Iran Election Guide

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Chile Earthquake/Tsunami Watch: Follow-Up

2100 GMT: The death toll has risen to 708 --- 541 in Maule Region, 64 in Bio Bio Region, 103 elsewhere. President Michelle Bachelet said, "We face a catastrophe of such unthinkable magnitude that it will require a giant effort" to recover.

Amidst the tragedy, a story of a miracle escape: a man and his 7-year-old daughter fell 13 floors in their apartment building but suffered only cuts and bruises.

1330 GMT: The latest from Concepcion, Chile's second-largest city and the population centre most affected by the earthquake: rescuers moving towards residents trapped in a collapsed apartment building, thousands homeless on the streets, and reports of looting.

1150 GMT: A Welcome Error. Geophysicist Gerard Fryer assesses, "We expected the waves to be bigger in Hawaii, maybe about 50 percent bigger than they actually were. We'll be looking at that."

1135 GMT: Reports of a strong aftershock in Santiago.

1015 GMT: The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center has cancelled the tsunami alert for all countries in the region.

0800 GMT: Highest waves hitting Japan are reported at 145 centimetres (just under 5 feet).

0735 GMT: Following up on Saturday's 8.8-magnitude earthquake in Chile and the threat of tsunami across the Pacific....

In Chile, President Bachelet estimates that two million people have been affected. More than 300 have been killed, and 15 are missing. The earthquake was 700 to 800 times stronger than that in Haiti in January, but it was off-shore and at a much greater depth (21.7 miles vs. 8.1 miles in Haiti). Buildings have collapsed, especially in Chile's second city Concepcion, the major north-south highway has been cut in several places, and Santiago airport has been badly damaged.

There have been 76 aftershocks in Chile and Argentina, killing two more people.

Today’s Chile Earthquake/Tsunami Watch: LiveBlog

The feared "big" tsunami has not materialised in most sites in the Pacific. The tidal surge in Hawaii was much smaller than feared; in California, the rise was between 13 and 41 centimetres (5 and 17 inches). The highest wave so far in Japan has been 40 centimetres (16 inches).

Google has launched a Chile Person Finder and a site on Chile Earthquake Relief explains how assistance can be given.

The Latest from Iran (28 February): What Do The Statements Mean?

2045 GMT: Sunday Absurdity. A slow day, which leading to a perusing of opinion in the newspapers. Unfortunately, that turns up a piece of anti-Muslim diatribe posing as analysis by Ephraim Karsh in The New York Times: "Muslims Won't Play Together". The slurs have to be read to be believed, but here is the policy recommendation: "A military strike must remain a serious option: there is no peaceful way to curb Iran’s nuclear ambitions, stemming as they do from its imperialist brand of national-Islamism."

NEW Iran: Understanding the Assembly of Experts Statement “Crisis Continues”
NEW Iran Document: Mousavi’s Interview “Reform Within the Current Framework” (27 February)
Iran Analysis: Now It Gets Interesting….
The Latest from Iran (27 February): The Mousavi Interview

1700 GMT: Where's Mahmoud? President Ahmadinejad has been at a conference in Tehran attended by Palestinian leaders such as Hamas' Khaled Meshaal, Islamic Jihad's Ramadan Abdullah Shallah, and the head of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (General Command), Ahmed Jibril. Ahmadinejad offered this commentary:

With God's grace and thanks to the Palestinian resistance the occupying Zionist regime has lost its raison d'être. [Israel's] presence even in one inch of the region's soil causes threat, crisis and war. The only way to confront them (Israelis) is through the Palestinian youths' resistance, and that of the regional nations.

1435 GMT: US-Israel Front (cont.). Haaretz has more on Israel Defense Minister Ehud Barak's Iran manoeuvres after his US trip (see 0955 GMT). Barak had indicated earlier that Israel would not pursue military action but would look for tougher sanction; however, in a talk in Washington, he returned to the formula that "everything is on the table":
It's clear to me that the clock toward the collapse of this regime works much slower than the clock which ticks toward Iran becoming a nuclear military power. And this is the reason why simultaneously with diplomacy and effective sanctions, we recommend to all players not to remove any option from the table and we adopt this attitude for ourselves as well.

1400 GMT: Political Prisoner News. Journalist Ali Hekmat, editor-in-chief of the banned newsaper Khordaadhas been released after two months in detention. Civil rights activist Jamshid Zarei has also been freed.

1325 GMT: That Larijani Fellow. Speaker of Parliament Ali Larijani, continuing to grab headlines after his trip to Japan, has spoken to the Majlis about the capture of Jundullah leader Abdolmalek Rigi, "Fortunately, his confessions confirmed our previous information on the close cooperation between the US and NATO and the terrorist grouplet."

1300 GMT: No Protests. A day after Mir Hossein Mousavi called for the regime to allow rallies, Tehran Prosecutor General Abbas Jafari Doulatabadi has given a sharp rejection:
Even though some go on trying to agitate the atmosphere in society with statements... they've been given the answer by the people. We will not witness street demonstrations and we will not allow anyone to come to the streets to disrupt public security without proper permits....

Even though threats against the revolution will not come to an end, we will not succumb and certainly one day in the not so distant future despair will take them and they will surrender. The file on the election has been closed and law enforcement agencies have been asked to preserve security.

Having wielded a large stick, Doulatabadi offered a small carrot with the promise that some post-election detainees would be released before the Iranian New Year.

1220 GMT: O" the Economic Front. Kalemeh denounces President Ahmadinejad's slogan of bringing oil income to people's tables, comparing it with "vanished billions" in revenues.

Rah-e-Sabz reports on a protest at an Isfahan steel plant over seven months of unpaid wages.

1215 GMT: Bluster of Day. Deputy Revolutionary Guard commander Hossein Salami warns, "Iran is standing on 50% of world's energy resources. If it decides to do so, Europe will spend the winter in the cold."

1205 GMT: Maintaining His Silence. The Supreme Leader used a meeting with Tehran's ambassador to take a nationally-televised swipe at the International Atomic Energy Agency, "Measures and reports of the agency show its lack of independence.... Unilateral acts erode trust in this institution and the United Nations and it is very bad for the reputation of these international assemblies."

No news there, as it is a restatement of Iran's public line on the IAEA, a day before the Agency's four-day discussion of a draft report on Tehran's nuclear programme. What is more intriguing is the Supreme Leader's lack of reference to Ali Larijani's manoeuvres in Japan for "third-party enrichment" (see 0935 GMT).

1155 GMT: MediaWatch. Leading US newspapers have noted and evaluated the Mousavi interview. Borzou Daragahi of the Los Angeles Times leads with Mousavi's accusation of the regime's "wasteful exercise" of 22 Bahman (11 February) but then puts his key point, "Mousavi offered few specifics on what the so-called green movement should do next."

In The Washington Post, Thomas Erdbrink  takes a similar line with Mousavi's denuncation of the Government as a "gang with no respect for Iran's interests" and the note that "he did not, however, propose new strategies". Nazila Fathi has a shorter piece in The New York Times, following the Associated Press, with the criticism of the Iranian leadership as a dictatorial "cult" but with no comment on Mousavi's goals.

0955 GMT: On the US-Israel Front. Laura Rozen has an intriguing reading of Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak's appearance at the Washington Institute of Near Policy, after his meetings with senior Obama Administration officials:
It became quite clear that [Barak] did not want to answer [a] question about the state of U.S.-Israel relations on Iran....It was his impression that Washington believes that, while it’s highly undesirable, at the end of the day the U.S. could live with a nuclear Iran; [however] for Israel, Barak said, it would be a “tipping point” in the strategic equation in the region.

0945 GMT: Today's Propaganda Special. Iranian state media pronounces, "Rigi planned to meet Holbrooke in Kyrgyzstan", which paints the picture of the Jundullah leader sitting down with President Obama's special envoy on Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke.

The source? "Famous Washington, D.C. based investigative journalist and reporter Wayne Madsen". Funny, but I don't actually see that on the website of "famous reporter" Madsen.

Safer, I think, for Iran's loudspeakers to rely on "Iranian forces bust terrorist cell in Azarbaijan".

Meanwhile, Jundullah has chosen a new leader to succeed Rigi.

0940 GMT: Speaking of Larijani. Ali Larijani has avoided the nuclear issue on his return to Iran from Japan, issuing instead an un-controversial condemnation of US policy in Afghanistan and an announcement that Japanese officials are willing to cooperate with Iran on the reconstruction of the Afghan infrastructure.

0935 GMT: The Larijani Debate. Elsewhere, there is a spirited discussion going on, as Ali Larijani returns to Iran from a five-day trip, over the significance of his manoeuvres in Japan, especially on the nuclear programme.

I stand by the reading that Larijani's sudden embrace of "3rd-party enrichment" (no doubt backed by the Supreme Leader) is a political move meant not only to keep open links with the international community but to out-manoeuvre and even push aside President Ahmadinejad. Mr Verde is more cautious:
I think Larijani’s talk of enrichment by Japan is an attempt by the Islamic Republic to break or slow down the anti-Iran posturing. Larijani may be chipping away at Ahmadinejad, but it is all with Supreme Leader's permission.

The post-elections protest shocked the regime and Khamenei. And the Larijani/[Ahmad] Tavakoli spat with Ahmadinejad is possibly an attempt to show that the Republic is not just one voice (that of the Supreme Leader) but it actually tolerates dissent.

A well-placed EA contact, however, is dismissive that there is any significance, writing of "incremental
developments that oftentimes go nowhere".

0930 GMT: We have published a Sunday special: there is a summary of the official statement of the Assembly of Experts, and a detailed analysis by Mr Verde: "The institutions of the Islamic Republic are unable to pull it out of the current crisis. All that have any power (at least on paper) are under the direct, and at times illegal, control of Khamenei."

0745 GMT: It will be a slightly later start this morning, as we wrap up our coverage of the Chile earthquake and tsunami watch and also pick up on the important statements out of Iran.

We have posted the English translation of Mir Hossein Mousavi's Saturday interview with Kalemeh. Initial reading is both of a Mousavi trying to maintain the momentum of opposition but also carefully defining how far the challenge goes --- is it enough to call for the "spread of awareness", "free rallies", and "adherence to the Constitution" if the regime stands firm against even those measured demands? We'll think about that today, looking forward to an analysis on Monday.

Later today, however, we may have an equally important reading. The official statement of the Assembly of Experts, which did not appear for several days after last week's meeting, is now posted. Beyond its loyalty to the Supreme Leader, the references to the opposition are not clear. Was this really the declaration that "sedition" would be put down and opposition would longer be acceptable in the Iranian system?

Middle East Inside Line: US Warns Syria on Hezbollah, No ICC for Israel, Jerusalem Clashes

US to Syria "No Arms to Hezbollah": On Friday, Syrian Ambassador Imad Moustapha was called to the State Department. Damascus was asked to lower the temperature and avoid an escalation in the region and, in particular, to stop transferring arms to Hezbollah.

Haaretz says that the most recent visit to Damascus by Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs William Burns on February 17 was unsatisfactory, with Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad denying American claims that his regime was providing military aid to Iraq, Hezbollah, and other Palestinian groups.

Israel Video: The Ambassador vs. California Students (8 February)
Middle East Inside Line: Israel Presses US on Syria, Dubai Killing, Palestine’s “Quiet Revolution”

No ICC Date for Israel: A former International Criminal Court official, legal attorney Nick Kaufman, told Haaretz on Sunday that the claims of alleged war crimes in the Goldstone Report on the Gaza War will not reach the ICC at the Hague, since the US will veto such a move.

Clashes on Temple Mount in Jerusalem: Four policemen were wounded and a dozen protesters were hurt in clashes between security forces and Palestinians at the Temple Mount on Sunday. Seven people were arrested on suspicion of hurling rocks.

Israel Video: The Ambassador vs. California Students (8 February)

On February 8, Israel's Ambassador to Washington, Michael Oren, was a guest speaker at the University of California, Irvine. Twelve Muslim students were arrested after this protest.


Iran: Understanding the Assembly of Experts Statement "Crisis Continues"

First, a summary of the official statement of the Assembly of Experts after their two-day meeting. The statement only emerged yesterday, 72 hours after the conclusion of the meeting and after a "leaked" document (possibly a draft of the statement pushed by "hard-liners") appeared on Fars News:

1. Opening point on God and the Iranian nation standing against Iran's enemies.
2. Post-election: there has been much damage. The people passed the test, but a few of the elite did not in these difficult times. [No direct condemnation of the opposition, the door is still open to atonement]. Our triumph is due to our great Supreme Leader, which adds another golden page to the history book of the Islamic Republic. Abiding with the Supreme Leader is necessary for keeping our holy Republic united.
3. Fitna [sedition] has been finished, and the patient people have wiped out wrong-doers [or those on the wrong path].
4. Warning to all enemies who seduced their own people: our duty has not ended, we stand openly by the side of your Supreme Leader.
5. A thousand thanks to our devoted and self-sacrificing security forces for extinguishing the fire. God bless them and congratulations to them for catching the leader of Jundullah's "terrorists", Abdolmalek Rigi.
6. Iranian academics have achieved brilliant victories in all fields of science.
7. A reminder of Khomeini, hoping to bring the Revolution to its real owner, the Imame Zaman.

Mr Verde analyses the meaning and significance of the statement:

Not much of a surprise to be honest.

The basics: the Assembly statement is to show the people that their eight months of protest have not made any difference (they have, but this is what the regime wants people to believe).

It is also to show high-ranking religious figures who have been unhappy with the Supreme Leader’s management of the country since June that the Assembly of Experts is not only approving Khamenei as the best person to be leader but is also approving his methods and actions, to the point that it is saying that it has had enough of the protests (this is exactly how the Supreme Leader must feel about the protest: he must be fed up with it all).

The original idea of the Assembly was to include very high-ranking clerics, with impeccable personal and religious credentials, who were supposed to represent the different views of religious scholars and Grand Ayatollahs. They were supposed to be elected by the people, bringing together the Islamic nature and republicanism of the Republic.

What we have instead is a group of people, most of whom were not known at all until they were “elected” to the Assembly. And even now, most are only known for their membership of the Assembly or their political activity, not their religious credentials (for example, Ahmad Khatami).

The candidates of the Assembly have to go through a very strong filtering process by Council of Guardians and in many seats, there are usually only one candidate for people to vote for or two candidates, both of whom have the same views. So there is no choice in most Assembly constituencies. In fact the process is so flawed that members of the Council of Guardians are also members of the Assembly (e.g. Ahmad Jannati, Ahmad Khatami), a serious and obvious case of conflict of interest.

There is also a fundamental flaw with the implementation of the idea of the Assembly. The Assembly is supposed to select the Supreme Leader, oversee his actions, and, if required, remove him from the post.

But the members of the Assembly have to go through the Council of Guardians filter. The Council has 12 members (six clerics, six lawyers). The six clerics are appointed directly by the Supreme Leader. The six lawyers are nominated by the head of Judiciary and voted on by the Parliament. The head of Judiciary is appointed by the Supreme Leader and the members of Parliament have to pass through the Council filter to stand for election.

This creates a closed loop assuring the full control of the Supreme Leader and making oversight of him impossible. Only his people get to become members of the Assembly; with the exception of very few people like Ayatollah Dashgheib. (I’ll talk about Rafsanjani below.)

Through its history, the Assembly of Experts has never been what it is supposed to be. Instead of being the supreme body that oversees the top person in the regime, it rubber-stamps decisions that have already been taken elsewhere.

One example was the assignment and later removal of Grand Ayatollah Montazeri as deputy Supreme Leader in the 1980 (both of these were Khomeini’s decisions, not the Assembly’s). The same was true when Khamenei was selected as Supreme Leader. Rafsanjani got together with the right-wing factions (Motalefeh and conservative clerics) of the Islamic Republic and started a plan that resulted in the left (the current Reformists) being gradually pushed away from power. The outcome was Khamenei becoming Supreme Leader on the say-so of Rafsanjani and a few others who were supposedly recounting Khomeini’s wishes on his death bed. Ever since, the Assembly has rubber-stamped whatever Khamenei wants. All the Assembly sessions result is a communique that says that all is well and the Supreme Leader is doing the best job possible.

I view this latest statement exactly the same way. A few days before the latest session started, Kayhan published a report which predicted the final declaration. Remember that Kayhan’s editor is appointed by Khamenei, and the newspaper usually says what Khamenei wants to say. It is the journalistic version form of plainclothesmen (lebas shakhsi) for Khamenei: an unofficial spokesperson that will allow the Supreme Leader to deny everything.

Why the statement was put on the website so late? It could be that they just forgot to post it. Or it could be that someone was trying to indicate some dissatisfaction with the statement, holding back its publication.

I don’t think it matters. The institutions of the Islamic Republic are unable to pull it out of the current crisis. All that have any power (at least on paper) are under the direct, and at times illegal, control of Khamenei.

The root cause of the current crisis is Khamenei and his actions and decisions. And he will not change his mind until there is a lot of pressure on him, not from within the institutions of the regime, but from some area where he does not have full control.

I honestly believe that Khamenei and his advisors are not able to see what they are doing to the regime and to themselves. Maybe 20 years of absolute power does this; they are trying to control a country of 70 million people like a village in the outback with a big stick, lots of superstition, and big lies. The problem they have, and which will get worse, is that many young people in Iran are quite well-educated and well-informed and will not stand for this. Children of the establishment’s figures are part of this group, for example, Mohsen Ruholamini. [Mohsen Ruholamini, who died in the post-election abuses at Kahrizak Prison, was the son of Abdolhossein Ruholamini, the campaign manager of Presidential candidate Mohsen Rezaei.]

I think that, in recent weeks, we have seen a concerted effort on the part of the Supreme Leader and Co. to "wrap things up". Although the 9 Dey [30 December] and 22 Bahman [11 February] pro-regime marches were nowhere as good as they wished and actually caused them, I think they know that this is the best they can do as far as marches are concerned, both by not allowing the opposition a chance to show itself as on Qods Day, 13 Aban [4 November], 16 Azar [7 December], or Ashura [27 December] and by showing at least some form of support for the regime.

Having put a lot of effort in the 22 Bahman show, the regime is trying to get as much out of it as it possibly can. The Assembly statement and Khamenei speech to the Assembly members wer part of this plan: show strength and show resolve. The hope is that it will dishearten the public. If it does, it will improve the public standing of the Supreme Leader and the regime in the short-term. If it does not, it will raise the stakes even higher.

(A side note on Hashemi Rafsanjani....

I think that Rafsanjani and the Supreme Leader both need each other, but each want the other to be weak. I don’t think that Rafsanjani, even if he could, is out to get rid of Khamenei. He wants the Supreme Leader in his post, but in a weaker position. He is trying to use the protests and Ahmadinejad’s mismanagement of the country to say to Khamenei: the people don’t agree with you, and your guy is useless too.

The Supreme Leader on the other hand is worried that getting rid of Rafsanjani would make him lose the support of powerful people within the Islamic Republic.)

It has been said many times on EA that this is a marathon, not a sprint. If I may just modify that: this is a marathon, but the regime would like to change it into (or at least pretend that it is) a sprint. The longer this process takes, the more the regime will lose (and the weaker it will become). So the regime will have to play its hand quickly: a lot of high-value cards are being played for cheap rewards.