Skip to comments.Iranian Alert - January 8, 2005 - Iranian opposition exposes another secret nuke plant
Posted on 01/08/2005 1:41:44 AM PST by DoctorZIn
Top News Story
Group discloses secret nuke effort
THE WASHINGTON TIMES
PARIS The Iranian opposition group that exposed the nation's covert nuclear weapons program two years ago said yesterday that supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has ordered the effort to continue in secret.
The opposition group, the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), also disclosed the existence of what it said is a new uranium enrichment facility in central Iran that is nearing completion.
Speaking to reporters in Paris yesterday, Mohammad Mohaddessin, chairman of the NCRI's Foreign Affairs Committee, said the Iranian regime is "playing a double game" with Europe.
"Khamenei has ordered his regime to not only continue the enrichment of uranium, but to buy time and accelerate the project in order to make the bomb as quickly as possible," Mr. Mohaddessin said.
"Khamenei has ordered his diplomats and his negotiators to prolong the negotiations as much as possible, possibly by between eight and 12 months, which is exactly the time needed to complete the bomb," he said.
The Bush administration and European powers have branded the NCRI a terrorist group, mainly because its military wing was sheltered by Saddam Hussein at bases in Iraq, from which it launched attacks in Iran.
The group, however, gained credibility in August 2002 by exposing another secret uranium enrichment facility being built underground in Natanz, 150 miles south of Tehran, and a heavy water production facility at Arak, about 120 miles southwest of Tehran.
That exposure triggered the current nuclear standoff with Iran, by forcing the Islamist regime to open these sites to the U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
Talks today between European negotiators and Iran represent a "last-chance" at getting the Tehran regime to stop enriching uranium and avoid the threat of U.N. sanctions.
In exchange, the Europeans are offering technical assistance such as helping Iran build a light-water power reactor and providing a supply of reactor fuel and trade incentives.
Mr. Mohaddessin said that while the regime was negotiating with Europe, it was also putting the finishing touches on a major site that would be needed to produce large quantities of enriched uranium.
The site, located in Isfahan in central Iran, would convert uranium oxide, called "yellowcake," into uranium hexafluoride gas, a stage prior to enrichment.
He said a test center for centrifuges had been constructed with "utmost discretion" near the site, and that between 120 and 180 centrifuges will be installed there.
Uranium hexafluoride is fed into centrifuges for enrichment.
Mr. Mohaddessin credited a network of sources inside Iran for his information.
A spokesman at the British Foreign Office, reached by telephone, declined to comment on Mr. Mohaddessin's charges but said there was "nothing to lose" by continuing to negotiate.
"If we do get compliance, that's all well and good, and if we don't, there's more chance of a consensus at the next [IAEA] board meeting because all options would have been looked at," he said.
DoctorZin Note: While I have my concerns about the MEK they appear to be providing an essential role in awakening the world to the Iranian threat.
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Jan. 8, 2005 0:58
Iraqi militant admits ties with Iran, SyriaBy ASSOCIATED PRESS
A militant leader suspected of involvement in beheadings and bloody attacks in Iraq confessed to Iraqi authorities his group's links with Iran and Syria, according to footage aired by the US-based and funded Alhurra television.
Moayad Ahmed Yasseen, the leader of Jaish Muhammad, Arabic for Muhammad's Army, was shown in the program aired in Iraq Friday, nearly two months after his capture in Fallujah, the guerrilla stronghold west of Baghdad.
The Arabic-language station said the Iraq Ministry of Defense provided the tape, filmed on Dec. 24. The circumstances of his purported confession were unclear.
Yasseen, a former colonel in Saddam Hussein's army, said two former military officers were sent "to Iran in April or May, where they met a number of Iranian intelligence officials."
He said Iranian officials provided money, weapons "and as far as I know even car bombs" for the group. He said among the officials they met in Iran was its supreme leader Ali Khamenei.
Yasseen also said he got permission from Saddam _ while the former dictator was in hiding after his ouster during the US led invasion in 2003 to cross into Syria and meet a Syrian intelligence officer to ask for money and weapons. He didn't say if the request was granted.
Iran Pledges to Compensate Syria for U.S. SanctionsJanuary 07, 2005
Don't expect economic sanctions to change the policies of Syria's regime. Iran has already prepared for the prospect of additional U.S. sanctions against Damascus and has begun a series of major projects in Syria.
For Iran, these projects are strategic. Teheran does not want to be left alone facing the United States. So, maintaining Syria as an ally in the fight against the United States is a key goal of Iran.
Iran has been constructing a factory capable of producing 1 million tons of cement and is also building a power plant in the port city of Banyas. In all, Iran is prepared to invest up to $3 billion in Syria.
Arab diplomatic sources said the power plant is a strategic option for Iran, since Teheran wants to use Banyas as a port should the United States block the Straits of Hormuz.
www.geostrategy-direct.com, January 11, 2005
Has U.S. threatened
to vaporize Mecca?
Intelligence expert says nuke option is reason bin Laden has been quiet
Posted: January 7, 2005
1:00 a.m. Eastern
© 2005 WorldNetDaily.com
Why hasn't Osama bin Laden's terror network executed an attack on U.S. soil since 9-11?
Simple, says Dr. Jack Wheeler, creator of an acclaimed intelligence website dubbed "the oasis for rational conservatives": The U.S. has threatened to nuke the Muslim holy city of Mecca should the terror leader strike America again.
On his website, To the Point, Wheeler explains how the Bush administration has identified the potential of wiping Mecca off the map as bin Laden's ultimate point of vulnerability the Damoclean Sword hanging over his head.
"Israel recognizes that the Aswan Dam is Egypt's Damoclean Sword," writes Wheeler. "There is no possibility whatever of Egypt's winning a war with Israel, for if Aswan is blown, all of inhabited Egypt is under 20 feet of water. Once the Israelis made this clear to the Egyptians, the possibility of any future Egyptian attack on Israel like that of 1948, 1967, and 1972 is gone."
Wheeler says talk of bin Laden's Damoclean Sword has infiltrated the Beltway.
Writes Wheeler in his members-only column: "There has been a rumor floating in the Washington ether for some time now that George Bush has figured out what Sword of Damocles is suspended over Osama bin Laden's head. It's whispered among Capitol Hill staffers on the intel and armed services committees; White House NSC (National Security Council) members clam up tight if you begin to hint at it; and State Department neo-cons love to give their liberal counterparts cardiac arrhythmia by elliptically conversing about it in their presence.
"The whispers and hints and ellipses are getting louder now because the rumor explains the inexplicable: Why hasn't there been a repeat of 9-11? How can it be that after this unimaginable tragedy and Osama's constant threats of another, we have gone over three years without a single terrorist attack on American soil?"
Available only to subscribers of To the Point, Wheeler ends his column by explaining the effectiveness of the Mecca threat.
"Completely obliterating the terrorists' holiest of holies, rendering what is for them the world's most sacred spot a radioactive hole in the ground is retribution of biblical proportions and those are the only proportions that will do the job.
"Osama would have laughed off such a threat, given his view that Americans are wussies who cut and run after a few losses, such as Lebanon in 1983 and Somalia in 1993. Part of Bush's rationale for invading Afghanistan and Iraq obviously never expressed publicly was to convince Osama that his threat to nuke Mecca was real. Osama hates America just as much as ever, but he is laughing no more."
Wheeler says bin Laden is "playing poker with a Texas cowboy holding the nuclear aces," so there's nothing al-Qaida could do that could come remotely close to risking obliterating Mecca.
Writes Wheeler: "So far, Osama has decided not to see if GW is bluffing. Smart move."
Toward Nuclear AbolitionBy Tom Nichols
January 7, 2005
Toward Nuclear Abolition [Volume Three of The Struggle Against the Bomb],
By Lawrence Wittner
Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2003. 657 pp, notes, bib, index
The views expressed are those of the author and not of any agency of the U.S. government.
Reading Lawrence Wittners massive and adoring trilogy on the nuclear disarmament movement, one cannot help but feel a pang of sympathy. With the Cold War over, the antinuclear movement has fallen on hard times (especially since its apparently just not as gratifying to protest against North Korean or Iranian nuclear ambitions), and there is almost a wistfulness to Wittners account of what he sees as the greatest citizens movement in history. This was a movement that above all wanted to matter, to believe that their protests did more than just annoy rush-hour commuters who would have to take the dreaded alternate routes home when they blocked the streets with banners and chants. They wanted to believe that their ideals somehow made it through the bubble around the Washington Beltway, and seeped under the walls of the Kremlin, having an impact behind policymaking doors that were otherwise closed to them.
Wittner has answered the call and written the definitive work for those who want to believe the movement mattered. And make no mistake: this study is genuinely magisterial, and clearly represents a lifes work. Everything one might wish to know about the antinuclear movement anywhere in the world since the dawn of The Bomb is somewhere in these books, and for the few who will be curious about this particular corner of the Cold War, these books will be a valuable reference. But it is unfortunate that such monumental research and scholarship results only in an interpretation that Wittner himself admits many readers might find startling. Startling, indeed. And wrong.
Wittner argues that the anti-nuclear movement was not only important, but in fact instrumental in keeping the peace and bringing about the end of the Cold War itself. Most government officialsand particularly those of the major powers, he writes, had no intention of adopting nuclear arms control and disarmament policies. It was only the dedicated pressure of the antinuclear movement that kept the Cold War cold, and all of us alive.
To anyone who lived through the late period of the Cold War, this doesnt seem so incredible a claim at first blush: the rallies, protest, and general hysteria of the early 1980s clearly had an impact on the way the United States and the Soviet Union vied for public advantage in the war for the worlds hearts and minds. And no matter how silly they could get, people like the insufferable Helen Caldicott (whose training as a pediatrician in Australia quite naturally qualified her as an expert on ballistic nuclear weapons) were ubiquitous in the media, hammering on the Reagan administration and shaping many aspects of the debate whether conservatives liked it or not.
But there is a significant difference between helping to generate public hysteria and actually having a detailed impact on foreign policy. (Even Wittner admits that for the first few years of the Reagan administration, the highest levels of government were quarantined from infection by the antinuclear movement.) The disarmament campaigners, to be sure, were a considerable pain in the neck to both Washington and to Americas NATO partners. They increased the cost of conducting the Cold War and managed to give the West a few serious black eyes in the propaganda struggle. (The image of British mommies being arrested while protesting the deployment of NATO nuclear arms at Greenham Common was not a particularly attractive one.) But in the end, the question remains: did any of it matter?
Wittners third volume, Toward Nuclear Abolition, boldly claims that it did. Reagan reaching out to the Soviet leadership in the mid-1980s? That was the result of the movement. Gorbachev and his new thinking? Yes, that too. The INF Treaty? Of course. One thing happened in the wake of the other: there were protests, and then changes in policy. QED.
Before criticizing Wittner too severely, let us give the protesters their due. On many occasions, as Wittner rightly points out, the public pressure and propaganda they could generate did force NATO to alter its tactics. It is unarguable, for example, that the zero-option that would become the INF treaty later had its roots in an attempt to outflank popular protests in Europe. Likewise, the British government did in fact limit the number of nuclear cruise missile sites in the UK so as to limit the possible number of locations for protests. These are important facts, ones worth knowing, and there are many like them to be found in Wittners hefty 600-page study. There is no doubt that Western leaders felt significant pressure from public protests, and did what they could to ameliorate them.
But Wittner constantly overestimates the coherence and reach of the antinuclear movement. There are two specific problems with Wittners claims. First, to credit public anxiety about nuclear war and consequent political pressure to the movement is to place too much importance on the disarmament organizations. I lived in New York (and for a summer, in the USSR) as a young graduate student during the very worst years of the Soviet-American confrontation in the 1980s, and while I recall the protests (including the huge outpouring in Central Park), I also recall that what had so many of us scared both in New York and Leningrad was not the bullhorns of the demonstrators but the apparent inexorable movement of United States and the Soviet Union toward some sort of apocalyptic showdown. We needed no encouragement from disarmament activists to feel that we were living in dangerous times.
Indeed, the rhetoric of the antinuclear movement in those days reached almost cartoonish silliness that made it easy to dismiss: I remember, for example, Caldicott saying in 1984 that nuclear war was a mathematical certainty if Ronald Reagan were reelected. (Check your math, Helen, were all still here.) While some of this panic-mongering unarguably had an effect, Witter grants the movement credit for what was really a more widespread anxiety derived not from propaganda but from the days headlines.
This generalized climate of fear led to a situation in which the popular media and culture seemed simply drenched with the idea that nuclear war was inevitable. MTV, for example, probably had more effect on the politics of young people than SANE, CND, or any of the other peace groups, especially for young men and women who lived outside the Boston-Washington corridor. By the estimate of one researcher, in the early 1980s MTV was showing some nuclear war-related theme almost hourly. Pop music was saturated with words and images relating to nuclear war, with at least two popular videos showing (for comic effect, of course) someone accidentally pressing the nuclear button. Another, by a British group, actually had actors resembling Reaganwho showed up in one way or another in many songs and videosand then-Soviet leader Konstantin Chernenko literally beating each other to death in an arena of cheering people, until at the end of the match, the world explodes. I dont know if the German singer Nena was a member of the movement, but if she was, she probably radicalized more German (and later, American) kids with her wildly popular song 99 Red Balloonsin which she accidentally starts a nuclear war by releasing some balloonsthan most antinuclear organizations can ever claim.
The point in all this is that anyone who was alive in the late 1970s and early 1980s had every reason to be frightened. The Soviet Union of that time was a paranoid and aggressive country, armed to the teeth with nuclear weapons, invading and coercing even its own allies, and spewing increasingly alarming propaganda. The United States, in turn, was led by an administration that embraced the Soviet challenge, and more than willing to issue some pretty terrifying propaganda itself. (The comment by an a U.S. undersecretary of defense in 1982 that everyones going to make it if there are enough shovels to go around for people to dig little makeshift shelters was a particularly cold-blooded touch.) In short, people were scared not because the antinuclear movement had educated them into their fear, but because anyone with at least minimal literacy and an ounce of common sense should have been scared out of their wits.
But even if we grant that disarmament organizations managed to prime the pump of public fear, the more important problems with the book, and particularly with the section on the latter years of the Cold War, are Wittners claims about the movements immense influence on policy in both Washington and Moscow. This constant overreaching is the central flaw in a book that is in many other respects a well-researched and engagingly written work, and it creates an undertone of sanctimoniousness that undermines a relatively laudable attempt at scholarly balance.
This claim of influence is striking because the record of the antinuclear movement is not exactly littered with success. Wittner repeatedly stressesagain, rightlythe maneuvering that Western governments had to engage in to press their policies in the face of protest. But press ahead they did, and Wittner cannot explain away the most salient fact of all: on the most important issues of the day, the antinuclear activists were actually defeated every time. Moreover, he does not seriously consider the most damning charge against the antinuclear campaign: the likelihood that the world might well be worse off today if the movement had gotten its way twenty or thirty years ago.
The list of failures is obvious. The holy grail of the movement at the time, the nuclear freeze, was never enacted; had it been, it would have emboldened the Soviets to drag their feet on further negotiation forever, as Moscow was counting on the peace movement to achieve what Soviet negotiators could not. The Pershing nuclear missiles were deployed, wrecking a Soviet strategy that tried to hold arms negotiations hostage to NATOs willingness to remain in a position of inferiority. Gorbachev later called the Pershings a gun to the USSRs head that he had to negotiate to remove, which showed the wisdom of deploying them in the first place. SDI was announced and funded, and development on national missile defenses continues to this day. Wittner tries to take heart in anecdotal evidence that Soviet scientists, influenced by the movement, putatively restrained the Soviet response to SDI, and downplays the significant evidence that SDI in fact sent a seriously damaging shock wave through the Soviet scientific and defense establishments.
Indeed, in a typical sort of passage, Wittner claims that SDI was designed, in large part, to counter the flourishing Nuclear Freeze movement. The book is structured around these heads-I-win, tails-you-lose arguments, in which Wittner claims at least partial victories for the movement when policymakers reject their position, and full victories when policymakers do something the movement finds appealing. But if this is the profile of a successful movement, one can only wonder what it would have looked like had the movement failed.
As Wittner himself discusses, the most common sin in the sciences, including the social sciences, is the fallacy of post hoc ergo propter hoc, the idea that because two things happen in sequence, the first must have caused the secondi.e., roosters crow, the sun rises, therefore, roosters make the sun rise. He uses this concept to dismiss the idea that the United States won the Cold War through strength and to make the case instead that the Cold War ended because antinuclear ideals rose to dominance. (And yes, he refers to the idea that West won through strength as triumphalism, a word that increasingly has come to mean that Americans may take no pleasure in the destruction of one of the most evil regimes in modern history because to do so irritates the intellectuals who were on the wrong side of the struggle.)
And yet, Wittner himself has produced a volume replete with the type of arguments he criticizes. Its true, for example, that SDI was useful in countering the arguments of the freezeniks, but Wittner wants to leave the impression that Reagan concocted SDI largely because of the crushing pressure of the movement and its agitation of the American public, and less because he genuinely believed in missile defense. (He also gets an important fact wrong here, claiming that SDI and the Pershing deployments resulted in a KGB warning order to foreign stations to watch for signs of attack in 1983, but that order was given in 1981, two years before either event.) What about the possibility that SDI was going to happen because Reagan wanted it, and the ammunition it provided to argue against the freeze was just a bonus? Simply because Reagan mentions the Freeze in his speech announcing SDI does then mean that SDI was a result of the Freeze.
This kind of reasoning permeates the book. Elsewhere, Wittner writes: As Soviet-American relations deteriorated, nuclear arms control negotiations stagnated, and antinuclear demonstrations escalated, the Reagan administrationand particularly the Presidentgrew increasingly defensive, as well as increasingly dovish.Well, yes, but the first two factors were probably somewhat more important than the third. In any case, no reasonable person would disagree with an assertion that public anxiety over the tense standoff between Moscow and Washington limited and shaped American political options. But what does this say other than that the United States is a democracy, and that the Reagan administration was not completely deaf to polls showing that Americans were scared that the president was taking too hard a line with the Soviets?
In fact, the agitation of the peace movement had relatively little to do with the strategic sea-change in U.S. policy in early 1984. Rather, it happened because Ronald Reagan became convinced in late 1983 that the United States and the Soviet Union were dangerously close to war. That year was a truly horrible one in the Cold Warin my view, it should be dubbed The Year We Almost Didnt Make Itand as Beth Fischer has shown in her book The Reagan Reversal, there were several incidents that had a serious impact on the presidents thinking, including the shock of the Soviet downing of a Korean airliner, and Reagans visceral reaction to an advance screening of the film The Day After (a case in which antinuclear propaganda really did manage to make it into the halls of power and have an effect).
The most hair-raising moment, however, was one that the antinuclear movement couldnt have even known about. In November 1983, NATO conducted an exercise code-named Able Archer, designed to test the alliances communications and procedures for releasing nuclear weapons. Soviet forces in Europe, to the alarm of the Western intelligence community, began to prepare for a nuclear retaliatory strike. When NATO stood down, the Soviets apparently accepted that what they were seeing was only an exercise and not an actual preparation for Armageddon. It was a close call; Fischer claims Reagan reacted with shock and disbelief that the Soviets would actually think he would start a nuclear war out of the blue. (The Russians were so paranoid by this point that a KGB defector later revealed that even some KGB agents were more worried about the alarmism of their own leaders than about the Americans.)
Wittner does discuss Able Archer, but for some reason focuses primarily on its impact on the Soviets, rather than the Americans. Of course, to discuss the effect on Reagan and other U.S. policymakers would lead to an explanation that change came about for reasons unrelated to the antinuclear movement, and while Wittner might reject that possibility, it should be taken seriously. The most plausible explanation of the turn in U.S. policy is that we had scared the hell out of the Kremlin, and in doing so had scared ourselves. Reagan realized that the Americans, however inadvertently, had gone too far in trying to convince the Soviet leadership that the United States was determined to oppose communism. He consequently turned American policy toward a more accommodating line, one that would find no takers until the emergence of Gorbachev, whose elevation to power itself reflected the Soviet leaderships desire to get out of the bind in which American military and economic strength had placed them. Wittner tries heroically to shoehorn all this into a narrative that somehow still places the antinuclear movement at the center of events. But this pivotal moment in history rested not on antinuclear activists but on what even Wittner admits was Reagans longstanding and deep-seated hatred of the very idea of nuclear weapons and his realization that the last chance for peace might have been slipping away.
Wittners depiction overall of Reagan is relatively balanced, but there is a tone-deafness to politics in general throughout the book. For example, Wittner repeatedly credits the movement with generating opposition in the U.S. Congress to Reagans arms programs. This is stunningly apolitical and even slightly insulting to the people involved. The political animosity toward Reagan on the part of people Wittner mentions such as congressmen Richard Gephardt and James Wright was so great that they certainly needed no goading from the antinuclear movement to oppose him. The idea that a Democratic-controlled Congress needed cues from the disarmament community in order to attack Reagans defense policy is typical of Wittners reasoning, and does not reflect (at least in my brief experience as a Senate aide) how lawmakers calculate such decisions.
On the Soviet side, Wittner shows a reasonable understanding of the rigidity of the Soviet leadership in the early 1980s, and in particular the military influence on Soviet foreign policy. But even here, he is so eager to show the ostensibly far-reaching influence of the disarmament campaigners that he posits relationships between the movement and Soviet policy that are based on little more than assertion. The Soviet governments arms control proposals, he writes,
reflected even more clearly a response to pressures from the antinuclear campaign. In May 1982, with Nuclear Freeze resolutions before the U.S. Congress and START talks about to open in Geneva, Brezhnev announced the Soviet governments willingness to support a variant of the Nuclear Freeze proposal. We would be prepared to reach agreement than the strategic armament of the USSR and the USA be frozen right away, he stated, as soon as the talks begin, frozen quantitativelyand that modernization be limited to the utmost. Although this was a weaker arms control agreement than promoted by the Freeze campaign, it demonstrated the Kremlins willingness to tailor its policy proposals to popular antinuclear ideas 
Well it might have been the Kremlin tailoring policy proposals to antinuclear ideas, but better evidence suggests that it was more likely a cynical Soviet ploy to make the Americans sweat under the glare of public opinion. This was not the first time, nor would it be the last, that the Soviets would make proposals they knew were unacceptable both to the Americans and to themselves (a tactic the Americans used as well). Worse, with the exception of the occasional nod to the power of the military, Wittner unmoors any of these Soviet actions from what we know now to have been an ongoing and serious struggle over policy between Soviet and civilian and military elites in this period. Instead, he simply asserts a connection between Soviet rhetoric and the peace movement, and leaves it at that without further remark or explanation.
Wittner is on to something in terms of the Soviets noticing the peace movementbut not in the way he might hope. He notes that in December 1982, Yuri Andropov delivered his first arms control speech a month after succeeding Brezhnev, and that it was dismissed by Washington as propaganda aimed at the Europeans. In fact, he writes, the Soviet government made numerous proposals for nuclear weapons reductionsmany of them publicly appealing, but none of them acceptable to the U.S. government. This, of course, was the point: to make publicly appealing proposals that your adversary cannot accept. This is the game of public diplomacy, and the Soviets at least for a time played it better than almost anyone else.
But while Wittner discusses Andropovs public comments in December 1982, he is apparently unaware of an interesting speech Andropov made behind closed doors to the Warsaw Pact leadership a month later. (To be fair to Wittner, I do not know if this source was available when he wrote Toward Nuclear Abolition.) Lamenting the hard line of the Reagan administration (whom he refers to in his speech as a political boor), Andropov notes:
Isnt it characteristic that, independently of the World Peace Council, the mass anti-nuclear movement, which is already affecting the political climate, has emerged and is becoming more powerful in Western Europe and in the United States itself. The idea of freezing the nuclear arsenals enjoys wide support in the Democratic Party of the United States. The Labor party supports nuclear disarmament of Great Britain. These are not just little things.
In other words, Andropov is indeed grateful for the effect an independent peace movement is havingon the Americans. And why is the new Soviet leader so interested in curbing the arms race? We cannot allow US military superiority, he vows to his allies, and we will not allow it. But later, he makes clear the price of competition with the Americans:
Probably, the Soviet Union feels the burden of the arms race into which we are being pulled more than anybody else does. It is not an easy task for anybody to appropriate additional resources, to strengthen their military forces. It is not a big problem for Reagan to shift tens of billions of dollars of appropriations for social needs to the military industrial complex. Meanwhile, we cannot stop thinking about the well being of the workers. But unfortunately, today we do not have any other alternatives, except to respond to NATOs challenges with our counter-measures, which would be persuasive for the present American politicians. Our peoples would not understand it if we showed carelessness regarding the threats from NATO.
In other words: this arms competition is having ruinous effects on our economy, and the Soviet Union needs to find a way out of it for our own goodexactly the kind of reaction to American pressure that Wittner calls triumphalist and mistaken.
Wittner and I have been speaking to different Russians, apparently, since more than a few former Soviet diplomats and military officers I interviewed in recent years thought it unremarkable to accept that a large part of what brought about the Gorbachev line and the eventual end of the Cold War was the unbearable cost of military competition with the West and particularly with the Reagan administration. His sources for disputing this version of events are former Soviet officials such as Politburo advisor Georgii Arbatov, whom Wittner quotes as calling absolute nonsense that the U.S. military buildup altered Soviet policy. And yet, this is the same Arbatov who wrote in his memoirs:
[In the 1970s] we showed the Americans and NATO, more clearly than ever before, that we were going to keep up with any new military program, and not only duplicate it, but sometimes even respond to one program with two or three of our own. The Americans quickly understood that the USSRs gross national product was three or four times smaller than their own and that of their allies, and that this provided a reliable and, more important, completely safe opportunity to undermine the might of the Soviet Union, perhaps eventually to inflict a total defeat upon it through economic exhaustion in a hopeless military rivalry.
Interestingly, this passage is omitted from the translated version of Arbatovs memoirs published in America. (As Hunter Thompson would say, res ipsa loquitur.) If Wittner believes that antinuclear demonstrations were more important than American strength in forcing the Soviets to seek an exit from the military competition, perhaps he should take it up with Arbatov.
As for Gorbachev, Wittners depiction is unsurprisingly fawning (and dealing with Gorbachevs general mendacity would take up an entire review itself), but even here Wittner feels the need to claim that even Gorbachev would not have gone down the path of disarmament were it not for the antinuclear movement. Apparently, no onenot even the sainted Gorbachevwas able to think independently about nuclear arms without the tutelage and example of the activists.
Toward the end of the volume Wittner makes a strange attempt to link disarmament issues to the course of great events, going so far as to assert that the signing of the START I treaty precipitated the Soviet coup against Gorbachev in 1991. This might be one of the most implausible explanations of the coup I have ever read, and I have never encountered any evidence (and still havent) to support that interpretation. The more immediate triggerand we know this because, er, the plotters said so at the timewas the signing of a new Union treaty that would have effectively disbanded the USSR. But then, the constant need to place the disarmament movement at the center of events means that the book is full of such moments, in which correlation becomes causation and context is lost.
In any case, whatever optimistic face he puts on the supposed successes of the disarmament movement, Wittners true frustration pours out at the very end of the book. He knows that an outright ban on the bomb is unlikely in our lifetimes, but why? There are obvious reasons, of course; atomic bombs cannot be disinvented any more than telephones or safety pins can be disinvented. Their immense destructive capacity offers weak actors in the international system, whether they are states or other groups, a shortcut to power and influence. And as long as there are people who seek to do harm to others, there will always be a market for nuclear technology.
But for Wittner, the Bomb survives not because it is impossible to make bad people forget how to build it, but rather because it is kept alive by the pathology of the nation-state system, in which the anarchy of international life tempts national leaders to choose the most lethal means available to compete with each other for power. This worship of weaponry is abetted by a cabal of sinister forces, a substantial public constituency that military-oriented officials have been able to tap for support. (Its not clear to me what a military-oriented official is, or how that differs from a military officer.) This constituency includes self-described nationalists, and another drawn from fundamentalist religious groups and conservative parties, whose members are zealous believers in curbing individual sin through punishment and national misbehavior through war. As if this werent bad enough, these right-wing crackpots have made common cause with the Beltway Bandits. Together with defense contractors and the armed forces, the believers in national glory and irredeemable human wickedness provide national security officials with useful political leverage.
Its unfortunate to see an author as good as Wittner lapse into Noam Chomsky-like hyperventilation at the end of a three-book opus that is an admirable achievement whether one agrees with it or not. But in a sense, his anger is understandable. In the end, what does the disarmament movement have to show for its efforts? Even now, it must be difficult for its members to accept that the first treaty abolishing an entire class of nuclear arms was negotiated and signed by Ronald Reagan. And it must be incomprehensible that a Western strategy of military strength finally kicked the pillars out from under the rotting communist empire. Today, with the manifest failure of international diplomatic efforts to contain nuclear programs in Iran, North Korea, and yes, Iraq, the antinuclear movement seems more dated and feckless than ever. Who can blame Lawrence Wittner, or anyone else who has devoted their life to peaceful disarmament, for being angry?
 Lawrence Wittner, Toward Nuclear Abolition (Stanford: Stanford Univ. Press, 2003), p. 486.
 Wittner, p. 326
 Wittner, p. 487.
 Wittner, p. 317.
 See Beth Fischer, The Reagan Reversal (Columbia, MO: University of Missouri Press, 1997).
 Wittner, p. 300.
 Available online at the National Security Archive, http://www2.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB14/doc19.htm
 Wittner, p. 487.
 Georgii Arbatov, Zatianuvsheesia vyzdorovlenie (Moscow: Mezhdunarodnye Otnosheniia, 1991), p. 235.
 Wittner, p. 488.
 Wittner, p. 489.
Tom Nichols is the Chairman of the Department of Strategy and Policy at the U.S. Naval War College in Newport, RI.
The ChoiceElections will be a plebiscite, too, on which version of Islam should prevail.
BY MICHAEL NOVAK
Friday, January 7, 2005 12:01 a.m. EST
The AP photograph of a killer in Baghdad shooting a pistol into the head of one kneeling election worker--while another lies crumpled on the street--illuminates the face of our enemy. It is the face of Muslim fascists murdering Muslim liberals.
The victims were public servants--agents of the will of the Iraqi people. The force that would commit such a cardinal sin against human rights did so in cold blood and in deliberate, full view of the world. Thirty heavily armed men allowed a photographer to shoot a whole roll of film, right under their guns. Their aim was propaganda as well as murder.
These killers learned their techniques of propaganda and terror, of organization by cells and public acts of violence, from the fascists who occupied much of the Middle East from the 1920s on, and from communists afterward. The well-known "clash of civilizations" does not so much pit a Jewish-Christian-humanist West against an Islamic East. It pits a small but ruthless Muslim minority, whose methods are fascist, against a large Muslim majority whose political views are unformed but who want their children to share in the prosperity and freedom they see elsewhere.
Recently, I was asked to give a week of lectures on religion and democracy to the 40 field commanders of the Sudanese Resistance. I had expected most to be Christians or adherents of native African religions, but half or more were Muslims. All were tough leaders. All spoke of the cruelties and tortures of the Khartoum regime.
Two of the Muslim colonels had been university professors, one in Canada, the other in France. Why, one of them asked, when we want only to be devout Muslims, do the radicals in Khartoum quote against us some text from the Koran and tell us we are opposing the Prophet? Why must we practice the barbaric punishments of the seventh or 11th century?
"I am no expert in Islam," I replied, "but I can tell you how we Catholics have come to reject practices that were common centuries ago among our own ancestors." And I laid out some arguments. ...
It is true that Islam has a violent history in most lands it has conquered since the time of Mohammad, and so the agitators for jihad and terror cite authorities and precedents on their side. Furthermore, of the wars being fought in Africa and Asia and the Middle East today, nearly all involve Muslims committed to terrorism. As one Muslim journalist wrote this past year: "It is certainly true that not all Muslims are terrorists, however, sadly we say that the majority of terrorists in the world are Muslims."
Yet in the face of such violence, we must not allow ourselves to assume that great numbers of Muslims do not crave the best opportunities of our age or allow ourselves to believe, wrongly, that freedom, individual dignity, equality under the law and the rule of law are fated to belong only to Christians, Jews and humanists.
There is precedent on the majority side, too. Islam is a religion of reward and punishment; hence, in some sense, of personal responsibility. Islam has a long tradition of working from consultation and consensus. There are heavy religious proscriptions against taking the lives of civilians. And in recent years currents of democratic thought, often repressed, have begun stirring in institutes, journal articles and democratic associations. A small number of Islamic democracies, mostly in Asia, have experienced peaceful changes of government. Something is blowing in the wind.
This month alone, in two major hot spots of the Arab world--Palestine and Iraq--elections are taking place. In Iraq, the most important Shi'ite clerics--leaders of some 65% of the Iraqi population--have urged participation in Jan. 30's vote and insisted that it not be delayed. Yes, they stand to gain by the result, but the temporary constitution they helped enact has remarkable safeguards for minorities. The Shi'ites well remember that, for more than 30 years, they suffered at the hands of a contemptuous Sunni minority, against whom they had no democratic protections.
In the great battle being fought in the soul of the Muslim majority, which form of Islam will prevail: the fascist, terrorist sort--or the sort compatible with democracy and human rights? The welcome answer will come, I believe, if only the terrorists can be kept from preventing it.
Mr. Novak, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, is the author of, most recently, "The Universal Hunger for Liberty" (Basic Books).
Dancing with Iran
Ghassan Charbel Al-Hayat 2005/01/6
Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharazzi did not conceal his elation with the "victory", which was achieved by his country when National Geographic agreed to retract the "Arab Gulf" expression from its Atlas and permanently replace it with the "Persian Gulf". The Iranian News Agency celebrated the "correction" and saw the step as "victory for every Iranian". The magazine also removed the indication of an Iran-UAE dispute over the three islands in the Gulf from its website.
Let us put the matter of the magazine and the naming aside and look at the facts in the region. In the Iranian-Iraqi-Turkish triangle, which rests upon historic balances and a memory burdened with imperial wars, one can say that the Arab side has fallen with nothing indicates the restoration of its position in the near future. We do not say in attempt to guard the "Eastern Gate" through confrontation with Iran, something that Saddam did, but we say it as a way to read the new balances, which were bred by several factors, like the crisis that has hit Iraq. Turkey, residing under the NATO umbrella and governed by a party with Islamic roots, a party that realistically deals with Ataturk's legacy, has won itself a date to enter the European club while Iraq's unity is threatened and its land is open for grabs.
On the other side, Iran succeeded in rebuilding its military arsenal under a stable regime whose tensions are relieved by elections. Furthermore, Iran is not content with the traditional arsenal; doubts have risen regarding its propensity to sneak into the nuclear club like India, Pakistan, and Israel. It is true that the relations between Tehran and Washington were not resumed, and that the American administration did not fall short from pressuring and attacking the Iranian regime, but it is also true that Iran has exhibited great skill dancing with the Americans on the Afghani and Iraqi stages; it witnessed the fall of two hostile regimes without losing one drop of blood. At the same time, Iran succeeded in securing a place on the Arab-Israeli front through southern Lebanon and the Hezbollah presence therein. It also succeeded in maintaining friendly and consultative relations with Syria despite the difference of their positions on several issues.
The most dangerous Iranian achievement up till now, however, is its transformation into a decisive factor in the Iraqi future; in the least, it has the ability to prevent the creation of an antagonistic Iraq. It will be extremely dangerous if Iran transforms into a thread in the Iraqi internal fabric and appears as the supporter of the Iraqi Shiites, their protector, or the godfather of their gaining of a big share of power.
Arabs have no interest being Iran's enemy or inciting against it; but it is their right to mark the advancement of its position in the region at a time when their position is deteriorating due to continous collapses. Furthermore, it is their right to note that Iran's possession of a nuclear arsenal must not be read as a balance with Israel, because it multiplies the discrepancy in the balance of power between Iran and the Arab countries. The Arabs have an interest in having the firmest ties with Iran, but they also have the right to think about their future position in the Middle East region, especially if Washington chooses to recognize some of what Iran is working to establish after the fall of the "Eastern Gate". That will be a much more important victory than Kharazzi's celebration with regards to the "Persian Gulf" expression in the American magazine.
Forget breathalisers, Iran's drivers facing pee bottles
January 07, 2005
TEHRAN: Iranian bus and truck drivers will soon face being stopped at the side of the road and forced to pee into a bottle as part of a police campaign to weed out drug users.
Top police official Mohsen Ansari told the student news agency ISNA Wednesday that an estimated 10 percent of these drivers used narcotics, meaning police were forced to add Thin Layer Chromatography (TLC) urine testing kits to their arsenal.
"Drivers who test positive will have their licenses invalidated and will have to appear in court," he said.
Iran's road network is one of the most dangerous in the world, with the past five years seeing some 100,000 road accident deaths. Most accidents are blamed on reckless high-speed driving tendencies, dilapidated vehicles and poor roads.
A ban on alcohol means that drink driving is not a significant problem, but the country does count an estimated two million users of opium, heroin, morphine or cannabis.
White House makes PSI a foreign policy priority in 2005
WASHINGTON The United States plans to press its allies to demonstrate greater cooperation in the effort to interdict weapons of mass destruction from such countries as Iran and North Korea.
The Bush administration plans to make the Proliferation Security Initiative a key foreign policy goal in 2005, sources said. PSI would be a tool in any U.S.-led effort to hamper the nuclear weapons and missile programs of such countries as Iran and North Korea.
President George Bush announced PSI in 2003 as a multilateral arrangement to enhance and expand efforts to prevent the flow of WMD, including their delivery systems and related materials to and from countries of proliferation concern. The initiative began with 11 countries and has since been expanded to 15.
Up to 60 countries have expressed interest in participating in PSI. Washington plans to encourage them to provide intelligence information on the shipments of suspected WMD and missiles as well as air flights. The countries would also be asked to prepare to interdict suspected WMD shipments.
Exercises are planned this year to test interdiction capabilities. Countries are being recruited to contribute to information sharing, military and law enforcement assets.
"The U.S. wants other countries to support PSI and more proactive and deliberate actions to impede and stop shipments of WMD, delivery systems and related materials going to or from states or non-state actors of proliferation concern," sated a Dec. 27, 2004 State Department fact sheet.
"The U.S. seeks other states' support for the Statement of Interdiction Principles and their thoughts on the contributions they will be able to make, and how they might contribute to further operationalizing the initiative," it states.
"Ultimately, the United States wants countries to establish the practical basis to cooperate on interdiction efforts," the statement said.
"It may well be that a state that indicates interest in the PSI is never asked to help on interdictions, simply because a case requiring that state's help does not arise. However, states should be ready for quick and effective action in the event they can be helpful in preventing a shipment of proliferation concern."
The State Department has assured countries that PSI does not envision stopping and inspecting every dual-use shipment that could be used in a proliferation program. Rather, PSI would focus on so-called countries of concern, deemed as developing, acquiring or transferring chemical, biological or nuclear weapons and associated delivery systems.
"We believe this is as far as it is necessary to go in defining what constitutes a 'state of proliferation concern' for PSI," the statement said.
"The basis for considering a state 'of proliferation concern' is not whether or not a state has joined or abides by multilateral nonproliferation treaties or regimes."
Analysis: Goods Smuggling Highlights Economic Problems In Iran
The chief of Iran's national police force, Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, said on 2 January that the problem of smuggling is mounting in the country, according to RFE/RL's Radio Farda.
Iran's confrontation with narcotics smuggling is well known, but Qalibaf, who heads Iran's headquarters against contraband and currency smuggling, was referring to more common items, such as automobiles, household equipment, and computer parts, as well as tea and cigarettes. He said the total value of smuggled goods is $5.5 billion-$6 billion annually and that up to 80 percent of these goods enter the country through unregistered ports and jetties in the Persian Gulf. Qalibaf attributed the prevalence of smuggling in Iran to the country's overall economic situation.
Qalibaf described these economic issues in the 9 September "Sharq." First, he said, the large state enterprises and parastatal foundations that dominate the economy must have greater coordination. Second, he added, tariffs and other trade barriers must be re-evaluated. Qalibaf noted that public needs are not met by overpriced, low-quality domestic goods. Imports should fill the gap between domestic demand and domestic supply, he said, and if the tariffs do not allow sufficient imports then there will be smuggling. This will only worsen the situation and undercut domestic production further. Qalibaf went on to say, according to "Sharq," that domestic producers need more government support, and he added that the current situation creates incentives for merchants to import goods. Qalibaf criticized Dubai for not observing international trade regulations and said the Iranian government is pursuing this issue.
In the 9 September interview with "Sharq," Qalibaf denied that any state enterprises are involved with smuggling. Accusations of this, he said, relate to factional and political disputes.The apparent smuggling at Payam Airport serves as a case study of the problems that can emerge in a country with a state-run economy and an administrative system that depends more on personal connections than on justice and the rule of law.
The case of smuggling at Payam Airport, which is south of Karaj, suggests otherwise. In that case, according to Radio Farda, some customs officials were implicated.
An individual identified only by the initials "A.T." arranged for four or five flights a day and up to eight flights on holidays to transport goods from other countries to Payam Airport, judicial official Hamid Reza Movahedi said on 27 October, "Toseh" reported the next day. Most of the goods allegedly came via Dubai, and the accused used illegal connections and paid bribes to bypass normal administrative and customs procedures. Accomplices in the Customs Department reportedly helped the main defendant falsify claims, get bills of lading that understated the amount and value of goods, and operate outside of normal business hours. Movahedi went on to say that the main defendant imported more than 300 tons of goods over two years, but he did not know the exact value of everything.
The main defendant, A.T., was arrested after an investigation by the Intelligence and Security Ministry, the customs department, and the judiciary's intelligence unit, judicial official Movahedi said, according to "Toseh." Twelve people were arrested initially, although some were released after posting bail. The authorities seized an 18-ton shipment that arrived at Payam Airport after the arrests.
This was not the main defendant's first run-in with the law, but his financial power is believed to have protected him. "The first time he was fined more than 1 billion tomans [$1.265 million], it took him less than five minutes to deposit the fine," police chief Qalibaf said, according to "Sharq."
The names of the smugglers were turned over to the judiciary on 14 December, state television reported. Presumably this indicates that preparation of a court case against them could begin. At a 14 December ceremony at Payam Airport, however, Information and Communications Technology Minister Ahmad Motamedi rejected allegations that airport employees were involved in smuggling, "Etemad" reported on 15 December.
Judiciary spokesman Jamal Karimirad threw cold water on the denial of official involvement in smuggling at Payam Airport. Karimirad said 20 people are being detained, including the head of southern Tehran customs, ILNA reported on 4 January. The Sony company's warehouse at the airport has been sealed, he said, and 10 customs experts are analyzing the related documentation.
This is not the first corruption case in Iran, and the presumption of innocence applies, of course. Nevertheless, the apparent smuggling at Payam Airport serves as a case study of the problems that can emerge in a country with a state-run economy and an administrative system that depends more on personal connections than on justice and the rule of law. Earlier corruption cases, such as the ones involving Shahram Jazayeri and various aghazadehs, or officials' offspring (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 25 November 2002 and 4 October and 1 November 2004), attracted more attention because they were used in factional infighting. It is doubtful the Payam Airport case will receive as much attention.
Former Iranian reformist vice president risks court summons(AFP)
7 January 2005
TEHERAN - Former Iranian vice president and outspoken reformist Mohammad Ali Abtahi said Friday he could be summoned to court after complaining over the abuse of journalists in his personal weblog.
I read in the papers that the attorney general and the police have pressed charges against me in the clerics court, although I have not yet been officially informed, Abtahi wrote on his website.
The charges appeared to be related to spreading lies, Abtahi wrote. Abtahi quit the reformist government of embattled President Mohammad Khatami in October, saying that working with hardliners -- who took control of parliament after most reformists were barred from contesting the February 2004 legislative elections -- had become impossible.
On his website, the mid-ranking cleric has openly complained about a fresh crackdown on the pro-reform press, and voiced alarm over how several journalists had written letters of confession after being arrested.
Abtahi quoted two of the arrested journalists as saying they had been threatened and beaten.
Last month the reformist government admitted that it was concerned over how the hardline judiciary managed to exact such written apologies and confessions and said Khatami had ordered an enquiry.
But the four journalists were then quoted in the national press as denying they were forced to repent while in jail, and denied they had been ill-treated.
Concern Grows on Iran Abusesby Nooredin Abedian
Concern is growing among circles of Iranian nationals and expatriates that European countries are turning a blind eye to the regimes human rights atrocities in exchange for trade benefits.
Late last year, the U.N. General Assembly approved a resolution criticizing Iran for human rights violations. It cited new restrictions on freedom of expression and the persecution of political and religious dissenters. The resolution, the 52nd such measure by the United Nations against Iran, was approved 71-54, with 55 abstentions. The world body said Iran was facing a worsening situation regarding freedom of opinion and expression.
Human Rights Watch reported that the Iranian judiciary was using threats of lengthy prison sentences and coerced televised statements in an attempt to cover up its arbitrary detention and torture of internet journalists and civil society activists.
However, despite the U.N. resolution and the Human Rights Watch report spotlighting the problems, many Iranians inside and outside the country, as well as human rights activists, are concerned by what they see as appeasement by three leading E.U. countries, France, Britain and Germany. Word has spread that in return last October for Irans promise to halt its uranium enrichment program, which could be used to develop nuclear weapons, there would be political concessions made. Reportedly included would be a milder position on human rights issues.
In one Iranian human rights case that drew international attention, Canadian photojournalist Zahra Kazemi died in custody in 2003. She was arrested while photographing families lined up outside Tehrans notorious Evin prison waiting to visit prisoners. The journalists arbitrary arrest, torture and subsequent death were further compounded by refusal to release Kazemis body to her son and a sham trial, in which a scapegoat for the death was cleared.
Kazemis death was only one of many human rights violations of which Iran has been accused. Last month, Hajieh Esmailvand, an Iranian woman convicted of adultery, was facing death by stoning, according to Amnesty International. The Iranian Penal Code states that women will be buried up to their breasts for execution by stoning, and the stones should not be large enough to kill the person by one or two strikes, nor should they be so small that they could not be defined as stones.
The stoning death sentence was not an isolated incident. Zhila Izadyar, a 13-year-old schoolgirl, was sentenced to be stoned to death after being convicted of having an incestuous relationship with her 15-year-old brother, Bakhtiar. The boy was sentenced to 180 lashes, plus prison.
Hanging was ordered for a retarded 19-year-old woman on morality-related charges, after being forced into prostitution by her mother, and a religious judge ordered hanging for 16-year-old girl for deeds incompatible with chastity.
Boys have not escaped hanging sentences either. One 16-year-old who in self-defense allegedly killed someone attempting to sexually abuse him faces the noose but not for two years. In this case, there is a law barring the execution of juveniles under 18. As a result, he will be imprisoned until he is legally old enough to be hanged. There are three other imprisoned minors awaiting the same fate when they turn 18.
During 2004, approximately 230 Iranian prisoners were executed or received death sentences. Recently, state-run television aired video of eight prisoners dangling from a gallows in southeastern Iran. Opponents of the regime have compiled the names and cases of 21,676 political prisoners executed by the government since 1981, and they claim this is less than one-fifth of the actual number.
Continuing concern over prisoner executions and other rights abuses rose even higher after an AFP news story on Oct. 21 that said Europeans promised to help on a range of political and security issues and would continue to regard the main Iranian resistance group as a terrorist organization. On Oct. 24, the state-run Jomhouri Eslami paper wrote: European counterparts have stated explicitly that they are prepared to close Irans human rights file.
The news confirmed Iranian expatriates previous worries that the E.U. had struck a deal with Iran in 2002, in which it would not go before U.N. Commission on Human Rights and General Assembly and accuse it of human rights abuses. Since that date no resolution on human rights in Iran has been sponsored by the E.U. before the commission unlike the previous 20 years.
Last years passage of a U.N. General Assembly resolution accusing Iran of human rights violations is a good sign, but much more needs to be done. Rights violations in Iran are continuing, so international condemnation of them be should be maintained. Otherwise, Irans clerics might get the wrong message.
Nooredin Abedian taught in Iranian higher-education institutions before settling in France as a political refugee in 1981. He writes for a variety of publications on Iranian politics and issues concerning human rights.
India, Iran reach agreement over LNG supplyNEW DELHI: India has reached an agreement with Iran to buy 5 million tonnes of liquefied natural gas for 25 years.
Iran will supply the LNG at $1.2 plus $0.0625 of Brent per million British thermal unit (mBtu). The LNG supplies to India are likely to begin in 2008-09.
We have reached an agreement. The deal will be signed in the afternoon, the Iranian Oil Minister Mr Bijan Namdar Zanghneh said here today.
We have reached a broad agreement with Iran, ONGC chairman and managing director Mr Subir Raha said.
As per the deal, Tehran will also give India 20 per cent stake in the development of its biggest onshore oil field, Yadavaran.
Chinese company Sinopec will be the operator of the field with 50 per cent stake and National Iranian Oil Company will have 30 per cent share. ONGC Videsh Ltd, the overseas arm of ONGC, will have the remaining 20 per cent stake in the oil field, which has a potential to produce 3,00,000 barrels per day.
GAIL chairman, Mr Prashanto Banerjee said we have come to a good deal. In the present circumstances, it is a good deal.
Numerous Talibans to change side to Karzai government soon
www.chinaview.cn 2005-01-06 20:54:24
KABUL, Jan. 6 (Xinhuanet) -- A powerful Afghan official from the troubled southeast Afghanistan foresees mass surrender of Taliban remnants to the government side in the near future.
"In line with the government's reconciliation policy we have contacted the Taliban and their response is encouraging, so I personally predict their mass surrender very soon," Assadullah Wafa, Governor of Paktia province told Xinhua in an exclusive interview conducted at his residence in the provincial capital of Gardez Thursday.
However, he emphasized those militiamen whose hands were stained with the blood and committed crimes against Afghans and humanity would be brought to justice. However, he declined to list them.
To stabilize security and extend the central government's authority outward to the countryside, President Hamid Karzai as well as US ambassador to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad announced amnesty for Taliban operatives some two months ago, but the offer was rejected by the militant group as a ploy to divide it.
"A large majority of the Taliban militiamen would soon break away with their leaders and join the government," a confident Wafa asserted.
Among the remnants of the former Taliban regime who are still alive and at large, according to Afghan officials, some 150 are criminals and associates to the terror network run by Bin Laden-led al-Qaeda group.
Paktia and the neighboring provinces of Khost and Paktika along the border with Pakistan has been the scene that has witnessed an incessant militancy over the last three years.
Hundreds of the American troops including 300 in Gardez under the flag of Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) and backed by Afghan soldiers have been stationed there to check the infiltration and militancy in the rugged terrain region.
A World Without Israel
January/February 2005 Imagine that Israel never existed. Would the economic malaise and political repression that drive angry young men to become suicide bombers vanish? Would the Palestinians have an independent state? Would the United States, freed of its burdensome ally, suddenly find itself beloved throughout the Muslim world? Wishful thinking. Far from creating tensions, Israel actually contains more antagonisms than it causes.
Since World War II, no state has suffered so cruel a reversal of fortunes as Israel. Admired all the way into the 1970s as the state of those plucky Jews who survived against all odds and made democracy and the desert bloom in a climate hostile to both liberty and greenery, Israel has become the target of creeping delegitimization. The denigration comes in two guises. The first, the soft version, blames Israel first and most for whatever ails the Middle East, and for having corrupted U.S. foreign policy. It is the standard fare of editorials around the world, not to mention the sheer venom oozing from the pages of the Arab-Islamic press. The more recent hard version zeroes in on Israels very existence. According to this dispensation, it is Israel as such, and not its behavior, that lies at the root of troubles in the Middle East. Hence the statocidal conclusion that Israels birth, midwifed by both the United States and the Soviet Union in 1948, was a grievous mistake, grandiose and worthy as it may have been at the time.
The soft version is familiar enough. One motif is the wagging the dog theory. Thus, in the United States, the Jewish lobby and a cabal of neoconservatives have bamboozled the Bush administration into a mindless pro-Israel policy inimical to the national interest. This view attributes, as has happened so often in history, too much clout to the Jews. And behind this charge lurks a more general onethat it is somehow antidemocratic for subnational groups to throw themselves into the hurly-burly of politics when it comes to foreign policy. But let us count the ways in which subnational entities battle over the national interest: unions and corporations clamor for tariffs and tax loopholes; nongovernmental organizations agitate for humanitarian intervention; and Cuban Americans keep us from smoking cheroots from the Vuelta Abajo. In previous years, Poles militated in favor of Solidarity, African Americans against Apartheid South Africa, and Latvians against the Soviet Union. In other words, the democratic melee has never stopped at the waters edge.
Another soft version is the root-cause theory in its many variations. Because the obstinate and recalcitrant Israelis are the main culprits, they must be punished and pushed back for the sake of peace. Put pressure on Israel; cut economic and military aid; serve them notice that we will not condone their brutalitiesthese have been the boilerplate homilies, indeed the obsessions, of the chattering classes and the foreign-office establishment for decades. Yet, as Sigmund Freud reminded us, obsessions tend to spread. And so there are ever more creative addenda to the well-wrought root-cause theory. Anatol Lieven of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace argues that what is happening between Israelis and Palestinians is a tremendous obstacle to democratization because it inflames all the worst, most regressive aspects of Arab nationalism and Arab culture. In other words, the conflict drives the pathology, and not the other way aroundwhich is like the streetfighter explaining to the police: It all started when this guy hit back.
The problem with this root-cause argument is threefold: It blurs, if not reverses, cause and effect. It ignores a myriad of conflicts unrelated to Israel. And it absolves the Arabs of culpability, shifting the blame to you know whom. If one believes former U.N. weapons inspector Scott Ritter, the Arab-Islamic quest for weapons of mass destruction, and by extension the war against Iraq, are also Made in Israel. [A]s long as Israel has nuclear weapons, Ritter opines, it has chosen to take a path that is inherently confrontational. Now the Arab countries, the Muslim world, is not about to sit back and let this happen, so they will seek their own deterrent. We saw this in Iraq, not only with a nuclear deterrent but also with a biological weapons deterrent that the Iraqis were developing to offset the Israeli nuclear superiority.
This theory would be engaging if it did not collide with some inconvenient facts. Iraqis didnt use their weapons of mass destruction against the Israeli usurper but against fellow Muslims during the Iran-Iraq War, and against fellow Iraqis in the poison-gas attack against Kurds in Halabja in 1988neither of whom were brandishing any nuclear weapons. As for the Iraqi nuclear program, we now have the Duelfer Report, based on the debriefing of Iraqi regime loyalists, which concluded: Iran was the pre-eminent motivator of this policy. All senior-level Iraqi officials considered Iran to be Iraqs principal enemy in the region. The wish to balance Israel and acquire status and influence in the Arab world were also considerations, but secondary.
Now to the hard version. Ever so subtly, a more baleful tone slips into this narrative: Israel is not merely an unruly neighbor but an unwelcome intruder. Still timidly uttered outside the Arab world, this versions proponents in the West bestride the stage as truth-sayers who dare to defy taboo. Thus, the British writer A.N. Wilson declares that he has reluctantly come to the conclusion that Israel, through its own actions, has proven it does not have the right to exist. And, following Sept. 11, 2001, Brazilian scholar Jose Arthur Giannotti said: Let us agree that the history of the Middle East would be entirely different without the State of Israel, which opened a wound between Islam and the West. Can you get rid of Muslim terrorism without getting rid of this wound which is the source of the frustration of potential terrorists?
The very idea of a Jewish state is an anachronism, argues Tony Judt, a professor and director of the Remarque Institute at New York University. It resembles a late-nineteenth-century separatist project that has no place in this wondrous new world moving toward the teleological perfection of multiethnic and multicultural togetherness bound together by international law. The time has come to think the unthinkable, hence, to ditch this Jewish state for a binational one, guaranteed, of course, by international force.
So let us assume that Israel is an anachronism and a historical mistake without which the Arab-Islamic world stretching from Algeria to Egypt, from Syria to Pakistan, would be a far happier place, above all because the original sin, the establishment of Israel, never would have been committed. Then lets move from the past to the present, pretending that we could wave a mighty magic wand, and poof, Israel disappears from the map.
Civilization of Clashes
Let us start the what-if procession in 1948, when Israel was born in war. Would stillbirth have nipped the Palestinian problem in the bud? Not quite. Egypt, Transjordan (now Jordan), Syria, Iraq, and Lebanon marched on Haifa and Tel Aviv not to liberate Palestine, but to grab it. The invasion was a textbook competitive power play by neighboring states intent on acquiring territory for themselves. If they had been victorious, a Palestinian state would not have emerged, and there still would have been plenty of refugees. (Recall that half the population of Kuwait fled Iraqi dictator Saddam Husseins liberation of that country in 1990.) Indeed, assuming that Palestinian nationalism had awakened when it did in the late 1960s and 1970s, the Palestinians might now be dispatching suicide bombers to Egypt, Syria, and elsewhere.
Let us imagine Israel had disappeared in 1967, instead of occupying the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, which were held, respectively, by Jordans King Hussein and Egypts President Gamal Abdel Nasser. Would they have relinquished their possessions to Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat and thrown in Haifa and Tel Aviv for good measure? Not likely. The two potentates, enemies in all but name, were united only by their common hatred and fear of Arafat, the founder of Fatah (the Palestine National Liberation Movement) and rightly suspected of plotting against Arab regimes. In short, the root cause of Palestinian statelessness would have persisted, even in Israels absence.
Let us finally assume, through a thought experiment, that Israel goes poof today. How would this development affect the political pathologies of the Middle East? Only those who think the Palestinian issue is at the core of the Middle East conflict would lightly predict a happy career for this most dysfunctional region once Israel vanishes. For there is no such thing as the conflict. A quick count reveals five ways in which the regions fortunes would remain stuntedor worse:
States vs. States: Israels elimination from the regional balance would hardly bolster intra-Arab amity. The retraction of the colonial powers, Britain and France, in the mid-20th century left behind a bunch of young Arab states seeking to redraw the map of the region. From the very beginning, Syria laid claim to Lebanon. In 1970, only the Israeli military deterred Damascus from invading Jordan under the pretext of supporting a Palestinian uprising. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, Nassers Egypt proclaimed itself the avatar of pan-Arabism, intervening in Yemen during the 1960s. Nassers successor, President Anwar Sadat, was embroiled in on-and-off clashes with Libya throughout the late 1970s. Syria marched into Lebanon in 1976 and then effectively annexed the country 15 years later, and Iraq launched two wars against fellow Muslim states: Iran in 1980, Kuwait in 1990. The war against Iran was the longest conventional war of the 20th century. None of these conflicts is related to the Israeli-Palestinian one. Indeed, Israels disappearance would only liberate military assets for use in such internal rivalries.
Believers vs. Believers: Those who think that the Middle East conflict is a Muslim-Jewish thing had better take a closer look at the score card: 14 years of sectarian bloodshed in Lebanon; Saddams campaign of extinction against the Shia in the aftermath of the first Gulf War; Syrias massacre of 20,000 people in the Muslim Brotherhood stronghold of Hama in 1982; and terrorist violence against Egyptian Christians in the 1990s. Add to this tally intraconfessional oppression, such as in Saudi Arabia, where the fundamentalist Wahhabi sect wields the truncheon of state power to inflict its dour lifestyle on the less devout.
Ideologies vs. Ideologies: Zionism is not the only ism in the region, which is rife with competing ideologies. Even though the Baathist parties in Syria and Iraq sprang from the same fascist European roots, both have vied for precedence in the Middle East. Nasser wielded pan-Arabism-cum-socialism against the Arab nation-state. And both Baathists and Nasserites have opposed the monarchies, such as in Jordan. Khomeinist Iran and Wahhabite Saudi Arabia remain mortal enemies. What is the connection to the Arab-Israeli conflict? Nil, with the exception of Hamas, a terror army of the faithful once supported by Israel as a rival to the Palestine Liberation Organization and now responsible for many suicide bombings in Israel. But will Hamas disband once Israel is gone? Hardly. Hamas has bigger ambitions than eliminating the Zionist entity. The organization seeks nothing less than a unified Arab state under a regime of God.
Reactionary Utopia vs. Modernity: A common enmity toward Israel is the only thing that prevents Arab modernizers and traditionalists from tearing their societies apart. Fundamentalists vie against secularists and reformist Muslims for the fusion of mosque and state under the green flag of the Prophet. And a barely concealed class struggle pits a minuscule bourgeoisie and millions of unemployed young men against the power structure, usually a form of statist cronyism that controls the means of production. Far from creating tensions, Israel actually contains the antagonisms in the world around it.
Regimes vs. Peoples: The existence of Israel cannot explain the breadth and depth of the Mukhabarat states (secret police states) throughout the Middle East. With the exceptions of Jordan, Morocco, and the Gulf sheikdoms, which gingerly practice an enlightened monarchism, all Arab countries (plus Iran and Pakistan) are but variations of despotismfrom the dynastic dictatorship of Syria to the authoritarianism of Egypt. Intranational strife in Algeria has killed nearly 100,000, with no letup in sight. Saddams victims are said to number 300,000. After the Khomeinists took power in 1979, Iran was embroiled not only in the Iran-Iraq War but also in barely contained civil unrest into the 1980s. Pakistan is an explosion waiting to happen. Ruthless suppression is the price of stability in this region.
Again, it would take a florid imagination to surmise that factoring Israel out of the Middle East equation would produce liberal democracy in the region. It might be plausible to argue that the dialectic of enmity somehow favors dictatorship in frontline states such as Egypt and Syriagovernments that invoke the proximity of the Zionist threat as a pretext to suppress dissent. But how then to explain the mayhem in faraway Algeria, the bizarre cult-of-personality regime in Libya, the pious kleptocracy of Saudi Arabia, the clerical despotism of Iran, or democracys enduring failure to take root in Pakistan? Did Israel somehow cause the various putsches that produced the republic of fear in Iraq? If Jordan, the state sharing the longest border with Israel, can experiment with constitutional monarchy, why not Syria?
It wont do to lay the democracy and development deficits of the Arab world on the doorstep of the Jewish state. Israel is a pretext, not a cause, and therefore its dispatch will not heal the self-inflicted wounds of the Arab-Islamic world. Nor will the mild version of statocide, a binational state, do the tricknot in view of the civilization of clashes (to borrow a term from British historian Niall Ferguson) that is the hallmark of Arab political culture. The mortal struggle between Israelis and Palestinians would simply shift from the outside to the inside.
My Enemy, Myself
Can anybody proclaim in good conscience that these dysfunctionalities of the Arab world would vanish along with Israel? Two U.N. Arab Human Development Reports, written by Arab authors, say no. The calamities are homemade. Stagnation and hopelessness have three root causes. The first is lack of freedom. The United Nations cites the persistence of absolute autocracies, bogus elections, judiciaries beholden to executives, and constraints on civil society. Freedom of expression and association are also sharply limited. The second root cause is lack of knowledge: Sixty-five million adults are illiterate, and some 10 million children have no schooling at all. As such, the Arab world is dropping ever further behind in scientific research and the development of information technology. Third, female participation in political and economic life is the lowest in the world. Economic growth will continue to lag as long as the potential of half the population remains largely untapped.
Will all of this right itself when that Judeo-Western insult to Arab pride finally vanishes? Will the millions of unemployed and bored young men, cannon fodder for the terrorists, vanish as wellalong with one-party rule, corruption, and closed economies? This notion makes sense only if one cherishes single-cause explanations or, worse, harbors a particular animus against the Jewish state and its refusal to behave like Sweden. (Come to think of it, Sweden would not be Sweden either if it lived in the Hobbesian world of the Middle East.)
Finally, the most popular what-if issue of them all: Would the Islamic world hate the United States less if Israel vanished? Like all what-if queries, this one, too, admits only suggestive evidence. To begin, the notion that 5 million Jews are solely responsible for the rage of 1 billion or so Muslims cannot carry the weight assigned to it. Second, Arab-Islamic hatreds of the United States preceded the conquest of the West Bank and Gaza. Recall the loathing left behind by the U.S.-managed coup that restored the shahs rule in Tehran in 1953, or the U.S. intervention in Lebanon in 1958. As soon as Britain and France left the Middle East, the United States became the dominant power and the No. 1 target. Another bit of suggestive evidence is that the fiercest (unofficial) anti-Americanism emanates from Washingtons self-styled allies in the Arab Middle East, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Is this situation because of Israelor because it is so convenient for these regimes to busy giddy minds with foreign quarrels (as Shakespeares Henry IV put it) to distract their populations from their dependence on the Great Satan?
Take the Cairo Declaration against U.S. hegemony, endorsed by 400 delegates from across the Middle East and the West in December 2002. The lengthy indictment mentions Palestine only peripherally. The central condemnation, uttered in profuse variation, targets the United States for monopolizing power within the framework of capitalist globalization, for reinstating colonialism, and for blocking the emergence of forces that would shift the balance of power toward multi-polarity. In short, Global America is responsible for all the afflictions of the Arab world, with Israel coming in a distant second.
This familiar tale has an ironic twist: One of the key signers is Nader Fergany, lead author of the 2002 U.N. Arab Human Development Report. So even those who confess to the internal failures of the Arab world end up blaming the Other. Given the enormity of the indictment, ditching Israel will not absolve the United States. Irans Khomeinists have it right, so to speak, when they denounce America as the Great Satan and Israel only as the Little Satan, a handmaiden of U.S. power. What really riles America-haters in the Middle East is Washingtons intrusion into their affairs, be it for reasons of oil, terrorism, or weapons of mass destruction. This fact is why Osama bin Laden, having attached himself to the Palestinian cause only as an afterthought, calls the Americans the new crusaders, and the Jews their imperialist stand-ins.
None of this is to argue in favor of Israels continued occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, nor to excuse the cruel hardship it imposes on the Palestinians, which is pernicious, even for Israels own soul. But as this analysis suggests, the real source of Arab angst is the West as a palpable symbol of misery and an irresistible target of what noted Middle East scholar Fouad Ajami has called Arab rage. The puzzle is why so many Westerners, like those who signed the Cairo Declaration, believe otherwise.
Is this anti-Semitism, as so many Jews are quick to suspect? No, but denying Israels legitimacy bears an uncanny resemblance to some central features of this darkest of creeds. Accordingly, the Jews are omnipotent, ubiquitous, and thus responsible for the evils of the world. Today, Israel finds itself in an analogous position, either as handmaiden or manipulator of U.S. might. The soft version sighs: If only Israel were more reasonable The semihard version demands that the United States pull the rug out from under Israel to impose the pliancy that comes from impotence. And the hard-hard version dreams about salvation springing from Israels disappearance.
Why, sureif it werent for that old joke from Israels War of Independence: While the bullets were whistling overhead and the two Jews in their foxhole were running out of rounds, one griped, If the Brits had to give us a country not their own, why couldnt they have given us Switzerland? Alas, Israel is just a strip of land in the worlds most noxious neighborhood, and the cleanup hasnt even begun.Josef Joffe is the publisher of Die Zeit, a research fellow at the Hoover Institution, and distinguished fellow at the Institute for International Studies, both at Stanford University.
When and if Iran gets the bomb, bin Laden and pals are free to blow up Israel, Miami, Dallas, or NY -- small, dirty bombs perhaps, so GW doesn't retaliate. The rest of the world won't permit a US retaliation. We'll have months and months of UN committee meetings that lead nowhere. We shouldn't play this game by their rules.
A month ago, I would have thought that Israel would have already hit 3-4 key production facililties in Iran, by now. But, I'd be wrong.
If the radical wing of the Iran government get their way. They will find a way to get it to Al Quada and Osmama who would find a way to delivered to Israel. Al Quada has already proven it can deliver a convention bomb into Israel. Like the one they delivered into that hotel in southern Israel close to the gaza border a few months ago.
There are reports that Osmama himself in in or near the Iranian borders in the northeast areas of Iran. And is getting help from the radical groups with the Iranian. government.
Mullah liteTwenty-five years after the revolution, Kevin Rushby meets a new generation eager to shake off the fundamentalist legacy
Saturday January 8, 2005
The world was gone mad. The coach was a Volvo and on the door it said Millwall Football Club. The sound system was playing Elvis as we boarded,"... we can't go on together with suspicious minds..." and the video was Indecent Exposure with Clooney and Zeta-Jones. Outside the door, men were finishing their Winston cigarettes. A girl wore Levi jeans and touched the sticking plaster on her surgically improved nose. A mad world indeed - at least in terms of my expectations. This was the Islamic Republic of Iran during Ramadan on the super-luxe express coach from Kermanshah to Hamadan.
Unmissable and extraordinary ... 'Persepolis is the cultural highlight of any visit to Iran, excluding taxi conversations.' Photo: AP
Later, when we were under way, two Iranian soldiers came down the aisle for a chat, berets under their epaulettes, not much interested in the film - they'd seen it before. Did I like Pink Floyd, they asked.
Iran is changing, and fast. The mullahs still hold the reins of power, but there is a new generation coming of age in the country, one born after the 1979 Islamic Revolution and impatient for modernisation and freedom. Tehran is full of pizza joints, internet cafes, and cars. Teenagers communicate in Pinglish, a text messaging soup of English and Persian. New motorways and buildings are everywhere. A friend who has visited every year since 1978 warned me, "Now is the time to go, the place is changing so quickly I can barely recognise it."
Nowhere are the changes more evident than in Tehran, a huge polluted monster of a city dedicated to the car. More precisely the Hillman Hunter - they shifted the factory out here 30 years ago and have been producing them ever since. Sitting in jams and breathing their 70s-standard emissions is a Tehrani pastime, and a cheap one too, with petrol at about 7p a litre. Brief escapes can be had: there are the cavernous halls of the Archaeological Museum, the bowels of the National Bank (for the Iranian Crown Jewels) and many parks - with a bit of luck you might also stumble upon a tea shop like the one in Shahar Park, all rugs, hookahs and fin de siècle orientalist glitz. But I was glad to leave and head west on a huge loop that would take me deep into Kurdistan, to within 50 miles of the Iraqi border, catching buses or taxis as I needed them.
First stop was Soltaniyeh, a small town 200 miles west of Tehran, where a 13th-century invader decided to rest his bones. The Tomb of Oljaitu, the Mongol khan, scarcely registers on the tourist trails of the world, but this remarkable building has a 52m-high dome that spans 26m across a vast octagonal central hall.
Tiny spiral staircases rise up inside the walls, linking a series of balconies which allow close examination of the intricately tiled interior. The Mongol hordes swept through here in the mid-13th century, laying waste to cities and destroying six centuries of Islamic civilisation. Yet the barbarians were soon absorbed and civilised themselves, finishing Soltanieh by 1320.
I changed from bus to taxi there and found myself with the moustached holy man I dubbed Mystic Magdi, probably one of the few drivers who can explain the theory of metempsychosis while negotiating a hairpin bend. As the late sun danced through stands of poplar trees beside villages of mud-walled houses whose roofs were piled with winter fodder, we rose up into the mountains and Mystic Magdi declaimed: "People are thirsty for a religion of love. They are fed up with dry legalism. That kind of Islam has kept us dwarfed and stunted - human equivalents of those Japanese bonsai trees." His impressive mouth-veiling moustache trembled beneath the hawk-like nose as he spoke, like a terrified chinchilla.
At dawn next day, we watched the sun rise over the home of a pre-Islamic deity: Takht-e-Soleiman, a volcanic crater where Anahita, goddess of water, used to preside over the coronation of Persian kings. The lake is an irregular circle about 30m across and is faintly warm. According to locals, its level never falls, no matter how much water is drawn off, nor has anyone ever plumbed its depth.
Despite a fine new tarmac road, this miraculous site remains serene, lost in a landscape of arid mountains and sudden patches of green where most people still rely on donkeys for transport. We swept on westwards, Mystic Magdi proclaiming Universal Love and Brotherhood. "There is no Hell and no Heaven. God does not divide His creation."
I asked about that moustache: didn't the prophet Muhammad only have a beard? Magdi recalled the reply of a poet denounced by a pious mullah for having a dangerously un-Islamic moustache. "But it helps strain the dregs from my wine!"
At Sanandaj, capital of Iranian Kurdistan, I bought wild honey in the bazaar and admired the local costumes. Men wear tasselled turbans, bristling bandito moustaches and baggy trousers secured with a broad cummerbund. Women go for the Merlin the wizard look in bright colours, though sadly only the older generation. The youngsters are all in tightly belted raincoats and headscarves, the latter a legal requirement as women's hair is deemed sexy. I asked a mullah if a woman who shaved her head could go without a scarf, but I didn't get a definitive answer.
Next driver southwards was Amin the Animal, a one-man mongol horde who whipped his Hillman Hunter to a gallop and never let it stop as we plunged through yet more spectacular mountain scenery. "How long have you been driving?" I shouted from the rear seat and he took both hands off the wheel to delve into his back pocket. "There!" he cried triumphantly, turning to pass me a licence document. "Twelve years as..." He grabbed the wheel and yanked us out of the path of an oncoming petrol tanker."... as a professional driver."
Kermanshah's main attraction is the rock carvings in Taq-e-Bostan on the edge of the city. A soaring mountain face rises abruptly from the plain and a spring emerges: at this magical boundary, humans have carved images of gods and kings. Mithra is there, standing on a lotus flower with sun rays exploding from his head. Anahita too, presenting the diadem of royalty to Chosroes II, the last monarch before the Islamic invaders arrived.
"Those Arabs were barbarians too," Animal told me. "Lizard-eaters and drinkers of camels' milk from the desert, all coming here to Persia and thinking they can be kings." He was paraphrasing Ferdozi, 11th-century Persian chronicler, and a favourite quote for these times of heightened anti-Arab sentiment in Iran when the frequent cry is: "We are Persians, not Arabs."
At Hamadan, there was a reminder of another epoch, this one long ago and almost forgotten. At the shrine of Esther, I was shown by a member of the 28-strong Jewish community into a tiny sarcophagus inscribed in Hebrew and Persian. Hamadan was once known as Ecbatana, the capital of the Medes, Old Testament stalwarts and regional super-tribe until the 6th century BC. Esther achieved lasting glory for becoming wife to the Persian king (probably Xerxes in the fifth century BC) and saving her people from persecution.
In the early Islamic period, prior to Mongol invasion and destruction, the city was famed for its scholars, and in the town, buried in the centre of a traffic island, is one of the most important intellects Islam has produced, Avicenna, the 11th-century polymath whose important medical work qanun al-tibb, canon of medicine, introduced the word canon to English.
There's no disgrace, in modern Iran at least, to a traffic island burial. These extravagantly tasteless roundabouts are the new victory arch, the latest paradise garden, the ultimate unattainable pedestrian goal. While around them buzz Hillman Hunters in a smoky halo of obeisance, on top are the mad creations of untrained local sculptors. That night as we motored east to Kashan, I discovered several fine examples. One featured a set of artificial palm trees around a 20ft tall pile of dung, or perhaps it was a vast portion of chocolate ice cream, all lit up with red fairy lights.
Kashan's main attraction is the Bagh al-Fin, a walled paradise garden on the edge of town under the looming desert mountains. Built after the 1574 earthquake knocked down the previous incarnation, it is the oldest extant garden in Iran and one of the best. Water from a natural spring brims from stone cisterns, then tumbles through various tiled channels and pools, all lined with cypress and plane trees.
In the hammam at the side, the 19th-century prime minister Mirza Taki Khan was assassinated. He had wanted to modernise the country, bringing in alien concepts like "embezzlement is wrong". The Queen Mother, chief embezzler, ordered his death by bleeding, a warning to other would-be modernisers.
My next taxi driver, a former tae-kwando champion, was not impressed. "These mullahs have deep pockets, too," he muttered, then added, rather cryptically, "No one knows where they buy their clothes."
All down the roads in Kashan were signs of rapid modernisation. Traditional mud-domed houses lay fallen and disintegrating while concrete boxes rise proudly next to them. In the restaurants, Persian cuisine is taking a drubbing too: dumbing down towards a diet of kebabs, pizza and burgers. The best food I had was home cooking: bread baked under a fire by some nomadic shepherds; home-made tangy cheeses and butters; the mix of green olives, pomegranate juice and crushed walnuts, a grilled portion of Caspian sturgeon.
Reaching Isfahan, the old capital, I discovered a wonderful tea shop inside one of the pillars of the 17th-century bridge over the river. The five little window seats are the most popular spots in town for tea and a hubble-bubble pipe filled with apple scented tobacco. In private, the most popular smoke is opium, its aroma flavouring the air outside the doors and windows as you explore the city.
Central attraction is the Maidan Naqsh-e-Jehan, a vast public square, off which lies the equally immense Royal Mosque, with its cliffs of ornamental blue tilework and a dome that sends back an echo of the tiniest noise. Built in the early 17th century, the mosque's cool tranquillity stands in splendid contrast to the frenetic activity of the bazaar opposite.
Between Isfahan and Shiraz, travellers steel themselves for a marathon: first is Pasargadae, Cyrus the Great's tomb and ruined palace from the sixth century BC, then comes Persepolis, founded by Cyrus's successor Darius the Great in about 518BC. For this, I hired the most colourful character yet: Mr Mathematics. The 200 miles to Pasargadae went by unnoticed as he explained why the number seven does not exist - neither does my memory of how he proved this.
Pasargadae is said to be the world's oldest known site of a garden, a wonderfully evocative place with remnants of buildings scattered over a dusty plain, the stone reliefs showing strange chimerical creatures: a man-fish, a horned and winged angel, and a half-man half-bull whose impressive reproductive organs have been polished smooth by 2,500 years of visitors' hands.
Mr Mathematics took me over to Cyrus's tomb. "When Alexander the Great came in 330BC," he told me, "the body of Cyrus was still inside, in a gold coffin."
This most famous of invaders does not quite have the same image in Iran as we expect in the west. "A barbarian," opined Mr Maths. "Terrible man. Drunken, looting, uncivilised monster."
We headed off for Persepolis. Unmissable and extraordinary, it is the cultural highlight of any visit to Iran, excluding taxi driver conversations. As you enter through the Gate of All Lands, the graffiti creates a context of previous visitors: Henry Morton Stanley 1870 en route to find Livingstone, plus hosts of British officers on their way to death or glory in Afghanistan, India and Central Asia. That earlier vandal, Alexander, left a deeper impression when a drunken party ended with the burning of the palaces, the effects of which can still be seen in the Tachara, Darius's private palace, where the stone is clearly heat-damaged.
On the eastern staircase to the largest palace, the Apadana, is the treasure of Persepolis: the carved reliefs depicting ambassadors of dozens of nations coming to pay homage. Parthians in their pointy hats, Abyssinians, Greeks from Odysseus's Ionian islands, Bactrians, Arabs, Indians and Gandarans from Afghanistan - they all march forwards with their gifts, a memory of when the whole region was at peace.
As I examined the reliefs, a group of students came over. They didn't think much of my questions about Alexander - they wanted to talk about Iran now. "Alexander was like the Islamic Revolution in 1979," said one. "He destroyed everything. Now Iran is a very dark place and we are struggling to come to the light."
No one I'd met had a good word for the Revolution, but these young people were especially forceful. One of the students edged forwards, "Tell the world that we are not tourists," he said vehemently.
There was a silence. One of his friends, possessed of slightly better English, smiled apologetically, then corrected him. "I think he means: 'Tell the world we are not terrorists.'"
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