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Entries in Nowruz (12)


Iran: Preventing Tehran from "Going Nuclear" (Ramazani)

R.K. Ramazani, one of the leading scholars on Iranian foreign policy, writes for the Charlottesville Daily Progress:

President Obama’s greetings to Iran on March 20 on the occasion of the Iranian New Year (Nowruz) rekindled the hope that the United States is still interested in settling its nuclear dispute with Iran through negotiations.

The hope for a new chapter in U.S.-Iran relations began on 1 October, when for the first time since the Iranian Revolution in 1979 the two countries engaged in direct negotiations over the nuclear issue at Geneva.

Iran’s Nukes: False Alarm Journalism (Sick)
UPDATED Iran’s Nukes: The Dangerous News of The New York Times

Alas, three major factors subsequently dampened that hope and increased the tensions between the two countries. First, Iran and the United States disagreed on the amount of Iranian enriched uranium to be shipped to Russia and France for further processing in return for 20 percent enriched uranium needed by Iran for medical purposes. Second, Iran proceeded to enrich uranium to that level on its own.

Third, as seen from Washington, the crisis that followed Iran’s presidential election of 12 June caused Tehran to send mixed messages to Washington because of the rift in the ranks of the Iranian religious and political elites.

Obama’s New Year message, however, is more than a restatement of his commitment to engaging Iran. It posed a serious question to Iran for the first time. He asked Iranian leaders: “We know what you are against, now tell us what you’re for."

The President claimed that Iranian leaders were “unable to answer that question” because Iran had refused to accept fully the International Atomic Energy Agency-brokered proposal of October 2009 on the nuclear issue. Despite media misrepresentation, Iran had not rejected the proposal. It had made a counterproposal, which the United States refused to accept.

To address the President’s question, Iran’s nuclear program must be placed in the context of Iran’s principle foreign policy goals because Iran’s nuclear program is meant to serve these goals.

The first goal is to protect Iran’s political independence and to defend its national security against any foreign attack. The second goal is to project Iran’s influence in the Middle East. Global powers such as the United States seek to create an international environment favorable to their national interest, while medium powers like Iran try to make their regional environment safe.

The Iranian people, as well as their government, claim that they do not seek to achieve these goals by means of nuclear weapons. According to the American World Public Opinion Organization’s report of 7 April 2008, 58 percent of Iranians believe nuclear weapons violate the tenets of Islam and at the same time 81 percent consider “it is very important to have full fuel-cycle program” for peaceful purposes. That organization’s survey of 3 February showed that even the opponents of the government of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad are “strongly committed to Iran’s nuclear program“.

A majority of the Iranian people and their government also claim that they seek to project influence, not hegemonic power, in the Middle East. According to the AWPOO’s report of 7 April 2007, Iranian people want their government to cooperate with, not to dominate, other countries of the Middle East.

If neither the Iranian government nor the Iranian people want nuclear weapons at the present time, does that necessarily mean they will not go nuclear in the future? According to the U.S. National Intelligence Estimate of 2007, Iran is keeping its options open.

The key question therefore is under what circumstances Iran would likely opt to weaponize nuclear energy? If Iran feels its national security is under present and imminent threat of military attack, it is reasonable to assume it would seek to acquire the level of nuclear capability that is necessary for quick diversion to nuclear weapons.

Such an attack could presumably be launched by the United States so long as it insists that all options are on the table. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, however, is skeptical about the effectiveness of striking Iran’s nuclear facilities. He thinks a military attack might only delay its nuclear progress for a couple of years.

Moreover, at the moment the United States is seeking to impose new sanctions on Iran that are tougher than the previous ones. Sanctions by the United Nations Security Council, however, would require the consent of Russia and China. They, especially China, would prefer to continue negotiating with Iran, and the effectiveness of even more biting sanctions is highly debated.

The time is now for Washington to reopen negotiations with Iran. The current U.S. dual-track approach --- tougher sanctions and threats of military attack combined with negotiations --- is apt to degenerate into a one-track strategy of confrontation with Iran if the present tensions escalate even further. That would likely end the prospects of negotiating with Iran in the future. That would be the surest way to a self-fulfilling prophecy - driving Iran to seek national security in nuclear weapons.

Such a development would damage the United States’ interest in non-proliferation of nuclear weapons and prevention of a nuclear arms race in the Middle East, and it would scuttle the United States’ efforts to stabilize Iraq and Afghanistan toward the goal of withdrawing the bulk of the U.S. forces from these countries.

Confrontation with Iran could also lead to a third war front in the volatile Middle East with catastrophic consequences, including the disruption of the flow of Persian Gulf oil supplies to world markets resulting in an unprecedented rise in oil prices worldwide.

Most tragically, it would destroy the prospects of the pro-democracy movement of the Iranian people. If the Iranians feel their country is facing military attack they will rally around the flag, however much they may oppose their government.

Iran: The Green Movement's Next Steps (Shahryar)

Josh Shahryar writes for EA:

Yesterday was the funeral in Qom of Banoo Rabbani, the wife of Grand Ayatollah Hossein-Ali Montazeri. Despite claims by some activists that Greens were going to join the funeral and protest, the atmosphere for most participants was one of silent contemplation. Security forces essentially took over the funeral procession,arresting 30 people, and Rabbani was not even buried in the location selected by her family.

The funeral follows Chahrshanbeh Suri, the Fire Festival, on 16 March. Although there was much celebration, despite the disapproval of authorities including a Supreme Leader fatwa, no protest was planned or executed by the Green Movement.

So is the decision not to use public holidays or funerals for staging protests a bad one by the Movement?

The answer is no. The movement has endured for more than nine months. It has sufficient backing and is confident enough that it will survive, despite every repressive measure of the regime, that it does not have to periodically show the world, the Iranian government, and ordinary Iranians that it can put people on the streets. At the same time, the Greens have made clear that they will not be backing down from their demands, let alone giving up.

Mir Hossein Mousavi's Nowruz address clearly hinted at this, as he . declared, "Withdrawing our demands of unconditional execution of the Constitution is an act of treason for Iran and for Islam. This is a demand that we will not abandon."

So next question: What is the Green Movement going to do if not hold protests on holidays?

Again, Mousavi's address offers a good answer:
Faced with such a situation [overwhelming violence by the government], the Green Movement must expand its reach to all segments of society. The Green Movement must revive the timeless social and Islamic principle of inclusion. We must lend a hand to neighbors and neighborhoods both near and far, through job creation and other forms of interaction.

This Iranian Year 1389, according to Mousavi, is the year of "persistence". Several activists with whom I have spoken are hopeful that within the next few months, the Green Movement will not only survive but also thrive as it wins more supporters to its side.

Indeed, their resolve is that they need not just a majority of Iran's people to back them, but an overwhelming majority. One activist noted that next time they hold a protest in Tehran, they don't want "only" one or two million participants but hope to have as much as half the city on the streets.

Only time will demonstrate how successful this will be. The Green Movement, though, is not just a spontaneous mass of discontented citizens, but an organized and well-informed movement whose members are slowly building up networks within the country and unifying their goals, all the while preparing for future confrontations with the Government.

The Latest from Iran (28 March): Dealing with Exaggerations

2150 GMT: The website of the late Grand Ayatollah Montazeri claims that 30 people were arrested at the funeral of his wife, MahSoltan Rabani (see 1730 GMT).

1815 GMT: Sanctions Division. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has again rejected new sanctions on Iran. In an interview with Spiegel, ahead of a visit to Turkey by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Erdogan maintained, "We must first try to find a diplomatic solution. "What we need here is diplomacy, and then more diplomacy....Everything else threatens world peace."

NEW Iran’s Nukes: The Dangerous News of The New York Times
The Latest from Iran (27 March): Rumours

1745 GMT: Denial of a Rumour. Yesterday we reported the story racing around the Internet that the Revolutionary Guard was laundering money through Dubai and Bahrain, using Ali Jannati, the son of Guardian Council leader Ahmad Jannati, and putting the funds in a Swiss bank.

We would have left it at that, but Press TV now reports:

Iran has denied reports that the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) was involved in the money-laundering operation allegedly run by a Bahraini minister.

"We strongly deny all claims about an alleged involvement of the Guards in the operations," said Iranian Ambassador to Doha Hossein Amir Abdollahian....

The allegation came to light after Bahraini State Minister Mansour Bin Rajab was sacked for his supposed involvement in a money-laundering operation.

1730 GMT: A Restricted Funeral for Montazeri's Wife. MahSoltan Rabani, the wife of the late Grand Ayatollah Montazeri, was laid to rest today under strict security measures in Qom. Rabani's son Saeed Montazeri said:
Security forces and forces in plain clothes created such a security atmosphere that we were basically unable to carry out the special prayers and mourning ceremony. Tens of government vehicles brought the body without allowing any access to it even by her family. They made a small stop at the [Masoumeh] shrine and quickly removed her form the premises....

They not only did not allow us to hold the ceremony, they did not even let us bury her in the location that we had in mind.

Saeed Montazeri's conclusion? "They are even scared of a corpse and its burial.”

1530 GMT: We have updated our analysis on Obama Administration policy and this morning's New York Times claim of a search for undisclosed Iranian nuclear sites.

0950 GMT: Political Prisoner Watch. Green Voice of Freedom claims that Tehran University medical student Shirin Gharachedaghi was abducted by plainclothes forces on Friday; her whereabouts are unknown.

Peyke Iran reports that Reza Khandan, a member of the Iranian Writers Association, remains in prison after more than six weeks, even though bail has been paid.

Parleman News writes that Dr. Ali Akbar Soroush of Mazandaran University, a member of the Islamic Iran Participation Front, has been in prison since 13 March.

Rah-e-Sabz claims 181 human rights violations in Kurdistan over the last three months, leading tothe deaths of at least 25 people.

0945 GMT: We've published an analysis of what I see as poor, even dangerous, journalism from The New York Times on Iran's nuclear programme.

0930 GMT: Rafsanjani Watch. The reformist Parleman News publishes a barbed "historical" analysis on Hashemi Rafsanjani as a mediator between "right" and "left" positions. The analysis contends that the right stopped supporting Rafsanjani when the "left" had been sufficiently weakened, leaving Rafsanjani without a role. It adds that the former Preisdent should have established a party; if so, Iran would not necessarily be in its current predicament.

0720 GMT: An International Nowruz Exaggeration? Khabar Online claims that the First International Nowruz Celebrations (see 0620 GMT), scheduled for two days, only lasted one and never made it to Shiraz, which was supposed to co-host the ceremonies with Tehran.

0710 GMT: Arab Engagement. The Secretary-General of the Arab League, Amr Moussa, has told the League's summit in Libya, "We have to open a dialogue with Iran. I know there is a worry among Arabs regarding Iran but this situation confirms the necessity of a dialogue with Iran."

0655 GMT: President v. Parliament. The Ahmadinejad fightback for his subsidy cuts and spending plans continues, with three members of Parliament --- Hamid Rassai, Hossein Sobhaninia, and Esmail Kowsari --- pressing in Iranian state media for approval of the President's full request for $40 billion from his subsidy reductions. The Majlis has only approved $20 billion, and Speaker Ali Larijani and allies have taken a strong line against any revision of the decision.

Another MP, Mohammad Kousari, has suggested that Parliament approve $30 billion.

0645 GMT: Repent! Mahdi Kalhor, President Ahmadinejad's media advisor, raises both eyebrows and a smile with his forthright declarations in Khabar Online.

Kalhor started with a move for conciliation, saying that if all who made mistakes during the post-election turmoil adopted modesty and accepted their faults, people would forgive them.

But the advisor then complained that Iran's state media do not suppport Ahmadinejad, claiming this was in contrast to the period of Mohammad Khatami, "Everything was represented as fair enough and it caused damage to Mr. Khatami more than the others."

According to Kalhor, there have been no Ahmadinejad mistakes and "when the rivals constantly accuse you of lying, you may not tolerate or control such a climate."

0620 GMT: We begin Sunday dealing with inflated "news" inside and outside Iran. Iranian state media is hammering away at the two days of the First International Nowruz Celebrations to show the regional legitimacy of the regime. First, there was President Ahmadinejad's declaration alongside compatriots from compatriots from Tajikistan , Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, and Iraq. Then there was the Supreme Leader's statement: "This event and its continuity can serve as an appropriate ground for bringing governments and nations in the region closer together....[This can be a] cultural gift and conveyance from nations that mark Nowruz to other nations, particularly the West."

(I leave it to readers to decode the photograph of the Supreme Leader and the regional Presidents, with Ahmadinejad relegated to the back of the group. Surely just an error of positioning?)

Meanwhile in the US, another type of distracting exaggeration. After weeks of silence, the Iran Nuclear Beat of The New York Times (reporters David Sanger and William Broad) are back with two pieces of fear posing as news and analysis. The two, fed by dissenting voices in the International Atomic Energy Agency and by operatives in "Western intelligence agencies", declare, "Agencies Suspect Iran Is Planning New Atomic Sites".

The leap from their sketchy evidence to unsupported conclusion --- Iran is not just pursuing an expansion of uranium enrichment but The Bomb, bringing a climactic showdown --- is propped up by Sanger's "Imagining an Israeli Strike on Iran".

The Latest from Iran (27 March): Rumours

2330 GMT: A Quick Note. We've taken the evening off to spend time with friends and unwind. We'll be back bright and early on Sunday.

Meanwhile, here's a new analysis for you: "Israel, Iran, and 'Existential Threat'".

1800 GMT: Public Funeral for Montazeri's Wife Blocked? Iranian officials have objected to a funeral procession for the wife of Grand Ayatollah Montazeri, who passed away today (see 1125 GMT), from the family house to the shrine of Masoumeh (the sister of Imam Reza, the eighth Imam of Shia) in Qom.

Ahmad Montazeri, the son of the Ayatollah, told BBC Persian that the officials limited the funeral ceremony to 150 metres from the burial site . The family objected, so the compromise is that the public can gather in the Masoumeh shrine where Grand Ayatollah Shobeyri-Zanjani will say the prayer.

The Latest from Iran (26 March): Break Time

1730 GMT: Temporarily Freed, Politically Active. Mostafa Tajzadeh, senior member of the Islamic Iran Participation Front and former Deputy Minister of Interior, continues to use his temporary release from prison to visit families of detainees and others who have been bailed but face long prison sentences. The last meeting is with key reformist thinker Saeed Hajarian, who was jailed for more than three months and put on trial after the June election.

1515 GMT: Academics and Political Prisoners. Students have sent an open letter to the head of Iran's judiciary, Sadegh Larijani, to protest the arrest of Abdollah Yousefzadegan, a law student at Allameh Tabatabai University and winner of the nationwide Olympiad of Literature. Yousefzadegan was detained on 15 March in Mashhad and has not yet been charged.

The letter condemns the harsh treatment of the academic elite and maintains that the arrest of Yousefzadegan “destroys the credibility of the judiciary and trust in the security institutions of the Islamic Republic".

1310 GMT: Rumour Denied. Mir Hossein Mousavi's website Kalemeh is denying the report, first circulated by Farda News, that Mousavi met Hashemi Rafsanjani on the first day of Nowruz.

1125 GMT: Rah-e-Sabz reports that the wife of Grand Ayatollah Montazeri passed away in Qom this morning. Her funeral will take place tomorrow 10:00 am local time.

Montazeri, the one-time successor to Ayatollah Khomeini, died in December.

1100 GMT: Nowruz Visits. Mir Hossein Mousavi and Zahra Rahnavard saw the family of Amir Aboutalebi, a Mousavi advisor who has been detained since January. Despite the efforts of Aboutalebi's family, he was not granted temporary release for Iranian New Year. Aboutalebi recently had his first phone call with his family after 45 days of detention.

A group of pro-Green Movement students of Elm-o-Sana’at University, where Aboutalebi's children study, also sent their sympathy to the family. Aboutalebi was a political prisoner of the Shah, losing an eye during his detention and was also pursued by the Mojahedin-e-Khalq (MKO) after the Revolution.

0950 GMT: Reformist Challenge. Rasoul Montakhab-nia, the deputy head of the Etemade Melli party, has declared that the Government "cannot speak with language of force to people." Montakhab-nia say that this new year should be a year of forgiveness(for protesters, and that responsible political figures should try to involve all Iranians in the "nezam" (system) and Revolution of the Islamic Republic.

0940 GMT: Subsidy Fightback. The President's supporters are hitting back at Parliament's criticism of his economic manoeuvres (see 0755 GMT). Former Minister of Health Alireza Marandi says that the duty of the Majlis is to support the Government, while Lotfollah Forouzandeh asks the Parliament to take the burden off the Government's shoulders and accept the subsidy cuts and spending proposals.

0935 GMT: Friday Prayer Round-Up. Rah-e-Sabz has the highlights of prayer addresses throughout the country. An EA correspondent gives the top prize to Hojatoleslam Kazem Sedighi in Tehran with "the keys  God offered to the Supreme Leader" to solve Iran's problems.  Runner-up is  Ali Hajizadeh from Tabriz, who has discovered a "Velvet Revolution" in Iraq.

0925 GMT: Rumour of Day (2). The Iranian blog Che Mishavad (What Happens) blog claims that the Revolutionary Guard is laundering money, including revenues from drug smuggling, in Bahrain and Kuwait. The money is then placed through Ali Jannati, the son of Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, the head of the Guardian Council, into a Swiss bank.

0915 GMT: Rumour of Day.  Rah-e-Sabz claims that the Supreme Leader promised Hashemi Rafsanjani that most political prisoners would be freed. However, when the head of Iran's judiciary, Sadegh Larijani, tried to do so, the move was blocked by the "hard-line" Judge Abolqasem Salavati.

0755 GMT: The Subsidy Battle. Khabar Online keeps up the pressure on the President, featuring the claim of member of Parliament Hasan Qafouri Fard that Ahmadinejad is not authorised to call for a national referendum on his subsidy reduction and spending plans.

The Parliament approved an extra $20 billion in the Iranian budget from the subsidy cuts but has refused Ahmadinejad's $40 billion request.

0740 GMT: The relative quiet in Iran continues, as global attention focuses on the elections next door in Iraq. Press TV's top domestic headline is "Iran wins 3rd Sitting Volleyball World Championships".

There is a bit of a show for the first International Nowruz Celebrations in Tehran and Shiraz, as President Ahmadinejad tries to boost the image of international legitimacy. Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, Tajikistan's President Emomali Rahmon, and Turkmenistan's President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov are in Tehran for the two-day event, and Iranian state media reports that they will be joined by Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Turkey's Deputy Prime Minister Cemil Cicek.

A useful story from the Carnegie Council, which gets behind all the sanctions huffing-and-puffing to identify the key development, "U.S. Pressures Oil Companies to Leave Iran". This passage deserves attention and repetition:

Since the start of 2010, oil giant Royal Dutch Shell stated it would no longer sell gasoline to Iran, along with Glencore (Switzerland), Vitol (Switzerland), and Trafigura (Amsterdam). British Petroleum and Reliance (India) stopped selling to Iran in 2009. With this series of departures, Iran now imports its oil from only five sources: Total (France), Lukoil (Russia), Petronas (Malaysia), Independent Oil Group (Kuwait), and Chinese companies. [Lukoil declared just this week that it, too, would divest.]


UPDATED Iran Election Video: Nowruz and the Green Movement

Tehran, reportedly during Supreme Leader's speech


The Latest from Iran (22 March): The Economic Clash

Chants at tomb of Hafez, Shiraz



Allahu Akhbars for Nowruz