Friday, September 30, 2005

Middle East news: Bush administration to examine new measures against Syria

President Bush and his top aides are weighing new steps against Syria, according to U.S. officials involved in Middle East policy.

Bush's national security team is due to meet Saturday to review policy toward Syria, the officials said. Options range from tougher economic sanctions to limited military action. One official involved in the deliberations said military action is unlikely for now.

The meeting comes as a United Nations investigator nears completion of a report that's expected to provide evidence that Syrian security agencies were involved in the February assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

...The investigator, German prosecutor Detlev Mehlis, is drawing on debriefings from one or more defectors from the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad. The defectors have provided evidence of Syrian government complicity in Hariri's death, according to two U.S. officials.

The options on the table for Saturday's high-level White House meeting include imposing more sanctions on Syria, authorized under the 2003 Syria Accountability Act; reaching out to Syrian opposition groups; and taking limited military action, such as the use of U.S. special forces, to stop the flow of insurgents, according to an official involved in the

The Bush administration, he said, calculates that the Mehlis investigation is putting significant pressure on Assad and is helping to build an international consensus to isolate Syria. "We don't want to blow that," he said, in explaining why military action isn't likely now.

Another official said that U.S. ally Israel also is counseling restraint, arguing that any successor to Assad, a member of Syria's Alawite minority, would likely be worse - perhaps even ushering in a militantly Islamic regime...

BEIRUT: The most recent investigations into the attempted assassination of journalist May Chidiac have revealed three witnesses who allegedly saw a suspicious looking person at the scene of the explosion.

...According to well-informed sources, investigators have been able to determine the location of the bomb in Chidiac's Range Rover. The device was placed on the underside of the car between two steel rails. The blast wounded Chidiac's left leg and left arm so severely that both had to be amputated, but, according to the sources, Chidiac's right leg, which was on the gas pedal, and her right hand, which was on the gear stick as she was shifting into the drive position, remained unharmed. Further investigations suggest the car was reversing backward as the blast occurred.

Sources also say the rest of Chidiac's body was unharmed due to the right rail on the underbody, two layers of plates covering the car from below and the two rails which support the driver's seat. The sources say that whoever planted the bomb would have needed less than two minutes to plant the bomb. The suspect is believed to have watched Chidiac get into her car and then detonated the bomb by remote control.

...As for Chidiac's health, sources at Hotel Dieu hospital said Chidiac's condition is improving but will be taken back into the Intensive Care Unit. Head of the ICU, Dr. Yazbek, said: "May could not come out of ICU until after next week."

India's vote against Iran: The drama continues

Indian papers are still all over india's decision to vote against Iran in IAEA. According to the latest reports, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's decision to side with the United States and European Union on the issue of referring Iran's nuclear programme to the United Nations has been welcomed in the US but drawn severe criticism from his close allies, the communist parties.The left parties, on whose support Dr Singh depends for his own political survival, have launched blistering attacks on him for his supposedly pro-American stance.

The papers also report that what has added fuel to the fire are revelations in the media that India had assured the US in July itself about its commitment to vote against Iran:"It was around this time that Dr Singh was in Washington to sign the path-breaking nuclear deal with President George W Bush. Newspaper reports, based on transcripts of the proceedings in the House International Relations Committee of the US Congress, have claimed that the anti-Iran vote at IAEA was part of the reciprocal assurances given by India, in return for nuclear cooperation with the US."

Today also reported that according to an American expert the US shared highly classified intelligence data on Iran's alleged efforts to develop a nuclear-capable missile to secure India's vote for the IAEA resolution against Tehran's nuclear programme.

In another development Hindustan Times reports that US President George W Bush on Friday called Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and "is understood to have appreciated India's stand on the Iran nuclear issue." the paper adds that "Bush's call is a strong indication that his administration is serious about the promise of putting the deal through the US Congress, despite opposition from a powerful non-proliferation lobby."

Israeli lawmakers: We'll stop Iran's nuclear program unilaterally if we have to

Washington Times reports:

The United States and its allies must act to stop Iran's nuclear programs -- by force if necessary -- because conventional diplomacy will not work, three senior Israeli lawmakers from across the political spectrum warned yesterday.

As a last resort, they said, Israel itself would act unilaterally to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear arms. Iran will not be deterred "by anything short of a threat of force," said Arieh Eldad, a member of Israel's right-wing National Union Party, part of a delegation of Knesset members visiting Washington this week.

"They won't be stopped unless they are convinced their programs will be destroyed if they continue," he said. Yuval Steinitz, chairman of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, said the best hope was for the United States and other major powers to make it clear to Iranian leaders now there was "no chance they will ever see the fruits of a nuclear program."

"Threats of sanctions and isolation alone will not do it," said Mr. Steinitz. Yosef Lapid, head of the centrist opposition Shinui Party in the Knesset, added that Israel "will not live under the threat of an Iranian nuclear bomb."
"We feel we are obliged to warn our friends that Israel should not be pushed into a situation where we see no other solution but to act unilaterally" against Iran, he said.

Mr. Steinitz, a member of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's ruling Likud Party, stopped just short of a direct threat to bomb suspect Iranian nuclear sites. Mr. Steinitz said Israeli officials estimate that Tehran is only two to three years away from developing a nuclear bomb and that time was running out for the world to act.

"We see an Iranian bomb as a devastating, existential threat to Israel, to the entire Middle East, to all Western interests in the region," he said. "Despite all the different circumstances, we see similarities to what happened in the 1930s, when people underestimated the real problem or focused on other dangers. For us, either the world will tackle Iran in advance or all of us will face the consequences."

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

India's Calcutta Telegraph: US to invade Iran before Bush’s term ends

India's Calcatta Telegraph reports that "top-ranking Americans have told equally top-ranking Indians in recent weeks that the US has plans to invade Iran before Bush’s term ends." The paper then goes on to say that "in 2002, a year before the US invaded Iraq, high-ranking Americans had similarly shared their definitive vision of a post-Saddam Iraq, making it clear that they would change the regime in Baghdad":
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh personally cleared the decision to vote with the US and the so-called EU-3, namely Germany, France and the UK, in favour of referring Iran at an unspecified date to the Security Council on suspicions of pursuing a programme to acquire nuclear weapons in the full knowledge that the vote would spark a furore among Left parties and to a lesser extent in the BJP.

In deciding to vote with the West and not abstaining along with Russia, China, Brazil and South Africa, what weighed with the Prime Minister was the absolute imperative for India to secure its interests in the Gulf and not the desire to protect the July 18, 2005, Indo-US nuclear agreement, according to diplomats engaged in the negotiations that led to the IAEA resolution yesterday.

Top-ranking Americans have told equally top-ranking Indians in recent weeks that the US has plans to invade Iran before Bush’s term ends. In 2002, a year before the US invaded Iraq, high-ranking Americans had similarly shared their definitive vision of a post-Saddam Iraq, making it clear that they would change the regime in Baghdad.

On the last day of his stay in New York this month, Singh made public his fears for the safety of nearly four million Indians in the Gulf in the event of diplomacy failing to persuade Iran away from a confrontation with the US and others on the nuclear issue.

Singh knows that whatever he has done on the economic front in the last year and a half as Prime Minister and much of what he did as finance minister in the 1990s will be under threat if the Gulf was plunged into another war...
The news comes as UK foreign secretary Jack Straw said earlier today that military action was still inconceivable against Iran and not on the agenda. BBC reports:
The UK foreign secretary says military action is still inconceivable against Iran and he hopes diplomacy can solve deadlock over its nuclear programme.

US President George W Bush has refused to rule out military strikes against Iran, which Washington accuses of wanting to develop nuclear weapons.

"It is not on the agenda, I happen to think that it is inconceivable," Jack Straw told BBC radio.

...Mr Straw said that European negotiators - with US backing - had "left the door open for further diplomatic action with Iran and I hope that they take this opportunity".

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Lebanese President blamed for murder attempt on journalist

Asharq Al-Awsat :

Beirut, Asharq Al-Awsat - The Lebanese journalist May Chidiac critically wounded in a car bomb in Jounieh on Sunday night was in “a stable but critical condition” after undergoing several operations and losing her left hand and leg, doctors at Hotel Dieu Hospital announced on Monday.

...Chidiac’s sister, Micheline, has yet to come to terms with the attack on the journalist. She broke down after every visit to the intensive care unit and silently referred to the amputation of Chidiac’s left arms and leg. “She is unable to talk”, friends maintaining a round-the-clock vigil since Sunday night said.

Yvette, the wounded journalist’s mother was reported to be “coping after being sedated.” The family source described how “She lost consciousness when she first saw her daughter badly injured.”

Denise Rahme, a colleague at LBCI television, described to Asharq al Awsat how she was among the first to arrive at Our Lady of Lebanon hospital in Jounieh, where Chidac was first taken.

“It was my day off. My cousin called me and told me the news. I immediately headed to the station and then to the hospital where I arrived before her mother and sister. I didn’t get too close to May and see for myself the extent of her injuries. I wanted to preserve in my head the image of May as always immaculately dressed. I heard her whisper, “Help me, help me”. I am still haunted by her words.”

Meanwhile, the Lebanese Minister of Communication, Marwan Hamadeh, blamed Syrian intelligences services and Lebanon's President Emile Lahoud for the blast.

Speaking to the press, Hamadeh said, “Those who attempted to kill May are the ones who tried to kill me”. The Minister was the target of an assassination attempt in October 2004.

The security services in Lebanon and Syria are responsible for this attack”, he indicated. Hamadeh warned that arresting the country's four top security chiefs was not enough to halt the cycle of violence currently engulfing Lebanon since the assassination of ex- Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in February.

Washington Post editorial: An alliance on Iran

Tuesday, September 27, 2005; Page A22

THE BUSH administration and its European allies have managed to take a small step toward holding Iran accountable for its secret and illegal steps aimed at the production of nuclear weapons

...Consequently, the prospect that Iran will be induced to give up its weapons program by a U.N.-led process looks no better now than it did two years ago, when secret facilities for enriching uranium were first reported. But the Bush administration is slowly advancing toward a more promising strategy: the construction of an ad hoc international coalition that could have the muscle and willpower to apply real pressure.

...It's possible that European governments will then blink, rather than disturb oil markets or risk their own multibillion-dollar investments in Iran. But the chances that they will stand firm have been greatly improved by Iran's new president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. After buying a few weeks' time with a promise of new proposals, Mr. Ahmadinejad delivered a crude and provocative speech at the United Nations in which, in between absurd anti-American conspiracy theories, he asserted three times that Iran would resume the enrichment of uranium. In a stroke Mr. Ahmadinejad shattered the illusion, so popular during the term of reformist president Mohammad Khatami, that the Iranian regime had embraced pragmatism.

Concerted pressure by Western states, which means economic and political sanctions, could eventually force the ruling mullahs to abandon the hostile intransigence that Mr. Ahmadinejad represents. At the very least, sanctions could, at last, place the United States and Europe on the right side of Iran's domestic struggle between an isolated and increasingly incompetent clerical elite and a growing population that yearns for freedom. There is time for such a strategy to work, since Iran is thought to be at least five years away from building a bomb. For Washington, the trick will be to continue building the coalition over the coming months. That may mean supporting further long-shot European efforts at negotiation. But it should not mean allowing diplomatic failure to be followed by paralysis.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Lebanon seeks international help on security

The Lebanese government will ask the United States and France to help train its security forces after a bomb attack seriously wounded a prominent anti-Syrian TV broadcaster, Reuters reports.

The BBC reports that Lebanon's prime minister has held a meeting of security chiefs a day after a bomb blast seriously wounded a prominent television journalist:

Prime Minister Fouad Siniora and his defence and interior ministers discussed steps to stop more attacks.

Students called for sit-in protests at universities and in central Beirut.

Protesters intend to gather in Martyrs' Square - the scene of massive anti-Syrian demonstrations earlier this year - on Monday evening.

May Chidiac, a political talk show host, is the first woman to be targeted in a recent series of bombings mainly against anti-Syrian figures.

Medics said Ms Chidiac had lost her left leg and arm, fractured her pelvis and suffered extensive burns from the bomb which had been placed under her car.

"Her condition is now stable following the surgeries," a spokesman for the Hotel Dieu hospital said.

The family of assassinated former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri has offered to fly skin grafting experts to Lebanon to treat Ms Chidiac, while Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation shareholder and Saudi prince al-Walid bin Talal has put his private jet at her disposal to fly her abroad.

LBC, which was set up by the wartime Christian militia the Lebanese Forces, has been one of the most critical Lebanese media outlets of Syria's control of Lebanon
since the Civil War ended in 1990.

Hours before the attack, Ms Chidiac had been discussing Syria's possible role in the assassination of ex-PM Rafik Hariri in an explosion in February.

Sources close to Ms Chidiac are quoted saying she is committed to an independent and sovereign Lebanon and opposes Syrian control - which has been in retreat since Damascus withdrew its troops from Lebanon in the wake of Hariri's death...

Kenneth Pollack: It's time to get serious with Iran

Recently, Kenneth Pollack, director of research at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at Washington's Brookings Institution, discussed the latest developments in the diplomatic crisis with Iran. In his interview with SPIEGEL ONLINE, conducted during his visit to the American Academy in Berlin, Pollack discussed the role he believes Europe should play and the implications troublesome Tehran could have for trans-Atlantic relations.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: How compelling is the evidence that Iranians are developing a nuclear weapons program?

KENNETH POLLACK: Obviously, the evidence is circumstantial, but it is quite strong. The Iranians have admitted to trying to acquire the entire fuel cycle (control over manufacturing reactor fuel). The only debate remaining is whether there is some non-military justification for Iran having the entire fuel cycle. You don't need to be able to enrich uranium for energy production. You can use low grade uranium and light water reactors. So there's particular need to have highly enriched uranium in reactors -- most countries don't even build them. In fact, the European Union trio (Germany, France, Britain) has offered them light water reactors and the Iranians have made clear they don't want them...

To read the interview in full go here

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Canada's Minister of Foreign Affairs welcomes IAEA action on Iran

Canada's Foreign Affairs Minister Pierre Pettigrew's statement on the adoption by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) of a resolution finding Iran in non-compliance with its nuclear safeguards requirements:

This action is long overdue and should have been taken two years ago when Iran's non-compliance was first clearly established by the IAEA. It represents confirmation that Iran has not been acting in accordance with its safeguards obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. It also justifies the serious concerns that have been expressed by Canada and many other countries about the nature of Iran's nuclear activities.

...Given these [IAEA] findings, I am disappointed that the members of the Board of Governors of the IAEA did not decide to report Iran’s non compliance immediately to the United Nations Security Council, as the Agency is required to do under its statute. Non-compliance of this nature, together with Iran’s other unhelpful actions on the nuclear issue, are a serious matter. The resolution recognizes that Iran’s nuclear program may not be exclusively for peaceful purposes. This gives rise to questions of international peace and security that are within the competence of the Security Council. To delay such a report risks harming the credibility of the IAEA and the multilateral non-proliferation, arms control and disarmament regime, of which the IAEA is a key component. Canada remains of the view that reporting the matter to the Security Council is a necessary step toward reaching a satisfactory long-term solution.”

Some pretty harsh words from Canada's Foreign Affairs Minister for Iran here. That being said, such harsh words won't be any good if they are only to be used in making statements and not followed by concrete actions. The case of Canadian-Iranian photojournalist Zahra Kazemi and Canada's lack of resolve to take the matter to the international court and hold Tehran accountable is a vivid case in point.

Lebanese anti-Syrian TV anchor in critical condition after bombing

AP Photos

BBC reports:

A Lebanese television journalist has been seriously wounded by a bomb blast in her car north of the capital Beirut.

May Chidiac, a news anchor for the Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation (LBC), was taken to hospital and said to be in a critical condition.

LBC, a Christian TV station, is reputed to be one of the most prominent anti-Syrian media outlets in Lebanon.

...Ms Chidiac is well-known for hosting political programmes. LBC said the bomb had been planted under the driver's seat of her Range Rover and exploded when she turned on the car's ignition.

The station said she had had an arm and a leg amputated.

Several other political figures and members of the public have been killed in bombings since Mr Hariri's death in February...

Update-Lebanon's Daily Star: LBC's May Chidiac in stable condition

According to a surgeon who treated Chidiac on arrival at Notre-Dame du Liban, the journalist had not lost consciousness. "Her limbs could be saved. Her face and hair were burnt," he said, denying earlier reports that she had her hand and leg had been amputated.

...Speaking to reporters outside the hospital in Jounieh, Prime Minister Fouad Siniora said that the bomb, like other recent explosions, was related to the investigation into the killing of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and 20 others on February 14.

Earlier in the day, Chidiac, in her forties, hosted a morning political show with a leading political analyst from a local newspaper. During the show, Chidiac questioned her guest on the possible involvement of Syria in Hariri's assassination and discussed moves to isolate Syria and a possible regime change in Damascus.

As The Daily Star went to press, Dr. Antoine Zoughbi, Hotel Dieu's medical director, asserted to the press that Chidiac's condition was stable.

Rapprochement with Iran won't work

From today's editorial in NY Times:

It's a great time to be an Iranian theocrat. American military power has removed your most dangerous foreign enemy, Saddam Hussein. American diplomatic strategy has delivered the lion's share of Iraqi political power and oil wealth to the Shiite religious parties you've financed and armed for years and which are now your grateful dependents. Russia, China and the nonaligned movement have been blocking any strong international action to slow down your rush to develop nuclear weapons technology. What's more, you've finally worn down and outmaneuvered those pesky reformist clerics who kept arguing for overtures to the Great Satan in Washington.

It's much less comfortable to be the United States, however, and find yourself on the receiving end of all these adverse trends. Halting the spread of nuclear weapons, improving America's energy security and advancing the cause of democracy in the Middle East are supposed to be three central planks of the Bush administration's foreign policy. All three goals are now endangered by the rising fortunes of Iran's hard-line ayatollahs. The urgent challenge now facing Washington is to find ways to stop enhancing Iran's power and start subjecting it to effective international constraints.

Therefore, it concludes:
What may be most difficult for the administration is also the most critical requirement. Like it or not, Washington needs to start building up its own direct relationship with Iran, a country it has diplomatically shunned since the hostage crisis. The covert and indirect approaches Washington has relied on ever since then have succeeded only in diluting American influence and leaving American governments more ignorant about Iranian affairs than they can now afford to be.
The best argument for a change in approach is the total failure of the current strategy. A generation of demonizing and shunning Iran has left that country's most dangerous elements more powerful, domestically and regionally, than ever before.

I simply can't fathom how the editorial can warn of the rise of Iran's "most dangerous hard-line elements" and yet, at the same time, advise the US to start " building up a direct relationship" with them.

What's more, the editorial seems to suggest that such a deal with Tehran will solve US problems and lead to fruitful, cooperative relationship unaware of the fact that the multi-headed monster of conflicting powers within the Iranian government doesn't allow for such a policy to succeed.

The past US governments all frequently tried to initiate such rapproachment with Iran but the same hard-line elements nipped in the bud any efforts that could lead to a direct dialogue with the United States. In specific, President Bill Clinton's administration made so many concilliatory overtures toward Iran, including apologizing for the US-backed 1959 coup in Iran and the partial lifting of the sanctions. Such US diplomatic efforts eventually ended up in failure when under the pressure of the hard-line core of the regime, the then Iranian government of Mohammad Khatami passed up on US friendly gestures and instead continued with Tehran's belligerent opposition to the United States.

The truth is, unlike what the editorial proclaimes, the problem with the US foreign policy toward Iran is not failure of its strategy but lack of one. For any approch toward Iran, the US administration should first lay the goundwork for an articulate, well-defined strategy as to how to deal with Iran's complicated government, its hostile foreign policies and its economic allies. Absent such a strategy, the US will continue to see more of Iran's malfeasance in the days ahead as mullahs forge ahead with their nuclear aspirations, continue to keep US grounded in Iraq and adopt a virulently more hard-line stance at home.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

IAEA board adopts resolution on Iran

The UN nuclear watchdog, the IAEA, has approved a European Union motion that lead to Iran's referral to the UN Security Council at a later date.

The vote was 22-one in favour, with 12 countries — including China and Russia — abstaining. Venezuela cast the only vote against.The motion had earlier faced strong opposition.

The resolution--submitted by Britain, France and Germany-- does call for Iran's immediate referral but urges the 35-member IAEA board to consider reporting Iran - at an unspecified date - to the UN Security Council.

As grounds for referral, it stated that Tehran's "many failures and breaches" over international nuclear safeguards "constitute non-compliance" with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

However, the rsulotion stops short of mentioning sanctions, in recognition of Russian and Chinese opposition.

AP reports that Diplomats inside Saturday's closed meeting said the EU draft resolution adopted by the board was the one submitted Friday after last-minute talks failed with Russia and China on modifications meant to make the text milder in exchange for Moscow's and Beijing's overt support.

Iran has warned that if referred to the Security Council, it could start uranium enrichment and stop allowing unconditional IAEA inspections of its nuclear facilities.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Syrian leadership in deep trouble?

Washington Post's Robin Wright reports today that Syria is seeking a deal to prevent punitive action by the United Nations if the Damascus government is implicated in the Feb. 14 assassination of Lebanon's former prime minister:

Over the past month, the government of President Bashar Assad has been inquiring about the potential for a deal, roughly equivalent to what Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi did to end tough international sanctions imposed for his country's role in the 1988 midair bombing of Pan Am Flight 103, the officials said. Gaddafi eventually agreed to hand over two intelligence officials linked to the bombing for an international trial, a move that began Libya's political rehabilitation.

But the United States, France and U.N. officials have all recently signaled to Syria that they will not compromise on the completion of a full investigation into the slaying of Lebanese reformer Rafiq Hariri -- or subsequent legal steps, wherever the probe leads, the officials said.

Also, Bernard Gwertzman from Council of Foreign Relations interviews Joshua M. Landis, a Syrian expert on the consequences of UN's ongoing investigation into the killing of Rafik Harriri for the Syrian leadership:

Joshua M. Landis, a Syrian specialist on a Fulbright fellowship in Damascus, says the ongoing UN investigation led by German prosecutor Detlev Mehlis into the possible involvement of the Syrian government in the assassination last February of the former Lebanese prime minister, Rafik Harriri, has produced “great speculation” in Damascus on whether the top leadership of the Syrian government will become embroiled.

Noting that the United States is bringing great pressure on Syria to do more to stop infiltration of insurgents into Iraq, Landis said there is no real dialogue going on now between the two countries. He says, “People here feel there is nothing they can do to satisfy Washington—that Washington, constitutionally, is anti-dialogue with Syria.” He adds that the question everyone is asking is, “Are there some terms that they could actually offer the United States” to satisfy Washington?

Washington Post reports: Opiates of the Iranian people

There is a very disturbing report in today's Washington Post about the widespread use of drugs in Iran. It rightfully points to the fact that that despair in the Iranian society has caused the world's highest addiction rate. The report also includes interviews with a few drug addicts in the south of Tehran and also a police officer who believes "to make all the youths addicted is an official state policy":

By Karl Vick
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, September 23, 2005; A01

TEHRAN -- If he could afford it, Ali Nariman would drink beer, he says. But like most Iranians, he is poor, and so takes his solace in the form of a small gray ball of opium.

Nariman is 18. And like hundreds of thousands of Iranians turning to harder narcotics at younger ages, he regards drugs as the only alternative to work.

"We should have jobs," Nariman said, standing in the vast cemetery on the southern edge of Tehran. In a routine played out every Thursday, the day families traditionally visit the cemetery devoted mostly to war dead, young addicts sweep in afterward to scavenge the cookies and dates left on the graves.

"I sometimes find work," Nariman said, "collecting stale bread in town."

According to the U.N. World Drug Report for 2005, Iran has the highest proportion of opiate addicts in the world -- 2.8 percent of the population over age 15. Only two other countries -- Mauritius and Kyrgyzstan -- pass the 2 percent mark. With a population of about 70 million and some government agencies putting the number of regular users close to 4 million, Iran has no real competition as world leader in per capita addiction to opiates, including heroin.

But if the utility of narcotics has roots in Iran's ancient culture, and the discount prices (about $5 for a gram of heroin, 50 percent pure) stem from proximity to the poppy fields of neighboring Afghanistan, experts, addicts and government officials agree that addiction has lately emerged as a corrosive new symptom of the country's economic failure, a marker for despair.

"You haven't got a job. You haven't got a family. You haven't got entertainment," said Amir Mohammadi, who at 30 has been an addict for 10 years. "For a few hours, you forget everything."

Heroin, a powerful derivative of opium, is taking hold among young people whose path to addiction typically stems from disappointment in the job market. A government poll shows almost 80 percent of Iranians detect a direct link between unemployment and drug addiction.

Iran's government regularly fails to produce the 1 million jobs needed each year to accommodate the new workers entering the labor force from a baby boom still coming of age.
"We haven't reached the peak," said Roberto Arbitrio, head of the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime in Tehran. "Unfortunately, there's room for increase."

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Latest press headlines

  • Two years on, Iran is the only clear winner of war on Saddam-Times of London:
    THROUGH a combination of arms, money and political influence, Iran has established itself as one of the most powerful forces in postwar Iraq, where its Shia allies dominate local governments, the security services and parts of the economy.

  • Jordan's king reaches out to Jews, hits radical Islam-Washington Times:
    Jordan's King Abdullah II told a gathering of American rabbis yesterday that Jews and Muslims are irrevocably "tied together by culture and history" and that he is willing to take radical measures to combat Muslim extremists.

  • A Mess in Germany-Washington Post:
    It's difficult to imagine a worse outcome to the election than a new term for Mr. Schroeder, whose habitual demagoguery and opportunism have poisoned not only German politics but also the European Union and U.S.-German relations.

  • Iraq: The south is a mess too-Economist:
    BY IRAQ'S recent bloody standards, the violence this week in Basra, the country's second city and its southern capital, was small potatoes. A few protesters were shot dead and a police barracks stormed by British troops after Iraqi police arrested, and then refused to release, two of their comrades. Yet it revealed, once again, the alarming potential for chaos in one of the country's most peaceable areas—which, all the more worryingly, happens to be a heartland of the country's Shia rulers and the repository of most of Iraq's oil.

  • Koizumi's unfinished business-Newsweek International
    Koizumi won big on one issue. But if he doesn't move fast on others, all his gains might be for naught.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Mr Ahmadinejad, don't speak on my behalf

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is a true embodiment of 26 years of suppression and tyranny in Iran. His language is one of aggression and animosity. His manners are ones indicative of total ignorance and disrespect for all international etiquettes pertinent to heads of states. The phrase " the world community" is of no significance to him. why should it? After all, This man is the self-proclaimed President of my country IRAN, a country sitting to huge reserves of oil and gas and as long as "oil" drives the world's economy, he and the mullahs who run him believe the world is theirs.

And as if that's not enough, they are now on the path of acquiring nuclear weapons just to make sure no one can ever take that world away from them.

Speaking on behalf of the Iranian people, Ahmadinejad said on Monday, "Iran has no fear of being referred to the UN Security Council and will not change its nuclear policy.The Iranian people will retain their rights and nothing special will happen."

The Iranian people I know not only have NOT retained their rights for the past 26 years but have constantly been denied of them. Ahmadinejad and his bosses, who see nuclear weapons as the only key to their survival, are pathetically trying these days to tie their nuclear ambitions to Iranian nationalism whereas their anti-Iranian appearance and disgraceful conduct both domestically and internationally in the past three decades haven't left a smidgen of national pride for us Iranians.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Iran's top nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani, who pitifully likened Iran's nuclear case to the nationalization of oil movement, don't have any right to draw on my patriotism to pursue their evil intentions and fool the world. They are not MY representatives and as an Iranian, I don't need a nuclear bomb to prove my nationalism. What I do need to feel proud of my Persian heritage is see my country being run by a genuinely Iranian government which seeks its legitimacy from its people not nuclear weapons.

Rice outlines next steps in Iran showdown-TIME

In an exclusive interview with TIME, the Secretary of State explains the diplomatic process for turning the screws on Iran:

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice believes U.S. and European diplomatic efforts will soon bear fruit in the form of international pressure on Iran to desist from its nuclear program. In a wide-ranging interview with TIME on Monday, the secretary of state indicated that Washington is confident of carrying the support of a majority of the 35 members of the board governing the International Atomic Energy Agency for a resolution to refer Iran to the UN Security Council over its failure to disclose numerous aspects of its nuclear program. Still, Rice noted, U.S. and European representatives at the IAEA board meeting that opened Monday in Vienna are holding their fire in the hopes garnering near-unanimous support for the move in a body that typically operates by consensus.

"We think that it will end up in the Security Council if Iran continues down this road," Rice said. "The timing is a matter for diplomacy. When you have a consensus that makes sense, then I think you go with it. We have the votes now, but the question is, do you have enough of a consensus to send the right kind of message."

Her caution reflects the difficulties that lie ahead if the administration presses for the Security Council to adopt economic sanctions against Iran — an option that veto-wielders Russia and particularly China, which buys a major share of its oil imports from Iran, are unlikely to easily allow.

Rice and her lieutenants lobbied hard to gain the support of Russia, China and India at the IAEA for a European resolution referring Iran to the Security Council to be considered by the IAEA board this week. But China, Russia and a number of developing nations on the IAEA board are inclined to give Iran more time to comply with its obligations under the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

The basis for referring Iran to the Council is its failure to disclose a variety of uranium enrichment activities, rather than the activities themselves, which are permitted under the NPT but require disclosure and monitoring.

...Even though fuel-cycle activities are permitted by the NPT, as Iran will certainly argue in its defense at any security council showdown, Secretary Rice believes that won't wash: "Nobody trusts them." Referring to Iranian President Ahmadi-Nejad's speech to the United Nations Saturday, in which he accused the west of subjecting Iran to "nuclear apartheid" by declaring certain nuclear technologies off-limits to Iran, Rice said mockingly, "Maybe the whole world is wrong and we should all trust them but nobody does. And so their problem is they can argue all they want about what their rights are. The problem is they've gotten into a situation in which nobody believes it is safe for them to exercise those rights — if indeed they have those rights. I think their problem is not just coming into compliance but it is beginning to repair the sense that Iran is a threat to the international system because ultimately, if they keep doing what they've done here, people are going to be even more suspicious of what they're doing."

Rice acknowledged the Administration's frustration with the pace imposed by democracy, but believes it will nonetheless strengthen Washington's case: "We believe they should probably have been referred some time ago," she said. "But sometimes in diplomacy it takes time to build a consensus and you're stronger for having done that. Now, at some point people will have to act. But people continue to want to believe that there is a diplomatic solution out there, and there might be, because there are a lot of benefits on the table for the Iranians if they're prepared to take the European Union deal. This is an economy that desperately needs access to the international system and they're not going to get it while they're in this state."

The administration is also taking advantage of the consensus on Iran it has achieved with European nations to make clear that this is not simply an issue between the U.S. and Iran. "We are not trying to be in the lead on this one." Rice said. "Because it's the EU [they] walked out on. Our strategy has been that the EU offered to engage them in these talks. We've been in close contact with the EU but if there is a resolution we'd like it to be an EU resolution and I think we'll just consult with the EU about the timing of it."

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

UN Hariri killing probe investigator arrives in Syria

Reuters reports that the head of a UN inquiry into the death of former Lebanese PM Rafik Hariri has arrived in Syria to question officials.

It is not clear who Detlev Mehlis, head of the UN Commission investigating the murder of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, will meet, but they are thought to include officers in Lebanon in the time of the February bombing which killed Hariri. the meetings will take place in secret locations.

The BBC says the meetings will take the investigation directly to the heart of Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime.

A source quoted by Reuters news agency said Mr Mehlis has asked to meet eight Syrian officials in his initial investigation, including Rustom Ghazali, former head of Syrian intelligence in Lebanon and his senior aides.

Mr. Mehlis is also expected to interview Mr Ghazali's predecessor, Ghazi Kanaan, the current Syrian interior minister.

Mean while, four Lebanese generals - three former security chiefs and the current head of the Republican Guard all tied to Syria - have been charged in Lebanon in connection with the assassination.

Syria agreed last week to allow Mehlis's visit after being accused of not cooperating with the probe, which began in June.

Source: BBC, Reuters


Read Brian Whitaker's report on the investigation in The Guardian, 19 September 2005 here:

It is now almost beyond doubt that by the time the chief investigator, Detlev Mehlis, completes his work next month, he will have direct evidence that the assassination was orchestrated from Damascus. If so, the killing of Hariri will probably count as one of the most disastrous own goals in the history of international politics.

And also go here to read Paris Bureau Chief and Middle East Regional Editor for Newsweek Magazine Christopher Dickey's take on this article in his blog. You Can also find Mr. Dickey's own reports on this unfolding story.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Iran's nuclear crisis: What's next ?

NY Times explains:

...American and European officials acknowledged that even after Mr. Ahmadinejad's speech they still might not have the votes for an immediate Security Council referral, which was their original aim, and might settle for a resolution that declared Iran's nuclear program to be out of compliance with agency rules. That resolution would have no binding effect, but could strengthen a later resolution in the Security Council.

European officials began work on a draft resolution yesterday. But some of the diplomats acknowledged that they did not know whether the speech had changed the minds of many countries that had opposed referral to the Security Council, or simply hardened the views of those already in favor. As a result, the exact wording of the resolution is not likely to be completed until late next week, the officials said, when they can judge the mood of the atomic agency's governing board.

A European diplomat involved in the negotiations said the European allies did not want to pass a resolution opposed by Russia, which holds a veto on the Security Council.

"It's not a question of how many votes we get," the diplomat said. "It's a question of who is going to vote." The diplomat was in effect saying there would not be a consensus resolution, which is customary on the atomic energy agency board. But what is important now, the official added, is that "this must not result in a split between Europe on one side" and Russia and other nonaligned countries on the other.

For several weeks, the United States and its European allies have been pushing the 35 members of the atomic energy agency to support referring Iran to the Security Council. Last month, Iran began reprocessing uranium in defiance of the United Nations, and Western officials maintained that the country had been secretly working on a nuclear weapons program.

But at the end of last week, officials acknowledged that they did not have the votes for anything more than a slim majority at the atomic energy agency. Such a vote would leave them in a weak position within the Security Council, where China also holds a veto.

"Ultimately there is going to be a referral to the Security Council," Mr. Burns said in an interview yesterday with BBC News. He had just come from a meeting with his French, German and English counterparts, where they discussed Iran. "Whether it's this week, next week or next month," he said, is simply a matter "of tactics."


Times of London-Majority backs referring Iran to UN:

MOST members of the 35-nation International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) favour referring Iran to the UN Security Council because of its nuclear programme, British diplomats said yesterday.

As member states of the nuclear watchdog met in Vienna to decide how to respond to Tehran’s defiant stand, British, French and German officials lobbied for possible international sanctions against Iran.

A British diplomat said: “We have a critical mass of support (for referral).” He said that the approach set out by President Ahmadinejad in his speech to the UN General Assembly on Saturday had hardened attitudes towards Tehran.

About 20 countries are now thought to favour referral, including all European Union states, America, Australia, Singapore and Peru. Twelve of the Non-Aligned Movement states are opposed but may be persuaded to abstain. The strongest opponent, Russia, says that matters concerning Iran’s nuclear programme should be dealt with only by the IAEA.

The Bush Administration, which has long campaigned to have Iran referred to the UN, said that the move was “long overdue”. Gregory Schulte, the US envoy to the IAEA, said: “The board had wanted Iran to pursue a course of co-operation and negotiation. Instead, Iran appears to be pursuing a course of rhetoric and confrontation while continuing the fuel-cycle activities that give us such concern.”

Mohamed ElBaradei, the head of the IAEA, said that diplomacy may yet achieve compromise and that “the ball was in Iran’s court”.

Mohammad Akhondzadeh, the Iranian delegate, said that Iran’s intention was “peace, peace and peace”.

Germany loses its own election-Spiegel

Spiegel online puts German election into perspective as an event that could lead to the formation of the weakest government in its post-war history:

German elections are over and both Chancellor Gerhard Schröder and his challenger Angela Merkel are claiming victory. In truth, both did poorly -- but they may end up leading Germany together anyway. It will be a coalition of the losers.

A quick glance at German election results will tell you that Angela Merkel's center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), got the most votes. A total of 35.2 percent to be precise. Chancellor Gerhard Schröder and his Social Democrats (SPD), on the other hand, only managed to garner 34.3 percent of all votes cast. She wins, he loses. Time to form a coalition government.

But German political theater this autumn is a bit more complex than that. Angela Merkel's results, as it happens, are nothing short of catastrophic. In June, just after she was nominated as the Union's candidate for the chancellery, surveys indicated that she had a shot at an absolute majority of over 50 percent. That soon proved overly optimistic, but even in the days before Sunday's election, no survey had her receiving less than 40 percent. But on election day, her result took a steep dive and will go down in history as one of the worst ever for the Union -- even worse than the 38.5 percent the party got in 2002...

To read the article in full go here.

Iran's President does what U.S. diplomacy could not

In a great victory for diplomacy and after after two years of six-nation talks, North korea has finally agreed to stop building nuclear weapons and allow international inspections in exchange for energy aid, economic cooperation and security assurances AP reports.

In the mean time, thanks to Iranian president and his foreign policy team (if there is any), a new international crisis seems to be in the offing as one begins to subside. Here are some excerpts from a great analysis in today's Washington Post, regarding Ahmadinejad's aggressive speech on saturday and the consequences that can result from it for Iran in the days ahead:

NEW YORK, Sept. 18 -- Five weeks ago, Iran's new president bought his country some time. Facing mounting criticism after walking away from negotiations with Europe and restarting part of Iran's nuclear program, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad asked the world to withhold diplomatic pressure while he put together new proposals.

On Saturday, dozens of international diplomats, including the foreign ministers of Britain, France and Germany, gathered at the United Nations to hear how Ahmadinejad planned to stave off a crisis.

Instead his speech, followed by a confused hour-long news conference, was able to do what weeks of high-level U.S. diplomacy had not: convince skeptical allies that Iran may, in fact, use its nuclear energy program to build atomic bombs.

Ahmadinejad appeared to threaten as much when he warned from the General Assembly podium that in the face of U.S. provocation, "we will reconsider our entire approach to the nuclear issue."

Senior European diplomats said immediately afterward that the speech had been "unhelpful." In fact, the opposite may be true.

"The effect of that speech will likely be a toughening of the international response to Iran because it was seen by so many countries as overly harsh, negative and uncompromising," Undersecretary of State R. Nicholas Burns said in an interview Sunday. "The strategic aim of a great many countries is to see Iran suspend its nuclear program and return to peaceful negotiations with the Europeans."

A European diplomat, who could discuss strategy only on the condition of anonymity, echoed Burns's remarks."There's no question this will make our case stronger and our task easier," when board members of the International Atomic Energy Agency meet Monday in Vienna to discuss Iran's case.

During his 25 minutes Saturday, Ahmadinejad delivered what began as a sermon praising the prophets of Islam, Christianity and Judaism and then descended into anti-American vitriol, conspiracy theories and threats.

He expressed doubt that the deadly attacks against the United States on Sept. 11, 2001, were really carried out by terrorists. He said Americans had brought the devastation of Hurricane Katrina upon themselves and that the U.S. military was purposely poisoning its own troops in Iraq.

...Burns met with British, German and French officials on Sunday in New York to discuss ways to bring around enough members of the IAEA board to report Iran to the U.N. Security Council, which has the authority to impose sanctions.

The United States has long advocated such a strategy but still does not have the support of India, Russia or China, or a "next steps" policy if the matter does end up in the Security Council.
Diplomats who spoke on the condition of anonymity said the most likely outcome of the week-long meeting in Vienna would be a deadline resolution giving Iran several weeks to reverse course and demonstrate transparency with U.N. nuclear inspectors, or face the consequences of Security Council action...

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Sunday's press clippings: China, Democracy in the Middle East and Hurricane Katrina

In the new issue of Foreign Affairs magazine, there are extensive, thought-provoking analyses on the rise of China and its new role in the world's current political equations. There are also commentaries on the Middle East and whether democracy in the Middle East can turn that region from the zone of terror to one of peace and stability:

China's Global Hunt for Energy:
Chinese foreign policy is now driven by China's unprecendented need for resources. In exchange for access to oil and other raw materials to fuel its booming economy, Beijing has boosted its bilateral relations with resource-rich states, sometimes striking deals with rogue governments or treading on U.S. turf. Beijing's hunger may worry some in Washington, but it also creates new grounds for cooperation.
Can Democracy Stop Terrorism?:
The Bush administration contends that the push for democracy in the Muslim world will improve U.S. security. But this premise is faulty: there is no evidence that democracy reduces terrorism. Indeed, a democratic Middle East would probably result in Islamist governments unwilling to cooperate with Washington.
Development and Democracy:
Conventional wisdom has long assumed that economic liberalization undermines repressive regimes. Recent events, however, suggest that savvy autocrats have learned how to cut the cord between growth and freedom, enjoying the benefits of the former without the risks of the latter. Washington and international lenders should take note.

And also this very inspiring piece in Saturday's Washington Post. Donna Brazile, Al Gore’s campaign manager during his run for the presidency; Chair of the Democratic National Committee’s Voting Rights Institute and a CNN contributor, goes beyond political divide and explains how she is ready to rebuild her hometown New Orleans with alongside him:

New Orleans is my hometown. It is the place where I grew up, where my family still lives. For me, it is a place of comfort and memories. It is home. Now my home needs your help, and the help of every American. Much of my city is still underwater. Its historical buildings have been wrecked, its famous streets turned to rivers and, worst of all, so many of its wonderful people -- including members of my own family and my neighbors -- have lost everything.

On Thursday night President Bush spoke to the nation from my city. I am not a Republican. I did not vote for George W. Bush -- in fact, I worked pretty hard against him in 2000 and 2004. But on Thursday night, after watching him speak from the heart, I could not have been prouder of the president and the plan he outlined to empower those who lost everything and to rebuild the Gulf Coast.

...Mr. President, I am ready for duty. I am ready to stir those old pots again. Let's roll up our sleeves and get to work.

Condoleezza Rice: Iran can’t afford to be too isolated from the international community.

Newsweek, Sept. 17, 2005 - In her first speech to the United Nations, Secretary of state Condoleezza Rice on Saturday urged diplomats to be tough on Iran’s nuclear ambitions. The United Nations “must be able to deal with great challenges like terrorism and nuclear proliferation, especially when countries like Iran threaten the effectiveness of the global nonproliferation regime,” she said. Earlier in the week, Rice, accompanied by Gen. Raymond Odierno, sat down with Newsweek editors and discussed Iran, Hurricane Katrina, the war in Iraq and a number of other topics:

There’s a sense that, obviously, the U.S. is trying to achieve some sort of consensus, sending out teams, trying to amass evidence and make a case that Iran is indeed developing nuclear weapons, but doesn’t seem to be selling people...
I don’t think there’s a question here about people—the United States thinking the Iranians are a nuclear weapons threat and the rest of the world thinking not. All the evidence is people are concerned about what the Iranians are doing. I don’t know if you heard [French Foreign] Minister de Villepin yesterday, but he was very strong about this. I mean, he basically said live up to your compliance obligations or you’re going to go to the Security Council...
There are two problems here. One is that there’s no chance the Europeans are going to use sanctions. They can’t work in the Security Council. The chance of sanctions on Iran, including oil, is zero. The chances on sanctions without oil in the Security Council are minimal. The chance of EU sanctions, particularly given Germany’s position, seems to me very, very low. So you’re betting a lot that as Iranian noncompliance becomes more evident, the EU will actually wield, you know, pull out the stick. And on the other side, the carrot that the Iranians want is you, is the United States. There’s nothing the Europeans can give them. So why are the Europeans negotiating when they won’t deal with a stick and they don’t have a carrot?
Now, I can’t tell you exactly what this looks like when it ends up on the Security Council, but I can tell you this: The Iranians who say—who try to pretend that they’re just going out—doing everything they can to avoid being in the Security Council. So it does matter to them not to end up in the Security Council. Why does it matter to them not to be in the Security Council? Because it has to do with legitimacy with their own people. They don’t want to be an outlaw state. Look, the Iranian people are not the North Korean people. They’re not going to eat bark. And Iran can’t afford to be too isolated from the international community.
They’re not going to eat bark at $66 a barrel. [Laughter]
No, but-well, no, but if they get themselves into a situation in which they are completely isolated from the international system, they’ll be eating the equivalent of modern bark in an economy that can’t work. We know the Iranian economy is living on oil, but the Iranian economy also isn’t functioning and it’s not giving benefits to that huge under class, under-employed population that actually brought [President] Ahmadinejad to power. So let’s not paint the Iranians as having no liabilities and no vulnerabilities in this process. They have considerable vulnerability in getting completely isolated from the international community, which is why they’re fighting so hard not to...
...How concerned are you about Iranian designs on Iraq?
Well, I do think the Iranians have interests that they would like to see expressed in Iraq. Now, they are a neighbor so Iran and Iraq are going to have relations. I don’t think anybody can tell the Iraqis they shouldn’t have relations with the Iranians. But they need to be transparent relations. And I’m not—I’m concerned that the Iranians may try through either—through covert means to influence the politics there, but I also recognize that they have a very deep constraint, which is that they’re not terribly well liked in Iraq...

To read the interview in full go here.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Ahamadinejad dashes Europeans' hopes

The Iranian President mahmoud Ahmadinejad proclaimed his country's "inalienable right" to produce nuclear fuel Saturday, rejecting a European offer of economic in return for suspending its uranium enrichment program.

The Iranian President instead offered foreign countries and companies a role in Iran's nuclear energy production to assure the world Iran didn't have any intention of building nuclear weapons.

He said Iran has a right to produce nuclear fuel under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and implicitly accused the Europeans and Americans of "misrepresenting" Iran's desire for civilian nuclear energy "as the pursuit of nuclear weapons."

Calling the US and Europeans' position "a pure propaganda ploy", he said The Islamic Republic of Iran had repeatedly declared position in the past that in accordance with its religious principles, pursuit of nuclear weapons is prohibited.

As Chicago Tribune quite rightly argued back in August, any country seeking to develop a peaceful nuclear power program would have eagerly jumped at the incentive package offered 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 plus a full political and economic relationship with the West, from technology sharing to trade preferences to security guarantees.

What purpose exactly Ahamadinejad's offer--regarding foreign companies' participation in Iran's nuclear program--serves is unclear to analysts at this point, although one thing is crystal clear tonight after his speech: Iran will defiantly go ahead with its nuclear program and the world hasn't got much time to stop it.

Afghanistan votes

In historic parliamentary and local elections, Afghans will elect a national parliament and provincial assemblies tomorrow, the last formal step toward democracy laid out after U.S.-led coalition ousted the Taliban in 2001. About 2,760 candidates are running for 249 seats in the Wolesi Jirga, parliament's lower house; 68 seats are reserved for women and 10 for Kuchi nomads.

More than 3,015 candidates are running for a total of 420 seats in 34 provincial councils. A quarter of the seats are reserved for women.

The 12.5 million registered voters — nearly 42 percent women — will cast ballots at 6,270 polling centers. The 40 million ballots range from one to seven pages. Because many Afghans are illiterate, they will feature photographs and symbols for candidates.

From kabul, Time Magazine's Tim McGirk reports on tomorrow's elections and also the problems that still exist on Afghanistan's path toward democracy:

After suffering through coups, foreign invasions and civil war and the rise and fall of the Taliban, Afghan men and women at last are able to choose their own leaders. The transition will be choppy; no Afghan wants to readily share power with another, and many of the candidates are tied to warlords or powerful clans and tribes with narrow rather than national interests. Parliament could well resemble the national game of Buzkashi, in which it's every rider for himself, fighting over a dead goat...

Iran resolved to pursue nuclear program-CNN's exclusive interview with Ahmadinejad

Iran's president, at the center of an international nuclear showdown, tells CNN his country is absolutely "determined" to pursue a nuclear energy program and will "use every resource" it has to battle the United States and European nations trying to prevent it. CNN has the story:

UNITED NATIONS (CNN) -- Iran's president, at the center of an international nuclear showdown, told CNN Saturday his country is absolutely "determined" to pursue a nuclear energy program and will "use every resource" it has to battle the United States and European nations trying to prevent it.

"We are determined. Certainly we are determined. Why should other people have it and sell it to us?" said Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in an exclusive interview -- his first since the hard-line conservative won the presidential election.

Speaking to CNN's Christiane Amanpour, Ahmadinejad lashed out against "nuclear apartheid" and suggested his nation may consider taking action to hike oil prices in order to scare off further action from the United States and parts of Europe.

Asked about remarks by some Iranian officials that Iran may provoke a rise in oil prices, he responded, "I think any intelligent, healthy, smart human being should use every resource in order to maintain his or her freedom and independence."

He added, "I doubt that the leaders of the United States and Europe are that far removed from reality." He said his nation has the "legal right" to pursue a nuclear energy program, and "I think they're smarter than denying us this legal right. It is natural, of course, they will use whatever they have in their hand, which is the U.N. Security Council, and our nation has the means to defend and obtain its own rights."

Friday, September 16, 2005

Spielberg, Theron & Jones lead latest Oscar race

IMDB has an interesting segment tonight on early speculations as to what movies, directors and actors are thought to compete for 2006 Oscar nominations:

Steven Spielberg's terrorist drama Munich and Ang Lee's controversial Brokeback Mountain have emerged as the front runners for Best Film at the 2006 Oscars, in the latest release from top movie industry odds site Site editor Tom O'Neil, a top US critic and awards expert, suggests the two epics will compete with war film Jarhead, George Clooney's turn in Syriana and Memoirs Of A Geisha for the top Academy Award. But O'Neil is convinced it will be Spielberg's movie - about the hunt for the killers of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics - that will claim the big prize. He says, "It's the lead pony in this upcoming Oscar derby." Meanwhile, O'Neil and his online critics consortium, favor Tommy Lee Jones to beat Jake Gyllenhaal (Jarhead), Heath Ledger (Brokeback Mountain), Philip Seymour Hoffman (Capote) and Joaquin Phoenix's turn as Johnny Cash (Walk The Line) to the Best Actor prize for his role in Three Burials Of Melquiades Estrada.'s experts also predict Charlize Theron will be up for her second Best Actress Academy Award for her role of a victimized miner in North Country. Theron will compete with Judi Dench (Mrs. Henderson Presents), Desperate Housewives star Felicity Huffman (Transamerica), Diane Keaton (The Family Stone) and Ziyi Zhang (Memoirs Of A Geisha) for the award.

Latest reports on Iran's nuclear crisis

Reuters-Bush confident Iran will be referred to UN Security Council:

President George W. Bush said on Friday he was confident Iran would be referred to the U.N. Security Council for possible sanctions if necessary over its nuclear program, while Russian President Vladimir Putin said he wanted to make sure diplomacy was exhausted.

Ahead of a key meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency's board of governors next week, Washington and the European Union have sought support for a possible referral of Iran to the Security Council for breaching its nonproliferation obligations.

Russia is among several countries that are cool to that idea. Bush acknowledged after a meeting with Putin at the White House that the effort could require more diplomacy.

"I am confident that the world will see to it that Iran goes to the U.N. Security Council if it does not live up to its agreements. And when that referral will happen is a matter of diplomacy," Bush told a joint news conference.

Both leaders emphasized that they shared a goal of preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.

But Putin, who met with Iran's new president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Thursday on the sidelines of the United Nations summit in New York, suggested there was more room for negotiation with Tehran.

"Of course, we are against the fact that Iran would become a nuclear power, and will continue to do so in the future under any circumstances," Putin said. "Now, as regards as to how we can control this situation, there are many ways and means to do so."

In other news:

The European Union will press next week for Iran's nuclear program to be reported to the U.N. Security Council barring an unexpected change of heart by its president on Saturday, an EU diplomat said.

Foreign ministers of Britain, France and Germany heard nothing in talks with Iranian leaders on Thursday to suggest there was a basis for resuming negotiations with Tehran on EU offers of economic, security and nuclear cooperation, he said on Friday.

The Iranians seemed determined to pursue their program of uranium enrichment, which Western governments believe is aimed at developing nuclear weapons, the diplomat, who participated in the talks, said.

NEW YORK: There is no difference in objectives between India and the United States vis-a-vis Iran even if the two sides differ on tactics, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said on Friday, allaying concern that the issue may scupper
growing Indo-US ties.

Why China's Not Backing Bush on Iran

TIME's Beijing bureau chief Matthew Forney explains President Hu's position on two nuclear showdowns:

President Hu Jintao's talks with President Bush this week have shown just how far apart the two countries remain on issues dear to Washington — most significantly, on the goal of depriving "Axis of Evil" states of nuclear programs.

...No one disputes that North Korea needs an energy source — oil, nuclear, something — to address a shortage that causes regular blackouts, even in the capital. An oil-rich country like Iran has a tougher time making a case for a nuclear energy program, according to President Bush, and he wants China's support in pressuring Iran to surrender its nuclear ambitions. Specifically, he wants President Hu to support his efforts next week to have the UN's nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, refer Iran to the Security Council over failure to disclose aspects of its nuclear program. That's a little like asking the glue factory manager to punish the guy who shoots horses: China imports roughly half of the 6.7 million barrels of oil it uses every day, and Iran is one of its biggest suppliers. China feels little threat from Iran's nuclear program, but UN sanctions against Iran could cause Beijing a great deal of discomfort. As a permanent member of the Security Council, China can use its veto to prevent sanctions against Iran, but it would rather not call so much attention to itself. Far better to keep the issue out of the Security Council altogether.

Mr. Hu may also be thinking in terms of payback. Remember just a few months ago, when China's state-run oil company, CNOOC, bid to buy California-based Unocal? Capitol Hill went crazy with talk that China was muscling in on America's strategic interests. China's leaders were baffled by all the politicking: CNOOC made a pretty good offer, they thought; Chevron wound up bidding less but still winning the deal. So Mr. Hu is in no mood to hear Mr. Bush talk about how China should use its leverage against Iran.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Rice: issue of a referral something we'll be working for a while

Reuters reports:

Western powers appeared on Thursday to back away from an early move to refer Iran's nuclear program to the U.N. Security Council as Tehran sought to widen backing for its stance by offering to share peaceful nuclear technology with other Islamic nations.

French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin said the three major European powers that have been negotiating with Iran on its nuclear ambitions -- Britain, France and Germany -- were still giving priority to talks.

"We want to pursue the dialogue. We want Iran to suspend various activities. We think there is still room for negotiations," he told a news conference at U.N. headquarters. If that failed, there would be no choice but to take the matter to the Security Council, he added.

Earlier, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice acknowledged that the United States and its European allies may lack the votes to haul Iran before the highest United Nations body next week over its resumption of uranium conversion.

"If we get a referral on September 19, that will be good, but I think the issue of a referral is something that we'll be working for a while," she told Fox News Editorial board.

"I'm not so concerned about exactly when it happens because I don't think this matter is so urgent that it has to be on September 19," Rice said in remarks released after a meeting on Wednesday.

Foreign ministers of the three European nations and EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana were to meet new Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki on the sidelines of a U.N. summit on Thursday, diplomats said.

"We want to give the new Iranian authorities every opportunity," an EU diplomat said. "We have never closed the door to negotiation. It always remained our preferred route."

European officials said they were struggling to build a convincing majority on the board of the International Atomic Energy Authority, the world nuclear watchdog, to report Iran to the Security Council.

"We would not like to be in a situation diplomatically where we have so many countries voting against our motion," the diplomat said.

Another European diplomat said three weeks of intensive lobbying of key members of the 35-nation IAEA board such as Russia, China and India had failed to produce broad support for a referral. Brazil and Pakistan were hostile and "swing voters" such as Tunisia, Algeria and Nigeria were also in doubt.

Update: Daily Telegraph-Campaign to curb Iran's nuclear plans on the verge of collapse:

The West's diplomatic campaign to curb Iran's nuclear programme was in danger of collapsing last night as America and Europe struggled to find allies at the United Nations Security Council.

At the same time Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iran's hardline new president, appeared to taunt the West when he insisted that Teheran was ready to share its nuclear know-how with other Muslim countries.The rout of reformists in Teheran and the election of Mr Ahmadinejad - as well as America's problems in Iraq and the rise in oil prices - appear to have emboldened Teheran.

Mr Ahmadinejad raised the stakes last night when he said: "The Islamic Republic never seeks weapons of mass destruction and with respect to the needs of Islamic countries, we are ready to transfer nuclear know-how to these countries."

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

The Middle East news in brief

UNITED NATIONS, Sept. 13 -- With an hour-long slide show that blends satellite imagery with disquieting assumptions about Iran's nuclear energy program, Bush administration officials have been trying to convince allies that Tehran is on a fast track toward nuclear weapons.

The PowerPoint briefing, titled "A History of Concealment and Deception," has been presented to diplomats from more than a dozen countries. Several diplomats said the presentation, intended to win allies for increasing pressure on the Iranian government, dismisses ambiguities in the evidence about Iran's intentions and omits alternative explanations under debate among intelligence analysts.

...The briefings were conducted in Vienna over the past month in advance of a gathering of world leaders this week at the United Nations. President Bush, who is to address the annual General Assembly gathering Wednesday, and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, plan to use the meeting to press for agreement to threaten international sanctions against Iran.

The president's direct involvement marks an escalation of a two-year effort to bring Iran before the U.N. Security Council, which has the power to impose sanctions, unless Tehran gives up technology capable of enriching uranium for a bomb. U.S. officials have acknowledged that it has been an uphill campaign, with opposition from key allies who fear a prelude to a military campaign.

Several diplomats said the slide show reminded them of the flawed presentation on Iraq's weapons programs made by then-secretary of state Colin L. Powell to the U.N. Security Council in February 2003. "I don't think they'll lose any support, but it isn't going to win anyone either," said one European diplomat who attended the recent briefing and whose country backs the U.S. position on Iran...

The US administration has embarked on a series of face-to-face meetings with world leaders at the UN summit to try to isolate Iran diplomatically over Iran's push to expand its nuclear programme.

George Bush met Hu Jintao, the Chinese leader, on Tuesday and will hold talks with Vladimir Putin, Russia's president, tomorrow in an attempt to secure their support for referring Iran to the UN security council, a move that could see sanctions imposed on Tehran. The Chinese leader refused to commit himself.

In support of Mr Bush's diplomatic drive, US officials have delivered hour-long PowerPoint briefings, entitled A History of Concealment and Deception, to diplomats from at least a dozen countries. The officials making the presentation, which includes satellite photographs of Iran's nuclear installations, admit they cannot say definitively that Tehran is covertly trying to secure a nuclear weapons capability. Iran has repeatedly denied it has any ambition to build a nuclear weapon and claims it only wants a civilian nuclear programme.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf have shaken hands at the UN. The move comes two weeks after their governments held their first public talks. The Jewish and Muslim-majority states have no formal ties.

"He asked me how I was. I asked him 'How are you?' And that's very good," President Musharraf told reporters.

The men are among some 150 leaders gathered for a UN World Summit to mark the organisation's 60th anniversary.

Mr Sharon's spokesman said they did not discuss diplomatic issues. Israeli TV said the Pakistani leader had declined an invitation for talks with Mr Sharon during their stay in New York, the Reuters news agency reports.

Correspondents say Israel hopes that its withdrawal from the Gaza Strip could usher in a new period in its largely non-existent ties with many Muslim countries.

Atomic watchdog urges US to give Iran one last chance, US says no

AFP Reports:

UN atomic watchdog chief Mohamed ElBaradei has urged the United States to give Iran one last chance to halt suspected weapons-related nuclear activities but Washington is insisting on immediate UN Security Council action, diplomats said.

"US ambassador Gregory Schulte asked him (ElBaradei) on Wednesday not to lobby for this (a delay)" at the Vienna-based UN watchdog International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), a diplomat who asked not to be named due to the sensitivity of the issue told AFP.

The United States and the European Union are pushing for the IAEA to refer Iran to the Security Council at United Nations headquarters in New York, when the IAEA's 35-nation board of governors begins meeting in Vienna on Monday.

The British delegation to the IAEA is Thursday to give a series of presentations to different board members explaining why the EU has no confidence in the peaceful nature of Iran's nuclear program, diplomats said.

Still, ElBaradei told US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in a telephone conversation last week it would be better to give Iran a deadline for ceasing uranium conversion work, rather than going for referral to the Council now, as the IAEA board is split over the issue, a diplomat said.

"Rice said this was not a good idea," another diplomat said.

US and IAEA spokespersons refused to comment...

Read the full Story here.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Bush: Iran has right to civilian nuclear program

Reuters reports:

President George W. Bush on Tuesday said Iran had a right to a civilian nuclear program if it did not gain expertise or materials to build an atomic weapon.

The United States is concerned that Iran's nuclear program is aimed at producing weapons, and Bush said he would be "speaking candidly about Iran" with Chinese President Hu Jintao and Russian President Vladimir Putin, who are gathering in New York for a United Nations world summit.

Iran says it has every right to develop nuclear technology to generate electricity, while the United States and the European Union want the U.N. Security Council to take up Iran's case after it resumed uranium processing last month.

"They have insisted that they have a civilian nuclear program, and I thought a rational approach to that would be to allow them to receive enriched uranium from a third party under the guise of international inspections that will enable them to have civilian nuclear power without learning how to make a bomb," Bush said at a press conference with Iraqi President Jalal Talabani.

The United States last month explicitly accepted for the first time that Iran could develop civilian nuclear programs, backing an EU proposal to allow Tehran to pursue atomic power in exchange for giving up fuel work.

That reflected a gradual shift in U.S. policy because Washington believes the EU offer has enough safeguards to prevent Iran from diverting its civilian work into making nuclear bombs.
"Some of us are wondering why they need civilian nuclear power anyway. They're awash with hydrocarbons," Bush said. "Nevertheless, it's a right of a government to want to have a civilian nuclear program."

But he said there ought to be guidelines. "And one such guideline would be in such a way that they don't gain the expertise necessary to be able to enrich," Bush said.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, elected in June, will attend this week's U.N. world summit and will make his case to avert referral to the Security Council.

Iran insists its nuclear ambitions are peaceful and has been lobbying Russia, China, India and others to fight against any referral to the Security Council which has the power to impose economic sanctions.

"It is very important for the world to understand that Iran with a nuclear weapon will be incredibly destabilizing," Bush said. "And therefore we must work together to prevent them from having the wherewithal to develop a nuclear weapon."

Fareed Zakaria interviews Reza Pahlavi

Fareed Zakaria the host of Foreign Exchange on PBS had an interview with Reza Pahlavi Last Friday. Here are some small excerpts from the interview:

Fareed Zakaria: In 1978 when my guest came to the United States, he was the Crown Prince of what appeared to be one of the most powerful monarchies in the world. Reza Pahlavi was the son of the late Shah of Iran. Today he is one of the most tireless advocates of democracy and human rights in that country and has spent many years organizing in various ways an opposition to the current regime. Pleasure to have you here.

Reza Pahlavi: Good to see you again, Fareed.

...Fareed Zakaria: But let me ask you this, Reza; for two decades people like you have been saying this regime is about to crack and crumble and it doesn’t happen. Why?

Reza Pahlavi: Well I think there are several reasons that goes into this. Number one is that most of the foreign countries that have been dealing with Iran until today have never sensed a kind of foreign threat emanating from Tehran oddly enough despite the fact that the regime had been involved with terrorism and had been involved in a lot of activities regionally and beyond...

Fareed Zakaria: ... When you left Iran, you’re 17 years old, and you were the Crown Prince. Do you sometimes look back wistfully at what--the world that you lost?

Reza Pahlavi: No; I’ve been brought up with the morale of feeling comfortable in two ways and to me the biggest principle in my life has been never lose faith in the Creator and always have a clear conscience, and as far as my political judgment goes, I always look ahead. I never look back. And that has been my commitment to my compatriots and to my country. I’m an Iranian above all. I very much doubt that had I been there and have simply transitioned into--as a Crown Prince to the next monarch in the country I would have had all the experience and knowledge that I have acquired since I’ve been outside of my country. I consider that a blessing--not a curse...

To read the interview in full go here and scroll down.
To listen to this interview go here.

Sharia law move quashed in Canada

BBC reports:

The head of Canada's Ontario province has rejected attempts to allow Muslims to use Sharia law in family disputes.

A report by Ontario's former attorney general Marion Boyd had recommended the use of Islamic law to settle issues such as divorce and child custody.

But Premier Dalton McGuinty ruled against the move, saying there should be "one law for all Ontarians".

Protests were held against the Sharia law proposal in major Canadian cities, as well as in Paris, London and Vienna.

Critics said allowing Islamic tribunals could lead to discrimination against women.

If the recommendation had been accepted, Ontario would have become the first Western jurisdiction to allow the use of Sharia.

Mr McGuinty said he would introduce "as soon as possible" a law banning all religious arbitration in the province.

Ontario has allowed Catholic and Jewish faith-based tribunals to resolve family disputes on a voluntary basis since 1991.

Mr McGuinty, who had been studying Ms Boyd's report since last December, said he was concerned religious family courts could "threaten our common ground".

He told the Canadian Press news agency: "There will be no Sharia law in Ontario. There will be no religious arbitration in Ontario. There will be one law for all Ontarians."

Women's rights activist Homa Ar-Jomand, who helped organise the rallies last Thursday, said she was delighted by the decision.

"I think our voice got heard loud and clear, and I thank the government for coming out with no faith-based arbitrations.

"That was the best news I've heard for the past five years," she said.

According to the latest census in 2001, about 600,000 Muslims live in Canada.

Monday, September 12, 2005

CNN's Anderson Cooper, America's hero-reporter

Anderson Cooper, the overwhelmingly dedicated TV journalist I most admire after the late Peter Jennings and certainly hope to have the pleasure of meeting and working with someday, is still in New Orleans reporting on the aftermath of Katrina. Anderson, whose whole-hearted reports in some cases led to him choking up on air, is featured in both New York Magazine Online and today's New York Times:

He is a stew of emotion: dejection, regret, sadness, anger. “I was really affected by the bodies,” he says, his voice cracking. “I’ve seen a lot dead bodies before, and I’m not sure why these dead bodies affected me so much, but I sort of haven’t been able to stop thinking about them.”

When I ask what his life has been like for the past few days, he says, “I’m fine.” Long pause. “It’s a horrible story to cover.” Another long pause. “Frankly, I feel privileged to be here. I’m really . . . I don’t want to leave . . . Um . . . ” He starts to cry. “I’m sorry,” he says, “I’m going to have to call you back in a second.”

The CNN anchor Anderson Cooper strikes a pose in the September issue of the men's magazine Maxim, modeling a sharp black suit set off by his prematurely gray hair. A stylized jumble of broken television sets is piled high beside him.

It is a very different Mr. Cooper who has captivated CNN viewers in the two weeks since Hurricane Katrina crashed ashore. The jumble of broken stuff is there, but it is real remnants of homes and lives washed away. Mr. Cooper's heart-on-his-sleeve demeanor has been anything but slick and packaged.

The 38-year-old anchor has dressed down officials in interviews with polite righteous indignation in behalf of hurricane victims. At least twice he choked up on air, once abruptly stopping his commentary about lost homes and waving away the camera as he looked about to burst into tears. CNN's camera occasionally has caught him playing with stray dogs. He says he has no intention of returning to his hip New York existence any time soon.