Thursday, May 31, 2012

Gorgan Tower

The new tower at Basij Square in the city of Gorgan was opened today. The structure will house offices, a restaurant and broadcasting antenna. Gorgan, 31 May 2012. 
Photo Credit: Hamed Barchian/Fars New Agency

IRGC Commander Visiting the Three Islands

IRGC Commander Maj. Gen. Mohammad Ali Jafari today visited the three islands of Abu Musa, Greater Tunb and Lesser Tunb and said the islands were Iran’s “strategic and sensitive territory.” The UAE also claims the ownership of the Persian Gulf islands and last month, backed by the GCC, strongly objected to President Ahmadinejad’s visit to Abu Musa.

During the visit, Jafari was accompanied by his naval commander IRGC Brig. Gen. Ali Fadavi. IRGC official website reported that its commanding general was “satisfied” with the condition of Iranian combat units stationed on Abu Musa.   

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Iran Under Cyber-Attack by Data-Mining Virus

The data-mining virus called Flame has reportedly penetrated important computers in Iran in what is described as the most malicious program ever discovered. Iran’s Computer Emergency Response Team Coordination Center (CERTCC) also warned that the virus was extremely dangerous. Iranian computer experts discovered Flame, which could reportedly be as much as five years old.

“The complexity and functionality of the newly discovered malicious program exceed those of all other cyber menaces known to date,” reported Kaspersky Lab, a Russian producer of antivirus software [International Herald Tribune, 30 May].
Experts believe that the virus bears special encryption hallmarks with similarities to previous Israeli malware. In an interview with Radio Israel, the country’s vice prime minister and strategic affairs minister, Moshe Yaalon, all but took responsibility for the attack.
“Anyone who sees the Iranian threat as a significant threat — it’s reasonable that he will take various steps, including these, to harm it,” said Yaalon in response to a question on Flame virus.
Flame seems to be designed to mine data from personal computers and that it was distributed through USB sticks rather than the Internet, meaning that a USB has to be inserted manually into at least one computer in a network.

“This virus copies what you enter on your keyboard; it monitors what you see on your computer screen,” said a spokesman for Iran’s CRTCC. That includes collecting passwords, recording sounds if the computer is connected to a microphone, scanning disks for specific files and monitoring Skype.
“Those controlling the virus can direct it from a distance,” said the CRTCC spokesman. “Flame is no ordinary product. This was designed to monitor selected computers.”

Source: International Herald Tribune, 30 May 2012
Photo Source: The computer virus known as Flame as shown by the Russian computer security firm Kaspersky Lab. Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Egyptian Field Marshal Abdul-Halim Abu Ghazalah on the Combat Tactics and Strategy of the Iran-Iraq War (Part 1)

A response to a book review penned by Youssef Aboul-Enein, Andrew Bertrand and Dorothy Corley at Small Wars Journal

by Mark Pyruz

A book review on Egyptian Field Marshal Abdul-Halim Abu Ghazalah's "Combat Tactics and Strategy of the Iran-Iraq War" by Youssef Aboul-Enein, Andrew Bertrand and Dorothy Corley has recently been ublished in three parts by Small Wars Journal. See HERE, HERE and HERE. The views put forward in the review of Ghazalah's work by Youssef Aboul-Enein et al rely on, for the most part, externally derived and out of date interpretations of the war. A freshly interpreted survey essay on the Iran-Iraq War is really called for, using newer research containing primary sources from both sides of the conflict, similar to the efforts of USA Colonel Glanz (Ret.) and his work on the "myths and realities" of the Russo-German War, 1941-1945. However, what follows here, in order, are a number of responses to the perspectives and claims made by the field marshal, as described by the reviewers. It should be pointed out this author has not had access to the actual work by Ghazalah and is relying on the reviewers for the book's content. Reviewers' passages in blue; this author's responses in black. Let us proceed with Part 1 of 3:

"For centuries, Iran has remained a strategic concern for Arab states, and in more recent times, a concern for the United States as well. The divisions between Arabs and Iranians include religious differences between Sunni and Shiite, ethnic differences between Arab and Persian, linguistic differences between Semitic Arabic and Indo-Aryan Farsi, and more recently, growing global concern over Iran’s revolutionary influences in the region." 

This view is largely that of a pan-Arab nationalist, fof which we can assume the field marshal shares sympathies. Where Iraq is concerned, there are shared senses of culture with Iran and vice-versa, particularly among the Shia populations. Today this is most visible in the cross-border pilgrimages that now exist, in both directions, involving millions of ordinary Iranian and Iraqi persons. In certain respects, this shared sense of culture transcends even religion. The very name "Baghdad" is in fact a Persian word. (For an interesting lecture on this subject given by a recent speaker at Stanford University, see HERE.)

"In 1971, Iran, under the Shah, annexed three strategic islands: the Greater and Lesser Tunbs and Abu Musa from the United Arab Emirates."

This requires clarification. The three islands were part of a deal between the UK and Iran, with Iran withdrawing its historical claim to Bahrain (recognized at least in an Iranian historical sense as its fourteenth province). Much of the Shia majority underclass of Bahrain, some with elements of Persianate lineage, with their recent addition to the unfurling "Arab Spring," are a product of this compromise.

"A few years later, Iraq was battling the Kurds in the Second Kurdish War, from 1974 to 1975. Kenneth M. Pollack, of the Council on Foreign Relations and the Brooking Institute, in his volume titled Arabs at War (University of Nebraska Press, 2002), underscores that Iran’s support of the Kurdish Peshmerga during the Second Kurdish War curtailed Iraqi momentum and “finally stalemated the war in the spring of 1975”. Saddam Hussein (then Iraq’s Foreign Minister) negotiated the subsequent cease-fire agreement known as the Algiers Accord, as described by Pollack. Although Iraq conceded territory to Iran, in return the Shah terminated support to Iraqi Kurds, which enabled Iraq to effectively quell the Kurdish revolt shortly after the Accord was signed on 6 March 1975." 

A very specific narrative provided by CDR Aboul-Enein et al on the Algiers Accord. In fact, the Accord represented much more than that, and was finely worked out by both Iranian and Iraqi diplomatic teams. However the institution of terms of the agreement was continuously stalled by the Baath regime headed by Saddam Hussein. For an overview of the Accord, see "Iraqi Attitudes and Interpretation of the 1975 Agreement" by Ibrahim Anvari Tehrani (chapter two of "The Iran-Iraq War: The Politics of Aggression" by Farhang Rejaee).

"The Revolution of 1979 toppled the Shah of Iran, and ushered in the abrupt and dramatic rise of Ayatollah Khomeini’s Islamist regime. Other Arab regimes began to reevaluate prior agreements with Iran following the events of 1979. Abu Ghazalah’s book opens during this tumultuous period, and he cites the reasons for war between Iran and Iraq as fear of Shiite Islamic fervor and agitation throughout the Arab world, and Iraq seeing a potential opportunity to replace Iran as the regional policeman of the Persian Gulf."

From the Iraqi Baathist perspective, there was more to it. Iraq's Shia majority underclass was suppressed by the Baathist regime. It began to rise up and was encouraged by the Iranian example, and was assisted in certain respects by Iran. There were forced evictions of Iranian-Iraqis from Iraq. In addition to seeking the position of "regional policeman," Saddam sought not only to nip in the bud the Iraqi Shia struggle against the Baathist minority elite that held power, but more than that to actualize imperial gains, eastward, aimed at the dismemberment of Iran and capture of oil rich Khuzestan; that is to say, to establish a new regional geopolitical order in Iraq's favor at the expense of Iran, by means of a war of aggression.

"Saddam’s generals observed Iran with interest and received briefs from anti-Khomeini Iranian exiles. The briefs documented the ideological interference of the Iranian Armed Forces and the purging of experienced commanders with a new religious-based class of officers with little tactical experience."

Figuring into Iraq's calculations on their upcoming air war (as well as Western intelligence assessments) was the aftermath of the failed "Nojeh coup" involving the CIA and certain Iran Air Force officers against the popularly elected IRI government. These intelligence estimates had practically written off the Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force (IRIAF) as an effective fighting force, following the failed coup and Iran's security crackdown upon these air force officer elements. The Iraqis were to be woefully surprised during the opening phase of the conflict by a spectacular airstrike campaign conducted by the IRIAF.

Before Saddam began the war with Iran, Iraq was transitioning from bulk Eastern weapons systems to Western equipment."

This wasn't so with regards to AFVs, combat aircraft, etc.

"Photoreconnaissance existed but was extremely elementary."

It should be pointed out that in the weeks prior to the actual Iraqi invasion, Iraq Air Force (IrAF) recce sorties had taken place but had sustained heavy losses from IRIAF F-14 and F-4 intercepts (see "Arab MiG-19 & MiG-21 Units in Combat" by David Nicolle and Tom Cooper, pages 79-80.)

"Iraq’s aerial early warning systems were in a developmental stage, and in 1979 they possessed command and control for air force and air defense units, but they lacked the ability to coordinate these two aerial defense arms. Training on this equipment was marginal, and this would come to be painfully obvious in 1981, when Israel launched an air strike and destroyed the OSIRAK nuclear reactor."

It was already painfully obvious to the IrAF/ADC following Iran's immediate air counterattack, consisting from the beginning on no less than a 140-fighter strong raid into Iraq. In fact, by the end of September 1980, the IRIAF had already exhausted its main target list, with the Iraqis having to pull back its transport and bomber aircraft, as well as its reserve fighters and other high value assets to its western airbases (see "Iranian F-4 Phantom II Units in Action" by Tom Cooper and Farzad Bishop, pgs 17-31).

"Abu Ghazalah spends a chapter discussing the economics of the Iran-Iraq War. He writes that the total Iranian and Iraqi weapons imports for the war reached a peak of $55 billion and represented approximately 1/3 of the Gross Domestic Product of all developing nations combined."

Interestingly enough, for the majority of ordinary Iranians in unoccupied territories, the economic effects of the Iran-Iraq war were not as pronounced as those experienced following the onset of the British-Soviet invasion of 1941 and the ensuing American occupation of the early 1940s, for which the Ahmadinejad administration is currently seeking reparations.

"Although Iraq’s manpower problems were in some ways similar to Iran’s, the Iranians’ inability to train in combined arms was more pronounced. Iran’s training was limited almost exclusively to light infantry tactics because of Iran’s penchant for conducting human wave attacks." 

To a certain extent, the "human wave" tactics were more of a practical solution than that of mere "penchant". More on this later in part 2 and 3.

"Iraq’s political-military objectives at the onset of the war with Iran included: Return of the Shatt al-Arab Waterway (known in Iran as the Arvand Rud) as an integral part of Iraq; Destruction of Iranian units along the border with Iraq; Securing of oil fields in Iranian Khuzestan; Toppling of or dictating terms to Ayatollah Khomeini’s revolutionary leaders and marginalizing Iraq’s source of ideological influence in the region (Arab nationalism). It is worthwhile to highlight Kenneth Pollack’s observation that the key ingredient in Iraqi’s ability to achieve the preceding objectives was the seizure of the Khuzestan province."

This was Saddam's first war of aggression in the region, and his main goal was very similar to his second war of aggression against Kuwait: a land grab won in a very short war, identified for its oil treasure and improved geographical positioning with which to manage and protect such additional resources.

"It is worth noting that there is an intriguing difference in the number of divisions listed in Abu Ghazalah’s preceding description of deployed forces when compared with Pollack’s. Abu Ghazalah’s account lists eleven divisions, whereas Pollack’s account claims Iraq initiated the war with Iran with nine divisions. Both list three infantry divisions, but Abu Ghazalah’s account includes one additional mechanized division and one additional armored division." 

Here is a more recently derived and detailed OB for the Iraq Army (IrA) at the onset of the Iran-Iraq war (Source:

I Army Corps (sector between Rawanduz and Marivan)
- 7th Infantry Division (HQ Soleimaniyah)
- 11th Infantry Division (HQ Soleimaniyah; including 113IB, parts of which were detached to III Army Corps)

II Army Corps (sector between Qassre-Shirin, Ilam, and Mehran, armor deployed between Mehran and Dezful) -
- 6th Armored Division (HQ Baqubah)
- 9th Armored Division (HQ Samavah; 35AB, 43AB, 14MB)
- 10th Armored Division (HQ Baghdad, 17AB, 42AB, 24MB)
- 2nd Infantry Division (HQ Kirkuk)
- 4th Infantry Division (HQ Mawsil)
- 6th Infantry Division (HQ Baqubah)
- 8th Infantry Division (HQ Arbil)

III Army Corps (HQ al-Qurnah, sector between Dezful and Abadan)
- 3rd Armored Division (HQ Tikrit; 6AB, 12AB, 8MB)
- 10th Armored Division (HQ Baghdad; 10AB)
- 12th Armored Division (HQ Dahuoq; held in reserve)
- 1st Mechanized Division (HQ Divaniyeh; 1MB, 27MB, 34AB)
- 5th Mechanized Division (HQ Basrah; 26AB, 15MB, 20MB)
- 10th Independent AB
- 31st Independent Special Forces Brigade (minus two battalions: one was attached to 5th Mechanized Division, another to 3rd Armored Division),
- 33rd Independent Special Forces Brigade - 113 Infantry Brigade (detachments)
There were also two independent armored brigades, the 10th and the 12th, dislocations of which are as of yet unclear.

"The opening hours of the war saw Iran drained of divisional and corps level military leadership. All strategic decisions were in the hands of mullahs and revolutionary councils. The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps was newly established and did not command the respect of regular forces. It reduced its regular forces by half and many U.S. weapons contracts had been previously cancelled due to the hostage crisis in 1979. Iran’s strategy was framed as a war of ideology against imperialism, communism and Zionism and the preservation of Khomeini’s Islamic Revolution." 

In general, the units of the Islamic Republic of Iran Army were in very poor condition. Most were down to only 50% of their strenght (some even less) and under command of lower-ranking officers, as all the generals of the former Imperial Iranian Army were removed from their posts after the revolution in 1979. During the early days of the war there was considerable chaos within the chain of command, which led to a situation in which most of the larger units were scattered into small battle-groups that fought in cooperation with local militias and without a coherent overall command. (Source:; which is a somewhat different situation than that of "all strategic decisions [being] in the hands of mullahs and revolutionary councils."  In terms of Iran's ideological framing of the war, it was certainly stronger than the weaker ideology framed by the Baathist state, and this showed in their corresponding states of motivation and morale on the battlefield.

End of Part 1.

On Inflation

Tabnak, one of Iran’s most popular news sites, observes that the Central Bank of Iran (CBI) has lost the battle and the will to fight inflation, and its governor has quit speaking about the fight against inflation and instead keeps offering forecasts on the rate of inflation growth in the coming months. To read the article in Farsi, please click here. An excerpt on the deteriorating situation in the past two years:

"According to the Central Bank’s own statistics: the inflation rate two years ago was at 12.4 percent, the rial exchange rate to dollar was at 9,660 and the price of the official Bahar gold coin was at 4,350,000 rials. Today, the inflation rate is at 21.8 percent (nearly doubled in the two years), the rial exchange rate is at 17,300 rials (the national currency loosing its value by nearly 80 percent in just two years) and the official gold coin price is at 6,640,000 rials (more than 50 percent price increase in tow years)."

Source:, 29 May 2012 

Monday, May 28, 2012

Larijani Re-Elected Speaker of Majlis

Majlis Speaker Ali Larijani fought off a serious challenge from Qolam Ali Hadad Adel to be reelected as the speaker in the newly seated Ninth Majlis. Larijani’s brother is the head of another branch of the government, the Judiciary, and another brother is a key ideologue and theoretician of the Islamic Republic. Larijani was the speaker of the Eighth Majlis, often leading MPs in fierce opposition to Ahmadinejad administration’s policies, and at times signaling Majlis’s readiness to impeach the embattled head of the executive branch. Both Larijani and Hadad are among the most loyal and fiercest supporters of the country’s all-powerful supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei.

UPDATE: One of our good readers has correctly reminded us that Larijani's selection was for the post of Interim/Acting Speaker, and as such he is not technically re-elected as speaker yet. My understanding is this is just a procedural matter. But many thanks to our friend and all our other longtime readers who have helped us throughout these years in many ways, including correcting our reporting, as in this case, or editing, etc. Thanks a million!

Iran Denies Link to Coup Plot in Bahrain

Iran's Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast today denied allegations that Iran was behind a plot to overthrow the kingdom in Bahrain. On Sunday, a Bahraini court sentenced eight people to prison terms after they were accused of conspiring with suspected Iranian agents to overthrow the government. Iran has also denied charges by the GCC countries that it has links to the 15-month-old uprising in Bahrain [Mehr News Agency. 28 May].

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Military Option against Iran ‘Ready and Available’ - Panetta

Preference for Diplomacy

Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta said today in an interview with ABC News' This Week that military option against Iran is ready and available and neither U.S. nor international community will allow Iran to develop a nuclear weapon. Panetta also emphasized that the preference is for diplomacy over military intervention.

“The fundamental premise is that neither the United States nor the international community is going to allow Iran to develop a nuclear weapon,” Panetta said. “We will do everything we can to prevent them from developing a weapon.”

“It would be preferable to solve this diplomatically and through the use of pressure, than to use military force,” Panettal added. “But that doesn’t mean that (military) option isn’t fully available. Not just available, it’s ready. The necessary planning has been done to ensure that it’s ready.” 

ABC News' This Week, Sunday 27 May 2012

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Iran Backs Away from Preliminary Agreement with IAEA on Site Inspection

Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) Director Fereydoun Abbasi said today in Tehran that IAEA’s insistence on visiting Parchin military complex is due to pressure from the West but Iran has not been convinced to arrange the visit.

“The IAEA is interested in visiting Parchin due to pressure from countries that want the agency to investigate the issue,” Abbasi said. “(But) Iran has not been convinced and no documents or reason has been presented to us (to persuade us) to arrange a visit to Parchin military site,” he added [Fars News Agency/Press TV, 26 May].

On Tuesday, a day prior to the start of the Baghdad Talks, IAEA Director Yukia Amano announced that an agreement in principle had been reached with Iran on inspecting the site which would be signed soon. Amano made the announcement after his visit to Tehran and meetings with senior Iranian officials, including Mr. Abbasi. Amano added that the Iranians had assured him that nothing will stand in the way of signing the deal.

Today’s comments by Abbasi on Parchin, if it is indeed the new official policy, reverses earlier decision to allow IAEA free access to the site.

With the expected agreement with the IAEA now in jeopardy and with Iran’s hesitance to come to any agreement with the major powers on the future of its 20-percent enrichment program, as was evident at Baghdad Talks, and reiterated by Abbasi, saying today that there were no reasons to halt the production of higher-purity uranium, a successful outcome at Moscow now seems unlikely and out of reach.  

Iran Should Not Attend Moscow Talks - Shariatmadari

Hossein Shariatmadari, the influential editor of Kayhan, the leading conservative newspaper in Iran, and one of the shrewdest journalists in the country has called for a boycott of all future talks with the six major powers, including the Moscow Talks scheduled for 18-19 June. Mr. Shariatmadari believes that the West has not been serious in striking a deal with Iran during these talks and instead is using them to keep the price of oil under control and prevent a major shock to their weakened and falling economies. That is, until they find a comprehensive way on how to deal with a host of issues, including Iran and the uprisings in the Arab world.

Sharitmadari believes that Moscow Talks will not produce any major agreements and Iran should not attend the gathering to avoid playing into the US and European hands. It is the enemy, he says, that needs continued “negotiations” and “talks.”

To read Shariatmadari’s op-ed piece in Mashregh News, in Farsi, click here.

IAEA Data Show Iran Has Enough Uranium for Five Bombs - ISIS

The Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS), a think-tank which closely tracks Iran's nuclear program, said today that its analysis of the data recently released by the IAEA shows that Iran has produced enough low-enriched uranium in the past five years for at lease five nuclear weapons if refined to weapon-grade purity.

On Friday, the IAEA reported that Iran was pressing ahead with its uranium enrichment work. IAEA report said Iran has produced 6.2 tons of uranium enriched to a level of 3.5 percent since 2007, some 759 kg more than in previous IAEA report in February.

"This total amount of 3.5 percent low enriched uranium hexafluoride, if further enriched to weapon grade, is enough to make over five nuclear weapons," ISIS said in its analysis.

Iran began enriching uranium to a fissile concentration of 20 percent in 2010, saying it needed this to fuel a medical research reactor. It later expanded the work sharply by launching enrichment at Fordo underground site.

No agreements on scaling back the production of enriched uranium  could be reached between Iran and the six major powers during the Baghdad Talks that ended on Thursday.

Source: Reuters, 26 May 2012

Friday, May 25, 2012

No Compromise on 20-Percent Enrichment – Friday Prayers Imam

Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami, a Tehran’s Friday Prayers Imam, said in his sermons today that Iran will keep its 20-percent uranium enrichment program intact [Fars News Agency, 25 May].

“I speak on behalf of the Iranian nation that they will not be held to ransom,” the influential senior cleric added.

Khatami was referring to a demand by six major powers during the unsuccessful Baghdad Talks that Iran ends its production of the 20-percent nuclear fuel. The subject will be one of the key discussion points in Moscow during the talks in mid-June.

Iran enriches uranium to the 20 percent purity to provide fuel for Tehran's Research Reactor, which produces medical isotopes for cancer patients. The country already has a stockpile of the higher level fuel to feed the reactor for the next decade.

Farmanfarmaian, ‘Mother of Social Work’, Dies at 91

Sattareh Farmanfarmaian among students and colleagues.
Tehran School of Social Work (1960s)

Sattareh Farmanfarmaian, who introduced the Social Work profession to Iran, died today in Los Angeles at the age of 91.  After finishing high school in Tehran, Farmanfarmaian left for Los Angeles in July 1944.  At the urging of Dr. Samuel Jordan, the founder of American School in Tehran (later renamed Alborz High School), Farmanfarmaian enrolled at the University of Southern California, becoming USC’s first Iranian student and received her B.A. in sociology in 1946. In 1948 she received her Master of Social Work degree from the University of Chicago.

Prior to her return to Tehran in 1958, she worked for UNESCO as the social welfare consultant to the government of Iraq, working to improve the conditions of the Arab nomad tribes in the country. In Tehran, she founded the School of Social Work, the first of its kind in Iran, and served as its director until 1979.  She also founded the Family Planning Association of Iran.

Farmanfarmaian left Iran after the Islamic revolution and returned to Los Angeles. From 1980 to 1992 she worked for Los Angeles County’s Department of Social Services.

Her autobiography, Daughter of Persia: A Woman’s Journey from Her Father’s Harem through the Islamic Revolution, was published in 1992 and was nominated for Pulitzer Prize.  She also had many academic publications in her field.

File Photo: VOA

Egyptian Presidential Election: Tight Race Representing Wide Political Spectrum - UPDATE

Partial results from Egypt’s presidential elections announced today showed the candidate of the powerful Muslim Brotherhood leading with a narrow edge in a four-way race representing a wide political spectrum from the Islamists to a former regime official to the Left. 

The Brotherhood candidate Mohammed Morsi will most likely enter the second round on 16-17 June with the most votes, but well under the required 50 percent to win outright. Contending for the second place are former Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq; Hamdeen Sabahi, political activist supported by the nationalists and the Left; and 
moderate Islamist Abdel-Moneim AbolfotohEgyptians went to the polls on Wednesday and Thursday to choose their leader for the first time in 7,000 years.

UPDATE: Morsi, Shafiq and Sabahi are running extremely close, only one percentage point separates the top three vote getters.
UPDATE: Mohammed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood and former premier Ahmed Shafiq will face off in the runoff election on 16-17 June. The Muslim Brotherhood has just announced that Hamdeen Sabahi and Abdel-Moneim Abolfotoh will back Morsi in the runoff election. Sabahi, the candidate supported by the nationalists and the Left, came surprisingly close to finish second, but Shafiq held on to his lead and will face Morsi, representing the anti/pro Mubarak-era coalitions vying for Egypt's presidency.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Baghdad Talks End in Failure

No Agreements Between Iran and Major Powers

Another Round of Talks Next Month in Moscow

The Baghdad Talks came to an end without producing any agreements between Iran and six global powers. EU foreign policy chief and P5+1 chief negotiator Catherine Ashton just held a press conference announcing that the two sides have agreed to hold another round of talks in Moscow on 18-19 June.

Iranian negotiators had earlier rejected proposals by P5+1 on the future of their nuclear program as unbalanced and offered their own counter-proposals that focused on lifting the UN, US and EU sanctions.

Baghdad was the sixth meeting between the two sides in the past five years (three in Geneva, two in Istanbul and one in Baghdad), with all ending in failure. The decade-old standoff seems to have survived yet another round of talks!

Baghdad Talks Will Resume Tonight

Iran and six global powers will hold the third plenary session of Baghdad Talks today at 18:00 local time. The decision to hold another session tonight came after a long meeting between Iran’s chief negotiator Saeed Jalili and P5+1 chief negotiator Catherine Ashton. 

Baghdad Talks: Third Round of Meetings Between Jalili and Ashton

Amidst contradictory news out of Baghdad on the end of the talks between Iran and major global powers, the Iranian official news agency IRNA reported that another round of meetings between Iran’s chief negotiator Saeed Jalili and EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who has acted as the chief negotiator for the P5+1, is now underway. 

The first plenary session between Iran and the six powers took place on Wednesday afternoon local time and lasted for three hours, followed by a shorter session on Thursday afternoon. A series of bilateral meetings have also been taking place between individual negotiators, including the recent meeting between Ashton and Jalili. These meetings are to narrow down the differences between the two sides and lead to a communiqué announced at the end of the final plenary session later tonight, if there would be any such session.

Baghdad Talks to Resume Today

The Baghdad Talks entered an unscheduled second day on Thursday, reviewing what appears to be major differences between Iran’s positions and those proposed jointly by the six global powers. No details have been revealed, but the Iranian delegation has reportedly asked the P5+1 to make significant revisions to its joint proposal. An unnamed senior member of the Iranian delegation told AFP today that common ground between the two sides was not sufficient to result in an agreement in Baghdad or for that matter for another round of talks beyond Baghdad. [AFP, 24 May].

Iran’s official news agency IRNA, without revealing any details, has called the P5+1 proposal “outdated, not comprehensive and unbalanced.”  The major powers have reportedly asked Iran to suspend its 20-percent uranium enrichment program and give up the stock of the higher purity fuel in return for guarantees of receiving the fuel in future and various sweeteners, including the suspension of an EU insurance ban on ships carrying Iranian oil and easing Iranian access to aircraft parts.

Iran is believed to have asked for suspension of all sanctions imposed by the UN General Assembly, the US and the EU, and suspension of EU’s oil-related sanctions that will go into full effect at the end of June.

Today’s session is aimed to narrow the differences and produce a preliminary agreement on the gradual steps needed to be taken by both sides to end the decade-old standoff.

Meanwhile, Iran is reportedly ready to sign “quite soon” and implement an additional protocol with the IAEA, defining the agency’s access to Iranian nuclear and relevant military sites. 

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Major Powers, Iran Presented Different Proposals at Baghdad Talks - UPDATE

The Iranian news agency ISNA reported that at today’s meeting, the six powers presented a “detailed” proposal to Iran, but apparently the Iranian side viewed it as “not balanced.” Then Iran presented its own “comprehensive” proposal containing five points that included “a range of nuclear and non-nuclear issues.” The two sides will resume their talks on Thursday.

UPDATE: "I believe we have the beginning of a negotiation," said a senior U.S. official of the talks. "We have got engaged ... we have had detailed discussions," the official said [Reuters, 23 May].

Photo: Baghdad Talks. 23 May 2012. Iranian delegation seated at right. IRNA

Baghdad Talks to Continue on Thursday

Baghdad Talks between Iran and the six global powers over the future of Iran’s nuclear program began at 12:30 PM local time and were adjurned after three hours. The talks will continue on Thursday. The representatives of the US, Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany as well as EU foreign policy chief arrived in Baghdad early Wednesday morning and met with Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. The talks with Iran then began. Details on the content of the talks have not been released yet.

Baghdad Talks Are Set to Start

Baghdad Talks between Iran and the six global powers are set to start this morning. The talks are the latest of a series of meetings between the two sides on the future of Iran’s nuclear program. But up to now these meetings have been about setting up future meetings and their success or failure have been defined in terms of atmospherics, especially if the American and Iranian delegations were nice to each other or not. Baghdad promises to break away from this trend and offer the first consequential talks between the two sides.

Even before the Baghdad Talks got underway, we witnessed a likely breakthrough in IAEA’s push to have free access to inspect the country’s nuclear and relevant military sites. A so-called framework agreement, defining an additional protocol on IAEA’s access to the sites, nuclear officials and scientists and documents, were hammered out during IAEA director’s visit to Tehran on Monday and is reportedly getting ready to be signed soon. Such access would be key to an agreement in Baghdad to begin the process of ending the decade-old dispute with Iran over the nature of its nuclear program, which has resulted in serious economic sanctions against the country.

If IAEA-Iran additional protocol agreement is signed soon, as expected, then the Iranians, starting later today in Baghdad, will demand easing of the biting sanctions. The demand would create a challenge for the West. There were the sanctions, they would argue, that led Iran to accept the IAEA demands, and lifting them now would take away their trump card to push Iran to stop enriching uranium at purities higher than five percent and stop the operations at Fordo enrichment facility. Not easing the sanctions, however, would not entice the Iranians to make any further concessions. So we should expect an agreement in Baghdad that ties the easing of sanctions, especially delaying the oil-related sanctions that are to go into effect at the end of June, to the signing and implementation of the additional protocol with IAEA.

Such agreement could well lead to a more comprehensive agreement at Baghdad on an end to Iran’s production of 20-percent fuel and a guarantee by the major powers to supply the country the needed fuel for its nuclear research reactor in Tehran. Iran could also accept a swap agreement to exchange most of its five-percent enriched uranium with the higher purity fuel on an on-going basis.   

Baghdad could well become the beginning of an end to the decade-old standoff over the future of Iran's nuclear program.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Iran-IAEA Reached Agreement on Probing Suspected Sites

The Agreement Will Be Signed Soon – IAEA Director

IAEA Director Yukiya Amano announced today that an agreement in principle has been reached with Iran on probing suspected work on nuclear weapons and the agreement will be signed soon. Details still need to be worked out, but the Iranians have assured Amano that those details will not stand in the way of signing the deal. Amano spoke to reporters today after returning from Tehran [AP, 22 May 2012].

UPDATE: The U.S. State Department said although the Amano agreement was a “step forward” but Iran would be judged on actions leading to tangible results.

“The announcement of the deal is one thing, but the implementation is what we’re going to be looking for,” said State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland. The U.S. wants “access to all of the locations, the documents and the personnel that the IAEA requires in order to determine whether Iran’s program is exclusively for peaceful purposes,” she added.

Monday, May 21, 2012

U.S. Senate Approves New Sanctions on Iran

The U.S. Senate today unanimously passed a bill that expands sanctions against Iran. The legislation will close loopholes and extend the existing sanctions on dealing with the National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC) and National Iranian Tanker Company (NITC).

Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said today that Iran “threatens Israel and world peace.”

"In the face of malicious intent, world leaders must show determination, and not weakness," Netanyahu said. "They must not make concessions towards Iran. They should present clear and unequivocal requirements." [Arutz Sheva, 22 May].

Netanyahu said Iran must give IAEA inspectors full access to all its nuclear facilities, must cease all uranium enrichment activities, and send all uranium enriched to 20% out of the country.

No Sign of Breakthrough in Talks Between Amano and Iranian Officials

IAEA Director Yukiya Amano ended his one-day visit to Tehran without any sign of a breakthrough deal with the Iranians. Asked by reporters in Tehran about the expected framework agreement defining IAEA’s access to sites, nuclear officials and scientists and documents to see if Iran was developing the capability to make nuclear weapons, Amano could only say: "I will not go into details but the agency has some viewpoints and Iran has its own specific viewpoints." [Mehr News Agency, 21 May].

The answer was not convincing that a breakthrough in the talks had been achieved in Tehran. Now all the eyes will be on Wednesday’s talks between Iran and the six major powers in Baghdad. 

Amano in Tehran

IAEA Director Yukiya Amano arrived in Tehran today accompanied by Herman Nackaerts, the IAEA deputy director general for safeguards, and Rafael Mariano Grossi, the agency’s assistant director general for policy, and was welcomed at Tehran’s airport by Iran's Ambassador to the IAEA Ali Asghar Soltanieh. Mr. Amano has already held talks with the Director of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) Fereydoun Abbasi and Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili. He is also scheduled to meet with Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi before departing for Geneva.

No details of Amano’s talks with Iranian officials were available at this time, but analysts believe that Mr. Amano would not have made the previously unscheduled visit to Tehran if he did not believe that a framework agreement on IAEA expanded powers to inspect the country’s nuclear and relevant military sites could be achieved during his stay in the country. 

On Wednesday, the six major powers and Iran would resume their talks in Baghdad. For the West, the stated goal of the meeting is to start a verifiable process to halt any work on nuclear weapons in Iran. Today’s expected agreement between IAEA and Iran on free access of the agency’s inspectors to suspected military sites, namely Parchin, would go a long way to seal a deal in Baghdad.

Photo Credit: IAEA Director Yukiya Amano (center) meets Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili (r) with Iran's Ambassador to the IAEA Ali Asghar Soltanieh present. Tehran. 21 May 2012. IRNA 

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Time to Strike a Deal on Iran Nuclear Program - ORG

Oxford Research Group (ORG), a UK think tank focusing on sustainable approaches to global security, today released a timely report on how the impasse over Iran’s nuclear program could be broken and a deal in the nuclear talks could be reached during the visit today to Tehran of IAEA director and at Baghdad Talks on Wednesday. (Please read the report by clicking here.)

ORG argues that the mood surrounding talks on Iranian program has shifted, becoming more amendable to compromise and a deal can be struck today in Tehran and on Wednesday in Baghdad. The understanding on both sides to the principle of reciprocity is reached and there are concrete steps to end the decade-old conflict that can be taken in Tehran and in Baghdad. 

Russia: West Still Considering Military Action Against Iran

Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told reporters on a plane on his way back from the G8 Summit in Camp David that the West was still considering military action against Iran over its nuclear program.

"It is one of many various signals coming from various sources that the military option is considered as realistic and possible," Ryabkov said. "We are receiving signals, both through public and intelligence channels, that this option is now being reviewed in some capitals as more applicable in this situation… We are very worried about this. We do not want the region and the world to fall into new divisions and bitter political arguments," he added [Reuters, 20 May].

Ryabbkov also said Russia had drafted a set of proposals, without going into details, for the Baghdad talks taking place on Wednesday between Iran and the six major powers. He said Iran needs to restore international confidence on the peaceful nature of its nuclear program and must be presented with incentives on cooperation as well.

"Practical results are needed that can be shown to the international community as evidence that we are moving forward," Ryabkov said.

Source: Reuters, 20 May 2012

IAEA Director Leaves for Tehran

Seeking Agreement Before Baghdad Talks

IAEA Director Youkiya Amano flies to Tehran today for talks with Iran’s foreign minister, chief nuclear negotiator and other senior leaders on Monday. IAEA is seeking to expand its current agreement with Iran to allow unscheduled visits to the sites suspected of being centers for nuclear weapon research and development, specially Parchin military cmplex. Reuters is reporting that Amano wants to seal the deal on Monday, two days prior to an all-important meeting the six world powers and Iran in Baghdad. Such agreement will significantly influence the direction of the upcoming talks, and could be a potential breakthrough in the decade-old dispute over Iran's nuclear program.

Referring to suspicions about the existence of a military dimension to the country’s nuclear program, Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said on Saturday that Amano’s visit could help “clear up the ambiguities.”

"We regard the visit by the agency's director general as a gesture of goodwill," said Salehi, adding that he hoped for agreement on a "new modality" to work with IAEA to “clear up the ambiguities" [ISNA/Reuters].

Iranian Art Gallery Opens in Dubai

The Iranian art gallery RIRA opened in Dubai this week, the first gallery to focus on Iranian arts. Works by 27 Iranian artists, including those by Parviz Kalantari, pictured above, were being displayed. Also displayed, are the works by Fereydoun Ave, Safa Hosseini, Mehrdad Shoqi, Ali Shirazi, Aydin Aghdashlou, Farideh Lashai, Yaqoub Emdadian, Bahman Jalali and Melika Shafahi.

“The gallery focuses on Iranian art,” said RIRA Managing Director Maryam Moqadam. “The gallery is also planning to mount comparative exhibitions to showcase the artworks of the Iranian, Arab and Turk artists simultaneously” [Press TV, 20 May].

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Obama: World Powers ‘Unified’ and ‘Hopeful’ About Talks with Iran

President Barack Obama said today world powers were “unified” and  “hopeful” about talks with Iran next Wednesday in Baghdad.

“We're unified when it comes to our approach with Iran,” Obama said, surrounded by G-8 leaders at Camp David [AFP, 19 May].

President Obama added Iran’s inability so far to convince the world its program was peaceful was “of grave concern to all of us.” He said, however, that the leaders were “hopeful” about the talks in Baghdad.

Photo Credit: President Obama and G-8 Leaders. Camp David. 19 May 2012. Reuters

Friday, May 18, 2012

P5+1 Forge Joint Approach to Talks with Iran

The five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany (P5+1) have reportedly agreed to offer a joint proposal to Iran at the Baghdad talks on 23 May. The proposal would open a path to curtail any military dimensions to Iran’s nuclear program and to ease the threat of war on Iran [LA Times, 18 May].

The six powers will offer to provide 20-percent enriched uranium fuel for Iran’s research nuclear reactor and in return Iran must halt the production of 20 percent fuel and operation at Fordo enrichment facility. Iran would also need to surrender its stockpile of the material.
The sanctions against Iran will be lifted if and when the country takes verifiable confidence building-steps and allow IAEA to rigorously inspect its nuclear facilities for any possible weaponization programs.
It is unlikely that Iranian representatives would accept the proposal with all its components during the Baghdad talks, needing the approval by the country’s supreme leader and the senior leadership. The joint proposal, however, ends speculations that there were major rifts within P5+1 positions on Iran.
US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton had said during an interview with UAS Today earlier this week that the group had indeed reached a "unified position.”
“[We have reached] unified position that sets forth what we would expect to see Iran do on what kind of timetable to reassure the international community that it is not and will not seek nuclear weapons," Clinton said. “[The support of Russia and China] is a significant statement that the rest of the world is placing on a peaceful resolution of this problem," Clinton added.
Source: LA Times, 18 May 2010

France and U.S. Share Views on Iran - Hollande

The newly elected French President Francois Hollande said today in Washington after talks with President Barack Obama that France and the US share views on Iranian nuclear program and that there was an agreement for ‘required firmness’ that Iran doesn’t get the nuclear military capacity [McClatchy, 18 May].

ITAR-TASS News Agency reported that the French President said he and Obama see ‘eye to eye’ on Iran.

"We see eye to eye on the Iranian issue. We might be able to start negotiations with Iran. However, for that there must be the certainty Teheran has no capability to make nuclear weapons," President Hollande said [ITAR-TASS, 18 May].

Later in the day, President Hollande met with British Prime Minister David Cameron at British Embassy in Washington and the two leaders stressed their agreement on a range of issues including Iran [ITV News, 18 May].

Hollande and Cameron were in Washington ahead of the G-8 Summit at Camp David this weekend.

Photo: Presidents Obama and Hollande at the White House. 18 May 2012. Abaca Press/MCT

IAEA Director to Visit Tehran

Rare and Unexpected Visit Days Before Baghdad Talks-
Raising Hopes for Resolution of Decade-Old Dispute

IAEA chief Yukiya Amano and top aides will travel to Tehran on Sunday on a rare and unexpected visit to the Iranian capital for talks with Iran's chief nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili and other senior officials, only a few days before the Baghdad talks between Iran and P5+1 on the future of Iranian nuclear program.

IAEA wants Iran to fully address concerns over possible military dimension to its nuclear program, a concern that will be at the heart of the talks in Baghdad on 23 May.

The last visit by an IAEA chief to Tehran was by Amano's predecessor, Mohamed ElBaradei, in October 2009. The IAEA and Iran held talks this week in Vienna and had been due to meet again on 21 May in the Austrian capital, but now the nuclear watchdog agency is sending its director to Tehran unexpectedly, raising hopes for a resolution to the decade-old dispute over Iran’s nuclear program.

US Exempts Japan, 10 EU Countries from Sanctions

India, China Exposed – India to Export Wheat for Oil
The US government has given the banks in Japan and 10 EU countries a six-month retrieve from financial sanctions for processing payments for Iranian crude imports through the Central bank of Iran (CBI). The exemptions were granted because those countries have significantly cut purchases of Iranian oil in the past few months.
The decision leaves China and India, Iran’s top oil customers, exposed to US sanctions. The full sanctions against the CBI goes into effect at the end of this month. Countries purchasing Iranian oil need to process their payment through the CBI. The sanctions against the CBI are designed to significantly cut Iran’s oil exports.
Meanwhile, India’s Economic Times reported today that India is considering exporting wheat to Iran, in essence bartering wheat for oil, so to avoid processing payments through the CBI. In this scheme, India will deposit payments for Iranian crude purchases in rupee bank accounts set up for Iran in New Delhi and Iran in turn use these rupee accounts to pay for wheat and other imports from India. The problem is that the value of Iranian oil exports to India far surpasses that of its imports, even with if the wheat agreement is finalized. India currently has huge stockpiles of grains after bumper harvests.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Majlis Approves New Budget

The Majlis, Iranian parliament, today approved the budget for the current Iranian calendar year at 5,666 trillion rials or $462 billion in official exchange rate. The new budget is 11 percent higher than last year’s if calculated in the local currency (5,084 trillion rials last year), but slightly lower if calculated in dollars ($469 billion last year). The difference is due to a 4-percent official devaluation of rial this year.

The percentage of the budgeted revenues from oil exports is not reported. But Iran’s total revenues from oil sales last year were at approximately $73 billion, with another $36 billion in non-oil exports, for a total of $109 billion in hard currency revenues. The figure is expected to be lower this year due to expanding oil-related sanctions. The details of non-export revenues budgeted for the current year were also not available. If the government were forced to print money to meet any budgetary shortfall, however, a rise in already high inflation rate could be expected.   

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

India Cuts Iran Oil Imports by 11%

India announced today it would cut Iranian oil imports by 11 percent. The cut would constitute a significant step for India toward securing a waiver from US sanctions before end-June deadline and came a week after US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited New Delhi. However, the Indian officials were quoted by Outlook India as saying that the reduction of imports from Iran was not under US pressure.

The US has already granted waiver to Japan and 10 European countries after they announced deeper cuts than what was announced by India and may not go far enough to prompt a waiver.

Meanwhile, India’s ministry of commerce and industry said today that a new rial-rupee payment arrangement has been put in place for Iran’s oil imports. No details were released [The Economic Times, 16 May].

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Iran Calls Remarks by Saudi FM Interference in Internal Affairs

Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said today in Tehran that recent remarks by Arab officials on the status of the three Persian Gulf islands were interference in Iran’s internal affairs. 

Discussing the summit with the reporters in Riyadh on Monday night, Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal said the GCC countries uphold the UAE’s claims to the islands of Abu Musa and Greater and Lesser Tunbs. He also accused Iran of threatening the Gulf Arab states.

“Raising or repeating any claim about the three Iranian islands is considered by the Islamic Republic of Iran as an uncalculated remark which…lacks political and legal authenticity since it is incompatible with the principle of non-interference in other countries’ internal affairs,” Mehmanparast said [IRNA/Press TV, 15 May]. 

Iran-IAEA Talks “Fruitful” –Will Resume on Monday

Possible Military Dimensions of Iran's Nuclear Program Is Primary Focus 

Iran and IAEA ended their second day of meetings today in Vienna and will resume talks on Monday, suggesting real progress is being achieved.

"We had a good exchange of views and we will meet again on Monday" IAEA’s Hermann Nackaerts and Iran’s Ali Asghar Soltanieh said in a joint statement at the end of today’s talks.

Soltanieh went further and told the reporters that the discussions were “fruitful,” taking place in a “very conductive environment.”

"We have made progress on this issue regarding preparing and negotiating the modality framework for resolving our outstanding issues," Soltanieh added. "

"During these two days we discussed a number of options to take the agency verification process forward in a structured way," Nackaerts told reporters. "The primary focus of our discussion was how to clarify issues related to possible military dimensions of Iran's nuclear program." [AFP, 15 May].

President Francois Hollande

The New Leader of France. 15 May 2012

A Look At 'Gulf Union'

The Power of Unity 

The leaders of the Arab states of the Persian Gulf yesterday failed in their first attempt to form an EU-type ‘Gulf Union’ (GU) and decided to postpone the decision to a later date. If the GU would ever become a reality, it would become a major global entity. Following are the numbers for a six-member Gulf Union:

The Six-Member GU: Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman and Bahrain.
  • Population: 43.2 million
  • GDP: $1.385 trillion
  • Foreign Reserves: $1.442 trillion
  • Oil Production: 16.3 million bpd
  • Oil Exports: 12.8 million bpd
  • Military Manpower: 362,000
  • Military Budget (2012 estimate): $65 billion

Unlike the EU, the GU members would share common language, culture, religion and similar history. 

 Source: Amena Bakr/Reuters

Monday, May 14, 2012

GCC Countries Fail to Form ‘Gulf Union’ at Summit Today

Leaders Agreed to Further Study Plans for Union

The GCC leaders today failed in their attempt to form the much-publicized EU-type “Gulf Union” between Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and possibly Qatar and Kuwait. At the end of their summit in Riyadh, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal said the heads of states decided, however, to further study plans on how to organize the new entity.

“Leaders of the Gulf Co-operation Council have approved the call for a commission to continue studying in order to present final results,” Prince Saud told reporters in Riyadh. “The issue will take time.The aim is for all countries to join, not just two or three.” [BBC Arabic, 14 May].

The idea of forming a ‘Gulf Union’ was first proposed by the Saudi monarch last December. Yesterday, the Bahraini information minister told reporters that a union between Saudi Arabia and Bahrain and possibly a third country (believed to be Qatar) would be announced during the summit. Arab media, quoting unnamed Saudi officials, also reported that Qatar and Kuwait were likely to join Saudi Arabia and Bahrain in announcing the union, with UAE and Oman joining in at a later stage. Today’s non-announcement was indeed a major failure by the Saudis to move the unity project along, as they must have hoped.

Inflation Rate @ 22%

The Statistics Bureau of the Central Bank of Iran just announced that the country’s annual inflation rate for the 12-month period ending 20 April 2012 was at 21.8 percent [ISNA, 14 May].

Iran-IAEA Talks in Vienna

Senior IAEA officials today met with Iran’s nuclear negotiators at the Iranian diplomatic mission in Vienna. Monday’s talks lasted five hours, ending late in the afternoon and will resume on Tuesday. The two sides declined to make any comments on today’s meeting. The main agenda of the talks are IAEA’s concerns about possible military dimensions to Iran's nuclear program.