Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Iran Denies Attack on Vessel

An Iranian military spokesman has denied a report published by the Egyptian newspaper Al Aosbo on Monday claiming that an Iranian ship laden with weapons bound for the Gaza Strip was torpedoed off the coast of Sudan last week, allegedly by Israeli or American forces operating in the area.

“The report is in line with foreigners' psychological warfare and is unworthy,” the informed official told Fars News Agency on condition of anonymity [FNA, 29 April].

Monday, April 27, 2009

Report: Iran Ship Destroyed off Sudan

The Egyptian weekly El Aosboa has reported that an Iranian ship laden with weapons bound for the Gaza was torpedoed off the coast of Sudan last week, allegedly by Israeli or US forces operating in the area. [El Aosboa, 24 April.].

No independent confirmation of the incident was available.

Ahmadinejad's Interview with ABC Pt.2

Ahmadinejad's Interview with ABC Pt.1

President Ahmadinejad's Interview with ABC
Tehran . 22 April 2009

Please see our earlier post and analysis of Ahmadinejad's interview.

Ahmadinejad Accepting Two-Sate Solution

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in a major reversal of Islamic Republic’s long-standing policy on Palestine said he will accept a two-state solution as part of a future Palestinian-Israeli peace deal.

If the Palestinians reach a two-state peace deal with Israel, it will be “fine with us,” Ahmadinejad said during an interview with ABC, taped on Wednesday in Tehran, and broadcast on Sunday [ABC, 26 April].

“Whatever decision they take is fine with us. We are not going to determine anything. Whatever decision they take, we will support that,” Admadinejad said. “We think that this is the right of the Palestinian people.”

Ahmadinejad, more than any other leaders in Iran, has questioned Israel’s legitimacy and has forcefully put forward his analysis that Israel will and probably must disappear as a country. Acceptance of a Palestinian state next to Israel by Ahmadinejad does indeed represent a major Iranian retreat from the hardline anti-Israeli positions of the past.


UPDATE: Following are the transcript of the Q&A relevant to the two-state solution between ABC's Stephanopoulos and President Ahmadinejad:

STEPHANOPOULOS: If the Palestinian people negotiate an agreement with Israel and the Palestinian people vote and support that agreement, a two state solution, will Iran support it?

AHMADINEJAD: Nobody should interfere, allow the Palestinian people to decide for themselves. Whatever they decide.


STEPHANOPOULOS: If the Palestinians sign an agreement with Israel, will Iran support it?

AHMADINEJAD: Whatever decision they take is fine with us. We are not going to determine anything. Whatever decision they take, we will support that. We think that this is the right of the Palestinian people, however we fully expect other states to do so as well. The U.S. administration, European governments. The right to determine their fate by the Palestinians should be respected by all of them.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Iran Arrests Group Planning Elections Bombing

Minister of Intelligence Mohseni Ejeie Announcing the Arrests
Tehran . 26 April 2009 [IRNA]

Iran’s Minister of Intelligence Qolam Hossein Mohseni Ejeie said in Tehran today that his ministry has arrested members of a group who were planning bombings ahead of 12 June presidential elections. Ejeie claimed that the group was linked to “Zionist elements.” The group and its members were not identified by name and no details were provided on its history and the number of people arrested.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

PJAK Attacks inside Iran

Reports from Ravansar, near the city of Kermanshah, indicate that PJAK forces attacked the city’s police barracks on Friday 24 April. An undisclosed number of NAJA (Islamic Republic Police Force) personnel were killed during the attack. Earlier in the day, in another attack by PJAK on police barracks near the city of Sanadaj , a NAJA officer was killed and four more were injured [Tabnak, 25 April.]

PJAK, closely linked to Turkey’s PKK, is an Iranian Kurdish militant group that has in the past staged a number of terrorist attacks on NAJA and IRGC forces in border areas near Iraq. Last night’s attack on NAJA near Kermanshah, Iran’s major western city, represents PJAK’s increasingly bold new tactics.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

56 Iranian Pilgrims Killed

Bomb Explosion in Iraq Kills 56 Iranian Pilgrims
IRNA . 23 April 2009

A bomb explosion near a restaurant in Diyala, northeast of Baghdad, frequented by Iranian pilgrims, killed 56 Iranians and injured hundreds more.

UPDATE: In separate terrorist attacks in Al Kadhimiya, north of Baghdad, 20 more Iranian pilgrims were killed. The dead were among at least 60 people who lost their lives. The attacks occurred on Friday 24 April near the shrine and the mosque in the Shia holy town of the Al Kadhimiya. 125 more people , including 80 Iranians, were injured in the attacks.

House Bill to Penalize Gasoline Export to Iran

A bill making the rounds in the US House of Representatives would impose severe sanctions against six major companies selling gasoline to Iran. The companies identified in the bill, sponsored by Mark Kirk of Illinois, include the Swiss firms Vitol and Glencore International, the Swiss and Dutch firm Trafigura, France's Total, BP and India's Reliance Industries.

The bill would also extend sanctions to companies that provide any goods, services or technology for building refineries in Iran.

Clinton: Israel Risks Losing Support on Iran

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton today cautioned Israel that it must commit itself to Palestinian peace process if it wants to have the support of the Arab nations for fighting threats from Iran.

“For Israel to get the kind of strong support it is looking for vis-a-vis Iran, it can't stay on the sidelines with respect to the Palestinians and the peace efforts. They go hand in hand,” she told the House of Representatives Appropriations Committee [Reuters, 23 April].

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Former IRGC Commander Joins Presidential Race

Election's Logo by Press TV

Mohsen Rezaie, the former IRGC commander, today declared his candidacy in the upcoming presidential elections. Rezaie is currently the Executive Secretary of Iran’s Expediency Council.

Rezaie ran for president four years ago but withdrew his candidacy days before the elections. His withdrawal helped the candidacy of his fellow hardliner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. His candidacy this time is seen as a direct challenge to Ahmadinejad as the leading “principlist” candidate for president.

Ahmadinejad is also being challenged by a centrist candidate and former premier, Mir Hossein Mousavi, and a reformist candidate, Mehdi Karubi, a cleric and former speaker of Majlis.

Rezaie, who commanded the IRGC from 1981 to 1997, including his command during the 8-year war with Iraq, last week proposed the formation of a national unity government to include the principlist as well as reformist cabinet members to tackle the growing economic, political and foreign relations challenges facing the new president.

US: Crippling Sanctions against Iran

The US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said today in Washington that if Iran rejects offers of engagements over its nuclear program, the US would impose “very tough sanctions” against the country.

“We are also laying the groundwork for the kind of very tough, I think you said crippling, sanctions that might be necessary in the event that our offers are either rejected or the process is inconclusive or unsuccessful,” Clinton told the Foreign Affairs Committee in the House of Representatives.

Sanctions on gasoline exports to Iran and oil imports from the county are said to be among the “crippling sanctions” being considered in the event Iran do not accept any compromise on its nuclear program.

Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili said in Tehran today that Iran is ready for “constructive dialogue” with world powers over its nuclear program [IRNA, 22 April].

Clinton’s warning today was the harshest language used by the new Obama administration on Iranian nuclear program. The two countries are inching toward a showdown over the issue. Any crippling sanctions, such as the halt of the sales of gasoline to Iran, can quickly escalate the tensions with Iran and lead into a wider confrontation with Tehran.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Ahmadinejad Speech Sparks Criticism

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at Geneva Conference
Monday 20 April . YouTube

President Ahmadinejad's reference to Israel as a racist state at the UN anti-racism conference in Geneva on Monday sparked a walkout by EU delegates and today UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon criticized Ahmadinejad for "misusing" the conference.

Iran criticised Mr. Ban's comments as "one-sided."

The UN said today that Mr. Ahmadinejad had dropped language from his speech describing the Holocaust as "ambiguous and dubious" [BBC, 21 April]. He spoke instead of "the abuse of the question of the Holocaust."

Monday, April 20, 2009

IRGC Deploys Troops on Iran’s Eastern Borders

Commander of IRGC Ground Forces Brig. Gen. Mohammad Jafar Assadi said today in Tehran that due to an “on-going enemy conspiracy” in eastern and southeastern border regions of Iran, IRGC is building up its forces in those regions [Press TV, 20 April].

“The Islamic Revolution Guard Corps has undertaken the task to counter such plots in the eastern and south-eastern parts of the country,” Gen. Assadi added. “The enemy has infiltrated the borders and forced its way in some far-flung corners and mountainous areas of the country.”

The IRGC commander warned that such threats should not be taken lightly.

Earlier in June, 16 Iranian police officers were abducted by Jundallah (Soldiers of God) at a checkpoint in Saravan which has recently become a hotbed of terrorist activities. Armed insurgents announced in December that they had killed all 16 of the abducted Iranian officers.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Naval Commander Emphasizes Coordination between IRGC and Artesh

"The Iranian navy has the ability to launch the most rapid and crushing strike on the enemies," Commander of Iran's First Naval District Rear Admiral Fariborz Qaderpanah said today in Tehran [Fars News Agency].

"To ensure security and defend the borders in the Persian Gulf, the naval forces of the IRGC and Military [Artesh] are in full harmony when conducting operations," he said.

The Artesh, Iran’s regular military, conducted wide-scale military parades on Saturday to mark the country’s Military Day. IRGC and Artesh have parallel naval, air and ground forces.

Admiral Qaderpanah also said the navy has deployed necessary weapons and equipment in different parts of the Persian Gulf in a bid to utilize them “in case of emergencies.”

Ahmadinejad Urges Justice for Roxana Saberi

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad today called on Tehran’s Prosecutor General Saeed Mortazavi to secure Roxana Saberi’s “legal freedoms and rights" to defend herself on “charges” against her. Saberi is already “convicted” on those charges and sentenced to eight years. Ahmadinejad also called for fair treatment of Hossein Derakhshesh, an Iranian-Canadian blogger also imprisoned.

“At the president’s insistence, you must do what is needed to secure justice in examining these people’s charges…Take care that they have all the legal freedoms and rights to defend themselves against the charges,” said a letter from Ahmadinejd’s chief of staff, Abdolreza Sheikholeslami, to Mortazavi [IRNA, 19 April].

Ahmadinejad’s personal intervention could be a hopeful indication that Roxana will be “retried” and eventually freed.

UPDATE: Iran’s judiciary chief has ordered a full investigation into the case of Roxana Saberi [IRNA, 20 April]. The order came from Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi, the country’s top judge.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Haze over Tehran

Dust and smoke today obscured Tehran’s sky so much that IRIAF had to cancel Military Day flyby over the city. Mehr picture shows Tehranians using face masks and Aerospacetalk Forum picture shows warplanes and civilian aircraft grounded at Mehrabad.

Army Day Parade 2009 - Pt.2

Army Parade. Tehran. National Military Day. 18 April 2009
Photos by Ali Rafiei. Fars News Agency

Army Day Parade 2009

IRIAF Air Show Cancelled

The IRIAF air show scheduled for April 18, 2009 over Tehran has been cancelled due to bad weather conditions. For details see this report from Fars New Agency.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Iran to Display UAV on Air Force Day

IRIAF will display its new Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) on Air Force Day on Saturday 18 April.

Iranian Army Camouflages

Iran's army camouflages displayed during Army Day preparations. Tehran. Xinhua, 17 April 2009.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Nader Uskowi in Ayandehnegar

Nader Uskowi’s article on Khatemi’s decision to withdraw from presidential race is published in Ayandehnegar:

خاتمی: میر حسین یا من

Air Force Day Preparations Pt. 2

On 18 April, the Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force (IRIAF) will hold its annual Air Force Day Drill, with flyover of 140 combat aircraft over Tehran. Today, IRIAF ran its final preparation exercise, flying some 40 aircraft. They included F4, F5, F7, F14, AWACS, Saeqeh (Thunderbolt), Azarakhsh ( Lightening), MIG 29, Booing 707 and 747, C130 and P3F. No new aircraft were shown today.

Above pictures, taken by Ali Rafiei of Fars News Agency show some of the aircraft in action today over Tehran’s overcast sky.[Fars News Agency, 16 April].

Air Force Day Preparations Pt.1

Above pictures, taken by Ali Rafiei of Fars News Agency show some of the aircraft in action today over Tehran’s overcast sky. [Fars News Agency, 16 April].

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Roxana Saberi on Trial

The imprisoned Iranian-American journalist Roxana Saberi was put on trial behind closed doors, Iran's judiciary announced. A verdict is expected within few weeks.

UPDATE: Roxana Saberi was sentenced to eight years in prison for "espionage." The government did not release any details on the charges brought against the young journalist. Tehran, 18 April 2009.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Why Did Khatami Withdraw from Presidential Race?

On 16 March, Mohammad Khatami, a former president and the leading reformist candidate in the upcoming June’s presidential elections, unexpectedly withdrew his candidacy. Speculations surrounded the surprising announcement. The analysis offered here is an attempt to make sense of Khatami’s decision. Other analysts are invited to send us their own analyses to be posted on this blog (email: ).

In early March, Khatami visited Shiraz, Yasooj, Bushehr and surrounding small towns and villages such as Mamasani’s Nourabad to jumpstart his campaign. The outpouring of support by the people surprised even his hardcore supporters and campaign organizers. In Shiraz, large crowd of people greeted him with a new slogan, “Islamic Republic Must Be Freed” (“Jomhouri Eslami Azad Bayad Gardad”). The support was not limited to large cities like Shiraz. In Nourabad, the instantaneous gatherings to greet Khatami during a stopover surprised many. Ahmadinejad was always thought as owning the votes in such small towns and villages. The campaign tour proved that Khatami was as popular as ever and could win the elections outright.

Khatami had entered the race with the assurance that he would be the sole candidate of the reformist camp. Mir Hossein Mousavi, a former premier and a candidate of change, had signaled his reluctance to oppose Khatami. The Shiraz campaign tour showed the depth of support for Khatami.

The hardliners panicked. Kayhan ran a story comparing Khatami’s candidacy to that of the late Benazir Bhutto’s, a settled warning to Khatami of the consequences facing him if he ran for the presidency again. Their fear was that Khatami had learned from the shortcomings of his previous two terms and was now ready to introduce radical changes to reform the Islamic Republic. Or as the crowd in Shiraz had chanted, he was to free the Islamic Republic, from three decades of hardliners’ dominance.

A Bluetooth message widely distributed by the hardliners depicted Khatami as aiming his arrow toward Ayatollah Khamenei, the supreme leader, with a popular poem by the late Mohammad Reza Aqasi as the caption, “O Bow and Arrow in Hand, You Are Aiming My Lord Moula” (“Eye Tir O Kaman Be Kaf Gerefteh, Molaye Mara Hadaf Gerefteh.”) Khatami was being depicted as aiming to overthrow the regime as we know it.

On 11 March, Mir Hossein Mousavi, notwithstanding explicit understanding that he would not oppose Khatami, surprised the former president by “reluctantly” announcing his own candidacy.

The reformists panicked. A presidential campaign déjà vu! Four years earlier, they could not unite to support the candidacy of the pragmatic Rafsanjani, resulting in the nightmarish Ahmadinejad presidency. With Mousavi, Khatami and Karrubi running, Ahmadinejad could be assured of a second term. Khatami would not have any of that. “Me or Mir Hossein,” he had repeatedly told his supporters. Khatami bowed out.

But why did Mousavi decide to run, especially after witnessing Khatami’s popularity post Shiraz trip? It is becoming clear the hardliners could not accept Khatami’s victory. Khamenei “drafted” Musavi to run against Khatami. Although Mousavi was to be a candidate of change, his past history proved his absolute loyalty to the republic, and he would have caused a split in the reformist camp.

Musavi reluctantly accepted the call. But Khatami withdrew. Musavi was now running against Ahmadinejad. Notwithstanding “his” nuclear achievements, ironically Ahmadinejad might become the biggest loser in the hardliner’s move to stop Khatami.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Dennis Ross's Iran Plan

Robert Dreyfuss in an article appearing in the April 27, 2009 edition of The Nation argues that Dennis Ross, Obama administration's special advisor on Iran, is the key person forming Iran policy and favors the blockade of Iranian gasoline imports and oil exports followed by kinetic action.

When Dennis Ross, a hawkish, pro-Israel adviser to Barack Obama's presidential campaign, was elevated in February to the post of special adviser on "the Gulf and Southwest Asia"--i.e., Iran--Ross's critics hoped that his influence would be marginal. After all, unlike special envoys George Mitchell (Israel-Palestine) and Richard Holbrooke (Afghanistan-Pakistan), whose appointments were announced with fanfare, Ross's appointment was long delayed and then announced quietly, at night, in a press release.

But diplomats and Middle East watchers hoping Ross would be sidelined are wrong. He is building an empire at the State Department: hiring staff and, with his legendary flair for bureaucratic wrangling, cementing liaisons with a wide range of US officials. The Iran portfolio is his, says an insider. "Everything we've seen indicates that Ross has completely taken over the issue," says a key Iran specialist. "He's acting as if he's the guy. Wherever you go at State, they tell you, 'You've gotta go through Dennis.'"
It's paradoxical that Obama, who made opening a dialogue with Iran into a crucial plank in his campaign, would hand the Iran file to Ross. Since taking office, Obama has taken a number of important steps to open lines to Iran, including a remarkable holiday greeting by video in which the president spoke directly to "the leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran," adding, "We seek engagement that is honest and grounded in mutual respect." He invited Iran to attend an international conference on Afghanistan, where a top Iranian diplomat shook hands with Holbrooke; he's allowing American diplomats to engage their Iranian counterparts; and he's reportedly planning to dispatch a letter directly to Iran's leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Yet Ross, like his neoconservative co-thinkers, is explicitly skeptical about the usefulness of diplomacy with Iran.

Widely viewed as a cog in the machine of Israel's Washington lobby, Ross was not likely to be welcomed in Tehran--and he wasn't. Iran's state radio described his appointment as "an apparent contradiction" with Obama's "announced policy to bring change in United States foreign policy." Kazem Jalali, a hardline member of the Iranian parliament's national security committee, joked that it "would have been so much better to pick Ariel Sharon or Ehud Olmert as special envoy to Iran." More seriously, a former White House official says that Ross has told colleagues that he believes the United States will ultimately have no choice but to attack Iran in response to its nuclear program.

Not quite a neoconservative himself, Ross has palled around with neocons for most of his career. In the 1970s and '80s he worked alongside Paul Wolfowitz at the Defense and State Departments, and with Andrew Marshall, a neoconservative strategist who leads the Pentagon's Office of Net Assessments. In 1985 Ross helped launch the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), the Israel lobby's leading think tank.

From the late 1980s through 2000, Ross served as point man on Arab-Israeli issues for George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, acquiring a reputation as a highly skilled diplomat, albeit one with a pronounced pro-Israel tilt. He led the US side at the July 2000 Camp David summit, but he was deeply mistrusted by Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat, and the feeling was mutual. At a crucial moment in the negotiations, Ross threw a tantrum, hurling a briefing book into a table full of juice and fruit. Not surprisingly, when Arafat rejected the Israelis' less-than-generous offer, Ross heaped blame on the Palestinians for scuttling the talks, the failure of which led directly to Ariel Sharon's rise to power and the second intifada. Daniel Kurtzer, an Orthodox Jew who served as US ambassador to Israel and Egypt and who was one of Obama's top Middle East advisers last year, co-wrote a book in which he explained, "The perception always was that Dennis started from the Israeli bottom line, that he listened to what Israel wanted and then tried to sell it to the Arabs."

From 2001 until his appointment in February, Ross was at WINEP, where he helped to oversee a series of reports designed to ring alarm bells about Iran's nuclear research and to support closer US-Israeli ties in response. Last summer, while advising Obama, he co-chaired a task force that produced a paper titled "Strengthening the Partnership: How to Deepen U.S.-Israel Cooperation on the Iranian Nuclear Challenge." That report opted for an alarmist view of Iran's nuclear program and proposed that the next president set up a formal US-Israeli mechanism for coordinating policy toward Iran (including any future need for "preventive military action"). Along with Holbrooke, Ross also helped found United Against Nuclear Iran, a group established to publicize warnings about Iran to the American public and the media. UANI's advisory board includes former CIA director James Woolsey and Fouad Ajami, perhaps the top Middle East expert for the neoconservative movement.

In September, Ross served as a key member of another task force organized by the Bipartisan Policy Center. The group assembled a flock of hawks under the leadership of Michael Makovsky, brother of WINEP's David Makovsky, who served in the Office of the Secretary of Defense in the heyday of the Pentagon neocons from 2002 to 2006. Its report, "Meeting the Challenge: U.S. Policy Toward Iranian Nuclear Development"--written by Michael Rubin, a neoconservative hardliner at the American Enterprise Institute--read like a declaration of war.

The core of the Bipartisan Policy Center report predicted that diplomacy with Iran is likely to fail. Anticipating failure, Ross and his colleagues recommended "prepositioning military assets" by the United States--i.e., a military buildup--coupled with a US "show of force" in the Gulf. This would be followed almost immediately by a blockade of Iranian gasoline imports and oil exports, meant to paralyze Iran's economy, followed by what they call, not so euphemistically, "kinetic action."

That "kinetic action"--a US assault on Iran--should, in fact, be massive, suggested the Ross-Rubin task force. It should hit dozens of sites alleged to be part of Iran's nuclear research program, along with other targets, including Iranian air defense sites, Revolutionary Guard facilities, much of Iran's military-industrial complex, communications systems, munitions storage facilities, airfields and naval facilities. Eventually, the report concluded, the United States would also have to attack Iran's ground forces, electric power plants and electrical grids, bridges and "manufacturing plants, including steel, autos, buses, etc."

Like virtually all of his neoconservative confreres, Ross does not argue that negotiations with Iran should not proceed. Surrendering to the inevitability of a US-Iran dialogue, they insist instead that any such talks proceed according to a strict time limit, measured in weeks or, at most, a few months. In November, Iran specialist Patrick Clawson, Ross's colleague at WINEP, described any US-Iran dialogue that might emerge as mere theater. "What we've got to do the world that we're doing a heck of a lot to try and engage the Iranians," he said. "Our principal target with these offers [to Iran] is not Iran. Our principal target with these offers is, in fact, American public opinion [and] world public opinion." Once that's done, he implied, the United States would have to take out its big stick.

The reality, however, is that negotiations between Iran and the United States might take many, many months, perhaps years. Putting US-Iran diplomacy on a short fuse, as Ross and his colleagues want to do, guarantees its failure, setting the stage for harsher sanctions, embargoes and the "kinetic action" that Ross has suggested might follow.

IRGC Uncovers “Plot” to Overthrow Islamic Republic

Press TV reported today that an IRGC unit tasked with monitoring Iranian cyberspace says it has uncovered a “plot” supported by the Netherlands to topple the Islamic Republic. Islamic Republic Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) said Holland was funding online media initiatives by the opposition to stage a “soft revolution.” [Press TV, 11 April]

The “plot” just uncovered by IRGC is a bill adopted four years ago by the Dutch parliament to allocate 15 million euro to fund a Persian-language online newspaper and to help human rights groups critical of the Islamic Republic policies.

The IRGC did not elaborate on how an online newspaper based in Holland can topple the government in Tehran. Either the “uncovering” of a four-year old program is an excuse to further limit Internet activities in Iran or it is an indicative of IRGC’s lack of trust in the popularity and legitimacy of the government that can be overthrown by an online newspaper based in Holland.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Iran Producing Fuel for Arak’s Heavy Water Reactor

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad today inaugurated a new nuclear facility producing reactor fuel (pellets of uranium oxide ore or UO2) for the heavy-water and plutonium production reactor under construction in Arak. The new unit is located at Isfahan’s Uranium Conversion Facility (UCF). The UCF will continue producing UF6, the feed gas for uranium enriching centrifuges at Natanz.

The inauguration of the new nuclear facility was part of ceremonies marking the National Day of Nuclear Technology. Ahmadinejad, speaking at the ceremonies, also announced that Iran has tested two kinds of new “high capacity” centrifuges at the Natanz uranium enrichment facility. The new machines, dubbed P-2, are more advanced centrifuges than the P-1s currently in operation.

Qolam Reza Aghazadeh, director of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization (IAEO) said at the same function that there are already around 7,000 centrifuges in operation at Natanz (up from 6,000 announced in February).

Arak heavy water reactor when completed will be able to produce sufficient amount of plutonium needed for the production of plutonium-based nuclear weapons if the country decides to take that path. The enriched uranium produced in Natanz can also be processed further to produce uranium-based nuclear weapons. Senior Iranian leaders, including Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s Supreme Leader, have denied any intention to build a nuclear weapon.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

US Public Backs Immediate Talks with Iran

A new survey conducted by CNN and polling firm Opinion Research and released today found that 59% of Americans say Obama's administration should hold talks with top Iranian leaders in the next few weeks, even though by the same margin the Americans see the Islamic Republic as a long-term threat. 22% of Americans see the Islamic Republic as an immediate threat.

Israel Will Not Attack Iran – Press TV

Press TV reported on Vice President Joe Biden’s interview with CNN on the possibility of an Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities. Biden said he did not think that Israel would strike Iran. Press TV headline read, “Israel will not attack Iran.” [Press TV, 8 April]

Media is portraying Biden’s comments as a rift in US-Israeli positions toward Iran. Earlier this month, the media widely reported on General Petraeus’ comments on the possibility of an Israeli attack to halt Iran’s nuclear program.

The conservative Quds daily said Israel was waging a psychological war to “blackmail” the US to counter President Obama’s attempt to calm the region. [Quds, 8 April]

Monday, April 6, 2009

Roxana Saberi Visited by Parents

BBC reported today that the parents of the US free-lance journalist Roxana Saberi have visited their daughter today at Tehran’s Evin prison. Saberi, born to an Iranian father and a Japanese mother, was living in Iran for six years when arrested last January. The government has said she was working in Iran as a journalist without a valid work permit.

A score of human rights and press organizations have called for her immediate release. Reporting from Iran for the NPR, BBC and other news organizations, Saberi always fileded highly informative and well-written stories on major developments in the country. We are all hoping for her early release and safe return home.

UPDATE: Saberi was reportedly charged with "espionage" on Wednesday 8 April. The government did not give any details about the new charge.

Mousavi Calls for Détente

Mir Hossein Mousavi at today's news conference
Tehran . 6 April 2009 . IRNA Photo

Former Iranian premier Mir Hossein Mousavi told reporters in Tehran today that if he is elected president of Iran, he will avoid “extremism” which has caused harm to the country’s national interests.

“I will follow a policy of détente and will try to gain [international community’s] trust and end artificially pessimistic and extremist positions,” Mousavi said. [Aftab News, 6 April. Translation from Farsi]

“Our work to achieve our national interests need not involve extremism,” Mousavi added.

Mousavi was Iran’s war-time prime minister during the eight-year Iran-Iraq war. He is staging a serious challenge to Ahmadinejad and is now considered one of the leading candidates in the 12 June presidential elections.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Obama to Build Missile Shield against Iran Threat

President Barack Obama confirmed today in Prague that the US will move forward with a plan to build a missile defense shield in Eastern Europe against the threat posed by Iran.

“Let me be clear: Iran's nuclear and ballistic missile activity poses a real threat, not just to the United States, but to Iran's neighbors and our allies,” Obama said. [AFP, 5 April]

Obama called on Iran to limit its nuclear program for peaceful purposes and agree to rigorous international inspections.

"We want Iran to take its rightful place in the community of nations, politically and economically. We will support Iran's right to peaceful nuclear energy with rigorous inspections. That is a path that the Islamic Republic can take," Obama said.

"Or the government can choose increased isolation, international pressure, and a potential nuclear arms race in the region that will increase insecurity for all."

It is becoming apparent that the emerging Iran policy in Obama administration is centered on accepting a limited uranium enrichment program, with low level enrichment, and rigorous IAEA inspections, but tough economic and political sanctions if the Iranians fail to accept the compromise limiting the country’s nuclear program.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Iran to Boost Military Defenses

Brig. Gen. Mohammad Hejazi, IRGC deputy commander, said in Tehran today that US inability to confront Iran’s military defenses was the major cause for Obama administration’s policy of change toward Iran.

“When they recognized that they cannot confront [Iran’s military defenses], they started speaking of the policy of change, and this indicates the mightiness of the Islamic Republic and the capabilities and power of our armed forces,” Gen. Hejazi said. [IRNA, 4 April]

The Iranian military has been active in setting up defenses against possible military attacks on the country, especially against an Israeli air attack on its nuclear installations.

Last month, the Iranian military set up a new Air Defense Command, headed by former IRIAF commander Brig. Gen. Ahmad Miqani. The new structure brings all air defense systems belonging to the military as well as the IRGC under a unified command.

The establishment of the Air Defense Command comes amid concerns raised by senior US military officials that Israel might take military actions against Iran’s nuclear installations.

The commander of Israeli military, Gen. Gaby Ashkenazi, was reported yesterday to have arrived in Strasbourg, France, for a meeting with the visiting President Obama. The US has been trying hard to dissuade Israel from taking military actions against Iran. Instead, the Obama administration is favoring the use of tough economic sanctions coupled with active diplomacy to stop or limit Iran’s uranium enrichment program.