Friday, 30 November 2007

Iran Press Watch: Annapolis

Iran's press predicted a failure at Annapolis; they may well be proved right

As widely expected, the Iranian media were less than supportive of the Annapolis Peace Conference. It wasn't that they hadn't been invited -- the average Iranian is used to being snubbed by the West and has developed a thick skin to this sort of thing. Instead, local pundits amused themselves by stating the obvious flaws in the process.

The English language Kayan International, for example, quoted President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as saying, "When the real representatives of the Palestinian resistance groups did not attend the meeting, and the rights, votes and will of this nation were not recognized, the conference would be fruitless."

Article first published by Ohmynews International

Reprinted by

True to form and never one to miss an opportunity, the president added that, "It is impossible that the Zionist regime will survive. Collapse is in the nature of this regime because it has been created on aggression, lying, oppression and crime." According to translators who viewed the original Farsi, the president said Zionist regime, as in government, and not Israel as a state.

It’s a bit like saying we'd like to see the end of the Bush administration and their policies, not necessarily the end of the United States of America as a country. Too subtle a difference for some to grasp, perhaps.

The three main protagonists, the U.S., Israel, and Palestine agreed to seek a peace deal by the end of 2008 that would create a Palestinian state, Kayhan said, but the core issues like the status of al-Quds (Jerusalem), the borders of a future Palestinian state, and the fate of Palestinian refugees remained unresolved.

Well, at least there was some progress. Or was there? Kayhan reported that within a few hours of the announcement, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said the 2008 deadline for a deal might not be reached. Translation: It won't be reached. The status of Jerusalem will see to that. The borders, the security walls, the settlers, the refugees.. well, they are just supporting intractable problems.

Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said the forum’s only achievement was a couple of documents that haven’t actually been finalized by the signatories. “It was a show.”

He said the documents for signature couldn’t be finalized in time, suggesting the differences are very deep. It could also signify that insufficient time was given for the conference which again lends credibility to the accusation that it was nothing more than a glorified photo-opportunity.

Kayhan made a pointed statement in their editorial, "The truth is, the first formal direct negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians in seven years took place between leaders who both represent less than 30 percent of their respective populations."

They didn’t point out, through politeness perhaps, that the negotiations were being hosted by a leader with an even sorrier approval rating.

This theme was echoed in a front page leader in Iran Daily which said, "Bush hopes for a foreign policy success to polish his legacy, but the unpopular war in Iraq, the main factor in his low public approval ratings, could limit his room to manoeuvre."

The paper added, "Olmert's public standing is also low, partly due to last year's Lebanon war and rightist coalition partners have warned against concessions. Abbas lost control of Gaza to Hamas in June and only holds sway in the West Bank."

The popular daily, noting the obvious absence of Hamas from the proceedings, said inviting Abbas was a blatant interference in the internal affairs of the Palestinians, and an obvious attempt to prop up the faltering Abbas regime.

The paper said the conference achieved nothing more than to "widen the broad schism between the rival Fatah and Hamas."

Tehran Times, in a below-the-fold wire service piece, reported that Arab commentators had dismissed the process as a U.S. media event, an attempt by Bush to rescue his image after failures in Iraq and Afghanistan . The article said Abbas will return to Palestine without anything. Well, except for a few vague promises and a few extra snaps for his photo album.

According to PressTV, however, that’s more than the Syrian’s received for their trouble. Their delegation left the peace conference without even a specific promise from Israel to restart stalled talks over the Golan Heights.

The general consensus among the local media seems to be a joint “we told you so” -- and unless Abbas does a Neville Chamberlain on his arrival home, waving a dog-eared document declaring “Statehood in our time,” it appears they may be proved right.

Sphere: Related Content

Wednesday, 28 November 2007

IRGC chief warns of Iranian “tsunami”

The mountains, faith, and the Basij make Iran an impenetrable “citadel” against attack

Iran’s new chief of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corp (IRGC) had a stark warning for anyone foolish enough to launch an attack against Iran. Major General Mohammed Ali Jafari told PressTV in an exclusive interview that nobody should underestimate the will of the Iranian people.

“I just want to inform our enemies that they should not make a mistake,” he said, “If on the surface we appear to be simply going about our own business, they should appreciate that beneath we are very ready if the threat comes to pass. We will turn into a huge tsunami.”

First published by Ohmynews International

Jafari was speaking on a special edition of PressTV’s Middle East Today program as part of events to mark the 28th anniversary of the founding of the all-volunteer Mobilization Resistance Force, the Basij.

The Basij marked its annual day on Monday Nov. 26 with nationwide rallies and military exercises. The idea behind the wargames, Jafari said, was to demonstrate the might and the organizational skills of the Basij.

In recent years the image of the Basij been tarnished by accusations of brutality in breaking up student demonstrations, the harassment of women while enforcing correct Islamic dress code, and even murder.

Jafari, whose IRGC is responsible for the Basij said many of the stories have been exaggerated, but admitted there could be a few bad apples.

“Our enemies are engaged in a cultural onslaught, psychological warfare being waged to distort the standing of revolutionary figures, and they want to distort the standing of the Basij as well,” he said. But with some 12.5 registered members Jafari conceded, “Who knows, a few individuals might have, because of their religious beliefs, might have done certain things.”

He said Basiji have been banned from engaging in such activities as checking women for correct dress code for example, and said any incidents that do occur are likely to be isolated and rare.

“Accidents and incidents can happen, I am not going to say they never happen. But as I said earlier, this is mostly rumor and hearsay, and the Basijis are not supposed to do such things, it is prohibited.”

Jafari was appointed to head the IRGC or Pasdaran on Sept. 1 this year. Well known for his strategic abilities and military planning, Jafari earned his “spurs” on the battlefields of the Iran-Iraq war between 1980-1988.

The general is considered one of the regions leading experts on the technique of asymmetrical warfare – sometimes described as David and Goliath warfare – using tactics and stealth to overcome a stronger opponent.

Jafari said the Iraqis lost to the Americans in two wars because they had failed to master the techniques of asymmetrical warfare.

“We believe that the Iraqi army back in 1991 made a huge mistake. They engaged the enemy using classic methods and for that reason in less than one hour they were routed.”

Jafari said the Iraqis learned some lessons from their humiliating defeat, but were still unprepared for the 2003 invasion.

“But the same country, the same army back in 2003 used some of what we call asymmetrical warfare and they were able to withstand the American onslaught for up to 20 days,” Jafari said.

“Let me say they didn’t have our experience. They had a classic army, but they didn’t have a popular army,” Jafari said, “and they did not take the asymmetrical concept fully. But still, for 20 days they were able to stand up to the American army.”

What the Iraqis also lacked was the Basij. Established in 1979 on the orders of the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the Basij is currently believed to number about eight million.

“I was addressing a group of Basij,” Jafari told PressTV, “I told them that the Basij were a popular force. It is a force which is always at the ready, armed with state of the art weaponry – it is also armed with faith,”

The Basji has a deep belief, Jafari explained, vis-à-vis the need to defend Iran and also defend the ideals of its revolution and the Islamic Republic’s system of government.

He said in times of peace the Basij go about their normal business as students, teachers, engineers, and so on, but they are always ready to defend the country against any foreign threat.

“What we are depending on first and foremost is our faith,” said the general, “In other words we are relying on a revolutionary, faithful religious people who have their lives in their very hands, and they are ready to defend the goals and the ideals of the revolution.”

And let us talk about our geography, he said, “We have many mountainous regions in this country, add that geographical vantage to the concepts I have already shared with you, these all come together to create a mighty citadel.”

Jafari is confident that with the tactics of asymmetrical warfare, the faith-based determination of the Basij, and the country’s natural defenses, Iran would present quite a different war to any foreign invader.

“We fully believe that no American invader can penetrate that citadel. Maybe they might be able to make some headway, a few kilometers around the borders, but other than that there will be many casualties and bodies of their soldiers which later they will have to collect and take back,” he warned.

While confident that Iran would be able to defend itself against any foreign military adventure, Jafari is also far from complacent.

“There is a possibility of a limited air attack, there is a possibility,” he said, “They might think a limited campaign against Iran is possible and then they will announce it is done. But,” said Jafari, “we will end the game ourselves.”

He said militarily Iran has made good progress and warned any attack would result in a shattering response. “Keep in mind they are stationed near our borders and they are well in range of our howitzers and missiles,” he said.

“If they attack our installations this means they have started war, and naturally we have the right to defend ourselves, and we will use everything in our power to defend ourselves. We never start a war,” he said, “but we respond well.”

Jafari added the ominous warning, “When I say we have the ability to respond, I am not talking about an air or missile capability. We have other capabilities, and we believe it is our right to use those capabilities throughout the region and also around the world.”

Jafari didn’t elaborate, but later made it clear that his warnings did not include terrorism.

“With regards to the accusations of terrorism,” he said, “we have grown used to them. They [the U.S.] have been repeating them for years. Most people around the world believe and know that Iran is very much opposed to terrorism, because we have been a victim of terrorism.”

Jafari said the two countries that have openly and officially supported terrorism are the United States and Israel. “There is a terrorist organization inside Iraq, even the Americans have labeled them as terrorists, but they are being protected by the American army,” he said, referring to the Mujahideen-e Khalq organization, or MKO.

The MKO is an Islamic socialist organization committed to the overthrow of the Iranian government. They fought on the side of the Iraqis during the 1980-88 war and have committed a number of attacks inside Iran.

Almost three months after taking office, Jafari brushed off the recent inclusion of the IRGC on the State Department’s list of terrorist organizations.

“We have grown used to these allegations,” he said, “They have been repeating them for years.”

Despite the challenges of the job, Jafari remains optimistic, especially about his cherished Basij.

“I have great hopes for the future, I am an optimist,” he told PressTV, “Basically we want to concentrate on increasing quality. With that in mind I am confident that the future of the Basij is very hopeful. And because of these programs, their conduct and performance will be much better than today.”

Sphere: Related Content

Sunday, 25 November 2007

Washington Tightens Financial Noose on Iran

Sanctions virtually duplicate those used against North Korea

A key reason why North Korea walked out on the September 2005 agreement reached at the six-party talks in Beijing was the economic fallout from accusations that the Macau-based Banco Delta Asia (BDA) was helping to launder funds and find a safe haven for the ill-gotten gains of the Pyongyang regime.

The BDA bombshell was dropped as negotiators were congratulating themselves for reaching the Sept. 19, 2005 Joint Statement for the verifiable denuclearization of North Korea. The deal was reached in the second phase of the 4th round of talks that first began back in August, 2003. It was quite an achievement.

Original article published by Ohmynews International

However, feeling they had been betrayed by Washington over the BDA issue, the North pulled out of the pact, and continued work on its nuclear programs with renewed vigor. They eventually tested their first device in October 2006.

Legitimate businesses in the North Korean capital, many of them owned and operated by Europeans, vigorously protested the freezing of some $25 million of their money in accounts held by the BDA after the U.S. Treasury blacklisted the bank.

To date, Washington has never provided any incontrovertible and independently verified proof that BDA was an active participant in any illegal activity. The actions against the small family-owned bank were just part of wider efforts by the U.S. Treasury to financially isolate the North.

The premise being, that a combination of regular sanctions and financial isolation would provide a coup de grace to an already crippled economy. The goal, obviously, was regime change or submission to U.S. demands by the Pyongyang government.

The lengthy blacklisting of the BDA, plus extensive pressure applied by the United States on other banking institutions around the world to sever their links with North Korea did indeed leave Pyongyang economically isolated. North Korean leader Kim Jong Il didn't visibly get any thinner, but certainly the general population felt the bite of the sanctions.

How close the North came to total financial collapse we shall probably never know, because an agreement very similar to the 1994 Agreed Framework was eventually accepted by the six-party negotiators, Washington, Pyongyang, Seoul, Tokyo, Beijing and Moscow.

In February 2007 negotiators in Beijing managed to thrash out a deal that would lead to the eventual denuclearization of North Korea in return for substantial benefits, not least of which was the carrot of diplomatic recognition by the United States and removal from the State Department list of state sponsors of terrorism.

Part of the deal involved the return of funds frozen in the Banco Delta Asia to account holders. The Beijing deal had been struck by the State Department, and it quickly became apparent that the Treasury Department were unhappy with the terms.

However, after a series of what appeared to be carefully choreographed delays and "unexpected obstacles" -- by June 2007 the funds were eventually made their tortuous journey from Macau to Russia , via a specially selected clearing bank in the United States.

The delaying tactics almost derailed the entire process, with North Korea declining to fulfill its part of the bargain until the funds were released. For several months the whole process hung in the balance over a mere $25 million.

U.S. Treasury never provided any substantiated evidence against the Banco Delta Asia, on the contrary, independent audits and investigations found the bank innocent of any wrongdoing.

Was this a failure in economic intelligence gathered by Treasury agents, or a deliberate attempt to drive North Korea to the brink, and beyond?

As the United States and now Great Britain ratchet up their diplomatic pressure on Tehran , many of the same accusations are being made. The U.S. Treasury has accused Iran 's Saderat Bank of laundering money for Lebanon 's Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad groups.

The latest round of unilateral sanctions imposed on Iran by Washington on October 25th aimed to sever Tehran 's links to the international banking network. The country's three largest banking groups were named in the sanctions: Bank Mellat and Bank Melli were accused of involvement in Iran 's nuclear program, while Saderat was designated as a terrorist financier.

Obviously, the sanctions targeting Iran are not dissimilar to those that were initiated against Pyongyang. According to the U.S. Treasury's undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, Stuart Levey, they measures are already having a significant effect.

Levey described a "dramatic pullback in business" as financial institutions cut their ties with Tehran.

Notwithstanding generally positive reports from the International Atomic Energy Agency regarding Iran's nuclear programs, Washington and its European allies remain insistent that Teheran immediate cease the enrichment of uranium. This despite the fact this process is perfectly legal under the international atomic protocols signed by Tehran and verified by the atomic energy watchdog.

With the current U.N. and unilateral sanctions imposed by Washington, Levey said Iran is "turning itself into a financial pariah" through deceptive financial practices.

Targeted sanctions, like those against banks are supposed to have minimal effect on the general population. However, experience has shown quite the opposite.

Small businesses, such as those producing hygiene products or basic pharmaceuticals often cannot pay for goods and services. Consequently, production falters and a shortage of these essential items develops.

In addition, without access to the international banking system, companies have to become creative. Bypassing normal banking channels can often lead to further accusations of money laundering and other irregularities. Targeted sanctions against banks invariably create more problems than they solve.

However, along with verifiable evidence that Tehran has ambitions to develop nuclear weapons, the world is waiting to see any smoking gun regarding the financial malpractice of the Iranian banks.

Given Washington's past record on intelligence gathering regarding the so-called "axis of evil" -- Iraq, North Korea and Iran -- one can only draw the conclusion that this is most likely either another failure in intelligence, or just a pathetically disguised act of blatant aggression.

Sphere: Related Content

Thursday, 22 November 2007

Classic Cars Tehran (2)

We discovered this aged, battered, but ultimately "beautiful" example of the iconic 2CV on a backstreet somewhere near the famous Tehran Bazaar, where it was still being used as a workhorse (or two workhorses) fetching and delivering goods.

Not sure about the colour scheme though.

According to Wikipedia, in Iran the Citroen 2CV was called the Jian. The cars were originally manufactured in Iran in a joint venture between Citroen and Iran National.

Some great pictures of American classics taken by my friend Will Yong here

Sphere: Related Content

Into the Den of Spies

Former U.S. Embassy in Tehran is a window into the past

It was an odd experience to say the very least.

Walking through the main gate into the former United States Embassy in Tehran was by no means a disappointment, but faced with a very ordinary looking building (at least on the outside) it was something of an anticlimax. I don't know why, I am not really sure what I had been expecting.

Former U.S. Embassy, Tehran

Inside the main building very little of the original decoration remains. The walls have been covered with murals, posters and slogans recording the 1979 Islamic Revolution. As we walked up the stairs, immediately on the left of the entrance hall, we were surrounded by well-crafted murals, a medley of odd images of the takeover, atrocities in the Middle East and caricatures of U.S. military might.

Full story and more pictures can be found here at Ohmynews International

Sphere: Related Content

Friday, 16 November 2007

Mixed Reaction to IAEA Report

Iran and Washington both claim equal vindication from ElBaradei report

The latest scorecard on Iran’s nuclear programs was never going to be enough to satisfy Washington, London and Paris. And the vague language contained in Mohammed ElBaradei’s report on Thursday didn’t disappoint.

Hailed by the Iranians as a vindication of their “peaceful” nuclear program, the Security Council allies were quick to cite the report as evidence of Iran’s failure to “come clean” with the nuclear watchdog.

Original article published by Ohmynews International

Washington was particularly quick to pounce with its U.N. ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad issuing statements before most people had finished reading the 10-page document.

"It is clear that Iran has not fully cooperated,” he declared at a hasty press briefing, “We believe we need to move forward with another resolution in the Security Council to impose additional sanctions on Iran.”

Khalilzad didn’t mention the part of the report that clearly stated there has been no deviation on the part of Iran to weaponize its nuclear program, and that the country has demonstrated substantial cooperation with the nuclear agency.

Taking note of Tehran’s “substantial cooperation” would have diminished Khalilzad’s next dramatic assertion that, “This is one of the most important issues that we face. The Issue of Iran’s nuclear program, because Iran is seeking regional hegemony, because Iran has ties with terrorists, and because Iran supports insurgent groups in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

Scores of political analysts would likely add that the above statement would also describe the United States, perhaps substituting “nuclear program’ with “missile shield.”

The ambassador did not provide any new proof to support the allegations against Iran.

He did cite some wording in the report that suggested Iran had been responding to IAEA enquiries “actively” rather than “proactively” -- meaning that Tehran delivered everything that was asked of it, but didn’t volunteer any information that wasn’t requested.

The implication that Tehran is still trying to hide something was made very clear.

Iran’s “active” rather than “proactive” cooperation with the nuclear energy watchdog led Elbaradei to remark in his report that, “The agency’s knowledge about Iran’s current nuclear program is diminishing.”

A number of publications in the Western media have followed Khalilzad’s lead and much of their coverage has focused on the negative, paying scant attention to the bulk of ElBaradei’s generally positive report and the response made by Iranian officials.

For example, ElBaradei said Iran has made “substantial progress” and that the IAEA had been able to verify the non-diversion of declared nuclear material in Iran.

The report said the agency had been able to certify that Iran’s statements on its highly controversial P-1 and P-2 centrifuge programs are consistent with the finding of the agency’s inspectors.

Responding to the less favorable elements of the report, Iran’s ambassador to the IAEA, Ali Asghar Soltaniyeh told Tehran-based PressTV, “The matter is perhaps simply explained.”

Soltaniyeh said after Iran was first sent to the Security Council over its nuclear program, many non-technical and international political bodies became involved. As a consequence, the Iranian parliament ordered the government to limit its cooperation with the IAEA and simply conform to its legal obligations under the Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement.

"It means we stopped our voluntary cooperation,” he said, “we limited our cooperation to what we were legally obliged to do and that is what the [IAEA] director general is referring to.”

Soltaniyeh was saying that Iran became “active” in its sharing of information, rather than “proactive” -- that is, not offering information above and beyond its legal commitments.

Under these circumstances it is understandable that the volume of information on Iran’s nuclear program would “diminish.”

Soltaniyeh added, however, that over the past several months Iran has actually cooperated beyond its legal obligations in the Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement.

He pointed out that the IAEA has confirmed that the Natanz enrichment facility is under perhaps the strictest inspection regime anywhere in the world.

"Apart from the cameras and other inspection equipment,” he said, “the facility has been subject to seven unannounced inspections by agency officials.”

The IAEA report confirmed the Natanz facility is enriching uranium to four percent, “Confirming that the plant is designed for and producing low enriched plutonium suitable only as fuel for nuclear power plants,” Soltaniyeh said.

Consequently, he said, there is no justification whatsoever for accusations of proliferation.

Natanz is home to the centrifuges so often cited in the statements of Bush administration officials and the Western media as being capable of producing weapons grade material for the production of a nuclear bomb.

Experts confirm that with such a robust inspection in place, it would be virtually impossible for the Iranians to divert any materials for a weapons program.

Responding to calls by Washington for a further round of sanctions, Soltaniyeh, pointed out that the last resolution adopted in March of this year ordered Iran to immediately cease re-processing nuclear materials.

"The IAEA has reported there is no indication of any ongoing reprocessing related activities,” Soltaniyeh said, “So this is a clear indication and proof that those resolutions have no legal and technical justification.”

Mr. ElBaradei’s report concludes, he said, that there is no reprocessing activity in Iran, “Therefore how can we be expected to suspend an activity that doesn’t exist.”

Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili, lashed out at countries that continue to accuse Iran of pursuing nuclear weapons. “They have offered no evidence to support their allegations,” he said, “and at the same time, these same countries possess and develop nuclear weapons themselves.”

Jalili said Tehran has consistently supported nuclear disarmament and criticized the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

Author’s comment:
The United Nations Security Council Resolution 1747 adopted in March, 2007, contains the following paragraph:

"Recalling the resolution of the IAEA Board of Governors which states that a solution to the Iranian nuclear issue would contribute to global non-proliferation efforts and to realizing the objective of a Middle East free of weapons of mass destruction, including their means of delivery.”

No UNSC resolution has ever called for Israel to open its nuclear facilities and declare its estimated 130-200 nuclear warheads.

While the IAEA did admit to gaps in its knowledge regarding Iran’s nuclear programs, according to experts, these “gaps” generally covered areas that Iran is currently under no legal obligation to report under the terms of its membership of the IAEA and as a signatory of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Essentially the sanctions are based on “suspicions” that Iran may be seeking weapons of mass destruction, and not hard evidence.

According to this and earlier IAEA reports, Iran is conducting its nuclear program in an open and transparent manner and within the legal parameters of its international agreements.

For more on the IAEA report and international reaction to it, visit Iran

Sphere: Related Content

Wednesday, 14 November 2007

Republicans Blast Bush Over Iran

White House under pressure to open unconditional talks with Tehran

Is the Bush administration in the United States becoming more isolated in its handling of foreign policy, especially its increasingly belligerent attitude toward Iran?

According to California State University professor Paul Sheldon Foote, the answer is simple.

"Yes of course, and that is seen in the opinion polls," he told Tehran-based PressTV in a recent interview, "I myself am a lifelong conservative Republican, Vietnam veteran, but I have no use for the neoconservative policy."

Original article published by Ohmynews International

Despite recent assurances of support from new French President Nicholas Sarkozy, and Prime Minister Gordon Brown's reaffirmation of Britain's special relationship with Washington, Bush is coming under increasing pressure to drop preconditions and open direct negotiations with Tehran.

But despite resistance from Russia and China to impose further sanctions, and a lack of conclusive evidence that Iran has an ongoing nuclear weapons program, the Bush administration remains determined to essentially bend Tehran to its will and bully Iran into accepting negotiations on Washington's terms.

But will the continued absence of any "smoking gun" evidence against Iran convince the Bush administration to relax their position?

"Well hopefully they will be forced to accept it," Foote said, "though there are many people remaining in the Bush administration who would prefer an attack by Israel or by America, but there are many other Republicans and Democrats who would like to see talks begin immediately without any preconditions."

Republican Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska recently blasted President Bush over his "belligerent" statements toward Iran and warned of a "self fulfilling prophecy" regarding Bush's scaremongering comments on the possibility of Iran being the trigger for World War III.

With opposition to a military solution to the Iran issue growing in Washington, Foote expressed concern that the White House may exploit a possibly unrelated incident and use it as a pretext to launch a strike against Iran.

"I mean look what happened to Syria recently where we still can't figure out whether Israel or America attacked Syria," he said, "All it takes is for one incident for the neoconservatives to be able to twist it in their favor."

Foote agreed with Hagel's assessment of Bush's foreign policy in that it has made the Middle East a more dangerous place and Iran more defiant. Foote said Bush's foreign policy was in fact designed to result in a "self fulfilling prophecy" as described by Hagel.

"Absolutely, and that's what they want to do. The neoconservatives have a long goal of following in their admiration of Trotsky and having endless wars, and this is just part of it."

Gareth Porter, a Washington-based investigative reporter and political analyst had earlier told PressTV's "Middle East Today" program that he believed the Bush administration is engaged in a campaign of diplomatic coercion against Iran in which the threat of war is an essential part.

"My fear is based on how we got involved in the war in Vietnam a generation or two ago. The path they are taking is the path that can very easily lead to war through miscalculation on the part of the United States."

Foote, however, said there was another player behind the scenes urging Bush and his administration to ever more aggressive action against Tehran, whatever positive reports may be made by the International Atomic Energy Agency regarding Iran's nuclear programs.

"This didn't start with Bush," he said. "If you look back to 1995, then President Bill Clinton made a speech to the World Jewish Congress saying that Conoco would not be permitted to accept a massive contract from Iran. It doesn't matter whether you have Republican Bush or Democrat Clinton in power, it's still AIPAC -- the American Israel Political Action Committee -- behind the scenes."

AIPAC is a Washington-based lobby group whose mission statement reads, "To help make Israel more secure by ensuring that American support remains strong."

The New York Times has described the lobby group as "the most important organization affecting America's relationship with Israel."

Foote said the foreign policy missteps have damaged the standing of the United States in global public opinion. He said America's somewhat ambivalent attitude toward the torture of detainees has further tarnished the country's image.

"I am embarrassed to say that Fox News Channel reported just a few days ago that 40 percent of Americans do support water boarding, 58 percent don't and 2 percent can't make up their minds. It is embarrassing that even 40 percent would support water boarding," he said.

"It makes everyone, every enemy of the United States able to point to the great evil American devil; it just makes us look worse."

Sphere: Related Content

Classic Cars Tehran (1)

While there are plenty of new cars on the traffic clogged streets of Tehran, the city is a treasure trove for classic car enthusiasts.

This Chevrolet Nova (?) I would guess from the early 1970s is the pride and joy of the owner of our local grocery store.
We have seen ancient MGs, Renaults, Citroens (the 2cv was obviously very popular here at one time) and scores of 1970s American sedans in various states of restoration - or disrepair!

Sphere: Related Content

Saturday, 10 November 2007

Around the Middle East: Nov. 9th

A quick look at the stories 'not' making the headlines on Friday

Bloggers around the globe have been highlighting the irony of Israel calling for the dismissal of Mohammed ElBaradei as the head of the International Atomic Agency, while the mainstream media has largely missed the point completely.

Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Shaul Mofaz this week accused the agency's chief of "endangering world peace.' Mofaz said, "His irresponsible attitude of sticking his head in the sand over Iran's nuclear program should lead to his impeachment."

Original article published by Ohmynews International

With what some bloggers have described as a brazen exhibition of "chutzpah" Mofaz made no mention of Israel's own "secret" nuclear weapons program that by some estimates now boasts a stockpile of between 130-200 nuclear warheads.

"Chutzpah" roughly translates as audacity bordering on arrogance or insolence.

Israel has an official policy of denial regarding its nuclear capability. As recently as December last year Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert stated on the record that his country would not be the first country to introduce nuclear weapons in the Middle East.

Speaking in Washington, Mofaz also announced that the United States and Israel have set up two working committees to construct a strategy against Iran and its alleged aspirations to join the nuclear weapons club.

Mofaz said one of the committees would deal with intelligence on Iran's nuclear programs and the other with international sanctions against Tehran.

Closer to home, there were celebrations in Tehran as two Iranian diplomats and seven pilgrims returned home after 10 months in captivity in Iraq. The men has been abducted by U.S. forces in Irbil in January, but never charged with any crime.

The United States released the prisoners after concluding it had no evidence to prove they were guilty of any wrongdoing. The U.S. had suggested the nine had been involved in aiding insurgent groups in Iraq.

Moving to Gaza, where large scale demonstrations took place after Friday prayers in support of the resistance against the Israeli occupation. During the rallies, the leadership of the Hamas resistance movement condemned attempts by the Fatah led government in Ramallah to classify Hamas as an outlaw militia.

It seems the optimism that surrounded the first attempts at reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah late last month seems to have evaporated, as the two sides appear as far apart as ever.

In related news, Arab League chief Amr Moussa has sent an urgent message to the United Nations secretary general, Ban Ki-moon expressing his "deep concern" over the deteriorating conditions in the coastal strip.

Gaza has been isolated by an Israeli blockade, and Moussa warned of the worsening humanitarian situation.

Meanwhile, European envoys are heading to Lebanon as the country faces a critical deadline to elect a new president. The pro-Western parliamentary majority and the opposition have been at loggerheads over the selection process for a new president, and the vote has already been postponed twice.

Observers say Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri is likely to announce a third postponement to the Nov. 24 deadline when the parliament convenes on Monday. But the envoys are expected to encourage parliamentarians to reach a quick resolution to the problem.

A highly placed source in Lebanon told regional television network PressTV that "If the Lebanese fail to elect a president it could easily lead to two rival governments and bloodshed."

By convention, the post of president is usually taken by a Maronite Christian. However, the government and opposition have been unable to agree on a "consensus" candidate -- an individual that isn't obviously pro-Western nor overtly pro-Syrian.

Another story that has failed to capture the public imagination are allegations that since 1983 new French President Nicholas Sarkozy had worked as an "asset" for the Israeli intelligence service, Mossad.

An article in the French daily Le Figaro described Sarkozy as a "sayan" or helper in gathering intelligence for the Israelis.

There is no evidence, apparently, that Sarkozy ever gave up his links to the Israeli intelligence gathering agency.

Sphere: Related Content

Friday, 9 November 2007

Israeli Troops Attack Journalists in Gaza

'We could be clearly identified as press,' one said, 'but the troops kept firing'

With machinegun and rifle fire kicking up the sand around them, more than half a dozen Palestinian journalists crawled on their stomachs, desperately seeking cover beside their car, Nov. 8.

With their flak jackets clearly marked "press" and their cameras very much in evidence, some of them started screaming at the Israeli soldiers to stop firing. Others quickly got on mobile phones or radios, trying to summon help.

Article first published by Ohmynews International

"Journalists, including cameramen from a couple of different agencies, came under intensive fire from Israeli tanks and undercover units as we were covering an incursion of Israeli troops into Gaza on Thursday morning," PressTV correspondent Yousef al-Helou said in his report.

In the television footage the journalists managed to shoot from cover, Israeli soldiers and armored vehicles could clearly be seen as they continued their incursion into the tiny village of Umm al-Nasser.

"We were all wearing press vests," he said, "we took shelter behind the car and were screaming for help." But the reporters were pinned down for more than an hour before they were evacuated by an ambulance.

Al-Helou reported there were also Israeli helicopters engaged in the operation. The aircraft would doubtless have provided the Israelis with very clear images of the cowering journalists and their equipment. This suggests that the attack on the journalists was quite deliberate.

"We were covering an Israeli incursion into Northern Gaza," PressTV cameraman Aiman al-Rass said later, "suddenly the Israelis opened fire on us.'

Al-Rass called on international organizations to lodge protests with the Israelis over the frequent attacks on Palestinian journalists in the Gaza Strip. "We would like to urge Reporters Without Borders and the Red Cross to put pressure on the Israelis to allow us to do our work."

Al-Helou said local human rights organizations have expressed their concern over the Israeli attacks on journalists.

Khalil Abu Shammalah, the director of the al-Dameer Human Rights Group told al-Helou that they have documented dozens of violations committed by the Israeli occupation forces against journalists.

"It is the responsibility of the international community to pressure the Israeli government and the Israeli occupation forces to respect the work of the journalists," he told PressTV.

Al-Helou said journalists working in Gaza are regularly subjected to "hazardous situations so it can be a dangerous job here."

The Israeli incursion in the north of the Gaza Strip came as Israel's Defense Minister Ehud Barak had been warning of an imminent "large scale" Israeli operation in the territory that Israel has already labeled as an "enemy entity."

Fortunately, none of the journalists involved in this attack were injured, though a few of them did need treatment in a local hospital for shock.

In October, Fayez Khurshid, PressTV's correspondent in Kabul was abducted and severely beaten by U.S. forces in the country. Khurshid later told PressTV that during his interrogation his family had been threatened and he'd been warned to stop working for Tehran-based PressTV "or else."

This article is based in part on reports filed by correspondent Yousef al-Helou in Gaza

Sphere: Related Content

Thursday, 8 November 2007

Around the Middle East - November 7th

A quick look at the stories not making the headlines Wednesday 7th November

The Israeli air force reportedly dropped more than a million cluster bomblets on Lebanon 's south during the 2006 summer war.

The illegal munitions have now claimed the lives of 280 people, including 70 children. The U.N. Mine Action Coordination Center , which is trying to clear the area of the deadly bomblets, said they had identified 952 locations where unexploded munitions were still posing a grave danger to the local population.

Article first published by Ohmynews International

Obviously the cluster bombs are spread over a large area, but Israel has refused to help in the clean up operation by withholding crucial strike targeting data that includes how many bombs were dropped and where they were dropped.

In August 2006 the United Nations condemned Israel 's use of the cluster munitions in the closing days of the war, describing the action as "completely immoral." The small bomblets have an extremely long life and can effectively lie dormant for many years. Consequently, without proactive assistance from Israel, there are likely to be many more innocent lives lost in the years to come.

Cluster munitions are generally subject to an international ban, but Israel insists the weapons it uses comply with international law.

In other news, rights group Peace Now has reported that Israel is expanding its West Bank settlements in clear contravention of the U.S. sponsored "road map" peace plan. Under the deal, Israel agreed to dismantle all unauthorized outposts built since 2001. However, rather than demolition, Israel appears to be moving the opposition direction.

Peace Now says construction has been witnessed in 88 West Bank settlements, though many of them are sites that Israel hopes to retain after a final status agreement is reached.

However, the group says settlers have erected 10 more permanent structures in some of the 105 unauthorized settlements.

Observers say this will present just another obstacle to any hopes of meaningful talks at the proposed Annapolis conference. Not that anyone is really holding out much optimism for the talks scheduled for Nov. 26 and 27. Some of the main players, Syria and Saudi Arabia might not show up, and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas has already threatened he would boycott the process unless Israel offers a guarantee that something meaningful can be achieved.

So far , Israel has declined to offer any such assurance.

Iran's president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has again thumbed his nose at a U.S. offer of talks made on the condition that Tehran first abandon its Uranium enrichment program. The president told a crowd of supporters that Iran welcomes talks, but that its independence and rights are not negotiable.

Jingoistic rhetoric, or something else? When Ahmadinejad talks about rights, he might be on firmer ground that many would give him credit for.

Under the terms of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, Iran has a legal right to work on enrichment processes. The United Nations charter further guarantees those rights. Consequently, any attempt to abrogate those rights would be illegal, right?

According to an expert on these things, the sanctions imposed on Iran by the Security Council are technically illegal and should be rescinded. Something to consider.

Something else that should give participants to the Annapolis Conference pause for thought is an opinion poll just released in Israel. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has just been voted the most corrupt member of the country’s government. He achieved the rather onerous honor after 56 percent of respondents voted against him.

And just when we all thought that Ankara and Washington had managed to mend at least some fences after that nice fireside chat in the Oval Office, President Abdullah Gul fires off a broadside at George Bush. Indirectly at least. Speaking in Baku, Azerbaijan, Gul said Washington should be held responsible for the crisis in Iraqi Kurdistan and the terrorist activities of the PKK. He said “As the country that has occupied Iraq, Washington must lead the fight against all terrorist groups in Iraq, without discrimination.”

In his meeting with Erdogan, Bush declared that the PKK was an enemy of Turkey and the United States. But how do you go aggressively looking for your PKK “enemy” when he is hiding under the bed of your Iraqi Kurdish allies?

Sphere: Related Content

Tuesday, 6 November 2007

IAEA: 'Iran Presents No Clear and Present Danger'

Iran calls for more time to demonstrate its compliance with NPT, warns against military action

What could be clearer? A respected United Nations agency staffed with some of the best minds in the nuclear business making a bald statement of fact: We have found absolutely no evidence that Iran is weaponizing or any plans to weaponize its nuclear energy program.

So why did the United States convene a meeting between the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany last week in London in yet a further attempt to persuade them to impose a third raft of economic sanctions against Tehran?

Original article published on Ohmynews International

Mark Fitzpatrick, a senior nonproliferation fellow at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London believes he has the answer.

"I think there's a very good reason to believe that Iran's nuclear program has a military objective to it," he told PressTV's discussion program "Middle East Today" on Saturday. "There have been so many experiments that had relations to nuclear weapons. There was military involvement in many aspects of the program."

Certainly, dismissing out of hand the findings of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the United States and France appear to share these concerns. Washington and Paris claim they have evidence to support their suspicions that Iran is seeking atomic weapons. Unfortunately, despite normal protocols, they have failed to share that information with the IAEA or anyone else for that matter.

Professor William Beeman of the University of Minnesota questions the existence of any such evidence.

"I wish I knew why the United States or France does not share this information with the IAEA or with the world," he told PressTV, "If they in fact have this information it would be very much to their advantage to share it. But in fact I think the simple truth is they don't have it, and thus far no one has been able to demonstrate conclusively that Iran has any kind of military weapons program. There is no evidence."

In the absence of further evidence, the United States is obviously basing its suspicions on the contents of a laptop computer allegedly stolen from an Iranian official in 2005 and presented to American intelligence officers.

The computer contained thousands of pages detailing alleged experiments and programs being undertaken by the Iranians to develop a nuclear weapon. Although unconfirmed, it has been suggested that the computer was delivered to the Americans by the shadowy Iranian opposition organization Mujahideen-e-Khalq, or MKO.

The MKO is listed as a terrorist organization by the U.S. State Department and the European Union, though there have been numerous reports that the U.S. military has maintained contacts with an MKO cell in Iraq with a view to using them for clandestine missions against Iran.

Joining the discussion, Gareth Porter, a Washington-based investigative reporter and political analyst, said the provenance of the computer raises serious questions about the authenticity of its contents.

"This is an interesting point. I have only seen this point, that is the attribution of the laptop to the MKO by a German foreign office official. I have not seen any follow up on that by journalists or any officials. It is an interesting point and certainly merits further investigation," Porter said.

The United States insists the contents of the computer are authentic, Porter said, but the IAEA and many other countries are not convinced.

Fitzpatrick, however, says people should be cautious about dismissing the computer evidence out of hand. "The laptop computer evidence, I think, we have to be skeptical about because its one source of evidence. But all the intelligence agencies of the European Union that have looked at it have all found it to be very persuasive."

He said, in addition to the computer evidence, Iran has a track record of breaking the Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) rules. "Iran violated its NPT safeguards agreement in 14 different ways over the course of 18 years -- not reporting experiments, not reporting the import of nuclear material, not reporting facilities where that material was introduced to and so on."

He said Iranian claims that they are pursuing nuclear energy for economic reasons are simply not convincing. "I think we all want Iran to prove its peaceful intentions," he said, "and the best way to do that is stop enriching uranium."

Fitzpatrick said there's a prestige motivation for continuing the program, but added, "That's not an economic rationale."

Beeman disagreed: "Critics say it [the nuclear program] makes no economic sense, but it has been demonstrated very conclusively that Iran has a very good reason for seeking nuclear energy, and that it will offset the deficit they have in their natural gas supplies."

Porter said national pride is also playing a very important role in Iran's determination to acquire nuclear energy.

"It seems to me we have to take into account the political factor. The fact of national pride and patriotism in Iran," Porter said. "There is no question that a majority of Iranians are supportive of Iran enriching uranium. They view this as a badge of prestige, as being part of a club which includes all the other nuclear powers."

To suggest there is no motivation for a nuclear program except for military purposes, he explained, seems to me to be missing a key point.

Beeman agreed that national pride is a motivating factor, adding that Iranian caution would explain why they have so far declined the offer of enriched uranium from Russia and other countries.

"Iran's development of nuclear energy and its capacity for the enrichment of uranium is considered an engineering project and it's a source of great national pride," Beeman said. "The people of Iran may oppose their leadership on many fronts, but on the question of nuclear energy the public is unified."

Given the fluid and uncertain state of international alliances and friendships, Beeman said, Iran would be very foolish to rely on another country. "They think it's a trick. They shut down and disable their nuclear enrichment facilities and then the uranium will not be delivered. And that's one of the things that concerns them."

For a precedent, the government in Tehran only has to look to the way the 1994 Agreed Framework between the United States and North Korea began to fall apart with a change of ruling party in the U.S. Congress to be convinced that self-reliance is probably a safer course of action.

Iran has repeatedly called on the international community in general, and the United States in particular, to allow the IAEA to complete its work and report on Tehran's compliance with its commitments under the NPT.

The secretary general of the IAEA, Mohammed ElBaradei, is due to make his presentation to the agency's board of governors in mid-November. Iranian officials say they are confident the report will exonerate Tehran of any wrongdoing.

Former Iranian President Hashemi Rafsanjani said the recent meetings between Iran and the IAEA have been making good progress, an assessment shared by ElBaradei and the head of the agency's negotiating team, Olli Heinonen.

Rafsanjani said Iran and the IAEA should be given more time and warned against any military action against Iran.

He was referring to a sharpening of the rhetoric coming out of the White House that preceded a raft of unilateral sanctions imposed by the United States on Oct. 25 against more than 20 Iranian companies and banks, individuals and the Defense Ministry.

Concerns that Washington may seek a military solution are widespread.

"I think what the Bush administration is trying to do is a campaign of diplomatic coercion against Iran in which the threat of war is absolutely an essential part," said Porter. "My fear is based on how we got involved in the war in Vietnam a generation or two ago. The path they are taking is the path that can very easily lead to war through miscalculation on the part of the United States."

Sphere: Related Content

Monday, 5 November 2007

Around the Middle East - November 4th

A look at the top stories making the headlines on Sunday, Nov. 4

The 4th of November is an important day in the Iranian calendar. It marks what is now described as Student Day, the day in 1979 when angry students stormed the U.S. Embassy in Tehran to protest U.S. interference in the internal affairs of Iran.

The day was celebrated with parades and television specials showing images of the event and the some 90 Americans who were held for 444 days.

Not surprisingly, the takeover of the embassy remains something of a sore point for most Americans who tend to see things rather differently.

Original article published on Ohmynews International

It is now a matter of record, however, that many of the staff employed at the embassy had been actively engaged in propping up the regime of the Shah by trying to undermine opposition groups in Iran. They were directly interfering in the internal affairs of a foreign sovereign to promote Washington's one's own vested interests.

Understandable then that for millions of Iranians might be a little upset and when the opportunity presented itself, converged on what had been dubbed "The Den of Spies."

Its fair enough really. Every country spies on their neighbors and hosts to one degree or another. So probably best not to protest too much when one is caught in the act.

Also in the news was a two-hour speech by Palestinian Prime Minister in Gaza Ismail Haniya. He accused the United States and Israel of being morally and politically responsible for the suffering of Palestinians.

Haniya said Washington has given Israel the green light to continue military attacks on the area and its effective siege of the Strip.

He also called on Fatah for political unity, saying Hamas was willing to enter talks without any preconditions. He called on Fatah to stand by Hamas in its struggle with Israel, especially in light of recent Israeli threats to re-invade the coastal strip.

The speech coincided with further Israeli attacks that left four Palestinians dead. Official sources say three of the victims were civilian workers and the fourth is believed to be a member of the Islamic Jihad.

Israeli attacks or incursions into the Strip are an almost daily occurrence, say local officials, adding to the misery of a population that is already suffering under an Israeli blockade that prevents the import of essential humanitarian goods, oil and even electricity.

This prompted the European Union's special envoy to the Middle East to express his concern over the situation of the Palestinians.

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair said the Palestinians were being disadvantaged both politically and economically. He also expressed his concern over Israeli imposed restrictions on the movement of Palestinians, which have effectively turned the Gaza into a prison with some 1.5 million inmates.

But Blair's words were generally met with disdain from Palestinian officials who say he did little or nothing when he was Prime Minister to relieve the suffering of the Palestinians. They accuse him of following the American policy of unquestioned support for Israel when he was in power.

This is broadly true. Blair had rejected the democratically elected government of Hamas. In February 2006 Blair declared that he would not have any contact with Hamas unless it accepted Israel's right to exist.

Blair said he was optimistic that upcoming Middle East talks would offer an opportunity for progress in resolving differences between the Israelis and Palestinians.

Where his optimism comes from is anyone's guess since Israel has already said any deal for a Palestinian state would not be implemented until Israeli security is assured. I imagine for the Israeli government that "security assurance" is a somewhat subjective issue.

Interestingly, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said while he is opposed to any timeframe to resolve final status issues, his goal is to reach an accord before U.S. President Bush leaves office in January 2009.

Israel's hard line has prompted Palestinian Authority Chief Mahmood Abbas to say he will boycott the talks planned for Annapolis later this month.

And finally, Lebanon says Israeli aircraft again violated the country's airspace. Military officials say the reconnaissance aircraft flew over Tyre and Nabatiya in contravention of a United Nations brokered ceasefire.

Sphere: Related Content