News Update: 6/14

Iran: Timetable Set for Americans’ Trial

By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Published: June 14, 2011

Iran expects to make a final decision by late August in the case of three Americans charged with espionage, the official news agency IRNA said on Tuesday. The agency quoted Tehran’s chief prosecutor, Abbas Jafari Dowlatabadi, as saying that the next court date in the case is set for the court’s summer session from June 22 to Aug. 22 and that officials “are hopeful” a final decision will be made during that time. The three Americans — Shane M. Bauer, Josh F. Fattal and Sarah E. Shourd — were detained in July 2009 along the Iran-Iraq border. The two men remain in custody; Ms. Shourd, Mr. Bauer’s fiancée, was released last year on $500,000 bail and has refused to return to Iran for trial. The three deny the accusations. The trial had been scheduled to resume May 11, but the session was called off. Mr. Dowlatabadi said the delay resulted from a lack of coordination.

See also Trita Parsi’s article in the Huff Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/trita-parsi/release-josh-and-shane-an_b_871773.html

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06/13/11from peyvand.com

Silent Tehran Protesters Arrested On Anniversary Of Disputed Vote

By Golnaz Esfandiari, RFE/RL

Arrests and clashes have been reported in Tehran on the anniversary of the disputed 2009 reelection of Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad that led to mass street protests. Opposition websites and witnesses say dozens were arrested in the Iranian capital on June 12 while marching silently to mark the anniversary.


Iran’s opposition Green Movement had called for a silent protest on the second anniversary of the disputed presidential election.

The opposition Kalame website reported that several hundred Iranians were detained on Vali Asr Street while marching peacefully.

“Demonstrators remained silent and calm even while they were being detained,” Kalame said, citing its reporters in Tehran.

A demonstrator told RFE/RL’s Radio Farda that many opposition supporters marched under the eyes of the security forces.

“We started walking on Vali Asr Street. As [expected] special forces were deployed on both sides of the street like a human wall,” the man said. “But people ignored them and continued walking on the sidewalks without chanting.”

Protesting In Silence

Representatives of the opposition Green Movement had called for a “silent rally” to mark the vote, which the opposition says was massively rigged in favor of Ahmadinejad. The charge has been denied by the Iranian authorities, who have called the 2009 presidential vote free and fair.

Yet they have cracked down on opposition activists and put them in jail. In February they put opposition leaders Mir Hossein Musavi and Mehdi Karrubi under house arrest after they called for a demonstration that attracted tens of thousands of Iranians.

In recent months, Iran’s leaders have praised the Arab uprisings while using force against opposition protesters who have taken to the streets.

Speaking in Washington on June 11, Musavi’s spokesman, Ardeshir Amir Arjomand, said the government repression had not managed to silence the opposition Green Movement, which was formed during the protests that followed the disputed election.

“The Green Movement might have changed its tactics in response to the crackdown, but it has found a way to continue its existence,” Arjomand said.

Security Forces Massed

The Sahamnews website said on June 12 that riot police and plainclothes agents attacked opposition demonstrators with batons at a park on Vali Asr Street.

“Shopkeepers were ordered to close their shops…hundreds of people have gathered in other areas of Tehran,” the website said.

One witness told RFE/RL that in some parts of Tehran hundreds of security forces were deployed to prevent protests. She said she also saw many Basij militia members and plainclothes agents roaming the streets on motorbikes.

Iran’s official IRNA news agency reported that security forces arrested “some individuals” who were trying to disrupt the peace.

“The powerful presence of security forces in Tehran prevented a few elements from reaching their goal of disrupting the peaceful atmosphere of the society with foreign guidance,” IRNA reported, while accusing foreign media of inciting people in Tehran to take part in the silent protest.

The anniversary of the election was overshadowed by the news of the death of a prominent journalist and national religious activist, Hoda Saber, who died from a heart attack following a hunger strike.

The 54-year-old Saber, who was jailed in the crackdown that followed the protests against the presidential election in 2009, died in a Tehran hospital where he was transferred from Evin prison.

He had gone on a hunger strike some 10 days before to protest the death of another dissident,Haleh Sahabi, at the funeral of her father. Sahabi reportedly died from a heart attack following a scuffle with security forces.


Copyright (c) 2011 RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036. www.rferl.org

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Seymour Hersh on RT:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z_HvZHdcXQk

US is ignoring its own intelligence on Iran…
click above to see what else he says.

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LA Times Op-Ed

Nuclear proliferation: Engaging Iran

A period of uncertainty in the Arab world and the Middle East offers an opportunity to reconsider the West’s position on Iran and restart negotiations over its nuclear program.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad smiles as he is shown equipment at Iran's nuclear facility near the central town of Natanz, the site of controversial uranium enrichment. (Office of the Presidency of the Islamic Republic of Iran / April 8, 2008)President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad smiles as he is shown equipment at Iran’s nuclear facility near the central town of Natanz, the site of controversial uranium enrichment. (Office of the Presidency of the Islamic Republic of Iran / April 8, 2008)

June 9, 2011

This piece was written by six former ambassadors to Iran from European countries: Richard Dalton (United Kingdom), Steen Hohwü-Christensen (Sweden), Paul von Maltzahn (Germany), Guillaume Metten (Belgium), François Nicoullaud (France) and Roberto Toscano (Italy)

As ambassadors to Iran during the last decade, we have all followed closely the development of the nuclear crisis between Iran and the international community. It is unacceptable that the talks have been deadlocked for such a long time.

The Arab world and the Middle East are entering a new epoch in which no country is immune from change. This includes the Islamic Republic of Iran, which is facing the disaffection of a significant part of its population. Such a period of uncertainty offers opportunities for reconsidering the West’s established position on the Iranian nuclear question.

In terms of international law, the position of Europe and the United States is perhaps less assured than is generally believed. Basically, it is embodied in a set of resolutions adopted by the U.N. Security Council authorizing coercive measures in case of “threats to the peace.”

But what constitutes the threat? Is it the enrichment of uranium in Iranian centrifuges? This is certainly a sensitive activity, by a sensitive country, in a highly sensitive region. The concerns expressed by the international community are legitimate, and Iran has a moral duty, as well as a political need, to answer them.

In principle, however, nothing in international law or in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty forbids the enrichment of uranium. Besides Iran, several other countries, parties or not to the treaty, enrich uranium without being accused of “threatening the peace.” And in Iran, this activity is submitted to inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency. These inspections, it is true, are constrained by a safeguards agreement dating from the 1970s. But it is also true that the IAEA has never uncovered in Iran any attempted diversion of nuclear material to military use.

Is the threat to the peace, then, that Iran is actively attempting to build a nuclear weapon? For at least three years, the United States intelligence community has discounted this hypothesis. The U.S. director of national intelligence, James Clapper, testified in February to Congress: “We continue to assess Iran is keeping open the option to develop nuclear weapons…. We do not know, however, if Iran will eventually decide to build nuclear weapons…. We continue to judge that Iran’s nuclear decision-making is guided by a cost-benefit approach, which offers the international community opportunities to influence Tehran.”

Today, a majority of experts, even in Israel, seems to view Iran as striving to become a “threshold country,” technically able to produce a nuclear weapon but abstaining from doing so for the present. Again, nothing in international law or in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty forbids such an ambition. Like Iran, several other countries are on their way to or have already reached such a threshold but have committed not to acquire nuclear weapons. Nobody seems to bother them.

We often hear that Iran’s ill-will, its refusal to negotiate seriously, left our countries no other choice but to drag it to the Security Council in 2006. Here also, things are not quite that clear.

Let us remember that in 2005 Iran was ready to discuss a ceiling limit for the number of its centrifuges and to maintain its rate of enrichment far below the high levels necessary for weapons. Tehran also expressed its readiness to put into force the additional protocol that it had signed with the IAEA allowing intrusive inspections throughout Iran, even in non-declared sites. But at that time, the Europeans and the Americans wanted to compel Iran to forsake its enrichment program entirely.

Today, Iranians assume that this is still the goal of Europe and America, and that it is for this reason that the Security Council insists on suspension of all Iranian enrichment activities. But the goal of “zero centrifuges operating in Iran, permanently or temporarily,” is unrealistic, and it has heavily contributed to the present standoff.

Of course, a dilemma lingers in the minds of most of our leaders. Why offer the Iranian regime an opening that could help it restore its internal and international legitimacy? Should we not wait for a more palatable successor before making a new overture?

This is a legitimate question, but we should not overestimate the influence of a nuclear negotiation on internal developments in Iran. Ronald Reagan used to call the Soviet Union the “evil empire,” but that did not stop him from negotiating intensely with Mikhail Gorbachev on nuclear disarmament. Should we blame him for having slowed down the course of history?

The five permanent members of the Security Council and Germany should certainly keep the focus on matters of political and human rights, but they should also try harder to solve a frustrating and still urgent proliferation problem. By doing so, we would reduce a serious source of tension in a region that longs more than ever for tranquility.

The failure of the last round of negotiations in Istanbul at the end of January and the last disappointing exchange of letters between the parties show only too well that the current deadlock will be difficult to break. On the process, the more discreet and technical negotiations are, the better chance they will have to progress. And on the substance, we already know that any solution will have to build on the quality of the inspection system of the IAEA.

Either we trust IAEA’s ability to supervise all its member states, including Iran, or we do not. And if the answer is that we do not, then we must ask why, if the organization is effective only with its most virtuous members, we should continue to maintain it.

The next step should be for the two sides in this conflict to ask the IAEA what additional tools it needs to monitor the Iranian nuclear program fully and provide credible assurances that all the activities connected with it are purely peaceful in intent. The agency’s answer would offer a basis for the next round of pragmatic negotiations with Iran.

Copyright © 2011, Los Angeles Times

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Iran Background & Review

IRAN
As presented in the New York Times (nytimes.com):

Iran has been a quasi-theocracy since the ouster of Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi in the Islamic Revolution of 1979.

The regime solidified its power in 2009, when it violently subjed the so-called Green Movement, when hundreds of thousands of demonstraors protested elections that were widely believed to have been rigged in favor of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The government quashed dissent through the shooting of demonstrators, mass trials, torture, lengthy jail sentences and even executions of some of those taking part.

Iranian protesters flash the Victory sign – Reuters image

In February 2011, the opposition movement showed brief signs of life, as 20,000 people took part in demonstrations ostensibly called to offer support for the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt. But the movement fizzled, as the government responded by beating protesters and putting the two most prominent Green leaders, Mir Hussein Moussavi and Mehdi Karroubi, under what appeared to be house arrest.

In May 2011, a struggle for power among the conservatives who run the country, and in particular between Mr. Ahmadinejad and the country’s supreme ruler, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, spilled into public view. The split started after the president tried to dismiss the head of the intelligence ministry, the powerful government branch that exerts widespread control over domestic life. Ayatollah Khamenei ordered that the minister keep the post. Mr. Ahmadinejad then stayed home for 11 days, according to reports from Iran, engaging in a visible fit of pique.

Later in the month, the president was forced to backtrack on a plan to assume the position of oil minister on a caretaker basis in time to preside over an OPEC meeting. By battering Mr. Ahmadinejad now, his conservative opponents hope to prevent his faction from dominating the parliamentary elections in 2012 and even the presidential vote in 2013.

The United States has been at odds with Iran over its suppression of the Green Movement and its support for militant groups around the region like Hamas and Hezbollah, but primarily over a nuclear program that much of the international community believes is meant to develop weapons.

In May 2011, the world’s global nuclear inspection agency, frustrated by Iran’s refusal to answer questions, revealed for the first time that it possesses evidence that Tehran has conducted work on a highly sophisticated nuclear triggering technology that experts said could be used for only one purpose: setting off a nuclear weapon.

Iran has defied repeated demands from the Security Council to stop enriching nuclear fuel. It has built new, sometimes secret, centrifuge plants needed to enrich uranium – and has enriched it at higher levels. These actions have convinced the West that Iran is pursuing a nuclear weapon, although leaders in Tehran insist their nuclear program is peaceful.

President Obama came into office vowing to engage Iran diplomatically, and in late 2009 Tehran initially accepted an offer for an interim solution under which it would ship some uranium out of the country for enrichment. But Iran quickly backed away from the deal, and stepped up its enrichment drive. In June 2010, after months of effort by American and European diplomats to convince Russia and, in particular, China, the Security Council voted to impose a fourth round of sanctions on Iran. The new measures, a modest increase over previous rounds, were aimed at the military. The United States and Europe took harsher measures on their own.

In late November 2010, a trove of diplomatic documents obtained by Wikileaks showed deep concern among Iran’s Arab neighbors over its nuclear program and revealed that American officials believe Tehran has obtained advanced missiles from North Korea that could let it strike at Western European capitals and Moscow.

In January 2011, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said that international sanctions had slowed Iran’s nuclear program, and the restrictions seem to have disrupted sectors of the economy, particularly banking and export-related industries.

But intelligence officials have pointed to significant problems within Iran’s program. Also in January, the retired leader of Israel’s intelligence agency said Iran could not develop a bomb before 2015, an assessment most American officials agreed with. The biggest single factor seems to have been a computer virus– the so-called Stuxnet worm— that is believed to have destroyed one-fifth of Iran’s nuclear centrifuges, although there were signs in the spring of 2011 that the program was regaining steam.

Background

The unrest that emerged in February 2011 dates back to the presidential election of June 2009, but more broadly is the product of a long-running struggle between the more moderate and more conservative elements of the elite of the country’s theocracy.

For eight years, from 1997 to 2005, the country’s president was Mohamed Khatami. He was regarded as a moderate interested in improving ties with the West. But in Iran’s complex system of overlapping power structures, his freedom of action was limited by the Supreme Leader, Ali Khameni, a conservative. And the president’s overtures to the United States were largely rebuffed by the Bush administration.

His years in office coincided with a stretch of low global oil prices. The 2005 presidential election took place against a backdrop of economic dissatisfaction, and Mr. Ahmadinejad was elected on a mandate to distribute the country’s growing oil income among the poor.

The son of a blacksmith, he was an unknown figure in the country’s politics who had only served as Tehran’s mayor for two years and earlier as a provincial governor for four years. But with the support of the country’s religious and military circles – who had been frustrated with the policies of Mr. Khatami, his moderate predecessor, Mr. Ahmadinejad appealed to a large rural constituency who voted for him in hope for economic change.

Mr. Ahmadinejad soon became known on the international stage as the face of Iran’s defiance over its nuclear program and hostility towards Israel. He shocked the world when he called the Holocaust a “myth’ and repeated an old slogan from the early days of the 1979 revolution, saying “Israel must be wiped off the map.”

A Disputed Election and Its Violent Aftermath

The major candidates in the 2009 presidential election were the incumbent, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and Mir Hussein Moussavi, a former prime minister.

Mr. Moussavi served as prime minister from 1980 to 1988. He is well remembered by many Iranians for managing the country during its eight-year war with Iraq, and for introducing food rationing. An architect and painter, he has not held a government post since the Constitution was amended to eliminate the position of prime minister in 1989.

In the course of the campaign, the candidates exchanged accusations that were extraordinarily strong for Iranian politics

Before the voting, supporters of Mr. Moussavi were hopeful, given the large and energetic crowds that had been turning out at his rallies. But early on the morning of  June 13, only two hours after polls had closed from the previous day’s voting, Mr. Ahmadinejad was declared the winner, with 63 percent of the vote to 35 percent for Mr. Moussavi.

Mr. Moussavi and a number of other losing candidates denounced the results and rallies were held in cities across the country. Ayatollah Khamenei initially swung between statements in support of Mr. Ahmadinejad and conciliatory gestures. But after a week of large protests and skirmishes between demonstrators and security forces, he gave an angry sermon in which he warned of violence if dissent continued.

The results were appealed to the nation’s powerful Guardian Council, which acknowledged that the number of votes cast in 50 cities exceeded the actual number of voters by three million, but insisted that the discrepancies did not violate Iranian law or affect the outcome of the election.

Opponents maintained their defiance, but protests faded away in the face of attacks and the arrest of thousands of demonstrators. A few conservatives expressed revulsion at the sight of unarmed protesters being beaten, even shot, by government forces. Only 105 out of the 290 members of Parliament took part in a victory celebration for Mr. Ahmadinejad on June 23. The absence of so many lawmakers, including the speaker, Ali Larijani, a powerful conservative, was striking. In early July, an influential clerical association based in the city of Qum, the center of the country’s spiritual life, called the new government illegitimate.

With a mass trial of more than 100 alleged dissidents under way, Mr. Ahmadinejad was formally endorsed as Iran‘s leader for a second term by Mr. Khameni. But prominent opponents stayed away from the event, and did so again when Mr. Ahmadinejad was sworn in on Aug. 6 for a second term.

A Challenge From Traditional Conservatives

After a year in which outpourings of public anger failed to effect tangible change, the dust settled in 2010 to once again reveal a more basic split within Iran’s political elite. Having successfully suppressed the opposition uprising that followed the disputed presidential election, Mr. Ahmadinejad and his supporters are renewing their efforts to marginalize another rival group – Iran‘s traditional conservatives.

The rift is partly a generational one, with Mr. Ahmadinejad leading a combative cohort of conservatives supported by Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards. On the other side is an older generation of leaders who derive their authority from their links to Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. Reformist lawmakers now represent a largely impotent minority in the Parliament.

The older conservatives, including clerics, lawmakers and leaders of the bazaar, which is the center of Iran’s ancient system of trade and commerce, have long questioned Mr. Ahmadinejad’s competence and even accused his ministers of corruption. But in 2010 they went further, accusing Mr. Ahmadinejad’s faction of distorting the principles of the Islamic Revolution and following a messianic cult that rejects the intermediary role of the clergy.

To some, those criticisms amounted to a veiled plea by the old-line conservatives to Ayatollah Khameni to rein in the president or even to remove him — a plea Mr. Khameni rebuffed, leaving Mr. Ahmadinejad more firmly in control than ever.

The End of Subsidies

Iran’s subsidies regime, introduced to ensure a fair distribution of limited goods during the Iran-Iraq war, has placed enormous strains on the country’s finances, with energy subsidies alone costing $114 billion a year. That coupled with gasoline shortages stemming from international sanctions prompted the government of Mr. Ahmadinejad to take a step that his predecessors have avoided for fear of the potentially high political costs: ending selected subsidies.

The subsidies, which had until now kept the basic price of gasoline at around 38 cents a gallon were drastically cut at midnight on Dec. 19, 2010, quadrupling the rationed fuel price overnight and pushing price at which motorists can purchase an unlimited amount of gas to a staggering, for Iranians, $2.55 a gallon. In the following weeks, subsidies were also reduced on flour, water and diesel. The regime braced for the kind of angry protests that followed the introduction of fuel rationing in 2007, but none followed.

Iran’s state-directed economy has long been plagued by corruption, inflation, inefficiencies and unemployment, which is particularly high among young people. The problems have damaged Iran’s ability to compete in world markets. Ending state controls and subsidies have long been seen as the first step in reviving a moribund economy that the C.I.A. estimates grew by an anemic 1.5 percent in 2009. Analysts say the unemployment and inflation rates are about 20 percent, nearly double the official figures of 11.8 percent and 12.2 percent respectively.

Growing Influence

The popular revolts shaking the Arab world have begun to shift the balance of power in the region, bolstering Iran’s position while weakening and unnerving its rival, Saudi Arabia. Iran has already benefited from the ouster or undermining of Arab leaders who were its strong adversaries and has begun to project its growing influence.

In February 2011, Iran sent two warships through the Suez Canal for the first time since its revolution in 1979, and Egypt’s new military leaders allowed them to pass.

The uprisings have made Iran’s standing stronger in spite of its challenges at home, with a troubled economy, high unemployment and a determined political opposition.

In early 2011, Iran demonstrated its emboldened attitude in Lebanon when its ally, Hezbollah, forced the collapse of the pro-Western government of Saad Hariri. Mr. Hariri was replaced with a prime minister backed by Hezbollah, a move that analysts say was undertaken with Iran’s support.

The turmoil in the Mideast has shredded a regional paradigm in which a trio of states aligned with the West supported engaging Israel and containing its enemies, including Hamas and Hezbollah, experts said. The pro-engagement camp of Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia is in tatters. Hosni Mubarak of Egypt has been ousted, King Abdullah of Jordan was struggling to control discontent in his kingdom and Saudi Arabia, an American ally and a Sunni nation that jousts with Shiite Iran for regional influence, has been left alone to face a rising challenge to its regional role.

see also: http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2009/06/25/world/middleeast/20090625-iranelection-timeline.html

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