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Iran News Roundup 11/17

Top Story

Action on Iran at the UN: With the IAEA Board of Governors meeting today, the Washington Post is reporting that China and Russia have agreed to sign on to a resolution condemning Iran, over the IAEA’s most recent report that will not include the harsher language that the U.S. had sought (Washington Post 11/17). Additionally, IAEA director Amano is saying he wants a high-level mission to go to Iran to investigate questions raised in the IAEA report(NY Times 11/17). For its part, Iran has announced that it is going to send an “analytical” response to the IAEA over the allegations posed in their report (AFP 11/16).

Meanwhile, the Saudis are pushing the U.N. to adopt a resolution denouncing the alleged Iranian assassination plot against their Ambassador to the U.S  (Washington Post 11/16). In response, Iran has issued a letter to the U.N. calling the resolution “politically motivated” and saying, that if passed, it would undermine the credibility of the body. (Iran Primer USIP 11/17)

Noteworthy Opinion

MJ Rosen writes in the Huffington Post that Rep. Brad Sherman’s “Iranian plane crash provision” in the House sanctions bill explicitly targets ordinary Iranians and is endemic of a sanctions policy that makes little sense.

Death in the Air: House Bill Bans Fixing Iranian Civilian Aircraft:

No doubt Brad Sherman will hold forth about the merits of his legislation that will ensure that Iran’s civilian air fleet is the most dangerous in the world. And he will be cheered. If we are lucky, Howard Berman will respond that one can sanction Iran without crashing its planes, but perhaps not. He rarely, if ever, deviates from the AIPAC line either.

The bottom line is that our Iran policy is nuts, and not just Brad Sherman’s either. Our sanctions policy in general makes little, if any distinction, between targeting the Iranian regime and targeting Iran’s people. Although most supporters of sanctions have not specifically gone after civilians, as Sherman does, few seem to care that it is civilians and not the mullahs or the Revolutionary Guard, who suffer because of them.

Read more at Huffington Post

Additional Notable News:

Mark Fizpatrick of IISS tells Haaretz that Netanyahu is more likely to tell Obama “I’m not asking for a green light, I’m just telling you” that Israel is striking Iran, and that  the Obama Administration would have little recourse in midst of the election season.

Obama is taking a “gradualist” approach on Iran, according to Leon Hadar Huffington Post op-ed, that takes non-military steps to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, but that could still lead U.S. to war.

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said in a public appearance in Canada that he is “not very optimistic“ about prospects of U.N. passing strong sanctions against Iran.

Iran’s High Council for Human Rights Mohamad Javad Larijani says in CNN interview that Iran is not pursuing nuclear weapons, and regarding reformist leaders, that “no one is currently under house arrest without trial or judicial order.”

  • 15 November 2011
  • Posted By Loren White
  • Diplomacy, Events in Iran, Israel, NIAC round-up, Sanctions, US-Iran War

Iran News Roundup 11/15

Details and questions about explosion near Tehran that killed IRGC general

Skepticism is emerging about Tehran’s claims that the recent explosion in Iran was an accident and not an Israeli attack.  The NY times reported one of the casualties in the explosion was a Revolutionary Guard general who was a key figure in developing Iran’s shahab missile program (NY Times 11/14).  Time’s Tony Karon writes that, if Israel was behind the explosion, it could create an escalatory cycle of military retaliations that could lead to war.  However, Tehran may view this as a trap to provide casus belli for war against it and hence is denying Israeli involvement. (Time 11/14)

Current Iran legislation is “dangerous”

The ‘Iran Threat Reduction Act’, which recently passed the House Foreign Affairs Committee and is expected to come up for a vote in the House before the end of the year, could actually increase the threat of war with Iran says Steven Zunes. The act “appears designed to pave way for war” by setting “a dangerous precedent” of setting legal constraints against diplomatic contact between American and Iranian officials. (Zunes Huffington Post 11/14)

Additional Notable News:

Reuters reports that EU foreign ministers voiced support for additional sanctions but will wait until their next Dec. 1 meeting before deciding on whether to take further action.

Brigadier General John H. Johns (ret.) writes in the New York Times: Calls for military strikes on Iran may provide “applause lines” in GOP debates, but they “flatly ignore or reject outright best advice of America’s national security leadership.”

CBS poll found that 55% of Americans think Iran can be effectively dealt with through diplomacy instead of military action, while 15% said they see Iran as a threat that requires military action now.

Video: Former inspector Robert Kelly calls recent IAEA report on Iran’s nuclear program “misleading” and says it “recycles old information and is meant to bolster hardliners.”

The Mojahedin of the Islamic Revolution Organization issued a letter, signed by 175 people, rejecting the regimes “stubborn” stance on their nuclear program.

The Daily Telegraph reports that Iran is holding meetings with Syrian opposition groups as it continues to hedge its bets regarding Assad’s future.

  • 9 November 2011
  • Posted By David Elliott
  • Congress, Sanctions

Congress Playing Dangerous Game on Iran Sanctions

Are Congress and the White House on a collision course over Iran?  That’s looking increasingly likely, as Congressional proponents of the “nuclear option” of sanctions — sanctioning the Central Bank of Iran (CBI) — try to force President Obama to pull the trigger.  But the White House has reportedly decided against the nuclear option, saying it would “disrupt oil markets and further damage the U.S. and world economies.”

The news came shortly after the Treasury Department’s top sanctions enforcer finished a tour of our major European allies – the United Kingdom, France, Germany and Italy.  The message he received is obvious enough.  It seems Europe isn’t interested in weighing down its economy at the moment; it’s a bit preoccupied with containing the Eurozone debt crisis that’s imperiling the very future of Europe’s economic union.

As this makes clear, the U.S. is running out of things to sanction, except for ourselves and our allies.

So Central Bank sanctions are out, at least for now.  And the administration may be realizing that with a full year left before the next election, it needs to engage in serious, tough diplomacy now to convince the Iranian regime to implement the additional protocol and to adopt the transparency measures that are critical to addressing the very serious concerns raised IAEA in today’s IAEA report.

That isn’t sitting well with many members of Congress.  In August, 92 Senators sent a letter calling on President Obama to sanction the CBI, and Senator Mark Kirk (R-IL) warned the President that he would introduce legislation to force his hand if he didn’t comply.

Now, Kirk is looking to make good on that threat.  No less than three days after the LA Times reported Central Bank sanctions are no longer an option, Kirk announced that he’s introducing legislation that would require the President to sanction the Central Bank.  And given the idea’s support in Congress, there is a very real chance the Senate will vote to do exactly that, possibly as soon as this week.  So what would be the effect on the global economy, our alliances, the Iranian people, and the regime if the Congress were to do this?  Let’s examine:


Impact on energy prices, the U.S. and the global economy:

“…U.S. officials have decided that such sanctions could disrupt oil markets and further damage the U.S. and world economies.” – L.A. Times

U.S. and European officials “fear sanctioning Bank Markazi risks sharply driving up global energy prices, as Tehran could find itself unable to execute oil sales.” – Wall Street Journal


Impact on global efforts against Iran:

“European countries reportedly oppose such a sanction as an extreme step with potential humanitarian consequences.” – Congressional Research Service

“U.S. officials have worried that unilateral Americans sanctions against Bank Markazi might not be respected by even some American allies. This could place Washington into the difficult position of either backing down or theoretically trying to ban important foreign companies and governments from using the U.S. financial system.” – Wall Street Journal

“Some U.S. officials have pointed out in internal discussions that the step could risk the cooperation of a number of countries that have been less enthusiastic about past international sanctions, including some of the most important developing nations.” –L.A. Times


Impact on humanitarian situation in Iran:

The oil embargo of Iraq, which was accomplished in part by sanctioning the Central Bank of Iraq, contributed to the deaths of half a million Iraqi children according to UNICEF estimates and failed to depose Saddam Hussein or prevent war. – UNICEF

Sanctioning the CBI would cause massive secondary effects, such as preventing the import of food and medicine into Iran. Even without CBI sanctions, “Americans who broker sales of food and medical items to Iran report difficulties in finding third-country banks to process the transactions,” according to the Atlantic Council.  When the U.S. and the international community sanctioned Libya’s central bank, AFP reported, “Although some essential goods could be imported under the current sanctions regime, they cannot be paid for because … foreign banks are refusing to do business with Libyan entities.”


Impact on Iranian regime:

Iranian government officials discount the effects of sanctions on the government’s finances since the sanctions and regional tensions also increase concern about global oil supplies and thus increase the price of Iran’s oil exports –  Bijan Khajehpour, Iranian economist

“These sanctions have given an excuse to the Iranian government to suppress the opposition by blaming them for the unstable situation of the country. Look at Cuba and North Korea. Have sanctions brought democracy to their people? They have just made them more isolated and given them the opportunity to crack down on their opposition without bothering themselves about the international attention.” – Mehdi Karroubi, Green Movement

“[Sanctions’] basic effect has been to weaken civil society and strengthen the state — the opposite of what we should be trying to do in that country.” – Fareed Zakaria, CNN

Effectiveness and precedent

Sanctions have failed to achieve their objectives in 95.7% of case since World War I, and sanctions are more than three times more likely to end in military conflict than success. – Dr. Robert Pape, Harvard’s Journal of International Security

Though the UN Security Council has imposed central bank sanctions against Iraq and Libya, which ultimately ended in war, the U.S. has never imposed unilateral, extraterritorial sanctions on a central bank.

Iran News Roundup 11/8

Israeli war talk continues amidst ex-Mossad chiefs’ objections and world leaders’ concern
Israel plans on issuing a statement calling for tougher sanctions on Iran in response to expected IAEA report.  Israeli defense minister Ehud Barak said “lethal” sanctions required and until then “we continue to recommend to our friends in the world and to ourselves, not to take any option off the table.”  In addition to sanctions, he also argued for a naval blockade against Iran.  In contrast, a second former Mossad leader objected to strikes on Iran.  Ex-Mossad chief Halevy says that the Israeli “radical right” poses a bigger threat than Iran, and that an Israeli strike against Iran could negatively affect the region for 100 years.

Voicing concern over increased war talk, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said that the current threats could lead war and this “would be a catastrophe.”  Hong Lei the Chinese foreign ministry spokesman said, “China always holds that the Iranian nuclear issue should be properly solved through dialogue and cooperation…At present, it is imperative to prevent new turbulence in the Middle East security situation.”

Evidence of Iranian nuclear weapons program in leaked IAEA report called into question
Today a copy of the IAEA report on Iran’s nuclear program was leaked.  The report discussed evidence regarding Iran having an active nuclear weapons development program.  Two pieces of evidence offered in the report involve a “former Soviet scientist” that helped Iran overcome some of its hurdles with the nuclear process, and a steel tank allegedly used for testing nuclear explosions.

However, EA Worldview reports that this “former Soviet scientist” is a Ukrainian nanotechnology expert who claims to have been assisting Iran develop its nanotechnology industry.  If true, this would help explain the existence of the suspicious steel tank.  An important item in nanotechnology is nanodiamonds, and these nanodiamonds are created by the detonation of explosives in the same type of steel tank discussed in the report. (EA WorldView 11/8)


Other notable news:

New York Times: G.O.P. candidates talk tough on Iran

Washington Post: G.O.P. candidates shouldn’t attack Obama on Iran

Time: Tony Karon on Israeli push for war in context of IAEA report

Christian Science Monitor: An imminent Israeli strike on Iran nuclear program? Not likely.

Oil prices on the rise as a result of increasing talk of war with Iran

Bruce Riedel highlights two prominent ex-Mossad chiefs’ pushback against war

Revolutionary Guard threatens retaliation if US assassinates commanders

UK urged to ban sale of software used to crackdown on dissent

  • 19 February 2009
  • Posted By Patrick Disney
  • Nuclear file, Persian Gulf

New IAEA report on Iran nuclear program

Available here.

For analysis, check out the ISIS report here.

Special Bonus: CRS report on Iran’s ballistic missile available here.

  • 20 November 2008
  • Posted By Patrick Disney
  • Diplomacy, Events in Iran, Nuclear file, Uncategorized, US-Iran War

Who are we supposed to believe?

Yesterday’s IAEA report on Iran’s nuclear program caused quite a stir about when Iran might reach a so-called “breakout capacity” for nuclear weapons development.  According to William Broad and David Sanger of the New York Times:

Iran has now produced roughly enough nuclear material to make, with added purification, a single atom bomb.

The nuclear material in question, low-enriched uranium (LEU), is used for electricity generation in a nuclear power plant.  It is called low-enriched uranium because it is enriched up to only 5%, as opposed to highly-enriched uranium (HEU) or “weapons-grade uranium,”  which must reach levels above 90%.

According to the IAEA, Iran’s program has produced 630 kg of LEU to date.  By itself, this poses no real problem, but if Iran were to re-enrich its LEU stockpiles into HEU, it theoretically could produce a nuclear weapon.  Obviously, that’s bad.

But here’s where it gets interesting.  Last September, the IAEA released a similar report saying Iran had produced, at that time, a stockpile of 480 kg of LEU.  Nearly every news account went on to quote an unnamed UN official as saying:

[Iran] would need 15,000 kg (33,000) [of LEU] to convert into high-enriched uranium for fuelling an atom bomb…That would be a significant quantity, one unit of HEU, and would take on the order of two years.

So which is it?  Either Iran needs 15,000 kg of LEU to produce a bomb as the UN official claimed, or it already has enough material with its current stockpile of 630 kg.

I looked into this a little further, and here’s the answer I found: neither figure is correct.

  • 19 November 2008
  • Posted By Patrick Disney
  • Events in Iran, Nuclear file, UN

New IAEA report issued on Iran nuclear program


The IAEA released its latest report on the Iranian nuclear program today.  I haven’t had a chance to look at it yet, but will post some thoughts later.

More to come…

Sign the Petition


7,350 signatures

Tell Google: Stop playing Persian Gulf name games!

May 14, 2012
Larry Page
Chief Executive Officer
Google Inc.
1600 Amphitheatre Parkway
Mountain View, California 94043

Dear Mr. Page:

It has come to our attention that Google has begun omitting the title of the Persian Gulf from its Google Maps application. This is a disconcerting development given the undisputed historic and geographic precedent of the name Persian Gulf, and the more recent history of opening up the name to political, ethnic, and territorial disputes. However unintentionally, in adopting this practice, Google is participating in a dangerous effort to foment tensions and ethnic divisions in the Middle East by politicizing the region’s geographic nomenclature. Members of the Iranian-American community are overwhelmingly opposed to such efforts, particularly at a time when regional tensions already have been pushed to the brink and threaten to spill over into conflict. As the largest grassroots organization in the Iranian-American community, the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) calls on Google to not allow its products to become propaganda tools and to immediately reinstate the historically accurate, apolitical title of “Persian Gulf” in all of its informational products, including Google Maps.

Historically, the name “Persian Gulf” is undisputed. The Greek geographer and astronomer Ptolemy referencing in his writings the “Aquarius Persico.” The Romans referred to the "Mare Persicum." The Arabs historically call the body of water, "Bahr al-Farsia." The legal precedent of this nomenclature is also indisputable, with both the United Nations and the United States Board of Geographic Names confirming the sole legitimacy of the term “Persian Gulf.” Agreement on this matter has also been codified by the signatures of all six bordering Arab countries on United Nations directives declaring this body of water to be the Persian Gulf.

But in the past century, and particularly at times of escalating tensions, there have been efforts to exploit the name of the Persian Gulf as a political tool to foment ethnic division. From colonial interests to Arab interests to Iranian interests, the opening of debate regarding the name of the Persian Gulf has been a recent phenomenon that has been exploited for political gain by all sides. Google should not enable these politicized efforts.

In the 1930s, British adviser to Bahrain Sir Charles Belgrave proposed to rename the Persian Gulf, “Arabian Gulf,” a proposal that was rejected by the British Colonial and Foreign offices. Two decades later, the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company resurrected the term during its dispute with Mohammad Mossadegh, the Iranian Prime Minister whose battle with British oil interests would end in a U.S.-sponsored coup d'état that continues to haunt U.S.-Iran relations. In the 1960s, the title “Arabian Gulf” became central to propaganda efforts during the Pan-Arabism era aimed at exploiting ethnic divisions in the region to unite Arabs against non-Arabs, namely Iranians and Israelis. The term was later employed by Saddam Hussein to justify his aims at territorial expansion. Osama Bin Laden even adopted the phrase in an attempt to rally Arab populations by emphasizing ethnic rivalries in the Middle East.

We have serious concerns that Google is now playing into these efforts of geographic politicization. Unfortunately, this is not the first time Google has stirred controversy on this topic. In 2008, Google Earth began including the term “Arabian Gulf” in addition to Persian Gulf as the name for the body of water. NIAC and others called on you then to stop using this ethnically divisive propaganda term, but to no avail. Instead of following the example of organizations like the National Geographic Society, which in 2004 used term “Arabian Gulf” in its maps but recognized the error and corrected it, Google has apparently decided to allow its informational products to become politicized.

Google should rectify this situation and immediately include the proper name for the Persian Gulf in Google Maps and all of its informational products. The exclusion of the title of the Persian Gulf diminishes your applications as informational tools, and raises questions about the integrity and accuracy of information provided by Google.

We strongly urge you to stay true to Google’s mission – “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful” – without distorting or politicizing that information. We look forward to an explanation from you regarding the recent removal of the Persian Gulf name from Google Maps and call on you to immediately correct this mistake.



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