Back in August, we noted the popular firestorm in Iran over Interior Minister Ali Kordan's clearly faked Oxford law degree. The document, which Kordan used to help him bolster his credentials and gain his current position in the Iranian cabinet, is riddled with misspellings and punctuation errors and claims that Kordan's research at the university opened a "new chapter...to our knowledge in [Britain]." As if those weren't red alarms, Oxford has publicly disavowed the document.
It took Kordan until Wednesday to admit that the diploma was a fake, but he wasted no time in blaming an anonymous con artist. Iranian lawmakers are once again calling for Kordan's resignation, on the grounds that if he can't tell that a blatant fabrication isn't the real thing, he'll be easily duped when he serves as the overseer of the Iranian presidential contest next year. He's supposed to guard against election fraud and forgery.
Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin was slated to give a speech at today's rally sponsored by New York Jewish groups protesting Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's visit to the United Nations General Assembly. The organizers of the event canceled her appearance to avoid the appearance of partisanship. (New York Sen. Hillary Clinton was also scheduled to talk but backed out last week after learning Palin had been added to the line of speakers.)
Palin's scheduled remarks, published today in the New York Sun, are in some ways fairly predictable. Yet in addition to the standard calls to support Israel and stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons, the vice presidential nominee's speech is peppered with phrases guaranteed to hit the fear button in the Jewish community -- "Final Solution", "Never Again," and "Holocaust." The close of Palin's speech offered this:
Senator McCain has made a solemn commitment that I strongly endorse: Never again will we risk another Holocaust. And this is not a wish, a request, or a plea to Israel's enemies. This is a promise that the United States and Israel will honor, against any enemy who cares to test us. It is John McCain's promise and it is my promise."
As, I said last week, I don't think for a second that Iran is experiencing, or will experience, a change of heart when it comes to Israel or the United States. But anytime a politician uses the vocabulary of fear in this manner to incite solidarity, I get extremely wary.
In Iran, health experts have issued warnings on TV and radio discouraging people from overeating during the holy month of Ramadan.
They are right to worry. Some Iranians actually gain weight during this time because they overindulge at iftar, the evening feast when Muslims break their daily fasts, National Geographic News reports:
A colleague passed along the following tube of Iranian toothpaste, hilariously designed to look like Crest:
"Improve your dental hygiene," it reads on the front. "For long lasting tooth."
On the back, it explains that Crend "helps your dentist to fight against tooth decay and cavity. Crend can help improve your oral hygiene significantly." The sodium flouride content is 0.32 percent.
I doubt Mahmoud Ahmadinejad sent warm fuzzies across Israel yesterday when he said that it's not Israelis Iran has a problem with, just the Israeli government.
"We have no problem with people and nations," the Iranian president declared. "Of course, we do not recognize a government or a nation for the Zionist regime."
Some analysts suggest that Ahmadinejad's words reveal a softening on Iran's feelings toward Israel, if only as a response to Western pressure.
My take? That's giving far too much international weight to the president's comments, which were likely meant only as a domestic show of support for Esfandiar Rahim Mashai, Iran's vice president. Mashai caused a lot of controversy in July when he said that Iranians were friends to all people, "even Israelis and Americans."
It's hard to believe, moreover, that such a lukewarm statement from Ahmadinejad constitutes a change in policy. The Iranian president was quick to add that it Israel is perpetrating a holocaust on the Palestinian people and repeat his certainty that the Holocaust was "fake." And which Israelis will be charmed by the stipulation that they were duped by an evil Zionist regime?
Finally, if there were any confusion on where the government of Iran really stands on this matter, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei did his part to reassure the world that indeed, the Islamic Republic's hostility to Israel and its people still runs red hot. Khamenei, while addressing thousands of worshipers in Tehran today, predicted the two countries were on a "collision course":
Who are Israelis? They are responsible for usurping houses, territory, farmlands and business. They are combatants at the disposal of Zionist operatives. A Muslim nation cannot remain indifferent vis-à-vis such people who are stooges at the service of the arch-foes of the Muslim world."
So, how much backtracking is really going on here? I'd hazard a guess and say: absolutely none. Ahmadinejad, who scoffed on Thursday at the idea of a two-state solution, said, "I have heard some say the idea of Greater Israel has expired. I say that the idea of lesser Israel has expired, too." Hardly the words of a changed man.
Last month, I blogged about the roundball diplomacy during the NBA's summer league in Utah, where Iran's national team was invited to participate as part of its preparations for the Olympics. The gesture was, by most accounts, a success, even though the squad subsequently went winless in Beijing.
Along the way, Iranian center Hamed Ehadadi piqued the interest of NBA scouts. The 7-2 Ehadadi averaged 16 points and 10 rebounds during the Olympics, capping the games with a 21-point, 16-rebound performance against a strong Argentina team, which faces the United States in the semifinals tomorrow.
Of course, as with all things Iran, there was a catch: The NBA informed its teams last week that it had "been advised that a federal statue prohibits a person or organization in the United States from engaging in business dealings with Iranian nationals." Ehadadi's NBA dreams had been dashed -- and it seemed like another missed opportunity for more roundball diplomacy.
Not so fast, however. The U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control has now offered its stamp of approval, and NBA teams are free to sign Ehadadi, pending final approval from the league and OFAC. Ehadadi expects to sign with the Memphis Grizzlies:
I will undoubtedly join Memphis Grizzlies by the end of next week. I met Memphis' officials yesterday to discuss joining the team… I received many offers from European teams but just playing in the NBA is my dream. Hopefully, I can join Memphis as soon as possible without any problem.
Ehadadi may not turn out to be a star in the NBA, but chalk up another victory for roundball diplomacy. David Stern is far from a perfect commissioner, but his emphasis on making basketball a global game appears to be paying off. Even if, in some cases, it works too well.
Great quote from Ephraim Halevy, the former head of Israel's Mossad intelligence agency:
Ahmadinejad is our greatest gift," Halevy told the Arab language television network Al-Hurra on Tuesday. "We couldn't carry out a better operation at the Mossad than to put a guy like Ahmadinejad in power in Iran."
Underscoring the point, the Iranian president wrote on his Web site Wednesday that Israel is a "germ of corruption" to be removed soon.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad can't get a break at home. His newly approved interior minister, Ali Kordan, has been in office for just over a week, and a fake diploma scandal has only gained steam, complete with demands that the minister resign.
When there was a debate in parliament earlier this month over Kordan's qualifications for the post -- he's previously served as Iran's deputy oil minister and in the Revolutionary Guards -- Ahmadinejad had to go so far as to announce that Ayatollah Khamenei personally supported him, a rare (and extreme) strategy. Key to the issue were damning accusations about Kordan's honesty, with MPs claiming that Kordan lied about receiving an Oxford University law degree. So, Kordan produced his "diploma" (at right) and, with Khamenei's critical backing, sailed to approval.
Problem is, Oxford has now said the diploma is a fantasy. Have a look at the document Kordan produced: He must have made quite the impression at the university, seeing as how they saw fit to claim that his "research in the domain of comparative law... has opened a new chapter, not only in our university, but to our knowledge in this country." (Go ahead and ignore the misspellings and punctuation errors.)
When the the obviously faked diploma hit the Web, it caused a popular firestorm in Iran, with calls for Kordan to step down immediately if he can't produce the real thing. The Iranian Web site that first revealed the bogus document has now been blocked inside the country. Some analysts even think Ahmadinejad may have set Kordan up to embarrass his likely rival in the next presidential race, Ali Larijani. Kordan is a former aide to Larijani, who is also speaker of the parliament and looking slightly worse for the wear as the controversy continues. Stay tuned.
Somehow, I don't think this comment from Iran's Vice President Esfandiar Rahim Mashai is going to help anyone sleep easier in Tel Aviv:
Iranian media are quoting the country's vice president as saying Iranians are "friends of all people in the world — even Israelis."
As Haaretz observes, this isn't the first time Mashai has sounded a conciliatory note about Israel:
In late July, Mashai made similar comments, saying: "Iran wants no war with any country, and today Iran is friend of the United States and even Israel.... Our achievements belong to the whole world and should be used for expanding love and peace."
Some straight talk from Moammar el-Qaddafi:
What Iran is doing stems simply from arrogance," Gaddafi said during a visit to Tunisia after Tehran ignored another western deadline to accept an incentives package in exchange for full transparency on its nuclear drive. [...]
"In the event of a decision against Iran, this country will suffer the same outcome as Iraq... Iran is not any stronger than Iraq and won't have the means to resist (a military attack) on its own... The challenges are greater and exceed Iran's ability to reply."
Well, somebody's willing to step up and defend Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir, who was indicted for genocide last week. Yesterday, Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad described the International Criminal Court's prosecution as a colonialist effort to undermine Sudan's sovereignty:
Colonialist powers want to cut Sudan into pieces in their own ways, they want to prevent this country from having a constructive role in Africa and the Islamic world."
The comments were made at a meeting in Tehran with a Sudanese envoy who reciprocated his host's kind words by praising Iran's controversial nuclear program, saying, "This civilian technology would benefit the entire Islamic world."
I guess when you're under U.N. sanction, it can be hard to find someone who can relate.
I noted yesterday that Haaretz columnist Shmuel Rosner believes that Israel will attack Iran to force the international community to act. Now, maverick Israeli historian Benny Morris weighs in on the New York Times op-ed page, declaring flatly that "Israel will almost surely attack Iran's nuclear sites in the next four to seven months... an Israeli nuclear strike to prevent the Iranians from taking the final steps toward getting the bomb is probable." Say what? Earlier, this week, I questioned a story in The Times of London saying that Washington had given Tel Aviv an "amber light" to proceed with attack plans.
What's going on? I have a guess: Israel is playing bad cop to America's good cop. The Times story provides one clue: "[T]he Israelis have also been told that they can expect no help from American forces and will not be able to use U.S. military bases in Iraq for logistical support." It's hard to imagine the Israelis could or would pull off a strike without U.S. help, so this is probably disinformation intended to send the message that Israel could act alone (which is doubtful for geographic, technical, and diplomatic reasons).
So, when Undersecretary of State William Burns meets with Iranian officials this weekend, he can thus implicitly present himself as their protector from the big, bad Israelis. Look here, Mr. Jalili: The United States is the reasonable one, willing to negotiate and compromise -- and only George W. Bush can talk the Israelis out of launching Osirak II. All you need to do is freeze your uranium enrichment and we can start talking for real. I'm sure Iranian leaders are aware of what is going on, but there may be just enough doubt in their minds to make this an effective gambit.
As usual, John Bolton is absolutely right. His policy prescriptions may be reckless to the point of foolishness ("When in doubt, bomb!"), but his understanding of what is happening in Washington policy... is unerringly accurate.
While much of the world was hyperventilating over the possibility that the United States (and maybe Israel) were getting ready to launch a new war against Iran, Bolton was looking at the realities and concluding that far from bombing, the U.S. was preparing to do a deal with Iran. He had noticed that over the past two years the U.S. had completely reversed its position opposing European talks with Iran.
First, the U.S. indicated that it would participate if the negotiations showed progress. Then, when they didn't, we went further and actively participated in negotiating a new and more attractive offer of incentives to Iran. Bolton noticed that when that package was delivered to Tehran by Xavier Solana, the signature of one Condoleezza Rice was there, along with representatives of the other five members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany.
He had probably also noticed Secretary Rice's suggestion of possibly opening a U.S. interests section in Tehran -- the first step toward reestablishing diplomatic relations. And he didn't overlook the softening of rhetoric in Under Secretary William Burns's recent testimony to the Congress about Iran [pdf].
Now, just one day after Bolton's cry of alarm that the U.S. is going soft on Iran, we learn that the same Bill Burns will participate directly in the talks that are going to be held on Saturday in Geneva with the chief Iranian negotiator on the nuclear file. Bolton's worst suspicions seem to be confirmed.
Unlike many observers and commentators, Bolton has been looking, not at what the U.S. administration says, but what it does. Ever since the congressional elections of 2006, the U.S. has been in the process of a fundamental change in its policy on a number of key issues: the Arab-Israel dispute, the North Korean nuclear issue, and Iran. Since the administration proclaims loudly that its policies have not changed, and since the tough rhetoric of the past dominates the discussion, it is easy to overlook what is actually going on.
Bolton no doubt noticed that Rumsfeld is gone and replaced with Robert Gates, a very different sort of secretary of defense. He will have observed that the worst of the neocons (including himself) are now writing books and spending more time with families and friends, cheerleading for more war by writing op-eds from the outside rather than pursuing their strategies in policy meetings in the White House.
He will have seen the gradual shift of the policy center of gravity from Dick Cheney to Rice and Gates. He will have been listening when the Chairman of the JCS and others have said as clearly as they realistically can that the military option, though never renounced as a theoretical possibility, is the least attractive option available to us and in fact is close to impossible given our overstretch in Iraq and Afghanistan.
In other words, Bolton, as someone whose policies (in my view) are certifiably insane, recognizes real pragmatism and moderation in Washington when he sees it. And he does not like what he sees in this lame duck administration.
Over the past two or three years, we have been treated to one sensational threat after another about the likelihood of imminent war with Iran. All of these alarms and predictions have one thing in common: they never happened. Perhaps it is time for us to join Bolton in looking at the real indicators. When Bolton quits writing his jeremiads or when he begins to express satisfaction with the direction of U.S. policy, that is when we should start to get worried.
Haaretz correspondent Shmuel Rosner, writing in the The New Republic, argues that Israel might attack Iran not to destroy its nuclear program -- which it probably can't do -- but to force the international community to act:
The main goal of a hit would not be to destroy the program completely, but rather to awaken the international community from its slumber and force it to finally engineer a solution to the crisis. As one former Israeli official put it, any attack on Iran's reactors--as long as it is not perceived as a military failure--can serve as a means of "stirring the pot" of international geopolitics. Israel, in other words, wouldn't be resorting to military action because it is convinced that diplomacy by the international community cannot stop Iran; it would be resorting to military action because only diplomacy by the international community can stop Iran.
I don't believe this is Israel's first option. More likely, Israel's threats are intended to ratchet up the pressure on Iran to compromise. But as Rosner notes, "The more Israel pledges to stop Iran, the more it becomes necessary to deliver." If you keep crying "wolf!" and nobody listens, the best way to get people's attention is to shoot the wolf.
This is an interesting new development:
In a break with past Bush administration policy, a top U.S. diplomat will for the first time join colleagues from other world powers at a weekend meeting with Iran's chief nuclear negotiator... William Burns, America's third highest-ranking diplomat, will attend talks with the Iranian envoy, Saeed Jalili, in Switzerland on Saturday aimed at persuading Iran to halt activities that could lead to the development of atomic weapons, a senior U.S. official told the AP on Tuesday.
I wouldn't get my hopes up just yet for this move. As the official told the AP, "This is a one-time event and [Burns] will be there to listen, not negotiate... [O]ur terms for negotiations remain the same: Iran must suspend its enrichment and reprocessing activities."
The diplomats will be looking to hear Iran's answer to the latest package of incentives offered by the P5+1 (the permanent five members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany). Judging by the Islamic Republic's initial response (pdf), we're likely to hear a lot of bluster and claims that Iran is being treated unfairly. But who knows? Maybe Burns's presence could change the dynamic.
Remember that little feud between Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Ali Akbar Velayati, a senior advisor to Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei? Well, the spat between the two men isn't quite over.
Ahmadinejad shot back today at comments made by Velayati in an Iranian daily newspaper criticizing Ahmadinejad's hardline nuclear rhetoric, saying that the former foreign minister and Khamenei advisor had no role in the country's nuclear program:
Velayati is a respected man. Like everyone else in Iran, he is free to have personal views... But he is not involved in nuclear decision making."
Ahmadinejad may be more delirious than I thought if he actually thinks that "everyone in Iran is free to have personal views." Did he get the memo about Ahmad Batebi, Iran's estimated 250 executions last year, the systematic suppression of journalists and bloggers, or that the country was ranked 181st out of 195 countries in Freedom House's annual Freedom of the Press survey last year? Apparently not.
And with tensions brewing between Iran and the West, it would help to know who is actually in charge of the Islamic Republic. I never thought I'd say this, but let's hope it's Khamenei.
Over the weekend, Drudge and a good chunk of the blogosphere linked credulously to this story in The Times of London, written by one Uzi Mahnaimi. The story alleges that U.S. President George W. Bush has given Israel an "amber light" to attack Iran, according to a "senior Pentagon official."
Amber means get on with your preparations, stand by for immediate attack and tell us when you're ready," the official said.
If you read the entire piece, you'll see that it doesn't quite live up to its dramatic headline: "President George W Bush backs Israeli plan for strike on Iran." (The official is later quoted as saying, "If there is no solid plan, the amber will never turn to green," he said.)
The alarmism isn't entirely Mahnaimi's fault, since editors usually choose headlines. But our friend Uzi has a track record of breathless stories about alleged Israeli preparations to attack Iran. Here's one from January 2007 (using tactical nukes!), and another from December 2005. Or we could go back to July 2004. And remember that attack on Gaza? Mahnaimi is also notorious for reporting in 1998 that Israel was developing a biological weapon -- an "ethnic bomb" -- that would only kill Arabs.
The real story here is that the Israelis have developed plans to hit Iran's nuclear facilities -- did anyone think they hadn't? -- but the United States (correctly) thinks it's a bad idea. Read Jim Hoagland. He gets this story right.
Iran's state media faced the withering scorn of the blogosphere yesterday when online sleuths discovered that Sepah News, the voice of Iran's fearsome Revolutionary Guards, had doctored a photograph of the Islamic Republic's oh-so-scary missile test. Someone had pasted in a fourth missile, perhaps to cover up a dud launch. Top newspapers around the United States, to their chagrin, had given the bogus image frontpage treatment. (By pure luck, we weren't duped.)
Somehow, all the Photoshop fun has made Iran seem a lot less frightening. Almost like a big, friendly kitten.
Ahmad Batebi, an Iranian student, was sentenced to death nine years ago for appearing on the cover of the Economist under the banner "Iran's second revolution?" He was pictured holding the bloodsoaked shirt of a fellow student protestor -- an unforgettable image that apparently was too much for the Islamic Republic to bear. After enduring years of solitary confinement and torture, the student activist and photographer escaped, crossed into Iraq, and recently made it to the United States.
Today, the Economist reports on Batebi's experiences after he was apprehended and Iranian authorities told him that appearing on the cover of The Economist constituted a "death warrant":
During his interrogation he was blindfolded and beaten with cables until he passed out. His captors rubbed salt into his wounds to wake him up, so they could torture him more. They held his head in a drain full of sewage until he inhaled it. He recalls yearning for a swift death to end the pain. He was played recordings of what he was told was his mother being tortured. His captors wanted him to betray his fellow students, to implicate them in various crimes and to say on television that the blood on that T-shirt was only red paint. He says he refused."
In a moment reminiscent of the Shawshank Redemption, Batebi can be seen on his blog photographing himself in front of the U.S. Capitol building. Welcome to Washington, Ahmad.
Though it's the one remaining member of the "Axis of Evil," the value of U.S. exports to Iran has reportedly increased tenfold since George Bush took office. While there are reportedly strict rules about what the U.S. can ship over there, they apparently aren't too limited--US tobacco companies have reportedly exported $158 million worth of cigarettes to the nation since 2000, more than any other product. The U.S. has also sold Iran about $12.6 million worth of bull semen. You're welcome, Mr. Ahmadinejad.
The value of yearly trade with Iran has skyrocketed from $8 million in 2001 to $146 million in 2007, totalling $546 million since the president's tenure began. Yet Bush keeps pushing multi-country sanctions on Iran. Looks like he either hasn't been paying attention to this trade increase or has just turned a blind eye.
For more, check out this video.
Already known for his paranoid conspiracy theories, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad hasn't had any problem finding new ones. The latest: Abolfazl Zohrehvand, Iran's ambassador to Italy, claims that Western agents attempted to assassinate the Iranian president by using radiation poisoning during his recent trip to Rome:
One day before Ahmadinejad's trip, I checked and found out that the X-ray machine set up in the place where he was staying gave off excessive radiation," Mr Zohrehvand said. "First we suspected the machine was broken and after replacing it with another one it turned out that the radiation was controlled from another source.
"When the president entered this place, the radiation increased and exceeded '1,000' so that the intensity of the radiation was completely felt inside the building."
Talk about starting off on the wrong foot. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and new Russian President Dimitry Medvedev met for the first time today at the G-8 Summit in Japan, on the heels of a report that British security forces consider Russia the third most serious threat facing the country.
According to The Times of London, only al Qaeda's terrorist threat and Iran's nuclear program are seen to be more dangerous:
The services are understood to fear that Russia's three main intelligence agencies have flooded the country with agents, The Times understands. There is reported to be deep irritation within the services that vital resources are having to be diverted to deal with industrial and military espionage by the Russians
Relations between the two countries have deteriorated since the 2006 poisoning of Russian dissident Alexander Litvinenko in London, allegedly at the hands of an ex-KGB agent whom Russia refuses to extradite. The issue apparently caused a row between Tony Blair and Vladimir Putin at last year's G-8 summit, and was a topic of disucussion at today's talks.
No word so far as to whether Brown and Medvedev have hit it off better than their predecessors, only that there were some "sharp exchanges" between the two.
Some very interesting diplomacy is definitely afoot in Tehran and Paris. Ali Akbar Velayati (right), the right-hand man of Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and a former foreign minister, published a letter in France's Libération newspaper Wednesday that leaves no doubt about who's ultimately in charge of the nucelar file. Here's a translation by FP's resident Frenchman, Randolph Manderstam:
A European recently asked me who was leading Iran. The answer is clear. When it comes to essential questions of strategy, the constitution, approved by universal suffrage, confers final decisions upon the supreme leader. It is according to this principle, under which the main decisions taken by Ayatollah Khamenei in the last 20 years were applied, that we can judge the past and forsee the path of our diplomacy.
Despite the vastness of his powers, the supreme leader… only intervenes in extremely important cases, leaving those responsible for the state to solve the other problems themselves. Under Imam Khomeini just as under Ayatollah Khamenei, Iranian diplomacy has worked on developing contacts with other countries.... By receiving the dignitaries and leaders of numerous states and by communicating with them, the leader has given undeniable examples of his crucial presence in Iranian diplomacy.
I spoke this morning with Carnegie's Karim Sadjadpour about the letter, and he told me it was a "very important" signal coming from Velayati.
The main message? Don't listen to the rantings of that Ahmadinejad fellow -- the supreme leader is called "supreme" for a reason. "Khamenei's not necessarily the micromanager, but he's the macromanager, so all important issues go by him," Sadjadpour said.
Why proclaim this in a French newspaper? The backstory here is fascinating. Last year, French President Nicolas Sarkozy reached out to Khamenei in the hopes of reaching a breakthrough in the stalled nuclear negotiations. Velayati was to be dispatched to Paris to lay the groundwork for a possible meeting between Sarkozy and Khamenei, and in November he went to brief Ahmadinjad as a courtesy before heading off on his mission. Not only did the Iranian president humiliate Velayati by scheduling him for a midnight meeting and then making him wait for several hours, but he then sent a letter to Sarkozy that was so rude and condescending, it killed any hope of a France-Iran summit. According to Le Monde, Ahmadinejad said Sarkozy was "young and inexperienced," and French diplomats said the letter contained "veiled threats."
More recently, a civil servant and Ahmadinejad ally named Abbas Palizdar publicly accused a number of top clerics of corruption. Several of them are close associates the supreme leader. Too close, in fact, and Palizdar was arrested for "propagating lies." Rumor has it Khamenei saw this incident as Ahmadinejad crossing the line. So, not only is Khamenei, through Velayati, trying to make clear that Ahmadinejad is not the guy to talk to, he's indicating his disgust with the Iranian president and putting him in his place. "I think Khamenei is frustrated with Ahmadinejad's antics. This may have been the last straw," said Sadjadpour.
As for a détente with France or a breakthrough on the nuclear program? Don't bet on it. Iran's recent diplomatic offensive is most likely a "delaying tactic" intended to "cool the temperature" in light of all the recent news, according to Sadjadpour. But it sure makes great political theater. Pass the popcorn.
Recent statements by Iranian leaders have Tehranologists baffled. Yesterday, Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki (left) pointedly refused to reaffirm his country's right to uraniam enrichment, and one of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei's top advisors criticized "provocative and illogical declarations and slogans," a likely slap at President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his comments on the nuclear issue.
"A new trend of change is taking place," Mottaki told reporters in New York, explaining that Iran sees points of agreement with an offer recently put forward by the so-called P5+1, i.e. the permanent
members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany. Iran put its own proposal on the table in May.
So, are the Iranians reacting, despite their avid denials, to the recent drumbeat of stories -- some would call it a psyops campaign -- suggesting that Israel is serious about launching an attack? Does Mottaki speak for the supreme leader? Is this all a ploy to buy time and relieve some pressure? Nobody can say for sure. One piece of advice I would give: Western diplomats should act as if Iran's new, softer line is totally sincere. It's a basic rule of diplomacy: If you're getting conflicting messages, pick the one you like best and run with it.
By now, you may have already read Seymour Hersh's latest magnum opus, this time about the Bush administration's alleged "support of the minority Ahwazi Arab and Baluchi groups and other dissident organizations" in order to stir up trouble for Iran. Hersh later explains that one such organization is Jundallah, a Sunni fundamentalist group in Baluchistan near the Pakistan border. "According to [former CIA case officer Robert] Baer and to press reports, the Jundallah is among the groups in Iran that are benefitting from U.S. support," Hersh writes.
One of those press reports is probably this blog post from The Blotter, the ABC News blog that got in such trouble for employing Alexis Debat, a French counterterrorism analyst who misrepresented his resume and faked interviews with Barack Obama and several other public figures. ABC News insists that its reporting was solid, but as journalist Laura Rozen found, that's at least open to question. Pakistan, for one, sharply denied the ABC News story about Jundallah. I'm not sure what other reporting Hersh is citing, but let's just say that it's far from certain the United States is doing what he claims.
UPDATE: Rozen comments at length. She's skeptical, too.
You're going to hear a lot in the coming days, I expect, about how the "North Korea model" can be applied to negotiations with Iran. Forgive me for raining on the parade here, but there are some important differences that we need to keep in mind.
Last Saturday, International Atomic Energy Agency chief Mohamed ElBaradei sat for an Arabic-language interview on the al-Arabiya network. During a discussion about Iran, ElBaradei was asked how much time the country would need to "produce" a nuclear weapon. "It would need at least six months to one year," he replied.
Even though this estimate has been tossed around for years (particularly by Israel), given some caveats it is still within a generally accepted range of possible timelines for an Iranian bomb. ElBaradei's statement is surprising, though, because previously he has "consistently said that it would take Iran from three to eight years to make a weapon."
This sharp rhetorical shift could be the result of new findings about Iran that have not yet been released. Perhaps ElBaradei knows something we don't and he just slipped. It is possible, for example, that large numbers of Iran's third-generation centrifuges (the IR-3) are installed in secret locations. The IR-3 can probably enrich uranium significantly faster than Iran's current models and could reduce the time needed to produce enough material for a bomb. Tehran has only installed a handful of these centrifuges as far as we know, though, and is apparently still having trouble with them.
It seems far more likely that this was a signal to Iran that patience is running out. ElBaradei trained as a diplomat, and gaffe-prone individuals almost never rise to his level. He was also careful to emphasize that the threat is not imminent, noting specifically that making a weapon so quickly would require Iran to expel inspectors and withdraw from the Nonproliferation Treaty. In a further sign that the IAEA is willing to increase pressure, its most recent report (pdf) on Tehran's nuclear program expressed -- in unusually blunt fashion -- growing frustration within the agency at Iran’s "persistent stonewalling" and accused Tehran of withholding important information on alleged nuclear weapons programs.
So far, Iran has judged that fostering uncertainty about its nuclear weapons program would divide the international community and defuse pressure for stronger punitive actions. Hopefully, the IAEA's shift signals that Tehran has failed to divide and conquer.
Drudge is linking to this story with the dramatic headline, "SUMMER SHOWDOWN: Israeli minister says alternatives to attack on Iran running out..."
The article quotes Israeli Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz as issuing an unusually blunt warning to Iran: "If Iran continues its nuclear weapons programme, we will attack it."
The thing to remember about Israeli politics is that it's a parliamentary system. So, the ministers don't serve "at the pleasure of the president"; they're independent politicians with their own bases of support, even if they hail from the same political party as the prime minister.
So, this is not the same thing as U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary E. Peters (who, incidentally, has a blog called "Fast Lane") issuing a press release. We can safely presume that Peters speaks for the Bush administration.
But the hawkish Mofaz, a former defense minister and military chief of staff, doesn't necessarily speak for the Israeli government. He's probably ramping things up now that he sees a chance to take Ehud Olmert's job, and angling to outmaneuver Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, his chief rival within the Kadima Party. Mofaz is playing politics here, not explaining policy. Still, I would advise the folks in Tehran not to take Mofaz's threat lightly.
UPDATE: Olmert's spokesman distances the prime minister from Mofaz's comments.
This morning, attendees at AIPAC's policy conference in Washington heard remarks by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, House Minority Leader John Boehner and -- the main event -- Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.
As one might imagine, the speakers' remarks focused heavily on the relationship between Israel and the United States and security threats from Iran, Hamas, and Hezbollah. Reid, for instance, reaffirmed his party's commitment to Israel, calling such a commitment "an American value." The majority leader also said that "America will never allow Israel's existence to be threatened."
Following a raucous standing ovation, Senator Obama -- whose pro-Israel credentials have come under scrutiny throughout the campaign -- strove to leave few doubts in his remarks:
I will never compromise when it comes to Israel's security. Not when there are still voices that deny the Holocaust. Not when there are terrorist groups and political leaders committed to Israel's destruction. Not when there are maps across the Middle East that don't even acknowledge Israel’s existence, and government-funded textbooks filled with hatred toward Jews."
In addition, Obama said that as president, he would do everything in his power to "eliminate" the Iranian threat, an apparent rebuttal to Senator John McCain's speech at the same podium Monday night that charged Obama as soft on Iran.
If you thought that Hillary Clinton might begin her exit from the race after Obama virtually clinched the Democratic nomination last night, think again. Clinton, while praising Obama as "a good friend to Israel," doesn't seem to be going anywhere just yet. Speaking as if she still might have a shot at being commander in chief, the New York senator reiterated how she "has always been very specific" about how her foreign policy toward Israel and the Middle East would be constructed. She was adamant that a Democrat be elected in November, but she still seems to think, or hope, that it will be her.
Created by the OpenNet Initiative (ONI) -- an Internet surveillance monitoring partnership between the Citizen Lab, the Berkman Center for Internet & Society, the Advanced Network Research Group at the Cambridge Security Programme, and the Oxford Internet Institute -- this week's Tuesday Map plots the top 6,000 Persian language blogs according to the links among them, showing both those blocked (left) and visible (right) inside Iran.
Each dot represents a blog, color-coded by content (yellow and green for reformist, secular and expatriate bloggers; purple for Persian poetry; green for popular culture, and red for religious and/or conservative bloggers) and scaled by the number of links to the blog from other sites.
Although most blocked blogs are "secular/reformist" in nature, ONI notes:
[T]he majority of these [secular/reformist] blogs are not blocked. Also, a handful of blogs from religious, pro-regime parts of the network are blocked as well. A preliminary analysis of these indicates content (like anti-Arab bias and discussion of "temporary marriages") that, while not unfriendly to the Islamic Republic, might nevertheless be embarrassing to it."
For a closer assessment of the Iranian blogosphere, check out this more detailed map and case study from the Internet and Democracy project at the Berkman Center.
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