EHRAN, Nov. 21 - Iran pledged Sunday to meet its deadline and suspend its uranium enrichment activities on Monday, in a sign of cooperation even as the United States has been stepping up pressure over the country's nuclear program.
"The suspension will begin tomorrow," the Foreign Ministry spokesman, Hamid Reza Assefi, told journalists. "We have said that we will suspend our enrichment activities, and we will do it."
Iran agreed earlier this month with Britain, Germany and France to suspend its uranium enrichment program in return for economic benefits. The country said it would halt production on Nov. 22 in a letter to the International Atomic Energy Agency, which will meet Thursday to decide whether to send Iran's case to the United Nations Security Council for possible sanctions.
While Iran has insisted that its nuclear program is for electricity production only, the United States has accused it of trying to make nuclear weapons. The Bush administration increased its pressure on Iran after diplomats familiar with the country's case accused it last week of racing to produce significant quantities of uranium hexafluoride, a gas that can be enriched for use in nuclear weapons, right up to its deadline.
An Iranian opposition group also said last week in Vienna and in Paris that Tehran was deceiving the world and conducting a secret weapons program at an undisclosed site.
Mr. Assefi dismissed accusations about its nuclear program and said the report about uranium hexafluoride production was "just a part of the propaganda to weaken relations between Iran and the agency and the work on building trust with the Europeans."
"What we have been doing over the past few days conforms with the Paris accord and had been carried out under the supervision of the agency," he added.
Mr. Assefi accused the United States of "trickery," and said the Bush administration's recent allegations about Iran's nuclear activities were "a sign of its anger."
"The Americans are not happy about our cooperation with the Europeans, but taking into account that we have cooperated with the I.A.E.A. and Europe, there is nothing to be worried about," he said.
Gholamreza Aghazadeh, head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization, also denied the charges that Iran had accelerated enrichment activities, the official IRNA news agency reported.
A team of inspectors from the I.A.E.A. is in Iran to police the complete suspension of activities related to uranium enrichment.
In addition, a four-member group from the agency's Board of Governors visited Iran's conversion plant in the city of Isfahan on Saturday. The team is scheduled to return to Vienna on Monday.
Tehran, Iran, Nov. 21 (UPI) -- Iran has promised to suspend its nuclear enrichment program by Monday's deadline, the BBC reported.
The head of Iran's nuclear energy organization said work would stop at two nuclear facilities in the central cities of Isfahan and Natanz.
The country's government has agreed to suspend operations in a deal with the EU aimed at quelling fears about its nuclear goals, the BC said.
Tehran has denied reports that it was speeding up uranium enrichment before the suspension could take effect. The government has also denied U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell's claims that it was trying to adapt ballistic missiles to carry nuclear warheads.
Posted Saturday, November 20, 2004
PARIS, 20 Nov. (IPS) As Iran prepares itself for suspending enriching uranium from Monday 22 November 2004, diplomats in Vienna said Saturday 20 November that Tehran was transforming important quantities of yellow cake into hexafluoride gas that could be used for making nuclear weapon.
"This is a sheer lie. I strongly reject it. In contrary, Iran is preparing itself to suspend production of UF6", Hoseyn Moussavian, one of Iran's senior negotiator with the international nuclear watchdog and the European Union told the British news agency Reuters in Tehran asking about new charges.
This is a sheer lie. I strongly reject it. In contrary, Iran is preparing itself to suspend production of UF6
"The Iranians are producing UF6 (uranium hexafluoride) like hell", Reuters quoted a non-U.S. diplomat on the governing board of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). "The machines are running", the diplomat added, as President George W. Bush was expressing concern about Irans nuclear activities with counterparts from Russia, China and Japan in Santiago de Chile.
"This is a very serious matter", Mr. Bush said, adding, "The world knows it's a serious matter and we're working together to solve".
However, he praised the European Unions so called Big 3 for being able to bring the Islamic Republic to suspend enriching uranium.
While Tehran insists vehemently that it has no plan to build nuclear weapons and all its atomic projects are intended to produce electricity, yet Washington remains imperturbable, telling anyone who wants to listen that the ruling ayatollahs are determined to divert the technology to produce atomic bomb aimed at destroying the Jewish State.
Hence, Americas efforts at the Vienna-based IAEA to have the case of Iran referred to the United Nations Security Council for imposing harsh economic and diplomatic sanctions against the Islamic Republic, unless Tehran effectively stops enriching uranium.
"This is a grave matter that will have serious repercussions when we begin our meeting on Thursday", another diplomat observed, adding that the 35-members Board could seriously consider sending Irans case to the Security Council for final decision.
Mr. Qolamreza Aqazadeh, the Head of Irans Atomic Energy Organisation surprised the world when on 20 September 2004 he revealed in Vienna that his country had processed 37 tonnes of yellowcake uranium at facilities near the central city of Esfahan.
According to experts, this quantity of raw uranium could produce sufficient UF6 for up to five weapons, if enriched to weapons-grade purity.
In his report submitted to the Board of Directors, Dr. Mohammad Elbaradei, the Egyptian Director of the IAEA observes that in the past two years, international nuclear inspectors have not detected that Tehran had diverted any of its declared nuclear materials to a weapons programme.
However, he also noted that in the past, Iran had a bad record of hiding some atomic projects and as a result, he did not rule out the possibility that other secret atomic activities existed.
With Ms. Condoleezza Rice sitting as the next Chief of US diplomacy, diplomats and analysts expect a stronger attitude from the new Bush Administration towards the Islamic Republic than with her predecessor, Mr. Collin Powell.
Deputy Secretary of State Richard L. Armitage assured on Friday that war with the Islamic Republic was not an option.
"We're talking about resolving this (Iranian nuclear) problem by diplomatic means. War is obviously not an option that we want to consider if we can help it", Mr. Armitage told the independent Al-Jazeera television network that is based in the Persian Gulf Emirate of Qatar.
Iran processed 37 tonnes of yellowcake uranium at facilities near the central city of Esfahan
Nevertheless, he also expressed scepticism of European diplomacy with Iran, but said "We are not trying to block them. That's fine. Let's see if it works".
On Wednesday and on his way to Chile, Mr. Powell had told newsmen that he was in possession of information that shows Iran is building weapons capable of delivering lethal warheads.
And about the same time, spokesmen for the outlawed Mojahedeen Khalq Organisation in Vienna and Paris charged that Iran was secretly making atomic bomb.
Though the MKO is on the US and many Western governments black list as terrorist organisation, but informed sources say members of the group in Iraq work closely with the American military to identify Iranian agents, trouble-makers and professional saboteurs.
Analysts told Iran Press Service that if the new accusations are accurate, it would certainly produce terrible negative impact on the EUs Troika, namely Britain, France and Germany that hammered out an agreement with Iran on 15 November in Paris aimed at suspension of uranium enriching activities as from 22 November for the duration of talks between the two sides, against pledges by the Europeans to help Iran getting fuel for its nuclear reactor and signing a Trade and Cooperation Agreement with the 25-members European Union.
However, the Paris Accords are under heavy criticism in the conservatives-controlled Majles (parliament) and press, accusing Europe of fooling the Iranians in favour of the United States.
Hojjatoleslam Hasan Rohani, Irans number one negotiator on the controversial nuclear issue has warned that the 25 November meeting of the Board of Directors is a test date to see whether the Big 3 respects its engagements on Iran or not.
So far, the European Troika has resisted American pressures at the IAEA, observing that going to the Security Council means cutting all bridges with Tehran, a scenario much liked by some hard line ayatollahs.
It is not surprising to see the MKO takes out of its sleeve new hidden nuclear projects of military character in Iran and at exactly the same time, not only the so-called revelations are largely reverberated by American press, but also American officials comes out with their own charges, Iranian observers said, adding that anyhow, a triumph of American diplomacy at the IAEA would also mean a triumph for Iranian hard liners and a requiem for the already very limited civil liberties. ENDS IRAN IAEA 201104
* Says meeting Powell at Iraq conference would be pointless
* Will call for withdrawal of American troops from Iraq
TEHRAN: Iran on Sunday ruled out the prospect of any meeting with US Secretary of State Colin Powell on the sidelines of an international conference on Iraq, saying direct talks would be pointless as he is about to step down from his post.
The foreign ministry also said Iran would be attending the two-day conference, which opens at the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, to call for a withdrawal of US troops from its neighbour and issue a protest against US actions there.
Powell had four years to change the attitude of the United States towards Iran but he didnt. Now he is not in charge anymore, and it would not be very useful to meet him, ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi told reporters.
But Asefi said Iran would take part in the Sharm el-Sheikh conference with force and protest against the methods of the United States, insist on the necessity of withdrawing American troops from Iraq and the organisation of elections on schedule.
Powell announced his resignation as the top US diplomat last week. US President George W Bush has announced his choice to replace Powell, national security advisor Condoleezza Rice, whose confirmation must be approved by the US Senate. The Iraq conference will gather some 20 foreign ministers and four international organisations, and has been in the pipeline ever since Iraqi interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi called for an international forum during a Cairo visit in July.
Iran is due to send Foreign Minister Kamal Kharazi.
The United States is hoping the meeting will rally international support for efforts to restore order in violence-wracked Iraq and hold elections there in January.
Last week Iranian President Mohammad Khatami said his country was ready to help the Americans get out of a quagmire in Iraq, but also ruled out the immediate prospect of direct talks with Washington. We are ready to help them save themselves so the Iraqi people are saved, Khatami said on Wednesday, adding, No direct negotiations with the Americans are on the agenda.
Washington and Tehran cut of diplomatic relations shortly after the 1979 Islamic revolution and in 2002 Bush lumped Iran into an axis of evil. Tehran continues to be accused by Washington of supporting terrorism, aiding Iraqi insurgents and seeking nuclear weapons. On Thursday, Irans supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei launched a vitriolic attack on Washington, blasting what he said were crimes committed by infidels in the shattered Iraq city of Fallujah.
The massacre of civilians, women and children by the thousands, the execution of wounded, the destruction of homes, mosques and other places of prayer makes every Muslim restless, Khamenei said in a statement. Muslim governments must protest against the crimes committed by the infidel oppressors, said Irans all-powerful leader, while criticising Arab and Islamic governments who stand by and watch while we hear appeals for help from the Iraqi people.
OF ALL the governments in the Middle East, the Iranian regime remains the most resolute in confronting the United States. The Iranian leaders' persistence in vilifying the U.S. illustrates the deep antagonisms between the two countries. Indeed, regime-generated anti-Americanism is the product of the Islamic ideology promoted by the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, but also a reflection of the tense and complex history of their relationship.
Yet Iran itself suffers from internal contradictions that the mullahs wish did not exist. The Iranian people love America, and there is very little the government in Tehran can do to cool pro-Americanism on the streets. In an ironic twist of political fate, 25 years after the Islamic revolution, Washington probably influences public opinion in Iran more than the Islamic regime. The Iranian government unwittingly created pro-Americanism in their country; Washington should be diligent not to unwittingly destroy it.
Many of the reports coming out of Iran in the past few years have shared a sense of bewilderment in describing the overabundance of pro-Americanism there. In a country where chanting "Death to America" is a provision of political assembly, the thought of being treated like a celebrity because of an American passport is almost unthinkable. After recently spending two months in Iran, my experiences attest that Iranians do, in fact, love America. But I also discovered that their love is a complex and twisted one.
Iranians' fondness for America is nearer to that of a secret admirer than what exists between lifelong chums. By distancing itself from the United States, the Islamic regime has allowed many of its citizens to create "America" in their own minds. For the older generations, "America" recalls an era of economic affluence that the mullahs have been unable to reinstate since overthrowing the shah. For the younger ones, "America" evokes a fantasy of liberal social attitudes. Many young Iranians now openly defy the regime's prohibition of alcohol and coed activities.
The other way the regime has strengthened fondness for American is by, well, being itself. Because the regime portrays America as its No. 1 enemy, and the population sees the regime in the same way, Iranians have come to love America out of detestation for their own government as much as for any other reason. And while many Iranians are certainly enticed by Western-style democracy and social freedoms, being pro-American is largely an issue of domestic politics. Proclaiming a love for America offers Iranians the chance to shoot a quick jab in a domestic tiff with the uncompromising mullahs in Tehran.
Just beneath the veneer of avid pro-Americanism, the Iranian mind is crowded with a vivid sense of nationalism and memory of past American deeds. Kaveh, a doctoral student at Tehran University's faculty of law, illustrates the complexity of Iranian relations with the United States. One evening, Kaveh railed against the Islamic regime. "This government is not a 'national' government," he said. "They only care about their family, friends and their pockets." The next night, Kaveh knocked at my door and handed over a note. It explained that he thought my room was under surveillance and our conversations were being recorded. He wanted to resume our discussion "on tape," but this time, direct his diatribe toward the America government. It quickly became apparent to me that he was as passionate in his criticism of the U.S. as he was of his own government. "The United States is only looking to establish an economic and militaristic foothold in the region," he contended. "They want Iraq to be another Okinawa."
Frankly, America has done much to feed this ambivalence. In 1953, a CIA-sponsored coup overthrew the only democratically elected prime minister in Iran's 2,500-year history, Mohammad Mossadeq. Eleven years later, Mohammad Reza Shah, the U.S.-backed ruler in Tehran, signed an agreement granting diplomatic immunity to U.S. citizens in Iran, provoking Khomeini to rant: "Even if the shah himself were to run over a dog belonging to an American, he would be prosecuted. But if an American cook runs over the shah, the head of state, no one will have the right to interfere with him." The next day, Khomeini was exiled to Turkey.
When Khomeini returned to Tehran 15 years later in the midst of the revolution, he pushed the anti-American float to the front of his parade. "But for the Iranian people," said Reza, a 34 year-old former revolutionary-turned-reformer, "the only period of anti-Americanism was the two years before and after the shah left."
Now, 25 years later, anti-Americanism remains at the core of the government's rhetoric, only now Iranians aren't listening with both ears.
One problem Iranians constantly face is determining the credibility of the information that they read and hear. Most people acknowledge that the Iranian media contains little more than party-line propaganda expressing an unrelenting and perpetual harangue against America. But this doesn't prevent many of these same Iranians from believing that the American and English news sources are colored by their own bias. "I don't know who to believe," exclaimed one engineering student. "When I go to CNN.com or the BBC online, I know that they are only telling the story as America and England want the story told."
Even at the most renowned bastion of anti-Americanism in Iran, the Friday sermon at Tehran University where thousands gather to hear the regime's weekly wrap-up of world events, some people are unconvinced by the government's rhetoric. I went there one morning eager to observe the "other half" of the Islamic Republic, the half that reveres the fundamentalism espoused by the hard-liners and the half that actually does despise "The Great Satan." After a couple of hours spiked with rousing stanzas of "Marg bar Amrika," or Death to America, it appeared that I discovered one of the revolution's enduring strongholds. But on the way out of the front gate, a security guard stopped me. "You are American? It is very good to meet you," he said. "I like America very much. I wish you a nice visit in Iran." As he said this, a stream of sermon-goers exited behind us, resuming chants of "Marg bar Amrika" and "Marg bar Bush."
While many Iranians remain predominantly pro-American in a region where anti-Americanism spreads quickly, U.S. policymakers should respect the prevailing complexities of the Iranian polity. Just because there is a reserve of good will for America doesn't mean Washington can take it for granted. For while keeping a lid on Tehran's nuclear program might not be within Washington's means, preventing an explosion of Iranian nationalism is.
As I was cautioned by Hamid, a 25 year-old student activist, "If one U.S. soldier comes to Iran, all this [positive sentiment toward America] will change. It is like we are in the 90th minute of a soccer match. Anything can happen."
Nicholas Schmidle is a graduate student at American University in Washington who spent the summer of 2004 in Tehran. This article is republished with permission of The Daily Star (www.dailystar.com.lb/) of Lebanon.
Great headline. Baghdad Bob must have gotten a new gig.
2005--the year Iran becomes free. It's coming.
2004 Sunday 21 November
TEHRAN AFP- Iranian authorities have barred relatives of a dissident couple murdered by intelligence agents in 1998 from marking the anniversary in public this year, the couple's daughter told AFP Sunday.
Parastoo Foruhar, the daughter of Daryush Foruhar and his wife Parvaneh Eskandari, said "objections" to her plans for this year's ceremony "were so strong" that the office of the governor of Tehran withdrew a permit issued two days ago.
"We have decided to hold the ceremony at home tomorrow (Monday), and there will be no speeches, only prayers for their souls," she said.
Last year around 2,500 people gathered in a Tehran mosque to mark the anniversary of the grisly murders and the ceremony took on a political tone with many shouting slogans against the Islamic regime.
The dissident couple were found dead in their homes, having been repeatedly stabbed, with their bodies left in a pool of blood and facing Mecca.
Daryush Foruhar, who was 70, had been a minister of labour in the left-leaning government that followed the 1979 Islamic revolution, and went on to be highly critical of the regime as head of the banned but tolerated Iran National Party.
The killings were among a number of gruesome murders of anti-regime activists, which authorities here eventually blamed on "rogue agents" from the intelligence ministry.
But the trials of the 10 agents allegedly involved in the killings were held in private, while the main suspect -- then deputy intelligence minister Saeed Emani -- was reported to have committed suicide in prison by drinking hair remover, a development that only raised more suspicions over the killings.
And a reformist journalist, Akbar Ganji, was later jailed after he wrote a series of articles accusing senior officials of ordering the killings. He remains behind bars.
Sorry about the break, I've been busy working on a paper and a test on the subject of who started World War 1 (and anyone says Gavrilo Princip I'll bite their head off ;) that has taken me away from keeping track of the Iranians and the fighting in Fallujah. Just in case nobody else notices it, there's a pretty good piece from Knight-Ridder on the issue of Omar Hadid, Zarqawi's Darth Vader in Fallujah and a former member of Saddam Hussein's personal guard it would seem. And it seems that our pal Mike wasn't being as candid as one might think during his appearance on various media outlets concerning Iraqi ties to al-Qaeda.
Muqtada al-Sadr and the Mahdi Army
As I and others have noted on several separate occasions, Sadr's campaign against US forces in Iraq was plotted, financed, and enabled by elements within the current Iranian government, in particular the Revolutionary Guards. At the time such charges were made, they were widely dismissed as neocon propaganda designed to cover up the coming wave of homegrown anti-Americanism and hatred for the American occupiers that was going to sweep over the Iraqi Shi'ites and force the US to abandon the country. Quite fortunately, wiser heads seem to have prevailed in the interim period between the initial clashes with Sadr in April and the final showdown with him in An Najaf and his Iranian backing ceased being a subject of debate and has now reached the point where the only people in the foreign policy arena seriously objecting to the idea are academics.
Still, vindication always feels good.
Perhaps Iran's most significant involvement in Iraq has been its support for Moqtada al-Sadr, the radical, anti-U.S. cleric. His Mahdi Army militia engaged in a series of vicious battles with coalition forces in the holy southern Shiite cities of Najaf and Karbala, and in the teeming Baghdad slum known as Sadr City, between April and October this year. Like most of its operations in Iraq, the intelligence reports indicate that the Iranian regime has tried to mask its support of Sadr.
My suspicion is that al-Haeri's break with him was part of that masking process. Sadr first appeared on the Iraqi political scene in April 2003 when he and members of the Jamaat-e-Sadr Thani (JeST, a kind of proto-Mahdi Army) murdered Abdul Majid al-Khoei and attempted to seize control of the Shi'ite holy sites across in Karbala and An Najaf. They even threatened to murder the nephew of SCIRI leader Ayatollah Mohammed Bakr al-Hakim unless his uncle pledged allegiance to Sadr - by threatening the far larger and by far more overtly pro-Iranian SCIRI, JeST helped to establish itself as an independent Iraqi force and even sought to position its opposition to Sistani on the basis of him having been born in Iran.
He visited Tehran in June 2003 for a ceremony marking the death of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the spiritual leader of the 1979 revolution, but it is not known whether he received any commitment from Iran at that time.
My guess would be yes. Sadr first started threatening violence against coalition troops (as opposed to rival Shi'ite leaders) stationed in Iraq upon his return from Iran. There have long been credible allegations of Iranian involvement in the al-Khoei killing, so if we attribute that to Sadr (as the Iraqi judiciary has) then it becomes clear, at least to me, that the mullahs have been manipulating him in order to get rid of as many as their enemies inside Iraq as possible in addition as testing the strength of coalition forces. Khamenei, Rafsanjani, et al. don't plan on having Sadr rule Iran for a wide variety of reasons - that's what al-Haeri and others are being groomed for - but are instead using him as their sword until he outlives his usefulness. There was even a report out over the summer that Sadr had been stabbed during a dispute with members of his "office" in An Najaf - members who I am almost entirely certain spoke Farsi as their primary language.
U.S. intelligence reports say that Iran used Hezbollah to train and provide funds to Sadr's Mahdi Army and may also have used front companies to funnel money to him.
That tracks with the reports of Mugniyeh being in Iraq working with Sadr to oppose coalition forces there as well as claims by Iranian defectors that Iran had provided upwards of $80,000,000 for Sadr's little uprising. I think Cox and Forkum had a pretty good visual illustration at the time as far as how this all works, though they seem to have forgotten Hezbollah ...
For a time, the reports suggest, Sadr appeared to be getting funds from a senior Shiite religious leader living in Iran, the Grand Ayatollah Kazem al-Haeri, who advocates an Islamic state in Iraq. But by mid-October 2003, according to a special operations task force, Haeri withdrew his "financial support" from Sadr. The ayatollah later publicly cut his ties with Sadr.
That actually isn't as damning as it might sound, since Sadr didn't go off the reservation in terms of attacking coalition forces until April 2004 (he was already having his thugs beat up those Iraqis deemed insufficiently Islamic for months ahead of time) and one of the problems with Iran being a theocracy is that the Shi'ite leadership there does provide funding to all kinds of legitimate Shi'ite religious organizations and clerics, of whom Sadr must unfortunately be counted among. At the same time, however, it must be noted that according to the excellent work of Constantine Menges and others, al-Haeri is the Iranians' intended man to serve as the Iraqi version of Khomeini when the time is ripe. I can't recall the exact circumstances for al-Haeri's breach with Sadr, so if anyone can recall it off-hand please let me know.
here was no such break with Hezbollah. The first sign that the terrorist group planned to support Sadr is reflected in a July 29, 2003, U.S. intelligence report. Citing Israeli military intelligence, the report says Hezbollah "military activists" were attempting to establish contacts with Sadr and his Mahdi Army. The next month they did. By late August, according to a report prepared by a U.S. military analyst, Hezbollah had established "a team of 30 to 40 operatives" in Najaf "in support of Moqtada Sadr's Shia paramiltary group." The report, based on a source "with direct access to the reported information," said that Hezbollah was recruiting and training members of Sadr's militia. A later report, citing "multiple sources," said that Hezbollah was "buying rocket-propelled grenades . . . antitank missiles" and other weapons for Sadr's militia.
Hezbollah, of course, is Iran's official terrorist proxy and is the only terrorist group outside of al-Qaeda that can claim the most experience in terms of fighting Americans, which may explain why Iran was so keen to enlist them for reasons outside of plausible deniability. The man reputed to be responsible for directing Hezbollah's interactions with Sadr and the Mahdi Army was none other than Imad Mugniyeh, who has personally supervised and planned the killing of more Americans than any other terrorist save Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Abu Musab Zarqawi. If Mugniyeh was in Iraq during the initial fighting with Sadr, however, he is almost unquestionably back in Iran or Lebanon by now.
Intelligence analysts also tied Sadr to Hassan Nasrallah, the secretary general of Hezbollah. "Reporting also confirms the relationship between . . . Sadr and Hassan Nasrallah," an Army report said. The report cited unconfirmed information indicating that a top adviser to Nasrallah, who is based in Lebanon, had delivered funds to Sadr in Najaf.
That would, in all likelihood, be Mugniyeh, or at the very least one of his cronies. Nasrallah basically runs the political arm of Hezbollah while Mugniyeh supervises the far more important operations aspect. With Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Ramzi Yousef out of commission, my guess would be that Mugniyeh can very easily be placed among the top five terrorists still at large, and in that I'm counting bin Laden, al-Zawahiri, Saif al-Adel, and Abu Faraj al-Libi.
Other reporting indicated that the Mahdi Army may have received support from former Saddam supporters and other anticoalition groups. Intelligence analysts were aware, as early as the fall of 2003, that Sadr could become a serious problem. At that time, there had been no confirmed attacks on coalition forces, only Sadr's tough rhetoric, in which he denounced the United States and called the Iraqi Governing Council illegal. But, as a British defense intelligence report said, "stockpiling of heavier weapons, along with public anti-CF [Coalition Force] rhetoric, could indicate a willingness to take more direct action against CF."
Those "other anti-coalition groups" would include none other than Abu Musab Zarqawi's very own al-Tawhid wal Jihad, which endorsed Sadr's struggle in April despite Zarqawi and his flunky Mustafa Setmariam Nasar's own personal hatred towards Shi'ites. I should also reinterate that while Sadr had not attacked US forces prior to April that neither he nor the Mahdi Army showed any such restraint towards the Iraqi citizenry. I personally think that Sadr would have preferred to wait a few more months before making his move inside Iraq, though his thugs destroying a village was probably the event that forced things to a head more than anything else, though most media outlets (US News included) reported that it was Bremer closing down his newspaper that started the conflict.
Direct action was precisely what Sadr took, after Bremer ordered his Baghdad newspaper shut down, in March this year, accusing it of "inciting violence" against U.S.-led forces.
Quite accurately, one might add ...
Days later, after American soldiers arrested a Sadr aide, fierce fighting erupted between U.S. troops and Sadr's forces.
The Iraqi indictment of Sadr for the murder of al-Khoei may well have played a some role in that ...
In August, Sadr's Mahdi Army surrendered the Imam Ali Shrine in Najaf, and last month he reached a cease-fire with the United States and Iraq's interim government. Sadr's fighters began turning in their weapons, as part of an agreement to disband, and Sadr signaled his intention to get involved in the political process. He remains influential with many Shiites, and American officials know that, if the Iraqi venture is to succeed, they must do everything they can to keep the majority Shiites happy. "Beware if we lose the goodwill of the Shi'ites. The honeymoon is over," an Army captain wrote in October 2003, months before the battles with Sadr's forces began. "Arresting Sadr, the son of a martyr, will only fuel Shiite extremists' animosity, and strengthen their recruiting efforts."
Thankfully, the US appears to have dealt with Sadr without the latter occurring. That Sunni Arab clerics are foaming at the mouth that their Shi'ite (and Kurdish, one might add) counterparts have remained silent in light of the fighting in Fallujah is in of itself indicative that the Iraqi Shi'ites, if not some of their leaders, know enough about Iraq to know who their friends are.
Managing the Sadr situation, some government and intelligence officials say, is a microcosm of the far more difficult challenges America faces in responding to Iran's activities in Iraq.
I'd call it a small-scale version of what could happen, for both sides. As I've noted before, Sadr is simply the opening act in what the mullahs view as a far more elaborate drama, though I very much doubt that Sadr himself views it in such a context. When SCIRI and al-Haeri come into play, then we'll know that the mullahs are cranking up for an end-run.
Iran clearly has the potential to stir up far more trouble than it has, particularly in the largely Shiite southern half of Iraq. But so far, as it continues its elaborate dance with the West over its ambitious nuclear program, the Islamic regime has yet to turn the heat up full blast in Iraq, evidently secure in the knowledge that it can do so when and if it sees the need to. "I would not put it past them to carry out spectacular attacks," says David Kay, the former chief U.S. weapons inspector in Iraq, "to demonstrate the cost of a hostile policy. That is the policy issue--can we learn to live with Iranian nuclear capacity?"
It's true that they can escalate things in southern Iraq, but that strategy also has more than a few risks to it - namely that the US will retaliate in force. If they launch a mass casualty attack against US forces in Iraq, they run the risk of us targeting their own border forces or even their nuclear facilities depending on Bush's mood. The mullahs seem to recognize this, which is one of the reasons that their strategy is one of caution, at least until they have the nuclear deterrent that they seem to believe will give them the ultimate protection against the US. And once that's completed, then we will see large-scale attempts to force the US out of Iraq.
This section will be far shorter than any others (though you'll find out its significance tomorrow), as it deals entirely of quotes and statements made in a now-defunct Los Angeles Times story by Sebastian Rotello with respect to Iran's harboring of the surviving al-Qaeda leadership. You can read the Rantburg copy here, if you like.
Despite its periodic crackdowns on the terrorist network, Iran has served as a refuge for Al Qaeda operatives suspected of plotting attacks in Europe and the Middle East and of playing a central role in the Iraqi insurgency, European investigators say.
Investigations in France, Italy, Spain and other countries since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks point to an increasing presence in Iran of al-Qaida figures, including the suspected masterminds of this year's train bombings in Madrid and last year's car bombings of expatriate compounds in Saudi Arabia. But Iran's complex politics and secretive policies have made it difficult to determine the nature of any relationship between Iranian officials and the terror network, investigators say.
What concerns Western law-enforcement officials, however, is the post-Sept. 11 menace posed by al-Qaida, including its involvement in Iraq and deadly attacks in Europe, North Africa and the Middle East. As Osama bin Laden's movement has reconfigured since 2001, Iran has become an intermittent refuge for kingpins who have gained stature and autonomy while bin Laden has faded from the limelight, European officials say.
"The Iranians play a double game," said a top French law-enforcement official who, like others interviewed, asked to remain anonymous. "Everything they can do to trouble the Americans, without going too far, they do it. They have arrested important al-Qaida people, but they have permitted other important al-Qaida people to operate. It is a classic Iranian style of ambiguity, deception, manipulation."
"When the Iranian government says it is not dealing with al-Qaida, it is telling the truth," said Mustafa Alani of the Royal United Services Institutes, a think tank affiliated with the British Defense Ministry.
"It's not the government it's the Revolutionary Guard. We are talking about an ideological army, not just an intelligence service, and the politicians really have no power over them. There is some sort of tactical alliance with al-Qaida in which the Revolutionary Guard turns a blind eye toward the activity in Iran."
Al-Qaida figures who allegedly have operated in Iran, according to court documents and investigators in Europe, include Abu Musab Zarqawi, the Jordanian seen as a leader of the Iraq insurgency and a broader international network; Saif Adel, an Egyptian regarded as al-Qaida's military chief; and Mustafa Setmariam Nasar, a veteran Spanish-Syrian holy warrior seen by Spanish police as a possible mastermind of the Madrid attacks.
Although bin Laden and his right-hand man, Ayman Zawahari, are believed to be hiding in the Afghan-Pakistani borderlands, other core leaders found shelter in Iran after fleeing from the U.S. military operation in Afghanistan in late 2001, according to officials.
Some European experts accept the Iranian argument that the presence of militants is confined mostly to vast border areas that are hard to control. And Iran has arrested prominent figures such as bin Laden's son Saad, according to the top French anti-terror official.
Yet Iran has offered little information about the status of suspects including Saad bin Laden and al-Qaida military chief Adel, a former Egyptian commando. About a year ago, U.S. officials said Iranian forces had Adel in custody, but Iran did not confirm his detention. Reports among counterterror officials suggest Iranian agents allow some leaders "controlled freedom of movement," the French official said.
As al-Qaida geared up three years ago for its offensive on the West, Iran was a busy route to training camps in Afghanistan, investigators say. In a conversation wiretapped by Italian police on March 10, 2001, a member of a terror cell in Milan, Italy, said holy warriors passing through Iran had nothing to fear, according to the transcript in court documents.
"Isn't there a danger in Iran?" asked a Tunisian named Taarek Chaarabi, who later was convicted on terror-related charges.
"No, because there's an organization that takes care of helping the mujahedeen brothers cross the border. There's total collaboration with the Iranians," responded a Libyan named Lased ben Hani.
"Pakistan was the most comfortable route, but in these past years there's too many secret services," ben Hani continued. He said an al-Qaida operative "in Iran receives the brothers and selects them and decides whether to send them to Afghanistan. It's better to go to the Iranian Embassy in London because it's very smooth and then everything's well-organized all the way to the training camps."
The Iranian entry route became an escape route in late 2001. When the U.S. military smashed bin Laden's Afghan sanctuary, dozens of his militants fled into Iran, some with wives and children. Iranian authorities soon arrested and deported many of them, but other suspected terrorists received different treatment, investigators say. Fugitives went to Iran after eluding dragnets in Spain and other European countries, according to investigators and court documents. Others used Iran as a departure point to attempt attacks in Europe, according to investigators and court documents.
Zarqawi, the Iraq-insurgency figure, is believed to have found refuge in Iran, according to French and Spanish officials. In Spanish communications intercepts last year, a fugitive Moroccan suspect, Amer Azizi, said he was "in Iran with Abu Musab Zarqawi," according to Spanish investigators. Police believe Azizi made his way back from Iran to Madrid to play a lead role in the train bombings.
"The Iranians have been saying for two years that they have dismantled the networks," said Claude Moniquet, director of the European Strategic Intelligence and Security Center, a Brussels, Belgium, think tank. "But there are people in the European services who think Zarqawi was in Iran until recently. It's a contradictory picture."
None of those individuals cited in this story could ever be classified as anything even remotely resembling "neocons" and most them strongly opposed the war in Iraq or the belief that there were ties between Iraq and al-Qaeda. Yet no one who is "in the know" among the British, French, Spanish, or Italian governments is foolish enough to believe that there is any doubt over the issue of Iranian ties to al-Qaeda, especially post-9/11. The al-Qaeda management board is now based in Iran, to use Judge Baltasar Garzon's terminology.
He said that in February 2004.
So I ask you, what exactly has changed with respect to the Iranian relationship with al-Qaeda since then?
The suspension has been welcomed as "a good step in the right direction" by the head of the UN's nuclear watchdog.
Earlier, the head of Iran's nuclear energy body said work would stop at two nuclear plants in Isfahan and Natanz.
Tehran agreed a week ago to suspend its enrichment operations in a deal with the three European nations to allay fears about its nuclear ambitions.
Iranian state television announced on Monday that work on uranium enrichment had been halted.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is now checking that "everything has been stopped", said Mohamed ElBaradei, director general of the UN-backed agency.
Iran still risks a referral to the UN Security council - which could lead to sanctions - if it fails to comply, the British foreign secretary warned on Monday.
Britain, France and Germany brokered the deal with Tehran to suspend uranium enrichment.
"If there is a failure by Iran to meet its obligations then Britain and also Germany and France reserve our collective right to refer the matter to the Security Council," said UK Foreign Secretary Jack Straw.
Iran has reacted angrily to recent reports it was speeding up uranium enrichment before the suspension took effect.
Tehran also hit back at outgoing US Secretary of State Colin Powell's assertion that it was trying to adapt its ballistic missiles to carry nuclear warheads.
"I believe Powell has understood his remarks were false," Iran's nuclear chief Hassan Rohani told state television on Sunday. "Such claims are totally baseless."
But Mr Powell refused to back down, telling reporters on a flight to the Middle East: "I stick with it."
Iran has always denied US claims that it is developing a nuclear weapons programme, saying its intentions are peaceful.
The head of Iran's nuclear agency, Gholam Reza Aghazadeh, said enrichment activities would stop as agreed.
"I believe Iran's Atomic Energy Organisation has carried out whatever measures are required for confidence-building," he told reporters.
He also rejected diplomats' claims that Iran was exploiting the window until Monday to rush production at Isfahan processing facility.
"The Isfahan plant has a specified capacity and cannot operate beyond what has been planned," he said.
"The plant has no enrichment activity. Raw materials are just processed there and it has started activities in this field since a few months ago."
"They need to build confidence and the suspension of uranium enrichment is a good step in the right direction," IAEA head Mohamed ElBaradei told BBC Radio on Monday.
He said that Iran had made two tons of uranium gas used in enrichment, but that this was not enough to produce a nuclear weapon.
Washington has been at the forefront of moves to persuade the IAEA to refer the country to the UN Security Council, which has the power to impose sanctions.
November 22, 2004
Nov 22 2004
'Press the button' pledge if missiles threatened Britain
By Oonagh Blackman Political Editor
DEFENCE Secretary Geoff Hoon has said he would "press the button" for a nuclear strike on Iran if it was menacing Britain with ballistic missiles.
Mr Hoon's doomsday warning threatens to wreck Europe's current diplomatic efforts to prevent Iraq developing atomic weapons. It is under orders to stop its uranium enrichment programmes by today. Iran insists its nuclear work is aimed solely at meeting fuel needs.
Mr Hoon marched into the delicate manoeuvring during a private speech at Nottingham University. He was under attack from students, who had condemned America's controversial Star Wars missile shield as a waste of money.
Mr Hoon told the university's Political Society: "In 15 years, when our friends in Iran have perfected an inter-continental ballistic missile with a nuclear warhead, we'll have a vote. See how many people say I've got to press the button to stop the missiles coming in. I think I might win that one. I have a responsibility to the British people to take action to seek to protect them."
There are deep fears worldwide that George Bush wants to attack Iran and open up a new front in the terror war.
The Ministry of Defence said Mr Hoon was talking "hypothetically".
Downing Street has welcomed an announcement from Iran that it is suspending its nuclear programme.
The Tehran administration said on state television on Monday that it is ceasing its uranium enrichment development in line with international demands to curb its weapons ambitions.
Britain, France and Germany have been at the forefront of efforts to persuade Iran to step down and had set this week as a deadline for compliance.
With Washington adopting a tougher stance and the threat of military action being debated in the US, the pressure was on the Tehran regime to avoid the issue being taken to the UN security council.
International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors will now seek to verify the claims.
But Number 10 said, while it waited for signs that the promise would be fulfilled, events were at least moving in the right direction.
"Clearly the important thing is that Iran is showing signs of compliance," the prime minister's official spokesman said.
"But equally importantly is that it is implemented. That is what will determine where we are in the process."
However Tony Blair was not considering the use of troops or air strikes to enforce the international community's will, Downing Street insisted.
"He is not aware of any discussion in which military action has been discussed," the spokesman said.
And the foreign secretary added that the UN route had not been ruled out.
"If there is a failure by Iran to meet its obligations then Britain and also Germany and France reserve our collective right to refer the matter to the security council," Jack Straw said.
Straw was speaking from Egypt where he was attending an international meeting on supporting elections in Iraq.
The two day event, which was taking place in the Sharm el-Sheik resort, was also attended by representatives of the Iranian government.
Britain is resisting pressure from the Arab League and others to set a clear timetable for the withdrawal of its troops from the region.
2004 Monday 22 November
BRUSSELS (AFP) - British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw voiced hope for an accord to end a nuclear standoff with Iran, but reiterated the row could still end up in the UN Security Council if Tehran fails to comply.
Speaking ahead of a crunch meeting of the UN's nuclear watchdog body this week, he said he hoped an accord reached between Iran and the European Union's so-called Euro three -- Britain, France and Germany -- would be formally approved.
"What we're looking forward to is a translation of that agreement into a text which is then agreed by consensus by the IAEA board of governors," he said, referring to talks Thursday at the International Atomic Energy Agency.
"I hope very much that a way will be found as a result of these negotiations for Iran to come fully into compliance with its obligations," he added.
But he reiterated a warning that "if there is a failure by Iran to meet its obligations then Britain, and also Germany and France, reserve our collective right to refer the matter to the (UN) Security Council."
Iran agreed a week ago in a deal with the three EU states to suspend as of Monday all its uranium enrichment-related activities as a confidence-building measure in order to avoid being taken to the UN Security Council.
Iranian state television said Monday that Tehran was suspending uranium enrichment activities in accordance with the agreement.
On Thursday the IAEA's 35-nation board of governors is to discuss Iran's case. The Vienna-based body must verify the suspension if Iran is to escape the threat of sanctions, something the United States has been pushing for.
Washington accuses Iran of seeking to develop nuclear weapons, a charge denied by Tehran.
Straw, speaking on arrival at a regular meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels, added the Europeans have sought for the last 16 months to resolve the issue within the framework of the IAEA.
But he said: "If of course we are unable to do that, then that (going to the UN Security Council) remains an option."
Iran had already frozen the actual enrichment process since October 2003, but had pressed on with work on other parts of the fuel cycle -- including converting raw uranium into the gas fed into centrifuges and making the centrifuges themselves.
The Islamic republic insists it only wants to enrich uranium to low levels, so as to become self-sufficient in producing fuel for a series of atomic energy reactors it plans to build in the future.
But Western officials have suggested that once it has mastered the fuel cycle, Iran could divert its programme towards making highly enriched uranium -- the explosive core of a nuclear bomb.
In Vienna Monday the IAEA said it should be able to verify Iran's announced suspension of uranium enrichment activity before the agency's board meeting on Thursday.
"Hopefully by Thursday I should be able to report that we've verified the suspension," its chief Mohamed ElBaradei told reporters.
London, England, Nov. 22 (UPI) -- The Iranian regime has no intention of honoring its pledge to end nuclear activities, an Iranian opposition spokesman said Monday.
Farid Sulamani of the People's Mujahedin, or Mujahedin Khalq, told the BBC: "The Iran regime is intent on acquiring an atomic bomb and the world has a duty to stop that."
Sulamani said reliable sources at the highest level of the Iranian leadership spoke of the mullahs' continued pursuit of weapons to defend the regime and export the Islamic revolution to the world.
The remarks came as the IAEA confirmed Iran had fulfilled its commitment of relinquishing uranium enrichment and processing activities. However Sulamani insisted opposition and U.S. revelations in past days of undisclosed sites and material proved activities were continuing "as we speak."
The Iranian regime, he said, was "the poster child" for the threat of terrorism and weapons of mass destruction.
"They need nuclear weapons simply because they want to export their terrorism and anarchy to the world," he continued.
The exiled Mujahedin Khalq is listed by the U.S. State Department as a terror organization. However, the group insists it is working for a democratic Iran and is committed to the idea of a nuclear free Middle East.
Posturing on suspected nuclear threats is no substitute for negotiated settlements.
That a Middle Eastern state thousands of kilometres from the Pacific rim should come to dominate the agenda of the 2004 APEC meeting should come as no surprise. US President George Bush has taken to using APEC summits to advance issues that have little to do directly with the purpose of the forum.
In 2001 he used APEC in Shanghai to marshal a response to the September 11 terrorist attacks. He used the 2002 summit in Mexico to strengthen member nations' resolve against terrorism and to try to build a coalition for an invasion against Iraq. This year Mr Bush used what are supposed to be regional economic and trade talks to flag US concerns over Iran's nuclear ambitions.
US Secretary of State Colin Powell, meanwhile, lobbied APEC foreign ministers separately on the need for a tough stance on Iran. Mr Bush and Mr Powell are relying on limited US intelligence on weapons of mass destruction to suggest that Iran is trying to modify its missile fleet to render it nuclear-capable.
As the US and its allies remain bogged down in post-invasion Iraq, the past weaknesses of US intelligence on WMD are apparent enough. Of course, Iran - along with North Korea - is one of the original triad nominated by Mr Bush in his 2002 State of the Union address as forming the "axis of evil". He spoke then of a "second goal" of preventing regimes that sponsor terrorism from threatening America or allies with weapons of mass destruction, nominating Iran and North Korea.
European Union negotiators in the case of Iran, and China, as head of six-party talks, in the case of North Korea have already covered much ground towards deactivating the nuclear programs of both countries. The efficacy of the US publicly increasing pressure now in either case is at best doubtful and quite possibly counterproductive. With the appointment of Condoleezza Rice to head the State Department, the note of caution that her predecessor might have been expected to sound will be no longer heard.
Dr Rice is not averse to the doctrine of pre-emption or the morality of using force to secure US interests. For the moment, US policy deficiencies on Iran and North Korea are replaced by posturing. The danger is that posturing by the US is historically a short step from unilateral intervention.
The home-spun Bush vision for a safer America based upon the delivery of freedom and democracy to those living under repressive regimes may be Realpolitik in Washington, but intractable problems such as nuclear proliferation in Iran and North Korea demand a rather more subtle, multilateral approach.
There is plenty of scope here for both the International Atomic Energy Agency and the United Nations, along with the European Union and the US, to ensure that Iran does not become a nuclear power. A similar approach ought be taken to curb further proliferation in North Korea. Provided suitable outcomes can be verified, the danger inherent in the US refusal to rule out force will be neutralised.