Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Bush and Blair meet Iranian opposition

The Financial Times-US President George W. Bush and Tony Blair, the UK prime minister, have received separate background briefings from Iranian opposition activists, including one visitor to the White House on Tuesday who caused a storm earlier this month by reporting Iran had passed a law requiring Jews to wear special identification.

Contacts at such a high level with Iranian opposition activists are likely to raise concerns in Tehran while the US and UK lead diplomatic efforts to get Iran to abandon its nuclear fuel programme.

White House officials said Amir Taheri, a London-based former editor, was among a group of experts invited to discuss Iraq and the region with Mr Bush.

Mr Taheri is well known for his support of the war in Iraq and regime change in Iran.

,,,In London, a UK spokeswoman confirmed that Mr Blair had met Iranian opposition activists for a “background briefing”. She declined to say who had given the briefing, which she said was not a policy discussion.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Student unrest in Tehran continues


Rooz Online-Last Wednesday too most of the universities in Tehran witnessed unrest. Campus police whose force has tremendously increased in size since the beginning of the Persian year (March 22, 2006), and during the last 48 hours has put more officers in the field. Being novices may partly explain the extreme brutality used by the force in these events. Azeri students who had staged their own demonstration to protest the publication of insulting cartoons in pro-government Iran newspaper also joined the students in their calls. They began their strike at the Pardis College of Literature and continued for a few hours...

More...

Is the US really willing to talk with THIS regime?

An Iranian woman is set on by two club-wielding thugs of the Islamic Republic Police force. Her crime? A major one in Iran: Her scarf has fallen down. The look of agony on the girl's face simply speaks a thousand words.

This is how Iranian people are being treated by this regime on an everyday basis. How can the United States, whose President frequently speaks of bringing about conditions of freedom and justice in the world, even consider talking with a regime who treats its own citizens like this?

Reza Pahlavi urges action on Iran

Reuters-POTOMAC, Maryland -- The exiled son of Iran's late shah on Monday called on the Bush administration to put action before rhetoric in ousting Tehran's Islamic regime, which he said has long been the source of global instability.

Reza Pahlavi, 45, the eldest son of the late Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, said Iranians are ready to actively oppose the Islamic regime of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, but need more than pro-democratic utterances from world leaders like U.S. President George W. Bush.

"Fantastic, we love to hear that, motherhood and apple pie," Pahlavi said of Bush's statements that the United States supports a free, democratic Iran. "What remains to be seen again is in what concrete way the U.S. administration will take the necessary steps," Pahlavi told Reuters in an interview at his home in a suburb of Washington, flanked by the Iranian flag and portraits of his mother and father, the U.S.-backed monarch who was deposed in the 1979 Islamic revolution.

The United States and other nations should actively support Iran's dissident groups and give them the technical gear and expertise to get their message out, Pahlavi said. Pahlavi said regime change in Iran will leave the Middle East a safer place, and said that Iran's clerics have long been a prime mover behind violence in Iraq, Lebanon and Sudan.

More...

Monday, May 29, 2006

The Best of Youth

The unexpected shut-down of Toronto's TTC not only turned this weekend, in a pleasantly surprising way, into a long one, but also allowed me to watch a wonderful, almost seven-hour Italian movie called "La Meglio gioventù" or "The Best of Youth".

"The Best of Youth" is a masterpiece which makes the Italian Cinema proud and deserves a big "bellissimo!" . The movie chronicles the life of an Italian family from the mid 60's into the early 2000's.

It is the story of life with all its ups and downs, heartwarming moments and heart-breaking sorrows. The movie is full of unexpected turns, as life itself is; making you laugh and yet, at times, moving you to tears. There are moments in this movie when we remember how beautiful life can get and moments when we are reminded what a thin line exists between a mountain of happiness and a sea of sadness.

The nuances of relationships between the characters, the ups and downs each of them go through in different stages of their lives, the plot the movie's director 'Marco Tullio Giordana' chooses to walk us through four decades of Italy's contemporary history and last but definitely not least, the wonderful acting by Luigi Lo Cascio, Alessio Boni, Adriana Asti and the beautiful Maya Sensa who is of Italian and Iranian descent, makes this movie a true piece of art.

"La Meglio gioventù" now definitely sits on the top five list of the best movies I have ever seen. Just a quick word of advice: Don't be daunted by the runtime of the movie. If you adore great movies as much as I do, you'll sure want this Italian gem to never end.

The nuclear crisis: What's with Iran's new political maneuvers?

Kash Kheirkhah

The New York Times is reporting today that " Iran appears to have slowed its drive to produce nuclear fuel, according to European diplomats who have reviewed reports from inspectors inside the country." and that "The diplomats say the slowdown may be part of a deliberate Iranian strategy to lower the temperature of its standoff with the West over its nuclear program, and perhaps to create an opening for Washington to join the negotiations directly."

This development comes right after the recent revelations that the Iranian leadership-through some back channels-- is doing all it can to lure the US into direct talks with it.

What I see happening here is a pattern of deception fed to Iran's leaders by some behind-the scene hands. Russians' or whoever these hands belong to, the strategy they have engineered is crystal clear: First, to give countries such as Russia, China, a bargaining chip to use in the ongoing, never-ending negotiations over Iran's nuclear crisis in the Security Council and also against any form of sanctions proposed by the US and its allies, and second, to exert more pressure on the US to embark on a long, fruitless path of negotiations with mullahs, long enough for them to feel out of danger.

It's just like soccer game for those of you who are familiar with this fascinating game. Imagine your team is ahead by one goal and there's just 20 minutes left of the game. What would you do? Would you keep attacking, thus risking your advantage or would you maintain the ball's possession, trying to cool things down and even kill as much time as you can to limit your opponent's scoring chances until the game is finally over?

That's what mullahs are doing. They believe they have now passed the point of no return, "joined the club" so to speak. So, what they now need to do is avoid creating more tensions. By maneuvers such as these, they can keep the doors of political bargaining open for ever, thus creating deep frictions not only between the major world powers, but in the US as well. Just consider how, by every single move on their part (such as that meaningless letter) more US politicians, even within the GOP, have joined the ranks of those who are calling for direct talks with Iran.

Will the US continue to let Iran maintain its finger on the pulse of the game until the game is over?

U.S. urges financial sanctions on Iran

Washington Post- The Bush administration is pressing Europe and Japan to impose wide-ranging sanctions designed to stifle the Iranian leadership financially if diplomatic efforts fail to resolve an impasse over the country's nuclear program, according to internal government memos and interviews with three U.S. officials involved.

The plan is designed to curtail the financial freedom of every Iranian official, individual and entity the Bush administration considers connected not only to nuclear enrichment efforts but to terrorism, government corruption, suppression of religious or democratic freedom, and violence in Iraq, Lebanon, Israel and the Palestinian territories. It would restrict the Tehran government's access to foreign currency and global markets, shut its overseas accounts and freeze assets held in Europe and Asia.

The United States, which has imposed unilateral sanctions on Iran for nearly three decades, would shoulder few of the costs of its ambitious new proposal. But internal U.S. assessments suggest that the sanctions could not hurt Tehran without causing significant economic pain for Washington's friends. That calculation has made the plan a difficult sell, especially in capitals such as Rome and Tokyo, which import significant quantities of Iranian oil.

With Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Japan on board, collective sanctions would "isolate the Iranian regime" and see it "shunned by the international financial community," according to one internal Bush administration memo.

Under the plan, the major allies involved would freeze Iranian government accounts and financial assets in their countries, much as the United States did after Iranian students took over the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in 1979. Iranian officials who appear on lists being drawn up by U.S. officials would be prevented from opening accounts, trading on foreign markets or obtaining credit.

More...

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Message of freedom from Damascus to Tehran

From president Bush's Commencement Address at the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York, on May 27, 2006:

...We have made clear that the war on terror is an ideological struggle between tyranny and freedom. When President Truman spoke here for the 150th anniversary of West Point, he told the Class of 1952: "We can't have lasting peace unless we work actively and vigorously to bring about conditions of freedom and justice in the world." That same principle continues to guide us in today's war on terror. Our strategy to protect America is based on a clear premise: The security of our nation depends on the advance of liberty in other nations. On September the 11th, 2001, we saw that problems originating in a failed and oppressive state 7,000 miles away could bring murder and destruction to our country. And we learned an important lesson: Decades of excusing and accommodating the lack of freedom in the Middle East did nothing to make us safe. So long as the Middle East remains a place where freedom does not flourish, it will remain a place where terrorists foment resentment and threaten American security.

So we are pursuing a forward strategy of freedom in the Middle East. I believe the desire for liberty is universal -- and by standing with democratic reformers across a troubled region, we will extend freedom to millions who have not known it -- and lay the foundation of peace for generations to come.

We're still in the early stages of this struggle for freedom and, like those first years of the Cold War, we've seen setbacks, and challenges, and days that have tested America's resolve. Yet we've also seen days of victory and hope. We've seen people in Afghanistan voting for the first democratic parliament in a generation. We have seen jubilant Iraqis dancing in the streets, holding up ink-stained fingers, celebrating their freedom. We've seen people in Lebanon waving cedar flags and securing the liberty and independence of their land. We've seen people in Kyrgyzstan drive a corrupt regime from power and vote for democratic change. In the past four years alone, more than 110 million human beings across the world have joined the ranks of the free -- and this is only the beginning. The message has spread from Damascus to Tehran that the future belongs to freedom -- and we will not rest until the promise of liberty reaches every people and every nation...

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Turkey will not become an Iran

Newsweek - June 5, 2006 issue - The scene was sadly familiar, especially in the strife-torn Middle East. In the shadow of a great mosque, a crowd of 40,000 gathered to bury a victim of political violence—and vent their rage at the authorities. But this was not Iraq or the Palestinian territories. It was downtown Ankara. Nor were the demonstrators angry Islamist fanatics. They were judges, bureaucrats and businessmen, staunch secularists shouting out their loyalty to the state—and denouncing a government they say is taking Turkey down a dangerously Islamic path. "Turkey is secular and will remain secular," they chanted. "Turkey will not become an Iran."

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Saturday, May 27, 2006

Iran & the US: Direct talks toward what ends?

Kash Kheirkhah

As I reported in my previous post, the Bush administration is under a great deal of pressure these days to engage in direct talks with the Iranian regime. Even former secretary of states, Henry Kissinger joined the fray a few days ago, calling Ahmadinejad's letter " a sign that Tehran may want to settle the nuclear row "and urging President Bush to follow up on that letter.

What I don't understand here is that how such talks are possible at all when there exists a leadership in Iran which times and again openly calls for the destruction of another nation, orders the arrest, imprisonment and torture of Iranian intellectuals and journalists, cries out loud that it hates Western ideals and democracy, funds the terrorist groups in the Middle east and most importantly, blames all its shortcomings and incompetence on a hypothetical enemy called "The Great Satan?"

Under these circumstances, what purpose can such talks serve if the Iranian regime continues to do and say what it has been doing and saying for the past 27 years? What results did three years of negotiations between the EU3 and Iran bring about? Most of all, what issues of substance could ever be found in the 16-page diatribe Ahmadinejad sent to Bush that can practically be followed up on?

I personally see the recent overtures of the Iranian regime toward the US as another political chicanery meant to buy more time for the Iranian regime and string the current US administration along until it is out of office. Facing a deepening economic crisis inside and growing international pressure outside, the Iranian leadership is trying to play the same game it did with the Europeans for three years, during which it managed to develop its nuclear program while fooling the world into thinking the negotiations were working.

The regime in Iran sees the US "regime change" policy as the biggest threat yet to its existence and will do anything--even if anything means negating the past revolutionary ideals for a while--to survive this political whirlpool. But as Tony Blair rightly mentioned in George Town University, the world will not breathe a sigh of relief until Iran changes and that change will never occur unless the current regime in Iran is over and done with.

There can't be a middle ground between negotiations and 'regime change'. The US should choose one.

Should US engage in direct talks with Iran?

The debate is heating up as to whether the US should--for the first time after 1979 revolution-- openly engage in direct talks with the Iranian regime. I believe that'll soon be the only option left for the US if it can't gain Russia's support for the sanctions or achieve its 'regime change' goal in Iran :

The New York Times-U.S. Is Debating Talks With Iran on Nuclear Issue: WASHINGTON, -- The Bush administration is beginning to debate whether to set aside a longstanding policy taboo and open direct talks with Iran, to help avert a crisis over Tehran's suspected nuclear weapons program, European officials and Americans close to the administration said Friday.

Los Angeles Times-GOP Heavy Hitters Pressuring White House to Talk With Iran: WASHINGTON -- Amid concern that the U.S. is drifting toward eventual confrontation with Iran, a growing number of influential statesmen, Republican senators and foreign policy experts are stepping up pressure on the Bush administration to consider doing what no U.S. administration has done in 27 years: talk directly with Iran.

Council on Foreign Relations-Paul Kerr: U.S. Should Offer Not to Seek Iran Regime Change: Paul Kerr, a non-proliferation expert for the Arms Control Association in Washington, says any deal worked out by Western countries, Russia and China with Iran would probably have to include a pledge by the United States not to seek regime change in Iran in exchange for Iran's agreement on limiting its nuclear program.

David Ignatius, The Washington Post-It's Time to Engage With Iran: There's no guarantee that a policy of engagement will work. The Iranian regime's desire to acquire nuclear weapons may be so unyielding that Tehran and Washington will remain on a collision course. But America and its allies will be in a stronger position for responding to Iranian calls for dialogue. Openness isn't a concession by America, it's a strategic weapon.

Charles Krauthammer, The Washington Post- Direct Talks With Iran? No, Unless... : You want us to talk? Fine. We will go there but only if you arm us with the largest stick of all: your public support for military action if the talks fail. The mullahs already fear economic sanctions; they will fear European-backed U.S. military action infinitely more. Such negotiations might actually accomplish something.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Riots in Tehran universities: 'we don't want nuclear energy'

Memri-Several media outlets in Iran reported, albeit in a restricted and censured fashion, that there has been rioting on several university campuses in Tehran for the past four days. The reformist Internet daily Rooz reported that over 500 members of riot-control units have besieged the Tehran University campus, and that there have been clashes between rioting students and Basij and police forces.

The riots broke out following a student protest over what appeared to be a purge of the academic faculty of Tehran University. This coincided with the marking of the "Second of Khordad," the day of the Persian month of Khordad on which Mohammad Khatami was first elected president of Iran (May 23, 1997).

During the riots, eight student leaders were arrested, and, according to eyewitnesses quoted in Rooz, 25 of those under siege in the campus were wounded, five of them severely. Eyewitnesses reported that students were chanting anti-regime slogans, such as "We don't want nuclear energy" and "Forget Palestine - think of us."

The eyewitnesses also reported that Iranian security forces fired live bullets, and that shots were fired at homes outside the university. One of the students told Rooz: "The university campus is on fire, raids are being conducted throughout the campus, and the students are in fear and anxiety... Gunfire is heard from all directions... There is blood everywhere." The university's telephone lines were reported to have been cut.

More...

Thursday, May 25, 2006

National Post apologizes for anti-Iran story

Reuters - A Canadian newspaper apologized on Wednesday for a story that said Iran planned to force Jews and other religious minorities to wear distinctive clothing to distinguish themselves from Muslims.

The conservative National Post ran the story on its front page last Friday along with a large photo from 1944 which showed a Hungarian couple wearing the yellow stars that the Nazis forced Jews to sew to their clothing.

The story, which included tough anti-Iran comments from prominent Jewish groups, was picked up widely by Web sites and by other media.

"Is Iran turning into the new Nazi Germany? Share your opinion online," the paper asked readers last Friday.

But the National Post, a long-time supporter of Israel and critic of Tehran, admitted on Wednesday it had not checked the piece thoroughly enough before running it.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Iran is not and will never be Nazi Germany

Kash Kheirkhah

Amir Taheri's untrue article on the new dress code for religious minorities has once again been published, this time in the conservative NY Post.

As an Iranian who is unequivocally opposed to the diabolical regime in Iran and its inhumane policies, I wanna let all my foreign readers specially Jewish ones know one thing for sure: Iran is NOT Nazi Germany and will never become one even under the current hate-mongering leadership.

For centuries, Iran has been a safe haven for a wide range of ethnic and religious minorities, from Armenians who fled Turkey to Jews who have found solace in Iran for more than 2500 years.

As Doctor Abbas Milani, director of the Iranian studies program at Stanford University and a co-director of the Iran Democracy Project at the Hoover Institution, recently wrote in the International Herald Tribune:

"The Jewish feast of Purim celebrates the story of how Esther, queen to a Persian king, saved the Jews of the kingdom from annihilation. But along with the benevolence of Cyrus and the wisdom of Esther, there also lurked on the horizon the evil vizier, Haman of the race of Agog, whose mind and heart were darkened by rancor and hate.

Today, there sits in place of Cyrus one who has inherited not the magnanimity of Cyrus, but the malice of Haman: President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who openly calls for Israel to be wiped off the map.

Even in the modern history of Iran, the two strands, one lofty and humane, the other base, have continued to thrive side by side. In 1941, as Hitler was beginning to put in motion his murderous final solution, the Iranian government convinced Nazi race experts that Iranian Jews had lived in Iran for 2,500 years, were fully assimilated members of the Persian nation and must be afforded all the rights of Iranian citizens.

The Nazis accepted the argument, and the lives of Iranian Jews residing in Europe were saved. Moreover, thousands of European Jews were saved when Iranian diplomats provided them with Iranian passports. And in the years after World War II, the Iranian government and people were exceedingly helpful - according to Israel's first ambassador to Iran - in facilitating the travel of hundreds of Iraqi Jews escaping persecution and heading for what was soon to be Israel. "

Now 27 years of theocratic despotism CAN NOT change what has existed in our hospitable culture for thousands of years . It’s true that since Ayatollahs' ascendance to power in 1979, tens of thousands of Jews have had to leave Iran, but by the same token MILLIONS of Iranians of other ethnic and religious backgrounds--majority of whom Shias-- have had to leave Iran too. It's not only the rights of Jews that are being trammeled by the current regime; it's the rights of every single Iranian, regardless of their ethnic or religious backgrounds.

To let you know how a typical Iranian thinks of this issue, let me draw your attention to the following comment posted on my blog by a buddy of mine who is one of the million Iranians forced into exile:

"Everybody who knows me knows that there is nothing in this world that I hate more than mullahs in Iran but this story was not fair and true and i am very disappointed with mr Tahery who used to be my favorite journalist. So i say it here even if this law was passed in Iran, nobody could enforce such a stupid law in a Country like Iran which is the nation of lawlessness, unlike Canada or The West. I simply would like to mention that no matter what religion or gender u have in Iran, your basic rights are being violated on a daily basis. So There is not a united Muslim population who oppresses minorities in Iran but there is a minority of Mullahs who are repressing all Iranians including Muslims (Sunni, Shia, Sufis ..), Christians and of course Jews who are no exception."

That's why it's important for all you who follow Iran's developments these days to know there's no way the Iranian people can be compared to the Hitlerite crowd who supported Hitler and his crimes against humanity half a century ago. Once again as Dr Milani beautifully puts it:

"The captive people of Iran, or the millions forced into exile by the regime, must not be held responsible for the sins of the ruling cabal. Instead we must try to find ways to help the Iranian people achieve their hundred-year-old dream of democracy. Only in a genuine democracy can the spirit of Cyrus be truly celebrated and the shadow of Haman expunged. "


  • The Financial Times: US Hails the Iranian People But Not Their 'Lunatic' Leaders Voice of America is not in the business of persuading Iranians to overthrow their government, declares David Jackson, director of the US-government funded radio-television station, but he notes he does receive an amazing number of e-mails from Iranians saying: “Please invade Iran!”

  • Amir Taheri Stands By His Story: Regarding the dress code story it seems that my column was used as the basis for a number of reports that somehow jumped the gun. As far as my article is concerned I stand by it.

  • Independent : At more than 20,000, Iran remains home to the largest Jewish community in the Middle East outside Israel, despite post-revolutionary emigration that saw tens of thousands leave. Those who remain say emigration has slowed and those who have stayed are unlikely to change their minds.

    Now, Iranian Jews are worried and angered by their President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's denial of the Holocaust. Haroun Yashayaie, head of Tehran's Jewish Committee, wrote to him in February, saying his comments caused "fear" in his community.


Iranian Jews in Israel worry for former homeland

TEL AVIV (Reuters) - Tehran-born Israeli Meir Javedanfar fondly recalls sitting around a television set with his Muslim friends back in Iran drinking copious cups of sweet tea while proudly watching the national soccer team play.

With a growing crisis between the West and Iran over its nuclear program, Javedanfar is among many Iranian Jews living in Israel who fear a possible attack on their former homeland.
"I am strongly against any war with Iran as I do not want to see Iranian people hurt," said Javedanfar, a 32-year-old Iranian analyst, staring at the lapping waves on the beachfront of Tel Aviv, an Israeli city where many Iranian Jews live.

The history of Iran's Jewish community, once over 100,000 strong, stretches back over 2,500 years to the ancient Persian empire. They are sometimes called "Esther's Children" after a Jewish queen of Persia.

More...

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Baghdad's Lionel Richie obsession

Amazing, isn't it?

ABC News-Grown Iraqi men get misty-eyed by the mere mention of his name. "I love Lionel Richie," they say. Iraqis who do not understand a word of English can sing an entire Lionel Richie song.

This is the same Lionel Richie who wrote "Say You, Say Me." This is the same Lionel Richie who is the father of some young woman named Nicole. Yes, that Lionel Richie. Could he really be an Iraqi icon?

More...

Saturday, May 20, 2006

'The Da Vinci Code' works

The internet has been abuzz for the past couple of days with an overwhelmingly high number of negative reviews for Ron Howard's The Da Vinci Code. But I beg to differ. The Da Vinci Code is an intirguing movie full of twists and back to back revelations which will keep you on the edge of your seat IF you haven't already read the book. So why all the negative reviews?

I believe Dan Brown's over-hyped book has raised the expectaions for the movie leading many critics to be so unfairly tough on Howard. So, as you go to this movie, expect a typical yet fascinating thriller and nothing more.

On the acting though I would agree with the critics. Tom Hanks and the very pretty Audrey Tautou both do only an ok job in their roles whereas it's sir Ian McKellen definitely who steals the show.

One more thing: The movie has a slow pace at the beginning and then begin to grows on you. I guess The Da Vinci Code is one of those movie experiences that will be all the more enjoyable if watched for more than once.

Latest on Iran's nuclear crisis

AP - VIENNA -- World powers are considering dropping U.N. Security Council involvement in Iran's nuclear file if Tehran agrees to suspend uranium enrichment but could push for sanctions backed by the threat of force if the Islamic state refuses, diplomats said Saturday.

Citing from a draft proposal being considered by the five Security Council nations plus Germany, one of the diplomats said it could still undergo revision before the six nations sit down Wednesday to approve it. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to reveal elements of the draft.

The proposal says the international community will "agree to suspend discussion of Iran's file at the Security Council," if Tehran resumes discussion on its nuclear program, suspends enrichment during such talks and lifts a ban on intrusive inspections by the U.N. nuclear watchdog. It also offers help in "the building of new light-water reactors in Iran," offers an assured supply of nuclear fuel for up to five years and asks Tehran to accept a plan that would move its enrichment program to Russia.

If Iran does not cooperate, however, the draft calls for bans on travel visas, freezing assets and banning financial transactions of key government figures and those involved in Iran's nuclear program; an arms embargo, and other measures including an embargo on shipping refined oil products to Iran. While Iran is a major exporter of crude it has a shortage of gasoline and other oil derivatives. "Where appropriate, these measures would be adopted under Chapter VII, Article 41 of the U.N. Charter," says the draft, referring to provisions that add the implicit threat of military force to a Security Council resolution.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Is National Post's "Badge Plan" story true?

This morning, Canada's "National Post" published a controversial report, citing "Iranian expatriates living in Canada" reporting that the Iranian parliament, called the Islamic Majlis, had passed a law this week setting a dress code for all Iranians, requiring them to wear almost identical standard Islamic garments. The report also added that " The law, which must still be approved by Iran's Supreme Guide Ali Khamenehi before being put into effect, also establishes special insignia to be worn by non-Muslims. Iran's roughly 25,000 Jews would have to sew a yellow strip of cloth on the front of their clothes, while Christians would wear red badges and Zoroastrians would be forced to wear blue cloth." The report is no not available online but Amir Taheri has written a new report on the same issue here.

Since then, the news has sent shockwaves through out the world. Prime Minister Stephen Harper called the news 'abhorrent' and even went so far as to say that news reports that Iran could require Jews and Christians to wear coloured labels in public might be true, adding" Iran's hardline Islamist government has proven itself capable of such extremism."

Australian Prime Minister John Howard said,"If that [the news] is true I would find that totally repugnant. It obviously echoes the most horrible period of genocide in the world's history - the marking of Jewish people with a mark on their clothing by the Nazis."

In Iran, Iran's only Jewish MP strongly denied reports in a Canadian newspaper overnight that Iran may force non-Muslims to wear coloured badges in public so they can be identified. "This report is a complete fabrication and is totally false," Maurice Motammed said in Tehran. "It is a lie, and the people who invented it wanted to make political gain" by doing so.

In Washington, The State Department said Friday it was concerned about the reports on a special clothing rule for Iranian minorities. Spokesman Sean McCormack said such a measure would be "despicable" and carry "clear echoes of Germany under Hitler." McCormack said he could not comment further because the precise nature of the proposal was unclear.

Note: The original bill is a draft law that would discourage women from wearing Western clothing, increase taxes on imported clothes and fund an advertising campaign to encourage citizens to wear Islamic-style garments. You can read more about it here.

I still have difficulty finding reliable sources such as AP or Reuters confirming this story. The National Post cites Iranians living in Canada as its sources but doesn't say how they got a hold of this news. Still, the draft requiring women to dress more conservatively and avoid Western fashions is horrendous enough. As for the 'Badge Story', it may not be true, but as Stephen Harper says, Islamic Government in Iran has proven itself capable of such extremism and that's why most people here in the West won't be even surprised to hear about it, let alone bother to check if it is true or not - Kash

Update: National Post now says that the report may not be true (although the damage is done): Several experts are casting doubt on reports that Iran had passed a law requiring the country’s Jews and other religious minorities to wear coloured badges identifying them as non-Muslims.

...Sam Kermanian, of the U.S.-based Iranian-American Jewish Federation, said in an interview from Los Angeles that he had contacted members of the Jewish community in Iran — including the lone Jewish member of the Iranian parliament — and they denied any such measure was in place.

Ali Reza Nourizadeh, an Iranian commentator on political affairs in London, suggested that the requirements for badges or insignia for religious minorities was part of a “secondary motion” introduced in parliament, addressing the changes specific to the attire of people of various religious backgrounds.

Mr. Nourizadeh said that motion was very minor and was far from being passed into law.

That account could not be confirmed.

L.A. Times: U.S. moves to weaken Iran

A campaign to promote democracy and fund dissidents prompts speculation that the administration's goal is to change the regime.

Laura Rozen- U.S. officials have taken a series of steps to increase pressure on Iran, most recently creating new offices in the State Department and Pentagon specifically to bolster opposition to the Tehran government. In February, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice asked Congress for $75 million to supplement $10 million in funds to promote democracy, aid Iranian dissidents and expand the Voice of America's Persian-language broadcasts beamed across the Persian Gulf from Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates.

The administration's efforts are taking shape on the second floor of the State Department, where a new Office of Iranian Affairs has been charged with leading the push to back Iranian dissidents more aggressively, boost support to democracy broadcasters and strengthen ties with exiles. Nearby at the Pentagon, an Iranian directorate will work with the State Department office to undercut the government in Tehran.

The State Department's new Iranian Affairs office is headed by David Denehy, a longtime democracy specialist at the International Republican Institute, who will work under Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Elizabeth Cheney, daughter of the vice president. Recently, Denehy and other officials went to Los Angeles for meetings with Iranian exiles and the Persian-language media. The purpose was to inform them of the government's plans, get feedback and — perhaps not a secondary consideration — create a buzz within the Iranian American diaspora and its satellite media outlets, which are beamed into Tehran.

At the Pentagon, the new Iranian directorate has been set up inside its policy shop, which previously housed the Office of Special Plans. The controversial intelligence analysis unit, established before the Iraq war, championed some of the claims of Ahmad Chalabi. A number of assertions made by the former Iraqi exile and onetime Pentagon favorite were later discredited. Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Barry Venable declined to name the acting director of the new Iran office and would say only that the appointee was a "career civil servant." Among those staffing or advising the Iranian directorate are three veterans of the Office of Special Plans: Abram N. Shulsky, its former director; John Trigilio, a Defense Intelligence Agency analyst; and Ladan Archin, an Iran specialist.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Don't talk to the mullahs

Christopher Hitchens's new article on Iran is, as always, a wonderful read:

There is an excellent case to be made for initiating an imaginative diplomatic overture to Iran, or rather to the Iranians, and I did my best to lay it out. But this case is not strengthened by the demented letter recently made public by the man posing as Iran's president.

I say "posing," because, however many times our media babble about his "landslide" victory in Iran's "elections," everybody knows that he was put in by the reigning mullahs at the very last moment, after all independent and reformist candidates had been eliminated from the process, and that the counting of the votes was an insult to the meanest intelligence. I repeat the word "posing," because, even as he was putting his signature to the infantile diatribe he dispatched to President Bush, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was being further exposed to his own people and the world as the wretched puppet that he is.

...Bear in mind that almost all Iranians are now within reach of a satellite dish, a cell phone, or a foreign broadcast—and that we have a talented and resourceful Iranian diaspora in Europe and North America. The president could have added two things. The first is that, since Western technology helped to build the Iranian reactors in the first place, there is no need for Iran to go pirating for centrifuges and other techniques on the black market as it has repeatedly been caught doing. If a peaceful nuclear program is truly what it wants, we alone can help maintain and enhance it. The second is that Iran is standing on a cobweb network of earthquake "faults" that will, with absolute certainty, produce yet another devastating chain of earthquakes in the next few years. (So awful is this predicament that, after the total destruction of the city of Bam in 2003, even the mullahs considered removing the wildly overcrowded and dysfunctional capital city from Tehran to Esfahan.)

...This is no longer a matter of "public diplomacy" or "image" or "making nice." A wrecked Iran in one form or another is an immediate and urgent danger, and the pathetic religious demagogue at its merely titular summit is of no more significance than a false prophet screeching in a real wilderness. Almost everything that went wrong in Iraq went wrong because we postponed the real decisions until it was almost too late. President Bush has a chance to redeem this by speaking directly to the Iranian people and the international community and bypassing the wicked men who have run a noble country into a swamp of beggary, violence, crime, corruption, and disaster.

Well said Mr Hitchens.

Read it in full here.

There's no other way than reform for Iran-Shirin Ebadi

Nobel laureate and human rights activist Shirin Ebadi tells Spiegel she sees "reform" as the only way out of the current deadlock for Iran and Iranians. It would have been great though if she had taken the trouble to say how under the current system in Iran "reforms" are possible at all.

By the way Ms. Ebadi, wouldn't you serve your country better if--as a human rights activist and not a politician-- instead of taking every single opportunity to knock the US president, check into the state of Iranian political prisoners such as Ramin Jahanbeglou or Mansour Osanlou?

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Reza Pahlavi's interview with James Rubin on Sky TV

"... Iranians are the best remedy and army against the evil represented by the current regime and the best investment that the world could make, on one hand, to put an end to the problems associated with the continued existence of the current regime, and on the other hand strengthening the hopes of a nation that wants to inspire modernity, freedom and democracy, is to engage them and have a dialogue with them and help them achieve what could bring an end to this entire quagmire..."

To view the interview visit:
http://www.rezapahlavi.org/audiovideo/SkyTV-JamesRubin.html

More on Ramin Jahanbegloo

For more on Ramin jahanbegloo--a prominent Canadian-Iranian political philosopher who was arrested at Tehran airport several days ago on the trumped-up charges of spying-- visit here: raminj.iranianstudies.ca

We are still waiting for the first official reaction from the Government of Canada, regarding Jahanbegloo's arrest.

Coming out of retirement

In the past three months I have been away from the Newsroom, I have kept receiving emails from friends and kind readers of this blog, urging me to come back and write again. Most messages I get insist that I should write at least once a week, so that my readers--specially the foreign ones-- will still be able to get a better grasp of the news regarding Iran.

The thing is I've really been busy for the past couple of months. Moving from Montreal to Toronto and looking for a job in the media have practically left me no time to sit down and write as freely as I used to. I'm now more or less settled in Toronto although I'm still trying to land a job in broadcast news and that's the primary reason why I moved at all.

So, will I write again here? Well, yes. But I won't be able to write every day. I'll probably be back here every weekend, trying to sum up the highlights of the week. I'll keep writing about my other passion, movies, too.

Once again, let me tell you how grateful I am for all the kind notes you have sent me, asking me to return. I'm really flattered. Let's take it from here and see where it all leads to.