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Thursday
Dec162010

Iran Feature: The Battle Within and The Protests Are Still The Stories (Miller)

Western audiences, and especially Americans, don't like complicated, sad stories.  We like good guys and bad guys, cowboys and Indians, terrorists and allies.  We don't like to hear that 40-60% of the population of a country that we view as an enemy might very well be a friend.  We don't like to hear that the government we are negotiating with is illegitimate, or weak.  We also don't like to follow the slow development of an opposition movement that we can do little to help.  We like sexy stories like weapons of mass destruction or revolution, and we certainly like clarity.

Unfortunately, as long as we're not paying attention, we're also not helping, and until the media starts to cover these stories, many more people may die before things improve in Iran.

(Photograph by Munzz)

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Thursday
Dec162010

Israel-Palestine Analysis: Six Weeks of Indirect Talks But No Clear US Position

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has told US special envoy George Mitchell,said that he was "prepared to discuss all of the fundamental issues" necessary for resuming negotiations with Palestinians and reaching a peace agreement.

Netanyahu, with no preconditions such as a settlement freeze, is ready to sit and discuss matters freely. According to some sources, the issues of refugees (with reference to the demand to recognize the "Jewish" character of the State of Israel), security issues, and borders are expected to be on the table. 

The Palestinian side is not in the same position. It has received no "guarantees" from the Obama Administration over recognition of a Palestinian state based on pre-1967 borders --- whether that is through the UN, from Washington, or through talks --- and a "complete halt" to Israeli construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

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Wednesday
Dec152010

Wikileaks Iran Special: The Initial US Reaction to the 2009 Election

At noon on the day after the June 2009 Presidential election, the US Consulate in Dubai --- the major "watching post" for events in Iran --- offered a snap assessment of events.

What is initially striking is the Consulate's firm declaration of belief (based on which sources? hard information or just chatter from Iranians with US officials?) that the result had been manipulated for a first-round victory for Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Beyond this, there is uncertainty. The Consulate expects "some public rejection" of the result, but it is caught between anticipation of repression (a correct assessment), coverage by foreign journalists (a misguided assessment, at least as those journalists where shut down by Iran after 15 June), and the possible reaction of an "intensely alienated and angry" public.

Two days later, the Consulate would be surprised by the scale of the demonstrations in Tehran. And so the next stage would begin: the "wait-and-see" attitude would now have to find "an appropriate public
position" as "many opposition supporters will likely look to the US --- particularly after the Cairo speech [of President Obama on 4 June] --- for inspiration".

Nowhere does the Consulate seem to recognise the pitfalls in that statement. The Government could turn US "inspiration" into warnings to the Iranian public of Washington-backed "regime change". And "opposition supporters" were not necessarily looking to the US to define the nature of their challenge.

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Wednesday
Dec152010

The Latest from Iran (15 December): Attack In Southeastern City Kills Dozens

2145 GMT: This Morning's Bombing. Iranian officials have released the names of 32 of the 39 people killed in the suicide bombing in Chabahar in southeastern Iran.

2140 GMT: CyberWars. The hard-line Mashregh News is still down (see 1210 GMT).

2130 GMT: Political Prisoner Watch. Hashem Sabaghian, senior member of the Freedom Movement of Iran, has been released after he was detained this morning at a mourning ceremony at his house (see 0950 and 1749 GMT).

1749 GMT: Political Prisoner Watch. Activist Ahmad Ghabel has been given a 20-month prison sentence for working against the ruling system and insulting the Supreme Leader.

Ghabel was also given three years in exile, with a ban on interviews and lectures during that time.

More also on the raid on a mourning ceremony in which Hashem Sabaghian, former Minister of Interior Minister and leading member of Freedom Movement of Iran, was detained. Reformist cleric Hojatoleslam Soleimani, who was speaking at the ceremony at Sabbaghian's house in Tehran, was also seized.

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Wednesday
Dec152010

WikiLeaks and Egypt: Shame About That Internal Repression

Last February, the US Ambassador in Cairo sent this "scene-setter" for the visit of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, to Egypt.

The priorities in the cable are telling. President Obama's heralded Cairo speech, delivered in June 2009, is the platform for Eight months after President Obama's heralded Cairo speech, for "our Strategic Dialogue and...a new framework for regular bilateral meetings with the Egyptians to explore areas for cooperation and coordination, including examining our respective assessments of strategic threats such as Iran".

But wait a minute. Didn't Obama also speak about the merits of open societies, with political participation and respect for all religions? In the 12th of 14 paragraphs, the cable finally notes the internal situation. It opens with the aspiration, "We continue to promote democratic reform in Egypt, including the expansion of political freedom and pluralism, and respect for human rights", and ends with reality: "The GOE has also used the Emergency Law to target political activity by the Muslim Brotherhood, bloggers and labor demonstrators. The Interior Ministry suppresses political opposition through arrests, harassment and intimidation."

(Interesting Postscript: This week, Al-Ahram published an opinion piece from the head of the European Union delegation to Cairo, Marc Franco. Days after the disputed Egyptian elections, Franco enthused, "Looking back over the last few years, it is only fair to say that Egypt has made courageous steps towards promoting a culture of human rights at all levels of Egyptian society.")

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Wednesday
Dec152010

History Lesson: From the Big Muddy of Vietnam to the Quagmire of Afghanistan (Ryan)

The US was stuck in the “Big Muddy” for years, but it finds itself just as stuck today in Central Asia, drawn in by the enemy.

Obama’s recent decisions on Afghanistan, on Yemen and on Pakistan, coupled with the baying from Congress about Iran and the ongoing Tea Party tirades paint an American system that favours the tactical and symbolic over the strategic. There is no space to consider the observations of a man like Mikhail Gorbachev; the US is condemned to remain in their "quagmires", both real and imagined.

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Wednesday
Dec152010

WikiLeaks and Iran: Is Tehran Establishing Bases in Latin America? (Sick)

Gary Sick, an official in the Carter and Reagan Administrations, covers a little-known story in the WikiLeaks documents, considering the possibility of an Iranian power play in Latin America to challenge the US.

However, he --- and the American diplomats handling the cases --- avoid the sensational conclusion of Washington v. Tehran in the region.

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Tuesday
Dec142010

WikiLeaks: "Iran Can't Go On Like This" --- The Mistaken Predictions for the 22 Bahman Protests

The events of 22 Bahman (11 February 2010) were a significant disappointment for the Iranian opposition. In the weeks before the anniversary of the 1979 Revolution, there was an excitement that protests against the Government and regime --- which had continued despite repression and made a notable impact in the Ashura demonstrations of 27 December --- would build, possibly to a critical point.

On the day, the opposition was unable to mount a co-ordinated public protest while the regime was able to mobilise support for its official ceremonies.

In that light, the cable below from the Iran Watchers" post at the US Embassy in Baku in Azerbaijan is telling: the Embassy's sources were all predicting a significant opposition turnout on 22 Bahman to challenge a fracturing regime: "Iran Can't Go On Like This".

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Tuesday
Dec142010

Afghanistan: Holbrooke Death Overtakes Analysis of "No Decisive Victory"

The headline news in Washington is the death of Richard Holbrooke, the senior US diplomat involved in attempted resolution of conflicts from Bosnia to Afghanistan. The coverage is exemplified by this final sentence from a long profile in The Washington Post:

As Mr. Holbrooke was sedated for surgery, family members said, his final words were to his Pakistani surgeon: "You've got to stop this war in Afghanistan."

The tributes are likely to swamp any coverage of the current situation. On Sunday, Rajiv Chandrasekaran --- who wrote the Post eulogy for Holbrooke --- had published a long article on the tensions between US officials and Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

And last night Deb Reichmann of the Associated Press wrote an incisive and significant-analysis which is likely to disappear today:

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Tuesday
Dec142010

The Latest from Iran (14 December): Power Plays

2030 GMT: Political Prisoner Watch. Lawyers Sara Sabaghian and Maryam Kianarsi have been released on bail.

Sebaghian, Kianarsi, and fellow attorney Maryam Karbasi were seized at Imam Khomeini Airport in mid-November as they returned from Turkey.

2025 GMT: Political Prisoner Watch. More from the statement of Reza Khandan (see 1154 GMT), the husband of detained attorney Nasrine Sotoudeh, about his wife's situation....

Khandan explained the new charge in Sotoudeh's file of “failing to adhere to the Islamic code of dressing (hijab)”: “Two years ago Sotoudeh had been awarded a prize by the Italian Human Rights Committee and to express her gratitude, she had recorded a video message in Iran without covering her hair. The message was not shown in Iran.”

Khandan also denied the most recent claim of judiciary official Mohammad Javad Larijani that Sotoudeh had met with terrorist groups: "[She] has at no time been linked to terrorist groups and no such charge is in her file.”

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