Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Sharia protesters target Canada

Globe & Mail reports:

A campaign against Ontario allowing sharia tribunals to resolve family disputes has spread to Europe, where protests are planned for Sept. 8 in London, Paris, Amsterdam, Düsseldorf and Stockholm.

As many as 89 international groups have spoken out against an Ontario law allowing faith-based arbitration, saying it will create a precedent for religious fundamentalists working to suppress women's rights, and give fodder to political Islamists in Europe who are also lobbying for sharia law to be used to settle family matters.

"A lot of French people cannot believe it, because for us Canada is a country with very good rights for women. It is unbelievable," said Michèle Vianès, president of Regards de femmes, a non-governmental organization in France. "Under sharia, women do not have the same rights as men. Sharia is a bad idea. How is it possible that Canada would back it?"

Similar protests will take place outside the Canadian High Commission in London (in an event organized by the British Humanist Association, a human rights group whose international branch has consultative status with the United Nations), in Stockholm, Amsterdam and Düsseldorf, as well as in Toronto, Vancouver, Victoria, Ottawa, Montreal and Waterloo, Ont., said Homa Arjomand, co-ordinator for the International Campaign Against Sharia in Ontario.

...Sharia, a body of law based on religious principles, is interpreted differently even among Muslim nations. However, critics say it is inherently discriminatory toward women. Male heirs receive a greater share of an inheritance than female heirs; husbands, not wives, may initiate divorce proceedings; and in divorce cases, fathers are generally awarded custody of daughters who have reached the age of puberty.

While in theory, faith-based arbitration must comply with Canadian civil law and decisions may be appealed, in reality, many Muslim women are isolated, with no idea what their rights are under Canadian law, Ms. Arjomand said.

"These international demonstrations reflect the concern that Ontario's approval of faith-based arbitration of family law will have serious consequences for women's rights beyond Canada, and that's a responsibility we urge the Ontario government to consider," said Gisèle Eva Côté, of Rights and Democracy.

Michael Jackson reappears in Dubai

AP reports from Dubai:

...In contrast to the frail and somewhat withdrawn Michael Jackson cleared of child abuse charges in June, the king of pop appeared at ease during his visit to this Persian Gulf sheikdom, said Mohammed Bin Sulayem, the Emirates champion rally driver who escorted Jackson on sightseeing tours.

In other personal snapshots Bin Sulayem provided, Jackson could be seen in his trademark black Fedora and sunglasses and a royal blue shirt, strolling alongside his Arab hosts, men in traditional white robes and headdresses.

Bin Sulayem was full of praise for Jackson's patience with fans, waiters and salespeople, who he said "bombarded" him with requests for autographs and pictures.

"The guy is a gentleman. I've met guys who weren't even 10 percent as famous as he is, and they are much harder to deal with," Bin Sulayem said.

The singer also paid visits to the Burj al-Arab hotel, the sail-shaped skyscraper that sits on a tiny island off Dubai, and went to the Hard Rock Cafe for spicy Buffalo chicken wings...

Monday, August 29, 2005

King Cyrus the Great's mausoleum threatened by dam construction

Iranian reporter Arash Sigarchi reports that once the flooding of Sivand dam in the eight-mile Tang-e-Bolaghi gorge begins, the mausoleum of King Cyrus the Great, founder of the Achaemenid Empire, will be flooded and completely destroyed. Also, as Guardian reported last December, the flooding will also destroy more than 100 of Iran's potentially most important archaeological sites, including fringes of Pasargadae--the oldest capital of the ancient Achaemenid empire, built by the its founder, King Cyrus the Great-- and ancient Persia's imperial road which ran from Persepolis to Pasargadae called Shahi road:

Stretches of the cobbled road have already been unearthed but caves, ancient paths, burial mounds, canals and other sites which have never been excavated will also be lost. There are also legends of a long underground "king's passage".

It [Pasargadae] was built on the site where Cyrus defeated Astyages, the leader of the Medes, in 550BC. It has added importance today because it is believed to be the capital of the first Asian empire which respected the cultural diversity of its people.

Pasargadae was recently inscribed on UNESCO's World Heritage List.

The news comes as Hossein Marashi, the former head of Iran's Cultural Heritage and Tourism Organization has said Iran's Cultural and Tourism organization is not opposed to the construction of Sivand dam and won't seek to stop it. In an interview published today, he also said dam constructions shouldn't be foregone to save cultural heritage sites!

In 1979, after the catastrophic Islamic Revolution in Iran, Iran sharia ruler Sadegh Khalkhali once tried to destroy Persepolis and Pasargadae to no avail. Now, 26 years after Khalkhali's pathetic attempt, the official destruction of Persia's glorious testimony of its ancient civilization seems to be once again underway.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Bush sending a threatening letter to Iranian President?

An Iranian website reports that US President George W. Bush has sent a letter to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad through Kuwaiti Foreign minister who arrived in Tehran today. In the letter, Bush confronts Tehran with a stark choice: Either to suspend its efforts to acquire nuclear weapons and instead, enjoy US economic and trade cooperation or to face serious consequences.

The website doesn't mention its source, nor has any other website or news agancy confirmed this report yet.

The News

Here are the latest news headlines:

TEHRAN, Iran --Iran on Sunday rejected what it termed conditional negotiations with Europe over Tehran's nuclear program and said it wanted instead to have talks with the U.N.'s international nuclear watchdog agency.

Twenty-one people were wounded Sunday, two seriously, in a suicide bombing at a central bus station in the southern Israeli town of Beersheba, Israeli officials said

President Bush on Sunday heaped praise Iraq's draft constitution but acknowledged Sunniopposition and said an upcoming referendum could spark a new wave of violence

JAPANESE police and intelligence agencies are boosting security and surveillance during the national election campaign following warnings that Japan is "especially" at risk of an Islamic terror attack.

Malaysia has announced that it hopes to put a man on the moon by the year 2020 as part of its $25m space programme.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Was the war in Iraq worth it? The debates rage on

The ongoing battle in Iraq is making journalists on both sides of the political divide use a stronger languge. Here are some of today's articles on Iraq:

It’s the nature of this brash and impetuous president that when it comes to words, he’s a big shot, but he ducks any situation where he might have to face anyone hostile to him or his policies

The case for overthrowing Saddam was unimpeachable. Why, then, is the administration tongue-tied?

Stay the course. What course? So religious-based militia can divvy up the northern and southern portions of the country? So Islam can be enshrined as a principal source of new Iraqi legislation?

Friday, August 26, 2005

Iraq's charter: The third deadline passes

Here are the news highlights:
  • Another deadline for resolving differences over the Iraqi charter passed early Saturday without an agreement.
  • A decision on whether to move forward on the constitution -- with or without Sunni support -- is to be made Sunday
  • Speaker Hachim al-Hasani:Under the deal agreed to by Shia and Kurds, the issue of federalism will be simplified and essentially transferred for decision by the next government, he said. The Kurds will retain autonomous powers in northern Iraq, while federalism will be sidelined as an issue for the rest of the country, he added.
  • President Bush on Wednesday called Aziz al-Hakim, the head of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, to encourage him to keep the political process moving, a spokesman for al-Hakim said Friday
  • Following Bush's call, Shiite officials submitted compromise proposals to the Sunnis, agreeing to delay decisions on federalism and the status of members of Saddam Hussein's Baath party until a new parliament is elected in December
  • Sunni negotiators angrily rejected the compromises. A leading Sunni negotiator, Saleh al-Mutlaq, called on Iraqis to reject the document in the referendum, warning of a "terrifying and dark future awaiting Iraq."

In the mean time, supporters of radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr continued their clashes with rival Shiites in the holy city of Karbala, part of ongoing friction that erupted among Shiites during the constitution crisis. Sadr and his militia see the other shiite factions (mainly the Al-Dawa Party and SCIR led by Hakim) as too loyal to Iranian and American interests.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Today's press clippings (Iran & the Middle East)



Tuesday, August 23, 2005


I know we deal with serious stuff here, but if I may take a break for a moment; I just wanted to let you know that "The 40 Year-Old Virgin" gave me such a blast! (it indeed did, otherwise I wouldn't write about it here!) Man, I hadn't laughed this much in a couple of years--at least since I came to Canada. It just had me guffawing the whole time! It was funny funny funny!

Monday, August 22, 2005

Sean Penn writes about his recent trip to Iran

Sanfransisco Chronicle: In June, Sean Penn and two friends traveled to Tehran. It was Penn's first trip to the country. What he found was a culture in conflict. Although the nation is ruled by a very conservative, tradition-bound government, Penn talked to many younger Iranians who have a strong interest in Western culture and want their own country to liberalize its policies on individual rights. Beginning today, The Chronicle will publish a five-day series of his reports from Iran:

It's the week preceding presidential elections. Candidates attack one another's credibility. Activists push to boycott the vote. Traffic and pollution choke the cities. Leftists support a no-win idealist. Preachers guide their flocks toward political starboard. The media have fallen under the grip of standing power, and should they defy it, they're imprisoned. University students promote human rights, while fundamentalists deny them. It is a culture in love with cinema. With Brad Pitt. Angelina Jolie. And anything Steven Spielberg. It is a nation of nuclear power, where the lobbies of the religious right effectively blur the lines between church and state. But it is also a country of good and hospitable people. And when the local team wins a big match, there is dancing, kissing, drinking and drugs in the streets. Women are graduating the campuses in higher and higher numbers, occupying government in higher and higher numbers. Sound familiar? But wait. The women. Look at the women. All is not well. I'm thinking about the women. This is Iran...

The BOSS does it again

MASON, OH - AUGUST 21: Roger Federer of Switzerland celebrates match point against Andy Roddick during the final of the Western & Southern Financial Group Masters on August 21, 2005 at the Lindner Family Tennis Center in Mason, Ohio. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Fareed Zakaria: Oil prices are crippling US foreign policy toward Iran

Oil--nicknamed the black gold--has been driving the world's economy for the past hundred years and Iran sits to a plenty of it. In fact, statistically, Iran sits atop the third largest oil reserves in the world. This simple fact alone makes many other nations begrudge Iran its unique geopolitical location and the unimaginable wealth it can reap from some of the biggest supplies of the world's most valuable commodity.

But quite on the contrary--as I wrote 10 days ago-- oil has always been more of a nemesis to Iran, rather than a blessing. From the economic standpoint, Iran's dependence on oil has marginalized almost every other domestic industry, leaving the country literally crippled in times of deep slump in oil prices. Politically speaking, the Iranians have paid a heavy price for being endowed with oil in the world's most strategically sensitive region, "the Middle East". Apart from being one of the main causes of the two most earth-shattering political events in Iran's contemporary history-- the 1953 US-backed Coup and 1979 Islamic revolution-- oil has mainly served as the savior of Tehran's regime for the past 26 years, enabling it to buy other nations' silence by constantly "oiling" their palms, thus strengthening its own power structure, instead of improving the Iranian people's economic conditions.

Tehran's recent reckless, defiant behavior in light of the soaring oil prices has had many political analysts wondering if the US and its allies are left with any realistic option as to not only make Iran stand down from pursuing its nuclear dreams, but acquiesce to genuine reforms, and that is exactly the question I put forward last week:
Will the world ever be able to solve Iran's nuclear crisis, stop its leaders from sponsoring terrorism and hold them accountable for the blatant violation of the rights of its own citizens as long as "oil" remains a deciding factor in the world's economy?
Today, the always-insightful Fareed Zakaria makes a point of this important issue it in his latest Newsweek article "How to Escape The Oil Trap" and rightfully argues how the soaring oil prices are crippling US foreign policy toward, among others, Iran and saudi Arabia:

Terror. Over the last three decades, Islamic extremism and violence have been funded from two countries, Saudi Arabia and Iran, not coincidentally the world's first and second largest oil exporters. Both countries are now awash in money and, no matter what the controls, some of this cash is surely getting to unsavory groups and individuals.

Democracy. The centerpiece of Bush's foreign policy—encouraging democracy in the Middle East—could easily lose steam in a world of high-priced oil. Governments reform when they have to. But many Middle Eastern governments are likely to have easy access to huge surpluses for years, making it easier for them to avoid change. Saudi Arabia will probably have a budget surplus of more than $26 billion this year because the price of oil is so much higher than anticipated. That means it can keep the old ways going, bribing the Wahhabi imams, funding the Army and National Guard, spending freely on patronage programs. (And that would still leave plenty to fund dozens of new palaces and yachts.) Ditto for other corrupt, quasi-feudal oil states.

Iran. Tehran has launched a breathtakingly ambitious foreign policy, moving determinedly on a nuclear path, and is also making a bid for influence in neighboring Iraq. This is nothing less than an attempt to replace the United States as the dominant power in the region. And it will prove extremely difficult to counter—more so, given Tehran's current resources. Despite massive economic inefficiency and corruption, Iran today has built up foreign reserves of $29.87 billion.

Be sure to read the whole article.

Today's articles on Iran

  • The Iranian author and freelance journalist Roya Hakakian writes a great piece on the plight of hunger-striking jailed journalist Akbar Ganji in today's Washington Post:

If the words, "The supreme leader must go!" are historic, it is not only for their truth, or their unadorned clarity, or the courage with which they are spoken. Courage has been in ample supply in Iran since 1979. There have been many others just as resilient as Ganji: Abbas Amir-Entezam, deputy prime minister of Iran's post-revolutionary provisional government, refused to sign a recantation letter that would have absolved him of the charge of "espionage for the Great Satan," and remained in prison for 20 years. The journalist Faraj Sarkuhi, kidnapped by intelligence agents in 1996, managed to send a note that told the world about his captivity and brought about his freedom.

But Ganji possesses courage and more. He has produced an intellectual blueprint to contemporary Iranian politics, the regime, its flaws and the way forward. After publishing his seminal books of investigative journalism, in which he traced the murders of leading dissidents inside and outside the country to the country's highest leadership, he tackled the system as a whole. Being locked up in solitary confinement proved to be an opportunity for him to focus and produce his two "Republican Manifestos." These extended essays make two key points: That a "supreme leader" is incompatible with democracy, as is the mixing of Islam with the affairs of the state. A religiously eclectic country like Iran, he asserts, must do away with "official religion."

There has never been any reason for expecting the "international community," that frequently invoked and rarely useful fiction, to dissuade Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. Today's Iran is culturally ancient and demographically young — a combustible compound. It nurses nostalgia about vanished Persian grandeur, and has a potentially turbulent population, the median age of which is just 24.2 (compared to 36.3, 38.9 and 42.2 in America, France and Germany respectively). Even Iranians of temperate and democratic inclinations, and especially the young, seeing four nuclear powers in the neighborhood — Russia, Israel, Pakistan and India — and a fifth, America, next door in Iraq and riding nearby waves, might think of nuclear weapons as validations of modernity and conferrers of political weight. If regime change someday puts people of civilized inclinations in power in Tehran, arms control will be possible, if unimportant.

Meanwhile, acting for "Europe" — an old geographic expression and a freshly minted political fiction — Britain, France and Germany, that troika of old-world high-mindedness, have offered Iran, as inducements for abandoning its nuclear aspirations, the carrot of favors which translate into cash, and have threatened the stick of sanctions and "isolation." But Iran, floating on a sea of oil, neither feels nor fears the hot breath of penury breathing down its neck. Besides, nations rarely minutely calculate the cash value of glory, honor and power; all of which, together with paranoia and religious messianism, are entangled in Iran's decades-old drive for nuclear weapons.

U.N. sanctions, usually exercises in feebleness, probably would be blocked by Russia, an enabler of Iran's nuclear aspirations, or by China, which is voracious for oil. Regarding the dread of "isolation," Iran has noticed that its nuclear program has seized the world's attention.

And having noted that one distinction between the member of the Axis of Evil that has been attacked by America, Iraq, and the member that has not been, North Korea, is the latter's probable possession of nuclear weapons, the third member, Iran, may have come to an inconvenient conclusion.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Does the West know how to deal with Iran's nuclear program?

Question number one: Does the West know how to rein in Iran's nuclear program? Let's see what recent reports on this issue have to say:

  • President Bush (asked about the possible use of force during an interview for Israeli TV) :"All options are on the table."

  • German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder: The military option for resolving the dispute over Iran's nuclear programme should be "taken off the table".

  • French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin: if Teheran goes ahead with its nuclear plan it should be referred to the UN Security Council.

  • French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy : "It's still possible to resolve the standoff through diplomacy. Our hand is outstretched."

  • Former US deputy secretary of state Richard Armitage: "In Afghanistan we share a common view; we need to talk to them [Iranians] as a major energy supplier; and the fact they sponsor terrorism - all argue in favour of us talking to them. An active dialogue is not an act of capitulation."

  • Houston Chronicle:... But the United States and the rest of the world appear to lack a clear idea of how to deal with the Iranian nuclear issue, analysts said.

  • Chicago Tribune:...But chances that the Security Council will pass tough sanctions against Iran range from bleak to very bleak...China has been clear that it does not want Iran hauled before the Security Council. China needs Iranian oil to fuel its economic expansion...Russia is another major trading partner. Despite international pressure, it's still building a nuclear power reactor for Iran in Bushehr...

  • Wall Street Journal: The diplomatic impasse between Europe and Iran has led even some Republicans in Congress to call for President Bush to open direct talks with Tehran, a move no U.S. president has made since Washington cut off diplomatic ties with Iran in 1980.

Question number two: Has the West ever been more confused as to how to deal with an international crisis?

Khamenei: Iran won't stop nuke enrichment

Iran does not intend to build nuclear weapons, but it will continue to enrich uranium because it does not want to be dependent on others for its nuclear fuel needs, the country's supreme ruler said Friday.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei told tens of thousands of worshippers at Tehran University that Western allegations his country is secretly trying to make weapons are "a propaganda trick to deceive their own public opinion."

"We want to enrich our own uranium explored from our own mines with equipment and technology that belongs to ourselves developed by our young scientists to produce fuel for our nuclear power plants," Khamenei said.

In other news:

... The UN is not the only recourse. But for their part the Europeans, unpractised at common coercive diplomacy, are only just starting to think through the ramifications of what might be needed. One idea doing the rounds if diplomacy goes on failing is for a maritime cordon, based on the practice of the American-led Proliferation Security Initiative, to stop shipments related to Iran's nuclear and other weapons programmes: a sort of PSI for the Gulf region. But making such a cordon tight and effective would be hard, especially without full support from Iran's neighbours, argues Michael Knights in a recent paper for NPEC. Meanwhile Iran has already hinted that if push came to shove, it would not be shy of using its own weapons: chiefly its oil and gas, but it also has a growing navy of its own. It shows no signs of blinking first.

Any country seeking to develop a peaceful nuclear power program would have eagerly jumped at the offer made recently to Iran by three European powers and backed by the U.S. The offer reportedly included a promise of access to nuclear reactor technology and a guaranteed supply of nuclear fuel that would allow Iran to build civilian nuclear reactors. There also was a rich array of other things Iran had been seeking: a full political and economic relationship with the West, from technology sharing to trade preferences to security guarantees, according to news reports.

Iran barely glanced at the deal before turning it down cold earlier this month.

Republican Party foreign policy expert Sen. Chuck Hagel is calling for the United States to open talks with Iran's new president and has dismissed President George W. Bush's talk of a military option against Tehran as an empty and foolish threat.

In an interview with Reuters during a trip across his home state on Wednesday, Hagel said the United States should greet the new Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad with a bold diplomatic stroke.

"You've got a new president, a new opportunity to do something bold here. Why not take that opportunity and do something bold? Iran is going to be a major influence in the future of Iraq. It already is. Who are we kidding when we think that they're not? They are.

"I would start engaging with American face-to-face dialogue. We're not at negotiations yet, but opening that dialogue. This is a process. This needs to work. Every side has to give something here," said Hagel, who is a member of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee and is seen as a possible Republican presidential candidate in 2008.

A former top aide to Colin Powell says his involvement in the former secretary of state's presentation to the United Nations on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction was "the lowest point" in his life.

"I wish I had not been involved in it," says Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, a longtime Powell adviser who served as his chief of staff from 2002 through 2005. "I look back on it, and I still say it was the lowest point in my life."

Friday, August 19, 2005

Kofi Annan asks Iran to release hunger-striking journalist

AP reports:

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan sent a letter to Iran's president Friday seeking the release of a jailed investigative reporter who has been on a hunger strike for more than a month, a U.N. official said.

Akbar Ganji, jailed in 2000 for reporting that intelligence officials had killed five Iranian dissidents, is believed to be in critical condition. Though Iranian officials claim he ate earlier this week, his wife says the hunger strike, which he began in June, continues.

Annan's letter to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad seeks Ganji's "immediate release on humanitarian grounds," a U.N. official said. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because Iran had not yet received the letter.

The U.N. spokesman's office confirmed that Annan had sent a letter to Iran about Ganji, but would not disclose the document's contents until it is delivered.

Four months ago, Ganji went on hunger strike for a month, then broke the strike after he was released on May 30 on medical leave. He was taken back to prison on June 11 and went on hunger strike again. He has been on hunger strike since, and was taken to the hospital July 18.

On July 13, Annan was asked whether he would protest Ganji's treatment. He replied that he did not know enough about the case to comment.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Middle East news in brief

In the news:

AP: For the first time, Mubarak campaigns
NY Times: Rice Urges Israel and Palestinians to Sustain Momentum

In the Press:

Mr Ahmadinejad's 21-strong all-male cabinet (the Islamic Republic has never had a female cabinet minister) presents a tellingly hirsute spectacle. With the sole exception of the economics minister, Davoud Danesh-Jafari, all the new ministers sport a fecund display of facial hair in the best Islamist tradition

President Bush says the world is "coalescing around the notion" that Iran must be barred from getting nuclear weapons. But two factors -- soaring oil prices and chaos in Iraq -- are giving Tehran new muscle in its diplomatic standoff with Europe and the U.S.

...both Mr. Sharon and the army have acted thus far with exemplary conviction and restraint in carrying out the eviction. Despite several thousand settlers who are refusing to leave their Gaza homes voluntarily, and a few thousand more Israelis who have entered Gaza to help them defy the troops, the evacuation is proceeding deliberately and professionally. Mr. Sharon, for his part, has struck a resolute tone that has left no doubt about either the difficulty of his decision or his determination in carrying it out.

Indeed, the Bush administration is unlikely to tolerate the impasse dragging on much anger. The National Assembly was empowered to change the deadline only once, so he political factions must either agree on a completed draft by next Monday or take heir chances in a snap election and try again. The next seven days are expected to be a continuation of lengthy meetings of the top three dozen or so political leaders over teas and lunches, but the real deal making will be done in proverbial backrooms around Baghdad.

Bush likes to play the resolute War Leader, and he has never been known for admitting mistakes or regret. But that does not mean that he is free of doubt. For the past three years, Bush has been living in two worlds—unwavering and confident in public, but sometimes stricken in private. Bush's meetings with widows like Crystal Owen offer a rare look inside that inner, private world.

By removing the settlements on his own initiative, Sharon has helped to regain the initiative — moral and political — for the Jewish state. The international opprobrium into which Israel had sunk was not fatal to its existence, but it was not good either. Israelis feel themselves part of the West, and it is deeply dispiriting for them to be shunned by every Western country except the U.S. The pullout, on top of the concessions offered by Ehud Barak at Camp David five years ago, eases (if not erases) the onus on Israel and puts pressure on the Palestinians to get their own house in order.

But the current Israeli disengagement does not stem from, nor is it linked to, a coherent long-term strategy. Therein lies its basic flaw. There are no follow-up plans, no negotiations and no further disengagements. In diplomatic terms, there is a conspicuous absence of a "day after" policy, which means that, in and of itself, disengaging from Gaza will not profoundly change Israel's strategic and demographic situation vis-a-vis the Palestinians.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Israel & Iran: One paving the road for peace, the other for war

Shimon Perez, the Vice-Prime Minister of Israel, assesses the prospects of peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians after Israel's withdrawal from the Gaza Strip in "A momentous day for peace: why Gaza matters to us all this morning:"

In the Middle East it is wiser to make long jumps rather than high jumps. By taking long jumps, we can proceed to our desired goal one jump at a time. But if we take the risk of taking one major high jump to the end goal, as we tried in Camp David in 2000, we will break our back, and require years of recovery to try again. Disengagement is a long jump. Now it is time for another jump. It too will not be the last.

We will continue building on the momentum created by this current step. In doing so, we will open the door for the Palestinians to establish a state with provisional borders on evacuated territories in Gaza and the West Bank. We can then proceed to negotiate with the Palestinians the permanent borders between Israel and the Palestinian state. The questions of Jerusalem and refugees are a matter for the future. Our bitter experience has proven that these issues are too explosive to settle in the next jump we make. We should not hold ourselves hostage to our inability to reach an agreement on these matters at the present. We must move forward on the things on which we can reach an agreement, such as the establishment of a Palestinian state in Gaza and the West Bank, and opening negotiations on permanent borders based on UN resolutions 242 and 338. The “road map” is there in place to help us to realise this shared vision of two states living side by side, peacefully andin security

And LA Times assesses the prospects of war between Iran and the U.S. in" Iran's revolution isn't going away:"

...it was pure fantasy to imagine that the Islamic Republic of Iran, founded in revolutionary year 1979, was just about to mutate into a friendly democracy. Yet people did. "In Iran," President Bush declared in a speech in November 2003, "the demand for democracy is strong and broad." Dream on. Far from being on the brink of democracy, Iran is now on the brink of becoming the single biggest threat to democracy in the world.

The reality is that an Iranian nuke could be a reality within a decade, if not sooner. All the Iranians need is time — and this we seem to be giving them.The problem is that, once again, the West is divided and the international community stalemated. Britain, France and Germany have long favored diplomatic carrots. The U.S. might once have preferred a military stick, but is now too tied up in neighboring Iraq to relish the prospect even of air strikes.

Now it seems likely that Washington's Plan B will be adopted — to go to the U.N. Security Council. But don't get too excited. First, the American aim is simply to threaten economic sanctions. With oil at $66 a barrel, the Iranians are unlikely to be intimidated. Second, any U.N. resolution needs to be requested by the 35 nations represented in the International Atomic Energy Agency and approved by all five permanent members of the Security Council.

SO WHERE do we go from here? Plan A — the European carrot — has failed. Plan B — the flaccid U.N. stick — will also fail. Is there then a Plan C — American (or Israeli) air strikes? The answer is yes, but itis a plan fraught with peril.

According to Michael J. Mazarr of the U.S. National War College, Iran could retaliate with "an elaborate, ferocious, global provocation designed to draw the United States into a protracted conflict." That translates into more terrorism in our cities and an escalation of the war in Iraq. Now, ask yourself, what would be the likely effect of such a confrontation on Iranian politics? To repeat: The Iranian revolution is still at an early stage. It has not yet produced its Bonaparte, its Stalin, its Mao. Or has it? A full-scale war with the "Great Satan" may be all Ahmadinejad needs to don that bloody mantle.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Mr Zakaria, may I weigh in as an Iranian?

Fareed Zakaria's latest article " Don't Make Hollow Threats" picks an issue with President Bush's interview with an Isreali TV, in which the President asserted that military option is still on the table to rein in Iran's nuclear ambition. Mr Zakaria reminds us why a military option at this stage can cost the US dearly and then goes on to propose that " Washington could authorize the European negotiators to make certain conditional offers, and see how Tehran responds." As a prospective Iranian journalist and someone who follows Iran and the Middle East's developments very closely, I'd like to get a few words in edgeways here. I do hope Mr Zakaria, who is one of my favorite political analysts, will get a chance to read this.

Mr Zakaria begins his argument by disagreeing strongly with military strike on Iran :
Airstrikes against Iran would be extremely unwise. They would have minimal military effect: the facilities are scattered, are reasonably well hidden and could be repaired within months. With oil at $66 a barrel, the mullahs are swimming in money. (The high price of oil and Iran's boldness are directly related.) More important, a foreign military attack would strengthen local support for the nuclear program and bolster an unpopular regime. Iran is a country with a strong tradition of nationalism—it is one of the oldest nations in the world.

Mr Zakaria, I'm on the same page with you. Just like you, I believe this would be not only unwise but disasterous. Apart from the first two arguments you raised (the well hidden facilities and rocketing price of oil), any sort of military attack on Iran would not only allianate the only nation in the Middle East which looks favorably upon America and help galvanize support for a heavily unpopular regime, but would leave such deep wounds in the souls of Iranians that won't be healed for generations to come. A democratic, friendly Iran could be an important US ally in the war against terror in the future and help boost stability in the Middle East. A military attack, on the other hand, would put an end to that future for ever. In fact, it seems to me that it's Tehran's regime that is luring the US into using force against Iran, since such confrontation will play well into the hands of the mullahs as you and I both know . The US should not fall into that trap.

Mr Zakaria then discusses how he believes most Iranians feel about being a nuclear power:

Many Iranians believe that they should and will be a nuclear power. I was speaking to an Iranian exile who lives in London who has spent time, money and effort plotting against the regime. For the first time ever, I found he was siding with the mullahs. "I would do exactly what they are doing," he said. "For strategic reasons, Iran needs a nuclear option. Look at where it lies, with neighbors like China, Russia, Israel and Pakistan, all powerful nuclear-weapons states." Last year, Iran's former foreign minister under the shah, Ardeshir Zahedi, argued that Iran should have nuclear weapons, and that under a different regime, Iranian nukes would be no more threatening than those of Britain. In fact, Iran's nuclear program was started by the shah in the early 1970s with American support.

Mr Zakaria, as a patriotic Iranian, I would never ever want to see Iran becoming a nuclear power under the mullahs. A nuclear Iran will most certainly be a serious threat to the whole world. You rightly mentioned that mullah's boldness and the high price of oil are directly related. Well, that's the point. I guess you don't need me to tell you how the mullahs will be able to bully the world into giving into their demands once they are a nuclear power. Ardeshir Zahedi is absolutely right. Under a democratic, law-abiding government in Iran, nuclear power would no longer pose as a threat. The Americans supported the Shah because his government was always a 110 percent committed to the international treaties. It's like having a knife in the hands of a repeat offender or a respected citizen. which one would you feel safe sitting next to?

And finally, he suggests that granting Iran offers such as a comprehensive normalization of relations with the west in return for concession on nuclear issues could help solve the problem.

The one man who has had extensive negotiations with the Iranians, Mohamed ElBaradei, director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said to me a few months ago that Tehran is seeking a grand bargain: a comprehensive normalization of relations with the West in exchange for concessions on nuclear issues. It will never give up its right to a nuclear program, he argues, but it would allow such a program to be monitored to ensure that it doesn't morph into a weapons project. But the prize they seek, above all, is better relations with the United States. "That is their ultimate goal," he said.

There are lots of reasons to be suspicious of Iran. But the real question is, Do we want to try to stop it from going nuclear? If so, why not explore this path? Washington could authorize the European negotiators to make certain conditional offers, and see how Tehran responds. What's the worst that can happen? It doesn't work, the deal doesn't happen and Tehran resumes its nuclear activities. That's where we are today.

Having their program monitored in return for better relations with the united states? No problem, but is that all? Shouldn't the United states, as the most democratic nation in the world, also demand that the mullahs improve their human rights record, free all their political prisoners and stop shutting down opposing voices, hold free democratic elections in accordance with international standards, and resign to people's will? And if the US demands so, do you believe Tehran's regime will cave in?

Mr Zakaria, what Tehran's regime has told Mr Elbaradei is just a poor excuse. Just a few days ago, the commander of Iran's revolutionary guard, major-general Rahim Safavi officially stated, " nuclear power is the key to our survival." That's the word: "survival." The mullahs want the US to guarantee them their survival; to get off their back and do business with them while making no mention of their dismal political and human rights record. But even then, will they scrap their nuclear program? Given their track record, that's highly unlikely.

So what should we do? in my opinion the key to solve this crisis is in the hands of nations--most specifically, France, Germany, Russia and China-- who have the most lucrative economic contracts with Iran. There will be a window of opportunity If they become united in handling the current crisis and tell the mullahs, once and for all, that there'll be no more trading relations with them unless they stop pursuing nuclear ambitions (and even then the issue of Iran's human rights violation should not be considered off the table.) That seems like a tall order, particularly considering Russia's current vested interest in Iran's nuclear program and China's giant gas and oil contracts with Iran. But the US, as the world's only political and economic superpower, should hold serious talks with these nations and find ways to convince them to help stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons before diplomacy collapses.

TIME: Inside Iran's secret war for Iraq

Time magazine reveals the extent of Iran's influence in Iraq, and how effective the sabotage efforts of Tehran's regime have been in today's issue:

How real is the threat? A Time investigation, based on documents smuggled out of Iran and dozens of interviews with U.S., British and Iraqi intelligence officials, as well as an Iranian agent, armed dissidents and Iraqi militia and political allies, reveals an Iranian plan for gaining influence in Iraq that began before the U.S. invaded. In their scope and ambition, Iran's activities rival those of the U.S. and its allies, especially in the south. There is a gnawing worry within some intelligence circles that the failure to counter Iranian influence may come back to haunt the U.S. and its allies, if Shi'ite factions with heavy Iranian backing eventually come to power and provoke the Sunnis to revolt. Says a British military intelligence officer, about the relative inattention paid to Iranian meddling: "It's as though we are sleepwalking."

The Iranian penetration of Iraq was a long time in planning. On Sept. 9, 2002, with U.S. bases being readied in Kuwait, Supreme Leader Ayatullah Ali Khamenei summoned his war council in Tehran. According to Iranian sources, the Supreme National Security Council concluded, "It is necessary to adopt an active policy in order to prevent long-term and short-term dangers to Iran." Iran's security services had supported the armed wings of several Iraqi groups they had sheltered in Iran from Saddam. Iranian intelligence sources say that the various groups were organized under the command of Brigadier General Qassim Sullaimani, an adviser to Khamenei on both Afghanistan and Iraq and a top officer in the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps. Before the March 2003 invasion, military sources say, elements of up to 46 Iranian infantry and missile brigades moved to buttress the border. Positioned among them were units of the Badr Corps, formed in the 1980s as the armed wing of the Iraqi Shi'ite group known by its acronym sciri, now the most powerful party in Iraq. Divided into northern, central and southern axes, Badr's mission was to pour into Iraq in the chaos of the invasion to seize towns and government offices, filling the vacuum left by the collapse of Saddam's regime. As many as 12,000 armed men, along with Iranian intelligence officers, swarmed into Iraq. Time has obtained copies of what U.S. and British military intelligence say appears to be Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps intelligence reports sent in April 2003. One, dated April 10 and marked confidential, logs U.S. troops backed by armor moving through the city of Kut. But, it asserts, "we are in control of the city." Another, with the same date, from a unit code-named 1546, claims "forces attached to us" had control of the city of Amarah and had occupied Baath Party properties...

The Iranian program is as impressive as it is comprehensive, competing with and sometimes bettering the coalition's endeavors. Businesses, front companies, religious groups, ngos and aid for schools and universities are all part of the mix. Just as Washington backs Iraqi news outlets like al-Hurra television station, Tehran has funded broadcast and print outlets in Iraq. A 2003 Supreme National Security Council memo, smuggled out of Iran, suggests even the Iranian Red Crescent society, akin to the Red Cross, has coordinated its activities through the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps. The memo instructs officials that "the immediate needs of the Iraqi people should be determined" by the Guard's al-Quds Force.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

The European press on Iran and North Korea: What's next?

Europe bet big on its ability to get Iran to suspend its nuclear fuel program. Now it looks like the EU triumvirate may have lost. Over the weekend, Iran said it would reject Europe's non-threatening offer. What now? When the carrot fails, is it time for the stick?

FOR the fourth time since 2003, negotiators from six countries have been meeting in Beijing, seeking a deal that would end North Korea's nuclear-weapons programme. Now, for the fourth time, they have broken off with little to show in the way of results. While this round, which ended on August 7th after 13 hard-slogging days, produced some faint indication that small steps forward may be possible, the core issues seem as intractable as ever.

AP: No evidence of Iran leader in 1979 takeover

Anne Gearan, AP diplomatic writer, reports:
WASHINGTON (AP) -- An internal government review has turned up no conclusive evidence that Iran's new hardline president was closely involved in the 1979 takeover of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, U.S. officials say, although former hostages have identified him as one of their captors.

A secret U.S. intelligence report circulated this week describes what U.S. investigators have been able to piece together about Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's activities as a student leader, government officials familiar with the document said.

"I don't think we've seen any smoking gun yet," one official said Friday. Like others, the official would discuss the findings only in general terms and on condition of anonymity because the full report is classified and the review is ongoing.

The initial review has turned up no evidence that Ahmadinejad was part of the core group of hostage-takers who held Americans for 444 days but indicates that he may have been in contact with them or moved in the same circles, one official said.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Oil: Iran's nemesis?

Take a look at the following headlines:

-Reuters: President George W. Bush said on Thursday Iran's new leader, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, likely would be granted a U.S. visa to attend a U.N. meeting in New York despite earlier assertions he played a leading role in the 1979 storming of the American Embassy in Tehran.

-International Herald Tribune: Iran rejects UN nuclear concerns as 'absurd'

-BBC News: UN body urges Iran nuclear freeze. It does not call for action by the UN Security Council, according to reports.

And then this:

-CNN: Oil charged to a record $66 a barrel Thursday as Iran's nuclear work put it at odds with the United Nation's atomic watchdog, and more U.S. refinery snags threatened gasoline supplies to the world's biggest consumer

You can possibly put two and two together...

Will the world ever be able to solve Iran's nuclear crisis, stop its leaders from sponsoring terrorism and hold them accountable for the blatant violation of the rights of its own citizens as long as "oil" remains a deciding factor in the world's economy?

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

LA Times: A dying man's cry for freedom in Iran

LA Time's Max Boot has written an excellent article on Iranian hunger-striking jailed journalist Akbar Ganji and while at it, has also argued why Iran's nuclear program should be considered a grave threat to the world.

On Akbar Ganji's condition he writes:
Ganji deserves to become as famous as Nelson Mandela, Andrei Sakharov, Vaclav Havel, Aung San Suu Kyi and other dissidents who put their lives on the line against injustice. Yet, while Ganji's mistreatment has been protested by the U.S. and by every major international human rights organization, the only U.S. newspaper regularly covering his ordeal is the tiny New York Sun. According to LexisNexis, there have been more than 1,000 media mentions in the last month of Natalee Holloway, the teenager who disappeared in Aruba, and fewer than 400 of Ganji

Nothing better typifies the barbarism of the mullahs than their mistreatment of Akbar Ganji. A onetime enthusiast for the 1979 Islamic revolution, Ganji became disenchanted. He wrote books and articles documenting how top-level officials ordered the murder of writers and dissidents. He openly compared the Islamic Republic's ideology to that of Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy.

From prison, Ganji has continued issuing statements calling on the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, to leave office. He also urged Iranians to boycott the sham elections held in June that brought an Islamo-fascist, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, to power as president. Ganji has concluded that there is no way to change this "sultanate" from within; he advocates civil disobedience to bring about secular democracy."

I will not stand the master-slave relationship, the kind of relationship in which the Leader ascends to the ranks of a god and people descend to the level of slaves," Ganji wrote from prison in a "Letter to the Free World" (posted online at http://www.freeganji.blogspot.com/).

He has also defiantly refused to renounce his critique of the state, even if it could win his release. "Let it be known that if learning my lesson is to denounce my previous opinions," Ganji wrote, "Ganji will never learn his lesson."

When the Protestant martyr Hugh Latimer was burned at the stake by the Catholic Queen Mary ("Bloody Mary") in 1555, he boldly proclaimed: "We shall this day light such a candle in England as I trust by God's grace shall never be put out." Ganji's public letter of July 10 ends with an echo of Latimer's words: "This candle is about to die out, but this voice will raise louder voices in its wake."

And as for Iran's nuclear program:
We don't worry much about India or Israel having nukes because they are democracies with internal checks and balances. There is little chance of either one slipping an atomic bomb to a terrorist group for detonation in New York or London.

The prospect of Iran getting nukes is much more frightening because it is ruled by unelected ayatollahs who have turned their state into the world's leading sponsor of terrorism. Indeed, according to media reports, Iran is providing advanced explosive devices that are being used against U.S. troops in Iraq. But Iran's worst crimes are not those committed against Iraq, the U.S., or any other nation; they are the crimes committed against its own people.

In other news, today Akbar Ganji's wife denied reports her husband had broken his hunger strike. Reuters also reports that according to an Iranian newspaper, Ganji is still on hunger strike: Iran dissident Ganji still on hunger strike -paper

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Today's news roundup-Tuesday August 9

In The news,

TEHRAN (Reuters) - Dissident Iranian journalist Akbar Ganji has broken his eight week-old hunger strike after calls by family and friends concerned about his deteriorating health, a judiciary spokesman said on Tuesday.

"Thankfully his condition is better than before... He has recently broken his hunger strike," he said. "It seems that this was due to the requests made by other people for him to end his hunger strike."Ganji's plight has provoked comments of outrage and concern from the United States, the European Union and numerous human rights groups.

The 46-year-old was imprisoned in 2001 after writing a string of stories linking officials to the murder of political dissidents. He began his hunger strike in June to pressure the judiciary to grant him unconditional release. He was moved to a Tehran hospital, where he is kept under guard, last month as his health seriously deteriorated.Yousef Molai, one of Ganji's lawyers, said he was unaware that Ganji had broken his hunger strike. "I pray that it is true," he told Reuters. Relatives were not immediately available for comment.This week Ganji's wife and his chief lawyer, 2003 Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi, urged him to start eating again.

The news of Ganji breaking his hunger strike hasn't been confirmed yet by his family and lawyers.

CRAWFORD, Texas (Reuters) - President Bush said on Tuesday it was a positive sign that Iran wants to return to international negotiations over its nuclear program but that he remained deeply suspicious that Tehran was intent on developing an atomic weapon. "That's a positive development," Bush told reporters after Iran's new president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, said he had new initiatives and proposals to discuss.

Bush said the United States would work with Britain, Germany and France, the so-called EU-3 group of European nations leading the negotiations with Iran, on what steps might be in order if talks failed to reach an agreement. Going to the United Nations to seek possible international sanctions against Iran remained an option, he said.

"It is important for the Iranians to understand that America stands squarely with the EU-3, that we feel strongly the Iranians need to adhere to the agreements made in the Paris accord and that we will be willing to work with our partners and deal with appropriate consequences should they ignore the demand," he said. Bush said he was "deeply suspicious" of Iran's aims because Tehran had failed in the past to comply with agreements governing its nuclear program.

WASHINGTON - Some weapons entering Iraq are coming from Iran Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said Tuesday, though he indicated it was unclear whether they were coming from elements of the Iranian government or from other parties.

I'm sorry Mr Secretary, but how could "other parties" ship weapons to Iraq through Iran, "without" the knowledge of the Iranian government?

In the press,

As Westerners bow down before multiculturalism, we anesthetize ourselves into believing that anything goes. We see our readiness to accommodate as a strength - even a form of cultural superiority (though few will admit that). Radical Muslims, on the other hand, see our inclusive instincts as a form of corruption that makes us soft and rudderless. They believe the weak deserve to be vanquished.

Paradoxically, then, the more we accommodate to placate, the more their contempt for our "weakness" grows. And ultimate paradox may be that in order to defend our diversity, we'll need to be less tolerant. Or, at the very least, more vigilant. And this vigilance demands more than new antiterror laws. It requires asking: What guiding values can most of us live with? Given the panoply of ideologies and faiths out there, what filter will distill almost everybody's right to free expression?

Irshad Manji, born in Uganda but raised in Canada, is a Muslim lesbian, feminist and critic of Islamic fundamentalism. She's also the author of the book: "The Trouble With Islam Today: A Muslim's Call for Reform in Her Faith."

What remains to be seen is whether the Europeans will come through, as they have promised they would, with a tough-minded push for sanctions. So far, so good: Today, the International Atomic Energy Agency is to hold an emergency session to discuss the Iranian nuclear program, and most expect the IAEA to eventually refer the issue to the U.N. Security Council. But the real test is long-term. E.U. and U.S. leaders should prepare a program of serious economic, technological and military sanctions to back up the United Nations' statements. The United States should also continue to endorse the European proposal, which explicitly recognizes Iran's right to a peaceful nuclear program, giving Iran further incentive to choose "jobs" over "bombs." All involved must also start speaking to other countries -- China, Russia, Japan -- to build international momentum.

The conclusion of these talks means that there is no excuse for Europe and the United States not to act in tandem; neither should they take any option off the table. It is no longer possible to consider the Iranian nuclear threat as anything but deadly serious.

Encouraged by New York Republican leaders and some White House officials, Jeanine F. Pirro, the charismatic Westchester County district attorney, announced yesterday that she would challenge Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton next year, and immediately accused Mrs. Clinton of using her post as a steppingstone to the presidency.

Ms. Pirro, a political moderate who supports abortion rights, gay rights and the death penalty, is seen by many Republicans in New York and Washington as their best hope of pulling off a big upset in 2006 by defeating Mrs. Clinton.

How ironic that this man who could speak with great eloquence for hours, whose soothing voice helped calm the country in times of war and tragedy, was the least interested in explaining and promoting himself. Jennings had an understated quality that he learned from his broadcaster father, said ABC News President David Westin, and in covering state funerals "he would make everyone be quiet . . . and allow the audience to hear the horses' hooves."

Iranian spokesman to reporters:What do you care?

This past Saturday was "Journalist's day" in Iran. To get a sense of the ordeal journalists go through in Iran, read the following or watch the video here:

The following are excerpts from a press conference with Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Hamid-Reza Asefi, which aired on Iranian Channels 1 and 2 on July 31, 2005.

Reporter: What will the scope of the (UCF) activity in Esfahan be at the beginning? Will it have full or partial capacity?

Asefi: What do you care?

Female reporter: I'll repeat my colleague's question...

Asefi: Go ahead, please...

Female reporter:... regarding the UCF in Esfahan. Will its activity start at full or partial capacity, in order to show that the suspension...

Asefi: He asked, and I already said it is of no interest to you.

Female reporter: Please tell us, it might interest us.

Asefi: No. I know it is of no interest to you.

Reporter: Regarding the IAEA inspectors stationed in Tehran, when the UCF activity starts in Esfahan, will the inspectors be there, or did the Iranians plan a special ceremony to mark the start of activity?

Asefi: No. If by "special ceremony" you mean handing out cake and candy, then we have no such thing.

Iran: Revolution, Unrealistic

Newsweek reports:

Aug. 15, 2005 issue - A classified analysis by the U.S. intelligence community warned top Bush administration officials last spring that the theocratic reign of Iranian mullahs could be entrenched for years to come, NEWSWEEK has learned. This National Intelligence Estimate, issued by a unit of the new National Intelligence Director's office, reported that Iran is not in a prerevolutionary state and that near-term regime change appeared unlikely, say U.S. officials familiar with the report who asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of the material. (The National Intelligence Council, a committee of top analysts, produced the document at the same time that it sent out a second classified report about Iran's nuclear program.) The analysts also noted that Iran's new president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who was Tehran's mayor and a dark-horse presidential candidate at the time of the NIE's publication, might have a surprisingly strong following among poorer Iranians because of his reputation as an anticorruption campaigner. The office of intel czar John Negroponte had no comment on the top-secret document.

In briefings with reporters, intel officials have stressed recently that they want contrary views to be taken into account when analyses are presented to policymakers. But a White House spokesperson says President George W. Bush had no intention of backing away from comments he made about Iran just before its June election. In his June statement, Bush hinted at regime change, telling the Iranian people, "As you stand for your own liberty, the people of America stand with you." In July, Bush publicly mentioned the case of an imprisoned Iranian journalist, Akbar Ganji, who has become a cause celebre for U.S. neoconservatives who have been agitating for more U.S. support of efforts to overthrow the mullahs; Sen. Rick Santorum even introduced a bill to offer U.S. funding for exiles and Iranian-Americans seeking peaceful regime change.

I guess US administration's recent policy of sending mixed signals to Iran is making sense now...

Monday, August 08, 2005

Iran resumes nuclear work

Europeans' reaction?


"I think Iran should really bear in mind that this step is a step in the wrong direction," German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer said, according to ZDF television. But he suggested negotiations could continue, saying: "We are trying to prevent a negative trend with fatal consequences."

French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy urged Tehran to reconsider, saying it wasn't too late to turn back. "I call on Iran one more time, tonight, to listen to the voice of reason," he said.

Iran's reaction? Again AP:
"We are not concerned and are ready for everything," Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid RezaAsefi said. He called the threats "not effective. What interests us is cooperation. We advise Europe to withdraw its threats."
Translation: We are not concerned and ready for everything because, as always, it's the miserable people of Iran who'll do the suffering not us.

Read AP's complete report here

Remembering Peter Jennings

"I've seen the world and met the world on ABC's dime. It's been fabulous. For a guy who's had such a limited formal education, I can not think of having had a more rewarding career. I just cannot think of what else I would have done."
It is remarkable for those of us who were children in the 1970s and ’80s, who have virtually no memory of a time before Peter, Tom, and Dan were the network anchors, that the three men, who just a year ago seemed a fixed part of the landscape, always there when you looked for them, even if you didn’t look for them often, that today none remains in the job.

Brokaw’s departure was the least surprising, because it was long scheduled and planned for and also covered and promoted by NBC like the death of a pope, or at least like the finale of a long-running and well-rated entertainment program, which, at base, it what the event was. Rather’s departure was more sudden but not much more shocking — one always suspected that the too-small bathing suit in the too-hot car on the too-long drive home from the beach would some day prove too small and hot, and, when it finally did, the only surprise was that Rather’s ultimate end was with more a whimper than a bang.

But Peter Jennings wasn’t going anywhere. He was still young — only 67 when he died at home last night of lung cancer, surrounded by family in his Central Park West apartment — and he was still eager and he was absolutely on top of his game. His all-night-long turn-of-the-millennium coverage was a bravura performance, if also a bit of a gimmick. It could also be viewed, though, as endurance training for his amazing September 11 coverage, when he spent 60 hours on air and was unequalled in his calm, graceful, and very human reporting, analysis, and explanation of the nearly inexplicable. He was, as Barbara Walters said on air last night, according to USA Today, the most natural of the anchormen; in times of crisis and breaking news, he could effortlessly keep it all together — his broadcast, the story, himself.

Jennings was an anchor for the blue states. This is not to say that his politics leaned one way or another, or that he somehow provided a friendlier newscast for liberal causes than for conservative ones; we have no idea of his personal views. What we mean is that Jennings showed, as John Kerry couldn’t in the last election, that there’s a value in being smart and sophisticated. While Brokaw was always the all-American, just-folks, nice guy, Jennings was worldy and urbane and unafraid to be a bit of an intellectual. That seems to be the incorrect mien for success in this country today, but, for those of us actually do appreciate the smart and sophisticated — for New Yorkers, in other words — it was nice to see one of us spend so long on top.

Adjectives such as sophisticated, witty and urbane attached themselves to Peter Jennings as if he lived life in a tuxedo, a cigarette dangling from his lips, like James Bond. The ABC newsman, 67, could keep up his end of any conversation. He had Bond-like good looks and wore a tux well. But his fondness for cigarettes led to lung cancer that proved deadly for the World News Tonight anchor, who died Sunday just months after he told viewers that he had the disease.

Jennings was the last of the modern-day Big Three network anchors — NBC's Tom Brokaw retired in December 2004 and CBS' Dan Rather stepped down in March. Some observers think that as network news viewership continues to slide, the iconic status of anchors has become a thing of the past.

Of the three anchors, Jennings was perhaps the most natural broadcaster, as ABC's Barbara Walters said during a midnight broadcast on ABC announcing his death.“No one could ad lib like Peter,” Walters said. ABC's Ted Koppel recalled that he bore a resemblance to Roger Moore's James Bond.

Like 007, Jennings was worldly and smart. He was known as a demanding and exacting newsman and anchor. He owed none of it to formal schooling and all of it to ABC News. He spent 20 years traveling the globe for the network starting in the 1970s when ABC made him the youngest anchor ever, at age 26, in London.

Reporting from London, Jennings joined a three-anchor format with Max Robinson in Chicago and Frank Reynolds in Washington in 1978, which ABC abandoned in 1983 after Reynolds died of cancer. Jennings was the sole anchor of World News Tonight ever since.
He was a high school dropout; he never finished 10th grade. As for his sartorial style, the late iconic ABC News chief Roone Arledge used to tease him about his off-the-rack suits when he was paying Jennings millions of dollars.

“There are a lot of people in this business who believe that part of our job is to reassure the public every night,” Jennings once told The Toronto Star. “I subscribe to leaving people with essentially a rough draft of history. Some days it is reassuring, some days it is absolutely destructive.”

Jennings was in Berlin in the 1960s when the Berlin Wall was going up, and there in the 1990s when it came down. He covered the civil rights movement in the American South during the 1960s, and the struggle for equality in South Africa during the 1970s and 1980s. He was there when the Voting Rights Act was signed in 1965, and on the other side of the world when South Africans voted for the first time.

And Jennings was in Hungary, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Romania and throughout the Soviet Union to record first the repression of communism and then its demise. He was one of the first reporters to go to Vietnam in the 1960s, and went back to the killing fields of Cambodia in the 1980s.

ABC News President David Westin noted that once Jennings learned of his illness this spring, “He moved straight into an aggressive chemotherapy treatment. He knew that it was an uphill struggle. But he faced it with realism, courage and a firm hope that he would be one of the fortunate ones. In the end, he was not.”

Westin said that Jennings' wife, Kayce, had said that “Peter died with his family around him, without pain and in peace. He knew he'd lived a good life.”

The consummate broadcaster "Peter Jennings" passes away

The king of news anchors Peter Jennings died of lung cancer at the age of 67 tonight. As a broadcast journalist student and trainee, let me tell you how much I admired Jennings's unparalleled skills in reporting and anchoring. He was the sovereign in this business and the void he leaves tonight won't be filled for so many years to come.

ABC News: Peter Jennings Dies at 67


Sunday, August 07, 2005

Sunday news roundup

Let's all say an extra prayer for Peter Jennings tonight. Update: Sunday, 9:59 am: NewsBlues has removed its earlier statement, which stated that ABC affiliates were preparing for Jennings' death. An ABC spokesperson reiterated that this information was incorrect.

Update: 11:55pm: "May God bless Peter and give him and his family strength during these very tough times," a TVSpyer says.

Steven Vincent believed Iraqis wanted to live the American dream. His mistake cost him his life.

In an internet blog Vincent wrote from Basra, he repeatedly railed against what he regarded as the “shackles” on Iraqi women. “It astonishes me, the ways in which Iraqi men control their women with their obsessions on ‘reputation’, honour’ and that all-purpose cudgel, ‘proper Muslim behaviour’,” he wrote.

Vincent believed that Basra, potentially an economic hub as Iraq’s gateway to the Gulf, could become “the next Bahrain, Dubai or, for all we know, Orlando (Florida)”. Instead, he found that the Shi’ite majority in Basra had seized on the arrival of democracy as a chance to impose hardline religious values after years of suppression under Saddam Hussein.

In June he wrote from Basra: “Once more I’m reminded that the real agents of Iraq’s fate are not media-friendly issues such as the ‘insurgency’ or the ‘occupation’, or even the upcoming constitutional convention, but subtle, non-documentable social norms that regulate the lives of nearly every person in this country — especially females.”

He went on: “These are the unwritten, unlegislated and unchallengeable ‘social’ and ‘religious’ norms that have an iron grip on the city. Yet back home, you hardly find a public discussion . . . the right is too busy congratulating itself on the progress of Iraqi democracy and the left is obsessed with multicultural relativism and discrediting Bush.”

“The fact that many, if not most, of Basra’s constabulary harbour primary loyalties to the city’s religious parties is a serious problem,” he wrote. “To the despair of many secular-minded residents, the British are doing a crackerjack job of teaching cadets close-order drills . . . without, however, including basic training in democratic principles. As a result, our Anglo allies may be handing the religious parties spiffy new (recruits) to augment their already well-armed militias."

Sunday Afternoon update:

  • Zalmay Khalilzad, US ambassador in Iraq and one of America's top strategists in Middle East affairs, explains his strategy for restoring stability to Iraq in Iraq's Compact With America :

While Iraq has elected a transitional government and is making progress in drafting a constitution, it faces a clever and brutal terrorist threat and the profound challenge of overcoming the political, social and economic legacy of Saddam Hussein's rule. In the past two weeks, I have discussed with Iraqi leaders a set of ideas about what is needed to set Iraq on the right trajectory. We have agreed on seven points...

  • Time : After six months as Secretary of State, she has seized control over U.S. foreign policy. Now comes her toughest test--finding a way out of Iraq. An intimate look at Rice's world in The Condi Doctrine

..."She's up to her ears" on Iraq, says a senior White House official. Rice was with Bush in Crawford, Texas, when he learned of the attack that killed 14 Marines last Wednesday. Throughout the week, she engaged in around-the-clock phone sessions with the new U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, discussing how to get Iraq'ssquabbling political factions to reach a compromise on a draft constitution by next Monday, the target date set last year by the U.S.

...But she has never faced a challenge like this one. Although trained as a foreign policy realist who has argued the U.S. should act based on a cold calculus of national interest, rather than to advance ideological goals, Rice has more recently embraced Bush's gauzy belief that pursuing the ambitious aim of bringing political reform to the Arab world represents the best possible salve against the threat of Islamic terrorism. "What are your choices?" she asks. "Your choices are: to somehow reinstitute control, which would be against our principles, or to have faith in the democratic enterprise as one actually that is quite capable of overcoming difference." And yet while many Americans share Rice's desire to spread democracy in the Middle East, far fewer believe it's still worth the price the U.S. is paying to try to achieve it in Iraq. And so the biggest question facing the country's top diplomat is not so much whether she can spread the Bush doctrine but whether she can save it.

Shiite Islamic parties in the country, with the tacit acceptance of millions of devout women, are pushing hard to substitute Islamic law, or Sharia, for the civil law that now governs such areas of life as marriage, divorce, child custody and inheritance.A draft of the constitution published Saturday in the newspaper of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, one of the two leading Shiite parties, calls for men and women to be equal "in accordance with provisions of Islamic Sharia."

Legal scholars as well as women's rights activists see that provision as a way to substitute clerics for secular judges and religious rules for civil law.Although most fights over the constitution divide Iraqis along sectarian and ethnic lines, the question of women's rights reveals one more major fault line in the country's politics."There is a conflict between secularism and religion in drafting the new constitution," said Najla Ubeidi, a lawyer and a member of the Iraqi Women's League, one of the oldest women's groups in the country.

Ubeidi, like many others, sees the constitution as a struggle for Iraq's soul, a test of whether it will become a forward-looking society that uses the talents of all of its citizens or one that shuts out more than half of its population."During the 1960s, there was a real belief in improving women's conditions," Ubeidi said. "We could wear what we liked, go out when we liked, return home when we liked, and people would judge us by the way we behaved."

NY Times : An Anniversary to Forget by By Joichi Ito

WHEN people ask my thoughts on the bombing of Nagasaki and Hiroshima, I always feel uncomfortable. As a Japanese, I know how I'm supposed to respond: with sadness, regret and perhaps anger. But invariably I try to dodge the issue, or to reply as neutrally as possible.

That's because, at bottom, the bombings don't really matter to me or, for that matter, to most Japanese of my generation. My peers and I have little hatred or blame in our hearts for the Americans; the horrors of that war and its nuclear evils feel distant, even foreign. Instead, the bombs are simply the flashpoint marking the discontinuity that characterized the cultural world we grew up in.

...For my generation, the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings and the war in general now represent the equivalent of a cultural "game over" or "reset" button. Through a combination of conscious policy and unconscious culture, the painful memories and images of the war have lost their context, surfacing only as twisted echoes in our subculture. The result, for better and worse, is that, 60 years after Hiroshima, we dwell more on the future than the past.

Yes. Japanese can let go of the most horrendous disaster inflicted on their country and look forward to the future, but we Iranians are still dwelling on 28 Mordad (1953 US-backed Coup in Iran)...Still wondering how Japan got back on its feet after the second world war and why WE are where we are today?

Also read Washington Post's "Hiroshima and Nagasaki, The Original Ground Zero."

Saturday, August 06, 2005

US policy toward Iran: Is there a policy at all?

In January, after I heard President Bush's inaugural speech and the conviction with which he told the world of America's yearning to spread democracy and freedom in the Middle East, I came to believe the United States had finally woken up to the reality of the dictator-ridden region and decided to help clean up the mess there, once and for all. This year's developments in the Middle East, such as successful elections in Iraq and Afghanistan, Syrian military pullout from Lebanon and the newly revived peace process between Israelis and the Palestinians, have all been extremely encouraging signs of US commitment to break with the policies of the past and push for drastic reforms in the region.

But to this very day, the US policy toward Iran has continued to remain equivocal, and at times highly contradictory. Take a look at today's report in New York Times for instance:
Many of the new, more sophisticated roadside bombs used to attack American and government forces in Iraq have been designed in Iran and shipped in from there, United States military and intelligence officials said Friday...

...American officials say they have no evidence that the Iranian government is involved...

...But Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and the new United States ambassador in Baghdad, Zalmay Khalilzad, complained publicly this week about the Tehran government's harmful meddling in Iraqi affairs...

...And while American military intelligence officers believe Iranian intelligence has a large presence in Iraq, they say it hasn't been working to destabilize the country...

No wonder why the US military is unable to contain a relentless insurgency in Iraq and keep things in order there.

The nuclear program issue is yet another good example of endless contradictions in US stance toward Iran:
Reuters: WASHINGTON - The United States on Friday for the first time accepted that Iran can develop civilian nuclear programs, backing an EU proposal that would allow Tehran to pursue atomic power in exchange for giving up fuel work.

...The U.S. acquiescence over Iran is in contrast with its stance in talks with North Korea, which it insists cannot have any nuclear development for fear Pyongyang would build atomic bombs under the guise of a civilian power program.

The shift also comes despite long-held U.S. worries that allowing a civilian program could help Iran develop its nuclear technology and know-how so that, if it ever breaks any EU agreement, it would be closer to acquiring a bomb...

"There's a certainty and an ability to ensure that none of the nuclear fuel that would be involved is diverted to an illicit nuclear weapons program," said a US official...

Washington accuses Iran of trying to covertly build a nuclear bomb...


Again, apparently Washington is too confused about the nature of Iran's nuclear program and the magnitude of its threat to know how to deal with it.

Iran, on the other hand, keeps dissing the European negotiators sometimes with terms well below diplomatic decorum: The last proposal was ridiculous. This new one is a waste of time to even look at. Of course Mr Javier Solana is still holding hopes:

European Union (EU) Foreign Policy Commissioner Javier Solana on Friday urged [read begged] Iran not to resume its widely concerned nuclear program, but to accept the EU proposal on resolving the standoff over the issue.

Solana, who was vacationing in Bueu, Spain, made the call after negotiatorgotiators handed Iran the long-awaited proposal, offering trade incentives, political and security cooperation and the possibility for Tehran to use nuclear power for peaceful purposes.

The EU foreign policy chief told reporters that the EU on Friday handed over to Teheran a "very important document with a thorough offer to guarantee all its rights in the nuclear area, for we should not forget they have them."

And as for the human rights issue and freedom,

Nothing. Nada. Well, except for the occasional, toothless statementss by the European Union, asking Iran to kindly respect human rights of its own citizens or face no consequences. The US State Department 's statements are a tad harsher in tone but produce exactly the same results: nothing.

I can't believe that Akbar Ganji's plight is any less important than Aung San Suu Kyi's which lead to an international outrage against myanmar's military junta . I cant' believe the brutal military crackdown of demonstrations in Iran's province of Kurdistan is any less important than the massacre in Sudan's Darfur. I can't believe Iran's nuclear plans are any less dangerous to our future generations than North Korea's...

And of course, I can't believe the world is turning a blind eye to all this.

There was a particular pledge in the President's inaugural speech I still remember vividly:" All who live in tyranny and hopelessness can know: The United States will not ignore your oppression or excuse your oppressors. When you stand for your liberty, we'll stand with you."

Mr president, with all due respect, that's not what's happening right now in regard to Iran and the "war on terror" will go no where if you don't stand by what you promised the world.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Will we have to live with this?

A good friend of mine has just informed me about a two-episode TV program that is being aired on UK's BBC 4, titled "The cult of suicide bombers." Apparently ( I haven't seen it yet,) the program targets the roots, politics and history of suicide bombing. Painfully for us Iranians, in a section called "Suicide bombing and Islam," the program refers to Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s, and how the then Iranian leader Ayatollah Khomeini promised Iranian martyrs entry to paradise. What's more, according to an Iranian blog, not only has the reporter of the program been allowed in Iran, but has exclusively interviewed the family of Hussein Fahmideh (the 13-year-old Iranian who blew himself up under an Iraqi tank in the Iran-Iraq war,) a Revolutionary Guard commander and an influential Ayatollah.

There's no doubt that the representatives of foreign media are and will be more than welcome from now on to travel to Iran and highlight this bogus culture of martyrdom. After all, that's the image the Iranian regime is trying to sell the world.

A few days ago, I was asking a few of my students about their country's heroes. After I finished asking them about it, one of the students returned the question: "who's your country's hero? " Before I got a chance to reply, another interjected, "bin Laden. He is Iranian, right? "

That's where we Iranians are going. Or maybe we're already there...