Saturday, February 28, 2009

Roxana Saberi Arrested

Roxana Saberi with former President Ayatollah Khatami
Undated Photo [NPR, 28 February 2009]

Etemad, a Tehran daily newspaper, reported today the arrest of an American journalist in Tehran. The Iranian authorities have not yet announced the arrest, but the NPR confirmed today that the arrested journalist is Roxana Saberi, a freelance working in Tehran for the past six years. Saberi reported regularly for the NPR and the BBC.

Roxana Saberi who was born in the US to an Iranian-born father and a Japanese-born mother, was reportedly arrested in Tehran almost a month ago.

This young journalist needs to be released from the prison and be allowed to continue her fine reporting from Tehran.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Iran Air Force Day - Video

A visit to Bushehr nuclear power plant

Recent quotes from Iran's military commanders

"As contemplated and ordered by the Supreme Commander of the (Iranian) Armed Forces (Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei), we are entitled to be present in the seas in which other countries are present."
-Navy Commander Rear Admiral Habibollah Sayyari

"It is the enemy that is scared of Iran's military power, and at any time that our vessels cruise around theirs, they feel fearful and constantly urge us to leave."
-Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) Air Force Brigadier General Hossein Salami

"Iran today is a regional superpower indeed and we feel no threat."
-Defense Minister Mostafa Mohammad Najjar

"Reinvigoration of (Iran's) missile capability, along with readiness and sincerity of this unity, is a source of fright and fear in the heart of the enemies of the (Islamic) system and deterrence is, in fact, the underlying reason (for expanding Iran's missile capability)."
-Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) Navy Rear Admiral Morteza Saffari

“We have built some fighter jets, including Azarakhsh and Saeqeh, in our country that are operational and it is natural that we won't stop and will continue to take the necessary steps for their development."
-Deputy Defense Minister General Ahmad Vahidi

"Now, we are separating these two sections and, thus, the Islamic Republic's Army will split into 4 independent forces, including ground force, air force, navy and air defense units."
-Commander of Khatam ol-Anbia Air Defense Base Brigadier General Ahmad Mighani

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Iran to Expand Nuclear Program

The director of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, Gholamreza Aghazadeh, said in Tehran today that Iran plans to install 50,000 uranium-enriching centrifuges at Natanz within the next five years.

Aghazadeh wanted to convey the message that the coming to power of the new US administration has not changed Iran’s resolve to continue its nuclear program.

“Our plans to install and run centrifuges are not based on political conditions,” Aghazadeh said.

Installing 50,000 centrifuges would increase Iran’s uranium enrichment capabilities by at least 10-fold.

Although Iran has repeatedly said that Obama administration should not put pre-conditions before starting serious negotiations with Iran, Aghazadeh’s announcement does act as a pre-condition by Iran: the nature and the limit of the country’s uranium enrichment program is non-negotiable, off the table.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Dennis Ross for Iran

Dennis Ross, the special Middle East envoy under President Clinton, was named yesterday as Obama administration’s special advisor on Iran. His official position will be Special Advisor to the Secretary of State on Persian Gulf and Southwest Asia, but his main responsibility would be to help formulate US policies toward Iran and navigate a difficult path to reach out to Tehran on normalizing relations between the two adversaries.

Many Iran analysts have been surprised by the choice, pointing to Ross’s strong pro-Israeli views and his association with pro-Israel think tank, the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

Others regard Ross as having enough pro-Israel credentials to be able to strike a deal with Iran, without appearing to work against Israeli interests in the region.

Mr. Ross’s first challenge is to find a way to directly negotiate with the principlists in Tehran, and eventually with Ayatollah Khamenei, who holds the key to normalizing relations with the US.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

More On US-Iran Relations

On Thursday, I posted On US-Iran Relations, arguing that normalizing relations with the US and the West would require Ayatollah Khamenei’s personal intervention to force different factions within the principlists (hardliners) to accept limits on the country’s nuclear program and to end relations with extremist organizations in the region.

Yesterday, British Ambassador to the United Nations, John Sawers, said in a BBC documentary that in 2005 the Iranians were ready to strike a deal whereby they stop their support of the violent extremists and Iraqi insurgents engaged in killing the US and British forces in Iraq, if the West allowed Iran to carry on with its nuclear program.

“We stop killing you in Iraq, stop undermining political process there, you allow us to carry on with our nuclear program without let or hindrance,” Ambassador Sawers said in the documentary, “Iran and the West: Nuclear Confrontation” [BBC, Saturday 21 February].

We are not sure of the details and the extent of Iran’s offer; we only know Ambassador Sawers’ account of the event. However, it is quite feasible to assume that the Iranian government is, and has been, looking to find ways to strike a deal with the West.

If the West accepts limited (less the 4%) uranium enrichment program and lift economic sanctions against Iran, Ayatollah Khamenei will be in a position to force the principlists to accept normalizing relations with the Obama administration and the West and disengage from extremist organizations in the region.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Rick Steves Travelling in Iran

The renowned travel guidebook author Rick Steves visited Iran in March 2008, accompanied by Abdi Sami, the Iranian-born filmmaker and photographer. Their collaboration has produced a vivid two-part radio report on Iran and some of the most beautiful pictures taken in the country .

For Rick’s radio reports, visit:

To see all Abdi’s pictures, visit:

Pictures from top: Tehran at sunset; A young woman in Isfahan; Rick Steves interviewing in a Tehran park; A Tehran bookstore; The bookstore window displaying books on Che and Mossadegh.

To view PBS TV report on Rick Steve's travel to Iran, sent to us by anonymous, visit:

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Iran’s Uranium Enrichment Program Slowed

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director Mohamed ElBaradei today reported to the UN Security Council that Iran has slowed its uranium enrichment program, with fewer centrifuges going online at Natanz enrichment center. [AFP]

Iran has not, however, stopped its uranium enrichment program as demanded by UNSC, ElBaradei said in his report.

On US-Iran Relations

Tehran will hold face-to-face talks with Washington only if there is a “concrete shift” in US policy toward Iran, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said today [AFP]. His remarks made in Azeri capital of Baku echoed President Ahmadinejad’s comments on 10 February that Iran was ready for a dialogue as long as change in the US attitude towards Tehran was “fundamental and not tactical” [IRNA]. US President Barak Obama had earlier called for direct dialogue with Tehran, raising hope for “sitting across the table, face to face” with Iranian officials [AP, 9 February].

Asked to define the “concrete shift” required of the US, Mottaki replied: “They know well.”

The concrete shift from the Iranian perspective includes reversing the regime change policy of the previous administration, stopping military threats and economic sanctions over the uranium enrichment program, and recognizing the Islamic Republic as the major regional player in the most volatile corner of the world.

What Iran is ready to do in return is the topic of an intense debate within the Islamic Republic. Not all the “principlists” (the hardliners) are ready to accept limits on the nuclear program or disengagement with extremist organizations in the region. Ayatollah Khamenie, the Supreme Leader, will be forcing a solution to unite the different principlist leaders. Obama was elected on an agenda of change. Khamenei will now have to define his own agenda of change.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Najjar in Moscow

From IRNA:
Visiting Iranian Defense Minister Mostafa Mohammad Najjar said that expansion of ties with Russia is one of Iran's priorities and at the focus of its officials' attention.

In a meeting with his Russian counterpart, Anatoly Serdyukov, he added his country views deepening relations with Russia as strategic.

Referring to the two countries' geopolitical locations, scientific and technological capabilities and rich energy sources, Najjar noted that efforts to safeguard their countries' independence and national sovereignty are among the common characteristics of Iranian and Russian leaders.

Growing cooperation between the two countries is rooted in their strategic perspectives, he said.

Najjar listed drug smuggling, terrorism, extremist measures and NATO's expansion to the east as among the major threats to regional peace and stability.

Stating that today's international developments require renewed ties, he expressed his country's readiness to enhance ties in all fields.

Serdyukov, for his part, called for further development of bilateral ties.

Pointing to the two countries' common stances vis-à-vis regional issues, he underlined the active role of Iran and Russia in solving regional issues and promoting peace and stability.

The two sides stressed the need to continue talks on defense and technical issues and promoting cooperation between the two countries.

Najjar arrived in Moscow late on Monday on a four-day visit to the country at the official invitation of Serdyukov.

Iran says it has built unmanned aircraft

From Yahoo News:
Iran has built an unmanned surveillance aircraft with a range of more than 600 miles — enough to reach Israel — a top defense official said in remarks published Wednesday.

Deputy Defense Minister Ahmad Vahidi said he could not provide more details, only saying the development of the unmanned aircraft, or drone, was an "important achievement." His remarks were published Wednesday in the government-owned newspaper, Iran, and by the semiofficial Fars news agency.

Reading List - Feb. 18, 2009

-Israel engaged in covert war inside Iran: report
By Luke Baker

-Obama's Persian double
By Pepe Escobar
Asia Times Online

-Will Obama say 'we're sorry'?
By Pepe Escobar
Asia Times Online

-US estimate muddied Iran's nuclear intent
By Gareth Porter
Asia Times Online

-Iran moves to boost its air defense capabilities
By Ali Akbar Dareini
Associated Press

Safir-2: More Advanced Than Initially Thought

New Scientist reported today that Iran’s Safir-2 rocket that launched the country’s first homebuilt satellite into orbit on 2 February was more powerful and advanced than initially thought.

“Initially, outside rocket experts thought the Safir-2 was based on scud missile technology…[mounting] a very small, solid-fuelled third stage… to provide the final kick needed to get Omid to orbit,” New Scientist reports. But satellite trackers reported that the final stage, which also reached orbit, appeared “much too bright to be a tiny third stage, hinting that it might be a two-stage vehicle using more advanced technology instead.”

“I think it's [now] much more likely that it really is a two-stage rocket," Geoffrey Forden of MIT told New Scientist. Forden analyses the rocket programs of Iran, China and Russia.

If Iran really has developed more advanced rockets that can burn more efficient fuel, then it is a step closer to launching people into space, Forden says. “[Iran] could get a person up into low-Earth orbit certainly within a decade, at the rate they're going,” Forden told New Scientist.

For complete report, pleases see:

Monday, February 9, 2009

Obama on Iran

President Barak Obama in his press conference tonight made two important observations with policy implications on Iran: Iran is expected to send signals in the coming weeks on her intention to normalize relations with US, and Iran should stop pursuit of nuclear weapons.

Asking Iran to send the right signals in the coming weeks is in line with Obama’s campaign promises that he would prefer a civilized dialogue between the two countries to resolve the outstanding issues. Obama’s reference to Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons was noteworthy. He must have seen reports during these past weeks convincing him that Iran was actually planning to build the bomb.

Considering these two points by President Obama, it seems that Iran is expected in the coming weeks to send strong signals to the US on its nuclear intentions and program.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Iran's potential EMP weapon

Colin Clark over at DOD Buzz has this to say about Iran’s successful satellite launch:

[T]he Iranian technological success worries American and other countries national security experts because it places Iran much closer to being able to deliver a nuclear warhead against an enemy.

But there is another reason American military and national security officials are so worried: in at least two earlier ballistic missile launches, the Iranians launched in ways that “appear they were designed to optimize an EMP burst,” according to a Pentagon source with detailed knowledge of the Iranian’s efforts and of space technology.

EMP stands for electro-magnetic pulse and it is one byproduct of a nuclear blast. EMP destroys power sources, communication capabilities and would cripple or destroy the abilities of most satellites to function. A percentage of military communication and other satellites are hardened against EMP but the gravest effect would be on the ground, the space expert said. “As bad as the space part of this is, that is pretty bad, but the ground part of it is much, much worse. Effectively, whoever was subjected to an EMP burst would be shoved back to an agricultural state.” Few civilian assets such as power grids, generators, telephone systems and commercial communications satellites are hardened against EMP.

This is part of the reason why the State Department has expressed “great concern” about the development. Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said the satellite launch appeared to indicate Iran was working on a ballistic missile capable of “increasingly long range.” Combine a long-range ICBM with a nuclear payload and you get a new member of an even smaller club, the countries such as the U.S., Russia, China, France and Britain who can play the deadly serious global strategic game of hitting places around the globe with nuclear weapons.

Iran’s success elicited grudging admiration from the space expert. “They have had more success than a lot of other aspirants. Their path has been fairly linear and fairly successful,” this source said. All this occurred, of course, in the face of international sanctions against Iran, which included specific UN prohibitions against work on ballistic missiles.

Another reason for concern about the Iranian accomplishment, the space expert said, is that lofting a satellite into a successful orbit is, in some respects, more technologically challenging than building an ICBM. So Iran would appear to be extremely close to having the ability to send aloft a small nuclear device. And, this expert said, a trigger for a small, unsophisticated nuclear device is relatively easy to design and make if you are not trying to be highly accurate.

Additional video of Iran's space launch

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

3D Animation of Iran's Space Launch

Photos of Iran's Space Launch

Iran Launches First Home-Built Satellite into Orbit - Updated

Safir-2 Rocket Carrying Omid Satellite into Orbit
[ISNA, 3 February 2009]

Iran launched its first home-built satellite into orbit on Monday evening, coinciding with the week-long celebrations of the 30th anniversary of the Islamic revolution (February 1979).

The Omid (“Hope”) lightweight telecommunication satellite was put into orbit by home-built Safir-2 space rocket.

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called the successful launch of Omid into orbit “another manifestation of the sincere hopes of the Islamic revolution.”

Fresh concerns were raised over the launch, coming at a time when Iran is ignoring repeated UN Security Council demands to freeze its uranium enrichment work. It is feared the technology used to launch today’s satellite could be used to develop long-range ballistic missiles capable of carrying nuclear warhead. The US said it will use “all elements” of its “national power” to deal with Iran.

Update: Video

Update II For those interested in observing the satellite, they can go here to see where it is. H/T Geoff Forden @ ACW.

Defense Minister: Production of more Saegeh jets

From Fars News Agency:

Iran has produced a number of the domestically-grown 'Saeqeh' (Thunderbolt) jets so far, Iranian Defense Minister Brigadier General Mostafa Mohammad Najjar said here on Sunday.

Speaking to FNA on the sidelines of "Innovation and Flourishing Festival", Najjar referred to the production of more Saeqeh jets by Iranian defense industries, and said, "Production of domestic jets is one of the important achievements of Iran that should be appreciated."

Recalling the launch of Saeqeh production line, he said that the latest achievements and equipment developed by Iranian experts have been employed in the new generation of the fighter jet.

Saeqeh, a joint product of the Iranian Air Force and the Defense Ministry, went on display as part of the Iranian air force's fleet during the military parades on the Army Day earlier this year.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Iran reportedly launches first home made satellite into space

According to PressTV:

Iran has successfully placed its first domestic research satellite into orbit, ushering in an era of independence in its space program.

Press TV has received confirmation that the first domestic Iranian satellite has been placed into orbit via two carrier rockets.

Reading List - Feb. 2 2009 - Updated

-Iran: Revolutionary Guards are Taking Over in Tehran
By Richard Weitz

-A new line of defence: Iran's naval capabilities
Janes Defence News

-Iran's nuclear terrorism fears
By Kaveh L Afrasiabi
Asia Times Online

-The Iranian Revolution at 30
Middle East Institute

NATO: Members may use Iran for Afghan supplies

From Associated Press:

NATO's top military commander said Monday he would not oppose any arrangements that individual member nations may strike with Iran to supply their forces in Afghanistan.

Gen. John Craddock's comments came just days after NATO's secretary general, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, urged the U.S. and other members of the Western military alliance to engage with the Shiite nation in a regional approach to combat Taliban militants in Afghanistan.

"Those would be national decisions, nations should act in a manner that is consistent with their national interest and with their ability to resupply their forces. I think it is purely up to them," Craddock, who is NATO's supreme allied commander, told The Associated Press.

Securing alternative routes to landlocked Afghanistan has taken on added urgency this year as the United States prepares to double its troop numbers there to 60,000 to battle a resurgent Taliban eight years after the U.S.-led invasion.

It also comes at a time when the main supply corridor through neighboring Pakistan is becoming volatile following insurgent attacks on convoys that supply the foreign troops in Afghanistan.

"NATO is looking at flexible, alternate routing. I think that is healthy," Craddock said, when asked about the possibility of using Iranian territory for supply.

"Options are a good thing, choices are a good thing, flexibility in military operations is essential," he said. "What nations will do is up to them," he said, without elaborating.

Some experts suggest that nations with good relations with Iran such as France, Germany and Italy may try to set up an alternate supply route to western Afghanistan via Char Bahar, a port in southeastern Iran.

Craddock's comments came after U.S. Central Command chief Gen. David Petraeus said last month that America had struck deals with Russia and several Central Asian states close to or bordering Afghanistan to allow supplies to pass through their territory.

U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan get up to 75 percent of "non-lethal" supplies such as food, fuel and building materials from shipments that cross Pakistan.

Some political and military leaders have hinted at the need for closer cooperation with the government in Iran over the war in Afghanistan, where some 70,000 NATO and U.S. troops are currently trying to beat back the resurgent Taliban.

The United States has viewed with suspicion Iran's role in Afghanistan, although the Shiite nation has a long history of opposing Taliban rule.

U.S. officials have previously alleged that Iranian-made weapons and explosive devices were finding their way in the hands of insurgents in Afghanistan. But such criticism has been muted recently as President Barack Obama's administration tries to set a new tone in relations with Iran.

Defense Minister Najjar on missile production

From Fars News Agency:

Iranian Defense Minister Brigadier General Mostafa Mohammad Najjar Tuesday reiterated Iran's advancement in defense industries, saying that the country has reached self-sufficiency in manufacturing various types of rockets and missiles.

"Iran has been able to reach self-sufficiency in producing different kinds of surface-to-surface and surface-to-air missiles with various ranges," Najjar told reporters.

"Iran is increasing its defense capabilities and reaching self-sufficiency in (manufacturing) different kinds of military equipments.

"Promotion of Iran's defensive power will lead to stability in the region," he added.

Najjar reiterated that all military equipment needed by Iran are produced inside the country, saying that the Islamic Republic does not feel any need to foreign suppliers anymore.

He also said that Iran's defense industries now mass-produce different types of weapons, tanks, artillery and armored vehicles, and added that Iranian military experts are even producing equipments which are unrivaled and unique in type.