenda of US-Iran talks in Baghdad.

Leading Domestic Storylines

· Iran’s interior minister Mostafa Purmohammadi asked Majlis, the Iranian parliament, to give the government enough time to resolve the problems arising from gasoline rationing in the country; the National Iranian Oil Refining and Distribution Company (NIORDC) reported that the gasoline consumption had a decreasing trend throughout the country; NIORDC spokesman said the average daily gasoline consumption in the country has reached 57.2 million liter a day, a rate equal to 2003 levels despite the fact that the number of cars has since doubled; Government spokesman Gholam Hossein Elham said that government does not plan to start selling gasoline at non-rationed market price in addition to low subsidize price that is heavily rationed; some Majlis deputies had called on the government to sell gasoline at market price outside the rationing system; the government also announced that all dilapidated cars will be removed from the streets by 2011 to help with gasoline consumption.
· Iranian government intensified its “social order” campaign; a Tehran police spokesman announced that people who wear short trousers, tight dresses above the knee, clothes with famous foreign labels, or those wearing their hair in Western styles will be “tackled with severity” ; the police spokesman added that outlets selling inappropriate clothes will be closed down; the names of those who have been given warnings or taken to police station will be published on the internet and re-offenders will not be treated with leniency, the police said.
· 12 criminals were executed at Tehran’s Evin prison; the footage of some of the condemned speaking minutes before their execution was broadcast by IRTV.
· 11 members of the Revolutionary Guards were killed in Iran’s Baluchistan province; a spokesman for Baluchistan governor said the attackers were local drug traffickers; the authorities discounted speculations that the attackers were member of the terrorist group Jundallah.

Regional and International Storylines

· Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini denied published reports that Iran has offered Syria $1 Billion to finance its arms purchases from Russia and North Korea in return for Syrian rejection of peace talks with Israel; Hosseini confirmed reports that during recent trip to Damascus by Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad the need for bolstering of economic and technical cooperation between Tehran and Damascus were discussed; during the visit, Ahmadinejad met with Syrian president Bashar Assad, Hizbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah and Hamas politburo chief Khaled Mishaal.
· Former British prime minister Tony Blair, who is now the Quartet's Middle East envoy, said during a meeting with Israeli Likud chief Binyamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem that the advancing peace process in the Middle East will create a coalition of moderate states in the region and will isolate the Islamic Republic of Iran.
· China North Industries Corporation (NORINCO) signed a “gigantic contract” with Iran to supply Iran’s subway trains; NORINCO will export subway trains worth $587 million; NORINCO said however that the mounting international dispute over Iran's nuclear program makes the contract “vulnerable to termination.”
· Tehran-based World Forum for Proximity Among Islamic Schools of Thought condemned a fatwa by Wahhabi muftis calling for destruction of Shia holy shrines in Iraq and Syria; the mufti of Saudi Arabia and other leading Wahhabi clerics endorsed the destruction of the shrines of Imam Hossein and Hazrat Abbas in Karbala, Iraq, and Hazrat Zeinab in Damascus, Syria.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Iran-Syria Axis against Israel

Asharq Alawsat, the influential London-based and Saudi-owned Pan Arab daily reported today that Iran will give Syria $1 billion to purchase weapons from Russia and North Korea in exchange for Syria’s pledge not to enter peace talks with Israel. The financial pledge came directly from Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad during a visit to Damascus earlier this week.

Reacting to the news, Israel’s Minister of Strategic Threats Avigdor Lieberman urged Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and the chairman of the opposition Binyamin Netanyahu to establish a national unity government in light of the strategic threat posed by the tightening ties between Syria and Iran, Israeli daily Ha'aretz reported.

Israeli news site Ynetnews quoted a senior member of the Knesset from Kadima party, Yitzhaq Ben Yisra'el, as also urging Olmert and Netanyahu to form a “national emergency government” to deal with Iran.

Israel and Syria had been in contact in recent days through third parties, including Turkey, EU and US Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev announced.

Ahmadinejad’s sudden trip to Damascus to meet Syrian President Bashar Al Asad was regarded by Iran analysts as Iran’s attempt to prevent any peace talks between Syria and Israel. Asharq Alawsat report on the $1 billion Iranian offer, however, came as total surprise. Such move by Iran can indeed pave the way for Netanyahu’s return to government, a possibility that might prove costly for the Islamic Republic.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Interview with Ramin Jahanbaglu

The Spanish daily El Pais has published the text of a telephone interview with Ramin Jahanbaglu on 17 July. Jahanbaglu talks about the “confession” show that was to be aired by Iran’s TV. Since the interview, the show has been aired in two segments.

Ramin Jahanbaglu, a philosopher, spent four months in prison last year. He was traveling abroad when the show was aired. The translation of El Pais interview appears below.

El Pais: Did you know you appear in the program, according to the agencies which have seen the trailer?
Jahanbaglu: I had no idea.

El Pais: And how does it strike you?
Jahanbaglu: I'm very surprised. A political confession of this kind is absurd. It's pure propaganda. It reminds me of Stalinism, of "1984", the book by George Orwell. The fanatics want you not only to obey but also to agree with them.

El Pais: In the trailer your links with US institutions are denounced. What do you think they are referring to?
Jahanbaglu: It's all a matter of interpretation. Obviously, I take part in international conferences; it's no secret, nor is it illegal. Now, if you interpret it according to an ultra-ideological logic, it can become a crime. It's absurd.

El Pais: What effects may a program of this kind have on the population?
Jahanbaglu: I'd compare it with Mao's Cultural Revolution in China. The long term is the important thing. Over time one sees very clearly who the victim of the process is and who isn't, where the truth and the propaganda lie.

El Pais: Are you surprised that a program like this should be broadcast and that you should appear in it?
Jahanbaglu: I imagine they took the pictures of one of the interrogations they once subjected me to. Yes, of course I'm surprised at appearing on a political "reality show" like this one. I just can't understand the need for it. Having contacts abroad or taking part in conferences is not treason. On the contrary, I'd see it as a show of patriotism, of contribution to the country. I've never been a politician! What's more, I still want to live and teach in Iran. I believe I can be more useful to my country that way.

El Pais: Are you afraid?
Jahanbaglu: I'm scared. Showing confessions on television really is a victory for the politics of the absurd.

El Pais: Do you fear returning to prison?
Jahanbaglu: Obviously I don't want to go back to jail, but as I've said, the situation frightens me. I don't want to repeat my experience. These kinds of programs create an atmosphere of fear that is useful to nobody.

El Pais: What will happen with the [Iranian-]Americans who are being held?
Jahanbaglu: I hope they'll be released soon and can go back to their families as soon as possible.

El Pais: North Korea has given up its nuclear plan. Are there any lessons for the case of Iran?
Jahanbaglu: The case of Iran is more complicated. It can't be tackled in isolation. It falls into a much broader whole, which includes internal and external matters, like Iraq, the Middle East et cetera.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The Views of Iranians

In a poll conducted in June 2007, the Iranians were asked about their views on the economy, the nuclear program and their political system. An overwhelming majority regard the creation of new jobs as the top priority. A majority favors a nuclear Iran, but 80% of Iranians are ready to stop nuclear weapon programs if Iran gets international trade and investment necessary to create new jobs. Jobs are more important than the bomb.

An overwhelming majority of Iranians favor a republic where all the leaders are freely and directly elected by the people. They oppose the current political system and they oppose the return of monarchy to Iran.

The poll was conducted for Terror Free Tomorrow, by telephone from 5 June to 18 June, 2007, with 1,000 interviews proportionally distributed according to the population covering all 30 provinces of Iran (www.TerrorFreeTomorrow.org).

On Economy
75% of Iranians think the present economic situation is fair to poor. A minority of 25%, however, feels they are benefiting from the government policies and the economy is going in the right direction.

Do you think the economy in Iran today is going in the right direction?
No: 42%
Yes: 27%
Don't Know: 19%
Neither: 11%

In terms of your own personal economic situation, do you think your financial situation today is better, the same, or worse than it was when President Ahmadinejad took office?
The same: 44%
Worse: 31%
Better: 24%

Would you say President Aahmadinejad’s policies have or have not succeeded in reducing unemployment and inflation?
Have not: 52%
Have: 33%

Do you feel that President Ahmadinejad has kept his campaign promise to “put oil money on the table of the people themselves?”
No: 56%
Yes: 22%

On Nuclear Program
Two-thirds of Iranians strongly favor the development of peaceful nuclear technology. The public opinion is divided on developing nuclear weapons. A majority favors having the bomb and feels safer with the bomb. But 80% are ready to stop any nuclear weapon programs if in return Iran could get foreign trade and capital investment creating more jobs in the country. The Iranians are saying that jobs are more important than the bomb.

Do you favor or oppose the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran developing nuclear energy?
Strongly favor: 78%
Somewhat favor: 14%
Oppose: 5%

Apart from nuclear energy, do you favor or oppose the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran developing nuclear weapons?
Strongly oppose: 37%
Strongly favor: 33%
Somewhat favor: 19%
Somewhat oppose: 5%

If the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran had nuclear weapons, do you think that the people of Iran would live in a safer or more dangerous world?
Safer: 52%
More dangerous: 31%

Would you support or oppose Iran receiving [international] assistance in return for Iran guaranteeing not to develop nuclear weapons?
Support: 80%
Oppose: 15%

On Politics:
The Iranians oppose the present political system where the Supreme Leader is not chosen by a direct vote of the people. They favor a republic where leaders are freely and directly elected.

Do you support or oppose a political system where the ‘Supreme Leader’ rules according to religious principles, and cannot be chosen or replaced by a direct vote of the people?
Strongly oppose: 53%
Strongly favor: 17%
Somewhat favor: 10%
Somewhat oppose: 8%

Do you support or oppose a political system where the ‘Supreme Leader’, along with all other leaders, can be chosen and replaced by a free and direct vote of the people?
Strongly support: 72%
Strongly oppose: 11%
Somewhat support: 7%
Somewhat oppose: 3%

Do you support or oppose a political system where there is a monarch who is not elected by the people, rules for life, and his family inherits the right to rule?
Strongly oppose: 75%
Strongly support: 6%
Somewhat oppose: 6%
Somewhat support: 4%

Monday, July 16, 2007

The Military Option

Guardian is reporting today that the internal White House debate over Iran has shifted back in favor of military action before President Bush leaves office in January 2009.

Guardian has learned that Bush sided with Vice President Cheney for the military option against Iran during a meeting last month at the White House. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert Gates are understood to favor the diplomatic option, including tough economic sanctions, as opposed to military attack on Iran.

The report reveals that Nick Burns, the undersecretary of state responsible for Iran, had argued in the meeting that negotiations and diplomatic maneuvering could go on after January 2009. Bush and Cheney reportedly did not like his assessment. “The balance has tilted,” Guardian source is quoted as saying.

The US has stationed almost half of its fleet of 277 warships close to Iran, including two aircraft carrier groups. A third carrier, USS Enterprise, left Norfolk, Virginia, for the Persian Gulf last week. Enterprise is to replace USS Nimitz already stationed in the Gulf. It could also be used as a third carrier in the area if needed.

Labor Unions Under Fire

Mahmoud Osanloo, head of the Workers’ Syndicate of Tehran Bus Company, was abducted near his house on 10 July by plainclothesmen, presumably from the Ministry of Intelligence, and has not been heard from since.

Since Ahmadinejad’s election in 2005, his government has begun to directly control union activities in Iran. Although Iran is a member of ILO, the Geneva-based International Labor Organization, but the government has consistently violated ILO rules.

Ahmadinejad’s Ministry of Labor routinely opposes and suppresses strikes by trade unions, the pillar of ILO regulations. The Ministry even sends its own official as labor representatives to ILO meetings.

The country is facing high unemployment and low wages but the labor unions are not allowed to openly oppose the government’s policies or take direct action to safeguard their members’ interests.

ILNA, the news agency closely associated with the labor movement in Iran, was also banned by the government. The ninth government is proving to be one of the staunchest opponents of the labor movement in Iran.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

News from Iran

The government clampdown on dissent and its decision to ration gasoline dominated the coverage in the Iranian media. In the past few weeks the Iranian government has started a massive crack down on pro-reform press, student organizations, labor unions, former high-level government officials, Iranian-American personalities visiting the country, and the restive public. On the economy front, President Ahmadinejad rejected a proposal to allow drivers who reached their limit to purchase more fuel at a higher price. The authorities also arrested over 80 people for damaging gas stations during protests against fuel rationing. A former oil minister confirmed published reports that Iran’s oil production is rapidly depleting due to lack of foreign investment. Iran can loose all its oil export revenues by 2014 if no new investment were available to expand the oil production.

Crackdown on Dissent
· On 2 July, the government closed down the pro-reform daily Ham-Mihan and suspended the activities of the independent news agency ILNA.
· On 10 July, the government ordered the final closure of ILNA.
· On 5 July, the police special forces stormed the top-ranked Polytechnic University and arrested 11 student leaders. The student leaders have been transferred to the notorious Evin Prison.
· On 10 July, Masour Osanloo, a labor union leader, was kidnapped near his house. It is widely believed that the plain-cloth men who picked him up were the agents of the Ministry of Intelligence.
· In the past month, four Iranian-Americans personalities visiting the country have been charged with promoting velvet revolution in Iran and three of them are kept at Evin Prison.
· In May, the government arrested Hossein Mossavian, the country’s former nuclear negotiator and a close ally of former president Hashemi Rafsanjani. Mossavian has since been accused of espionage.
· On 9 July, the Intelligence Ministry announced the arrest of 20 people who allegedly were part of a spy network.
· On 27 June, authorities arrested 80 people on the charge of damaging gas stations during protests against fuel rationing.

In December, the people will elect the 8th Majlis (Iranian parliament). In June 2009, the people will elect the 10th president of the Islamic Republic. Ahmadinejad and fundamentalist groups want to hold on power in Majlis and Ahmadinejad himself wants to be reelected as president. The pro-reform press, the student leaders and union activist, the former high-level officials in Rafsanjani and Khatami administrations, including the Three Ayatollahs (Rafsanjani, Khatami and Karubi), the Iranian-American pro-reform personalities and anyone protesting against the government is now viewed as enemy. To get reelected and to keep Majlis in his camp, Ahmadinejad needs to defeat the alliance formed by the pro-reform movement. The five months left to the parliamentary elections may well prove the most challenging period for proponents of reform and democracy in Iran.

Other Domestic Storylines
· President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad decided against a proposal to allow motorists to purchase more gasoline than their rations at free market price; Ahmadinejad said doing so would push up the country’s inflation rate to unaccepted levels; he said setting a free market price for gas under the present circumstances is a “killer poison” for the country's economy; the gasoline ration of about one gallon per day per car went into effect earlier in the month; a number of officials, including the Minister of Energy, had previously said that the drivers who reached their limit would be able to purchase more fuel at a higher price.
· Iranian authorities announced the arrest of 80 persons on the charge of damaging gas stations and looting shops during protests against fuel rationing.
· Four trucks smuggling gasoline our of Iran crashed into each other and caught fire in southeastern country, killing 13 people; the trucks crashed near the Pakistan border; fuel smuggling from Iran to neighboring countries is common because the country has one of the lowest fuel prices in the region.
· Iran’s former oil minister Akbar Torkan said Iran produces four million bpd of crude oil, but without new investment, five percent of this production capacity will be gone every year; Torkan was confirming published reports that Iran was in danger of loosing its oil exports by 2014 if no new foreign investment were attracted to work in the country’s oil fields; US sanctions prohibit American and foreign companies to invest in Iranian oil and gas industry.
· A man convicted of adultery was stoned to death in Aghchekand, 124 miles west of Tehran; the spokesman for the judiciary did not elaborate on how the stoning was carried out; The execution came two weeks after the Iranian officials had delayed carrying out the sentence against Jafar Kiani and after the head of the Judiciary had said that the sentence will not be carried out; Kiani’s female companion, Mokarrameh Ebrahimi, who also was sentenced to death by stoning is still in prison.

The Nuclear Program
· IAEA Chief Mohammad ElBaradei said Iran has slowed down the expansion of its nuclear enrichment capabilities at Natanz ; Hamid Reza Haji Babaei, a member of the National Security Committee of Majlis (Iranian parliament), denied reports that Iran had slowed down the pace of its nuclear activities at Natanz facility; Haji Babaei said Iran had not agreed with anyone to reduce its uranium enrichment activities; he added that uranium enrichment was regarded as the red line for Iran and that all previous nuclear activities are still continuing and at the same pace.
· Ali Asghar Soltanieh, Iran’s ambassador to IAEA, said that Iran expects that the new round of talks between EU foreign policy chief and Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator will lead to conclusive results; Soltanieh welcomed EU “new trend” in favoring negotiations on Iran’s nuclear standoff.
· President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad rejected any talks of uranium enrichment suspension as part of an agreement with EU to head off a showdown with the West over the country’s nuclear program.
· An IAEA delegation, headed by the agency’s deputy chief, arrived in Tehran.

Regional Storylines
· The leader of an Al Qaida in Iraq warned Iran in a new audiotape to stop supporting the Shia in Iraq; Al Qaida warned Iran would face a ''severe war'' if it continued its support of the Shia.
· Iran’s Foreign Ministry Spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini said that the five Iranians diplomats detained by US forces in Iraq complained about poor conditions during their meeting with Iranian ambassador to Iraq; Hosseini said the detainees have access to minimum facilities and were under psychological pressure by their US captors; Ambassador Hassan Kazemi Qumi and three other Iranian diplomats had a five-hour meeting with the detainees for the first time since their arrest.
· Iran’s Foreign Ministry Spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini denied published reports that Iran had played a big role in Hamas's seizure of Gaza from Palestinian security forces.
· Iran’s Foreign Ministry Spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini said the three islands of Greater Tunb, Lesser Tunb and Abu-Musa are an inseparable and eternal part of the soil of the Islamic Republic of Iran; Hosseini criticized the statement issued at the conclusion of the Gulf Cooperation Council in Riyadh backing UAE’s claims on the three islands.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Iran Oil Executive Confirms Drop in Production

The managing director of Pars Oil and Gas Corp. and the former oil minister Akbar Torkan said, “At the moment, on average, we produce four million bpd of crude. But without new investment, five percent of this production capacity will be gone every year,” ISNA reported (8 July).

In the 1 July posting in this blog, “The Coming Oil Crisis”, we calculated the diminishing rate of production to be at 8% a year. The decrease plus the annual 2% increase in domestic demand for oil would lower Iran’s oil exports by 10% annually. Out of 4 million bpd of oil production, some 2.4 million bpd is currently exported. At this rate, Iran will run out of oil export by 2014.

Missing Revolutionary Guard General Defected

The Jerusalem Post reported today that the missing Revolutionary Guard Brig. Gen. Ali Reza Asgari has defected to the US and is being safeguarded by the CIA. Asgari met up with CIA operatives in Istanbul before he was brought to the US.

The Post reported that Asgari has told the CIA that Iran is enriching uranium with laser in addition to using gas centrifuges.

The report on laser enrichment is very surprising. The technology has proved to be extremely difficult to master. If the report is true, it will appreciably raise the Western concerns over the Iranian nuclear program.

Asghari was a general officer in the Revolutionary Guard and a member of the Iran’s Supreme National Security Council.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

The Press Under Attack

Iran’s daily Ham-Mihan was banned and the news agency ILNA shut down its operation.

Ham-Mihan, managed by Tehran’s former mayor Gholamhossein Karbaschi, received permission to publish only a few months ago. It produced 42 editions before being banned.

In its last issue, Ham-Mihan ran a story under the headline, “The Energy Minister Can Ration Electricity.” The piece touched raw nerves of the Iranian officials, especially Ahmadinejad’s, who referred to it in his remarks during his tour of Asaluyeh petrochemical facilities along with the Venezuelan president last week.

In an accompanying supplement, Ham-Mihan also ran a piece criticizing Ayatollah Jannati, the head of ultra-conservative Guardian Council.

ILNA, the Iranian Labor News Agency, shut down its operations even after its founding director, Masoud Haydari, resigned to save the agency. ILNA had won praise for its professional reporting on labor issues and labor protests in Iran.

The government had increasingly put pressure on ILNA to tone down its reports. The day before its closure, Aftab Yazd had reported that “the board of directors of this non-governmental news agency has agreed to the resignation of ILNA’s managing director in order to reduce the existing pressures” (Aftab Yazd, 2 July).

Farhang-e Ashti website reported on 3 July that, “the president and the ministers of labor and social affairs and culture and Islamic guidance are among the most important critics of the news agency [ILNA] which had been exerting immense pressure on them.”

Iran analyst expect that the next target of Ahmadinejad’s government would be Etemad-e Melli, a reformist paper founded by former Majlis speaker Mehdi Karrubi.

North Korea to Deliver 4 Submarines to Iran

Japanese news agency Kyodo reported that North Korea has agreed to supply four mini-submarines to Iran by mid-July (Kyodo, 4 July). The agreement to deliver to Iran the four mini-submarines were reached in Tehran during the visit in May of North Korean Deputy Foreign Minister Kim Yong II, Kyodo reported.

Next week’s delivery of the four mini-submarines is expected to raise tensions in the Persian Gulf. Iran will use the small but powerful submarines in the narrow Strait of Hormuz. They could pose threats to the transiting oil tankers and to US ships deployed in the area.

What About Bushehr?

ISNA quoted Iran’s national security officials today that problems regarding the start of work at Bushehr are being resolved and the country’s first nuclear power plant will start its operation within the next two months (ISNA, 5 July).

However, chief of Russia’s atomic energy agency told TASS news agency yesterday that the plant could not possibly be launched for another year (ITAR-TASS, 4 July).

Javad Vaidi, deputy secretary of Iran’s National Security Council told ISNA that the Iranian experts are finishing up the work at the plant and that he expects all outstanding issues with the Russians to be resolved in the next few weeks.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

News from Iran

The Iranian government’s gasoline rationing and the reports of the decision’s aftermath dominated the coverage in the Iranian media. Long lines were formed at gas stations throughout the country and a dozen stations were burned and destroyed. Tehran’s police chief complained the government had kept the police in dark as to when the rationing was to take effect which resulted in police absence at the scene when the stations came under attack. On the nuclear front, the Iranian president said the country was unfazed by threat of new sanctions and will continue to develop its nuclear program. In regional news, Iran denied any involvement in abducting and killing five US soldiers last January in Karbala as alleged by the US military in Iraq. Iran launched a 24-hour English-language TV news channel, called Press TV.

The Gasoline Rationing

· Iran’s Oil Ministry announced the rationing nationwide of gasoline for the motorists; immediately after the announcement long lines were formed at gasoline stations and several stations were burned and destroyed; the suddenness of the announcement caused chaos throughout the country; Tehran police chief Brig. Gen. Esmail Ahmadi Moqadam said the Oil Ministry failed to notify him when the rationing was going to take effect; Moqadam said the announcement took the police off guard and they could not prevent the destruction and the burning; Tehran’s deputy mayor said the city did not have the additional 6,000 taxis and a thousand more buses it needed to meet the rising demand for public transport; Iran’s Majlis Speaker Gholam Ali Haddad Adel said that greater advance notice of gasoline rationing would have prolonged public chaos.
· Iran has imported over $2 billion worth of gasoline since the start of the Iranian year on 21 March; the Treasury would have used its allocated $5.2 billion annual billion for gasoline imports within a few months; Keyhan, the influential conservative daily, called for sharp rise in gasoline prices to prevent gasoline smuggling to the neighboring counties; the price of gasoline is set by government at 41 cents a gallon with the ration of slightly more than a gallon of gasoline per car per day; the government has not yet announced the price for extra fuel purchased above the quota.
· Venezuela agreed to sell gasoline to Iran; Venezuelan energy minister Rafael Ramirez said the Iranians had asked to buy gasoline from us and Venezuela accepted their request; Ramirez was accompanying President Hugo Chavez in his visit to Iran.

The Nuclear Program

· The deputy director of International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Ollie Heinonen will visit Iran on 11 July to resolve outstanding issues on the country’s nuclear program; Ali Asghar Soltaniyeh, Iran's ambassador to IAEA, said the delegation would not inspect Iran's nuclear facilities during their visit since they are not inspectors; Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani had invited the IAEA to send a team to Tehran to resolve unanswered questions on the nuclear program’s past; Larijani had met IAEA chief Mohammad ElBaradeie in Geneva on 23 June.
· Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Iran is unfazed by threat of new sanctions; Ahmadinejad said that the West cannot cause Iran any harm.
· Iranian Majlis deputy Morteza Tamaddon said Iran would retaliate if US Congress approves a proposed legislation to ban companies from selling gasoline to Iran; Tamaddon said Iran will restrict the flow of oil through Strait of Hormuz if the Congress passed the bill.
· Russian President Vladimir Putin called for measured steps in dealing with Iranian nuclear program; US President George Bush said that during their meeting in Kennebunkport, Maine, he and Putin agreed to “send a strong message” to Iran over the country’s nuclear program; US has been trying hard to gain the Russian support on a new round of tough economic sanctions against Iran.
· Atomstroyexport, the Russian general contractor building Iran's Bushehr nuclear power plant, sent its representative to Iran to resolve the remaining issues between the two sides; Atomstroyexport had stopped work at Bushehr due to financial disputes with the Iranian government.

Iran-US Relations

· Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini denied accusations made by US military in Iraq of Iran’s involvement in training Iraqi extremists; the US military said that a captured senior Hezbollah militant, Ali Musa Daqduq, had confessed to training Iraqi militants inside Iran; US Brig. Gen. Kevin Bergner also accused Iran of direct involvement in the capture and the killing of five US soldiers in Karbala last January; Gen. Bergner said that Daqdup was a liaison between the Iranians and Al Qazaali group accused of carrying out the abduction and killings of the Americans in Karbala; Iran’s defense minister Brig. Gen. Mohammad Mustafa Najar rejected the claims; Najar said the US accusations regarding Iran's interference in Iraq's affairs were “lies.”

Other Domestic Storylines

· Iran launched a 24-hour English-language TV news channel, called Press TV (3); Press TV is owned and operated by state-owned Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB); Press TV will compete with Al Jazeera English and other 24-hour English-language TV news channels; Press TV has a staff of 400, with 26 foreign correspondents stationed in major cities worldwide; the news channel did not have any agreements in place with the US cable operators for its programs to be carried by cable.
· Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad rejected a proposal by US movie director Oliver Stone to make a film about him; Mehdi Kalhor, Ahmadinejad’s media advisor, said Stone is part of the cultural establishment of the “Great Satan”.

Regional and International Storylines

· Iran will join Cuban-Venezuelan trade agreement as an “observer member”; the visiting Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez welcomed Iran’s observer membership in the trade pact that he called an alternative to the Free Trade Area of the Americas; Chavez and Cuban President Fidel Castro signed the deal, known by its Spanish acronym ALBA, in 2005; Chavez said cooperation between countries such as Iran and Venezuela will have an effective role “in defeating imperialism”; Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini said Iran and Venezuela would sign over 20 memorandums of understanding during Chavez's visit to Iran.
· Chavez and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad met in Asaloyeh, the center of Iranian petrochemical industry on the shores of the Persian Gulf, to launch the construction of a joint petrochemical plant; the tow presidents called the joint venture a manifestation of an “axis of unity” between the two nations.
· Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hossieni said that that Iran has returned to UAE the three boats it had ceased near the island of Abu Mussa; Hosseini said all their passengers were also released and were returned to UAE.
· Iran called for end of hostilities in Yemen through regional mediation; the foreign ministry spokesman said Iran welcomes end of clashes and peaceful settlement of issues in the framework of national unity in Yemen.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Iran Launches English-Language TV News

Iran’s new English-language TV news channel, Press TV, went on air today. This is the newest entry in the increasingly crowded field of English-language international news channels.

Press TV’s website has been running for a few months at http://www.presstv.com/. The new channel has a staff of over 400 and 26 international correspondents in different countries. The 24-hour schedule includes news every 30 minutes and three daily and live 55-minute programs.

The impact of Press TV in the US will be very limited. The Qatar-based Al-Jazeera English launched its own Washington broadcasting center but US cable operators refused to carry it and its US audience has since been limited to a relatively few expatriates who own satellite dishes and choose to watch their homeland news in English.

Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB), which owns and operates Press TV, also runs a 24-hour Arabic-language news channel, Al-Alam (The World). Al-Alam’s news and programming center is based in Beirut and many of its staff are Lebanese. Al-Alam competes with Pan-Arab satellite news channels Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

The Coming Iranian Oil Crisis

The current gasoline crisis in Iran is only a preview of what’s ahead for the country’s oil industry. The country’s economic health depends on oil production and oil exports, yet the production at oil fields are depleting at an alarming rate. The effect of production depletion on oil exports in the next 5-7 years will be phenomenal.

· The production at a typical oil field is diminished by 8% annually.

· Without any new fields coming on stream, the annual oil production in the country is diminished by 8% due to the normal depletion of the oil fields.

· The local demand for oil also is growing at a rate that in effect takes away another 2% of the annual production.

· With no new oil fields, and no increase in the productivity of the existing fields, the depletion in production and the increase in local consumption will combine to translate into a 10% reduction in the volume of oil exports annually.

· With Iran producing some 4 million barrel a day (b/d), this reduction translates to a loss of 400,000 b/d.

· If the increase in the price of oil Iran can charge its customers does not keep pace with the 10% decline in the volume of oil production, then the revenues generated by oil exports will also decline.

Before we get to oil pricing, let’s examine what it takes to make additional production capacity on line to partly compensate for the 10% decline in the current production.

· The typical cost of bringing a new oil field into full production in the Middle East, averaging for both onshore and offshore varieties, is about $7,500 per barrel a day, with the cost in Iran estimated to be around $7,700 per b/d.

· At $7,500 per b/d cost, the cost of replacing the 400,000 b/d depleted each year with new production capacity will be more than $3 billion annually.

· In the past decade, the typical contracts signed with foreign companies for investment in new fields has called for 60% foreign share in each project.

· The amount of foreign investment needed to maintain the production at current levels will be close to $2 billion annually.

· Considering the fact that its takes at least 5 years (typically longer in Iran) for a drilling investment to start production, Iran would need an immediate $10 billion in foreign investment, now and not in future, to maintain the current production levels.

The reality on the ground is that foreign oil companies are pulling out of Iran. The Japanese pulled out of the critical Azadegan fields, and Toatl and Shell also pulling out gas projects. With the current political climates created as the result of Iran’s standoff with the West over its nuclear program, no significant foreign investment in oil and gas industry is expected. Iran analysts increasingly estimate zero foreign investments in foreseeable future.

Without the 60% share of foreign investment, Iran would need to raise locally $15 billion for new oil fields. Added to this, is the urgent need for additional refineries to meet the current gasoline demand, which the analyst estimate at another $15 billion.

$30 billion in urgent investment to keep the current oil production and to meet the current gasoline demands with no foreign capital and with no foreign know-how can not and will not happen.

In the past two years, Iran has missed it OPEC oil production quota by some 250,000 b/d. If we calculate the average export price of Iranian crude at $54/b, the country has forfeited some $5 billion a year for not being able to meet its OPEC quota. For a government that depends on oil export revenues, forfeiting $5 billion a year in hard currency can only show the depth of the crisis on hand.

Iran produces 4 million b/d of oil. Its local consumption needs are 1.6 million b/d. The balance, 2.4 million b/d, goes for export. Without investments in new production capacity, the country will loose 400,000 b/d in production, and with local demand not decreasing, it will mean 400,000 b/d decreases in exports. At the current rate and in the current political atmosphere, Iran will run out of oil export by 2014. The country is facing an oil crisis of unbearable proportions.