Eye on Iran: U.S. Weighs a Direct Line to Tehran

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WSJ: „A series of ’near-miss‘ encounters between American and Iranian forces in the Persian Gulf is pushing U.S. officials concerned about a broader conflict to weigh establishing a direct military hot line with the Islamic republic. U.S officials said they are especially worried about a fleet of speedboats likely controlled by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, Tehran’s elite military force. The high-performance boats, which can be equipped with missiles, regularly challenge U.S. and allied warships that transit through the Persian Gulf. In recent months, a British destroyer fired warning shots at one of these boats as it appeared to be preparing to ram the larger ship. Iranian aircraft have also challenged U.S. ships in recent months. ‚Iran seems to be aggressively defensive,‘ said a U.S. official who studies Tehran’s military tactics. American officials, fearing that a misunderstanding could lead to wider conflict, are considering a formal proposal for emergency communications. At least initially, defense officials are most enthusiastic about expanding navy-to-navy contacts with Iran to prevent miscalculations. But they remain wary of any direct engagement with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, or IRGC, due to its deep ties to Middle East militant groups the U.S. has designated terrorist organizations, such as Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in the Palestinian territories.“ http://t.uani.com/pb5qfu

AP: „U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu accused Iran of nuclear ‚denial, deceit and evasion‘ on Monday, warning that Tehran’s decision to move some uranium enrichment facilities to an underground bunker brings it closer to being able to producing the fissile core of a warhead. Tehran, however, said Western pressure was to blame for its decision to relocate thousands of enrichment machines into a fortified subterranean location and for refusing to open its nuclear activities to greater outside perusal. Iranian Vice President Fereydoun Abbassi Davani said ‚hostile positions and measures of (a) few countries‘ force other nations ‚to make their peaceful activities … secret and put them underground.‘ The sharp tone of the exchanges on the opening day of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s 151-nation annual conference reflected the international divide over Iran’s nuclear activities nine years after revelations that the Islamic Republic was secretly assembling a uranium enrichment facility.“ http://t.uani.com/nh4e2r

WashPost: „The release of two American hikers jailed in Iran was delayed Sunday because one of the judges whose signature is required on the paperwork is on vacation, the lawyer representing the two men said. The lawyer, Masoud Shafiei, said that when he attempted to get the two signatures required for the $1 million bail deal for Shane Bauer and Joshua Fattal, he was told that one of the judges who was needed to sign off on the agreement was on vacation and would return in a few days. ‚They told me to return to the court with my request in some days,‘ Shafiei said. ‚They didn’t say the release was canceled, just that the other judge was on vacation and would only be able to sign the papers from Tuesday.‘ Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said last week that he intended to release the men, both 29, who have been held for more than two years on charges of espionage, and grant them a ‚unilateral pardon.‘ A day later, however, Iran’s judiciary, which is independent from other powers in the country, said the release of the hikers was not imminent.“ http://t.uani.com/mW40H6

UN General Assembly

YnetNews: „Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is slated to return to the Columbia University campus in New York this week in what is being dubbed ‚a private dinner with students.‘ Ahmadinejad will be in New York for the United Nations General Assembly. During his 2007 visit to the campus, the Iranian leader suffered criticism and insult from Columbia President Lee Bollinger. The current visit is not expected to go over quietly either. A group named United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI) is putting pressure on the university to cancel the event. UANI President and former UN ambassador Mark Wallace wrote to Bollinger that hosting Ahmadinejad insults the residents of New York, adding it was not appropriate for a person in his capacity to meet with a leader who heads a regime that challenges the international community by seeking nuclear weapons, violating human rights and funding terror organizations. Ahmadinejad is scheduled to speak before the General Assembly on Thursday. He will be staying at the Warwick Hotel on Sixth Avenue, several blocks from the Waldorf Astoria, where US President Barack Obama’s delegation will be staying.“ http://t.uani.com/qG9u0u

Columbia Spectator Editorial Board: „Columbia International Relations Council and Association’s plan to dine with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad this Wednesday has raised a few eyebrows on campus and in national and international media. Given the implications of dining with a man accused of gross human rights violations, political repression, and hostility toward the United States, we urge CIRCA to reconsider its decision to participate. While we uphold Columbia’s commitment to free speech, open dialogue, and freedom of association, CIRCA’s attendance at the dinner surpasses the bounds of responsible group behavior. We don’t doubt that the students involved in the dinner identify an opportunity to engage a world leader in a sincere gesture of diplomacy, but to do so with a leader like Ahmadinejad is not constructive. In the past, Ahmadinejad has invited other American students from notable universities to dine in New York City, where students were permitted to ask one or two questions as a group. Therefore, the belief that the students‘ questions can lead to any sort of meaningful and open dialogue is overly optimistic and naïve. A dinner where students are only allowed to ask a few questions in a controlled manner is not an open forum… Though it has been proposed that Columbia students will learn from Ahmadinejad and vice versa, the dinner is not a peer-to-peer to meeting. Ahmadinejad stands to gain political clout from dining with American students, not an enlightened point of view. While we like to have faith in the power of student diplomacy, history has taught us that the likelihood of changing a tyrant’s mind-never mind from one dinner-is nonexistent.“http://t.uani.com/mZVjT2

Nuclear Program & Sanctions

Reuters: „It is one of the West’s biggest nuclear proliferation nightmares — that increasingly isolated Iran and North Korea might covertly trade know-how, material or technology that could be put to developing atomic bombs. ‚Such a relationship would be logical and beneficial to both North Korea and Iran,‘ said Mark Hibbs, an expert of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Last year, a U.N. report suggested that impoverished, reclusive North Korea might have supplied Iran as well as Syria and Myanmar with banned atomic technology. In what could be a sign of this, a German newspaper last month reported that North Korea had provided Iran with a computer programme as part of intensified cooperation that could help the Islamic state build nuclear weapons. ‚There are reports and rumours, which governments and the IAEA (the U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency) have not denied, indicating that there may be a track record of bilateral nuclear cooperation between North Korea and Iran,‘ Hibbs said.“http://t.uani.com/r04puT

Human Rights

AP: „An Iranian state-owned newspaper says authorities have hanged 22 people convicted of drug trafficking. The report by IRAN daily says the executions were carried out Sunday in Tehran Evin prison as well as a prison in the city of Karaj, some 25 miles (45 kilometers) west of the capital, Tehran. It says all the men, who were only identified by their first names, had previous criminal convictions.“ http://t.uani.com/mQIRdc

AFP: „Iran on Sunday hanged a convicted drug trafficker at a prison in the northwestern city of Qazvin, the Mehr news agency reported. It identified the convicted trafficker as 39-year-old Elias Babai Chegini. His hanging raises to 200 the number of executions reported in Iran so far this year, according to an AFP tally based on media and official reports.“ http://t.uani.com/nJJkSV

AFP: „A Dutch-Iranian man jailed in Iran for a year for ’spreading the Christian faith‘ has been freed and is back in the Netherlands, the country’s foreign ministry said Friday. Vahik Abramian, who has dual nationality, was released on Thursday, spokesman Christoph Prommersberger said. ‚He was freed yesterday and he returned to Dutch soil today,‘ he said. Abramian had been denied consular assistance from the Netherlands as Iran does not recognise dual nationality. Foreign Minister Uri Rosenthal welcomed the news in a statement, saying the move was a ’sign in the right direction from the Iranian authorities.‘ The Netherlands froze contact with Iran in January after the execution of another Dutch-Iranian, Sahra Bahrami, who was accused by Tehran of drug trafficking.“http://t.uani.com/pC9R1Z

AP: „Iranian state television is reporting that authorities have arrested five people for working for the BBC’s Farsi-language service. Monday’s report on the channel’s website says the group provided the British Broadcasting Corp. with video and negative news reports on Iran. The report did not identify them by their full names. Iran has blocked the channel and accused it, alongside the British government, of fomenting the mass protests that broke out after Iran’s disputed presidential election in 2009. Both deny the accusation. The BBC’s Farsi service has no office in Tehran.“ http://t.uani.com/r1Q8vl
 
Foreign Affairs

AFP: „Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Saturday warned those involved in popular Arab uprisings against trusting Western powers and their ‚promises,‘ saying they should instead confide in Islam for solutions. ‚Never trust America, NATO, and criminal regimes like Britain, France and Italy — who for a long time divided your lands (among themselves) and plundered them,‘ Khamenei said as he opened a two-day conference in Tehran on ‚Islamic Awakening‘ attended by several hundred guests from Arab countries. ‚Be suspicious of them and do not believe in their smiles. Behind those smiles and promises lie conspiracy and betrayal,‘ Khamenei said. ‚Look for solutions in … Islam.‘ … Khamenei said the ‚ultimate goal‘ of the regional revolutions should be creating a new Islamic civilisation based on religion, logic, science and morals — one which is away from Western schools of thought.“ http://t.uani.com/p6TnoW

AP: „Turkmenistan’s state newspaper says the energy-rich Central Asian nation has started up a new natural gas compressor station, boosting its annual export capacity by 2 billion cubic meters. The daily Neutral Turkmenistan reported Monday that the gas will be fed into the Central Asia-Center 3 pipeline, which is linked into supply routes to Russia and Iran. Russian demand for Turkmen gas is weak, meaning the gas will likely go to covering the unused annual capacity in an 8 billion cubic-meter pipeline to northern Iran. Around 5 billion cubic meters of gas sourced from an offshore Caspian Sea field operated by Malaysia’s Petronas are already pumped annually into that route.“http://t.uani.com/n7PaFl

Opinion & Analysis

NYT Editorial Board: „Five years after the United Nations Security Council ordered it to halt, Iran is still enriching uranium and refusing to come clean about its nuclear program. Tehran is clearly hoping the world will either forget or acquiesce. That would be very dangerous. The latest report from the International Atomic Energy Agency is a chilling reminder of both the scale of Iran’s nuclear ambitions and the lengths it will go to cover up the truth. The agency expressed strong concern about Iran’s ‚past or current undisclosed nuclear related activities‘ with ‚possible military dimensions.‘ It also said Iran had greatly increased production of uranium to 20 percent purity instead of the 3.5 percent purity normally used to fuel nuclear power plants. That is a significant step closer to the 90 percent threshold required to make nuclear weapons fuel. Tehran says it wants the stockpile for its medical research reactor but the amount is far more than needed and another reason to be suspicious. Meanwhile, Tehran announced that it is moving its production of higher-grade uranium to a heavily defended underground military site outside the city of Qum. Iran selectively cooperates with the atomic agency’s inspectors – usually when it is eager to deflect international heat – and last month gave a senior official access to many facilities. But the agency says many questions remain unanswered and it still cannot verify that the program is peaceful… We’re not sure any mix of sanctions and inducements can work. We are sure that less pressure will guarantee that Iran will keep pushing its nuclear program ahead. The United States and its allies should go back to the Security Council and argue for even tougher punishments – it has been 15 months since the last round of sanctions. That is the only chance of getting Tehran’s attention.“ http://t.uani.com/rtuSc2

WSJ Editorial Board: „Reports that the U.S. intends by year’s end to reduce the U.S. presence to 3,000 troops in Iraq, down from the current 45,000, has been noticed and remarked on mainly by specialists on the subject. Beyond that, President Obama’s intention to drastically reduce the U.S. presence there passed in and out of sight within a day… This past July, Joint Chiefs Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen told reporters, ‚Iran is very directly supporting extremist Shia groups, which are killing our troops. And there’s no reason . . . for me to believe that they’re going to stop that as our numbers come down.‘ This surely was foremost among the reasons the current commander in Iraq, General Lloyd Austin, asked for between 15,000 and 18,000 troops. After resistance, General Austin reduced his request to 10,000. He got 3,000… In July Admiral Mullen also said the Iraqi government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki had to help the U.S. ‚control‘ Iran’s influence there. The Obama troop decision enables the opposite result. The Iraqi army is in no sense prepared to be a counterweight to Iran’s power. A troop drawdown this drastic tells Mr. Maliki he is on his own. White House spokesman Jay Carney imperiously suggested as much this week when asked about the troop number: ‚If the Iraqi government makes a request of us, we will certainly consider it.‘ Mr. Maliki already has begun to behave as if the U.S. is leaving and his interests lie in a modus vivendi with Iran. In August, for example, Mr. Maliki expressed support for the embattled Bashar al-Assad in Syria. If Iraq, with its oil revenue, joins (or replaces) Syria in Iran’s small stable of allies, the region’s axis of power tilts to Iran. Any conceivable sanctions regime against Iran would become even less enforceable than it is now… Normally we stay to protect a U.S. ally and to enhance regional stability. Unless the U.S. acts quickly to change the negotiations, we’ll soon find out how well going from 45,000 troops to next to zero serves U.S. interests.“ http://t.uani.com/pcarAU

Ray Takeyh in WashPost: „Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad arrives at the United Nations this week for what promises, once again, to be a belligerent address. Media speculation is sure to focus on his diminishing political fortunes – underscored by tensions with the judiciary over the fate of the two American hikers held since July 2009 – the shifting balances of power within the theocratic state and, as always, Iranian nuclear ambitions. Missing from this narrative is a key point: The Islamic Republic has entered its post-authoritarian stage. To be clear, the clerical regime in Tehran is not embracing democratic principles, nor has it softened the forced repression central to its rule. The clerical regime is an untypical authoritarian state – different from, say, Syria – in that it relies on ideological conformity to arbitrarily apply its power. The momentous accomplishment of the Green movement is that it has exposed the regime’s systematic lies and turned an enduring light on its abuses. Opposition efforts since the 2009 presidential election have undermined the regime’s durability. Ultimately, Ahmadinejad’s bluster is irrelevant, as he is an inconsequential emissary of a regime uneasily heading toward the dustbin of history. The Tehran regime’s pledge to harmonize pluralistic values with Islamic religious injuctions was always as fraudulent as democratic centralism or socialist legality. As with the Soviet Union, the theocratic regime needs more than brute force to survive. Its viability rests on its ability to permeate society with its hypocrisy. Within this Orwellian context, consider the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s recent exhortation: ‚This year, we have elections at the end of the year… everyone should be vigilant and attentive in order to guard the elections as a gift of God.‘ In clerical mystification, fabricating electoral results is called safeguarding elections. The regime’s manufactured reality rarely observes limits. The state claims to uphold human rights standards, yet it presents show trials and other transgressions as sanctioned by divine ordinance. The regime claims to seek diplomatic accord with the West, yet its conduct is an affront to international convention. The clerical oligarchs claim to fear nothing, yet in fact they fear everything: their citizens, their neighbors, each other. The real question is: Why does the regime hold so tenaciously to a narrative that convinces no one?… When Ahmadinejad takes the stage at the United Nations, the only thing that will become apparent is how the world – now including the Iranian people – has moved beyond his republic’s stale shibboleths and discursive postulates. In the end, Ahmadinejad speaks neither on behalf of the religion he is sure to invoke or the nation he purports to lead.“http://t.uani.com/nbV8kw

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