Friday, September 30, 2011

Tehran Hosted Afghan Government and Taliban Delegations

During the Islamic Awakening Conference in Mid-September

The Washington Post is reporting that a small Taliban delegation headed by Nik Mohammad, a former government official during the Taliban administration and currently one of the influential Talib leaders with links to the group’s ruling Quetta Shura, had attended the Islamic Awakening conference held in Tehran in mid-September. Also attending the conference was an official Afghan delegation headed by former Afghan president and chairman of the country’s peace and reconciliation council Burhanuddin Rabbani. Iranian officials had apparently hoped to facilitate a meeting between the two delegations, but the meeting reportedly did not happen.

Arsala Rahmani, a member of the Afghan delegation who traveled to Tehran with Rabbani, told the Post that he was startled when he saw Nik Mohammad, a former colleague from their years together as Taliban government officials.

“They seldom come to public events, and when they do, they use aliases,” said Rahmani [The Washington Post, 29 September].

Rahmani said he and Mohammad shook hands but exchanged nothing beyond pleasantries.

“It was not in the typical way Afghans use to greet each other,” he said. “It was done in a very cool manner.”

Waheed Mozhdeh, an Afghan political analyst and another member of Rabbani’s delegation, told the Post that the conference brochure listed the Taliban delegation as the representatives of the “American Opposition Front in Afghanistan.”

Aside from Nik Mohammad, the brochure listed Tayeb Agha as the member of the delegation. Tayeb Agha is an aide to Taliban leader Mohammad Omar. He reportedly held talks with US officials this year in Qatar and Germany until his role in the talks was disclosed. None of the members of Rabbani’s delegation said they saw Agha, but they noted that some members of the Taliban contingent hid their faces with scarves.

At one point, the Iranian hosts suggested that Rabbani make time to speak privately to the Taliban representatives on the sidelines of the conference, Mozhdah said. In the end, reportedly no such discussions took place.

“We feared that if we were to do so, it would show our weakness,” said another Afghan delegation member, Qazi Amin Weqad. “We were also scared of getting a negative response, such as, ‘You need to talk to the Quetta Shura.’ ” [The Washington Post, 29 September].

The Islamic Awakening conference in Tehran was organized by Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. It drew more than 700 scholars and Islamist political figures from around the world. The day after Rabbani returned to Kabul, he was assassinated in his house by a man posing as a Taliban negotiator.

Discovery of Huge Helium Reserves at South Pars

Iran’s Pars Oil and Gas Company (POGC) announced today that it has discovered the world's biggest helium reserve in its South Pars gas field. POGC estimated the volume of South Pars helium reserves at 10 billion cubic meters, approximately 25 percent of the world’s known reserves [Mehr News Agency, 30 September]. The South Pars gas field is shared by Qatar and Iran. Qatar is already producing some helium. The US is the world's leading supplier of helium, followed by Algeria.

The world’s annual production of helium is approximately 200 million cubic meters. The main use of the gas is in cryogenic applications, particularly in the cooling of superconducting magnets in MRI scanners. Helium is also the gas of choice to fill airships and blimps.

File Photo: A South Pars refinery in Asalouyeh, Iran. Mehr Photo

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Iran Volleyball Team: Asian Champions

Iran's national men’s volleyball team today defeated China 3-1 in Azadi Stadium in Tehran to capture Asian Volleyball Championship for the first time in the history of Iranian volleyball. In 2003, Iran had finished second to China.

Photo: Iran defeating South Korea during semifinal match in Tehran. Mehr News Agency Photo

Rising Rate of “Suffering” in Iran – Gallop Poll

In a Gallup poll published today, the percentage of Iranians describing their personal economic situation as “suffering” has nearly doubled since 2008. Gallup said 26 percent of people in Iran are "suffering," up from 14 percent in 2008.

Gallup classifies respondents as “thriving,” “struggling” or “suffering” according to how they rate their current lives and expectations for five years from the present.

Of all the respondents, 20 percent said they were “thriving,” 54 percent said they were “struggling,” while 26 percent said they were “suffering” [UPI, 29 September].

Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,003 adults in Iran March 26-30, and Gallup said it can say with 95 percent confidence the margin of error is 4 percentage points.

Iran Pushes Construction of Railroad to Central Asia

Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said in Tehran that the construction of a railroad linking Iran to Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan is a “vital project” and urged Turkmen and Kazakh presidents to push for its speedy implementation. In 2007, the three countries signed an agreement to construct the 920-kilometer railway, although the work has not yet begun.

When constructed, the railroad will connect Iran to Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan, and on to Russia and China, and eventually serving as a transportation link between China and Europe.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Growing Banking Scandal in Iran

Amidst the largest and growing banking scandal in Iranian history, the president of Bank Melli, the country’s largest state-owned bank, resigned today and the presidents of two large privately-held banks, Bank Saderat and Bank Saman, are forced to resign by the Central Bank of Iran. The three banks are accused of issuing letters of credit in a scam, which amounted to $2.6 billion embezzlement.

Earlier in the day, Iran's Prosecutor General Hojjatoleslam Gholam-Hossein Mohseni-Ejei said 22 arrest warrants have been issued in connection with the bank fraud. He did not say how many of those people have actually been arrested.

In total, seven state-owned and private Iranian banks are said to be involved in the case, which allegedly involved forging documents to secure multi-billion-dollar loans and purchase state-owned companies.

Monday, September 26, 2011

IRGCN Commander against hotline with USN

From Mehr News Agency:

TEHRAN, Sept. 26 (MNA) -- The commander of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps Navy has dismissed the proposal for the establishment of a direct military hotline between the United States and Iran.

“When we go to the Gulf of Mexico, we will establish direct communication with them. In the view of the Islamic Republic of Iran, the illegitimate presence of the U.S. in the Persian Gulf makes no sense,” Rear Admiral Ali Fadavi said on Monday.

“The Americans should make requests which have something to do with realities,” he added.

Some U.S. media outlets have recently quoted an unidentified U.S. defense official as saying that the U.S. is considering setting up a direct military hotline with Iran after a series of close encounters between U.S. and Iranian forces in the Persian Gulf.

Fearing that a misunderstanding could lead to a wider conflict, U.S. officials are weighing establishing emergency communications but a final decision is still pending, the U.S. official said.

Fadavi said that the United States is afraid of the fact that Iran’s deterrence capability has increased.

“Their objectives are quite clear to us. They only have one way to alleviate their concerns, which is withdrawing from the region,” he added.
There was a somewhat animated exchange on this topic last week between ABC reporter George Stephanolpholous and President Ahmadinejad:

STEPHANOPOULOS: You’ve mentioned the longstanding tension between the United States and Iran. There’s been some discussion– here in the United States about one tool to reduce that tension, the possibility of setting up a hotline between the United States and Iran– that could be used to make sure that no incident escalates out of control and that we don’t stumble into a conflict. Would you support establishing that kind of a hotline between Iran and the United States?

AHMADINEJAD: We have founded our foreign policy on relations. We didn’t cut off our relations with the US government. The US government cut off relations with us unilaterally. We don’t think there are any reasons for tensions and we have always said under fair and respectful conditions, we’re ready for talks. We have always welcomed relations between nations. Recently there was a religious group in Iran, and I met with them. I proposed a joint committee between religious leaders to be formed so they could have discussions. So that ideas come together. That’s not a bad thing, that’s a good thing.

STEPHANOPOULOS: How about this military hotline? Would you support something like that?

AHMADINEJAD: You mean for our military forces to be in touch?

STEPHANOPOULOS: Yes, just in case — you know, the idea would be much like what the United States had with the former Soviet Union during the days of the Cold War, a direct line between the leaders or between the militaries so that if there were some kind of a conflict at sea they would have direct communication to avoid the situation from escalating out of control.

AHMADINEJAD: Let me see if I understood you correctly. You mean the US is in a Cold War with Iran? Is that what you mean?

STEPHANOPOULOS: No, I– I was just using it as the analogy just to try to get you to explain what kind of a communication I’m talking about, that’s the closest I could come up with.

AHMADINEJAD: So there is no war. Why should there be a war?

STEPHANOPOULOS: There has been tension, as you said.

AHMADINEJAD: But it has been unilateral. It has been one-sided, meaning the United States government continually acts against us. I don’t think they should do this. Why do they act against a great nation? Have the US gained anything from it so far? We have many areas for cooperation – scientific, economic, nuclear matters. We can cooperate on nuclear matters. Why should we confront each other? We should cooperate.

In a subsequent interview in New York, Ahmadinejad responded with open interest toward the suggestion of a hotline. Apparently the IRGCN commander in charge of the Persian Gulf AO is averse to such a suggestion,

War Art - Sacred Defense Week

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Photos: Omid Behzadi and Alireza Zakeri at Fars News Agency

UAE Calls on Iran to Refer Three Islands Dispute to International Court

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) today called on Iran to refer their dispute over the three Persian Gulf islands of Abu Musa and the Greater and Lesser Tunbs to the United Nations International Court of Justice (ICJ).

In a speech to the UN General Assembly in New York, UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah Bin Zayed Al-Nahyan said in the absence of serious direct talks between the two countries over the three islands, the issue needs to be referred to ICJ.

“Since the illegitimate occupation of these islands in 1971, the UAE has adopted a flexible diplomatic approach to resolve this matter through peaceful means, through direct bilateral negotiations, or by referring the matter to the International Court of Justice,” Sheikh Abdullah told the General Assembly.

“The actions taken by the Islamic Republic of Iran with the aim of changing the legal, physical and demographic situation of the islands are null and void and have no legal effect whatsoever.

“Those Iranian actions also constitute a violation of international law, and the UN Charter. Therefore, the UAE demands of the Islamic Republic of Iran to enter into serious and direct negotiations between the two countries, or to refer the issue to the International Court of Justice in the light of its continuous illegal occupation of the three islands which are an integral part of the territorial sovereignty of the United Arab Emirates,” Sheikh Abdullah added [UN News Center, 26 September].

The controversy over the three islands goes back to early 1970s when the British were pulling out of the Persian Gulf. They put pressure on the shah’s government to renounce Iran’s historical claim over Bahrain in return for the three islands, which also had long been claimed by Iran. Shah agreed and Iran occupied the islands.

The newly independent Bahrain then joined the Federation of Arab Emirates (FAE) that was to be formed after the British departure. The FAE (which included today’s UAE plus Bahrain and Qatar) in return accepted Iran’s sovereignty over the three islands.

In 1971, Bahrain and Qatar reneged on their memberships at FAE and the newly formed UAE later renounced Iran’s sovereignty over the islands.

Iran’s Currency Falling

The Iranian currency Rial today reached a record low against the US dollar, trading in Tehran’s exchange markets at nearly 13,000 rials per dollar. The new value represents a 30 percent decline against the dollar in less than a year. The Central Bank of Iran has set the new official rate at 10,810 rials against dollar, but the move has not been successful in stopping the decline in rial’s value in exchange markets.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Turkey, Iran to Launch Joint Military Operations in Kurdistan

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Sunday that a joint Turkish-Iranian military offensive against Kurdish militants based on Qandil Mountain in northern Iraq is imminent.

The Associated Press is quoting Erdogan as saying “there is no question of postponement” of the joint operations. Erdogan added that Turkey and Iran are “working together and determined” to defeat the Kurdish rebels in Qandil.

“I regret to say this but there will be a price for it,” Erdogan added, apparently in reference to possible military losses during the upcoming offensive [AP, 25 September].

In July, Iran launched its own offensive against the Iranian-Kurdish militant group PJAK. That offensive is still ongoing. IRGC lost a senior general officer earlier this month during those clashes.

Meanwhile, Turkey today stopped natural gas imports from Iran. Turkey’s state-owned oil and gas company, BOTAS, said repairing possible damages to Iran-Turkey pipeline necessitated its action. BOTAS provided no further details, but the Kurdish militants on both sides of the border have in the past few months taken responsibility for attacks on the pipeline, causing major explosions and temporary disruption in the flow of the natural gas.

UPDATE: The natural gas export to Turkey was recommenced on Friday 30 September [Press TV].

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Ahmadinejad Seeking Compromise on Uranium Enrichment

Iran Ready to Purchase 20 Percent Uranium from the West

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has criticized Western countries for politicizing the country's nuclear program, while reiterating Iran’s 2009 offer to stop enriching uranium to 20 percent level if the West were willing to sell Iran the enriched uranium.

“Iran's nuclear program, which is a legal issue, has been turned into a political one by certain Western countries,” said Ahmadinejad in a meeting with Associated Press chief editors in New York on Friday [Press TV, 24 September].

Ahmadinejad added that Iran was willing to negotiate a solution to the nuclear impasse. In recent interviews with the New York Times and the Washington Post, Ahmadinejad has raised the prospect of stopping enriching uranium to 20 percent purity.

In an interview with Nicholas Kristof of New York Times during his recent visit to New York, Ahmadinejad made an unambiguous offer to the West.

“If they (the West) were willing to sell us the 20 percent enriched uranium, we would have preferred to buy it,” Ahmadinejad said. “It would have been far less expensive. It’s as though you wish to purchase a vehicle for yourself. No one is willing to sell it to you, then you must set up your own production line to produce your own vehicle,” he added [New York Times, 21 September].

Ahmadinejad had made similar offer during an interview in Tehran on 13 September with Lally Weymouth of Washington Post.

“For power stations, we need uranium of 3.5 percent and we are producing that fuel. For the Tehran Reactor we need uranium grade of 20 percent and we are producing that. We have no other requirements. Of course at the beginning we had no interest to produce uranium grade 20 percent. But the West refrained from giving us that uranium, so we had to start producing uranium grade 20 percent.

“Even if they gave us now uranium grade 20 percent, we would not continue with the production of this fuel,” Ahmadinejad said. “We don't want to produce uranium of 20 percent. Because they did not give us that uranium, we had to make our own investments. If they start to give us that uranium today, we will stop production.” [Washington Post, 13 September].

President Ahmadinejad had made a similar offer in 2009 only to be rejected by the supreme leader and the hardliners inside Iran. It was not clear whether this time he had cleared the offer with the supreme leader and had his support and approval.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Sacred Defense Parades 2011 - Regular Military & Commanders

click photos to enlarge
Possibly elements of the 23rd Commando Division, Tehran

Possibly elements of the 35th Independent Commando Brigade, Tehran

Possibly elements of the 65th Airborne Brigade, Tegran

Marine Commando unit

Elements of an Iranian Commando Brigade, Tehran

Possibly elements of the 55th Airborne Brigade

IRIADF contingent, Tabriz

IRIAF security contingent from Mehrabad AFB, Tehran

IRIN contingent, Tehran

IRIN sailors, Tehran

Left to right: Army Maj. Gen. Salehi, Basij Maj Gen. Firuzabadi, IRGC Maj. Gen. Jafari

Foreign military observers

Hassan Mousavi at Fars News Agency
Mehr News Agency

Sacred Defense Parades 2011 - IRGC / Basij / NAJA

click photos to enlarge
IRGC riflemen in parade dress

IRGC Guardsmen equipped with the AKMS type assault rifle

Young IRGC Guardsmen equipped with the AKM type assault rifle

IRGC Guardsmen equipped with the AKMS and fitted with assault vests

IRGC parade procession, possibly elements of Imam Sadegh Corps

IRGC Guardsmen equipped with the KLS (AKM / Type 56) assault rifle

Basij parade procession

Student Basij bearing portraits of martyrs

Student Basij parade in woodland BDUs

Student Basij in parade formation

Turkmen Basij force

Qasqhai (?) Basij Force equpped with traditional Enfield rifles

Arab-Iranian Basij force

Bakhtiari Basij force

Azari-Iranian (?) Basij force

Unknown identity ethnic Basij force

Another Arab-Iranian Basij force

NAJA Metro Police in parade dress

NAJA Special Forces equipped with the MP-5 / MPT-9 SMG

NAJA "Special Guards" equipped with antiriot gear

NAJA Special Forces equipped with the AKM type assault rifle

NAJA Security Force equipped with the MP-5 / MPT-9 SMG

NAJA Special Forces

Mounted NAJA police

Motorized NAJA Security Force equipped with paint marker guns

Older NAJA antiriot police trucks

NAJA Mercedes-Benz E240 Special Unit police cars

Mehr News Agency
Mohammad Reza Dehdari, Hassan Mousavi, Majid Jamshidi, Hamid Reza Niko-Maram, Rouhollah Kalantari, Hamid Najafi, Nima Najafzadeh at Fars News Agency

Sacred Defense Parades 2011 - Missiles

click photos to enlarge
Self-propelled Khalij Fars (Persian Gulf) anti-ship ballistic missile (ASBM) launcher

Fixed position Khalij Fars ASBM multiple missile launcher

Self-propelled Khalij Fars ASBM multiple missile launcher

TEL-mounted IRGC/ASF Sejil medium range ballistic missile (MRBM)

TEL-mounted IRGC/ASF late variant Shahab-3 (Meteor-3) MRBM

IRGC/ASF Shahab-2 short range ballistic missile (SRBM)

Self-propelled IRGC/ASF Fateh-110 (Conquerer-110) SRBM

Self-propelled Zelzal (Earthquake) SRBM

IRGC/ASF Tondar short range ballistic missile (SRBM)

IRGC marked SA-6 Gainful mobile surface-to-air missile (SAM) system

IRIADF Rapier SAM system


Volvo FH12-420 truck tractor head pulls trailer fitted with three I-HAWK SAMs

Yasser and Sattar air-to-surface weapons

Kh-58 anti-radiation missile training round

Iranian AShMs: Noor, Kowsar and Nasr

Iran News Agency
Mehr News Agency
Hamid Forootan at ISNA
Hassan Mousavi, Nima Najafzadeh and Majid Jamshidi at Fars News Agency
Hossein Baharloo at IMNA News Agency
Majid Azad and Mahmoud Sdeghi at