Iran Election Guide

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Entries in P.J. Crowley (4)


Israel: Netanyahu Swims in Dangerous Waters

What is Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu trying to do? Is he pursuing clever tactics, trying to settle his coalition partners after question marks regarding the future of the government but then using that to reach agreement with Washington? Or is just stepping deeper into a political swamp?

Israel-Palestine: Petraeus’ Intervention Shakes Up US Policy?
Israel: Obama Shows His Teeth, Netanyahu Steps Back?

Haaretz claims it knows the demands made by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in a telephone conversation with Netanyahu:

1. Investigate the process that led to the announcement of the Ramat Shlomo [Israeli settlement in East Jerusalem] construction plans in the middle of Biden's visit. The Americans seek an official response from Israel on whether this was a bureaucratic mistake or a deliberate act carried out for political reasons.

2. Reverse the decision by the Jerusalem District Planning and Building Committee to approve construction of 1,600 new housing units in Ramat Shlomo.

3. Make a substantial gesture toward the Palestinians enabling the renewal of peace talks. The Americans suggested that hundreds of Palestinian prisoners be released, that the Israel Defense Forces withdraw from additional areas of the West Bank and transfer them to Palestinian control, that the siege of the Gaza Strip be eased, and that further roadblocks in the West Bank be removed.

4. Issue an official declaration that the talks with the Palestinians, even indirect talks, will deal with all the conflict's core issues: borders, refugees, Jerusalem, security arrangements, water, and settlements.

Netanyahu had already announced the convening of a committee to look into the settlements issue. On Monday, however, he answered a question from a Likud Party member with the declaration that construction would continue unabated. Then, in the Knesset, he signalled that there will be no "concession" in East Jerusalem:
For the past 40 years, no Israeli government ever limited construction in the neighborhoods of Jerusalem.

So, what is this all about? When  Israel's ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren, declares that U.S.-Israeli relations face their worst crisis in 35 years, is he suggesting that West Jerusalem should compromise or that Washington should accept Netanyahu's defiance?

Amidst the turmoil, Washington is "hopeful" of the future of the "proximity talks". State Department official Philip J. Crowley said on Monday:
[Referring to indirect peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians] They have begun. I'm confident that there will be another round of proximity talks.

The Latest from Iran (13 March): Settling In

2250 GMT: Political Prisoner Watch. Rah-e-Sabz has published a list of 192 detainees in Section 240 of Evin Prison. Activists have noted that the list is incomplete.

2240 GMT: Human Rights --- The Regime's Breakdown Strategy. But if the Iranian Government on the one hand is offering release from prison if detainees (including a number of prominent journalists and political activists) are silenced, it is also moving aggressively to break apart the human rights movement.

NEW Iran Special: Zahra Rahnavard on Women’s Rights and The Green Movement
NEW Iran: The Opposition’s New PR Campaign in the US
NEW Iran Analysis: Rafsanjani’s “Finger in the Dike” Strategy
UPDATED Iran Document: The Hardliners’ Project — Full Text (Bahavar)
Iran: An Opening Thought on the Disconnection in Washington
Video: “Iran at a Crossroads” Conference (10 March)
The Latest from Iran (12 March): Assessments

The propaganda strategy of tarnishing human rights activists has been re-doubled tonight with Kayhan joining Fars in declaring that 25-30 activists have been arrested because they serve as "cover" for the Mujahedin-e-Khalq and US-sponsored cyber-warfare.

Human Rights Activists in Iran's websites are still hacked and redirected to (a website reportedly run by the Revolutionary Guard) this evening.

2230 GMT: Political Prisoner Watch --- The Regime's Release Strategy.

One of the two big stories this evening is of a flurry of releases from Evin Prison. According to BBC Persian, prominent journalists Lili Farhadpour, Vahid Pourostad and Somayyeh Momeni have been released, all on personal bail (someone else is ready to go to jail if the terms of bail are broken) or small monetary bails. However, other prominent reporters such as Akbar Montajabi, Ehsan Mehrabi and Emad Baghi, are still behind bars.

An EA source also reports that Iranian-American academic Kian Tajbakhsh, who had been imprisoned for 15 years, has been released. The terms are unknown.

1810 GMT: Cyber-War on Human Rights. Ahmad Batebi, a spokesman for Human Rights in Iran, confirms that all HRA websites have been hacked and visitors redirected to the regime's "cyber-war" site

1800 GMT: Rafsanjani Watch. While his ally Hassan Rohani attacks the Government (see 1340 GMT), Hashemi Rafsanjani continues his political balancing act with a statement that students should not remain silent in political matters but should communicate their demands in a “logical” manner in order to achieve reform.

Rafsanjani advised students to evaluate the current situation so they did not create excuses for people who are trying to use "security" as pretext to take control of society. He expalined added, “The atmosphere needs to remain logical and wise...[so those who] are expressing good ideas will ultimately triumph.” Students should speak in a manner so their enemies could not “take advantage” of them.

1755 GMT: The Attack on Human Rights Activists. The website of Human Rights Activists News Agency, on the same day that HRA was accused of being a cover group for terrorism and cyber-warfare (see 1735 GMT), has been hacked by Iranian authorities. The site re-directs to, which activists claim is a location which tracks its visitors.

1750 GMT: Football and Politics. The latest YouTube video claiming that football has been used as a vehicle for protest comes from a match in Tabriz. Confirmation of the slogan being chanted by the crowd would be appreciated.


1735 GMT: Propaganda (or Worse) Item of Day. Fars News has claimed that Human Rights Activists in Iran is a cover group for the "terrorist" Mujahedin-e-Khalq (MKO) with links to the US Government in a cyber-war against Iran. Naming (in other words, targeting) some of the members, Fars claims that 30 people who provided anti-filtering software have been arrested. It adds that Iranian authorities have asked Interpol to arrest HRA members outside Iran.

1730 GMT: Political Prisoner Watch. Azar Mansouri, a senior member of the Islamic Iran Participation Front, has been sentenced to three years in prison. She was convicted of "disturbing public order while participating in gatherings, issuing propaganda against the regime, spreading lies and plotting to harm national security".

1340 GMT: Rafsanjani Watch (and This is Definitely Worth Watching). Tehran Times have now posted an English version of Rafsanjani ally Hassan Rohani's attack on the Government (0940 GMT) and, even in translation, it is striking:

*Speaking at a ceremony to mark the first death anniversary of the late Imam Khomeini’s wife, Rohani...said, “We should not allow a group to make attempts to eliminate another group.”

Interpretation: The Government should back off attempts to "break" or contain Rafsanjani through pressure on his family. Could Rohani be also be warning against an attempt to break reformist leaders?

*It should not be allowed that some elements dare to make every improper and derogatory remarks against Imam’s household and companions, he emphasized.

Interpretation: Stop attacking Seyed Hassan Khomeini, the Imam's grandson, who has been critical of the Government and supportive of the opposition.

*The cleric added some figures believe that the country can be governed by a particular group, but according to Imam’s teachings all people should be engaged.

Interpretation: If a Government is not legitimate, then....

*He also noted that Imam used to attach high importance to the people’s votes and even put the name of the Islamic Republic to the vote.

Interpretation: Well, in the context of June 2009 and "Where is My Vote?", what would you think?

If Rohani is speaking on behalf of Rafsanjani, this is a powerful signal that the former President is now going to let Ahmadinejad rest easy.

1300 GMT: Iran Nuke Update --- Larijani Yes, Ahmadinejad No. You really can't get much more blatant than this from Khabar Online:
Iran's Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani paid his last foreign visit in the current Iranian year to Japan. As he earlier has made notable diplomatic achievements through his trips, many local analysts believe the diplomacy adopted by Parliament Speaker reveals the flops and drawbacks of governmental diplomacy.

Larijani's diplomacy consisted of putting forth the proposal for Japan to serve as the 3rd country in a deal to enrich Iran's uranium overseas.

1250 GMT: Political Prisoner Watch. Kurdish writer Susan Mohammadkhani Ghiasvand has been arrested at her home in Karaj.

1245 GMT: Student Protests. Students at Mazandaran University have carried out a two-day hunger strike to protest pressure from university officials. About 15 students had been summoned by the university's disciplinary committee.

1230 GMT: Economy Watch. Opponents of the Ahmadinejad economic strategy are warning that workers' "real wages" will drop 50% in this Iranian year. Labour organisations are demanding a guaranteed minimum wage.

1215 GMT: Women's Rights and the Green Movement. We have posted an extensive, illuminating interview with Zahra Rahnavard: "-It is impossible to expect that the general political movement — in this case, the Green Movement — will be able to successfully eliminate inequality and violence against women without help from an established and independent women’s movement."

1010 GMT: Qalibaf Attacks. An interesting intervention from Tehran Mayor Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, who has kept a low profile but has still been linked to an anti-Ahmadinejad group within the conservatives. In an interview, he has pronounced that Iran has "no time for errors" because "for 14 months no serious work has been done in this country". Qalibaf say dissidents should be invited to share revolutionary goals through hard work.

0940 GMT: Rafsanjani Watch. Hassan Rohani, a member of the Expediency Council and an ally of Hashemi Rafsanjani, has  sharply attacked the Government. He said some people want to govern the country with a gang, but Iranians should not allow society to fall into superstition and petrification.

0930 GMT: Rafsanjani Blackout? Rah-e-Sabz has published what it claims is a memorandum from management of the Islamic Republic News Agency, ordering staff not to publish the image of Hashemi Rafsanjani.

0830 GMT: Parliament Slaps Down Ahmadinejad? Have to admit that I missed this while I was on the road....

The latest chapter on the battle over the President's budget has been written over Ahmadinejad's insistence on being able to spend $40 billion of the savings from his subsidy reform plan; Parliament had authorised only $20 billion.

The week began with a meeting between Speaker of Parliament Ali Larijani and the Supreme Leader, a day after Ahmadinejad requested Khamenei's help. It ended yesterday when the President showed up at the Majlis to make a speech (he has done this before in the post-election crisis, even though it is a technical violation of Parliamentary rules). Ahmadinejad insisted, “I don’t believe in inflation, and inflation will decrease next year.”

The speech and the President's personal lobbying were not enough: the Parliament voted 111-105 against the $40 billion proposal.

0825 GMT: We've posted a separate entry on what appears to be a new push by Iranian opposition leaders, through representatives, to sway US political opinion.

0745 GMT: Rumour of Day - Khamenei and Ahmadinejad Split? Tehran Bureau reports the claim of "a senior aide to opposition cleric Mehdi Karroubi that Iran's supreme leader has cooled his support for president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad". The assertion was made to journalists at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace on Friday.

Beyond the headline, it's not much of a story. The senior aide "who worked with [Karroubi] for more than 25 years" is not actually in Iran but living in exile (while he is anonymous in the TB story, skilled Iran-watchers will identify him easily). The claim --- at least as reported in the article --- has no specific evidence but echoes a number of points (such as the incident over Ahmadinejad's close ally Esfandiar Rahim-Mashai) that we have noted since last summer.

What is far more significant is that this is a renewed Green Movement push to get support in the US. Putting forth the vision of a Khamenei-Ahmadinejad rift tries to shift a US Government which is based solely on "engagement"; it may even accept that Washington can work with the Supreme Leader while boycotting the President.

Even more important, but tucked away in the TB story, is this assertion from the senior aide: "The end goal is to have transparent, free and fair elections....Once that happens, you can be certain the Iranian people will elect [a president] who will secure peaceful and friendly relations with the world."

Last October, when a senior aide to Karroubi appeared at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, US journalists criticised the Green Movement's speaker for refusing to declare acceptance of Israel and renunciation of Iran's nuclear programme. In this article, no mention of the Israelis or the Bomb and thus no cause for a dismissal of the Greens.

Instead, the senior aide said that the Obama Administration's nuclear-first approach, at the expense of ignoring Iran's human rights violations, is "exactly what Ahmadinejad wants....If the U.S. reverses this approach and focuses on pressuring Iran for its human rights abuses...this is what the Iranian government fears most." he said.

And another point to notice:
Karroubi's aide recommended the use of "smart sanctions", targeted financial sanctions against members of the Revolutionary Guard. "For such sanctions to be truly 'smart', we need only to look at the multitude of companies set up in Dubai in the past 3-5 years," he said, hinting that much of import traffic to Iran from the UAE happened under the auspices of the Guards....

"As an Iranian, I'd hate to see our citizens suffer. But even if they are hurt in the short term, whatever shortens the life of this government is in the interests of the [Iranian] people."

0720 GMT: A US Rights-Based Strategy? While the panellists at Wednesday's NIAC conference were all focused on a nuclear-first approach to Iran (and I haven't forgotten that I owe you an analysis of the event), there are signs that the US Government is pursuing a more nuanced strategy.

On Friday, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley issued a statement of Washington's "increasing concern" about Iran's "ongoing persecution" of religious minorities, including Baha'is, and called on Tehran to protect human rights at home.

Crowley noted that at least 25 Baha'is have been detained recently and as many as 60 are now imprisoned in Iran "solely on the basis of their religious beliefs". He also asserted that Iranian authorities had detained more than a dozen Christians, "some of whom are being held in custody without substantiated charges".

Crowley's statement follows Thursday's State Department release ofits annual review of human rights conditions around the world, which including a sharply-worded section on Iran. The report claimed Iran is continuing to restrict freedom of expression and assembly, with 70 people killed and 4,000 more detained since June 2009.

0710 GMT: After five days on the road, a chance to catch breath and review the latest in Iran....

We begin with a separate analysis, as Masoud Shafaee considers the manoeuvres of Hashemi Rafsanjani: "While Rafsanjani’s current primary concern may be preventing Ahmadinejad from tearing Iran’s already-polarized political landscape asunder, that may in time prove to be lead to his grander scheme: he was the boy who saved the city from ruin."

A new website publishes (in Persian) details of 109 victims of post-election conflict.

An open letter by activists calls for immediate assistance for more than 5000 Iranian refugees displaced by the post-election crisis and living in Turkey.

Palestine: US Turns on Israel to Save "Proximity Talks"

On Friday, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton bombarded the Israeli government in an interview with CNN. She said Israel's announcement of new construction of homes in a Jewish neighborhood in East Jerusalem was "insulting" to the United States. She continued:
I mean, it was just really a very unfortunate and difficult moment for everyone -- the United States, our vice president who had gone to reassert our strong support for Israeli security -- and I regret deeply that that occurred and made that known.

She had words for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as well, "He is the prime minister. Like the president or secretary of state ... ultimately, you are responsible."

State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley added: "The secretary said she could not understand how this happened, particularly in light of the United States' strong commitment to Israel's security."

Then the Quartet (United Nations, U.S., Russia and European Union) condemned Israel in a statement:
The Quartet condemns Israel's decision to advance planning for new housing units in east Jerusalem. The Quartet has agreed to closely monitor developments in Jerusalem and to keep under consideration additional steps that may be required to address the situation on the ground.

Unilateral action by the Israelis or Palestinians cannot prejudge the outcome of (peace) negotiations and will not be recognized by the international community.

The Quartet will take full stock of the situation at its meeting in Moscow on March 19.

Meanwhile, since Israel's closure of the West bank, there have been clashes between demonstrators and Israeli security forces. Tens of demonstrators were arrested on Friday. On Saturday, four Palestinians have been arrested at the checkpoint between the West Bank and Jerusalem.

Following Clinton's warnings, a Palestinian official told London-based Arabic newspaper Al-Quds Al-Arabi that U.S. Middle East envoy George Mitchell, in a telephone conversation, promised Palestinian Authority's leader Mahmoud Abbas that the US will bring a halt to Israeli building in East Jerusalem.

Interpretatation? The US wants Abbas at the table, even if it is only for "proximity talks". To achieve that, Washington has to get Israel to back away from the provocative announcement of the extra homes in East Jerusalem.

Palestine-Israel Update: Heavier Clouds Over the "Proximity Talks"

On Thursday, U.S. Mideast envoy George Mitchell spoke with Abbas and urged him not to walk away from indirect peace negotiations with Israel. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he believes indirect talks with the Palestinian Authority will continue as planned early next week despite the crisis. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley added:
I don't think that that report that's been circulating for the last 24 hours is accurate," Crowley said. "As far as I know, we are still moving forward. We have not heard from the Palestinians that they have pulled out.

Before US Vice President Joe Biden left for Jordan, he said in Tel Aviv University the US was interested in “putting everything back on the rails.” However, the Palestinian Authority’s chief negotiator, Saeb Erekat said that the PA would start the indirect talks “if Mitchell informs us that the Israeli plan has been canceled.

Following Biden's golden statement in Tel Aviv University, saying that the US has no other friend like Israel, in an interview with Haaretz, Shas chairman and Interior Minister Eli Yishai who authorized 1,600 housing units in East Jerusalem emphasized the "unique relationship" with Washington. He said:
Our relationship with the Americans is above all else. It is an alliance that has survived complicated periods, and I had no intention of harming those ties, or to challenge the American administration, or to present obstacles to this important visit by the Vice President.

On Friday, with anticipation of renewed Jerusalem riots in response to a recent government decision to expand settlements in East Jerusalem, Defense Minister Ehud Barak ordered Israeli Defense Forces to impose a general closure on the West Bank, preventing Palestinians from entering Israel. The West Bank will be sealed off for 48 hours.