Monday, November 30, 2009

Shmatko in Tehran - Correction

A day after Russia voted at IAEA to censure Iran over its nuclear program, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki (at right) arrived in Moscow for talks with Russian Energy Minister Sergey Shmatko (center). Fars Photo

Correction: Russian Energy Minister Sergey Schmatko visited Tehran and held talks with Mottaki. Our apologies to our readers for reporting that Mottaki had visited Shmatko in Moscow.

IRNA: Iran Will Build 10 New Enrichment Plants

IRNA, the official Iranian news agency, reported today that the Iranian government has approved a plan to build 10 additional uranium enrichment plants. IRNA said the decision has “infuriated” the US administration.

President Ahmadinejad has ordered the construction of the new sites to produce some 250-300 tons of LEU annually. The Atomic Energy Organization of Iran will be in charge of the construction of the new sites. The current Iranian inventory of LEU is reportedly less than two tons.

The move would signify a major expansion of enrichment activities by Iran. It was not clear why the country would need so much LEU fuel when it does not even have a single running electricity-generating nuclear reactor.

UPDATE: Iran’s First Vice President Mohammad Reza Rahimi told reporters in Tehran on Monday that Iran does intend to build 10 new uranium enrichment plants each with capacity to produce 20 percent enriched uranium. He emphasized that the plan announced earlier today was not a “political bluff.”

“They [the West] must see and will see that what we said was not a bluff,” Rahimi added [IRNA, 30 November].

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Iran: ‘NPT has no benefit but damage and restriction’

by Mark Pyruz

A day after the board of the U.N.'s International Atomic Energy Agency passed a resolution demanding Tehran immediately stop building its newly disclosed nuclear facility near the holy city of Qom and freeze uranium enrichment, Iranian legislators and analysts are now openly questioning the benefits of being a signatory of the NPT, and signaling it may be in the national interest of Iran to withdraw from the nuclear treaty.

If Iran withdraws from the treaty, its nuclear program would no longer be subject to oversight by the U.N. nuclear agency.

"The parliament, in its first reaction to this illegal and politically-motivated resolution, can consider the issue of withdrawing from the NPT," Mohammad Karamirad was quoted as saying by the official IRNA news agency, referring to the treaty. "The parliament ... (also) can block the entry of IAEA inspectors to the country.

Another lawmaker, Hossein Ebrahimi, was quoted by IRNA as saying that Iran's parliament will discuss the IAEA resolution on Sunday and will make a decision on how to react.
Ali Asghar Soltanieh, Iran's chief delegate to the U.N. nuclear agency, was also defiant Saturday in the face of the agency's fresh demands, saying in television interview that Iran will limit its cooperation with the U.N. watchdog to its treaty obligations and will not cooperate beyond that.

"Our first reaction to this resolution is that they (the IAEA) should not expect us to do what we did several times in the past few months when we cooperated beyond our obligations to remove ambiguities," Soltanieh said.

He added that the country's nuclear activities will not be interrupted by resolutions from the IAEA, the U.N. Security Council or even the threat of military strikes against the facilities.
Ali Shirzadian, spokesman of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, said his agency his ready to proceed with its nuclear projects.

"Technically speaking, we are fully prepared to produce fuel required for the Tehran reactor. To begin this we are waiting for the order from top authorities," Shirzadian told the Borna news agency.

The Iranian news agency also quoted political analyst Mahdi Mohammadi as saying that the U.N. agency's resolution was forcing Iran to reconsider its membership in the nonproliferation treaty.

"The attitude of the agency is gradually bringing Iran and the rest of the developing nations to the conclusion that membership in NPT has no benefit but damage and restriction. In this case, the question that will be raised seriously is will continuation of this path serve Iran's national interests?" IRNA quoted him as saying.

From the Iranian perspective, membership in the NPT is not delivering anywhere near the technical assistance it promises to provide, yet at the same time it is being used against Iran as a means of politically motivated coercion. Non-NPT states such as India are “rewarded” with seemingly unbounded nuclear cooperation, and non-NPT Israel has never been put through the political hassles Iran is now enduring. At this point, the Iranians are confronted with the obvious hypocrisy of their situation and are asking themselves:

“Why are we even in the NPT, when all it brings us is pain and no gain?”

Friday, November 27, 2009

IAEA Censures Iran Over Nuclear Site- Refers File to UNSC

The board of governors of IAEA today by a vote of 25-3 passed a sharply worded resolution censuring Iran over the construction of its new Fordu uranium enrichment facility near Qum, expressing serious concern and directing Iran to immediately shut down the facility. The resolution noted that Iran had broken international rules by building the new site and has referred the matter to UN Security Council for further consideration.

The resolution was drafted by US, Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany. This was IAEA’s first resolution on Iran since 2006. At the time, the IAEA also referred Iran’s nuclear file to UNSC, which resulted in three sets of economic sanctions against the country. Today’s resolution was supported by both China and Russia, also a first since 2006. 25 counties voted in favor of the resolution. And only three countries voted against it- Cuba, Venezuela and Malaysia, with five abstentions and one member absent (among the abstentions was Brazil. Iranian President Ahmadinejad had just visited the country and Tehran expected it to cast a no vote).

The Chinese and Russian support are seen as critical for any future action by the UN Security Council over Iran’s nuclear program. The Washington Post reported yesterday that China agreed to join the US in voting for the resolution after two high-ranking US officials, Dennis Ross and Jeffrey Bader, in a recent visit to Beijing persuaded Chinese leaders that lack of a unified international stand against Iran would prompt Israel to bomb Iranian nuclear facilities. An Israeli attack, the US representatives argued, would throw the entire Persian Gulf and its oil supplies into chaos, an outcome not in anyone’s interests, including China’s.

Yesterday, IAEA chief Mohamed Elbaradei told the board of governors that investigating Iran’s nuclear intentions has come to a dead end due to lack of support by the Iranian government. IAEA, he said, could not verify that Iran’s nuclear program in peaceful in nature.

Today’s resolution brings Iranian nuclear program closer to a full-fledge crisis. If Iran disregards the wide support for the resolution, it will prompt a new round of severe economic sanctions and/or military attack in the coming months. The government can probably avert the crisis by accepting the latest IAEA proposal which calls for a LEU swap agreement, whereas IAEA gets full control of Iranian LEU, shipping it to Turkey and in turn would deliver higher-grade uranium fuel to Iran for use in its nuclear reactor in Tehran (please see a previous post on the subject).

Happy Eid!

Russia Urges Iran to Accept Uranium Swap Deal

Russia has urged Iran to accept an IAEA-brokered proposal that calls on Tehran to send its enriched uranium abroad for further enrichment. Russia's Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov has issued the appeal in a meeting with Iran's Ambassador to Russia Seyyed Mahmoud-Reza Sajjadi [Press TV, 26 November].

"The Russian side stressed the need to observe the principals of the basic deal reached at negotiations on this problem in Geneva on October 1," Ryabkov has reportedly told the Iranian ambassador.

Iranian ambassador to IAEA had signed off on the original proposal. IAEA chief later revised the venue for uranium swap from Russia to Turkey to alleviate Iranian concerns. But Tehran has now rejected the deal and instead has proposed a change of venue to Iran for any uranium swap. Russia is asking Iran to stay with the original proposal.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

President Ahmadinejad in South America

click photos to enlarge

Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva with President Ahmadinejad. The two presidents’ talks focused on trade cooperation, the need to reform the UN structure and the establishment of a fair global trade system.

"We recognize Iran's right to develop a peaceful nuclear program in compliance with international accords," Lula said in a speech at a news conference with Ahmadinejad.

Bolivian President Evo Morales with President Ahmadinejad. Morales and Ahmadinejad signed a joint declaration supporting the right of all nations to the use and development of nuclear energy for peaceful means.

President Chavez of Venezuela gives President Ahmadinejad a warm welcome at Miraflores Palace in Caracas.

"We are here to welcome you, brother Ahmadinejad. Leader. Brother. Comrade," Chavez said.

Ahmadinejad, in return, called Chavez "my valiant brother."

"A brother," he said, "who is resisting like a mountain the intentions of imperialism and colonialism."


Under the administration of President Ahmadinejad, the Islamic Republic of Iran has successfully worked at developing growing cooperation with Latin American nations, especially those considered leftist or populist. The results are evident during this latest trip by the Iranian president to South America.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

LEU Swap Dispute Preventing Iran Nuclear Deal

How to swap most of Iran’s current inventory of low-enriched uranium (LEU) with higher-grade fuel produced in the West and required to power Tehran nuclear reactor has become the center of dispute with Iran, preventing a nuclear deal and raising the prospect of a crisis in Iran's relations with the West.

The original IAEA proposal called for Iran to ship out some 90% of its known LEU to Russia and France. Although the proposal had received preliminary approval of Iran’s representative during the nuclear talks in Vienna, but the government of Iran, under pressure from influential conservative politicians, including the speaker of Majlis, refused to sign the agreement.

IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei suggested Turkey as the venue for exchange. Under the revised proposal, IAEA would take custody and control of Iranian LEU, ship it to Turkey and keep it there until Iran received the allotment of higher-grade (20%) uranium it was promised. The Iranian government at first seemed ready to sign the agreement. But the internal pressure again stopped the deal. Instead Iran has proposed a simultaneous swap on Iranian territory, with IAEA brining into Iran the higher-grade uranium before shipping out Iranian LEU.

ElBaradei said in Vienna that Iran’s latest proposal is a no go.

“I don’t think that is an option. The whole purpose of the deal is to defuse the crisis,” ElBaradei said. “IAEA will take custody and control of the material [LEU]. We’ve offered to have the material in Turkey, a country which has the trust of all the parties,” [AFP, 25 November].

ElBaradei maintains that in its current state, IAEA proposal leaves no room for further concern as it offers more than enough “built-in guarantees” to the Iranian government. He said that the West was ready to consider further amendments, anything except the prospect of leaving the LEU in Iran.

“I am open if they [Iranians] have any additional guarantees [to put in place] that do not involve keeping the material in Iran,” ElBaradei said.

The swap of Iran’s LEU in Turkey or inside Iran has become the major obstacle to a nuclear deal with Iran, raising the prospect of renewed tensions with the West.

Annual Hajj Begins

Muslim pilgrims began arriving in Mecca. Fears of swine flue pandemic force some to wear masks. 25 November 2009. ISNA

The annual Hajj pilgrimage began today in Mecca. Some 2.5 million pilgrims have arrived in the holy city. A rare rainstorm threatened to mar the four-day hajj.

The Iranian pilgrims are expected to stage a protest with chants of “Death to America” and “Death to Israel.” The Saudi authorities have banned such protests, but the head of Iran’s delegation said they would stage the protest in the massive pilgrims’ tent city in Mina valley.

UPDATE (26 November): Iranian pilgrims carried out a protest on Thursday ignoring Saudi warnings against political activity inside their camp at Arafat outside Mecca. Some 65,000 Iranian pilgrims are on the hajj this year. Ayatollah Mohammad Rajari, the supreme leader’s representative at hajj pilgrimage, led the Iranian delegation. In his speech he asked all Muslims to focus on important issues of Al Asqa [mosque in Jerusalem], the occupation of Palestine, Iraqi and Afghan occupation and the fighting in Yemen. The crowd chanted political slogans. There was no presence by Saudi security forces during the protest and no report of any incident.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Sky of Velayat 2 (photos)

click photos to enlarge
ZU-23-2 23 mm anti-aircraft twin autocannon in action.

Oerlikon 35 mm anti-aircraft twin autocannon in concealed position.

MIM-23B I-HAWK surface-to-air missile (SAM).

ZU-23-2 23 mm anti-aircraft twin autocannon (China Type 85). Soldier in foreground equipped with gas mask and HK G3 assault rifle.

Oerlikon 35 mm AAA in action.

ZU-23 guns mounted atop specially modified vehicles. Gunners wear Iranian chemical defense ensembles.

Motorized MANPADS team equipped with Misagh-2 shoulder-launched infrared guided surface-to-air missile. Soldiers wear the new IRIADF camo patern BDUs.

39N6E KASTA-2E2 radar antenna, likely associated with the Tor missile system.

2nd from right: IRIADF commander Brig. Gen. Mighani surveys the air drill. Note the clergy member of the Khatam al-Anbiya Air Defense HQ, at his side.

Photos: Fars News Agency, Mehr News Agency and ISNA.

No Fears of Military Attacks- Ahmadinejad

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told reporters in Brazilian capital Brasília that he doesn't fear any attacks against Iran’s nuclear program. “Neither the US or Israel have the courage" to start a war against Iran, Ahmadinejad said. "The era of military attacks is over," he said [, 24 November]. President Ahmdinejad is visiting Brazil.

"Now is the time for dialogue and understanding. Weapons and threats belong to the past. They are things for mentally challenged people. Those countries you reporters mentioned [US and Israel] wouldn't have the courage to do this, they don't even think about it."

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Sky of Velayat 2 (video)

State TV video of Iran's Air drill provided by Reuters (no sound).

"The Defense Ministry's new anti-aircraft defense system will be tested in the Aseman-e-Velayat 2 maneuver," Defense Minister Ahmad Vahidi is reported to have said to PressTV on Sunday.

"Rest assured that in case of any aggression, the Zionists' F-15 and F-16 warplanes will be targeted and destroyed by our air defense", Commander of IRGC Aerospace Brig. Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh told Fars news agency.

"And if one of their aircraft manages to escape Iran's air defense- before it can land - the bases from where these aircraft took off will be struck by our destructive surface-to-surface ballistic missiles," added the IRGC General.

"The Zionists may initiate such a war, but undoubtedly its end will depend on our will," Hajizadeh noted.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Basij News: In the Field & in the Classroom

Basij Week
The Islamic Republic of Iran is reporting mobilization plans for 7 million Basijis to rally on Friday, November 27, 2009, on the occasion of Basij Week. Official routes have yet to be announced for the day's marches. This follows unofficial reports that over 30,000 Basij militiamen were mobilized to counter anti-regime protesters on November 4, under orders from the new commander of the Basij, Brigadier General Mohammad Reza Nagdi.

Student Basij in Elementary Schools
A senior Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) official has announced that the Basij will soon be established in Iranian elementary schools for the first time since the Islamic revolution.

The extensive plan calls for the introduction of the Basij into 6,000 elementary schools across the country, according to IRGC General Mohammad Saleh Jokar, head of the Schoolchildren and Teachers' Basij Organization. 'We want to expand the Basij's activities at the primary-school level because students are more impressionable at a young age than at other times in their lives,' Jokar told Mehr News in an interview published on Monday. 'We intend to promote and instill a revolutionary and Basiji thought process among elementary school students.'

The militia has been present in middle schools and high schools since its inception 30 years ago, but the founding law of the schoolchildren's Basij, passed by the Majlis on April 29, 1996, mandated its presence in elementary schools too. 'We had not formed Basij units in elementary schools until now because of budget restrictions, but more funds were allocated this year,' Jokar explained to Mehr news.

The Basij elementary school organization website can be accessed here.

Iran news in english translated by homylafayette.

Obama warns Iran of 'consequences'

President Obama today stated that Iran should accept the IAEA-backed proposal, warning if it didn't make the right choice that consequences would follow.

The president has already renewed sanctions against Iran so one has to wonder what consequences he is talking about?
The proposed crippling sanctions is the most likely option "on the table" in the case that Iran refuses the proposal.

Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki has stated:

"Iran will not send its 3.5-percent-enriched uranium out of the country. That means we are considering exchanging the enriched uranium inside Iran.

Iran has called for modifications to the deal, reiterating that its “economic and technical” concerns have to be reserved regarding the proposal.

Odierno & Hill met with IRGC Quds General Suleimani

The Economist reports that General Raymond Odierno and Ambassador Christopher Hill, the United States’ two most senior officials in Iraq, met with Brigadier General Qassem Suleimani, who commands the Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ Quds Force, to discuss Iraqi politics:

".... The White House has called him a terrorist. A UN Security Council resolution singles him out as a suitable target of sanctions. So why—if a report leaked to The Economist proves correct—would he recently have had a chat with General Raymond Odierno and Ambassador Christopher Hill, America’s two most senior officials in Baghdad?

The answer is that regional diplomacy requires Iran’s involvement if a stable Iraq is to have a chance of emerging after the election due in January. General Suleimani has great influence in Iraq through a web of politicians and insurgents. It was he who brokered a peace deal last year after Iraq’s security forces fought against the Mahdi Army militia loyal to a Shia cleric, Muqtada al-Sadr, who has spent most of the past two years in Iran. With American combat troops due to leave Iraq next year, American officials reluctantly, it seems, turned to General Suleimani. General Odierno and Mr Hill, who deny the event, are said to have met him in the office of Iraq’s president, Jalal Talabani, who has known the Quds Force commander for decades. “It’s a complicated world,” says an American official".
UPDATE: The Economist has pulled the story. The meeting did not happen. The Economist story has received authoritative denials and has since been pulled. This post was based on their story -Nader Uskowi

IRIADF Air Defense Drill of Iran's Nuclear Sites

IRIADF Brig. Gen. Ahmad Mighani

A senior air defense commander said on Saturday that the Islamic Republic of Iran Air Defense Force (IRIADF) will conduct five days of maneuvers involving simulated attacks on the country's nuclear sites.

"From tomorrow (Sunday), we will start a big aerial defense maneuver that will last for five days, covering an area of some 600,000 square kilometers in north, southwestern Iran and parts of south and central Iran," Brigadier General Ahmad Mighani, the air defense chief, stated to Fars news agency.

The aim of the Asemane Velayat 2 exercise is to train for aerial threats posed by potential adversaries to Iran's nuclear facilities, including enemy reconnaissance to actual assault, and also to improve cooperation among different participating units.

"Due to the threats against our nuclear facilities, it is our duty to defend our nation's vital facilities, and thus this maneuver covers Bushehr, Fars, Isfahan, Tehran and western provinces," Mighani added.

"Our unit (IRIADF) will be in charge of the maneuver, but there will also be units from the Revolutionary Guards and the Basij (militia)," he added.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Questions and Ramifications Over Neda's Shooting

Frontline's latest documentary A Death in Tehran and its related web site revisit the tragic shooting of Neda Agha-Soltan, which took place during a protest last June following Iran's disputed presidential election. Readers are encouraged to view the documentary, made in association with Tehran Bureau, here.

From a law enforcement perspective, the PBS documentary provides intriguing details on Neda's shooting by an eyewitness, Arash Hejazi, a trained medical doctor who was at Neda's side when she perished.

Hejazi states that he heard a single shot coming from "in front", but did not see the shooter. He then states that a crowd had put a suspect under citizens arrest, and that the suspect admitted to the killing but stated it was not his intent to do so. The suspect is frisked and his Basij ID discovered. At this point the crowd deliberates on what to do. According to the eyewitness account, the crowd has no confidence in the police and feels itself threatened by turning him in to the authorities, so they release the suspect.

Basij ID card of shooting suspect

Hejazi's account raises questions. When the suspect was apprehended, what happened to the firearm? A single shot was heard fired in the incident. Did the crowd that apprehended him risk their lives to disarm him? Why didn't the suspect fire at those attempting to subdue him? Had the suspect actually run out of ammunition? Presumably it may have been a handgun fired at not too far a distance, but an approximation of relative distance would be helpful. Again, what happened to the firearm?

Another question is why a Basidji would be operating as such alone in a crowd. Usually you see Basidji operating in small teams. Where were the suspect's team members? Had he become separated, or had his team members abandoned him? Perhaps, as the suspect is reputed to have stated, it's possible this was an accidental discharge.

Taken at face value, that the shooter was indeed this identified Basidji, the incident really exposes the unprofessional nature of the Basij as an instrument of urban riot control, as well as the detrimental effect this can have on the reputation of the Iranian government. Severely undertrained and ill disciplined Basidjis operating alone in a high risk environment is a sure fire recipe for disaster. It would be interesting to confirm that changes have been made by the IRGC and IRIPF, as well as policy related to the distribution of lethal rounds, for subsequent Iranian law enforcement efforts at anti-riot control since the June demonstrations.

Note: I've queried Arash Hejazi by email for additional info on his eyewitness account, and will be updating this post with any forthcoming response.

No Nuclear Deal- Mottaki

Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki
During the Interview with ISNA: "Definitely Not!"
Tehran. 18 November. ISNA Photo

Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki announced during an interview with ISNA today that Teheran would “definitely” not agree to send its low-enriched uranium (LEU) abroad for further processing [ISNA, 18 November].

“Definitely, Iran will not send its 3.5 percent enriched fuel out, it means that we think the simultaneous fuel swap is considerable inside Iran,” Mottaki told ISNA.

The foreign minister did not elaborate how the fuel swap inside Iran works. But he was clear that no LEU would be shipped out. On Iran’s formal response to IAEA nuclear deal, Mottaki said the agency has been notified of Iran’s position.

“The proposal was studied in Tehran and we notified the IAEA of our response.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Iran Sentences Five Opponents to Death

Five people have been sentenced to death and 81 have received jail terms of up to 15 years in connection with Green Movement street demonstrations after the disputed presidential election last June [IRNA, 17 November].

I believe the death sentences and other harsh verdicts announced today for acts of civil disobedience and street demonstrations would further damage the legitimacy of the current government, solidifying its reputation as an anti-democratic and reactionary government using force and coercion to rule the country.

Iran's Ministry of Intelligence PSA video

IRI Ministry of Intelligence public service announcement (PSA) video, circa 2008 (pre-presidential election). Reminiscent of certain American broadcasts during the cold war of the 1950's, which warned of similar internal threats and conspiracies related to the "red scare" coming from Russia and communism.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Bushehr Completion Delayed

Moscow says Bushehr nuclear power plant will not go online this year as scheduled. The project, being built by Russia, is now 10 years behind schedule.

“We will reach significant results regarding this issue by the end of 2009, but the plant itself won’t be launched,” Russia’s Energy Minister Sergey Shmatko said. [RT, 16 November].

UPDATE: Mahmoud Ahmadi-Biqash, spokesman for Iranian Majlis foreign policy and security commission, reacted to the news of delay in Bushehr:

"The Russians have never told us the truth and just followed their own interests - the Bushehr power plant will never be completed by Russia," Ahmadi-Biqash told ISNA. "The Russians are playing with Iran over Bushehr for twenty years and even if we waited another 200 years, this power plant would not get ready." [ISNA, 16 November].

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Iran Parliament Approves Last Three Ministers

Iran’s Majlis approved today the last three ministers in President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's 21-member cabinet after rejecting his original choices in September. Parliament voted to support Ahmadinejad's new candidates for the energy, welfare and education portfolios.

The nominee for the welfare portfolio, Sadeq Mahsouli, came under attack by MPs for mismanaging the detention of post-election demonstrators. He was the acting interior minister at the time, overseeing the elections and internal security.
"The interior minister is in charge of domestic security. Mahsouli was in charge when bitter events happened at the Kahrizak detention center and Tehran University dormitory," said conservative MP Ali Motahari [ILNA, 15 November].

A number of young detainees were tortured and some killed at Karizak prison, creating a widespread public anger as news spread of conditions in the jail. The government closed down the facility in July. [Kahrizak’s medial director committed suicide in Tehran on Saturday.] At the University of Tehran, government forces attacked the dormitory, killing and injuring a number of students. Close to 70 protestors were killed in the days after the disputed 12 June presidential election and thousands arrested. More than 100 people, including former senior officials in Khatami administration, lawyers, activists and students still remain in jail.

Mahsouli is a former IRGC officer and a close friend of Ahmadinejad. He had been a nominee for oil minister in Ahmadinejad's first term but withdrew after lawmakers criticized his lack of related experience and his wealth.MP Motahari repeated the criticism over the source of Mahsouli's wealth, accusing him of using his previous positions to acquire it.

"Such an enormous wealth would not accumulate naturally," Motahari said [ILNA, 15 November].

Clinton on Iranian Nuclear Program

US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton spoke to SPIEGEL on topics related to Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran. Below are excerpts on Iranian nuclear program and the political situation in the country. [SPIEGEL, 15 November 2009].

SPIEGEL: In the conflict with Iran there is hardly any progress to be seen. The government in Teheran seems determined not to accept the recent offer of negotiations as based on a proposal of the American president.

Clinton : Well, we don't have a formal response from Iran yet.

SPIEGEL: The reason for that is probably that the Iranians would like to renegotiate the deal using their well-known delaying tactics. Is your patience endless?

Clinton : We do not intend to renegotiate. We have been willing to give them more time to work through their internal political debate, because we know there is a lot of turmoil in the Iranian political system. But our patience is not unlimited. We continue to urge them to show good faith, as they had said they would adopt this agreement "in principle." It would provide an opening for us to discuss not just the nuclear program, but other matters as well. We are still hopeful.

SPIEGEL: Iranian politicians keep on saying that they have not seen any real sign of willingness to compromise by the new US government. Why don't you take the military option off the table, the threat of bombing Iranian nuclear installations? Nobody believes that this is a realistic option anyway.

Clinton : We do not take any options off the table. I don't think that strategically it is smart to begin cutting your options when the other side does not move at all. Let's see some good faith from Iran; let's see some action on their part. President Obama has reached out to them, both publicly and privately. But that's not a one-way street; we have to see some reciprocity coming back from Iran.

UPDATE: President Obama on Sunday won the strongest backing yet from Russia on the Iranian nuclear crisis as he warned that Tehran was "running out of time". 
Meeting Obama in Singapore, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said neither he nor the US leader were satisfied with the pace of progress, as Tehran drags its feet over its response to the IAEA nuclear enrichment deal.

"Our goal is clear, it is transparent," Medvedev said. "We are prepared to work further to ensure Iran's nuclear program is only for peaceful purposes,” he said. 
"In case we fail, the other options remain on the table, in order to move the process in a different direction," he added. "As reasonable politicians, we understand that any process should have a final point. The process of talks exists not for the pleasure of talking but for achieving practical goals." [AFP, 15 November].

Update:Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said on Monday 16 November that the enemies of Iran’s nuclear program have been defeated.

“Enemies have politicized the nuclear issue using all of their abilities to try to make the Iranian nation surrender, but they have been defeated," Ahmadinejad said [IRIB].

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Iran Military Chief Backs Nuclear Deal

Iran's armed forces chief of staff Major General Hassan Firouzabadi said on Friday he backs proposals for Tehran to ship out stocks of low-enriched uranium in return for fuel for a reactor designed to produce medical isotopes.

"We won't suffer from an exchange of fuel," the Mehr news agency quoted the general as saying.

"On the contrary, in obtaining fuel enriched to 20 percent purity for the Tehran reactor, a million of our citizens will benefit from the medical treatment it can enable and we will prove at the same time the bona fides of our peaceful nuclear activities."

The general reportedly stated he had no particular issue with the amount of low-enriched uranium that Iran shipped out -- 1,200 kilos (more than 2,640 pounds) under the current proposals drawn up by the UN nuclear watchdog and approved by the P5+1.

"The quantity of uranium enriched to 3.5 percent that will be shipped out in order to obtain the fuel is not so large as to cause damage," he said.

Mousavi Repeats Call for New Election

Iran’s opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi today repeated his call for new presidential election.

"The Green Path condemns violence, though we may suffer losses, we want political prisoners to be freed, we want guarantees for a clean [new] election, we seek freedom of expression and the press," Mousavi was quoted as telling the pro-opposition website Moujcamp [AFP, 14 November].

Iran Rejects Nuclear Deal - Reports

Western sources have told Radio Israel that Iran has informed IAEA that it has formally rejected the proposed nuclear deal worked out in Vienna last month. Under the compromise, Iran would have shipped most of its low-grade enriched uranium to Russia and France in return for higher-grade fuel required for its research reactor in Tehran.

London-based Al Hayat also reported today that French President Nicolas Sarkozy has told the visiting Syrian President Bashar Assad on Friday that in the absence of a nuclear agreement, Israel may strike Iranian nuclear facilities.

IRGC New Mission

Brig. General Hossein Hamedani, pictured above, was named today as the new IRGC commander for Tehran district. During a ceremony introducing Gen. Hamedani, IRGC Commader Maj. Gen. Mohammad Ali Jafari said the most important mission of IRGC is countering velvet revolution-type activities by the opposition.

Jafari also said that IRGC has received highest commendation from the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, on the effective way it dealt with post-election disturbances in Tehran and other cities in the country. Gen. Hamedani will now be in charge of IRGC efforts to prevent and to deal with the Green Movement activities in Tehran.

Identifying non-militant opposition movement in the country as the focus of IRGC concerns is a sharp departure for the organization. IRGC first came to prominence for its role fighting Saddam’s army during the imposed war with Iraq. The war transformed the organization into the most powerful branch of Iran’s armed forces. It created an elite special operations group for extra-territorial activities, the Quds Force, involved in many regional conflicts as well as the elimination of the opposition leaders abroad. In post-war years, the organization went through yet another transformation, building its own business empire. Today IRGC is one of the largest business enterprises in the country, controlling major imports and distribution networks in the country. IRGC Intelligence directorate also became the top intel gathering organization in the country, surpassing in importance the government’s own Intelligence Ministry.

In the past decade, IRGC was given the ultimate command of Iran’s nuclear and missile programs. Its former generals entered the government in large numbers. And now countering the Green Movement has become its focus of activities. After thirty years, IRGC has become the most powerful organization in the country, a government in government, controlling major political, economic and military institutions.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Tense Atmosphere in Kurdistan

Reports coming out of Kurdistan indicate that after the execution of the Kurdish political activist Ehsan Fatahian on Wednesday, an atmosphere of anger toward the central government has prevailed throughout the region. In Saqez, a demonstration has been planned in town’s center for Saturday morning. There have been unconfirmed reports that the government will soon execute another detained activist and Saqez resident, the 24-year old Shirkouh Moarefi. The situation in the entire region is reported to be very tense.

UPDATE: Amnesty International and the parents of Shirkouh Moarefi have called on Iranian government to stop his execution.

Another year of sanctions for Iran

Obama renewed another year of sanctions against the Islamic Republic of Iran, he was quoted as saying:

"Our relations with Iran have not yet returned to normal."

This follows President Ahmadinejad hailing the Western retreat on the nuclear issue, he has made these two statements last Wednesday:

"We have now entered a stage of cooperation. At the moment, one of the key issues is Iran's participation in projects such as the international [nuclear] fuel bank or reactor and plant construction,"

"There is no more talk of suspension. We have reached a stage where we are cooperating, on a high level, with other countries that have the technology through the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA),"

Mixed messages are coming from both Washington and Tehran, Obama continuing the economic sanctions despite his apparent overtures with Tehran, while Tehran is repeatedly stating that it will not give up the Iranian nation's legitimate nuclear rights under Western pressure.

Russia 'obligated' to keep it's S-300 contract

Iranian Defense Minister Ahmad Vahidi says Moscow has a "contractual obligation" to deliver the advanced S-300 air defense system to Tehran.

"We have made a deal with the Kremlin to buy S-300 defense missiles, we don't think Russian officials would want to be seen in the world as contract violators," he stated.

Vahidi urged Moscow to keep its side of the bargain regardless of strong Israeli opposition.

Israel has previously threatened Iran over it's air defense.

Iran to try Mousavi’s Brother-in-Law

Iran’s Revolutionary Court announced today that the brother-in-law of the country’s opposition leader would be put on trial. Shapour Kazemi, the brother of Hossein Mousavi's wife, was arrested in June during a pro-Green Movement protest.

A large number of the ruling conservative politicians have openly called for the arrest and trial of Mousavi on charges of treason. Trying his brother-in-law is an act of revenge by the authorities against the Green Movement and its leader.

UPDATE: The Revolutionary Court on Saturday 14 November sentenced Abdullah Momeni, a student who took part in protests following presidential election, to eight years in prison.

Several other postelection detainees have received jail terms and three people have been sentenced to death, according to Iranian media.

A picture is worth a thousand words

President Ahmadinejad holds hands with Turkey's President Gul and Syria's President Assad, at this week's Islamic conference in Istanbul.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Green Supporter Sentenced to 7 Years in Prison

The Islamic Revolutionary Court today sentenced Soheil Navidi Yekta, a Green Movement supporter who was detained during post-election protests in Iran, to seven years in prison and 74 lashes. He had been charged with taking action against national security, propaganda against the system and disrupting public order [Rah-e Sabz, 12 November].

Navidi-Yekta, son of a martyr of Iran-Iraq war, received maximum punishment for all of the charges brought against him by the prosecutor. It is widely feared that many more detainees will receive harsh sentences in the coming days.

US to Seize Iran Properties

The US government moved today to seize properties of Iran’s Alavi Foundation, including a Manhattan skyscraper and three mosques in New York, Maryland and Texas. The foundation is accused of illegal money transfer to Iran.

Alavi Foundation was established as Pahlavi Foundation during the shah’s government and its assets, including the 36-story office tower on Fifth Avenue in Midtown Manhattan, was taken over by the Islamic Republic after the revolution in Iran. The Foundation since has invested in further properties. A sister foundation, the Assa Corp., was co-owner of the skyscraper.

The US attorney for Southern district of New York today announced the filing of a civil complaint seeking forfeiture of the Alavi Foundation's properties, accusing the foundation of transferring money to Bank Melli of Iran which is owned and controlled by the government of Iran.

The complaint alleges that the properties were "involved in and were the proceeds of money laundering offenses," and that the owners violated the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, executive orders and US Department of Treasury regulations.

The complaint alleges that the Alavi Foundation has effectively been a front for the government of Iran.

"For two decades, the Alavi Foundation's affairs have been directed by various Iranian officials, including Iranian ambassadors to the United Nations, in violation of a series of American laws. The Alavi Foundation's former president remains under investigation for alleged obstruction of justice, and both the criminal and civil investigations are ongoing."

In a related development, President Obama said Thursday in a letter to Congress that the national emergency with respect to Iran that was declared in 1979 during the Iranian revolution has not ended.

"Our relations with Iran have not yet returned to normal, and the process of implementing the January 19, 1981, agreements with Iran is still under way," Obama wrote in an official "notice of continuation" required to extend the emergency status with Iran beyond the anniversary date of November 14.

"For these reasons, I have determined that it is necessary to continue the national emergency declared on November 14, 1979, with respect to Iran, beyond November 14, 2009."

UPDATE (15 November 2009): Iranian parliament speaker Ali Larijani said today that the seizure of the New York skyscraper and other Iranian assets show that President Obama is no better than his predecessor George W. Bush. Larijani's statement was followed by chants of "Death to America" among MPs in the chamber.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Changes to Iran's Law Enforcement

Najjar appointed deputy commander of IRIPF

Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei has appointed Iran's interior minister Mostafa Mohammad-Najjara to the dual post of deputy commander the Islamic Republic of Iran Police Force (IRIPF).

It is reported the appointment comes after the formal request of Najjar, a former commander of the IRGC.

"In line with the critical responsibilities of the interior minister to ensure public security and order, and as the close connection between this ministry and the police would ensure order and security [in the country], I call on the commander-in-chief to allow the interior minister to assume control over the civil forces", Mohammad-Najjar wrote.

In response to the letter, Ayatollah Khamenei wrote "I appoint you as deputy commander of the [IRIPF]."

Khamenei added that further details concerning Najjar's duties as deputy commander would be announced shortly.

IRGC to arm Basij in Sistan-Baluchestan

The new commander of the IRGC in the southeastern province of Sistan-Baluchestan has directed the guards to arm the provincial Basijis (under specific conditions and supervision).

General Alireza Azimi-Jahed, who was appointed Thursday as the Sistan-Baluchestan’s IRGC commander, told Fars News Agency on Sunday that he will follow up his programs in collaboration with the new commander of Guards Quds Brigade.

Jahed replaced former Sistan-Baluchestan IRGC commander Rajabali Mohammadzadeh, who was killed in an Oct 18 suicide attack at a meeting between Shiite and Sunni groups, near the Iran-Pakistan border town of Pishin. Forty-one others were killed in the terrorist attack, including six senior IRGC commanders and several tribal leaders.

The former commander of IRGC’s Quds Brigade General Nour-Ali Shoushtari was also among those killed in the blast.

Shoushtari and Mohammadzadeh were following the same path in arming local Basijis to deal with threats against the region, which neighbors strife-torn Pakistan and war-ravaged Afghanistan.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Iran to Build 50,000 Centrifuges - Ahmadinejad

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said today that Tehran would continue to expand its uranium enrichment facilities to up to 50,000 centrifuges. Ahmadinejad made the comments in a news conference in Turkey.

“We are currently producing fuel for our nuclear plants… We have one facility in Natanz and another one is being built near Qom. I have already said that we should at least have 50,000 centrifuges to provide the fuel for one power plant,” Ahmadinejad said [IRINN, 9 November].

Referring to the proposal put forward at Vienna talks, Ahmadinejad was vague as to Iran’s intentions to accept or reject it. He said the idea of purchasing higher grade LEU came from Iran, but did not say if Iran was ready to swap most of its low grade LEU for the higher-grade fuel, as agreed upon in Vienna.

"The West used all they had in its power against the Iranian nation, but the nation was steadfast and was victorious. The proposal to purchase 20 percent enriched uranium was made by us to start interaction [with the West]. They are the ones to choose. We prefer them to choose interaction, but they are free to choose," Ahmadinejad said.

Persian Food Safari

Note the Persian-Australian-English accents.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

IRGC General says Pakistan arrested, released Rigi

by Mark Pyruz

Brig. Gen. Hossein Salami

The deputy head of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards alleges that Pakistan arrested and then released the leader of Jundallah a few days before a suicide bombing claimed by the terrorist group.

“We have precise information about the movement and places where terrorists are hiding,” Fars news agency quoted Brigadier General Hossein Salami as saying.

“On September 26, Abdul Malik Rigi was arrested in one of the streets of Quetta but after one hour he was released following the intervention of the intelligence service of our neighboring country,” he said.

At least 42 people, including 15 Revolutionary Guards members, died in the October 18 bombing in the Sistan-Baluchestan town of Pisheen.

“How is it possible that this guy can move freely (unless he is) under the protection of the intelligence services?” the Guards’ number two said, according to Fars.

It is an established fact that Jundullah took full advantage of the lawless areas of Pakistani Baluchistan; establishing their main base within the boundaries of this safe haven.

Pakistan did manage to arrest the brother of Abdul Malik Rigi, Abdul Hameed Rigi. However for a considerable amount of time, Pakistan continued to deny his very presence and arrest. Only after a rash of suicide bombing and attacks took place in Iran and a large amount of pressure was leveraged upon Pakistan, did Pakistani authorities hand over Abdul Hameed Rigi to Iran. By then, it had been a full year after his initial arrest.

Iranian Media has recently raised the question that if Pakistan continued to deny the presence of Abdul Hameed Rigi for such a long period of time, then how can they be trusted that Abdul Malik Rigi is not operating Junduallah from within Pakistan?

Also being discussed in Iran's media is the fact that when Pakistan handed Abdul Hameed Rigi over to Iran, there were particularly angry demonstrations of Baluchs in Quetta City. Naturally, this has the Iranians suspicious as to why so many Baluchs on the Pakistani side of the border are so supportive of Jundullah.

Then there was the case of the Pakistani TV Channel in Quetta, which actually broadcast an interview of Abdul Malik Rigi, himself, portraying him as a saviour and hero of of Iranian Sunnis and Baluchs. The interview, broadcast throughout Baluchisan, left little doubt that Abdul Malik Rigi resides in Pakistan, and that he is generally well regarded by certain elements of Pakistani Baluch society.

The Iranian government has made it clear that it doesn't view the Pakistani central government directly involved in Jundallah terrorism. But it does concede there are certain pockets in Pakistan's government that are, at the very least, sympathetic to its cause.

Meanwhile, for the Pakistani central government, it is not so easy a proposition to simply remove Jundullah, for it would most likely result in further unrest amongst its own restive Baluch population.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

109 Detained at Opposition Rally

Iranian police have detained 109 people for "disturbing public order" during the opposition rally on Wednesday. The figure, reported by IRNA today, is significantly lager than had been reported previously.

Azizollah Rajabzadeh, an spokesman for the Judiciary, told IRNA tha 62 of those detained have been handed over to authorities for trial and the rest have been released after questioning.

"Police detained 109 people who disturbed public order on the sidelines of the rally," Rajabzadeh said. "62 of those arrested were handed over to judicial authorities and the rest were set free. Of 62 detained, 43 are men and 19 women."

Three journalists were among those detained. Farhad Pouladi, a reporter for Agence France Presse, and one of the three detained journalists, was released this afternoon.

No enriched uranium exchange: Iran's MP

Member of Parliament Alaeddin Boroujerdi

A senior Iranian parliamentarian says Iran will not exchange its domestically manufactured low-enriched uranium with the West to resupply the Tehran research reactor (TRR).

The Chief of Iran’s Parliament National Security and Foreign Policy Commission, Alaeddin Boroujerdi, told the Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA) on Saturday: “giving the 3.5 percent enriched uranium to receive 20 percent enriched fuel for Tehran’s research reactor, whether gradually or all at once, is called off.”

Boroujerdi went on to say that Iran and nuclear fuel supplier countries must find an alternative way to provide Tehran’s research reactor with fuel. “Presently, Mr. Soltanieh is in talks to find an approach for the issue.”

In addition, responding to remarks made by some Western officials that a response to the IAEA brokered deal as it now stands is required in two days time, Boroujerdi responded that the West cannot impose a deadline on Iran.

On Friday Iran said it is preparing to give more details on its response to the international proposals for supplying nuclear fuel and expects more negotiations.

Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said Tehran would give the additional details to the IAEA following the initial response it gave on October 29.

"We have some more details which we have to give to the International Atomic Energy Agency," state television quoted Mottaki on its website as saying.

"We have three options -- enrich the fuel ourselves, buy it directly or exchange our uranium for fuel," he said.

"They (the IAEA and the major powers) have to choose from these options. Given the need of Iran to have the fuel, my view is that they will accept another round of discussions."

Qom nuclear site: 'It's a hole in a mountain'

According to IAEA chief Mohamded El-Baradei, UN inspectors found “nothing to be worried about” in a first look at a recently disclosed pilot uranium enrichment site in Iran last month.

El-Baradei was quoted in a New York Times interview as saying his inspectors’ initial findings at the fortified site beneath a desert mountain near the city of Qom were “nothing to be worried about.” “The idea was to use it as a bunker under the mountain to protect things,” El-Baradei, alluding to Tehran’s references to the site as a fallback for its nuclear program in case its larger Natanz enrichment plant were bombed by the United States or Israel.

“It’s a hole in a mountain,” he said.

Details of the inspection are expected to be included in the next IAEA report on Iran’s nuclear activity due in mid-November.

Gareth Porter has recently written that US threats and regional military posturing prompted Iran to initiate construction of a fortified nuclear facility at Qom. Porter's article contains a timeline with evidence (some taken from unpublicized details of the 2007 NIE), telling a different story from the West's contention that construction of a second enrichment facility began before Tehran's decision to withdraw from a previous agreement to inform the IAEA in advance of such construction. Read the entire article here.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

4 November: Day of Protests

Green Movement (anti-government) protestors in Tehran. NYT Photo

Pro-government demonstrators marking 30th anniversary of US embassy takeover. Holding Khomeini and Khamenei pictures. NYT Photo

Green Movement (anti-government) protestors in Tehran. Holding Mousavi and Khatami pictures. NYT Photo

Law Enforcement on 13 Aban - Video Analysis

by Mark Pyruz

Note: in this post, the categorization of the 13 Aban counter-demonstrations as an "unlawful assembly" is not intended in any way as a political statement. Rather it is used purely in its legal definition for which it is acted upon by Iranian law enforcement agencies.

In the few video clips and photos available from the (unlawful) Iranian counter-demonstrations of 13 Aban, Islamic Republic of Iran Police Force (IRIPF) and Basij personnel do not appear equipped with firearms. The emphasis appears to be on crowd dispersal (and in sporadic incidents, intimidation), rather than mass arrest operations. IRIPF do not engage in "caging" operations, nor do they deploy their water canon assets or rubber bullet ammunition (which are typically seen in comparative Western applications of crowd control). Below are notes accompanying uploaded video of Iranian law enforcement operations during 13 Aban:

Motorized IRIPF in action. Note "POLICE" black uniforms. One green uniformed IRIPF policeman is visible as a passenger on board a motorbike. Dispersal efforts appear to be the rule, rather than mass arrest.

Green uniformed IRIPF security detachment in antiriot gear. At approximately 2:04, the security police charge, successfully dispersing the unlawful assembly. After the demonstrators are forced back and dispersed, the security officers in this video do not appear overly aggressive, nor do arrest operations seem to be taking place.

Motorized IRIPF member outfitted in Iranian-equivalent DCU, tactical vest and conventional full-face motorcycle helmet. Female demonstrator is struck on the legs, ordered to change direction and disperse. This specific application of force (which may or may not be prescribed by IRIPF policy) appears to be inflicted as a means of corporal intimidation. Noteworthy is the fact she's not taken into custody.

At 0:22 an IRIPF first lieutenant (Sotvan yekom ستوان يكم) equipped with a baton strikes a female demonstrator in the head. Clear evidence of a breakdown in law enforcement discipline.

So far, the opposition website Mowjcamp claims that 23 people were arrested in Tehran and Rasht, which is a relatively low number for disturbances of this type. To put this into perspective, during the recent 2008 anti-G8 protest in Rostock, Germany, there were roughly 140 arrests, with 500 injured protesters and 400 injured policemen. Also, during the 2003 antiwar demonstrations in San Francisco, no less than 2,150 protesters were arrested. Admittedly, it is hard to gauge the overall proportionality of these three cases of civil disobedience.

Update: Fars and Mehr News Agency are reporting the Commander of Tehran police now states there were a total of 109 arrests, of which 43 have made bail and the rest remain detained.