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Entries in Wall Street Journal (3)


The Latest from Iran (21 January): Speaking in Codes

2040 GMT: Pars Daily News claims that Seyed Hassan Ahmadian, head of Mir Hossein Mousavi's People Committee, has disappeared.

1840 GMT: "Foreign Enemies" Cause Regime Change...and Earthquakes. Investigative Journalism of the Day from Kayhan --- the earthquake in Haiti was caused by the redoubtable US "Harp" weapon, which is more powerful than an atomic bomb.

1830 GMT: More on Larijani's Challenge. In his recent speech, Speaker of Parliament Ali Larijani used the economy to challenge President Ahmadinejad, criticising the rising government budget and the failure of the 4th Development Plan. Only one-quarter of the Development Plan has reportedly been implemented.

Iran: How Should the US Treat the Green Movement? (Haghighatjoo)
NEW 2009: The View from Inside Iran
Iran Analysis: “Supreme Leader Warns Rafsanjani” — The Sequels
NEW Iran: Ahmadinejad and the Labor Movement

The Latest from Iran (21 January): Speaking in Codes

1805 GMT: Film Boycott. The famous director Abbas Kiarostami has refused to join the jury of Tehran's Fajr International Film Festival, which is scheduled to start on 25 January. Kiarostami joins other prominent figures, such as actor Ezzattollah Entezami and director Asghar Farhadi, who have turned down offers to be on the panel.

An EA reader updates: Theo Angelopoulos, the famous Greek filmmaker, has decided to withdraw from the festival.

1800 GMT: Academic Purges (cont.). Two of the Allameh Tabatabei University professors who have been banned from teaching are prominent political philosopher Seyed Morteza Mardiha and women's rights activist Saba Vasefi.

1755 GMT: The reformist Mohajedin of Islamic Revolution have issued a protest against the arrests of political activists, journalists, and students and the attacks on valuable members of the Islamic Republic for pseudo-offences, demanding their immediate release.

1630 GMT: The Tehran Prosecutor-General, Abbas Jafari Doulatabadi, has declared that anyone who associates with the Committee for Human Right Reporters is a "criminal".

Seven of the nine members of the central committee of CHRR are now detained.

1535 GMT: But the Best Will Come on Friday. Here, however, is a hint of the most explosive information we have gotten today. It will take us a bit of time to get it in proper context but....

The Plot to Remove Ahmadinejad: It involves at least three high-ranking officials in the Iran Government, one of whom is close to the Supreme Leader, one of whom is connected to the Revolutionary Guard and to Hashemi Rafsanjani, and one of whom is an influential politician but has remained almost silent in the post-election crisis. A fourth key person, who was involved in one of the Presidential campaigns and has a special grievance over the Kahrizak Prison scandal, is complementing the move with public statements.

The initial plan was to "take care" of the opposition in the current crisis and then move against the President, but it appears that this has been overtaken by events: Ahmadinejad may have to go even as the Green movement and Mousavi-Karroubi-Khatami cause complications for the plotters.

1530 GMT: Another Target for the Supreme Leader. A bit of additional (and so far unknown) information behind Ayatollah Khameini's warning to the "elites" to "take sides" this week:

Last week, Ayatollah Javadi-Amoli, the former Friday Prayers leader in Qom, sent a letter to Khameini last week criticising the Government. Javadi-Amoli reportedly, after a public class in Qom, said that "nobody can solve a problem with money", a reference to the President's handout to Iran's poorest people, and that such actions were unfair because anyone "can get love" by buying it.

Khamenei's warning was, therefore, not only to Hashemi Rafsanjani and to the "conservative/principlist opposition within" but to Javadi-Amoli for going far publicly, especially as it is becoming apparent that the Supreme Leader fears a major protest on 22 Bahman (11 February).

1520 GMT: Why the Newspapers are Being Threatened (see 0955 GMT). Look to the Deputy Minister of Culture and Islamic Guidance, Mo-Amin Ramin. An EA source says Ramin, a former Foreign Ministry official and a friend of Ahmadinejad (he reportedly is influential in the President's thoughts on the Holocaust), is behind the warnings to no less than 15 newspapers to stop publishing critical information about the Government.

The editor of Jomhouri Eslami, Masih Mohajeri, wrote to the Minister of Culture --- after Ramin threatened closure of the newspaper for publishing the 1 January statement of Mir Hossein Mousavi --- to ask him to "Ershad Ramin" (Ershad in Persian and Arabic means "Guidance"). The Parliament asked Ramin to appear before a committee and explain his actions.

Neither initiative seems to have had any effect.

1510 GMT: An Afternoon of Inside Information. Have spent a few hours checking with some very knowledgeable people about the manoeuvres inside and outside the regime. Consider this "clerical alliance", for example:

On Tuesday, Seyed Hassan Khomeini, the grandson of the late Imam, went to the house of Ayatollah Sane'i in Qom. After a "very good meeting", Khomeini criticised the "hard-line" Society of Teachers and Researchers of Qom, headed by the pro-Ahmadinejad Ayatollah Mohammad Yazdi.

With the visible support for Sane'i, who has been effectively ostracised (and arguably, after the death of Grand Ayatollah Montazeri, feared) by the Government, and the denunciation of the Society, Khomeini's allegiances have been re-confirmed. Indeed, the visit was quickly condemned by Hojatoleslam Ruhollah Hosseinian, a fervent backer of the President.

1034 GMT: Defend the Supreme Leader! If you're lost like me in the confusion around the intrigues for and against the Iranian Government, Speaker of Parliament Ali Larijani and Press TV hold out this simple lifeline:
"Velayat-e-Faqih is the foundation of democracy and religion in the country," Larijani told a gathering of clerics in central Markazi Province.

Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei, the Leader of the Islamic Revolution, is the current religious jurisprudent. Under Iran's Constitution, the the Assembly of Experts chooses and supervises the Leader.

(For US readers: think of it through the words of Paul Crowe (played by Burt Reynolds) in the 1974 classic The Longest Yard: "The most important thing to remember [in American football] is....Protect your Quarterback --- Me!")

1030 GMT: Ayande News stirs the pot a little more, published an analysis of why different "hard-liners" may be trying to bring down the regime.

1025 GMT: Massoud Nur Mohammadi has joined his brother Saeed, a member of the Islamic Iran Participation Front, in detention.

1005 GMT: On the Mortazavi Battlefront. The headline fight over the future of former Tehran Prosecutor General and Ahmadinejad aide Saeed Mortazavi continues. The President has expressed determination to defend Mortazavi against accusations of responsibility for detainee abuses.

0955 GMT: Hitting the Newspapers. As the conflict within the Iranian establishment intensifies, the warnings escalate. No less than 15 publications --- Tehran Emrooz, Bahar, Tose'e, Rouzan, Jahan-e Eqtesad, Ettelaat, Etemaad, Asrar, Jahan-e San'at, Mardomsalari, Arman-e Ravabet-e Omumi, Jomhouri, Poul, Farhikhtegan, and Afarinesh --- have been threatened with suspension for "inappropriate" material.

Those articles include the biting reply of member of Parliament Ali Motahhari, who is in the forefront of criticism of the Government, to Ahmadinejad Chief of Staff Rahim-Mashai, the critique of Hassan Rohani, an ally of Hashemi Rafsanjani, of the severe security situation (amniati) and the lack of freedom of speech on 29 Dey, and the most recent statement of Mohammad Khatami.

0905 GMT: Prisoners Revolt. Human Rights and Democracy Activists in Iran reports that solitary confinement prisoners at the Gohardasht facility, the site of alleged physical abuse and torture, gained control of their ward for a period of time on Monday. This is the third recent occasion when inmates have rebelled and temporarily taken over sections of the prison.

0855 GMT: Today's Unhelpful Help from the US. Writing in The Wall Street Journal, which has embraced support of the opposition as the way to regime change in Iran, James Glassman and Michael Doran are not even subtle and/or smart enough to hide their real priorities:
Al Qaeda bombers on U.S. airliners need prompt attention, but it is Iran, a supporter of terrorism now developing the capacity to fire nuclear-tipped missiles, that may pose the greatest threat to global stability and American security.

That threat can be diminished three ways: by military action, by compromise by Iran's regime, or by a new, less bellicose government taking power in Tehran. The first two appear unlikely, but the third, at least since protests broke out last June after the presidential election, seems more and more realistic. Yet so far the United States and its allies have shrunk from seriously encouraging that third way.

Having gone this far, I'm not sure why they didn't just put together the words "Green Movement" and "pawn". And take a wild guess what the Iranian regime will do with this opinion piece if it bumps into it.

Most importantly, compare this screed with the thoughts of reformist Fatemeh Haghighatjoo, which we've posted in a separate entry, on the best US approach towards the Iranian opposition.

(A far-from-unimportant opinionated side note: Glassman and Doran were both key officials in the George W. Bush Administration's disastrous and often unintentionally humourous efforts at "public diplomacy".)

0835 GMT: And here's more knife-twisting from Khabar Online: "Iran Rial Stands as the 3rd Weakest World Currency". In a not-so-subtle criticism of the Government's management of the economy, the website notes, "The latest figures on the value of various currencies against the US dollar show that Iranian rial is only stronger than dobra of Sao Tome and Vietnamese dong."

0830 GMT: Larijani v. Ahmadinejad Showdown. Following our report yesterday, the English version of Khabar Online, the website close to Speaker of Parliament Ali Larijani, uses "members of Parliament" to put the demand bluntly: "[President's Chief of Staff Esfandiar Rahim-] Mashai To Be Ousted or Resigned".

0820 GMT: Taking Apart Khamenei's Speech. I doubt it will worry the Supreme Leader, given the source, but the Green movement's Rah-e-Sabz has published a sharp critique in a general challenge of Khamenei's supremacy and policies.

The website asks how Khamenei can demand the support of "nokhbegan" (intellectuals), if he has to dictate to them what they have to think. It also condemning his "plot theory", based on "cultural attack", which he has put forward from the very beginning of his Leadership. Rah-e-Sabz raises the issue of "nokhbe-koshi" (killing intellectuals).

0710 GMT: Academic Purges (cont.). After our news yesterday that at least six Allameh Tabatabei University professors have been relieved of their duties, an Iranian activist is reporting further terminations of contracts.

0644 GMT: As we catch up with the news this morning, we will also continue the attempt to bring out the meaning in the recent speeches of the Supreme Leader, Hashemi Rafsanjani, and other prominent Iranian players in the post-election conflict. Who is threatening who? Who is allying with whom?

Meanwhile, we post a scholarly example of analysing "in code": Tehran-based Mahmoud Reza Golshanpazhooh's survey of 2009 considers the tensions within the country as well as the nuclear question and Iran's foreign relations. And we have a not-so-coded interview with Fatemeh Haghighatjoo, a former reformist member of Parliament who had to leave Iran for the US in 2005: "The United States should carefully and delicately support the opposition movement based on United Nations conventions [on human rights]."

Iran Special Analysis: A US Move to "Sanctions for Rights"?

The most interesting spin out of the US in recent days is in a Saturday article in The Wall Street Journal by Jay Solomon, "U.S. Shifts Iran Focus to Support Opposition".

The headline is a bit misleading, since the core issue is whether (in fact, how rather than whether) the Obama Administration will be pursuing and presenting additional sanctions against Iran: "The White House is crafting new financial sanctions specifically designed to punish the Iranian entities and individuals most directly involved in the crackdown on Iran's dissident forces, said...U.S. officials, rather than just those involved in Iran's nuclear program."

The presentation, however, is telling. For weeks, the set-up for sanctions --- for example, in the articles of David Sanger and William Broad in The New York Times --- has been that they were essential to punish Iran for breakdown of enrichment talks and Tehran's move toward a military nuclear capability. Now, for the first time, the message is not just that "rights" should take priority but that there may be a change of power in Iran: "The Obama administration is increasingly questioning the long-term stability of Tehran's government and moving to find ways to support Iran's opposition 'Green Movement'."

Read it: the authority of President Ahmadinejad is no longer assumed, even bolstered, by the US approach. An Administration source declares, "The Green Movement has demonstrated more staying power than perhaps some have anticipated. The regime is internally losing its legitimacy, which is of its own doing."

So which US officials are now tying "targeted sanctions" to this shift away from Ahmadinejad and visions of a new leadership? Here's the big clue:
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gathered over coffee at the State Department this week with four leading Iran scholars and mapped out the current dynamics, said U.S. officials. One issue explored was how the U.S. should respond if Tehran suddenly expressed a desire to reach a compromise on the nuclear issue. Mrs. Clinton asked whether the U.S. could reach a pact without crippling the prospects for the Green Movement.

In September, Clinton and her advisors had a similar discussion. The leading Iran scholars on that occasion? "The Carnegie Endowment's Karim Sadjadpour, the New America Foundation's Afshin Molavi, the National Iranian American Council's Trita Parsi, the Council on Foreign Relations' Ray Takeyh, the Woodrow Wilson's Haleh Esfandiari, Brookings' Suzanne Maloney, and George Mason University's Shaul Bakhash."

In recent weeks, Parsi's NIAC has been pushing the approach of targeted sanctions linked to rights, not the nuclear issue, and Takeyh has been promoting a rights-first policy. So I suspect that The Wall Street Journal article is declaring a convergence between the Obama Administration and the private sphere.

If so, welcome back Green movement. And President Ahmadinejad may have lost his nuclear prop from Washington.

The Latest from Iran (6 January): Distractions

IRAN GREEN2030 GMT: US Walks Tightrope on Green Movement. Earlier today we posted Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's declaration about the "ruthless repression" of the Iran Government. Now State Department official John Limbert, who has direct responsibility for Iran, has put out a longer, more balanced statement.

On the one hand, Limbert continues the rhetoric criticising and cautioning the regime, "I think it's very hard for the government to decide how to react to the legitimate demands of the people. The more violence it uses, the more it will hurt itself in the end....We will never remain silent in the face of state violence and the mistreatment of people."

On the other, Limbert is also assuring that the Obama Administration will not break off discussions with the Ahmadinejad Government: "As you know, the U.S. president is determined to renew ties with Iran despite all the problems -- which we don't underestimate -- based on a new beginning."

NEW Iran: Hillary Clinton on Engagement & Pressure with Regime of “Ruthless Repression”
UPDATED Iran: The 60 Forbidden Foreign Organisations
Latest Iran Video and Transcript: Haghighatjoo and Marandi on CNN (4 January)
Iran: How Outside “Help” Can Hurt the Green Movement

2020 GMT: Setareh Sabety has posted an article commenting on the recent declaration of five Iranian intellectuals living abroad and declaring, "[Their] ten demands...should be embraced because they provide the democratic framework within which we can debate the future of our beloved Iran."

2010 GMT: Kalemeh is reporting the latest statement of Mehdi Karroubi that he is "prepared for everything" and "could not have imagine" the behaviour of the regime in the post-election conflict.

1950 GMT: Mesbah Yazdi Calling for Death Penalty? Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi, close to President Ahmadinejad, ran out the standard line on the "evil" protests as the product of the "West" and Jews today. He allegedly added, however, that the demonstrators were "corruption on earth" and, as such, are subject to the death penalty.

1940 GMT: Iran's Energy Boost. "Turkmenistan has opened a second gas pipeline to Iran....Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad inaugurated the new 30km (19 miles) pipeline with Turkmen President Kurbanguly Berdymukhamedov in a ceremony in the desert near the Iranian border."

What is interesting beyond the story is that the BBC not only reports the development but praises it for "further eroding Russia's historical domination of its energy sector". Not sure the US authorities will see the deal in exactly the same way.

1930 GMT: Oh, Please (with an MKO twist).... We try our bet to limit the damage, but sometimes you cannot keep a bad article down. Laura Rozen of Politico, who normally has the best pairs of eyes and ears in Washington, swallows The New York Times "Iran Nuclear Bunkers/Tunnels" story (see 0640 GMT). What's more, she inadvertently highlights more reasons for concern, quoting Broad:

In late 2005, the Iranian opposition group [Mujahedin-e-Khalq] held news conferences in Paris and London to announce that its spies had learned that Iran was digging tunnels for missile and atomic work at 14 sites, including an underground complex near Qum. The government, one council official said, was building the tunnels to conceal “its pursuit of nuclear weapons”.

Hmm.... That's Mujahedin-e-Khalq, dedicated by all means to topple the Iranian regime. A neutral source for solid, reliable intelligence?

1430 GMT: With continued quiet, I'm off to address the conference in Beirut. Back for evening updates around 2000 GMT.

1305 GMT: Mortazavi Accused? Alef reports that a Parliament committee has unanimously approved a report, after several months of investigation, naming Saeed Mortazavi --- former Tehran Prosecutor General and current aide to President Ahmadinejad --- as chief suspect in the death of detainees in Kahrizak Prison.

1240 GMT: The day continues quietly in Iran, and in the lull more media mischief (see 0640 GMT). The Washington Times declares, "Iran's Al Qaeda Connection in Yemen", based on the suspect testimony of a former Guantanamo detainee, a suspect letter supposedly from Al Qa'eda Number 2 Ayman al-Zawahiri, and the assertion of a Yemeni politician.

For sheer stupidity, however, this pales into insignificance beside the Guardian's allocation of space to a Brian Binley, whose comment, "End Appeasement of Iran's Regime", offers this approach to resistance:
If the British government seriously wishes to find a solution to the Iran problem, they need look no further than the streets of Tehran and the Iranian people's determination to purse democratic ambitions.
For a number of years now, colleagues and I on the British Parliamentary Committee for Iran Freedom have worked with Iran's largest opposition group in exile, the National Council of Resistance of Iran, and its president-elect Maryam Rajavi to strengthen our policy towards Iran whilst seeking increased support for the Iranian opposition movement.

That would be the National Council of Resistance of Iran, the political wing of the Mujahedin-e-Khalq and its often-violent campaign to overthrow the Iranian Government since 1979.

Such political "wisdom" deserves a separate entry, I think.

0920 GMT: Breaking the Movement. Rooz Online reports the Freedom Movement of Iran, many of whose members have been detained, including the recent re-arrest of its head Ebrahim Yazdi, has suspended operations for the first time in its 48 years. The organisation added, “While we express our regret at the regime’s unlawful confrontation aimed at limiting the free flow of information and the demand that the Freedom Movement of Iran stop the activities of its official website and its analytical website Mizan until further notice, we reserve the right to legally pursue our rights in this regard.”

0730 GMT: To Be Fair. Disdain for some of the US portrayals of "Iran" this morning should be balanced with a hat-tip to Robin Wright of The Los Angeles Times, who considers the possibility of "An Opposition Manifesto in Iran":
Three bold statements calling for reform have been issued since Friday, one by opposition presidential candidate Mir-Hossein Mousavi, one by a group of exiled religious intellectuals and the third by university professors. Taken together, they suggest that the movement will not settle for anything short of radical change.

0640 GMT: Not much breaking news from Iran overnight and this morning, with the outcome that the US papers are awash in distracting rhetoric, tangential stories, and even a forceful call to recognise the legitimacy of the Iranian regime.

The rhetoric comes from Emanuele Ottolenghi in The Wall Street Journal. A long-time proponent of regime changes in countries such as Iraq, Ottolenghi grabs the Ashura story of the martyrdom of Imam Hussein to praise "Iran's Righteous Martyrs": "This time we should root for [them]." (Presumably the United States was unable to root for Imam Hussein in the 7th century.)

The Los Angeles Times, in an article by Robert Faturechi, features the claims that the cost of the Green movement's protests has been the "loss" of three detained Americans:
With street protests raging in Iran, political activism is on the rise among Los Angeles' already vocal Iranian American community. Flag-waving demonstrators clad in the opposition movement's signature green have been a common sight outside the Federal Building in Westwood, and Iranian-language media is abuzz with debate.

But when it comes to the three young American hikers being held in Iran on espionage charges the community has been decidedly silent. No large demonstrations, little conversation, virtually no push for action.

For William Broad in The New York Times, the issue is not the politics either of the Iranian protests or the imprisoned US trio, but Nukes, Nukes, Nukes.

In yet another piece fed to him by by "American government and private experts", Broad launches the latest proclamiation of Imminent Iranian Threat: "Iran has quietly hidden an increasingly large part of its atomic complex in networks of tunnels and bunkers across the country."

On a different page of The Times, however, the Iranian Government has a vocal defence team. Flynt and Hillary Mann Leverett, in the latest of their numerous calls for discussion with President Ahmadinejad and his representatives, open with the declaration: "The Islamic Republic of Iran is not about to implode. Nevertheless, the misguided idea that it may do so is becoming enshrined as conventional wisdom in Washington."

To bolster their argument that the Obama Administration has no choice but to engage with Ahmadinejad, the Leveretts throw out a confetti of unsupported assertions:
Antigovernment Iranian Web sites claim there were “tens of thousands” of Ashura protesters; others in Iran say there were 2,000 to 4,000....Vastly more Iranians took to the streets on Dec. 30, in demonstrations organized by the government to show support for the Islamic Republic (one Web site that opposed President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s re-election in June estimated the crowds at one million people)....

Even President Ahmadinejad’s principal challenger in last June’s presidential election, Mir Hossein Mousavi, felt compelled to acknowledge the “unacceptable radicalism” of some Ashura protesters.

The Leveretts do put a series of challenges, discussed also at EA, about the opposition's leadership, its strategy, and its objectives, but this is all to prop up the "default" option that the regime (whose political, religious, economic, and ideological position is not examined beyond that claim of a million protesters on its behalf on 30 December) must not only be accepted but embraced in talks.

Just as the US Government set aside the inconvenience of Tiananmen Square 20 years ago, so it should put in the closet the trifling annoyance of those Iranians who demonstrate against rather than for the Government. The Leveretts conclude:
As a model, the president would do well to look to China. Since President Richard Nixon’s opening there (which took place amid the Cultural Revolution), successive American administrations have been wise enough not to let political conflict — whether among the ruling elite or between the state and the public, as in the Tiananmen Square protests and ethnic separatism in Xinjiang — divert Washington from sustained, strategic engagement with Beijing. President Obama needs to begin displaying similar statesmanship in his approach to Iran.