Monday, January 31, 2011

Egypt: Day 7

Cairo. Day 7 of Uprising. 31 January 2011

“Mubarak Must Go!”

Photo: Hannibal Hanschke/European Pressphoto Agency-NYTimes

Majlis Confirms Salehi as Foreign Minister

The Majlis today confirmed Ali Akbar Salehi as Iran’s new foreign minister. The vote was 146 in favor, 60 opposed and 35 abstentions. The 146 votes are the lowest cast in favor of any members of Ahmadinejad cabinet.

A physicist, Salehi is 61 years old and was previously the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI). Salehi was born in Karbala, Iraq, to Iranian parents and holds a BS degree from the American University of Beirut and a Ph.D. in Physics from MIT, the prestigious US institution. He speaks Arabic and English fluently. Salehi is considered a professional technocrat within the Iranian political system.

Oil Nears $100 Mark - UPDATE

Brent crude oil hit $99 mark this morning, nearing the long-anticipated $100 per barrel price. The steep rise in price is partly attributed to political unrests in the Middle East. The Iranian economists follow oil prices closely for implications on the government's cash flow and its ability to execute its subsidy reforms.

UPDATE: The oil passed $100 mark on 1 February.

No Al Qaeda in Iran – Foreign Ministry

The Iranian authorities reiterated their position that there were no Al Qaeda members living or hiding in Iran. The Foreign Ministry Spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said Iran itself is a victim of terrorism and would not compromise with terrorists. He added that Iran has never provided “safe heaven” for Al Qaeda members. Mehmanparast was reacting to published reports that some members of Al Qaeda were hiding in Iran.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Egypt 2011 / Islamic Republic of Iran 2009

Two different responses to civil unrest

by Mark Pyruz

There are distinct differences between the Iranian response to civil disorder in 2009 and the current Egyptian response now in progress. Below is a pictorial highlighting some of these differences.

click photos to enlarge
The Egyptian Army deploys on the streets of Cairo. Visible are elements of a mechanized force including M60 main battle tanks and M113 armored personnel carriers. In stark contrast to Iran's response which did not encompass a military mobilization and deployment, relying instead on Iran's law enforcement agency, NAJA. It's unclear as to the reason Egyptian authorities decided to withdraw their police forces and substitute the army. However, in the Iranian response, authorities never seemed to have doubted the reliability of NAJA and the self-perceived justness of their cause. Recent public opinion polling of ordinary Iranians also reflects majority support for their law enforcement efforts by a margin of 3:1, which may help explain Iran's confidence in NAJA.

An Egyptian Army M60 main battle tank on the streets of Cairo. At no time during Iran's period of unrest in 2009 were Iranian military battle tanks deployed on the streets of Tehran.

Egyptian M60s mobbed by protesters. Note the lack of perimeters established by any supporting infantry as a means of crowd control.

Egyptian Army Fahd IFVs deploy on the streets of Cairo. Unlike Egypt, Iran did not deploy military IFVs or APCs during the civil unrest following the 2009 election.

Egyptian Army M113 mobbed by protesters. Note the issuance of assault rifles indicating the potential for applications of lethal force. In the Iranian context, early on efforts were made to restrict law enforcement to applications of less-lethal force.

In the foreground an EA M113 APC, knocked out by protesters. In the background, an M60 whizzes by.

An Egyptian M88 armored recovery vehicle, to be used in situations depicted in the preceding photograph.

There are indications of a high level of fraternization occurring between protesters and elements of the Egyptian Army. This is reminiscent of the relationship that emerged between the Iranian Army and protesters in 1979, not 2009.

Here an Egyptian Captain is hoisted onto the shoulders of protesters on the streets of Cairo. In contrast, Iran's law enforcement remained for the most part motivated and attentive to duty during the period of unrest following the election.


A U.S. supplied M1 Abrams main battle tank heads an armored column at the the Rehab main gate in Cairo. This is indicative of the $35 billion dollars of military aid that has been provided by the U.S. to Egypt's ruling establishment to assist with maintaining itself in power.

Another big difference between the Egyptian and Iranian approaches to civil unrest: Here Egyptian law enforcement commits their armored water cannon vehicles (AWCVs) in efforts at crowd control. For their part, the Iranians did not appear to deploy their AWCVs following the 2009 election.

Photos: AP, Reuters and

Afghan Delegation Leaves for Iran - Discussing Fuel Ban

A high-level Afghan government and business delegation led by Finance Minister Omar Zakhilwal, and including the president of Afghan Chamber of Commerce, left Herat for Iran on Friday to discuss the Iranian ban on hundreds of fuel trucks from entering into Afghanistan at the Islam Qala border crossing in Herat province and other crossing points in western Afghanistan.

“The ban is in violation of international trade agreements and would be discussed with Iranian authorities by the Afghan delegation,” said Shafiq Bahrouzyan, a spokesman for Herat provincial government [Pajhwok, 29 January].

The Iranian action in the past two months has caused the price of gasoline and diesel shot up throughout the country. This week, however, the prices eased a bit after Afghanistan imported some three million tons of fuel from Pakistan. On Thursday diesel sold for 53 Afghanis ($1.17) a liter, as compare to 60 Afghanis last week.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Salehi: Bushehr To Go Online – No Safety Fears

Iran’s acting foreign minister and atomic energy chief said in Tehran on Thursday that the Bushehr nuclear reactor will go online on 9 April.

”We hope that on Farvardin 20 (April 9) we will witness the connection of the plant to the national grid,” Salehi said. “We have said before that due to some tests, we may have face delays but these delays are around a week or two,” he added. 

Salehi again reiterated that the computer worm Stuxnet had not entered the “main systems” at Bushehr and that Iranian engineers are “pursing work with the Russians while observing all the safety issues.”

Salehi’s comments on safety issues and cooperation with the Russians was apparently in response to a strong warning by Russia that Stuxnet attack on Bushehr could have triggered a nuclear disaster on the scale of Chernobyl.

"This virus, which is very toxic, very dangerous, could have very serious implications," said Dmitry Rogozin, Russia's ambassador to NATO on Thursday [AFP, 27 January].

Rogozin described the virus's impact as being like explosive mines. “These 'mines' could lead to a new Chernobyl,” he added.

Iranian officials have confirmed the Stuxnet virus hit staff computers at the Bushehr plant but have said it had not affected major systems.

Egypt on the Verge of Liberation

Cairo Uprising. 28 January 2011

Photos: Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images/NYTimes

Shazand Oil Refinery to Open

Iran will inaugurate Shazand Oil Refinery during the 10-day celebrations commemorating the anniversary of the Islamic Revolution (30 Jan -11 Feb). The refinery built in the city of Arak, reportedly the biggest in the Middle East, will produce gasoline with low exhaust emission standards.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Iranian Oil Tanker Escapes Pirate Attack

An Iranian oil tanker “Haraaz” carrying two million barrels of oil has successfully managed to escape attacks by Somali pirates in the Gulf of Aden. It came under attack on Monday at 22:45 p.m. local time (1905 GMT). The vessel got away reportedly unscathed after a series of chase and escape attempts, which lasted for nearly two hours. There were no reported casualties or injuries on board the Iranian ship.

Earthquake Jolts Southeastern Iran

A magnitude 6.0 earthquake shook southeastern province of Kerman on Thursday. A magnitude 6.5 quake had jolted the same area in December. There were no reports of casualties in the sparsely populated remote area. In December quake, seven people were killed.

Soltanieh Elected Chairman of Vienna Chapter of G-77

Ali Asghar Soltanieh

Iran’s Ambassador to IAEA Ali Asghar Soltanieh today was elected the chairman of the Vienna chapter of G-77. He replaces the Algerian ambassador to IAEA.

The G-77 was founded by UN's 77 developing countries in Algiers in 1967, and since then its membership has grown to 131 countries. This year, the overall Chairman of G-77, the organization's highest ranking officer, will be the Argentine Ambassador to the UN. The group also has chapters at UN offices worldwide, including Vienna, Geneva and Rome. Soltanieh will head the Vienna chapter in 2011.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Growing Rift Between Ahmadinejad and Larijanis

Tehran newspapers, including the influential conservative daily Kayhan, in their Wednesday’s editions have widely discussed the growing rift between President Ahmadinejad and Larijani brothers who head the legislative and judicial branches of the government.

In a letter addressed to the members of Majlis, Ahmadinejad said Majlis Speaker Ali Larijani, in collaboration with Judiciary chief Sadeq Larijani, was interfering in government’s business and was attempting to limit the president’s power in order to accrue more power for himself.

“Attempts by the Majlis speaker, in unfortunate collaboration with the judiciary chief, in interfering in the affairs of the executive branch, such as the selection of the chairman of the Central Bank, create disruption in the management of the affairs of the country,” Ahmadinejad said [Kayhan, 26 January].

In a blow against Ayatollah Rafsanjani, Ahmadinejad also accused the Expediency Council, headed by Rafsanjani, of attempting to uphold Majlis’s “unconstitutional” bills in the guise of national interests.

“What national interests are prompting the [Expediency] Council to side with the Majlis and the judiciary in their interference with the executive branch’s mandate to appoint government officials?” Ahmadinejad added.

Some of prominent conservative lawmakers, such as Ahmad Tavakoli, dismissed Ahmadinejad’s claims.

"Such an attack [by the president] is a pretext to cover up social problems and to overshadow serious economic weaknesses, whose problems are increasing day by day," Tavakoli said.

To read Kayhan’s report in Farsi, click here.

Tehran: World's Third Best City in Transport

Tehran's Rapid Bus Transit (RBT) System, Introduced in 2008

Sidewalk and Bicycle Lanes Next to Chamran Expressway, Tehran

The Iranian capital Tehran was named the third best city in the world in terms of transport system at the Sustainable Transport Award ceremony, which was held in Washington on Monday. The award, sponsored by Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP), was given to Tehran in recognition for its world-class public transport system, including a high-quality bus network which links with the city's rail network as well as wide tree-lined bicycle lanes. China’s Guangzhou received the top award, while Mexico’s Leon finished second. The ITDP is an international nonprofit organization that assists cities to reduce greenhouse gases and improve the quality of urban life.

Tehran City Councilman Alireza Dabir represented Tehran in the ceremony, and Tehran Mayor Mohammad-Baqer Qalibaf addressed the gathering via live video link. The Iranian government had refused Qalibaf’s request to personally attend the ceremony in Washington.

"Today, in the metropolis of Tehran, despite all the obstacles and limitations, the development of the metro network, the Bus Rapid Transit system, and bus lines has been realized," Qalibaf said in his address.

Top Photo: Mehr News Agency

Middle Photo:

Bottom Photo:

Decline in Oil Prices

Oil prices fell today, trading below $87 a barrel, after the Saudi Oil Minister said the crude supplies should increase by at least 8 million barrels a day to meet increased demands. Oil prices had recently been on a steep rise, hitting $95 mark last week, and many producers were looking at $100 oil.

For Iran in particular the sustained high oil prices are key to the success of its subsidy reforms, including its $2.4 billion monthly cash handouts to the people to cope with the rising prices after the removal of government subsidies.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Iran to Establish Oil Exchange

The long-awaited Iran oil stock exchange project got a boost today when President Ahmadinejad signed the order to have the exchange created in the Persian Gulf island of Kish. Mehr News Agency reports that the government expects the exchange to begin its work within three years. In February 2008, Iran opened a limited commodity exchange in Kish to trade in oil-derivative products. The new exchange is intended as a full service oil bourse for oil and gas as well as petrochemicals.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Gasoline Consumption Down by 5%

The National Iranian Oil Refining and Distribution Company (NIORDC) announced today that the consumption of gasoline in the country during the Iranian calendar month ending 21 January was at 56 million liters. The figure compares to 59 million liters for the same period last year, or a 5% reduction in consumption in the first full month after the start of the subsidy reforms.

The subsidized gasoline price of 100 toumans a liter was replaced by a semi-subsidized price of 400 toumans a liter with a cap of 60 liters per vehicle per month. The disappointing meager reduction in consumption reported by NIORDC is probably because people were still using their old 100-touman allocations until they run out of them, something they are entitled to do. Observers expect the consumption level to go down dramatically when the use of the new semi-subsidized gasoline begins to constitute at least 75% of all consumptions, possibly within the next two months.

Plots to Eliminate Ahmadinejad’s Advisors - Behdad

Mohammad Jafar Behdad, Deputy for Political Affairs at the Office of the President, told the weekly gathering of Tehran’s Voaz Valie on Wednesday that President Ahmadinejad has become the target of the extreme right. Behdad accused Ahmadinejad’s opponents of plotting to physically eliminate his inner circle advisors, such as his chief of staff Eskandar Rahim Mashaie. Behdad identified people associated with the influential conservative newspaper Kayhan as leading the campaign against Ahmadinejad and the elimination of his close advisors [Mashregh from ISNA, 23 January].

Reports on the tense relationship between Ahmadinejad’s inner circle and the fundamentalist groups have been circulating in Tehran for sometime. But this is the first time that a high-ranking official of Ahmadinejad’s office has accused the president’s fundamentalist opponents of plotting to physically eliminate his advisors, and Mashaie in particular.

To read Mashregh article in Farsi, click here.

Post Istanbul (2)

One step closer to a US war against Iran

by Mark Pyruz

Judging by the fact the West's "offer" to Iran at Istanbul appears to have been little more than a demand it surrender 90% of its enrichment stock, there is little doubt this was fully intended to be rejected by the Iranians. Three reasons can be cited for this course of action.

The first reason is the West has fallen for its own rhetoric, believing Iran is economically and politically on the ropes following the latest imposition of sanctions; combined with the mistaken notion there is a viable internal challenge to the political establishment inside Iran. This is for the most part based on flawed analyses by sources that continue to prove themselves unreliable.

Second, the West's demand at Istanbul is something of a short-sighted payback for the collapse of Lebanon's government, which was set in motion by Hezbollah and its allies on the cusp of politically motivated STL proceedings. This is all related to a continuous game of leverage being played out between the Western axis and the resistance camp.

Third, this action taken by the West is now the most brazen manifestation of Dennis Ross' previously documented plan of garnering support among powerful players against Iran by means of bad faith negotiating. As set out by Ross, this is to be accomplished by providing Iran with "offers" they are fully intended to reject. The object of this exercise is to promote ever more coercive policies against Iran on a steady drumbeat to war.

Two questions are raised by this recent turn of events. One is the extent of geopolitical capital expended by the US to get Russia and China on board (it must be quite extravagant). And the other is actually a variable on how long it will take for this US policy to reach its determined end state: war with the Islamic Republic of Iran. Before Istanbul, this author predicted the chances of a US imposed war on Iran at being roughly 50/50 over a time period covering the next four years. After Istanbul, these odds have increased to that of being likely during the same time span. Nevertheless, this represents a high risk undertaking for the US and global economy.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Post Istanbul

By Nader Uskowi

Neither UN resolutions, sanctions, threats, computer virus nor even a military attack will stop uranium enrichment in Iran, declared Iran’s ambassador to IAEA Ali Asghar Soltanieh on the eve of the collapse of the Istanbul talks. Iran has made a national determination to become a nuclear power. It will attend talks and meetings on its nuclear program. It will entertain proposals and submit its own counter-proposals for possible compromises. But at the same time it keeps enriching uranium and improves the efficiency of its nuclear facilities. It has learned a lesson from the North Korean experience and will continue on the same path.

There is a price to be paid for such policy, sanctions and isolation in a global environment increasingly unfavorable for its institutions to operate. But the government, looking at the prospect of $100 oil, and expecting an economic revival induced by its ambitious subsidy reform program, has much less fears than expected under the circumstances. And this is where the similarities with North Korea end. Iran can survive the sanctions and the isolation much easier.

Surviving sanctions and isolation, even in an era of $100 oil, and having the bomb or not, does not mean that the country will be able to achieve its full potentials. In an increasingly shrinking globe, going alone is probably the dumbest strategy for any country. Hence we should expect growing internal debate inside the country, and growing dissatisfaction among the youths, on lack of progress and modernization expected of a country enjoying such vast natural and human resources. It is not matter of survival, it’s matter of what the country could have been.

S. Korea Defeats Iran 1-0

Iran National Football (Soccer) Squad lost to South Korea tonight in extra time and was eliminated at the quarterfinals of the Asian Cup 2011 in Doha. Iran was seeking to win the Asian Cup for the first time in more than three decades. Iran has won three consecutive Asian Cups from 1974 to 1976.

Istanbul Talks End in Failure – New Crisis in Iran’s Relations with Major Powers

The talks in Istanbul between Iran and six major powers over Iran’s nuclear program ended today without any agreements. EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said the six countries were “disappointed,” blaming Iran for not being pragmatic during the talks. Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili complained that the opposing side had ganged up on Iran while accepting a nuclear Israel. The undiplomatic language used by Ashton and Jalili in their separate press conferences after the talks indicate a new crisis phase in the relationship between Iran and the major powers over the country’s nuclear program.

Istanbul Talks Near Stalemate

The Istanbul talks between Iran and six world powers seem to be heading toward stalemate. The first-day talks stretched late into the night but no visible progress emerged. Barring drastic developments later today, the chances for a compromise do not look promising.

"Iran's preconditions asking us to accept Iran having a full fuel cycle and lift sanctions upfront before any progress were summarily rejected (by all six powers)," said a Western official familiar with the talks to AFP. "Today, we'll see if they are ready to get serious." [AFP, 22 January].

On their part, the Iranians insisted that the talks could not include Iran’s basic rights of enriching uranium.

"We will absolutely not allow the talks to go into the issue of our basic rights like the issue of suspending enrichment," said Abolfazl Zohrevand, an aid to Iran’s chief negotiator [AFP, 22 January].

Saturday started with a meeting between Iran and the so-called Vienna Group, comprising France, Russia and the US. The goal was to explore if a revised nuclear fuel swap deal could be worked out. The Iranians insisted on lifting of all sanctions as a pre-condition for the start of the talks on a revised swap deal. The Vienna Group reportedly has rejected Iran’s pre-condition.

Iran Will Not Abide by UN Resolutions – Soltanieh

Iran’s Ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Ali Asghar Soltanieh said at a press conference in Moscow on Friday that Iran will not abide by the resolutions the United Nations Security Council has adopted against the country’s nuclear program. Soltanieh added that those resolutions are in “violation of international laws.” [IRNA, 22 January]

“Iran has not implemented the Security Council's resolutions and will not implement them in the future either because they lack legal basis and validity and have been issued in violation of international laws,” Soltanieh said.

Mr. Soltanieh’s hardline comments come at a time that Iran and the permanent members of the UNSC are in the middle of talks in Istanbul over the country’s nuclear program.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Iran Talks Continue in Istanbul

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton (L) and Saeed Jalili, the Secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council. Ciragan Palace, Istanbul. 21 January 2011

The second day of nuclear talks between Iran and six major powers will take place on Saturday at Ciragan Palace in Istanbul. Iranian officials have said the first day of negotiations were held in a “positive” atmosphere.

No New Investments by China - Tabnak

Iran’s popular news website Tabnak, quoting a report published yesterday at the influential Foreign Policy magazine website, said the Chinese have stopped new investments in Iran’s energy sector and have decided not to backfill business opportunities left open by foreign firms that have left Iran due to sanctions against the country [Tabnak, 21 January].

The Chinese assurances of no new investments in Iran were given personally to President Obama by the visiting Chinese President Hu on Wednesday at the White House. The aides to President Obama have told Foreign Policy that the Iran issue has been at the top of the agenda on the U.S.-China relationship.

"In all the meetings between the president and President Hu and our high-level interactions, there was no issue that occupied as much time and attention as Iran. It was absolutely at the top of the agenda in pretty much every meeting," a senior US official has told FP.

Click here to read the original post.

Iran, Major Powers Resume Nuclear Talks in Istanbul

The talks between Iran and six major powers on Iran's nuclear program and its uranium enrichment activities started in Istanbul this morning. Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator and the Secretary of Supreme National Security Council Saeed Jalili heads the Iranian delegation.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Background to Istanbul Talks

The talks on Iran’s nuclear program between the world’s major powers and Iran will resume tomorrow in Istanbul. The talks take place amid speculations that a deal is in the making. The background and the issues at the negotiating table:

1. In 2009, the IAEA brokered a swap agreement between the two sides. Iran was to send abroad 1,200 kg of low enriched uranium (LEU), counting for more than two thirds of its LEU inventory at the time, for re-enriching to 20% purity in Russia and turning it into fuel rods and assemblies in France, which would be shipped to Iran for use in its nuclear research reactor in Tehran.

2. The IAEA brokered deal fell apart when politicians in Tehran, mainly the right, opposed the deal, regarding it as a capitulation of Iran’s sovereignty and its rights to enrich uranium on its soil. The Iranian government had to back down from the deal.

3. The West favored the deal as it saw the surrounder of the two-thirds of LEU inventory by Iran would have prevented it from building a nuclear weapon.

4. In the period following the breakdown of the brokered deal, Iran has multiplied its LEU inventory and has enriched uranium to 20% purity. Amid signs that Iran is ready to revive the 2009 deal, the West is insisting that the volume of the LEU to be transferred abroad from Iran should increase to account for the much higher volume in the country's current inventory. Iran has at least publicly balked at the idea.

5. Iran is demanding, and the West is ready to oblige, the ending of all UN, US and EU sanctions against Iran if a deal can be worked out in Istanbul.

6. Iran is also demanding that the broader political issues and problems between Iran and the West be put on the agenda during the talks, and as part of any nuclear deal those issues addressed as well. Among Iran’s demands are assurances by the West that it will not use military force against the country and it will not be involved or encourage a regime change in Iran. The West has been, at least publicly, non-commital on these demands.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Tehran Stock Exchange Pass 2000 Mark

Tehran Stock Exchange (TSE) continuing its sustained rally of the past two weeks, today passed the all time high of 2000 point mark. The rally has raised TSE’s total value to $90 billion.

Last August, Uskowi on Iran author Amir Taheri had predicted the continued surge in TSE value because among other things the stock market capitalization of under $100 billion in an economy with $335 billion GDP was thought to be undervalued. “Don’t expect to stop seeing the TSE continue to set new records,” Taheri had said.

New Gasoline Prices Set to Go Into Effect

The government announced today that as part of its subsidy reforms and effective 21 January the price of semi-subsidized gasoline will be raised to 400 toumans per liter, a 400% increase over the current subsidized price of 100 toumans per liter. The use of semi-subsidized gasoline is however limited to 60 liters per month per vehicle. The price of non-subsidized (unrestricted) gasoline is set at 700 toumans per liter, also effective 21 January.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Protest Over Fuel Tankers - Afghan Chamber

The Afghan Chamber of Commerce issued a resolution today calling on Afghan businessmen to stop doing business with Iran until it stops blocking or slowing thousands of tucks carrying fuel from crossing into Afghanistan. The Iranian action began in late December, resulting in shortage of fuel in the country and prompting large protests in Kabul and Herat in recent days.

Stuxnet Not As Effective as Reported – Iran Nuclear Negotitaor

Iran's chief nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili accused the US for cyberattack on his country’s nuclear facilities. In an interview with NBC News on Monday, Jalili said the Stuxnet did not wreak as much damage as the media (The New York Times) have reported.

"Those who have done that could see now that they were not successful in that and we are following our success," Jalili said.

Jalili’s comments came after The New York Times reported that US and Israeli intelligence services collaborated to develop the destructive computer worm in a bid to sabotage Iran's nuclear program.

Jalili expressed optimism that despite the differences with the West, progress could be made at the talks between Tehran and six world powers due to get underway on Saturday in Istanbul. But he added that Iran will not bow to demands to halt its uranium enrichment activities and repeated Iran’s position that the country was not planning to build a bomb.

"We frankly and bluntly mentioned that nuclear weapons are illegitimate and inefficient and they could not help those countries that have the nuclear weapons," Jalili said.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Snowy Tehran

Snow in Tehran. 17 January 2011
Photos: Saman Aghvami / ISNA

Wave of Executions in Iran

Iranian authorities have unleashed an "execution binge" with an average rate of one person hanged every eight hours since the beginning of the year, the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran said in its statement yesterday. The New York-based group said at least 47 prisoners have been hanged since January 1, 2011. Most of the executed were convicted of violent crimes, although among them was a Kurdish activist who had been detained for the past six years.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Growing Tensions with Afghanistan Over Fuel Tankers

Afghan protesters today took to the streets in western city of Herat, armed with stones and eggs, and marched to the Iranian consulate carrying banners with anti-Iran slogans. They were protesting the Iranian decision to slow down the border crossing of fuel trucks into Afghanistan.

At Islam Qaleh border crossing 100 kilometers away from Heart city nearly 2,000 fuel trucks are waiting. Only 40 are allowed to leave Iran each day, said Afghan Commerce Minister Anwar ul-Haq Ahadi. The stoppage of fuel tankers has created a crisis in Afghan cities during a cold January. Around 40 percent of the country's fuel is transited through Iran.

Iran on its part says it needs to make sure the trucks are not delivering fuel to NATO forces in Afghanistan. Ealier today, in protest to continued demonstrations against its embassy in Kabul and the consulate in Herat, Iran called in the Afghan ambassador in Tehran to the foreign ministry.

Stuxnet Crucial in Iran Nuclear Delay – New York Times

According to a report published in today’s issue of The New York Times, Israel tested the effectiveness of Stuxnet worm on centrifuges virtually identical to those used at Iran’s uranium enrichment facility in Natanz and the destructive worm has since wiped out a fifth of Natanz centrifuges, delaying Iran’s nuclear program and its ability to build a bomb. The report strongly suggests that the virus was designed as an Israeli-American project to sabotage the Iranian program.

The worm itself was designed to send the Iranian centrifuges “spinning widely out of control,” the report says. The worm was also designed to “secretly record” Natanz normal operations and plays back the readings to Natanz operators so it would appear that “everything was operating normally” while the centrifuges were spinning out of control.

To read the entire Times article, click here.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Team Iran Advances to Quarterfinals of Asia Cup

Iran's National Squad defeats the North Koreans 1-0 to advance to the quarterfinals of the Asian Cup 2011.


First Row

#11 Ehsan Hajsafi (DF)

#2 Khosro Heydari (DF)

#1 Mehdi Rahmani (GK)

#23 Iman Mobali (MF)

#9 Mohammad Reza Khalatbari (FW)

Second Row

#20 Mohammad Nosrati (DF)

#5 Hadi Aghili (DF)

#18 Pejman Nouri (MF)

#4 Jalal Hosseini (DF)

#10 Karim Ansarifard (FW)

#6 Javad Nekounam (MF) - Captain

Photo: Qatar Sports Club Stadium. IRNA

Declining Economic Growth and Foreign Investments in Iran – World Bank

The latest report by the World Bank on Iran’s economic growth in recent years shows serious effects of the global slowdown and the severe economic sanctions on the Iranian economy. The Central Bank of Iran, which normally publishes the growth rates for the country, has in the past three years declined to do so. According to the World Bank, the growth rate in 2010 is estimated at 1.5%, in 2009 at 1.4%, and in 2008 at 2.3%; the signs of an economic stagnation.

The Bank’s world economic outlook report released this week also predicts continued decline of foreign investments in Iran. The volume of direct foreign investment for 2011 is estimated at $1.2 billion, in 2010 at $2.9 billion, and in 2009 at $3.2 billion; a dramatic 67% decline in foreign investments in a span of two years.

The subsidy reforms undertaken by the government in the past two months are designed to cut the government’s expenditure by some $80 billion in their first year (although this estimate looks increasingly unrealistic and the real savings could be half that). The government is also planning to hand out some $29 billion in cash each year to the individuals affected by the removal of government subsidies. The rising oil prices, expected to hit $100 a barrel, are expected to provide the cash necessary to continue the handouts. In light of the World Bank’s data on the economic stagnation of the country, the real necessity for removals of government subsidies becomes even more clear.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Iran Serious About Nuke Talks – Jalili

On the eve of a crucial nuclear meeting between Iran and the major powers, Iran’s Supreme National Security Council Secretary Saeed Jalili said in an interview with Le Figaro that Iran is "serious" about the talks and they should focus on “cooperation based on common grounds.”

Jalili, who is also Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator, added that the talks scheduled to take place in Istanbul on 21 January could be the beginning of a “new process” if the Group 5+1 adopts a “strategic view” of the talks.

“Iran is serious about the talks, is pursuing the negotiations based on common grounds, and has a strategic view of the talks,” Jalili said [Le Figaro, 14 January].

By “strategic view” of the talks, the Iranians refer to their desire to link any nuclear agreements with the West to resolving other outstanding issues, the so-called Great Bargain.

People’s Victory in Tunisia

Tunisia’s president Zine al-Abidine ben Ali fled his country tonight after weeks of mass protests targeting the country’s unemployment, the ruling family corruption and police repression. Ben Ali came to power 23 years ago and is reportedly en route to Paris.

UPDATE: Former president Ben Ali has gone to exile in Saudi Arabia.

Photos: Top: Holly Pickett for The New York Times. Middle: Fethi Belaid/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images / NYTimes. Bottom: Christophe Ena/Associated Press / NYTimes

Russia and China Snub Iran - Reject Nuclear Tour Invitation

Russia and China today snubbed Iran and rejected Tehran’s invitation to join a “tour” of Iranian nuclear sites in Natanz and Arak on Saturday and Sunday. The Western countries had already rejected the invitation, regarding it as a bid to marginalize the role of International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) as the sole authority for inspection of the country’s nuclear facilities.

Iran’s invitation had been sent to all members of IAEA except the US, Britain, France and Germany. Iran was expecting to get positive response from China and Russia and by snubbing the West it was hoping to divide the major powers ahead of their upcoming talks with Iran on 21-22 January in Istanbul.

Only five countries have so far accepted Tehran’s invitation to participate in the weekend tour of the nuclear facilities: Cuba, Venezuela, Syria, Algeria and Egypt. Iran had also invited Brazil and Turkey, assumed to be Iran's close allies on nuclear issue, but both have declined.

Iran’s ambassador to IAEA, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, said he was "very pleased" by the “positive” response of the international community to Tehran’s invitation.

The Iranian leaders are so consumed by their nuclear program that they are losing touch with realities, calling the rejection by all major powers and by Brazil, Turkey and the majority of IAEA membership a “positive” response to their invitation and their tactics. Their latest move was a big failure of their own making ahead of the crucial Istanbul talks.

Azerbaijan and EU Sign Natural Gas Agreement

Azerbaijan and the EU have agreed to transport Azerbaijan’s natural gas supply from the Caspian basin to Europe via pipeline. The joint declaration on the “Southern Gas Corridor” (SGC) was signed by Azeri President Ilham Aliyev and the President of the European Commission José Manuel Durão Barroso. As part of the deal, the European Union opens its markets to Azerbaijan while Azerbaijan sends “substantial volume” of gas to the EU.

The EU has been seeking an alternative gas pipelines connecting Russia to the EU. In recent years regional conflicts have disrupted gas distribution to Europe. The SGC is the EU’s alternative solution.

"This is a major breakthrough. This agreement confirms Europe's direct access to gas from the Caspian basin, thus enabling the realization of the Southern Corridor. This new supply route will enhance the energy security of European consumers and businesses," said Barroso.

The SGC is yet to be completed. The Nabucco pipeline could be the obvious choice. The proposed 3,300-kilometer project, backed by UE and the US, would link Erzurum in Turkey to Baumgarten an der March in Austria. The consortium that would build the Nabucco was awaiting an agreement to luck up sufficient gas supplies for the pipeline. Today’s agreement would provide the supplies.

Now Azerbaijan has to choose among proposed pipeline projects to transport its natural gas to Europe. Aside from Nabucco, there is the “South Stream” pipeline, backed by Russia, transporting natural gas from the Black Sea port of Beregovaya to Bulgaria and on to Italy and Austria. If it chosses Nabucco, as expected, the construction of the $11-billion pipeline could start immediately and be completed by 2015.

The SGC is the second major agreement in as many months involving the transport of Caspian basin supplies to major world markets. Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India last month announced their agreement to build TAPI pipeline, transporting Turkmen natural gas to India.

Iran, sitting on the world’s second largest natural gas reserves, has significantly been left out of both major agreements.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

The Fall of Lebanese Government

Hezbollah on Wednesday brought down Lebanon’s national unity government after Syria failed in its attempts to mediate between Iran, the main ally of Hezbollah, and Saudi Arabia, the supporter of premier Saad Hariri, over the UN-backed tribunal investigating the assassination of former premier and Saad’s father, Rafiq Hariri, nearly five years ago. With no out of court settlement, the Hezbollah expected the eventual indictments of its senior members linked to Hariri’s assassination and pulled out of the government. The fall of government heightens tensions between the Sunni and Shia factions and puts the country in a serious state of crisis and stalemate.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Iran to Launch New Satellite

Iran will launch “Fajr” communication satellite into orbit in February, Minister of Communications and Technology Reza Taqipour said [IRNA, 12 January]. Iran successfully launched its first satellite Omid (“Hope”) into orbit in 2009 on a Safir-2 rocket.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Iran Defeats Iraq 2-1

Iran's national soccer team beats arch-rival Iraq 2-1 in Doha to advance in Group D of the Asian Games. 11 January 2011.

Photo: An Iranian fan in Doha by Rooholla Vahdati, ISNA

Iran Renews Invitations for Inspection of Nuclear Sites

Iran renewed its invitation for inspectors from Russia, China and the European Union to visit its nuclear facilities, but said that non-acceptance of its invitation will not affect the upcoming talks with major powers in Istanbul. Western countries are reluctant to accept the invitation, saying the inspection work should be handled by IAEA. Russia, however, has welcomed Iran’s move, saying it reflects Tehran’s readiness for dialogue on its nuclear program, but it has not accepted the invitation yet to send its own inspectors to Iran outside the IAEA supervision.

The Istanbul talks, scheduled for 21-22 January, have raised expectations that a serious compromise between Iran and the West is at work. The West is seeking to slow down Iran’s nuclear program, while Iran is seeking an end to sanctions against the country.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Slow Down in Iran Nuclear Program - U.S.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton today said at a televised town-hall meeting in Abu Dhabi that Iran’s ability to produce a nuclear weapon has been delayed by sanctions.

“Iran has had technological problems which have made it slow down its timetable,” Clinton said. “The sanctions are working and their program, from our best estimate, has been slowed down,” she added.

Clinton did not offer any details of the problems the Iranians were facing with their program. Her comments echoed the remarks last week of the outgoing head of Israeli intelligence service that Iran would not be able to make a bomb until 2015 because of the “measures deployed against them.”

Iran is believed to have trouble getting materials to make the advanced types of centrifuges and its computer systems at its uranium enrichment facility are believed to have been sabotaged causing glitches in the operation of the existing centrifuges.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Iran Air Crash - UPDATE

An Iran Air Boeing 727 crashed minutes prior to landing at Orumiyeh airport in northwestern Iran. 70 passengers were killed in the crash with 32 hospitalized. The flight, Iran Air 227, had taken off from Tehran earlier today. This is the fourth crash of a commercial aircraft in the country in the past 18 months.

Photos: Mehr News Agency

UPDATE: Fars News Agency reports that 73 passengers have lost their lives and many are in critical conditions [Fars, 10 January]. Uskowi on Iran extends its deepest condolences to the families of the victims of this tragedy and to the Iran Air family.

UPDATE: The Boeing 727 that crashed in Orumiyeh on Sunday was involved in another mishap ten years ago. Then the plane nose-landed at Shiraz airport when its front landing gear could not open. This aircraft was first put in service by Iran Air in 1974 and has been banned to enter European airspace along with other older planes due to safety concerns.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Iran Produces Uranium Fuel Rods

Acting Foreign Minister and Director of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran Ali Akbar Salehi announced today that Iran has successfully produced uranium fuel rods and plates at its Uranium Conversion Facility (UCF) in Isfahan.

Until now, the main activity at Isfahan UCF was the conversion of yellowcake into uranium hexafluoride, UF6. (The UF6 is used as the feed for centrifuges in Natanz to produce enriched uranium). The production of fuel rod, fuel assembly and fuel plate in the country are major advancements toward acquiring the complete nuclear fuel cycle. The 20%-enriched uranium rods will be used in Tehran’s research reactor. Highly enriched uranium rods are used in nuclear weapons.

Salehi also announced that Iran’s stockpile of 20% enriched uranium has increased to 40kg, a 30% increase in the past three months. (In early October, Salehi had reported that Iran’s inventory of 20% enriched uranium was at 30kg).

Iran Navy Commander to Visit Djibouti

Iran's Navy Commander Rear Admiral Habibollah Sayarri

Iran’s Navy Commander Rear Admiral Habibollah Sayarri announced in Tehran that he would lead a delegation of senior Iranian naval officers on a visit to Djibouti next month. The delegation will meet with Djibouti Chief of General Staff Gen. Fathi Ahmad Hossein and Navy Commander Adm. Abdulrahman Aden Cher. Several military memoranda of understanding would also be signed between the two countries during the visit.

Photo: Mehr News Agency