The publication of US national Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran’s nuclear program dominated the coverage in the local media. The NIE said Iran does not have a bomb and is not working on a bomb. President Ahmadinejad called NIE a victory for Iran and said its publication was a step in the right direction in mending relations with Iran. In general, the Iranian officials and the media have welcomed the NIE. Some conservative dailies, however, warned against pre-mature celebration. They warned that NIE has indeed accused Iran of working on a bomb until 2003. The supreme leader also has unusually remained silent on the NIE. On regional developments, Ahmadinejad came under attack for his participation at the summit of the leaders of Persian Gulf countries. Aftab Yazd protested against summit communiqué calling on Iran to return its three islands to UAE. The use of the words “Arabian Gulf” instead of “Persian Gulf” by the Arab leaders at the summit was also a main point of contention. On economic front, Iran and China signed a $2-billion contract to develop an oil field in Iran. The media saw the contract as a first sign of the crumbling sanctions in the aftermath of NIE publication.
NIE and Iran’s Nuclear program
· Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called US National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) “a victory for Iran” ; Ahmadinejad said the NIE put seal of approval on civilian nature of Iran's nuclear activities ; he added the reports released by International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the US intelligence community removed any ambiguity about Iranian nuclear program; Ahmadinejad said NIE conclusion on peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear program was “a step forward” in mending relations with Iran.
· Iran’s Minister of Defense Brig. Gen. Mostafa Mohammad Najjar said there were many positive points in US NIE; Gen. Najjar said however Iran was never after developing nuclear weapons.
· Iran’s Foreign Ministry Spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini said nuclear energy is a vital and urgent need of Iran; Hosseini added the legitimate rights of Iran to develop nuclear energy for peaceful purposes are not negotiable.
· President Ahmadinejad said a new round of sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program would have no legal basis; US is pushing for a third round of UN sanctions despite a new NIE; Ahmadinejad said he does not think any new resolutions will be on the way.
· Iran and China signed a $2 billion contract to develop an oil field regarded as an indication of crumbling sanctions against Iran in aftermath of publication of NIE.
· US President George Bush demanded Iran explain nuclear program; President Bush called on Iran to explain why it had a secretive nuclear program; he called Iran a “dangerous” country.
· Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Iran's nuclear program is still dangerous; Olmert emphasized the NIE gives estimates of when Iran can acquire a nuclear weapon; Olmert said Iran is continuing its production of enriched uranium and ballistic missiles needed for a nuclear weapon program; Olmert added Iran could have the bomb by 2010.
· IAEA team arrived in Tehran for nuclear talks; talks were expected to focus on traces of weapon-grade enriched uranium found by IAEA inspectors at Tehran's Technical University.
· President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said if US follow the step they have taken with their new NIE by making changes in their policies in the region, they will see immediate and positive results coming from Iran.
· President Ahmadinejad said he still wanted a debate with his US counterpart President Bush over world developments; Ahmadinejad first proposed such debate in September; the proposal is still on the table, he said.
· Iran’s Foreign Ministry Spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini said US seeks to dominate energy sources of the Persian Gulf region; Hossieni said providing security for Israel, escalating arms race in the region, and making regional countries suspicious of Iran were among main goals of US; he added if US changes its policies on Iran, the grounds for expansion of political and economic relations between the two countries would be prepared.
· US built an observation base on Iraq-Iran border near Iraqi town of Badrah to monitor flows of goods and people from Iran; Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch, Commander of US 3rd ID, said containing Iran “is now clearly part of US military mission”; Gen. Lynch labeled Iran’s policies in Iraq “destabilizing”; Iran has four official border crossings with Iraq.
· US Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen met Israel’s defense minister and armed forces commander on Iran; Adm. Mullen’s spokesman said Iran is among the subjects discussed.
Leading Regional Storylines
· Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Iran welcomed Iraq's new proposal to develop a regional security pact among all countries bordering the Persian Gulf.
· Iran’s President Ahmadinejad described the recent Gulf Cooperation Council Summit in Qatar as very positive and constructive; he advised GCC critics to abandon pessimistic approaches and be realistic.
· Director of an influential Iranian think-tank, Mohammad Javad Larijani, defended Ahmadinejad's participation in summit of leaders of Persian Gulf countries in Doha; Member of Parliament Ahmad Tavakoli had criticized Ahmadinejad for going to Doha; Tavakoli protested against summit communiqué against Iran’s ownership of three islands claimed by UAE; Doha critics also protested against use of “Arabian Gulf” instead of “Persian Gulf” by Arab leaders during the summit; Larijani said he expected GCC to restructure itself and develop into Cooperation Council of the Persian Gulf and the Oman Sea to include Iran, Iraq and Yemen.
· A regional security conference focusing on Iran was held in Bahrain; Iran’s Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki refused to attend Bahrain conference; US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates attacked Iran’s foreign policy for its destabilizing effects in the region and called it a threat to the national interests of US; Qatar and some other Gulf countries protested US military threats against Iran.
· Iran and China signed a $2 billion contract to develop Yadavaran oil field in southwestern Iran; Iran’s Oil Minister Gholam Hossein Nozari said new contract indicates Washington's claims that international firms are not willing to invest in Iran are baseless .
· President Pervez Musharraf has said even if India does not agree to terms of Iran-Pakistan-India (IPI) gas pipeline project, Pakistan will continue negotiations to import gas from Iran.
Leading Domestic Storylines
· Thousand of students at e University of Tehran today held demonstrations against Ahmadinejad government; the students chanted “Death or Liberty!” and “No to War; No to Fascism!”; the demonstrations were to mark the National Student Day (16 Azar); Ministry of Intelligence has arrested a number of “student agitators.”
· Foreign Ministry Spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini expressed regrets over the killing of French citizen Julien Van Waesberghe in Isfahan; Van Waesberghe, 24, was waiting for a bus to Yazd after visiting Isfahan; the foreign ministry spokesman said Isfahan Police has identified the killer and is vigorously trying to arrest him.