Monday, October 31, 2005

Iran promises $US10,000 to Islamic Jihad for rockets toward Tel Aviv

In what seems to be in total sync with Iranian President's goal of messing with Israel, The Australian reports that Iran has promised a reward of $US10,000 to Islamic Jihad if the militant group launches rockets from the West Bank towards Tel Aviv, a senior Palestinian intelligence official says:

Speaking in his Ramallah office, the official produced a fat wad of $US100 notes which he said had been confiscated from a pro-Iranian Islamic Jihad activist. The money was said to have gone from Iran to Damascus, the Syrian capital, from where Ibrahim Shehadeh, Islamic Jihad's head of overseas operations, transferred it to the West Bank.

According to the intelligence official, the Palestinian Authority has located workshops where rockets are being made and has given their co-ordinates to the Israelis. "We understand they destroyed some of them," he said.

The Israeli media claimed last week that rocket attacks from the West Bank were widely expected: Ben Gurion airport's eastern runway is just 8km away and the outskirts of Tel Aviv are within 16km.

Israeli intelligence officials said Iran was threatening the country on three fronts: through long-range missiles based in Lebanon; through terrorist networks around the world; and through the new arsenals of the West Bank.

Islamic Jihad is the only Palestinian group that calls for the destruction of the state of Israel. Based in Damascus, it has an annual budget of several million dollars -- provided by Iran.

Ramadan Shalah, its leader, has a PhD in economics from Durham University.

Since the death of Yasser Arafat last year, Islamic Jihad has taken the lead in attacks against Israel. A suicide bombing that killed five people in Hadera last week was revenge for the killing by Israeli special forces of Luay Saadi, the group's leader in the West Bank.

This weekend, Israeli forces launched an operation against the organisation in both the West Bank and Gaza -- including the destruction of the rocket workshops.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Movie quote of the week

There is no way for a citizen of a republic to abdicate his responsibilities. ... Cassius was right: 'The fault, dear Brutus, is not our stars, but in ourselves.'

--Edward R. Murrow (David Strathairn) quoting William Shakespeare's Julius Caesar in Good Night, and Good Luck(2005).

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad doesn't represent us true Iranians

Kash Kheirkhah

As a peace-loving Iranian and a world citizen, the Iranian President's comments on Israel put me to shame. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, his fanatic ideology and his dismal, uncouth manners are not what Iran with its glorious civilization is about. The country I come from used to be where 2500 years ago, Cyrus king of Persia made a proclamation throughout his realm that read, "The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and he has appointed me to build a temple for him at Jerusalem in Judah. Anyone of his people among you--may the Lord his God be with him, and let him go up."

Mahmoud Ahamadinejad and the ideology he represents is the result of years of West ignoring the rise of Islamic fundamentalism in the Middle East. Ahmadinejad's Imam, Ayatollah Khomeini began his ruling with such hate-mongering rhetoric. When I went to elementary school in early 80's, I, along with millions of other kids across the country, were forced to chant " death to America, death to England, death to France, death to Israel,..." basically death to the whole world. We were forced to watch flag burning, practice flag trampling and go through all methods of ideological brainwashing to be prepared to export Khomeini's ideology to the world. The West watched all this, and turned a blind eye. Out of that mess, now have risen monsters such as Bin Laden and Ahmadinejad who see the world's redemption in its destruction.

But such hate-filled, traumatic school rituals not only didn't work on us, but in fact back-fired and opened our eyes to the plague that was eating my country, its history and civilization away.

My generation is now fed up with the fanatic ideology that has done nothing but damage to our credibilty in the world, and the respect we were treated with before 1979 disasterous revolution. My generation is now sick and tired of a regime whose official foreign policy is spreading hatred and blowing the oil money on sponsoring terrorism.

My generation has had enough of this.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the regime which has created him don't represent us. We love and respect the world and its citizens, Israelis, Palestinians, Iraqis, makes no difference to us. We are all God's creatures, and we are all born with an innate desire for love, peace and freedom.

I'm so sorry for the remarks our sham President made and hope that there comes a day when the world gets to see us for who we really are and not the fanatic maniacs that have taken our country and our people hostage.

Ahmadinejad: The world's new Adolf Hitler

UK's Daily Express calls for the world to deal with Ahmadinejad before it's too late. The thought of a nuclear Iran, run by an unrestrained maniac, is sending chills down the world's spine these days, and truly so...

Friday, October 28, 2005

Open confrontation with Iran no longer 'inconceivable'-Paper

The volume of reactions, news and commentaries, regarding Iranian president's comments on Isreal, is so high that I have difficulty reporting them all. The world-wide reactions continued today with UN Secretary General Kofi Annan and the Vatican joining the global chorus of condemnation over Ahmadinejad's speech. Major papers around the world also have already started dissecting Ahmadinejad's unfortunate comments and their political fall-out for Iran:

Times of London:

The loud international boos that greeted the Iranian President’s inflammatory remarks are likely to be echoed in Tehran, where opponents are already describing his speech as a spectacular own goal.

President Ahmadinejad’s critics will seize on his “wipe Israel off the map” gibe as further evidence of his dangerous amateurism that is harming Iran’s relations with the outside world. His belligerent tone will certainly heighten international concerns over Iran’s nuclear programme, stoke Washington’s hostility, alienate a Europe already frustrated over the nuclear stalemate and enable Israel better to portray Iran as its gravest threat.

Mr Ahmadinejad’s strident rhetoric has got his country into trouble before. Last month he made an ill-judged speech at the UN, insisting on his country’s right to harness nuclear power.

American diplomats used his UN address successfully to lobby the board of the International Atomic Energy Agency to haul Iran before the Security Council.

That debacle prompted the clerics who run Iran to rein in their turbulent President. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader, responded by altering the country’s complex power structure. He granted the Expediency Council — an appointed panel under the sway of moderates — new authority to supervise a Government increasingly dominated by hardliners. The council is headed by Hashemi Rafsanjani, a former President and influential insider who advocates accommodation with the West, but who lost June’s presidential elections to Mr Ahmadinejad. Analysts believe that in boosting Hojatoleslam Rafsanjani’s institutional powers, Ayatollah Khamenei is trying to curtail the hardliners’ adventurism.

“Ahmadinejad’s role has been very substantially reduced,” Professor Gary Sick, a professor of Middle East politics at Columbia University, said.

“He’s been in office for a hundred days. He’s done nothing. I think people are looking around and saying ‘This guy is a disaster’. I think they [the regime] are going to isolate him and quarantine him.”

Washington Times:

If anyone had any doubts about the danger posed by a potential nuclear-armed Islamist regime in Iran -- and the need for the West to develop a more realistic approach to the ruling mullahs -- the Iranian president's call for Israel's destruction should dispel them.

Mr. Ahmadinejad's brazen call for the destruction of another country drives home once again the utter bankruptcy of the European Union's diplomacy-only approach to dealing with the current Iranian regime and its bid to acquire nuclear weapons. It should also spur the United States to revisit the decision made in March to defer to the Europeans and adopt a softer approach to Iran.

Iran also has stepped up its efforts to foment unrest in Iraq and has remained energetic in supporting terror groups to challenge the authority of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. The Iranian president's call for Israel's destruction is the latest illustration of the fact that the West's current approach to Iran has failed.

The effort to work with the Europeans was worth trying. But the Europeans' unwillingness to consider stronger steps against Iran, combined with the likelihood of Russian and Chinese vetoes at the Security Council, made the European plan unworkable. These developments should be sobering for those who have relied on diplomacy that is not backed up by a credible coercive threat.

Daily Telegraph:

Tony Blair delivered his strongest warning to Iran last night, saying Teheran would not be allowed to become a "threat to our world security".

He hinted that the West might have to resort to force. The Prime Minister said western allies would meet in the next few days to decide how to react after President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad called for Israel to be "wiped off the map". While the initial response is likely to be an intensification of diplomatic pressure, senior British officials did not rule out the possibility that they could resort to force if Iran continued on its path of radical confrontation.

Speaking at a European summit at Hampton Court, west London, a visibly angry Mr Blair said Iran would be making "a very big mistake" if it believed western leaders were too preoccupied with other issues to deliver a strong response.

Western frustration with Iran has been building up for months, particularly over Teheran's nuclear programme, its support for Palestinian radicals and suspicions that it has passed bomb-making technology to Iraqi insurgents who have killed at least eight British servicemen this year.

Mr Blair's patience finally snapped after hearing Mr Ahmadinejad's harangue at a Teheran conference entitled "The World Without Zionism", at which he declared: "The establishment of the Zionist regime was a move by the world oppressor against the Islamic world.

"As the Imam [the late Ayatollah Khomeini] said, 'Israel must be wiped off the map' … The Islamic world will not let its historic enemy live in its heartland."

UK's Daily Mail:

Not since the build-up to the invasion of Iraq has Tony Blair been so fierce in his denunciation of another country. Not since his claims about weapons of mass destruction has he been so apocalyptic in his analysis of an external threat.

Visibly angry, clearly intent on the hardest line possible without actually using the words 'military action', the Prime Minister left nobody in any doubt of his meaning.

Open confrontation with Iran, perhaps even involving armed conflict, is no longer as 'inconceivable' as Foreign Secretary Jack Straw has claimed.

Today, Mr Blair is open in his 'revulsion' for the new Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who says Israel should be 'wiped off the map'. And this time, the Prime Minister is not alone.
Yesterday, other EU leaders were unanimous in their condemnation of these 'despicable' remarks. The Americans - who have never ruled out military action - joined in. Even the Russians are dismayed. Tehran is largely isolated.

No wonder. Iran is on the verge of acquiring nuclear bombs. It already has the rockets to deliver them to Israel and parts of Europe. All attempts to persuade that country to adhere to its non-proliferation obligations have failed.

So the most terrifying of all weapons of mass destruction may fall into the hands of fanatics who want to destroy Israel. The case for concerted international action against Iran - political, diplomatic and economic - is overwhelming.

Inner Circle in Syria Holds Power, and Perhaps Peril

In a revealing report, Washington Post takes its readers through the labyrinth of power and decision-making in Syria and sheds more light on the family that has long ruled Syria with an Iron fist:

The brother is an impetuous officer, who wields control over the praetorian Republican Guard. The sister is nicknamed "the Iron Lady." Her husband is a burly general who rose methodically through the ranks of Syria's feared intelligence services. Presiding over them is Bashar Assad, the Syrian president who runs what some have called "a dictatorship without a dictator."

Diplomats and analysts say that together, the four represent the corporate leadership of Syria, a country facing its greatest crisis in decades following the release of a U.N. investigation that implicates senior officials in the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri. In this crisis, they say, the Assad family circle is a source of the president's strength. It may also be his weakness. If his relatives are directly linked to the killing, the scandal could bring down his government.

Both Assad's brother Maher and his brother-in-law, Asef Shawkat, were named in earlier versions of the report, although many diplomats here said the evidence was spotty. The Syrian government has repeatedly denied any role in the killing.

"It is about interests at the end of the day," said a Syrian intellectual familiar with members of the government but speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of harassment. "They say, 'We have to protect our own, otherwise we will all go down together.' "

As the U.N. Security Council debates a resolution demanding Syria's cooperation with the investigation, Assad's inner circle is the focus of attention in the country, where reading the Kremlin-like tea leaves is an intellectual pastime. Many here believe any change in the government would come from within. But as long as the circle remains unbroken, many also suspect the government can endure the short-term crisis, even if few can sketch out a scenario that would end Syria's isolation.

The reliance of Syria's leadership on family is not unusual in the Middle East, where an array of authoritarian republics and monarchies have reserved strategic positions for sons, brothers and other relatives.

But interviews with Syrian analysts, diplomats, dissidents and intellectuals paint a picture of a tightknit circle that has dramatically narrowed over the five-year tenure of Assad, who succeeded his father, Hafez, in 2000. Most stalwarts of his father's rule have been forced out, many hailing from the minority Alawite clan that has buttressed the rule of the Baath Party in Syria for 35 years; one of the last, the powerful Interior Minister Ghazi Kanaan, was said to have committed suicide this month in Damascus...

Kofi Annan rebukes Iran over Israel remarks

BBC reports:

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has voiced his "dismay" over remarks by Iran's president calling for Israel to be "wiped off the map".

In a rare rebuke, Mr Annan reminded Iran that, as a UN signatory, it had undertaken not to threaten the use of force against another state.

While President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's words provoked international outrage, Tehran said the West was over-reacting.

Israel has called for Iran to be expelled from the UN.

A statement released by the UN said the secretary general "read with dismay the remarks about Israel attributed to Mr Mahmoud Ahmadinejad".

It is rare for Kofi Annan to publicly rebuke a UN member state, says the BBC's Laura Trevelyan in New York.

Arab States Mum on Iran's Israel Remarks

AP reports:

Arab governments remained silent Thursday as international condemnation grew over a call by Iran's new president for Israel to be destroyed.

Despite the silence, analysts in the region said Tehran's Arab rivals may quietly be pleased to see the radical regime further isolated by its extremism.

However, some Palestinians - who would have the task of destroying Israel according to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad - rejected the remarks.

"We have recognized the state of Israel and we are pursuing a peace process with Israel, and ... we do not accept the statements of the president of Iran," Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said. "This is unacceptable."

Egyptian Foreign Ministry and Cabinet officials said Cairo would have nothing to say on the address.

Jordanian Deputy Prime Minister Marwan Muasher also declined comment, apparently to avoid further aggravating relations with Iran, which the kingdom has accused of interfering in Iraq to strengthen the Shiite influence in the Middle East.

Analysts said Ahmadinejad's uncompromising line highlighted Iran's differences with other Middle East governments and will make it easier for the international community to take a tough line against Iran for its defiant nuclear policy.

Mohammed Wahby, a former diplomat and member of the Egyptian Council on Foreign Affairs, said it was a mistake to remain quiet about the speech, which he said undermined Mideast peace prospects.

"Recognizing Israel as an integral part of the Middle East is no longer in doubt," he said, saying Iran was only encouraging hard-liners on both sides.

Mustafa Hamarneh, head of the Strategic Studies Center at the University of Jordan, agreed that Ahmadinejad was out of step, especially with the Palestinians.

"He's an ideologue who shot from the cuff; it was not a studied statement," Hamarneh said.

Iran's threatening stance also was counterproductive to its own interests, said Wahby. It reinforces the notion that its nuclear program is aimed at developing weapons despite claims that it is meant exclusively for peaceful power generation.

"Such statement by Tehran will encourage Israel to cling to its nuclear arsenal," Wahby said...

Iranian President's comments on Israel to be debated in the European Parliament

World-wide condemnation of Ahmadinejad's comments on Israel continues:

27/10/2005: Iranian President's comments on Israel rejected - to be debated in the European Parliament. Hans-Gert Poettering MEP, EPP-ED Group Chairman

The recent statement of the President of Iran, Mahmut Ahadinedschad, which according to media reports called for "Israel to be wiped off the map" will be debated at the next session of the European Parliament. Hans-Gert Poettering took this initiative this morning and was supported by Hannes Swoboda, Socialist group, and Silvana Koch-Mehrin, Liberal Group.

The comments of the President of Iran are outrageous because they place him on the side of terrorists. The international community must reject these ideas. We stand by Israel and will condemn every attack on its integrity, declared Poettering. The European parliament will renew its support for Israel at its next plenary session in a clear message to Iran.

The EPP-ED Group, the largest political in the European Parliament with 267 Members, has always supported the people of Israel and Palestine and that they should live peacefully within secure borders. Only in this way can a durable peace be secured for the Middle East.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Syria's Baath party: Multiple parties law to be considered

An embattled Syria is clearly grasping at straws:

Michael Slackman, NY Times-Facing Threats, Syria Weighs Steps to Rally the Home Front:

With the threat of economic sanctions looming over Syria, officials of the governing Baath Party announced Thursday that they would formally reconsider a decision made 43 years ago that stripped hundreds of thousands of Kurds of their citizenship, and would also discuss the prospect of allowing multiple political parties in future elections.

Officials here have for years been promising to resolve the citizenship issue with the Kurds, and to open up Syria's one-party system. But the timing of the announcement on the official SANA News Service Thursday - no matter how vague and noncommittal - may provide an indication of how officials are hoping to manage a political crisis incited by the investigation into the assassination of the former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

...As Syrians wait to see what fate the international community will impose on this nation of 18 million people, President Bashar al-Assad has remained out of view, neither addressing the nation nor making any public statements. Many people said they have been bewildered by the president's reluctance to step forward.

But analysts and people who work with the government said that the nation's top leadership has been uncertain how to handle a crisis that not only touches on some of the most powerful officials in Syria, but also members of the president's immediate family. Mr. Mehlis's report to the United Nations Security Council this week named the president's brother-in-law, Asef Shawkat, head of military intelligence, and the president's brother, Maher Assad, the head of the presidential guard, as suspects in the killing.

For the president, facing the most daunting political test since taking over after his father's death five years ago, the challenge will be to balance the demands of three powerful forces: the international community, his family and the Syrian public. It was considered unlikely that he would agree to turn over either Mr. Shawkat or Mr. Assad...

In other papers:

Jim Hoagland, Washington Post-Opportunity Knocks In Syria's Unraveling:

The unraveling of Syria's Baathist dictatorship provides a lifeboat for the unlikely trio of Kofi Annan, George W. Bush and Jacques Chirac. They need to row together to finish the job of holding Damascus accountable and to surmount the difficult seas that each faces on other fronts.
The joint opportunity springs from the astonishingly detailed accusations by a U.N. investigator that Syria's leadership carried out the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri in Beirut -- and now tries to cover it up by lying to the United Nations...

Boston Globe-An indictment of Syria:

In Syria, as in other states of the Middle East whose regimes are kept in power by unaccountable security services, the law is not supposed to be capable of making the rulers answer for their crimes. These political systems are defined by an absence of the rule of law. The people living under such regimes, who know in their bones the reality of arbitrary power, learn not to expect the machinations of the powerful to be exposed. So it seemed a startling form of Middle Eastern glasnost Tuesday when a reporter for Al Jazeera, the Arab satellite TV network, read the entire report on the air from New York...

Tony Blair rebukes Iran for threats against Israel

Guardian reports:

Tony Blair warned Iran last night in his starkest terms yet that the world would soon start demanding direct action against Tehran if "totally unacceptable" threats to wipe out Israel were repeated by its government.

At the end of the EU's one day summit in Hampton Court, Surrey, where Iran's stance was roundly condemned Mr Blair recalled that many countries had been urging restraint from the international community over Tehran's nuclear programme. But he said that instead of people "telling us you are not going to do anything about Iran, the question people are going to ask is 'what are you going to do about Iran?' because can you imagine a state with an attitude like that having nuclear weapons".

Earlier the 25 leaders of the European Union issued a joint statement rebuking Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iran's president, over his comment that Israel should be wiped off the map. Several countries including Britain, France, Russia, Spain, Germany and the Netherlands, called in Iranian diplomats to chastise them. The EU leaders said no country that claimed to be a responsible member of the international community should be urging the destruction of another state. But none endorsed a call by Ariel Sharon, Israel's prime minister, for Iran to be thrown out of the UN.

Following Mr Ahmadinejad's remarks this week Mr Blair said: "I felt a real sense of revulsion at these remarks. Anyone in Europe, knowing our history, when we hear such statements made about Israel, it makes us feel very angry. It's just completely wrong." Singling out Tehran's attitude towards Israel, terrorism and nuclear weapons, Mr Blair said that "if they continue down this path people may be a real threat to world security".

Jacques Chirac, France's president, said: "I was profoundly shocked by the declaration of the Iranian president," and that by his "irresponsible remarks" he risked his country being made a pariah.

Britain France and Germany have struggled to persuade Iran to accept supervision by the UN's nuclear watchdog, the IAEA, of its nuclear programme. In recent weeks British officials have also blamed bomb-making techniques imported from Iran for the deaths of British soldiers in Iraq...

In a related story:

Russia too condemns Iran's 'wiped off map' comment on Israel:

Russia condemned Iran for saying Israel should be "wiped off the map", warning Tehran yesterday that such comments added to pressure for Iran to be referred to the UN Security Council over its nuclear programme.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, speaking to Russian media during a trip to Jordan, said the remark by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was "unacceptable"."I have to admit that those who insist on transferring the Iranian nuclear dossier to the United Nations Security Council have received an additional argument to do so," Lavrov was quoted as saying by Russian news agencies.

"What I saw on television was unacceptable. We will bring it to the attention of the Iranian side," he said.

Russia, a permanent, veto-wielding member of the Security Council, has long warned against referring Iran's nuclear issue to the Council or using force against its ally in the Middle East. It has called for diplomatic ways to settle disagreements.

Iran's foreign minister and other top officials were in Moscow earlier this week to drum up Russian support, but Ahmadinejad's anti-Israel remarks appeared to have shaken Russia's so-far consistently pro-Iranian stance."We will invite the Iranian ambassador to the Foreign Ministry of the Russian Federation today and will ask him for an explanation," Lavrov said."I think this does not add to the efforts of those who are trying to normalise the situation around Iran," he said.

A Foreign Ministry spokesman confirmed Lavrov's comments and said the Iranian Ambassador in Moscow had been called to the ministry in connection with Ahmadinejad's comments.

The United States and the EU suspect Iran's nuclear fuel programme, which it hid from the IAEA for 18 years, is a front for developing weapons.Washington won a vote at the UN's 35-member International Atomic Energy Agency threatening Iran with referral to the Council -- but Russia abstained. No deadline was set.Russia, like Iran, has long maintained that Tehran's nuclear programme is entirely peaceful, and defended Tehran's right to develop non-military atomic projects. Moscow has helped Iran build a $1-billion nuclear reactor in southern Iran. The plant is due to be launched next year.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Washington examining ways of forcing Iran to drop nuclear program

Iran's outstanding investigative reporter and London-based journalist Dr Alireza Nourizadeh reports in Today's Asharq Al-Awsat how the United States is planning to deal with Tehran in the weeks ahead as the critical November meeting of IAEA, in which Iran's referral to the UN Security Council for possible sanctions will be decided, draws nearer:

Officials close to President George W. Bush have warned Iran that the current US administration is examining ways to force Tehran to comply with “the will of the international community regarding its nuclear program” and giving up its secret nuclear program, uranium enrichment and the production of heavy water in Isfahan and Arak.

Asharq al Awsat has learned that the head of a major US oil company, who had previously met with Iranian officials in Geneva, sent an emissary to Tehran last month to hold talks with presidential national security advisor, Ali Larijani.

On a visit to the UN headquarters in September, where he held private meetings with officials close to the US administration, Larjani indicated the Islamic Republic’s desire to communicate directly with Washington, in light of the failure of European mediators (the United Kingdom, France, and Germany) to change the course of US-Iranian relations.

In Tehran, the emissary informed Iranian official the Bush administration was currently studying a number of options, including re-opening old cases implicating Iran in terrorist attacks in which US citizens were injured and killed and US institutions destroyed.

An Iranian source revealed, on condition of anonymity, that the report by UN investigator, Detlev Mehlis, into the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, which implicated Syria, had sent shockwaves through the Iranian leadership. Officials in Tehran were greatly worried because of the strategic links with Damascus and because the report mentioned the name of Ahmad Jibril, head of the Popular front for the Liberation of Palestine (general command) who maintains close links to the Iranian security and intelligence services. Iran had been warned that Washington was ready to adopt the same hard-line approach it was following with Damascus, the source reported.

According to the same source, Washington was considering whether to use evidence of Iranian involvement in a number of past terrorist attacks to encourage its supporters to call for the appointment of a UN investigator to look into Tehran’s role in:

1- Killing 300 US servicemen in the bombings of US Marines headquarters in Beirut in 1983.
2- Bombing the French army base in Lebanon in 1983.
3- Bombing the US embassy in Beirut in 1984.
4- Hijacking a TWA airplane and murdering a former US army officer on board the US flight and throwing his body on the tarmac at Beirut’s airport in 1985. Kidnapping at least 12 US citizens and killing one of them and contributing to a hostage dying while in captivity during the Lebanese civil war. Bombing the Khobar Towers in June 1996 killing 19 US servicemen and inuring 372.

Asharq al Awsat has also learnt that the Iran’s Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei had publicly conveyed his anger at the way President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was handling the nuclear negotiations and was holding the president personally responsible for the changing European position and the International Atomic Agency’s threat to refer Iran before the Security Council.

Khamenei has requested former presidents Hashemi Rafsanjani and Mohammad Khatami and ex foreign ministers Ali Akbar Velayati and Kamal Kharzai as well as Gholamreza Agazadeh, head of Iran’s atomic agency and Dr. Hassan Ruhani, former head of the nuclear program, to devise a strategy to rescue Iran from its current crisis caused by what the Supreme leader described as the President’s lack of experience and qualification to oversee such a critical issue.
Earlier this month, Rafsanjani had appointment Khatami to the State Expediency Council (SEC), which he heads. A number of high-ranking officials are expected to meet this week to prepare for the SEC taking charge of the nuclear file.

Iran lets senior al Qaeda suspects roam free-Reuters

This from Reuters (As if Tehran's regime already didn't have enough trouble on its hands for its imbecile President's remarks):

Iran is permitting around 25 high-ranking al Qaeda members to roam free in the country's capital, including three sons of Osama bin Laden, a German monthly magazine reported on Wednesday.

Citing information from unnamed Western intelligence sources, the magazine Cicero said in a preview of an article appearing in its November edition that the individuals in question are from Egypt, Uzbekistan, Saudi Arabia and Europe.

They are living in houses belonging to Iran's Revolutionary Guards, the report said.
"This is not incarceration or house arrest," a Western intelligence agent was quoted as saying. "They can move around as they please."

The three sons of Osama bin Laden in Iran are Saeed, Mohammad and Othman, Cicero reported. Another person enjoying the support of the Revolutionary Guards is al Qaeda spokesman Abu Ghaib, the report said.

Iran first said late last year that it had arrested and would try a number of foreigners suspected of having links to al Qaeda, a loose network of military groups that Washington blames for the attacks of September 11, 2001 and bomb attacks in Spain, Indonesia, Egypt and elsewhere.
The report in Cicero also accused the Revolutionary Guards' secret service of offering logistical support and military training to senior al Qaeda leaders.

Iran has repeatedly denied any link to or support of al Qaeda.

Britain and the United States suspect Iran of supporting insurgents in Iraq, a charge Tehran has vehemently denied.

World shows outrage at Iranian President's comments

Kash Kheirkhah

As expected, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's blatant hate-mongering toward Israel and his Hitleresque comments that Israel should be wiped off the map have triggered worldwide outrage.

His comments were the first time in years that such a high-ranking Iranian official had called for Israel's eradication, even though such slogans are still regularly used at regime rallies. Ahmadinejad's comments came as five Israelis were killed and dozens more wounded when a Palestinian suicide bomber blew himself up in a busy marketplace, the first deadly attack since July.

In Israel, An FO spokesman said this showed "the horrible reality of the violence he [Mahmoud Ahmadinejad] is praising".

Israel also urged that Iran be expelled from the United Nations describing it as a "clear and present danger", after the Islamic republic's hardline president called for Israel to be wiped off the map. "This call contravenes the United Nations charter and is tantamount to a crime against humanity," said Deputy Prime Minister Shimon Peres. "We must submit a clear cut request to the UN secretary general (Kofi Annan) and the Security Council to obtain Iran's expulsion from the United Nations," he wrote in an open letter to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. "It is inconceivable for a man calling for genocide to be at the head of a member country of the United Nations," said Mr Peres

In Washington, the White House said the words of the hardline Iranian president also underlined US concerns about Tehran's nuclear ambitions. "It just reconfirms what we have been saying about the regime in Iran. It underscores the concerns we have about Iran's nuclear operations," White House spokesman Scott McClellan told reporters.

France will summon Iran's ambassador to Paris to question him over Ahmadinejad's call," Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy said. "I learned of the comments ... according to which the president of Iran says he wants Israel to disappear and said the conflict in the Middle East would perpetuate an age-old fight between Jews and Muslims," Mr Douste-Blazy said in a statement.

In Berlin, the German government said the comments were "completely unacceptable". "If these comments were in fact made, they are completely unacceptable and should be condemned in the strongest terms," said foreign ministry spokesman Walter Lindner. Together with Britain and France, Germany is a member of the so-called EU3 group that is negotiating with Tehran over its controversial nuclear program. Here are some of of the other reactions:

Canada strongly condemned Iran's president on Wednesday for urging that Israel be "wiped off the map", saying the comments were particularly worrying because of Tehran's nuclear ambitions.

"This is the 21st century. We cannot tolerate comments of such hatred, such anti-Semitism, such intolerance," Foreign Minister Pierre Pettigrew told reporters."And these comments are all the more troubling (given) that we know of Iran's nuclear ambitions. So I think it is very important that all countries do stand up together to make sure that we do not accept that Iran continues a nuclear program."

The UK Foreign Office has summoned a senior Iranian diplomat to protest against his president's comments about destroying Israel.

The Foreign Office has called in Iran's London chargé d'affaires on Thursday. It said the comments were "deeply disturbing and sickening".

Update: Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos Wednesday strongly condemned Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's call to eradicate Israel and summoned Iran'sambassador in Madrid for an explanation.

Moratinos summoned Iran's ambassador and issued a statement saying he "condemned the remarks in the most emphatic terms."

Also, BBC news reports that The UK, France, Spain and Canada are summoning Iranian diplomats to demand an explanation for the remark. Western governments are bound to see it as further proof that Iran's hardline president is disinclined to curb his country's controversial nuclear programme.

Sources: Reuters, BBC, SBC Australia

Iranian leader: Israel will be destroyed

I suggest that from now on, Aljazeera broadcast Ahmadinejad's speeches live instead of playing Bin Laden's tapes !

AP Reports:

Iran's hard-line president called for Israel to be "wiped off the map" and said a new wave of Palestinian attacks will destroy the Jewish state, state-run media reported Wednesday.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad also denounced attempts to recognize Israel or normalize relations with it.

"There is no doubt that the new wave (of attacks) in Palestine will wipe off this stigma (Israel) from the face of the Islamic world," Ahmadinejad told students Wednesday during a Tehran conference called "The World without Zionism."

"Anybody who recognizes Israel will burn in the fire of the Islamic nation's fury, any (Islamic leader) who recognizes the Zionist regime means he is acknowledging the surrender and defeat of the Islamic world," Ahmadinejad said.

Ahmadinejad also repeated the words of the founder of Iran's Islamic revolution, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who called for the destruction of Israel.

"As the Imam said, Israel must be wiped off the map," said Ahmadinejad, who came to power in August.

Ahmadinejad referred to Israel's recent withdrawal from the Gaza Strip as a "trick," saying Gaza is part of the Palestinian territories and the withdrawal was meant to make Islamic states acknowledge Israel.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Who will control the internet?

As I reported on Sunday, some foreign governments want control of the Internet shifted from ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers)--the U.S.-led group that currently manages crucial Internet infrastructure such as domain names, root servers and IP (Internet Protocol) addresses--to an international institution such as United nations. In the current edition of Foreign Affairs, Kenneth Neil Cukier, who covers technology for The Economist, writes extensively on this issue and the US government's reaction:

Any network requires some centralized control in order to function. The global phone system, for example, is administered by the world's oldest international treaty organization, the International Telecommunication Union, founded in 1865 and now a part of the UN family. The Internet is different. It is coordinated by a private-sector nonprofit organization called the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), which was set up by the United States in 1998 to take over the activities performed for 30 years, amazingly, by a single ponytailed professor in California.

The controversy over who controls the Internet has simmered in insular technology-policy circles for years and more recently has crept into formal diplomatic talks. Many governments feel that, like the phone network, the Internet should be administered under a multilateral treaty. ICANN, in their view, is an instrument of American hegemony over cyberspace: its private-sector approach favors the United States, Washington retains oversight authority, and its Governmental Advisory Committee, composed of delegates from other nations, has no real powers.

This discontent finally boiled over at the UN's World Summit on the Information Society, the first phase of which was held in Geneva in December 2003 (the second phase is set for November in Tunis). Brazil and South Africa have criticized the current arrangement, and China has called for the creation of a new international treaty organization. France wants an intergovernmental approach, but one fundamentally based on democratic values.{See Footnote 1} Cuba and Syria have taken advantage of the controversy to poke a finger in Washington's eye, and even Zimbabwe's tyrant, Robert Mugabe, has weighed in, calling the existing system of Internet governance a form of neocolonialism

...As the overseer of the domain name system, the United States has taken a liberal approach in keeping with its liberal values. There is no guarantee that an intergovernmental system would continue on such a course, and so even committed internationalists ought to be wary of changing how the system is run.

This is especially so since the very countries that most restrict the Internet within their borders are the ones calling loudest for greater control. As other countries sharpen their diplomatic knives for the final round of the summit in Tunis in November, the dispute is echoing an earlier battle at Unesco in the 1980s over the so-called New World Information and Communication Order, which led the United States and the United Kingdom to pull out of the organization. Then, it was the Soviet Union, its satellites, and the developing world that called for controlling media activities and funding the development of media resources in developing countries; today, some of those same nations seek power over the Internet, as well as financial aid to overcome the digital divide...

Financial Times: Russia tries to break impasse with Iran

FT:Russia said yesterday it would seek to resolve the impasse over Iran's controversial nuclear programme, in asign of Moscow's increasing importance in international attempts to broker a deal with Iran.

On a day of intensive diplomacy in Moscow, Sergei Lavrov, Russian foreign minister, saw both Manouchehr Mottaki, his Iranian opposite number, and Stephen Hadley, the US national security adviser.

"We agreed to continue contacts on this question and work on a settlement together with other countries, in particular the EU3 [of France, Germany, and the UK]," Mr Lavrov said after his meeting with Mr Mottaki.

While the US and the European Union suspect Iran of seeking to develop nuclear weapons, Iran denies having any such intention.

But negotiations between the EU3 and Iran broke down after Tehran rejected a European proposal in August and resumed work on uranium conversion, a preliminary part of the nuclear cycle it had previously suspended as part of a framework deal.

The prospect of direct EU-Iranian talks has since faded, because of disagreement over the Europeans' insistence that Iran stop all conversion once again. But Iran has maintained a freeze on uranium enrichment -a process that can produce weapons-grade material.

Attention has now shifted to Russia's attempt to break the deadlock.

Moscow has floated the idea that rather than use Iranian territory to carry out uranium enrichment, Tehran could do so as part of an international joint venture on Russian soil. While the EU appeared to reject the Russian proposal several months ago, today they are asking for more details and even the US has indicated interest.

"The Russians . . . want to do what we all want to do, which is they want to pursue a diplomatic path and see if the Iranians will come along," said Condoleezza Rice, US secretary of state, at the weekend.

However, it is by no means certain that the Russians can produce a mutually satisfactory solution. Yesterday Mr Mottaki said that even if its nuclear programme was referred to the UN Security Council, Iran would continue to fight for its right to develop nuclear power.

Iranian Journalist Akbar Ganji is confined to special section of prison

Reporters Without Borders:

Reporters Without Borders today reiterated its outrage at the treatment of journalist Akbar Ganji after his wife, Massoumeh Shaffii, and one of his lawyers visited him on 17 October and confirmed that he is still physically and psychologically debilitated after his hunger strike and that he has been put in a “special” wing of Tehran’s Evin prison where inmates are often tortured.

“As a journalist and prisoner of conscience, Ganji has no place in a high security wing,” the press freedom organisation said. “We again call for his immediate and unconditional release and at the same time we urge the authorities to let independent international organisations visit him at once in Evin prison to verify his condition and the torture allegations.”

Shaffii said after visiting her husband that his situation “was even worse that anything we could have imagined.” She also said he need treatment to his left shoulder.

Ever since his transfer back to Evin prison from Milad hospital on 3 September, Ganji has been in solitary confinement in this special wing. Only Revolutionary Guards can go there. Former detainees say torture sessions are common in this section of the prison.

While the uncertainty continues about the fate of Ganji, the former editor of the weekly Rah-e-No and Iran’s leading prisoner of conscience, the intelligence ministry has been summoning independent journalists and representatives of journalists’ associations for questioning.

Some have been threatened during these interrogation sessions and all have been notified of a ban on talking about the appointment of Revolutionary Guards to key positions in national and local government. Many journalists now fear that a new wave of arrests may be imminent.

Tony Blair: Life could become much more difficult for Iran

Unlike Jack Straw, the British Foreign Minister who always goes out of his way not to utter a word that could in any way be construed as criticising Tehran's Regime, British Prime Minister Tony Blair has recently taken a much more sharply critical stance on Iran. In his interview tonight with Sky News, Mr Blair again pushed for some pretty strong language against mullahs, warning them to stop supporting terrorism and abide by the international rules over nuclear weapons. AFP reports:

British Prime Minister Tony Blair warned Iran that the country would face "a much more difficult life" if it did not improve its relations with Western states.

"Iran has to realise that there is the possibility of having a different relationship with the Western world but only on the basis of certain very clear things," Blair said in an interview broadcast on Sky News television at 8:00 pm (1900 GMT).

"If they don't do this then I think they should understand it is very difficult for people to have a different relationship with them," Blair said."And if they continue to do it, they continue to really defy proper rules of behaviour in the international community, then life will become a lot more difficult."

However Blair attempted to play down fears of military action against Tehran while not excluding it totally."People are asking 'are we about to go and invade Iran?' It is important that fear is laid to rest. Nobody is talking about that, nobody is planning for it, nobody is wanting to do it," the British prime minister said.

However Blair added: "You don't ever take any option off the table."

Iran denies allegations by the United States that it has sought to develop nuclear weapons, and insists it needs nuclear energy to replace oil stocks when they run out.

Talks on the nuclear issue between Iran and the so-called EU-3 -- Britain, France and Germany -- broke down in August after Tehran ended a freeze on uranium fuel cycle work.

Earlier this month Iran reiterated its refusal to suspend uranium fuel work, as sought by the three European states as a precondition of resuming talks with Tehran.The United States and the EU-3 have been lobbying members of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the UN's nuclear watchdog, to refer Iran to the UN Security Council over its nuclear activities.

Monday, October 24, 2005

In the news today...

I reported this first item of news several weeks ago and to my amazement, it almost went unnoticed at the time. Now it seems the controversy it has caused is finally making headlines:

Reuters-US computer game touches Iran's atomic nerve:

U.S. special forces dart through Iran's underground nuclear facilities, gunning down any hapless Iranians standing between them and centrifuges that must be blown to bits.

Much to Tehran's relief, this crack team exists only in a new U.S. computer game. But even these animated saboteurs are too close for comfort, downloadable into Iranian living rooms at the click of a mouse.

The cyberspace troopers have sparked bitter press comment in Iran and a petition asking that the game be shelved.

"Americans have a deep craving for an attack against Iran, but they are going to have to settle for this make-believe assault," wrote the Kayhan daily, whose editor is appointed directly by Iran's Supreme Leader.

"U.S. attacks Iran" is made by U.S. firm Kuma Reality Games whose war games often tie into top news stories.

Iran is at the center of a diplomatic maelstrom, flatly denying U.S. accusations it is seeking atomic warheads. It argues it needs underground nuclear facilities, such as one near the central town of Natanz, to make fuel for power stations.

The United States consistently declines to rule out a military strike against Iran, but has said such an option is "not on the agenda".

...Kuma boss Keith Halper said he has no plans to take the game offline and that he had not realized the games were played in the Middle East as well.

"The controversy does surprise me. I just didn't expect that there were people from Iran who were going to become aware of it," he told Reuters.

Other Kuma games have been criticized in the United States for their realistic portrayal of current events, including recent battles.

The Iran game has been downloaded in Iran thousands of times, Halper said, and the company has received roughly 300 e-mail messages from Iran. Some criticized the game but others had asked how to get a copy without a broadband connection.

Iran has been prickly about the idea of U.S. special forces lurking around inside the Islamic Republic since U.S. journalist Seymour Hersh said in the New Yorker this year that U.S. "Black Ops" had ventured across Iran's borders.

Reuters-VeriSign to control ".com" domain until 2012:

VeriSign Inc. said on Monday it would maintain control of the lucrative ".com" Internet domain until 2012 in return for dropping an antitrust lawsuit against the nonprofit body that oversees the Internet's addressing system.

The agreement settles a long-running dispute between the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, or ICANN, and the most powerful company under its jurisdiction. The settlement comes at a time when ICANN is under attack from China, Iran and other countries that want more direct control over the domain-name system that guides traffic around the Internet...

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Washington lawmakers demand that US retain internet web control

Yesterday, My buddy Ehsan whose contribution to my newsroom I have always appreciated and a computer engineer by trade, let me know about the upcoming World Summit on Information Society in Tunisia and the ongoing argument on whether the United States should continue to control the world's domain system. I thought you'd get a much better grasp on the story by first hearing from the man himself:
Kash, I just want to bring something quite important to your attention. Next Month's WSIS summit in Tunisia, is focused on the Internet domain name system control body. Some countries are already voicing complaints over the current US-controlled domain system arguing that a body like the UN should gain control of the system. This is a very dangerous proposition as content censorship and denial of the freedom of speech could become commonplace even outside of the borders of undemocratic regimes. Also, a body like the UN could act very slowly and sluggishly in an area which requires dynamicism.This I think is an issue you should care to mention on your news corner and bring us all up to date with developments both on the position of the US government and the proceedings of the upcoming WSIS summit in Tunisia.FYI, please take a look at the following CNN report.
The report Ehsan has linked to refers to the talks at the end of September in Geneva, in which --according to news reports--the European Union parted with the U.S. by calling for the creation of a new "forum" and a new "model of international cooperation," which could radically change if not completely override ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers), the U.S.-led group that currently manages crucial Internet infrastructure such as domain names, root servers and IP (Internet Protocol) addresses.

Previously, the E.U. was aligned with the U.S. in supporting the status quo, which essentially meant keeping ICANN as the body in charge of managing the Internet. With its latest move, the European government body has joined most other countries in demanding a global body to take over supervision of the Net. This according to lawmakers in Washington would mean that once the domain system control is out of US hands, some countries can make the Internet "an instrument of censorship and political suppression." senior Democrats and Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives have both supported efforts led by Senator Norm Coleman, a Republican from Minnesota, to protect control of the Internet from being transferred to the U.N. by sending a letter to the Departments of State and Commerce in support of Mr Coleman's position (you can read the letter here).

Well, I certainly agree with Ehsan. I mean, countries such as Tunisia (the host of the summit), China, Syria and Iran which are constantly criticized for their infringements on freedom of speech, the harrassment of independent groups and and Internet censorship, will certainly make the best of any such control transition.

I'll follow up on this story as I'm sure we'll hear more about it in the run-up to the summit.

By the way, Iran's Noble Peace laureate Shirin Ebadi, nominated on October 12, 2005 by WSIS CS Human Rights Caucus, will be Civil Society Speaker for WSIS Tunisia Opening Ceremony.

Howard Dean loses it again

Congratulations to mullahs in Iran. Unlike themselves, their title seems to be of some use now, well, for lack of any better word of course (or speaker) :

Howard Dean: I'm tired of the ayatollahs of the right wing

George Clooney: film injury made me suicidal

This coming from someone as hot, rich and famous as Clooney makes you wonder how everyone can feel vulnerable sometimes:

THE SUNDAY TIMES-The scene was meant to depict two thugs beating a victim tied to a chair. But for the Hollywood actor George Clooney, it soon became all too real.

His chair was kicked backwards and his head smashed on the ground, damaging his spine. The injuries left him in such intense pain that he entertained suicidal thoughts and continues to suffer short-term memory loss.

The 44-year-old star, known for his easy charm, surprised American radio listeners last week when he described the past 12 months as “the worst year I’ve ever had”, culminating in a series of operations to ease his recurrent headaches.

He said his ordeal began months ago when filming Syriana, a political thriller based on the memoirs of Robert Baer, a former CIA agent who was tortured on assignment in the Middle East. The film opens in Britain on January 13.

“The problem was that I had put on weight in about a month to do the movie. Usually I am in pretty good shape, but you should not put on 38lb when you are 44. Maybe when you are younger, but it was probably a dumb move on my part.

“There was this scene where I was taped to a chair and getting beaten up and we did quite a few takes. The chair was kicked over and I hit my head.

“I tore my dura, which is the wrap around my spine which holds in spinal fluid. But it’s not my back, it’s my brain. I basically bruised my brain. It’s bouncing around my head because it’s not supported by the spinal fluid,” he said on National Public Radio in Los Angeles.

Clooney learnt the hard way: “Before the surgery it was the most unbearable pain I’ve ever been through, literally where you’d go, ‘well, you’ll have to kill yourself at some point, you can’t live like this.’

“I don’t take painkillers because we’ve had members of our family who have become very fond of painkillers over the years,” said the actor, who has opted instead for therapy that teaches him to ignore the pain. He says he could recover fully by taking six months off work but that is not going to happen in the near future.

The injury damaged Clooney’s short-term memory, which he is trying to repair with counting exercises: “I have to work the memory muscle by counting everything, like how many times I pedal when I am on a bike.

“It’s probably the worst year personally I have ever had. My brother-in-law died of a heart attack aged 45, my grandma fell, broke her hip and died this summer. And my dog got attacked by a rattlesnake and killed,” he said.

Movie quote of the week

...We're all faced throughout our lives with agonizing decisions, moral choices. Some are on a grand scale, most of these choices are on lesser points. But we define ourselves by the choices we have made. We are, in fact, the sum total of our choices. Events unfold so unpredictably, so unfairly, Human happiness does not seem to be included in the design of creation. it is only we, with our capacity to love that give meaning to the indifferent universe. And yet, most human beings seem to have the ability to keep trying and even try to find joy from simple things, like their family, their work, and from the hope that future generations might understand more...

Professor Levy (Martin S. Bergmann) in Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989)

Akbar Ganji: From Iranian true believer to dissident

Azar Nafisi, a Visiting Fellow and professorial lecturer at the Foreign Policy Institute of the Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies and the author of the author of "Reading Lolita in Tehran." writes about the suffering of her jailed compatriot and democracy activist Akbar Ganji in today's San Francisco Chronicle:

Akbar Ganji has come to represent the democratic movement in Iran, not only because of his enormous courage and his original thinking, but because he has revealed the "true face of the system in the Islamic Republic of Iran." Although he has been in prison since 2000 and has been gravely weakened by illness and a two-month hunger strike this summer, he still stands out as the strongest figure in today's Iran.

Among the former revolutionaries who have questioned the Islamic Republic, none has shown the intellectual and moral courage that Ganji has demonstrated in interrogating and holding accountable not just the Islamic regime but also his own former self. His resistance to the regime's tyranny is at the same time a statement against the young Islamist militant who once eagerly helped to bring about the Islamic Revolution.

His transformation from militant Islamist to courageous dissident and staunch defender of democracy and human rights shows how thoroughly the Islamic Revolution has failed to reach its goals. Ganji's transformation gives us a little more hope in ourselves and in Iranian society's potential for change.

Step by step, Ganji has redeemed himself by questioning the very system that he once helped to erect. His firmness and uncompromising attitude spring from an intellectual restlessness and a moral integrity that make him constantly seek and reveal the truth.

...Ganji has grasped the important point that, in confronting a totalitarian regime, the first rule is to create a model of resistance that is effective precisely because it refuses to play according to the rules chosen by those in power. He creates a different domain, a space within which he will set the rules. His questioning of the Islamic regime is not only political but also cultural and ideological.

...At a time when it might seem that the only alternatives are either to accept and work within the Islamic system or to oppose the regime by its own favored method of violence, Ganji proposes a third option. While rejecting the constitution and the rule of the supreme leader and demanding a secular and democratic Iran, he also calls for a resistance that is nonviolent. His hunger strike, his prison writings and his calls for an election boycott all point the way to a third alternative.

There are many risks to the path chosen by those whose voice Ganji has become. The struggle is far from over, but when thinking of those risks we should also remember the line Ganji quoted in a letter from his favorite poet, Rumi:

"Happy the gambler who having lost all he had possessed,

Is left with nothing but the urge to gamble more."

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Hariri's ghost returns to haunt Assad-Economist

Economist's online edition has a fascinating account of the U.N. Rafik Hariri assassination investigation and its political fallout for Syria:

A FABLE is often told to explain the Middle East to outsiders. A scorpion asks a frog to carry it across a river. The frog replies that the scorpion might sting and kill him. The scorpion reassures: “But if I do, we both die.” The frog agrees, and the scorpion stings him midstream. Why, asks the drowning frog of the drowning scorpion? “Because this is the Middle East.”

When Rafik Hariri was assassinated in February in Beirut, some argued that the Syrian regime was such an obvious culprit that it could not possibly have done it. Hariri, a former prime minister of Lebanon, had become a vocal opponent of the decades-long Syrian occupation. What regime could be so obviously heavy-handed as to murder a prominent opponent with a truck bomb in broad daylight?

Syria protested, and still protests, its innocence but the bleak view of Middle East politics encapsulated in that fable seemed to be confirmed by a report on Hariri's death that was delivered to the United Nations Security Council on Thursday October 20th, pointing the finger directly at the highest levels of the Syrian government. Most importantly, it has fingered Asef Shawkat, who is Syria’s military-intelligence chief and brother-in-law to Syria’s president, Bashar Assad. emerged on Friday that the name of the Syrian president's brother, Maher Assad, had been edited out of the report shortly before it had been presented to the Security Council. The report originally quoted an unnamed Syrian witness as saying the president's two relatives were among a group of Syrian and Lebanese officials who decided to assassinate Hariri at a meeting in Damascus in late 2004. The edited version gives the witness's account of the meeting but omits the two top Syrians' names.

In addition, the report hints that Emile Lahoud, the pro-Syrian president of Lebanon, might also have been in on the plot. But intriguingly, it did not even mention Ghazi Kanaan, the former head of Syrian military intelligence in Lebanon, who Syrian officials said committed suicide on October 12th. His death, coming so soon before the UN report's submission, had seemed suspiciously convenient, as if perhaps he had been chosen as fall guy over the killing of Hariri.

Mr Assad and Mr Lahoud deny any involvement, of course. But the UN report claims that Mr Lahoud received a phone call from one of the conspirators minutes before the bombing. It also claims there is evidence that Mr Assad's brother-in-law and top aide Mr Shawkat forced a Palestinian militant to claim responsibility in a video recorded weeks before the assassination. The report also says the plot would not have been possible without help from Lebanon’s own spies and soldiers. Four pro-Syrian Lebanese generals have already been arrested, one having allegedly told a witness, shortly before the killing: “We are going to send him on a trip—bye bye, Hariri.”

Could the affair destabilise the Syrian regime? Though American neo-conservatives loathe Syria, and it was rumoured to be the next stop for America’s army after Iraq, undermining Mr Assad could be a dicey proposition. The local opposition to the regime, such as it is in a police state, is fragmented. On October 16th the groups joined briefly to issue a declaration calling for democratic reform. But they are far from constituting a group that could take power if Mr Assad should fall. America has its hands full in Iraq, and knows that Syria can help ruin talks between Israel and the Palestinians. It must think carefully over just how tough it wants to get with prickly, difficult Syria.

TIME Magazine presents:

Time Magazine's critics have picked the 100 best English-language novels from 1923 to the present. It includes such masterpieces as George Orwell's "1984" and "Animal Farm", Tony Morrison's "Beloved", Vladimir Nabakov's "Lolita" and Robert Penn Warren's "All the King's Men" whose second movie version, featuring an all-star cast led by Sean Penn, Jude Law, Kate Winslet, Patricia Clarkson, James Gandolfini, Mark Ruffalo and Sir Anthony Hopkins will debute here in North America on December 16.

Take a look.

Iran has one of the worst records of press freedom in the world-RSF

Reporters Without Borders:

North Korea once again comes bottom of the Reporters Without Borders fourth annual World Press Freedom Index, released today. It is closely followed in the 167-country list by Eritrea (166th) and Turkmenistan (165th), which are other “black holes” for news where the privately-owned media is not allowed and freedom of expression does not exist.

East Asia (Burma 163rd, China 159th, Vietnam 158th, Laos 155th), Central Asia (Turkmenistan 165th, Uzbekistan 155th, Afghanistan 125th, Kazakhstan 119th) and the Middle East (Iran 164th, Iraq 157th, Saudi Arabia 154th, Syria 145th) are where journalists have the toughest time and where government repression or armed groups prevent the media operating freely.

Iran (164th) once again has the region's worst record of press freedom, with seven journalist in prison and four provisionally free and in danger of being returned to jail at any moment. Akbar Ganji is still being held in solitary confinement despite a more than 60-day hunger-strike an international campaign and official promises to free him. Cyber-dissident Mojtab Saminejad has been in jail since October 2004, serving a two year sentence.

Some Western democracies slipped down the Index. The United States (44th) fell more than 20 places, mainly because of the imprisonment of New York Times reporter Judith Miller and legal moves undermining the privacy of journalistic sources. Canada (21st) also dropped several places due to decisions that weakened the privacy of sources and sometimes turned journalists into “court auxiliaries.” France (30th) also slipped, largely because of searches of media offices, interrogations of journalists and introduction of new press offences.

At the top of the Index once again are northern European countries Denmark, Finland, Ireland, Iceland, Norway and the Netherlands, where robust press freedom is firmly established. The top 10 countries are all European. New Zealand (12th), Trinidad and Tobago (12th), Benin (25th) and South Korea (34th) are the highest-ranked countries in other continents.

Countries that have recently won their independence or have recovered it are very observant of press freedom and give the lie to the insistence of many authoritarian leaders that democracy takes decades to establish itself. Nine states that have had independence (or recovered it within the past 15 years) are among the top 60 countries - Slovenia (9th), Estonia (11th), Latvia (16th), Lithuania (21st), Namibia (25th), Bosnia-Herzegovina (33rd), Macedonia (43rd), Croatia (56th) and East Timor (58th).

Friday, October 21, 2005

Infotainment: A new weekly post on my non-political passions

Those who are around me very well know that my span of interests goes well beyond politics. Apart from politics and world's affairs, reading, music, movies, soccer--or football as I'd like to call it-- and oddly enough, clothing have always been among the biggest passions of my everyday life (soon traveling will also be on that list). Suffice it to say that I catch five movies every week (four rentals, one on screen), explore as many new and old music albums as I can, finish at least two books every month and last but not least, kill some time on the weekends, checking out new designer clothing! This new section called "infotainment" will be dedicated to sharing some of the quality stuff I get to see, listen to or read every week:

Kash's recommended music album:

Air Supply-Forever love: Greatest Hits (2005)

Along with Lionel Richie, Air Supply has made the most ageless romantic ballads I have ever heard. This new double-disc collection is a definite must-have for those who want some time out of today's hip-hop stricken music to sooth their minds and souls. A couple of days ago, a Mexican student of mine who's only 19 was telling me how much she appreciates Air Supply's music. Huh? Today's teenagers and Air Supply's music? Well, that's what I call undying music.

Kash's recommended movie:

Broken Flowers (2005)
Starring Bill Murray, directed by Jim Jarmusch.

Well, earlier this week, I finally got a chance to catch this movie on big screen. Jim Jarmusch says he wrote the leading role exclusively for Bill Murray and isn't that true. I've always admired Bill Murray and his unique style of acting and in this movie he proves his worth once more. One of those movies you've got to discuss with someone after watching.

In the entertainment news:

The Washingon Post offers a rave review of one of the best movies of 2005 "North Country" and its star Charlize Theron whose mesmerizing performance in this movie could lead to her to earning her second Oscar:

"North Country" is too grim, too harrowing, too nobly aggrieved to be described as a fun night at the movies. But as an example of what used to be described as a "social problem" picture, it holds its own with such classics as "Norma Rae," "The Accused" and "Erin Brockovich." Like those films, "North Country" does a good job in ratcheting up the tension and unfairness until the audience is brought to the breaking point along with the long-suffering Josey, who takes so many hits -- to her body, her psyche and her reputation -- that she begins to resemble a feminist Saint Sebastian. (Josey's sexual past, including a teenage pregnancy, is viciously invoked to punish her for fighting back.)

Theron, who won an Oscar last year for completely transforming herself to play the prostitute Aileen Wuornos, once again proves to be a remarkable character actress, submerging her almost superhuman beauty to become a typical blond, pretty Minnesota girl. (She's also mastered the accent, which is just south of "Fargo.")

U.N. Harriri Killing report: First reactions

What were those Syrian officials involved in planning Rafik Hariri's murder really thinking? That they would carry out such a high-profile assassination in broad daylight and get away with it? Well, they have got another think coming . Take a look at the following reactions to find out why:

  • Syria rejects accusations in Hariri probe-AP:

Syria hotly dismissed on Friday a U.N. report that linked embattled President Bashar Assad's government in the assassination of a former Lebanese prime minister, as Damascus geared up to fight off growing Western sentiment to punish it with crippling economic sanctions.

While the U.N. findings did not directly incriminate Assad, the report cited a witness who claimed that Assef Shawkat, Assad's brother-in-law and the Syrian military intelligence chief, forced a man to tape a claim of responsibility for Hariri's killing 15 days before it occurred. It also said Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk al-Sharaa lied in a letter to the investigating commission...

  • Rice: Syria must be held accountable-AP
The international community must find a way to hold Syrian authorities accountable for the death of a leading Lebanese reformer, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Friday.
Rice declined to discuss the next steps, beyond saying that some kind of international mechanism must be established to ensure that Syria is held accountable. She said she was deeply troubled by a U.N. report implicating Syria in the killing last February of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri...

  • John Bolton: UN report on Hariri hard-hitting on Syria-Reuters
U.S. Ambassador John Bolton said on Friday that a U.N. inquiry into the murder of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri had presented hard-hitting findings on Syrian involvement in the killing.

Bolton was consulting with fellow Security Council members on a wide range of possible responses, he said, but he would not say whether sanctions against Syria was among them...

  • Israelis call for regime change in Syria-UPS

Prominent Israeli officials called Friday for the toppling of Syrian President Bashar Assad.
The calls came following the publication of a United Nations report charging that high level Syrian officials were involved in the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

Yuval Steinitz, chairman of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee of the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, and a key political ally of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon called for regime change in Damascus...


  • Death of Syrian minister raises questions-AP
The death of a powerful Syrian government minister just days before the release of a U.N. report on the assassination of Lebanon's former leader is fueling speculation of turmoil in the authoritarian regime in Damascus.

Arab analysts say the gunshot death of Interior Minister Ghazi Kenaan at his office Wednesday does not threaten Syrian President Bashir Assad's government, but they call it another sign of the regime's weakness — something that could create pressure for reforms.

Discounting an official Syrian report blaming suicide, some people suspect Kenaan was slain to cover up high-level Syrian involvement in the Feb. 14 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafi Hariri. Syria denied any role, but Hariri's killing set off huge anti-Syrian protests in Lebanon that forced the withdrawal of Syrian troops after a 29-year occupation...

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Profile: Rafik Hariri

Rafik Bahaa Edine Hariri (1 November 1944 – February 14, 2005), was Born to a Sunni Muslim family of modest means in the Lebanese port city of Sidon. After high school, He pursued his business administration studies at the Beirut Arab University. He left Lebanon, in 1965, to work in Saudi Arabia for a construction company. In 1969, Hariri established his own construction company CICONEST, which benefitted greatly from the oil price boom of the 1970s and helped Hariri emerge as a powerful construction tycoon.

Somewhat later, in 1978, Hariri became a citizen of Saudi Arabia as a reward from the Saudi royal family for the high quality of his entrepreneurial services, and became the kingdom's emissary to Lebanon. Over the time his interests extended across banking, real estate, oil, industry and telecommunications.In 1993, he founded a television station, Future TV, in Beirut, and purchased stakes in several Lebanese newspapers. He also founded his own newspaper Al-mustaqbal (The Future).

The former Prime Minister was also the biggest shareholder in Solidere, the joint-stock company that almost single handedly transformed and revived central Beirut following the Lebanese civil war. In 1982, he donated $12 million to Lebanese victims of Israel's invasion and helped clean up Beirut's streets with his own money. He also used his personal wealth to finance the Taif Accord in 1989, which put an end to the civil war.Hariri returned to Lebanon in 1992 as prime minister. He put the country back on the financial map through the issuing of Eurobonds and won plaudits from the World Bank for his plan to borrow reconstruction money.

Hariri served as Prime Minister of Lebanon from 1992 to 1998, then again from 2000 until late 2004. Amid the political crisis brought on by the extension of President Emile Lahoud's term under Syrian pressure, Hariri resigned as Prime Minister (he resigned in 1998 for about the same reason), saying: "I have... submitted the resignation of the government, and I have declared that I will not be a candidate to head the (next) government."

On 14 February 2005 Hariri was killed, along with 20 others, when explosives equivalent to around 1000 kg of TNT were detonated as his motorcade drove near the St. George Hotel in Beirut.

Source: Wikipedia

BREAKING NEWS-U.N. Report: Syria and Lebanon Involved in Killing Rafik Hariri

AP reports:

A U.N. investigation concluded that high-ranking Syrian and Lebanese security officials were involved in the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, according to a report released Thursday.

The report by chief investigator Detlev Mehlis said Hariri's Feb. 14 assassination was so complex that it would be difficult to imagine that the Syrian and Lebanese intelligence services didn't know about it.

The decision to assassinate Hariri "could not have been taken without the approval of top-ranked Syrian security official and could not have been further organized without the collusion of their counterparts in the Lebanese security services," the report said.

Mehlis wrote that the two nations' intelligence services kept tabs on Hariri by wiretapping his phone constantly.

The 53-page report said that the investigation is not complete and must be continued with Lebanese judicial and security authorities in the lead.

Several lines of investigation still need to be pursued, he said. They include jamming devices in Hariri's convoy that were functioning at the time of the bombing. It appears there was interference with a telecommunication antenna at the crime scene at the time Hariri was killed in a massive car bomb, Mehlis wrote.

US reaction

NY Times reports:

...The United States has sought support from allies in the region to isolate Syria and force Mr. Assad to cease supporting and financing anti-Israel militias and stop what Washington believes is a willingness by Damascus to infiltrate insurgents across its border with Iraq.

John R. Bolton, the United States ambassador to the United Nations, noting that the Mehlis report was "bigger than a breadbox," said there would be no substantive comment from the United States until Friday.

"We have just received the report and we're going to look at it very carefully tonight, evaluate it and decide on the basis of that evaluation and consultation what the next steps will be," he said. "We've already been in consultations considering the various possibilities."

Diplomats from the United States, Britain and France have been discussing their options for taking action against Syria, and the issue will be considered next week by the Security Council. Mr. Mehlis is scheduled to give council members a briefing on his report on Tuesday.

Among the options are two resolutions that would step up the pressure on Damascus to end actions that destabilize the region, according to a European diplomat briefed on discussions about the subject between Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and President Jacques Chirac of France in Paris last week.

He said one resolution would be put forward under Chapter VII of the United Nations charter, which calls for forceful measures like economic and diplomatic sanctions, and another under Chapter VI, which calls for solutions through negotiation and mediation...

Iran to escape UN referral over nuclear plans-diplomats

Reuters reports from Berlin:

The International Atomic Energy Agency will most likely not refer Iran to the U.N. Security Council when the U.N. agency's board meets next month despite fears Tehran is seeking nuclear weapons, diplomats said.

European and U.S. officials said at the time the IAEA board would refer Iran to the Security Council when it meets in November if Tehran continued to process uranium at a plant at Isfahan, which was mothballed until August under the Paris Agreement
last year with France, Britain and Germany.

Tehran has so far refused to reinstate the suspension of sensitive nuclear work, which was the conerstone of the Paris Agreement, but the European Union's three biggest powers have decided not to press for a Council referral at this time.

"The approach is not to refer Iran to the Security Council at the moment," an official from one of the so-called EU3 countries told Reuters. "The idea is not to provoke Iran."

One of the reasons for the decision to back off from a Security Council referral next month is that Tehran has improved cooperation with agency inspectors since the IAEA passed its resolution.

After a recent trip to Tehran, the IAEA's chief safeguards inspector, Olli Heinonen, reported "his visit was positive and access was easier," a Western diplomat said. The Iranians handed over some long overdue documents and allowed the agency to interview an Iranian official, he added. "At the moment we have the feeling that the report we will get (from the IAEA on Iran) in November will not be negative," the diplomat said, adding that the intense international pressure on Iran might be beginning to yield positive results...
I, as an Iranian who's seen more than enough of mullahs' shenanigans, would flat-out reject the diplomat's theory for such lame reasons. However, there seems to be another deciding factor here that could very well play into the twists and turns of Iran's nuclear case.

As it's been frequently reported in the past couple of weeks, there seems to be a growing tug-of-war within the conservative camp of Islamic Republic of Iran between those who run Iranian president Mahmoud Ahamdinejad--including his mentor Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi-- and those on the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's side who seem to have been alerted to the growing threat that is loosening their power grip. The nuclear case falls right in the middle of this power struggle, where the former side is constantly seeking confrontation with the united States, while the latter--having realized the gravity of the US threats-- is trying to buy some more time and diffuse the tension at least for now.

Khamenei's recent surprising move of delegating more powers to Rafsanjani could be his desperate attempt at curbing both domestic and the international threats. Within this context, the diplomat's opinon could make sense, though it remains to be seen how the Bush administration would react if the European Troika back off from their earlier threat of pressing for Iran's referral to the Security Council in the November session of IAEA.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Saddam Hussein still in shock

Today, Sixty years to the week since Nazi leaders were indicted at Nuremberg, Iraq's former dictator Saddam Hussein went on trial for his innumerous crimes, including the execution of 148 men in Dujail, a Shia village north of Baghdad, following an attempt there on his life; the gassing of 5,000 people in the Kurdish village of Halabja in March 1988, and the suppression of a Shia revolt following the first Gulf War. Defiant and trying to cast himself as a hero in front of the world's media, Saddam repeatedly said he could not accept the judge, saying he was "the former Iraqi president" since he had been chosen by the Iraqi people.


Well, apparently, the guy's still in shock of being caught like a rat in a hole...

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Guardian: Are we going to war with Iran?

This is indeed a question that has recently generated a good deal of analyses and commentaries since Iran continues to defy the West over its nuclear program and US rhetoric against mullahs has begun to acquire a harsher tone. Here are the highlights of the latest opinion on the prospective falling-out between Iran and the US :

It appears that the UK and US have decided to raise the stakes in the confrontation with Iran. The two countries persuaded the IAEA board - including India - to overrule its inspectors, declare Iran in breach of the non-proliferation treaty (NPT) and say that Iran's activities could be examined by the UN security council.

The timing of the recent allegations about Iranian intervention in Iraq also appears to be significant. Ever since the US refused to control Iraq's borders in April 2003, Iranian backed militia have dominated the south and, with under 10,000 soldiers amongst a population of millions, the British army had little option but to go along. No fuss was made until now.

But is the war talk for real or is it just sabre rattling? The conventional wisdom is that for both military and political reasons it would be impossible for Israel and the UK/US to attack and that, in any event, after the politically damaging Iraq war, neither Tony Blair nor George Bush would be able to gather political support for another attack.

The US army and marines are heavily committed in Iraq, but soldiers could be found if the Bush administration were intent on invasion. Donald Rumsfeld has been reorganising the army to increase front-line forces by a third. More importantly, naval and air force firepower has barely been used in Iraq. Just 120 B52 and stealth bombers could target 5,000 points in Iran with satellite-guided bombs in just one mission. It is for this reason that John Pike of thinks that a US attack could come with no warning at all. US action is often portrayed as impossible, not only because of the alleged lack of firepower, but because Iranian facilities are too hard to target. In a strategic logic not lost on Washington, the conclusion then is that if you cannot guarantee to destroy all the alleged weapons, then it must be necessary to remove the regime that wants them, and regime change has been the official policy in Washington for many years.

For an embattled President Bush, combating the mullahs of Tehran may be a useful means of diverting attention from Iraq and reestablishing control of the Republican party prior to next year's congressional elections. From this perspective, even an escalating conflict would rally the nation behind a war president...

Tehran seeking new ways to censor the Internet and track dissidents

Reporters Without Borders reports:

Reporters Without Borders today accused the Iranian government of seeking to increase its control of the Internet in recent measures that have included contracting an Iranian company, Delta Global, to set up a new online censorship system.

While developing a woefully oppressive model of Internet management, Iran is participating actively in international talks about Internet governance that are being held as part of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), the press organisation said.

“These new measures point to an ideological hardening in the Iranian government and a desire by the new president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, to centralise authority,” Reporters Without Borders said. “They also show that factions exist within the conservatives, as the latest website to be banned,, is run by supporters of the Islamic Republic’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei.”

“We are also worried by statements coming from the company that seems to have been given the job of managing Iran’s Internet filters,” the press freedom organisation added. “If what this company’s chief executive turns out to be correct, online surveillance and censorship is to be stepped up. This is very bad news for Iranian bloggers and Internet users.”

Iranian filtering currently uses the “smart filter” technology developed by the US company Websense, which claims the Iranian authorities never paid to license this software. Iranian Internet censorship is not homogenous and varies according to the ISP used, of which Iran has several hundred. So a website may be accessible in one city and blocked in another.

...A court meanwhile on 12 October “provisionally” banned the news website although it belongs to former Revolutionary Guards commander Mohssen Rezai, a supporter of Ayatollah Khamenei, and is supposed to be backed by the Iranian intelligence services.

Baztab published reports that were embarrassing for the president. The site’s editor, Foad Sadeghi, said it was banned as a result of a complaint by the secretariat of the High Council for National Security about its articles on the nuclear negotiations that are currently under way.

The ban points to internal struggles within the conservative camp, between President Ahmadinejad’s supporters and those still loyal to Ayatollah Khamenei. It seems that the president, with the support of the military, is trying to take control of the internal state apparatus and impose his mentor, Ayatollah Mesbah, as Khamenei’s successor.

Henry Kissinger: Iran must understand that we mean it seriously

Former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, 82, talks with Spiegel about the risks of the war in Iraq, Iran's current nuclear crisis, clashes with Europe and China's future role in global politics. The following excerpt concerns the 'Iran' part of the interview:

Kissinger: ...Neither Japan, China nor Russia want to see another atomic power in Asia. These joint efforts will lead to a result. There will be a bit more to and fro as far as the details are concerned, but the basic decisions have been made.

SPIEGEL: Are you similarly optimistic about the situation in Iran?

Kissinger: At some point in Washington the most important decision will have to be taken. The question is who will get the upper hand: those who believe in regime change or those who favor negotiations? But let me make one important point: I was involved in decision-making processes when there were two superpowers. At that time one could be pretty sure that both sides would exert the same amount of restraint before starting an atomic war. And on top of that just imagine what complicated thought processes both went through trying to work out the opponent's possible behavior. The whole system of international relations is going to have to change. We have to bear this in mind when looking at Iran. The democratic countries have to keep an eye on the consequences of the spread of nuclear weapons and ask themselves what they would have done if the Madrid bombs had been nuclear. Or if the attackers in New York had used nuclear weapons, or if 50,000 people had died in New Orleans in a nuclear attack. The world would look very different than it does today. So we have to ask ourselves how much energy we want to put into fighting the problem of further proliferation of nuclear weapons.

SPIEGEL: At what point should the UN Security Council start dealing with Iran's atomic program?

Kissinger: We should avoid another confrontation in the Security Council until we know exactly what we want to and are able to achieve. Iran is more important than North Korea. It is a more significant country and there are more options.

SPIEGEL: Is there a military option?

Kissinger: Tactically speaking it would be unwise to rule out a military option. But every time someone says America should have this as an option, all hell breaks loose. It is important that we agree on the dangers of proliferation. And by this I don't mean just having another meeting of foreign ministers. We should see what pressures and incentives we have at our disposal. But Iran must also understand that we all mean it seriously. Naturally nobody wants another crisis in this region...

To read the interview in full go here.