Friday, January 31, 2014

Nuclear Talks on 18 February in Vienna

The first round of negotiations on a comprehensive deal between Iran and the world powers on the country’s nuclear program will begin on 18 February in Vienna, said Catherine Ashton, EU’s foreign policy chief. (AFP, 31 January)

Iran Website Publishes Names and Photos of Iran’s KIA in Syria

Hardline Iranian University Students News (IUSN) today published the names and photos of 15 Iranians killed in action in Syria. Among the names published is Seyyed Mehdi Mousavi, the deputy commander of Ahvaz’s 10th Basij Zone (top photo), Al-Monitor’s Arash Karami reported today.

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said this week that Iran does not have any troops in Syria. IUSN’s report questions the truthfulness of that claim.

In a report to the Senate this week, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said Iran provides billions of dollars in military and economic aid to Syria and train pro-regime and Iraqi Shia militias as well as deploying its own personnel. Iran’s ally, the Lebanese Hezbollah has also committed thousands of fighters to Syria.

It was not clear why IUSN chose to begin publishing the names and affiliation of Iranian KIAs in Syria at this time. With the exception of statements by Iranian officials or commanders in support of the Syrian government, discussion and debate over Syria in the Iranian media is almost non-existent.

Photos: Iranian University Students News/Al-Monitor

India to Reconsider IPI Gas Pipeline

Indian Minister of External Affairs Salman Khurshid said India may join the multi-billion dollar Iran-Pakistan (IP) gas pipeline to import natural gas from Iran that would pass through Pakistan, Fars News Agency reported today.

The original agreement signed before the latest U.S. and EU sanctions was imposed against Iran was to build a so-called Iran-Pakistan-India (IPI) pipeline, linking Iran’s rich Assalouyeh gas field to the two countries. Iran finished its share of pipeline construction up to the Pakistani border in Iranian Baluchistan.

India reneged on the agreement, citing new sanctions imposed against developing such pipeline. Pakistan then announced that it was ready to participate in the project alone, but also backed off from the agreement last summer saying Iran could not finance the construction costs of the pipeline inside Pakistan as previously expected.

Now in light of the Geneva agreement on Iran’s nuclear program and the expectation that a comprehensive deal could be reached soon, lifting all  sanctions against Iran’s oil and gas industry, India is apparently reconsidering its position.

“If there is seriousness from all sides, we are ready to import natural gas from Iran and Central Asia through Pakistan,” Khurshid said in New Delhi on Thursday. (Fars News Agency)

Meanwhile, Turkish Energy Minister Taner Yildiz said in Ankara today that Turkey can double gas imports from Iran if the two sides could agree on a price.

The Iranian export of gas to Turkey during the sanctions, the so-called “gas-for-gold” scheme, has caused an on-going scandal in that country.

Mehr Shopping Center and ASP Towers in Tabriz, under construction

Mehr Shopping Center being built at Roshdiyeh in northeastern Tabriz. Five-floor structure includes provisions for 80 retail units.

Daylight rendering of completed Mehr Shopping Center at at Roshdiyeh

Evening rendering of completed Mehr Shopping Center at at Roshdiyeh

ASP Twin Towers residential development construction site at Roshdiyeh in northeastern Tabriz. Wheeled excavator and Mercedes-Benz L-series based dump truck seen working the site beside concrete-related silos. Weather conditions appear to suggest photo taken before first snow on 3 December 2013.

Rendering of completed ASP Twin Towers development, providing for 128 residential units

Photos: Tabriz City of Dreams

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Iranians Rush to Cinemas

Today theaters were free in Iran to promote movie going. This is how people seized the day. (@HadiNili/Twitter/ISNA)

U.S. Slams Syria for Failing to Meet Chemical Weapons Commitments

The Obama administration today slammed Syria for failing to fulfill its pledges to surrender its chemical weapons for destruction and voiced concern that the entire project could now be in jeopardy. U.S. Ambassador to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons Robert P. Mikulak accused Syria of “open-ended delaying” of the disarmament process in an attempt to renegotiate the deal it agreed to last fall. (LATimes, 30 January)

“Syria’s open-ended delaying of the removal operation could ultimately jeopardize the carefully timed and coordinated multistate removal and destruction effort,” Ambassador Mikulak added.

Meanwhile, U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, in Warsaw today for a visit, said the Syrians “need to fix this.”

Syrian President Bashar Assad agreed to surrender his chemical arsenal to deflect President Obama’s threat to launch punitive missile strikes last summer in response to use of chemical weapons in the civil war in Syria.

Under a disarmament plan proposed by the Syrians, Damascus was to deliver 700 tons of its most dangerous chemicals by next Wednesday to the port of Latakia, where the material would be loaded onto ships and destroyed at sea. But officials say it has delivered only about 32 tons, in two shipments on 7 and 27 January.

Mikulak also accused Syria of violating its pledge to destroy chemical weapons production facilities. Instead of following through on promises to destroy seven hardened aircraft hangars and five underground facilities, Syria is proposing to make the facilities “inactivated” by welding doors shut and erecting interior obstacles.

Photo credit: A member of the Norwegian armed forces aboard the frigate Helge Ingstad as the first load of chemical agents was transported out of Syria this month. (Lars Magne Hovtun/Norwegian Armed Forces/European Pressphoto Agency/LA Times)