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  • 7 February 2014
  • Posted By Samia Basille
  • 0 Comments
  • MEK, Persian Gulf

House Hearing Examines Iran-Iraq Relations

Brett McGurk, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Iraq and Iran, spoke at a House Committee on Foreign Affairs hearing about Al Qaeda’s resurgence in Iraq on Wednesday, February 5. Answering the questions of several lawmakers, he notably addressed the critical role that Iran plays in the complicated Iraqi political realm.

When Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY) expressed concern over supposed close ties between Iraqi senior officials and the Iranian government, mentioning reports that Iraq is allowing Iran to fly over its territory to arm Hezbollah in Syria, McGurk offered a more nuanced picture of the relationship between the two countries. While he acknowledged that Iraqis should be more active in seeking to stop overflights to Syria, he also stressed that “Iraq’s relation with Iran is multifaceted. . . We found very few instances in which we have seen Iraq acting at the behest of Iran.” He cited Iraq’s oil production, its ratification of the IAEA’s Additional Protocol in 2012, and their support of the Geneva 1 communiqué about transition of power in Syria as evidence that Iraq maintains independence from Iran.

According to McGurk, the Iraqi government is also careful to enforce international sanctions against Iran, although “they share a 3000 km border. There is trade, there are cultural ties. It’s impossible to stop everything.” He pointed out that Iraqis have increased their oil output and cut off many transactions with Iranian banks. Rep. George Holding (R-NC) mentioned negotiations between Iraq and Iran over the possible construction of a pipeline that would supply Iranian gas for new power plants in the Iraqi province of Basra. McGurk recognized that “the pipeline is concerning if it goes forward.”

The future of Camp Liberty, which shelters 2,900 members of Mujahedin e-Khalq (MEK) - a cult-like group widely opposed by Iranians that was only recently removed from the U.S. list of terrorist organizations - was also repeatedly questioned by lawmakers. The camp has been attacked by outside groups on several occasions, leading to efforts to relocate the camp’s residents. While the United Nations Assistance Mission in Iraq (UNAMI) seeks to relocate the militants outside of Iraq — some members were already relocated to Albania and Germany — the MEK’s leadership has ceased cooperating and has prevented further members from leaving the camp. As Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, Wendy Sherman, indicated last year, the MEK leadership has not allowed residents of the camp to know their options for relocation.

Rep. Ted Poe (R-TX) insisted that Iranian Americans living in his district are extremely worried about the lives of family members and friends belonging to the MEK. He told McGurk: “Many of those people are sitting behind you . . . wanting for help.” McGurk agreed that this issue should be an international human rights concern, and that countries around the world should work to relocate them.

While McGurk seemed confident that Iraq-Iran relations do not threaten U.S. interests, he insisted that such issues are not addressed in the current talks between the Western powers and Iran: “Given the existential threat that a nuclear Iran would pose to our interests in the region, we focus the nuclear negotiations specifically on the nuclear issue.”

  • 4 October 2012
  • Posted By Dylan Zehr
  • 0 Comments
  • Iranian American activism, MEK, Uncategorized

Media dupes lump entire Iranian-American community in with MEK

As Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad spoke at the United Nations, a large rally took place near the United Nations building. This participants were described as “Anti-Ahmadinejad protesters” (AFP), “anti-Iranian regime protesters” (CNN), merely “protesters” (NY Daily News, USA Today), “sponsored by groups including the Association of Iranian-Americans in New York & New Jersey” (CBSNewYork), and “a coalition of Iranian-American groups” (AP).

Let me show you a few pictures.

(c) Marcus Santos/New York Daily News

(c) Robert Deutsch/USAToday

(c) GaryofNYC/CNN

It may be subtle, but these are not actually pictures of an unaligned rally. I’m no expert, but it seems to me that when you spell out a message in giant mylar balloons, that’s probably the most important message of your rally.

  • 29 December 2011
  • Posted By Ardavon Naimi
  • 0 Comments
  • MEK, NIAC round-up, Sanctions, US-Iran War

Iran News Roundup 12/29

Italy supports oil sanctions

Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti said that the Italian government supports an oil embargo on Iran, provided certain exceptions are made for the Italian company Eni (Wall Street Journal 12/29).

Russian ambassador warns against Iran conflict

Vitaly Churkin, Russia’s ambassador to the United Nations said that a potential conflict between Iran and Western countries poses the “greatest danger” in the next year.

“Our consistent stand, our effort, is going to be targeted at doing whatever we can in order to prevent this scenario of regional catastrophe being carried out in 2012,” he said (RT 12/29).

MEK agrees to transfer 400 residents out of Ashraf

The leadership of the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK) has agreed to allow 400 of the more than 3,000 residents of Camp Ashraf to be transferred to a former U.S. Army base, where the United Nations will process the residents’ applications for refugee status. (McClatchy Newspapers 12/28).

Amir Hekmati’s mother speaks out

The mother of Amir Hekmati, the Iranian-American held in Iran on charges of espionage, said that her son is under duress and urged Iranian authorities to treat him fairly (Detroit Free Press 12/29).

Investigation casts doubt on lawsuit claiming Iran aided 9/11

An investigation reveals that the recent “findings of fact” by a District judge in Manhattan concluding Iran assisted al-Qaeda in the planning of the 9/11 attacks was based on testimony from anti-Islam activists and  individuals deemed “serial fabricators” by U.S. intelligence officials. The testimony went unchallenged because the Iranian government did not defend itself in court (Truthout 12/29).

Stuxnet computer virus may have four “cousins”

Reuters reports that the Stuxnet computer worm that damaged Iran’s nuclear program in 2010 was likely one of five cyber weapons developed at the same time (Reuters 12/28).  

Notable opinion: 

In an article for CNN, NIAC President Trita Parsi discusses how recent tensions surrounding the Strait of Hormuz is part of the escalating rhetoric between the U.S. and Iran, which could spiral out of control and lead to war:

Such is the logic of pressure politics – pressure begets pressure and along the way, both sides increasingly lose sight of their original endgames. As this conflict-dynamic takes over, the psychological cost of restraint rises, while further escalatory steps appear increasingly logical and justified. At some point – and we may already be there – the governments will no longer control the dynamics. Rather, the conflict dynamic will control the governments.

Though neither side may have intended to drive this towards open war, but rather to merely deter the other side or compel it to change its policies, pressure politics in the absence of real diplomacy has a logic of its own. This formula simply drives us towards confrontation, whether we intend it or not.

To read the full piece click here.

Additional Notable News:

The U.S. has agreed to sell F-15 fighter jets valued at nearly $30 billion to Saudi Arabia, reports The New York Times.

  • 28 December 2011
  • Posted By Ardavon Naimi
  • 0 Comments
  • Human Rights in Iran, MEK, NIAC round-up, Sanctions, US-Iran War

Iran News Roundup 12/28

Tensions increase in the Persian Gulf

Iran’s naval commander claimed today that Iran “has total control over” the Strait of Hormuz and that it would be “very easy” for Iran to close it.  The remarks come just one day after Iranian vice president Mohammad Reza-Rahimi threatened that Iran would close the strait if the West imposes sanctions on Iran’s oil exports.

The U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet replied that it would not “tolerate” any disruption of in the vital oil choke-point and that it is “always ready to counter malevolent actions to ensure freedom of navigation.”  (NY Times 12/28)

Oil prices rose 2% yesterday due in part to the escalating rhetoric.

Trita Parsi, president of the National Iranian American Council, noted that the situation is more dangerous than it might otherwise be because ‎”We are in a situation where there is essentially no communication between the Iranian government and the U.S. government.” (CNN 12/27)

Opposition leader dismisses upcoming elections

Opposition leader Mehdi Karoubi, who is currently under house arrest, dismissed Iran’s upcoming parliamentary election in March, reportedly saying “[Iranian] officials do not believe in the people’s vote and they are preparing themselves for a rubber-stamp election.” (Reuters 12/26)

Human rights watch

Iran’s prosecutor is seeking the death penalty against Amir Mirzaei Hekmati, an Iranian American accused of spying.  (Guardian 12/27)Iran is denying requests for consular access to Hekmati. (State Department 12/28)

The Iranian Revolutionary Court has sentenced Ibrahim Yazdi to eight years jail. The 80 year-old Iranian former foreign minister suffers from cancer and heart ailments. (AP 12/28)

The daughter of Iranian former president Akbar Rafsanjani is standing trial on charges of making anti-regime propaganda. She was previously arrested for taking part in protests after the 2009 presidential elections. (AFP 12/26)

Iran’s censorship of satellite television

The Wall Street Journal reports on Iran’s systematic jamming of satellite signals in order to control news and information. According to some estimates, 45% to 60% of Iranians watch satellite television, surpassing the numbers who have access to the Internet. (Wall Street Journal 12/27)

Romney attacks Paul over Iran

Presidential hopeful Mitt Romney criticized Ron Paul’s stance on Iran, arguing that “the greatest threat that Israel faces and frankly the greatest threat the world faces is a nuclear Iran.” (LA Times 12/28) The intensified attacks come as Paul has taken a lead in Iowa polls before next week’s caucus there. (Fivethirtyeight 12/28)

MEK resettlement to Camp Liberty

The United Nations and the Iraqi government have agreed to relocate Camp Ashraf residents to Camp Liberty. Secretary of Clinton welcomed the agreement and urged the MEK to work with the UN to facilitate the resettlement. The MEK has not indicated whether it will cooperate. (Washington Post 12/26)

Notable opinion: 

In an op-ed for the New York Times, Bennett Ramberg expresses concern that an Israeli or U.S. attack on Iran could result in both countries targeting the others’ nuclear facilities and releasing huge amounts of radiation.

“Anyone who is thinking of attacking Iran should be prepared for powerful blows and iron fists.” So declared Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, on Nov. 10, speaking in response to reports that Israel may strike Iran’s nuclear plants. But the risk of tit-for-tat attacks raises a specter few seem to recognize: the first radiological war in history.

General Masoud Jazayeri, deputy commander of Iran’s armed forces, indicated what “blows” and “fists” could mean when he warned last month that Dimona — the center of Israel’s never-acknowledged nuclear arms program — was “the most accessible target.”

[...]

Were a military attack [by Israel] to strike [Bushehr] at full power after months of operation, the release of radioactivity could be greater than at Chernobyl. Prevailing north, northwest winds would carry radioactive debris along the Gulf across sparsely populated regions. Given the size of the Bushehr plant, the lessons of Chernobyl and Fukushima tell us that Iran’s cleanup burden, energy loss and medical and population-relocation costs could approach hundreds of billions of dollars over decades.

To read the full piece click here.

Additional Notable News:

The Washington Post reports on the Obama Administration’s rapidly growing drone program, which is blurring long-standing lines between military and intelligence actions. (Washington Post 12/27)

Iran News Roundup 12/21

Iran’s currency tumbles

On Tuesday, Iran’s currency plummeted in value to its lowest level ever against the dollar (NY Times 12/20).

The Washington Post reports that the sudden drop followed the announcement by Iranian officials that Iran had cut trade ties with the UAE because of “anti-Iranian positions.” After Tuesday’s plunge, Iranian Vice President Rahimi backtracked on these statements, saying that the UAE had simply been “warned” not to go along with sanctions proposed by the U.S (Washington Post 12/20).

DOD walks back Panetta’s recent comments on Iran

 Yesterday, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta said that Iran could have a nuclear weapon as soon as next year. Pentagon officials clarified that this assertion is based on a highly aggressive timeline and actions that Iran has not yet taken (NY Times 12/20).

Camp Ashraf closure delayed

Iraqi’s prime minister Malaki said today that he has granted a six-month extension to the December 31st deadline (Salon 12/21).

American officials had expressed fears that MEK leadership may order the massacre of camp residents, rather than allow a peaceful disbandment of Camp Ashraf.  The Christian Science Monitor interviewed recent MEK defectors who say that further dramatic acts may occur as the deadline quickly approaches. Shahram Heydari, who left Camp Ashraf two months ago, said that “It’s clear to me, [MEK leadership] wants people to get killed, and send it to the media,” in order to keep the camp open.  Although several high-ranking U.S. officials have been paid by the MEK to make its case to get the MEK off the US terror list, family members of those inside the camp have held protests asking for the release of their children, whom they say are imprisoned in the camp (Christian Science Monitor 12/20).

Iran News Roundup 12/20

Panetta: U.S. will not allow Iran to have a bomb

Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, who has come under fire from neoconservatives for warning against the unintended consequences of Israeli military action against Iran, told CBS on Monday “the United States does not want Iran to develop a nuclear weapon” and shares Israel’s common concern. “There are no options off the table.”

“If they proceed and we get intelligence that they [Iran] are proceeding with developing a nuclear weapon then we will take whatever steps necessary to stop it.” When asked whether Iran will have a nuclear weapon in 2012, Panetta answered by saying that “it will probably be about a year before they [Iran]’ would be able to startdeveloping a nuclear weapon.

Scott Pelley of CBS clarified at the end of the report,”Panetta also told CBS News that while Iran needs a year or less to assemble a weapon, he has no indication yet that the Iranians have made the decision to go ahead” (CBS 12/29).

Former Mossad Chief: Military attack will embolden Iran

Former Mossad chief Mier Dagan has stated that “the immediate alternative of an attack [on Iran] may lead the Iranians into a reality in which they are [pushed over the edge] and try to obtain nuclear capabilities as quickly as possible instead of trading rather carefully while taking the international community’s demands into consideration” (Think Progress 12/19).

MEK sends mixed signals 

In a statement, MEK leadership said Camp Ashraf residents “in principle” agree to a United Nations plan to move residents from Camp Ashraf on “condition that the United Nations, United States and European Union support and endorse the proposal and that the Iraqi government guarantee the residents’ security and well-being” (Reuters 12/20).

IPS reports that, although the MEK seems willing to agree to conditions, U.S. officials are still hearing disturbing “talk about martyrdom and dying” from MEK leaders in negotiations. “Experts on the MEK accuse its leaders of holding its own members hostage to efforts to get the organization removed from the U.S. State Department’s list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations” (IPS 12/19).

Meanwhile, according to a Washington Post report, the MEK peddled the story of Iraqi Transportation Minister Hadi al-Amiri’s visit to the White House in an attempt to undermine the Iraqi government as it battles the potential closure of Camp Ashraf (Washinton Post 12/20)

Japan warns U.S. of “danger” of central bank sanctions

Japan’s Foreign Minister met with Secretary Clinton and discussed central bank sanctions mandated by Congress, saying, “During our frank discussion on Iran, specifically in relation to the National Defense Authorization Act, which targets the Central Bank of Iran, I conveyed my view that there is a danger of causing damage to the entire global economy if the imports of Iranian crude oil stop” (State Department 12/19).

Meanwhile, oil rose for a second day amidst declining U.S. crude stockpiles and speculation over further sanctions against Iran (Business Week 12/20)Francisco Blanch, Bank of America Corp.’s head, said that further sanctions on Iran may surge oil prices by $40 a barrel.

Iran reportedly cuts ties with UAE as concerns mount over national currency 

Tehran bureau chief for the Washington Post Thomas Erdbrink says Iran is cutting all ties with UAE in anticipation of sanctions by the Persian Gulf kingdoms.

In a statement, Iranian president Ahmadinejad said his administration is doing everything it can to save the Iranian national currency from plunging further out of control (Taiwan News 12/20).

Iran News Roundup 12/19

Talks accelerate on a potential embargo on Iran

In what could be a precursor to an embargo on Iran, a “coalition of like-minded countries” including U.S., EU, Arab, and Asian states will meet in Rome tomorrow for talks on how to maintain stable global energy markets in the midst of increased Iran sanctions (Wall Street Journal 12/19).

Meanwhile, Iran’s Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said Iran has prepared for “the worst case scenario” and has a “road map” circumvent Western sanctions targeting Iran’s central bank and oil exports(AFP 12/16).

U.S. drone saga continues

U.S. cyber-warfare experts have questioned Iran’s ability to hijack the spy drone by overwhelming the drone’s GPS signal (Christian Science Monitor 12/16).  Additionally, U.S. officials say the drone actually crashed, further refuting Iran’s claims (Wall Street Journal 12/16).  On Saturday, Iran’s foreign minister said that Iran deliberately delayed its announcement that it had captured the American surveillance drone to test U.S. reaction (Huffington Post 12/17).

Iran News Roundup 12/14

How covert operations can spiral out of control

Barry Lando writes on the dangers of increasing covert operations against Iran. “Predictably, aggressive acts will provoke retaliation from Iran — a situation, which, in the context of America’s superheated presidential primaries, could spiral dangerously out of control. Which is just what militants in Tehran, Jerusalem, and Washington may be out to provoke” (Lando Huffington Post 12/13).

Increased sanctions and higher oil prices

The Obama administration and European allies are seeking assurance that Saudi Arabia will boost oil output in order to prevent higher oil prices and damage to the global economy because of sanctions (Los Angeles Times 12/13). Yet Iran’s oil minister, at an OPEC meeting, said Saudi oil minister Ali Naimi has agreed not to increase oil output to replace Iranian oil (Boston Globe 12/14).

Human rights

The U.S. placed sanctions on two top Iranian military figures for human rights violations in the wake of the June 2009 election: Lieutenant Commander of IRGC Ground Force Abdollah Agragi and Chief of Staff of the Joint Armed Forces of the Islamic Republic of Iran Hassan Firouzabadi (AFP 12/13).

Nokia Siemens Networks announced that it would stop doing business with Iran–gradually reduce its existing commitments starting next year (Wall Street Journal 12/13). Nokia Siemens Networks came under fire in 2009 after providing the Iranian government with surveillance equipment used against peaceful protestors.

Mitt Romney on the M.E.K.

Presidential hopeful Mitt Romney was asked whether he supported the removal of the Mujahedin-e-Khalq from the State Department’s list of designated terrorist organizations.

“I have not heard of the MEK, so I can’t possibly tell you whether I support the MEK. I’ll take a look at the issue,” said Romney. Romney’s special advisor on foreign policy, Mitchell Reiss, is an advocate for the group.

Notable opinion: 

In a Washington Post op-ed, Thomas Erdbrink discusses the growing fears and concern amongst ordinary Iranians regarding the possibility of war and the negative impact international sanctions are having on everyday lives.

Instead of sharing that sense of defiance, however, many ordinary Iranians are increasingly worried that war could be catastrophic.

As tension rises, many have started taking precautionary measures. Some are stocking up on basic goods. Others are changing their money into foreign currencies, or obtaining visas to move abroad.

Anxiety is also being fueled by the latest rounds of international sanctions against Iran. While Iranian officials continually say the country can cope with the growing limitations, average Iranians are faced with soaring prices and a plummeting exchange rate for their currency, the rial. It has lost 48 percent of its value against the dollar since 2008.

To read the full piece click here.

Additional Notable News:

Iran’s intelligence minister Heidar Moslehi met the Saudi Crown Prince Nayef bin Abdel-Aziz Al Saud to refute U.S. claims that Tehran planned to kill Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Washington, according to a senior Iranian official.

  • 13 December 2011
  • Posted By Ardavon Naimi
  • 0 Comments
  • Congress, Diplomacy, Israel, MEK, NIAC round-up, Sanctions, UN, US-Iran War

Iran News Roundup 12/13

Israel: Iran must choose between the bomb and survival

A senior Israeli cabinet minister said that Iran must to choose between obtaining a nuclear weapon and survival (AFP 12/12). “We believe that in order to stop the Iranian military nuclear project, the regime in Tehran should face a dilemma — whether to have a bomb or to survive,” said Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Yaalon.

Speaking to Fareed Zarkaria, GOP presidential hopeful John Huntsman repeats the mantra that Iran has ‘already decided’ that ‘they want’ a nuclear weapon despite U.S. intelligence and the UN’s nuclear watchdog saying otherwise (Think Progress 12/12).

Nader Hashemi writes that the U.S. policy of isolating and sanctioning Iran has only served to strengthen the regime, weaken the middle class, and fuel Iran’s nuclear ambitions (Hashemi National Interest 12/12).

Central bank sanctions modified and to be voted on this week

Both the House and Senate negotiated and agreed on new Iran sanctions that they hope to pass this week. The new sanctions penalize foreign financial institutions that do business with Iran’s central bank.  Lawmakers from both political parties made slight changes to the legislation that would allow the option of imposing restrictions on such foreign financial institutions, instead of cutting them off entirely from the U.S. financial system. Democratic Senator Carl Levin did note that the bill is probably “96 percent” the same as legislation that passed the Senate last week (Reuters 12/12).

Meanwhile, the House will also vote today on new broad Iran sanctions legislation that includes a provision placing restrictions on contacts between U.S. government employees–including diplomats and members of the armed forces–and Iranian officials (The Hill 12/13).

Drone update

Iranian military experts claim they are extracting data from the U.S. drone (Washington Post 12/12).  Yesterday, President Obama requested the return of the drone (Guardian 12/12). Today Iran rejected the request (NY Times 12/13).

Israel: We don’t support M.E.K. delisting

Yesterday, Israeli Vice Prime Minister Moshe Yaalon said Israel does not support MEK’s campaign to get delisted from the Foreign Terrorist Organizations list (Think Progress 12/12).  

Notable opinion: 

In a Huffington Post op-ed, Fariba Amini discusses the increasing war rhetoric against Iran, the dire consequences of a military attack, and the importance of diplomacy.

There is no question that the Iranian people will suffer in the short and long run and will bear the brunt of an attack. Americans will suffer in a different way: Higher gas prices at home which is not even comparable to what ordinary Iranian citizens will pay if and when a war breaks out. The damage will be irreversible.

It is only through diplomatic efforts that Iran’s nuclear program can be contained. Harsh words by the U.S. and its allies, more sanctions, including possible sanctions on oil, will only harden the regime. It is already hurting the people more so than the government.

To read the full piece click here.

Iran News Roundup 12/8

Presidential candidates continue war rhetoric

Republican presidential candidates continued their war rhetoric towards Iran on Wednesday (Reuters 12/7). Front running candidate Mitt Romney said that “covert and overt” actions are needed to pressure Iran.  Candidate Jon Huntsman added that “you have to have all options on the table.” Presidential hopeful Michelle Bachman said “the Pentagon must prepare a war plan.”

Stephen Walts argues against any covert or overt actions against Iran based on four grounds: the risk of undesirable escalation, the overestimation of the nuclear threat, the inevitable risk of “blowback,” and the reaffirmation of deep suspicions between the United States and Iran (Walts Foreign Policy 12/7). 

Sanctions watch

The Washington Post reports that AIPAC has endorsed sanctions on Iran’s Central Bank despite concerns that the sanctions would raise oil prices and benefit Iran financially (Washington Post 12/7). Platts reports that Iran may divert petrochemical cargoes meant for Europe to Asia if new sanctions are imposed by the European Union (Platts 12/7).

 Jayshree Bajoria details expert opinion on how increased sanctions would weaken European economies, shrink global oil supplies and raise prices, and do little to divert Iran’s nuclear ambitions (Bajoria Huffington Post 12/7).

M.E.K. status update

Republican legislators on Wednesday urged the Obama administration to remove M.E.K. from its list of terrorist organization (NY Times 12/7).

Fallen drone

According to a Washington Post article, the fallen drone incident highlights a growing covert strategy against Iran (Washington Post 12/7).  Iran’s PressTV broadcast the first images of the fallen drone.  U.S. officials say they doubt Iran can make use of the drone (AFP 12/7).

Notable Opinion:

In a Guardian op-ed, Seumas Milne says that an attack on Iran would turn a regional “maelstorm into a global firestorm.”

Iran would certainly retaliate directly and through allies against Israel, the US and US Gulf client states, and block the 20% of global oil supplies shipped through the Strait of Hormuz. Quite apart from death and destruction, the global economic impact would be incalculable.

All reason and common sense militate against such an act of aggression. Meir Dagan, the former head of Israel’s Mossad, said last week it would be a “catastrophe”. Leon Panetta, the US defence secretary, warned that it could “consume the Middle East in confrontation and conflict that we would regret”.

To read the full piece click here.