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Friday, February 20, 2009

Bahrain halts gas talks with Iran over insult

MANAMA, Bahrain – Bahrain's foreign minister on Thursday blasted Iran for an Iranian official's remarks perceived as a threat to Bahraini sovereignty — a stinging rebuke a day after the tiny Gulf Arab kingdom halted talks on a key natural gas imports deal with Tehran.
Iranian officials, meanwhile, looked to soothe the rift sparked after former Iranian parliament speaker Ali Akbar Nateq Noori — a prominent cleric close to Iran's supreme leader — was quoted by Arab media last week as saying that Bahrain was the 14th province of Iran until 1970.
Bahrain's Foreign Minister Sheik Khalid bin Ahmed al-Khalifa said the remark was an "infringement of sovereignty" and a "distortion of historical fact."
"We are hurt by ... Iranian statements," he added. "These remarks must be silenced."
Bahrain fears Iran still holds its longtime claims to the island, ruled by a Sunni elite but with a poor Shiite majority that has close ties to the Shiite Iran.
Seeking to distance official Tehran from the statement, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hasan Qashqavi said this week that Iran respects Bahrain's independence and has "no territorial claims against this country," according to the Iranian ministry Web site.
Saudi Arabia was also angered over the controversial remark. Saudi official press agency, SPA, quoted on Thursday an unnamed official as saying Riyadh is following "with strong indignation ... allegations and claims to the land of brotherly kingdom of Bahrain."
The Sunni powerhouse "totally rejects such statements and expresses deep regret they were issued by circles connected to the Iranian leadership," the report said.
Iran ruled Bahrain for a period in the 17th century and some hardline Iranians still insist today it belongs to Iran. The island became an independent Arab nation after a 1970 referendum that ended the British protectorate.
Bahrain-Iranian relations were strained after the 1979 Iranian revolution but began to thaw after President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad visited in 2007, when the two signed a memorandum of understanding on the gas deal. Iran was to provide Bahrain with one million cubic feet per day of natural gas and details were expected to be finalized soon.
Khalid confirmed Thursday that negotiations have stopped, and reiterated demands for "full respect of Bahrain's sovereignty." But it wasn't clear what exactly Manama expected from Tehran to resume the talks.
Ap Associated Press

White House says world can't delay on Iran

WASHINGTON – AP - The White House says the international community must work together to urgently address Iran's uranium enrichment activities.
Press secretary Robert Gibbs said Friday that point is underscored by a United Nations report that said Tehran had amassed enough uranium to make an atom bomb.
He said the report by the U.N.'s International Atomic Energy Agency represented "another lost opportunity" for Iran as it continues to "renege" on its international obligations.
Gibbs called Iran an "urgent problem that has to be addressed" without delay.
He said the international community won't have confidence that Iran's program is peaceful if it doesn't comply with the U.N.
White House: US, allies 'can't delay' addressing Iran worries
WASHINGTON (AFP) – The United States and its partners "can't delay" addressing worries over Iran's suspect nuclear program, the White House said Friday after a new UN report on Tehran's atomic work.
"This White House understands that -- working with our allies -- that this is an urgent problem that has to be addressed and we can't delay addressing," spokesman Robert Gibbs told reporters.
The comments came a day after International Atomic Energy Agency said Iran was continuing to enrich uranium, a key stage in the atom bomb making process, but had slowed down the expansion of its enrichment activities.
The report from the UN nuclear watchdog conceded that, despite six years of intensive investigation, it was no closer to determining whether Iran's disputed nuclear drive is as peaceful as Tehran claims.
"The report represents another lost opportunity for Iran as it continues to renege on its international obligations. Absent compliance, the international community cannot have confidence that this program is exclusively of a peaceful nature," said Gibbs.
"It does underscore the urgency with which the international community must work together to address these enrichment activities," said the spokesman.

Qatar regrets Iranians' remarks against Bahrain

Qatar on Thursday expressed a regret to some Iranian officials' "infringement" against Bahrain's sovereignty and independence, reported the Qatar News Agency.
"Such negative statements constitute an infringement on the sovereignty" of a member state of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), an official source at the Qatari Foreign Ministry was quoted as saying.
A number of Iranian officials have reportedly claimed that Bahrain was an integral part of the Islamic Republic of Iran and questioned its Arabic identity.
Voicing a regret from the Qatari side, the Foreign Ministry source said that the Iranians' remarks hampered effort made by GCC states and their sincere interest in building relations of friendship and cooperation between them and Iran.
The GCC-Iranian ties has been marked by amity, mutual respect, good neighborliness and non-intervention in states' internal affairs to strengthen relations of cooperation and to serve the region's peoples, said the source.
Iranian officials' sovereignty claims have also drawn criticism from Kuwait and Arab organizations.
In its weekly meeting, the Kuwaiti cabinet on Monday expressed its dismay over the "negative" remarks, saying it would "hinder efforts exerted by the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and its sincere desire to build a relationship of friendship and cooperation with Iran."
However, Iran's Foreign Ministry has appeared to clarify its official stance as its spokesman Hassan Qashqavi said Thursday that "we have repeatedly said that we respect sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of all neighboring countries and we have no claim on Bahrain."
Bahrain was a British protectorate after 1861, and became independent in 1971. In its ancient history, the Gulf country has brought rule and influence from many foreign nations due to its strategic location.

NKorea could be ready to test fire missile in days: analysts

LONDON – North Korea could be ready to test fire an intermediate range ballistic missile by the end of the month, respected defence analysis group Jane's said Friday.
According to experts at Jane's Defence Weekly, satellite imagery taken on Wednesday indicated that Pyongyang was preparing to either launch a prototype Taepodong 2 missile, or a Paektusan 2 space launch vehicle.
"There has been a significant increase in launch preparation activity at the Musudan-ni Launch Facility," Joseph Bermudez, an analyst at the magazine, said.
Bermudez said satellite imagery and reports indicated that the activities included activation or installation of telemetry equipment and radars, the arrival of numerous trucks and support vehicles, a rise in activity at the engine test stand, and launch pad and umbilical tower maintenance.
The magazine also said that support facilities for the engine test stand were being expanded.
South Korean Defence Minister Lee Hang-See said earlier Friday that Seoul would target North Korean launch sites if its ships came under missile attack in the Yellow Sea.
Tensions have risen since the communist North cancelled all peace accords with the South, including one recognising the Yellow Sea border as an interim frontier.
The area saw deadly naval clashes in 1999 and 2002.
The North's military announced Thursday it is "fully ready" for war with South Korea.
Pyongyang is angry at South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak, who rolled back his predecessors' policy of largely unconditional aid and engagement with the North.
He has linked major economic aid to the North's progress on denuclearisation.

Iran offered to end attacks on British troops in Iraq, claims diplomat

Iran offered to curb attacks on British troops in Iraq in exchange for British acceptance of its nuclear programme, a top British diplomat has said.
The claim is made by Sir John Sawers, now Britain's ambassador to the UN, in a BBC documentary to air tomorrow night. Iran and the West: Nuclear confrontation charts the diplomatic efforts to persuade Iran to stop enriching uranium since its secret enrichment plant in Natanz was exposed in 2002.
"There were various Iranians who would come to London and suggest we had tea in some hotel or other. They'd do the same in Paris, they'd do the same in Berlin, and then we'd compare notes among the three of us," Sawers, who was political director at the foreign office at the time, told the BBC.
At the time US and British officials suspected Iran of supplying Shia militants in Iraq with sophisticated roadside bombs and other weapons which were used against coalition troops.
Sawers said: "The Iranians wanted to be able to strike a deal whereby they stopped killing our forces in Iraq in return for them being allowed to carry on with their nuclear programme: 'We stop killing you in Iraq, stop undermining the political process there, you allow us to carry on with our nuclear programme without let or hindrance.' "
Britain dismissed the deal. Britain, together with the US, France, Germany, Russia and China, have offered economic incentives and support for Iran's nuclear energy plans in return for a suspension of uranium enrichment. The UN security council has also demanded suspension, and has imposed sanctions for Iran's failure to comply. Iran insists its nuclear programme is for peaceful energy generation.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reported yesterday that Iran was continuing to expand its nuclear plant, although at a slower rate than last year, and had already amassed more than a tonne of low enriched uranium.
That is technically enough for a single nuclear weapon, but UN officials caution that Iran faces many more technical hurdles before it is capable of making a bomb.
The BBC documentary charts some of the missed diplomatic opportunities for defusing tensions between Iran and the west, particularly while Mohamed Khatami was president, from 1997 to 2005. For example, it details how much help Iran offered to the US in ousting the Taliban and al-Qaida in Afghanistan after the September 11 attacks.
Hillary Mann, a former US state department official recalled how an Iranian military official tried to guide the US at a meeting in New York in late 2001.
"He unfurled the map on the table and started to point to targets that the US needed to focus on, particularly in the north," said Mann. "We took the map to Centcom, the US Central Command, and certainly that did become the US military strategy."


Thursday, February 19, 2009

Baloch Resistance Fighters

12 Implementation of a language policy for the world based on multilingualism1

The General Conference,
Recognizing the need to improve understanding and communication among peoples,
Also recognizing the great importance of safeguarding the linguistic and cultural heritage of humanity and extending the influence of each of the cultures and languages of which that heritage is composed,
Considering the current threat to linguistic diversity posed by the globalization of communication and the tendency to use a single language, at the risk of marginalizing the other major languages of the world, or even of causing the lesser-used languages, including regional languages, to disappear,
Also considering that educating young people throughout the world involves sensitizing them to dialogue between cultures, which engenders tolerance and mutual respect,
Further considering that substantial progress has been made in the last few decades by the language sciences, but that insufficient attention has been paid to the extraordinary ability of children to reproduce sounds at key periods of their development,
Noting that the ability of children to acquire phonetic and grammatical skills has been scientifically corroborated,
Considering that these skills enable young children to acquire competence at an early age in real communication, both passive and active, in at least two languages, whichever they may be,
Aware that democratic access to knowledge depends on a command of several languages and that provision of such access for all is a duty at a time when private language training, which is both expensive and elitist, is spreading in many countries,
Mindful of the resolutions adopted in support of bilingual education at its 18th and 19th sessions (1974 and 1976),
Taking into account the establishment by the Executive Board in October 1998 of the Advisory Committee for Linguistic Pluralism and Multilingual Education and the creation of the Languages Division in the Education Sector by the Director-General in 1998,
Recommends that Member States:
(a) create the conditions for a social, intellectual and media environment of an international character which is conducive to linguistic pluralism;
(b) promote, through multilingual education, democratic access to knowledge for all citizens, whatever their mother tongue, and build linguistic pluralism; strategies to achieve these goals could include:
the early acquisition (in kindergartens and nursery schools) of a second language in addition to the mother tongue, offering alternatives;
further education in this second language at primary-school level based on its use as a medium of instruction, thus using two languages for the acquisition of knowledge throughout the school course up to university level;
intensive and transdisciplinary learning of at least a third modern language in secondary school, so that when pupils leave school they have a working knowledge of three languages - which should represent the normal range of practical linguistic skills in the twenty-first century;
an assessment of secondary-school leaving certificates with a view to promoting a grasp of modern languages from the point of view of communication and understanding;
international exchanges of primary- and secondary-school teachers, offering them a legal framework for teaching their subjects in schools in other countries, using their own languages and thus enabling their pupils to acquire both knowledge and linguistic skills;
due attention in education, vocational training and industry to the potential represented by regional languages, minority languages, where they exist, and migrants’ languages of origin;
availability to teachers and education authorities of a computerized network, including a database, to facilitate exchanges of information and experience;
the establishment of a national and/or regional committee to study and make proposals on linguistic pluralism in order to initiate the necessary dialogue between the representatives of all professions and all disciplines so that they can identify the main lines of a language education system which is adapted to each country but which also facilitates international communication, while preserving the rich and inalienable linguistic and cultural heritage of humanity;
(c) encourage the study of the languages of the major ancient and modern civilizations, with a view to safeguarding and promoting a literary education;
Invites the Director-General to refer the matter to the Advisory Committee for Linguistic Pluralism and Multilingual Education.

37 Draft recommendation on the promotion and use of multilingualism and universal access to cyberspace 1
The General Conference,
Having examined the report submitted by the Director-General, in accordance with 29 C/Resolution 36, on the implementation of activities on the ethical, legal and societal aspects of cyberspace,
Taking note of the results of activities carried out by the Organization on the promotion and use of multilingualism and universal access to cyberspace, as reported in document 30 C/31,
Also taking note of the establishment by the Director-General of the Advisory Committee for Linguistic Pluralism and Multilingual Education, in accordance with 29 C/Resolution 38 (para. 2.B(b)),
Recognizing the importance of multilingualism for the promotion of universal access to information, particularly to information in the public domain,
Recognizing also the importance of multilingualism for the promotion of multiculturality on global information networks,
Reiterates its conviction that UNESCO should play a leading international role in promoting access to information in the public domain, especially by encouraging multilingualism and cultural diversity on global information networks;
Invites Member States, non-governmental organizations, the world intellectual community and the scientific institutions concerned to support and participate actively in the development of multilingualism and cultural diversity on the global information networks by facilitating free and universal access to information in the public domain;
Invites Member States to approve, in this light, the proposed new strategy "Initiative B@bel" outlined in paragraph 14 of document 30 C/31;
Invites the Director-General, after consultation with the Advisory Committee for Linguistic Pluralism and Multilingual Education, to submit for approval to the 159th session of the Executive Board a list of the first projects to be undertaken in this framework;
Also invites the Director-General to undertake the following concrete actions to promote multilingualism and cultural diversity on global information networks:
(a) to strengthen activities to make cultural heritage in the public domain which is preserved in museums, libraries and archives freely accessible on the global information networks;
(b) to support the formulation of national and international policies and principles encouraging all Member States to promote the development and use of translation tools and terminology for better interoperability;
(c) to encourage the provision of resources for linguistic pluralism through global networks, in particular by reinforcing the UNESCO international observatory on the information society;
(d) to pursue further consultations with Member States and competent international governmental and non-governmental organizations for closer cooperation on language rights, respect for linguistic diversity and the expansion of multilingual electronic resources on the global information networks;
6. Further invites the Director-General to submit to it at its 31st session a report on the implementation of the actions outlined above and a draft recommendation on the promotion and use of multilingualism and universal access to cyberspace.

International Mother Language Day

Message from H.E. Mr. Jan Kavan, President of the Fifty-seventh Session of the United Nations General Assembly

International Mother Language Day
In order to preserve the cultural heritage of humanity, in November 1999, the General Conference of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) proclaimed the 21st day of February of every year as International Mother Language Day. In a world of globalization, where a few languages take priority, the United Nations and UNESCO sought to protect and promote linguistic diversity and multilingual education.
In recognition of the tremendous creativity involved in formulating a language, given that there are some 6,700 languages spoken amongst our planet's population, mother language was acknowledged as an important and precious element of the cultural heritage and identity of a community. The date 21 February was chosen in homage to 3 "language martyrs" from Bangladesh who were shot on 21/22 February 1952, during public demonstrations to promote their mother language, Bangla, as a national language along with Urdu, in the then newly created Pakistan. The origin of this day is attributed to an organization known as "Mother Language lovers of the World" in Canada who proposed this idea to the United Nations and UNESCO and were told by UNESCO that this request should be presented through a member state. The Government of Bangladesh obliged.
On this day it would also be appropriate to pay homage to the memory of Professor Stephen Wurm, an Australian of Hungarian origin, who spoke some 50 languages himself, and who compiled the "Atlas of the World's Languages in Danger of Disappearing." In this work he has described the 3000 mother languages that are endangered and the processes leading to their gradual extinction. Examples of successful initiatives to save some of them are also provided in this atlas. One such example is the mother language Cornish in England that is said to have become extinct in 1777. Recent efforts to revive it have been successful and now over 1000 persons speak the language.
As a tool of communication, the mother language has a powerful role in the formation of the individual, and is " the most powerful instrument of preserving and developing our tangible and intangible heritage." In recognition of this phenomenon, in November 2001, UNESCO followed up the proclamation of the International Mother Language Day, by promulgating the Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity. Protection of traditional knowledge of indigenous peoples and combating illicit traffic in cultural goods and services are some of the several aims of this Declaration. Member States are encouraged to foster multilingual education. Switzerland, Norway, The Netherlands and India are some examples of countries where the populations are encouraged to be multilingual.
The Internet is a powerful tool to facilitate universal access to cultural information, currently only available in libraries and museums, to enhance knowledge and respect for cultures other than one's own. Similarly Member States may adopt policies in support of translation tools and multilingual electronic resources as positive initiatives in defense of cultural diversity.
I hope that the International Mother Language Day will inspire peoples of the world towards mutual respectful tolerance of our rich cultural traditions of which mother language is one of the most precious.

Iranian builders win contracts in city that Shias helped to wreck

Iran has won a $1.5 billion (£1 billion) contract to build 5,000 houses and three hotels in Basra, the Iraqi city where British forces have been fighting Shia extremists believed to be armed by Tehran.
An Iranian company has succeeded with its bid for the project because British and American companies, wary of security conditions, were slow to make offers, the head of investment in Iraq’s biggest port toldThe Times. “The Iranians are going for all the contracts,” one British official said in Basra.
The irony is not lost on British diplomats in Basra involved in trying to help Iraq to redevelop its economy and infrastructure.
The Shia extremists who turned Basra into a violent and unstable city two years ago, causing a high number of British military casualties, are now believed to be in Iran.
This week soldiers of The Queen’s Royal Hussars, attired in their regimental berets, proved how security has changed for the better in Basra as they went on foot patrol with colleagues from the Iraqi Army’s 51 Brigade, part of the 14th Division which controls the city. Their route took them past areas of considerable deprivation in northern Basra but there were pockets where, incongruously, expensive-looking villas were under construction.
Lieutenant-Colonel Chris Coles, commanding officer of The Queen’s Royal Hussars, said that the security environment had changed so much that life for his soldiers at the tiny base called Thar Allah in the heart of the community in the northern Basra district was quieter than he had envisaged when his regiment arrived last year.
Despite the relatively peaceful conditions, Hayder Ali, the head of the Basra Investment Commission, said companies in Britain seemed unaware that security was no longer an issue. “Basra is open for business but UK companies say they need more time, although now is the moment to invest,” Dr Ali said.
The caution of British companies was confirmed by Nigel Hayward, the British Consul-General, who said: “Companies that are less risk-averse will do well here, but British companies are pretty cautious.”
Iran has traditionally had strong trading links with its neighbour but Nouri al-Maliki, the Iraqi Prime Minister, indicated during a visit to Baghdad by President Sarkozy of France last week that Iraq’s principal allies in the six-year counter-insurgency would be first choice for reconstruction contracts.
It was a reminder to France and other countries, such as Germany, which opposed the USled invasion in 2003, that their new-found enthusiasm for investing in Iraq now that the country is stabilising will not put them first in the queue.
Iraq is currently awash with visits from foreign and finance ministers from Europe and elsewhere, eager to jump on the investment band-wagon. Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the German Foreign Minister, was in Baghdad this week. “Germany wants to assist Iraq in reconsruction,” he said.
Iran has been investing heavily in different parts of Iraq for some time. Iranians are financing many construction projects in the holy shrine city of Najaf, in southern Iraq, and have leapt in to benefit from the newly built airport.
The announcement of the “new town” for Basra represents Tehran’s biggest construction contract in the country since 2003. But Iranian companies are already dominating Iraq’s building projects. The wealthier Iraqis in Basra and the Kurdish north apparently like the luxurious Iranian designs.
Dr Ali said that Karam, the Iranian company that has won the development contract, had proposed three possible locations for the huge complex, one in the centre of Basra and the other two on the outskirts. Apart from the houses and hotels, the plan also includes schools, a supermarket, 2,000 shops, parks and health facilities.
“The UK is open to bid for these contracts, and we have a good relationship with the British here in Basra, so why are companies not investing in the city?” Dr Ali asked.
The successful bid by the Iranians followed the visit to Baghdad last week of Manouchehr Mottaki, the Iranian Foreign Minister.
British construction companies may not be moving in smartly for Basra reconstruction contracts, but Shell is negotiating for a $3-4 billion contract to trap the flared gas from the oilfields that currently goes to waste, and converting it into energy. There is enough gas burning into the air to power a large city. Japan has also offered a $1.5 billion soft loan to help with rehabilitating Iraq’s oil infrastructure.
Rising numbers
50% Rise in house prices in central Baghdad in the past year
500,000 Refugees expected to return
39m People living in the country by 2015, Government estimates
1.9m Extra housing units needed to satisfy growth

Iran slows atom plant growth but fuel stockpile rises

By Mark Heinrich
VIENNA (Reuters) - Iran has slowed the expansion of its uranium enrichment plant but has built up a stockpile of nuclear fuel, an International Atomic Energy Agency report said on Thursday.
The U.N. watchdog said Iran had increased the number of centrifuges refining uranium, a process that can produce fuel for civilian energy or atom bombs, by only 136 from 3,800 in November.
"We see the pace of installing and bringing centrifuges into operation has slowed quite considerably since August," a senior U.N. official said.
But Iran's reported stockpile of low-enriched uranium had risen to 1,010 kg from 630 kg in November and 480 kg in August. The heightened output rate suggested existing centrifuges were operating at higher capacity and more glitch-free than before.
The United States urged Iran to give up its enrichment activities and said Tehran's refusal to respond constructively to IAEA requests over its program was "deeply troubling."
"We view this report as another opportunity lost to resolve international concerns," U.S. State Department spokesman Gordon Duguid told reporters in Washington.
"Absent Iranian compliance with its international nuclear obligations and transparency with the IAEA, the international community cannot have confidence in the exclusively peaceful nature of Iran's nuclear program," he said.
Iran says it is producing nuclear fuel only for civil nuclear energy. Western powers, frustrated by restrictions on IAEA inspections, suspect otherwise.
Western non-proliferation analysts estimate from 1,000 to 1,700 kg would be needed as a basis for conversion into high-enriched uranium to make one bomb and Tehran could reach that threshold within a few months.
But it would take Iran another two to five years before it was capable of producing nuclear weapons, IAEA director Mohamed ElBaradei said this week.
The report said Iran was still boycotting IAEA inspectors looking into Western allegations of past covert atom bomb research.
As long as Iran continued to withhold access to documentation, Iranian officials and sites, the IAEA would be unable to verify whether Iranian nuclear activity was peaceful or not, it said.
Tehran says the mainly U.S. intelligence was forged.
Progress in the IAEA inquiry, which Iran regards as driven by U.S. pressure, looks unlikely before Iran sees what U.S. President Barack Obama has to offer under his offer of direct talks with adversaries. Continued...

Iran has enriched enough uranium to make bomb, IAEA says

UN nuclear watchdog's report says Iran appeared to have slowed
the rate at which enrichment capacity is expanding
The UN's nuclear watchdog reported today that Iran had managed to enrich a metric tonne of low enriched uranium (LEU), which UN officials say is technically enough to build a nuclear weapon.
UN officials cautioned that there remained many practical obstacles to the production of a bomb, and pointed out that the uranium was under close surveillance, and the report issued by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said Iran appeared to have slowed down the rate at which its uranium enrichment capacity is expanding. But the report is likely to raise further the already high tensions surrounding the Iranian nuclear programme.
One respected US analyst said that the tonne milestone meant that Iran had reached "breakout capacity" - the theoretical ability to produce the 20-25 kg highly enriched uranium needed for one functioning warhead. Others were more cautious but said there was plenty more in the report to raise the level of international concern.
The IAEA said that Iran had put a roof over a "heavy-water" nuclear reactor being built near the town of Arak, capable and was preventing agency inspectors from carrying out ground inspections, meaning that they no longer had any way of seeing what was being done at the facility, which could potentially produce plutonium.
Iran is also refusing to tell the IAEA where it is manufacturing the centrifuges used to enrich uranium, so the agency cannot confirm how many are being produced and where they are being installed.
In a separate report released at the same time, the IAEA said traces of uranium taken from the site of an alleged nuclear reactor in Syria were manmade and rejected the Syrian government's claim that the uranium had come from Israeli missiles used to destroy the site in 2007.
The report on the Dair Alzour site puts enormous pressure on Damascus as it rejects the Syrian explanation for the presence of uranium and denounces the government for its lack of cooperation with the agency's inquiry.
Together, the reports on Iran and Syria add greater urgency to international efforts to curb nuclear proliferation, and in particular, bring closer the possibility of a military confrontation between Iran and Israel, which has declared it will not tolerate Iran reaching nuclear weapons capability.
The IAEA report on Iran surprised many proliferation experts because, it recorded a dramatic jump in Iranian stockpiles of LEU at the enrichment plant at Natanz. In its last report in November, the IAEA estimated that Iran had produced 635 kg of LEU, based partly on Iranian government figures.
The agency now estimates that Iran had produced 839 kg of LEU by November, and that Iran had reported producing a further 171 kg in the following two months - a total of 1010 kg. The Iranian LEU has less than a 4% concentration of the fissile isotope Uranium 235. To make weapons grade HEU, with a concentration of 80-90%, it has to be further enriched, by being passed through massed 'cascades' of centrifuges.
"Do they have enough LEU to produce a 'significant quantity' of HEU [enough for a bomb]? Yes, if you count the U235 atoms then they do have a significant quantity of HEU," a senior official close to the IAEA said. "But it is theoretical and they would need to use their full capacity to do so. They are not there yet. If they were to build another clandestine facility, then that would be different."
The official added that: "The nuclear material has been under containment and surveillance at all times."
UN officials also stressed that the number of centrifuges at Natanz actually being used to enrich uranium had increased relatively little since the last report in November, from 3,800 to nearly 4,000. But it also found a roughly 1,500 additional centrifuges had been installed and were "under vacuum", a preparatory step before enrichment can start.
David Albright, a veteran UN weapons inspector, who now heads the independent Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) in Washington, gave a blunter assessment.
"They have reached a nuclear weapons breakout capability. You can dance about it, but they would have enough to make 20-25 kg of weapons-grade HEU," Albright said. "If they break out they will do it at a clandestine facility, not at Natanz, so you can't use Natanz as a measure of how fast they could do it. The Iranians have stopped telling the IAEA about the production of centrifuges … so the agency doesn't know how many they are making."
Another western analyst, speaking on condition of anonymity, argued that due to the wastage involved in making a first nuclear device, Iran would need a few more hundred kilograms of LEU to reach breakout capacity, but added that the country appeared "well on its way" to that milestone.
Daryl Kimball, the head of the Arms Control Association in Washington argued that Iran's LEU stockpile was not the most worrying aspect of the new IAEA report.
"The report shows that Iran is slowly amassing an LEU stockpile but that stockpile we must remember is safeguarded. Iran can't divert that quantity without being very obvious," Kimball said.
"What should be of concern is that the IAEA is becoming less able to provide an accurate picture of what is going on. We don't know where centrifuges are being manufactured and whether they are being delivered to Natanz or somewhere else. And we cannot remotely see what is happening at [a] heavy water facility under construction at Arak, and whether that is being used for peaceful purposes."

Monday, February 16, 2009

Seven friends face revolutionary court

Baha'is' rights have often been violated in Iran; now, as pressure mounts on the government, activists' lives are being threatened
Fariba is a 46-year-old psychologist and a mother of three. She graduated from high school with honours but was barred from attending university because of her religious beliefs. Her youngest daughter is 14. I know her through her son, who studied for postgraduate qualification in the UK. Mahvash, 55, was a school principal before she was dismissed from public education. Vahid, 37, is an optician. He has a nine-year-old son. I am a parent too. Parents need to be with their children, not separated from them on the basis of prejudice and hatred.
Fariba, Mahvash and Vahid, in the face of tremendous challenges, have devoted their lives to serving the people of their country. Along with four other ordinary, decent citizens of Iran, they made up the membership of an informal committee attending to the needs of the 300,000-strong Baha'i community, the country's largest non-Muslim religious minority, after its formal administrative institutions were disbanded in 1983. The authorities were fully aware of their activities and had informal dealings with them. One could even say that their demands on the community necessitated the existence of this informal Baha'i representation.
The "seven friends in Iran", as they were known, were arrested in dawn raids last spring. Since that time, they have been detained without charge in Tehran's notorious Evin prison. No evidence against them has been brought to light, and they have been denied access to their legal counsel, the Nobel peace prize laureate Shirin Ebadi, who has been threatened, intimidated, and vilified in the news media since taking on their case.
Along with four of their colleagues, their lives may now be in danger. This week, it has been reported, will see a case against them sent to the revolutionary court in Tehran. They are accused of "espionage for Israel, insulting religious sanctities and propaganda against the Islamic Republic".
Such spurious allegations against the Baha'is are not new – but they are extremely serious. Even during the years prior to 1979 under the Shah, history has sadly shown that when Iran feels threatened, it inflames deep-rooted prejudice against Baha'is and other religious minorities to mobilise mass support. The Iranian government is well aware that, as articles of faith, Baha'is honour Islam as a divine religion, are obedient to the laws of the land and do not engage in political activity. The presence of their world headquarters in modern-day Israel is an historical consequence of the Persian and Ottoman authorities themselves banishing the faith's founder to the penal colony of Acre, 80 years before the state of Israel was formed.
Sixty years after the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, this case alone belies a contemptuous, continuing abuse by a sovereign government against one of its minorities. While such targeted violations are taking place within the context of pressures over all civil society organisations in Iran – including students, journalists, women's rights activists, lawyers groups, health practitioners, trade unions, and even the British Council last week – those against the Baha'is give rise to particular concern because of the systematic pattern of violations that are so regularly been resuscitated against them.
Non-discrimination on the basis of religion is fundamental to human rights. Freedom of religion or belief was recognised in international law long before the declaration, in 1948. It was subsequently captured in article 18 of that document, and expounded in article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which the Islamic Republic of Iran has ratified. Non-discrimination is also upheld in tens of other international and regional standards, and indeed in Islamic law and custom as well. Freedom of religion or belief upholds the right of all, including the Baha'is in Iran, to have and to manifest the religion of their choice in worship, observance, practice and teaching. According to the 1981 UN declaration on the elimination of all forms of intolerance and discrimination based on religion or belief, this implies the possibility of observing Baha'i holy days, the full operation of community life, teaching and education of the Baha'i faith in Iran and the free choice of all to join or leave its membership, the communication of Baha'is with their co-religionists inside and outside Iran and their establishment of community and charitable institutions. More pertinent to this present case, the freedom to train, appoint, elect or designate leaders is recognised, with the objective of facilitating for religious groups the conduct of their affairs. Yet further rights accrue due to the fact that Baha'is constitute a minority community, and in order to facilitate their continuity, development and full participation in society.
All of this could, sadly, not be more distant from the daily reality of the lives of Iranian Baha'is. As a UN expert committee once noted, even the dead in Iran cannot rest in peace. Baha'i cemetery desecrations don't just go unheeded, they take place under government supervision. Over 200 articles in the Kayhan over the past two years have attacked every aspect of the faith's history, personalities, beliefs and community life. Such messages are reinforced on television, in mass marches and in Friday sermons. Under government tutelage, the media serves to endanger their already highly curtailed existence.
The Baha'is have found a degree of solace and relief from the growing number of expressions of solidarity they receive from Iranians in the diaspora and even within Iran, the vast majority of whom are Muslim. Recently, a group of Iranian intellectuals, promoters of justice and champions of freedom, published an open letter (pdf) in which they stated that, as Iranians, they were ashamed of the oppression perpetrated against Baha'is in their homeland.
Within Iran itself, where defiance of the ideology of the government risks dire consequences, there are increasing incidents of Iranian Muslims challenging the mistreatment of their Baha'i compatriots. Students and schoolchildren have protested at the expulsion of Baha'is from several educational institutions, part of a government-sanctioned policy to deny Baha'is access to education purely on grounds of their beliefs. Even senior figures in the Shia religious establishment, notably Grand Ayatollah Montazeri, have stated publicly that Baha'is should have the rights of citizens and to live in Iran.
Meanwhile, seven innocent people are among the many awaiting judgment in Iran on their fate. Far from being a threat to state security, the Baha'is of Iran are deeply committed to the peaceful and prosperous development of their country. The facts demonstrate that they are persecuted purely for their religious beliefs. Time and again, they have been offered their freedom – and in some cases, their lives – if they recant their faith and convert to Islam. For more than a century, Baha'is have preferred to face the most extreme punishment rather than deny the very principles that guide their lives. They should not, however, be required to make that choice.

Iran: Four Journalists Sentenced to Prison, Floggings

(New York) - The sentencing of four Tehran bloggers by Iran's Judiciary Court on February 3, 2009, to prison terms, fines and flogging, despite the head of the judiciary's admission that they had been coerced into confessing, violates their right to a fair trial, Human Rights Watch and the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran said today. The four said shortly after their arrest in 2004 that they had been tortured during interrogation, but there has been no public investigation into these allegations despite a high-level promise to do so.
Authorities arrested Omid Memarian, Roozbeh Mirebrahimi, Shahram Rafizadeh, and Javad Gholamtamimi in September and October 2004, and detained them without charge. The four said that they were subjected in detention to physical and psychological abuse, as well as prolonged periods of solitary confinement in a secret detention center without access to counsel or family. Three of the men subsequently described the abuse at a meeting with Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi, the head of the judiciary. On April 20, 2005, a judiciary spokesman said that an official investigation confirmed that their confessions had been coerced. "The interrogators and prosecutors committed a series of negligent and careless acts in this case that led to the abuse of the detainees' words and writings in producing confession letters," the spokesman said.
"These sentences are shocking, given that the head of the judiciary himself admitted the evidence had been obtained by coercion" said Joe Stork, deputy director of the Middle East division at Human Rights Watch. "The judges should be investigating and prosecuting abusers, not their victims."
Human Rights Watch and the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran called on the Tehran Appeals Court to overturn the sentences, and on the government to investigate the torture claims.
The four journalists were released on bail in late 2004. Memarian, Mirebrahimi, and Rafizadeh subsequently left Iran and are living abroad. Gholamtamimi resides in Iran.
Judiciary authorities informed lawyers for the four on February 4 that Branch 1059 of Tehran's Judiciary Court sentenced them each to prison terms of up to three years and three months, and to be flogged. Memarian was also fined 500,000 tomans (US$520). The known charges against them include "participating in the establishment of illegal organizations," "membership in illegal organizations," "propaganda against the state," "disseminating lies," and "disturbing public order." Gholamtamimi was also charged with treason.
The lawyers for the four include the Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Shirin Ebadi, who told Human Rights Watch and the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran that they would "definitely appeal" the sentences.
Memarian, Mirebrahimi, and Rafizadeh met with Ayatollah Shahroudi on January 10, 2005, and described physical and psychological torture at the hands of a specific interrogator, whom they said identified himself as "Keshavarz" (farmer). They said the magistrate in charge was known as "Mehdipour." The apparent purpose of the abuse was to extract confessions that implicate reformist politicians and civil society activists in activities such as spying and violating national security laws (http://www.hrw.org/en/news/2004/12/19/iran-judiciary-uses-coercion-cover-torture ). According to the three men, both the interrogator and the magistrate repeatedly delivered messages and threats to the detainees on behalf of the chief prosecutor of Tehran. Shahroudi's spokesman announced on January 12, 2005 that, "Shahroudi has issued a special order to investigate and probe these [detentions]. If any of the detainees' allegations, at any level, are true then we will prosecute the violators." To date, the government has not made the full findings of any investigation public, nor has it announced any penalties or prosecution for the abuse.
"Either the Iranian judges are not listening to Ayatollah Shahroudi, or he has reneged on his promise to investigate the torturers and not the bloggers," said Hadi Ghaemi, coordinator of the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran. "These brave journalists stood up for their rights. It's high time the Iranian judiciary stood up for justice."
Human Rights Watch and the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran have documented extensive patterns of forced confessions, arbitrary detentions, and prison torture against opposition political activists, journalists, and anyone perceived as a critic. (http://www.hrw.org/en/reports/2008/01/06/you-can-detain-anyone-anything-0 )
Human Rights Watch

Sunday, February 15, 2009

5 die in central Iran plane crash

Five people have been killed when a plane on a training flight crashed near an airport in Iran's central province of Isfahan.
According to a report by Fars News Agency, an instructor pilot and four other pilots-in-training were among the dead.
Further inquiry has been launched into the accident; however, the cause of the crash remains unknown.
The report provided no further details on the fatal incident.
Iran Press News

Iran Official To Us: Chess Better Game Than Boxing

TEHRAN, Iran: When it comes to dealing with Iran, the country's parliamentary speaker said the United States would be better served taking up chess than continuing to box, the country's official news agency reported Saturday.
His comments come at a time when the new administration of President Barack Obama has signaled a new willingness to engage Iran, whose relations with the previous administration were long strained. Obama last week pledged to rethink Washington's relationship with Tehran.
"The United States needs to play on a chess set (with Iran) instead of playing in a boxing ring," IRNA quoted Ali Larijani as telling a group of visiting reporters in Tehran Saturday.
And at his inauguration last month, Obama said his administration would reach out to rival states, saying "we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist."
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has responded by saying Iran would welcome talks with the United States — but only if there was mutual respect.
Iranian officials have said that would mean that the United States needs to stop making "baseless" accusations against the Islamic Republic in order to pave the way for talks between the two longtime adversaries. The U.S. accuses Iran of supporting terrorism and secretly seeking to build nuclear weapons — charges Iran denies.
Larijani, a conservative close to Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said actions by the United States were creating obstacles in the way of any rapprochment. Specifically, he said the U.S. has supported Iranian terrorist groups, disrespected Iran's rights and has repeatedly charged that Iran is seeking an atomic bomb.
Iran has accused the United States of secretly supporting the People's Mujahedeen, an organization dedicated to the overthrow of the Iranian government. The U.S. denies this and also considers the organization a terrorist group.
Larijani the problems between the two countries couldn't just be resolved "through words. There is a need for action. The U.S. needs to change the way it behaves toward the Iranian nation."
Iranian officials have long argued that no talks will succeed unless Washington deals with Iran as an equal party and not seeking to impose its will on the Persian nation.
Meanwhile, Gen. David Petraeus said Saturday at a forum in Doha, Qatar that the U.S. is looking for signs that Iran is willing to cooperate, but he warned Iran should stop backing extremist groups that contribute to ongoing violence in Iraq, adding that the U.S. is watching Tehran "very, very closely."
The U.S. commander of the region that includes both countries was firm when asked at a U.S.-Islamic world forum what concrete steps Iran could take to improve relations. Foremost on his list was that there be an end to the "training, equipping, funding of extremist elements" in the region, particularly in Iraq.
"One of the elements fueling that violence was indeed the assistance provided by Iran," he continued. "There is absolutely no question about this, and there is also no question that some of this does continue to this day."
Iran has denied supporting extremist groups in Iraq.
The United States and Iran severed relations after the 1979 Iranian Revolution and the takeover of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran by hard-line Iranian students.
Relations deteriorated even further after the Sept. 11 attacks when former President George W. Bush declared Iran belonged to an "axis of evil," along with Iraq and North Korea. Ahmadinejad widened that gap after he was elected in 2005 and defied the U.S. and its allies by pursuing Iran's controversial nuclear program.
Ap The Associated Press

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Iran: hungry for freedom

TEHRAN: The young Revolutionary Guardsman in his light tan uniform was all smiles. "I had longed to see a real American," he said, extending a hand.
We were standing near the shrine to Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the inspiration of the Islamic Revolution whose defense is the mission of the powerful Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps.
"And, what do you think?"
"On the surface, great," Mohammad Piri, 21, said. "But your government has done things that make me pessimistic."
Thirty years of noncommunication create a lot of mistrust. The mistaken U.S. shooting down in 1988 of an Iran Air Airbus with 290 people aboard is often cited. Conspiracy theories abound. That the radical Sunni Taliban was an American creation designed to discomfort Shiite Iran is a near universal conviction.Another Guardsman, Jaafar Dehghani, 22, stepped forward. "We can defend our soil with an M-1 rifle," he said. "We have God on our side." He pointed to the hundreds of thousands of graves of young soldiers killed defending Khomeini's Islamic Republic in the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war. "If I'd been alive then, I'd be lying here."
Iran, on the 30th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution, is full of defiance and suspicion of President Obama's motives in reaching out to Tehran. But it is equally full of longing. Most people are under 30 and, like these soldiers, they thirst for contact with the outside world and, above all, an America that looms with all the power of myth.
The Great Satan is great also in its power to exert fascination. "Death to America" has become background noise, as interesting as piped elevator music.
The revolution freed Iranians from the brutality of the Shah's secret police, Savak, and delivered a home-grown society modeled on the tenets of Islam in place of one pliant to America's whim. But like all revolutions, it has also disappointed. Freedom has ebbed and flowed since 1979. Of late, it has ebbed.
Beneath the hijab, that is to say beneath the surface of things, frustrations multiply. Women sometimes raise their hands to their necks to express a feeling of suffocation. Hard-pressed men, working 12-hour days to make enough to get by, are prone to hysterical laughter with its hint of desperation.
Competing pressures bear down on President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and behind him the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. They know that with unemployment at 14 percent (and rising), inflation at about 25 percent, oil revenues set to plunge by about two-thirds this year, and the country's oil and gas infrastructure in desperate need of modernization, opening to the West and its technology makes sense.
They also know Iran is composed of two worlds: the surface and the subterranean. The former is placid; the latter is hungry for more of the freedom the revolution promised. This, too, speaks for an engagement that might over time end Iran's bipolar state.
On the other hand, a revolutionary government that deprives itself of its great enemy is one that has lost the core of its galvanizing propaganda. Opening equals risk.
This is the background to Ahmadinejad's offer to "hold talks based on mutual respect" with a United States he continued to criticize. It came in response to Obama's best statement on Iran to date - one devoid of threats and one that spoke of the dangers, but not the unacceptability, of a nuclear Iran.
Mutual respect, a phrase Obama also used, begins with that. As Iranians often note, carrots and sticks are for donkeys.
The young soldiers pointed to how the United States backed Saddam Hussein in the Iran-Iraq war, another indication of American perfidy. "Everyone was with Saddam," Dehghani said. "Except Syria," I suggested, which prompted a guffaw.
"The Arabs are chickens," he said. "Just look at what Egypt did about Gaza. Those big-bellied Arabs, you take up a stick and they run away."
Scratch the surface and there's no love lost between Persians and Arabs, another reason to be careful in distinguishing Iranian rhetoric, which can seem monolithic, from Iran's many-shaded reality.
Dehghani offered me a bowl of Ash, a soup of noodles, chickpeas and vegetables. "Why not try to do something about your own country rather than going around the world waging war?" he asked.
I told him I thought Obama was trying to do just that. Then he told me his father wanted him to stay in the Revolutionary Guards because there's money to be made - Ahmadinejad has channeled funds and jobs their way - but he was more interested in starting his own business.
That's typical enough. Iranians are property-buying, car-mad, entrepreneurial consumers with a taste for the latest brands. Forget about nukes. Think Nikes.
A few days after this meeting, I found myself on the Tehran subway. A bunch of youths started smiling and pointing. "This guy's an American!" they exclaimed. There was no menace, only curiosity.
A young woman in a black hijab was standing near me. Abruptly, she looked me straight in the eye and said in English: "Where are you from?"
"New York."
"Oh." And she smiled.
America, think again about Iran.
International Herald Tribune

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Better relations with Iran might mean trouble with Israel for U.S.

TEHRAN: An offer by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran to take up President Barack Obama's oft-repeated invitation for direct talks between the United States and Iran signals the start of a long-delayed war-or-peace drama that may help define the Obama administration's plans to remake America's approach to diplomacy.
But it also opens up the possibility of new tensions with Israel, which less than a year ago sought American help in preparing an attack on Iran's main nuclear facility and is expected to drift further to the right after the parliamentary elections Tuesday. And Obama will have to decide whether to continue a major covert program against Iran's nuclear ambitions, even while beginning to engage in diplomacy.
Ahmadinejad promised Tuesday that if the United States was truly serious about changing the countries' relations, then Iran was ready to respond in kind. "It is clear that change should be fundamental, not tactical, and our people welcome real changes," he said. "Our nation is ready to hold talks based on mutual respect and in a fair atmosphere."
Three weeks ago, Obama promised in his Inaugural Address a new relationship with nations willing to "unclench" their fists, an offer he repeated at his news conference on Monday evening.
It is too early to know quite how to read Ahmadinejad's response.He coupled his offer of talks with an attack on the former U.S. president, George W. Bush, calling for him to be "tried and punished" for his policies and actions in the Middle East and the Gulf region.
It is also never exactly clear who is running Iran's foreign policy, and there is good reason to question whether the country's fiery president will overcome his mismanagement of the economy to survive the June 12 elections.
Yet analysts note that, for all his harsh words, Ahmadinejad has sent a surprising number of positive signals to the United States in recent years. He sent a letter to Bush in 2006 and a letter to Obama congratulating him on his election victory, and he has traveled four times to New York since he took office to take part in United Nations meetings.
"Generally speaking, Iran favors ties with the United States because falling oil prices have hurt its economy dramatically," said Saeed Leylaz, an economist and political analyst in Tehran. "The United States needs to take the first major step, otherwise Iran cannot go any farther," he said. But he cautioned that the United States should hold direct talks only with Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's supreme religious leader.
There is no question that a new dynamic is afoot, one that seems likely to become even more complicated after the election in Israel is settled. If the government that emerges is even more determined to end the Iranian nuclear program by any means necessary, Obama may find himself trying to negotiate with one of America's most determined adversaries while restraining one of its closest allies.
"I could draw you a scenario in which this new combination of players leads to the first real talks with Iran in three decades," one of the key players on the issue for Obama said last week, declining to speak on the record because the new administration had not even named its team, much less its strategy. "And I could draw you one in which the first big foreign crisis of the Obama presidency is a really nasty confrontation, either because the Israelis strike or because we won't let them."
In public, Obama is talking only about the first possibility. On Monday evening, he talked about "looking at areas where we can have constructive dialogue, where we can engage directly with them," and said he was looking for "diplomatic overtures." But he cautioned that "there's been a lot of mistrust built up over the years" and that after 30 years of a deep freeze, openings are "not going to happen overnight."
To protect his right flank, Obama quickly added the caveat that Iran should know that "we find the funding of terrorist organizations unacceptable" and that "a nuclear Iran could set off a nuclear arms race in the region that would be profoundly destabilizing."
But curiously, he did not repeat the warning he made repeatedly during the campaign, that he would never allow Iran to obtain a nuclear weapon, or even the nuclear fuel and capability to build one.
Whether this comes to anything, or founders on the question of Iran's race to enrich more uranium even while the two presidents circle each other, is anyone's guess. But it is bound to make the new government in Israel nervous, and the clock in Jerusalem is ticking a lot faster on the Iranian nuclear problem than it is in Washington.As The New York Times reported last month, a little less than a year ago the Israeli government came to Bush seeking bunker-busting bombs, refueling capability and overflight rights over Iraq to strike Iran's main nuclear enrichment plant, at Natanz. Bush - who elevated pre-emption to a doctrine and declared he would never allow Iran to develop the capability to build a nuclear weapon - turned the Israelis down.
Bush told the Israeli prime minister, Ehud Olmert, now in his last days in office, to wait, giving a new American covert effort to disable the Natanz facility time to work. Reluctantly, the Israelis agreed, and when the Bush administration disbanded last month, it was still unclear whether Olmert had really intended to go ahead with the attack or was just bluffing in an effort to force the United States to deal with the problem.
Now comes the replay, this time with some new players.
Over the weekend, Vice President Joseph Biden Jr. offered up the warning that Obama sidestepped on Monday night: If Iran stays on its current course, sanctions will intensify. The subtext of the Israeli election has been even clearer: To various degrees, all the candidates have made clear they plan to take on not only Hamas, but its Iranian sponsors.
And in Iran itself, the race for the presidency has been energized by the announcement over the weekend by former President Mohammad Khatami, the reformist who never mustered the power or the will to carry out much reform, that he wants his old job back. Presumably, that is a relief to Washington, which desperately wants to see Ahmadinejad sent to an early and permanent retirement, and with him Iran's proclamations about Israel's eventual destruction and America's inevitable decline.
But it was under Khatami, the reformer, that the expansion of Iran's nuclear ambitions blossomed. If the latest National Intelligence Estimate on Iran's nuclear ambitions is correct, the push to develop a weapons design, and the suspension of that effort in 2003, all happened on his watch. Iran contends that its nuclear program is solely for energy production, but Israel and many Western countries, including the United States, say the program is just a cover for attempts to build a bomb.
Obama's task over the next few months will be to demonstrate that he can simultaneously make progress with the Iranians and buy a little time from the Israelis. That will require some hard decisions, first among them whether the United States will stick to its insistence that the entire nuclear infrastructure in Iran, down to the last centrifuge, be dismantled.
It is almost inconceivable, some of Obama's aides acknowledge, that the Iranians will be willing to give up everything needed to produce a weapon. And it is hard to imagine that the Israelis will settle for anything less.
By Nazila Fathi and David E. Sanger
February 11, 2009

Herald Tribune

New Questions about Ex-FBI Agent Missing in Iran

Is Iran holding Robert Levinson as a potential bargaining chip with the United States?
By Alex Kingsbury
Robert Levinson spent more than 20 years in the FBI tracking down the usual suspects, from forgers and drug dealers to Russian mobsters. But it was his work as a private eye, ostensibly on the trail of cigarette smugglers, that got him into trouble.
The former G-man vanished under mysterious circumstances nearly two years ago while on the Iranian island of Kish in the Persian Gulf. A growing number of people in Washington, including some lawmakers, suspect he is being held by Iranian authorities, perhaps as a bargaining chip. If so, the Levinson case could provide an olive branch—or become a time bomb—for relations between Tehran and Washington, just as the Obama administration is hoping for a fresh start in dealing with Iran.
Iran has a record of hostage-taking—most famously 52 Americans during the Iranian revolution in 1979. In 2007, the Iranians seized a group of British sailors on patrol near Iranian waters and an Iranian-American scholar visiting her 93-year-old mother (all later released), and, perhaps, Robert Levinson.
It's a case that's long on speculation and short on facts, and it has largely flown under the public's radar. But it received an emotional airing February 3 when Levinson's eldest daughter Susan, tears streaming down her face, called on Tehran to at least acknowledge that her father is alive. "We're in so much pain living without him," she said at a Capitol news conference with other family members.
Tehran says publicly that it has no information about Levinson, though Iran's state-affiliated television in April 2007 said he was being detained. U.S. intelligence and law enforcement officials say unofficial Iranian contacts have implied his imprisonment by raising the idea of a prisoner swap for several alleged Iranian spies—suspected members of Iran's elite Revolutionary Guard Corps—captured by the U.S. military in the Iraqi city of Arbil just weeks before Levinson vanished.
Just who Levinson's clients were and why he was in Iran remain among the many publicly unanswered questions. His wife, Christine, says that it was her husband's first Mideast trip. She says he met a man named Daoud Salahuddin as part of an investigation into cigarette smuggling, which is a billion-dollar business for both the Revolutionary Guard and the Russian mob. Levinson disappeared from his hotel shortly thereafter.
The alleged Salahuddin connection adds a further plot twist. He once went by the name David Belfield and, in 1980, by his own account, gunned down a leading Iranian dissident in Bethesda, Md., at the behest of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's regime. He then fled to Iran, where he has been living ever since, though there are rumors that he is disillusioned with the regime and is trying to return to the United States (where he is under a 1981 indictment for the assassination).
The FBI has been investigating Levinson's disappearance, but officials are not saying anything publicly. Florida Sen. Bill Nelson says he believes Levinson is being held in a secret Iranian prison, though he hasn't offered evidence to support his claim. Because Iran and the United States haven't had formal relations since the 1979 hostage taking, the two speak through Swiss intermediaries, though there's been no progress on this case.
Iran Press News

Iran not to give up uranium enrichment

TEHRAN, Feb. 10 - Iran's Prosecutor General Ayatollah Ghorbanali Dorri-Najafabadi said Tuesday that Iran would never give up the uranium enrichment, the semi-official Fars news agency reported.
"Iran will never give up the uranium enrichment," said Dorri-Najafabadi, who is also the head of Supreme Administrative Court of Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI) at a rally in northeastern Iranian province of Semnan to mark the 30th anniversary of the victory of the Islamic Revolution.
"Iran is a regional and global power," Fars quoted him as saying.
Iran's president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, as well, in his address to thousands of people in Tehran's Azadi (liberty) Square Tuesday said that, "The United States must give up threats and sanctions,” and Iran has now turned into "a real and true superpower."
U.S. President Barak Obama said on Monday that his administration is "looking for openings" to start face-to-face talks with Iran.
Washington has been trying to beef up the UN-passed as well as its own sanctions against Tehran for being involved in anti-U.S. coalition forces activities, and for allegedly developing nuclear weapons secretly.
Iran has denied the charges and insisted that its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes only.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Iran and US move closer in delicate diplomatic dance

Ahmadinejad's rhetoric is softening and there are signs of fresh thinking from Washington, but difficulties remain

A diplomatic minuet between the US and Iran is taking place that might just lead to better ties between two countries that have had no formal relations for 30 years. In the latest development, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad – who usually spouts bloodcurdling rhetoric – sounded positively emollient towards the US.
In a speech to mark the 30th anniversary of the Iranian revolution, the president said the world was entering a "new era of dialogue" and that his country would welcome talks based on mutual respect with the US. That was a marked change in tone compared with a speech Ahmadinejad made just a few weeks ago, in which he took a more uncompromising line. Then, in a live televised address, Ahmadinejad said he would welcome a change in American policy provided it came with a withdrawal of US troops from Iraq and an apology for "crimes" America had committed against Iran, including US backing for the 1953 coup that overthrew the democratically elected Muhammad Mossadeq and restored the shah. Or, as Julian Borger, the Guardian's diplomatic editor, put it: "Yes, we can talk, he is saying, if you come on your hands and knees."
The overtures from the US began as soon as Barack Obama was elected in November, when the new administration said on the White House website that it was prepared to deal directly with Iran. This was a major break from the Bush administration, which considered Iran part of an "axis of evil" along with Iraq – before the 2003 US-led invasion – and North Korea. Obama has kept up his overtures: last night, the US president said he expected that his administration would be looking for "openings" where Washington and Tehran could sit down face to face. The Guardian has reported on a letter the US has been working on to send to the Iranians.
But, as Martin Woollacott, who covered the Iranian revolution for the Guardian 30 years ago, warns, a rapprochement is not going to be simple:
Both sides want concessions without budging from their main positions. And, if they are to make any real progress, they first need to reconcile their conflicting understanding of the past, and, second, arrive at some agreement about what the Middle East should look like in the future.
Encouragingly, fresh thinking seems to be coming out of Washington at a time when Obama appears keen to lance the boil in US-Iranian relations. Writing in Foreign Affairs, two Washington heavyweights, Richard Haas and Martin Indyk, argue that the US should abandon its demand that Iran suspend its uranium enrichment programme as a precondition for formal negotiations. That demand by the Bush administration effectively blocked any chance for full diplomatic engagement. Haas and Indyk go further in making the case that the US should be willing to discuss Iran's right to enrich uranium, "provided that Iran agrees to limit its enrichment programme under enhanced safeguards to keep it from developing a 'breakout capability' – the capacity to produce significant amounts of weapons-grade uranium. However, this right must be earned by Iran, not conceded by the United States."
As the US and Iran play diplomatic footsie with each other, Philippe Welti, a Swiss diplomat who spent more than four years as his country's chief envoy to Iran, has this advice for the US: put American diplomats in Tehran. "They don't lose anything, and they get a firsthand insight into the regime," he told the Los Angeles Times. But Welti, who tells of his frustrations in dealing with Iran – including venal politicians – predicts it will be hard going in building up a relationship.
They were attacked in 1980. They were traumatised and still feel traumatised. They are still living that war. They have been exposed to a million threats for years now. They're simply getting ready. It is very difficult for everybody to know what the ultimate purpose of the nuclear programme is. Some observers think they are just buying time. I am not in a position to judge.

Not So Fast

What to Make of Ahmadinejad's Olive Branch
The Soviets famously sent two messages to John F. Kennedy during the Cuban Missile Crisis--one bellicose, the other offering a path toward peace. Kennedy ignored the bellicose one and prevented a nuclear war. Now we're getting mixed messages from the Iranians. On Friday, Majlis Speaker Ali Larijani gave a bellicose anti-American speech at the Munich Security Conference. Today, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad extends an olive branch. Which message is real?
Hint: not Ahmadinejad's, although his shouldn't be ignored. Larijani is a trusted advisor to the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. Ahmadinejad is running for re-election as President with very low popularity, given his failed domestic policies and his poisonous blather overseas. My guess is this is an image-softening election ploy. In any case, a ranking European diplomat told me last week, "We want to be dealing with the Supreme Leader's emissaries."
As I've written here before, the approach to Iran is best made carefully, circuitously. We need to make a deal with Russians first--the obvious one is suspending any plans for an anti-missile system in return for verifiable Russian support for the UN's efforts to prevent Iran from developing a bomb. We should also re-establish relations with Iran's ally, Syria...and we should offer to resume cooperation with Iran in Afghanistan. All these initiatives should be well under way before Iran's June elections. Only then, after Ahmadinejad's fate is decided, should we launch direct, high-level talks between a U.S. envoy and a significant player, like Larijani, with a direct line to the Supreme Leader.
In the meantime, we appreciate the olive branch, Mr. Ahmadinejad. We have great respect for your nation and civilization--especially your ancestor, Cyrus the Great, who allowed the Jews to return to Israel and thereby became the ancient world's most famous non-Jewish Zionist.
Joe Klein is TIME's political columnist and author of six books, most recently Politics Lost. His weekly TIME column, "In the Arena," covers national and international affairs.

Iran says ready for fair talks, wants real U.S. change

TEHRAN (Reuters) - Iran's president said on Tuesday Tehran was ready for talks with the United States but demanded a fundamental change in U.S. policy, in his most measured remarks to America since President Barack Obama took office.
Obama said on Monday that he saw the possibility of diplomatic openings with Iran in the months ahead, marking a break with his predecessor George W. Bush.
The United States and its Western allies accuse Iran of seeking nuclear weapons, a charge Tehran denies. Despite a new approach, Obama's administration has also warned Iran of tougher sanctions if it does not halt its disputed nuclear work.
"The new U.S. administration has announced that they want to produce change and pursue the course of dialogue," President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told a rally to mark the 30th anniversary of the Islamic revolution that ousted the U.S.-backed shah.
"It is quite clear that real change must be fundamental and not tactical. It is clear the Iranian nation welcomes real changes," he said, adding: "The Iranian nation is ready to hold talks but talks in a fair atmosphere with mutual respect."
Ahmadinejad did not refer to the tough conditions he mentioned on previous occasions, a more measured approach that analysts said was likely to be welcomed by Obama and his team.
"On the face of it, it seems to be a significant signal, an opening that will encourage the Obama administration that they (Iranians) are actually willing to sit down," said Paul Salem, director of the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut.
An Iranian political analyst said: "Obama's tone was soft, his tone couldn't be harsh."
Ultimately, policy will not be decided by the president but by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the final say in all matters of state in the Islamic Republic. He tends to look for a consensus in the political elite, analysts say.
Khamenei has, so far, kept silent on Obama and his overture.
Obama said in January America was prepared to extend a hand of peace if Iran "unclenched its fist." Ahmadinejad responded by demanding Washington withdraw troops from Iraq and Afghanistan, and apologize for what he said were U.S. "crimes" against Iran.
Ahmadinejad has a presidential election to contest in June, which will pit him against former President Mohammad Khatami, who pushed for detente with the West during his 1997-2005 term.
Ties with Washington have already become a hot topic of political debate as the election race takes shape. Some listening to Ahmadinejad, detected a hint of campaigning.
"Ahmadinejad can play a helpful role in the improvement of Iran-America ties. He can also use this issue as a winning card in the upcoming presidential election," said 24-year-old student Mostafa Jabbari.
Many Iranians are tired of isolation but some say Iran needs a hard-liner to win U.S. concessions not a moderate like Khatami, whose reforming efforts were mostly blocked by conservatives.
Speaking to reporters after meeting Iranian Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani in Madrid on Sunday, Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos said: "They (Iranians) think the American attitude is positive, and they are just waiting for that attitude to manifest itself in some gesture."
But the election race could encourage the United States and Iran to tread cautiously as they await the result, analysts say.
In his speech broadcast on state television, Ahmadinejad also turned to some of his more typical language to criticize the West, saying nations who sought to monopolize power, impose sanctions and threaten military action had not succeeded.
The U.N. Security Council has slapped three rounds of sanctions on Iran and U.S. sanctions have been tightened because Tehran has refused to rein in its nuclear work.
Intelligence Minister Gholamhossein Mohseni-Ejei said a bomb was defused on Tuesday in the western city of Hamedan, "planted by the enemies of the revolution" and targeting those celebrating the 30th anniversary, ISNA news agency reported.
He did point a finger but Iran has often blamed Washington in the past for backing plots to destabilize Iran.
Obama's administration, like Bush's, has refused to rule out military action if needed but says it wants tough diplomacy.
"We will be looking for openings that can be created where we can start sitting across the table face-to-face," Obama said, adding Iran must stop pursuing nuclear weapons, end support for terrorist groups and cease "bellicose language" toward Israel.
Washington broke ties with Iran shortly after the 1979 Islamic revolution when radical students stormed the U.S. embassy and held 52 Americans hostage for 444 days.
(Additional reporting by Hashem Kalantari and Hossein Jaseb in Tehran, Alistair Lyon in Beirut and Jason Webb in Madrid; Editing by Ralph Boulton)

After 30 years, talk shifts from revolution to democracy

"Thirty years ago, the dominant discourse was the concept of revolution," said Hamid-Reza Jalaipour, a Tehran social scientist. "But now the dominant discourse is democracy."February 10, 2009- Reporting from Absard, Iran -- Four friends gather in a basement eatery in a rural town to talk politics about the revolution three decades ago that changed their lives. "What kind of Islamic revolution allows sexy movies on television?" says Mohammed Rezaie, a 49-year-old farmer and the conservative of the bunch. "What kind of revolution allows young men to gel their hair up like this?" he says, making rabbit ears with his fingers. "What does hair gel have to do with revolution?" bellows Seyed Rahman Hussein, 41. "Who are you to tell someone else how their kid should behave?"Such are the conversations in the hinterlands as Iran celebrates the 30th anniversary of its Islamic Revolution today.It is in the rural areas where the country's most dramatic changes may be occurring, propelling religiously conservative communities from a sleepy semi-feudal past into the 21st century. The rapid transformation has changed the way people think and frame debates about their communities and their relationship to authority."Thirty years ago, the dominant discourse was the concept of revolution," said Hamid-Reza Jalaipour, a Tehran social scientist. "But now the dominant discourse is democracy."On Monday at 9 p.m., supporters of the revolution that overthrew the pro-American monarch, Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, and installed Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini as the country's leader climbed to their rooftops and chanted, "God is great!" to mark the anniversary. Today, hundreds of thousands of people will march through the streets of Tehran to commemorate the day Khomeini declared the Islamic Republic.Much of the political focus in Tehran these days concerns the looming election battle between reformists like former President Mohammad Khatami and hard-line conservatives like the incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. And in the big city centers, the social focus is on the friction between urban youth and women and the restrictive, fundamentalist clergy.In Iran's rural areas, in places like Absard, there is an inchoate sense of lost simplicity and of perplexity.Among the four friends, none with more than a high school diploma, the tricky questions percolate quickly, spawning charged debates: Why are there no factories here to employ the young? Why are Afghan migrants taking all the jobs? Why is the countryside flooded with hard drugs -- heroin and crystal meth? How did a few get so rich while others stayed poor? How should they respond to the semi-pornographic images from the satellite TV dishes that now rest atop every other home in this town of 30,000?They are pudgy, unpretentious men in shabby clothes, sprinkling their talk with praises to God and the Shiite Muslim saints. They long for the shared sense of purpose of their fading agrarian past, but relish the creature comforts of the modern world. In 30 years, Absard, or "cold water," named for the spring that draws tourists during the summer, has mushroomed from a sleepy backwater of dirt roads and a few hundred potato farmers in mud-brick homes without electricity, gas or phone lines into a thriving mountainside town with a hospital, an agricultural college and three mosques. Well-to-do Iranians from the capital, 50 miles to the west, have even begun buying vacation homes to take advantage of the cool summer air. Under the shah, fewer than 5% of women in the countryside could read, compared with 70% now. Two-thirds of women use modern birth control today, according to a congressional staff briefing on the Iranian economy last year by Djavad Salehi-Isfahani, a scholar at the Brookings Institution. Some refuse to credit the Islamic Republic for such progress. It would have happened anyway, said Ahmad Zeidabadi, a frequent critic of the government. "Three decades have passed since the revolution," he said. "Malaysia, the United Arab Emirates and even Thailand have undergone fundamental changes throughout these years, and the shah's regime would have gone the same way."Indeed, each benefit of modernity has come with a price tag: The college, for example, is on a huge chunk of land previously used for grazing livestock. "Everything that came, we paid for it," says Reza Gol-Mohammad, a former farmer who runs Alborz, the small basement restaurant where the friends are meeting. "Even the loans we get from the government, we pay them back." He grits his teeth and frowns as he grills chicken and prepares rice for the handful of guests at the table. He notes with frustration that rents, utilities and wholesale prices have all shot up.Rezaie, the farmer, says he served proudly on the front lines of the 1980s Iran-Iraq war and considers himself a staunch supporter of the government. He criticizes the others for complaining, resurrecting memories of the hundreds of thousands who sacrificed their lives fighting for the Islamic Republic during the war against Saddam Hussein's forces. "We are not worthy of their blood," he says.Hassan Rastegar, 55, a grizzled former trucker now working at the restaurant, disagrees."We were well fed before the revolution," he says. "The revolution didn't do anything for us. It didn't give us land."It's true no one gives us anything," Rezaie says. "But no one was supposed to give us anything. We helped ourselves up.""You see the fancy houses?" Gol-Mohammad says. "They belong to the capitalists. If you're a capitalist you can buy a piece of land and build the nicest house ever. It's the young who are suffering."Younger farmer Hussein interjects. His friends are mixing everything up. "The debate about freedom is one thing," he says. "The debate about loans to buy houses is another thing.""It's the same. It's all about justice," Gol-Mohammad says."The revolution gave us bravery," Hussein says. "Under the shah, people would see a soldier and they would pee in their pants. Now the people will put their heads into the lion's mouth. Imam Khomeini gave the people the bravery to stand up to authority."Gol-Mohammad, who says he's been locked up 10 times for speaking out against the government, says the mayor's security forces once tore up a man's house, beating him and arresting him over a property dispute. Later, the man was charged with insulting current Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and also Khomeini.Such abuses of power, he says, "are what people are upset about." Thirty years after the revolution, the rich and powerful still lord over the weak, he says.The friends fall silent, until Rezaie speaks up. "We tolerated hardship and sanctions, but our education and economy have gone up," he says. "This revolution changed all of Iran.""I disagree with you," Gol-Mohammad retorts. "I totally disagree with you.""Yes, but I still respect you. I still look up to you," Rezaie says"There are even people who long for the return of the shah, and that's fine," he says, displaying tolerance for sharply contrasting views. "Did you see that Iranian rocket with a satellite going into space?" he says, smiling broadly. "That's our pride. Maybe we'll go hungry. But it won't be a problem. We will grow."
Los Angeles Times

Monday, February 9, 2009

ISSACHAROFF: Iran must be stopped

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's calls to wipe Israel off the map are being renewed with different nuances, but are most accurately expressed by the incessant hum of several thousand centrifuges enriching uranium in Natanz. Each day those centrifuges spin bring Iran closer to a military nuclear capability.
The gravity and scope of the Iranian threat will not be confined to Israel, however. A military nuclear capability underwriting Iran's support of terror in the region will threaten moderate Arab countries and enable Iran to project its power in a more dangerous way as well as expand its footprint in the region.
Emblematic of this growing footprint has been Iran's substantial assistance to Hamas in recent years. Hamas, backed by Iran, has been able to maintain its control of Gaza and amass and extend the range of rockets that have been used against southern Israel. Similarly in Lebanon, Iran replenished Hezbollah's stockpiles of short- and longer -range rockets since the 2006 war, tripling their number to 40,000 and threatening northern Israel.
Tehran's major strategic partner in the region is Syria, which impacts the fragile political situation in Lebanon, undermines Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts, and has assisted the insurgency in Iraq. Iran's role in Iraq and Afghanistan serves the projection of Iranian power and influence in areas of vital strategic importance. Iran is placing itself in a position where it could severely impact the flow of global energy supplies and pursue a destabilizing, hegemonic role in the region.
All international action should flow from the principle that Iran cannot be allowed to develop and acquire a nuclear-weapons capability. There have been serious diplomatic efforts to engage and bring Iran to the table, but in the final analysis, Iran has been the one to reject or evade these offers. Merely enhancing incentives will not entice Iran to give up its nuclear program, but will validate Iran's hardline policy against any concession in the nuclear arena.
As Iran proceeds to a critical phase of its nuclear program, it will attempt to manipulate the international community with the central goal of gaining more time. Pressure must be intensified as a preamble to any renewed engagement with Iran. The absence of such pressure thus far is the reason Iran has chosen defiance over compliance. Rewarding intransigence will only guarantee its recurrence.
The political resolve to prevent a nuclear Iran must be greater than Iran's determination to continue its efforts to develop nuclear weapons. The international community should insist on Iran's compliance with all relevant Security Council and IAEA resolutions and adopt additional tough sanctions such as forbidding arms transfers to Iran, further designating for sanctions Iranian banks that have been involved in financing terrorism and taking tougher measures in the trade and finance sectors.
Major energy deals with Iran should be banned and sanctions extended to Iran's refined gasoline imports. Although rich in oil reserves, Iran has become heavily dependent on refined gasoline from abroad, making it vulnerable to international pressure, particularly during this global economic crisis and period of low oil prices.
The political will to use all the tools of diplomacy to pressure Iran can change its behavior provided it is credible, focused and sustained. Sanctions have worked in the past in relation to Libya and can work in relation to Iran if they are backed by a determined resolve.
The end of all enrichment and reprocessing activities in Iran must remain a fundamental basis for any dialogue. Iran cannot be allowed to maintain a limited enrichment capability on its soil. Such an arrangement would not stop Iran from developing a nuclear-weapons capability, but will in fact facilitate its covert procurement.
Any overall strategy regarding Iran should be a combination of red-line diplomacy accompanied by an international determination to use other means should diplomacy fail. All options must remain on the table. The consequence of inaction and having to deal with a nuclear-armed Iran will be infinitely worse and far more costly.
Tough and unyielding diplomacy combining deadlines and red lines can still prevent a nuclear Iran, but the countdown continues and critical time is being lost.
Jeremy Issacharoff is deputy chief of mission for the Embassy of Israel in Washington.
Washington Times

Iran constructing four more satellites: report

TEHRAN, Feb. 8 (Xinhua) -- Iran's Minister of Communications and Information Technology Mohammad Soleymani has said that Iran was constructing four more satellites, the local Mehr news agency reported on Sunday.
"Right now four more satellites are being constructed by the efficient Iranian experts," Soleymani was quoted as saying.
"The details of the satellites will be disclosed step by step at their final stage of preparation," he told the Mehr, adding that "With the capabilities attained, we are trying to raise the weight and the altitude of the satellites to be launched."
Talking about the status of Iran's Omid satellite in the orbit, he said that "This satellite is doing its mission and it has no specific problem. The satellite is sending signals to the stations on the earth."
Last Tuesday, Tehran announced that the Omid lightweight telecommunications satellite, its first home-made satellite, had been successfully sent into space by the Iranian-produced satellite carrier Safir 2, evoking the West's concern over its potential military purposes.
Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak urged Wednesday that the international community should tighten sanctions on Iran in light of its launch of the first home-made satellite.
The United States and Israel have consistently refused to rule out the possibility of military strikes against Iran over its refusal to halt its nuclear program, accusing Tehran of trying to develop nuclear weapons under the cover of a civilian nuclear program.
Iran has denied the charges and insisted that its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes only.