October 28th 2005 - January 9th 2012

For background on the current situation see the BBC's excellent

OCT 28 2005
I am amazed at the fuss being made about the silly remarks of the Iranian President to the effect that Israel should be wiped from the map. Of course this is incompatible with the UN Charter and very offensive, but it does not indicate a likelyhood of any action at all. It is just talk, for consumption by...whoever. The thing to do is avoid any response which would enlarge the support for the Iranian President taking this line in his own country, while continuing to maintain the strong current EU approach, backed by the rest of the International Community. There is not the slightest chance of Israel being wiped from the map. Palestine unfortunately has been but I trust will be restored. To get over-exited about this is to dignify the words with more attention than they deserve. It is clear on the other hand that elements in Iran have been causing immense trouble over the past decades and continue to do so. The way to bring an end to this is to allow people to come to power in Iran with a better chance of controlling these elements. There is no tyrant to remove, there is a new generation to get on side with the rest of the world. [But see my updated opinion below on March 15th 2008 two and a half years on, and confirmation on June 16 2009]

UPDATE OCT 29 2005 - It looks like the above has at least occurred to the Iranians, who have managed to make the rest of the world look stupid for taking these remarks seriously.

UPDATE NOV 10th - I don't think Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has the confidence even of his own party, let alone the rest of Iran.

DECEMBER 21st 2005
The important thing now is to let Iranians sort out their own problems. The last thing we need to do is get hysterical about their nuclear ambitions at this stage. The current leadership will not be able to hold on by means of terrorism at home, and we can see from the following they are 'losing it' big time.
 Wednesday December 21, 01:58 PM TEHRAN (Reuters) - Iranian musicians reacted with a mixture of anger and dismay on Wednesday to a directive from a body headed by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad seeking to scrap Western music from the state media's playlists.

Iranians might not be humming along to versions of Abba and the Eagles for much longer, if a recommendation issued on Sunday is embraced by the state television and radio networks.

"State media should avoid cultivating decadent and Western music while emphasising legitimate, artistic, magnificent and authentic Iranian music," said the directive from the Supreme Council of the Cultural Revolution.

A spokesman from state radio said such suggestions did not amount to a ban, but management would use them as guidelines to fine tune the playlist.

The foreign repertoire is usually either film soundtracks or instrumental covers of pop.

However, Iranian musicians saw the directive as a step back to the ideals of the 1979 revolution, so close to Ahmadinejad's heart.

"The news of the directive is very shocking and depressing," said Shahkar Bineshpajouh, a rapper who is one of Iran's best-known popular musicians.

"I wish those who issue such directives could be artists who understand that it is impossible to live without music and that music should be appreciated," he added.

A singer who chose to be identified only as Maryam said listening to music was one of the few ways people could unwind in the Islamic Republic.

"Since conservatives came to power, it is becoming very hard for us to work as musicians and to hold concerts. I wonder why people remain so indifferent," she said.

Bands that could get concert permits under reformist President Mohammad Khatami, now cannot find venues, musicians say. But Maryam had no doubt Iranians would continue to listen to Western music.

"Can they stop people from listening to music at home or dancing to music at their parties? Of course not," she added.

Iran has an extensive black market in which young people can find most of the latest Western hits at very cheap prices. Many download music off the Internet.

One senior Iranian cleric, Ayatollah Mohammadali Movahedi Kermani, said the "traditional" Persian music he saw on a state television programme failed to reach the standards demanded by religious law.

"(An official) said this was traditional music, God's punishment be upon him," he was quoted as saying by the ISNA students news agency.

"Have we been created by Allah to have fun? They are wasting people's time with leisure and idle pastimes," he added.

State radio told Reuters its playlists, both traditional and foreign, met high moral standards.

JANUARY 11th 2006
Once again, it is a mistake to take the events in Iran as indicative of a real and present danger. However it is right to take them seriously as the dliberate breaking of agreements with he IAEA undermines the only basis on which any sort of long term security for the world can be built. It is unrealistic to hold the point of view that each and every member of the United Nations has the right to develop nuclear technology that can be used for military or terrorist purposes. Just as the use of the space round our planet has to be subject to international agreement, so the frontiers of lethal technologies with global consequences must be internationally controlled. Iran is a country with as yet a very imperfect system of internal democratic accountability. Power is wielded by a self-appointing religious hierarchy, supported by a population who have unfortunately been alienated by the diplomatically and politically illiterate Bush administration in the United States. It is now up to the rest of the International Community to impress on Iran that these agreements with the IAEA concerning nuclear technology are binding. Iran cannot indulge in rhetoric that threatens its neighbours and at the same time expect approval for a home-grown nuclear development programme for which there is no demonstrable need, and which they cannot even guarantee they would not share to any muslim country that applied.

The concern of the International Community is now narrowing on a single issue: that the Iranian government, not just the current one which is admittedly the worst for some time, has been consistently dishonest in its dealings with all the international organisations to which it has subscribed. India and Pakistan and Israel have never been signatories to the non-proliferation treaty. Iran has, and undertook not to pursue the research it is now undertaking. Through signing this agreement Iran was given access to technology and has been offered security treaties.

What we are dealing with here is an ancient tribal, religion based civilisation that is not impressed by the standards set by the liberal west, where morality based on religion has been converted over the years into secular law. They view the errors made by evolving, advanced societies (and of course we make many) as disqualifying the leaders of the international community from the moral high ground. They see democracy as the breakdown of theocracy and they equate theocracy with the wisdom of the ages and the aged which will alone lead to their cultural survival, which is their imperative.

On the other side, we have certain members of the international community who take the threats of certain elements in Iran very seriously. These Iranian elements equate the US with Satan, and the return of Jews from all over the world to Palestine, removing its inhabitants after nearly two thousand years absence as an arbitrary reversal of history that they do not accept.

It is totally improbable that Iran would launch a nuclear strike even if it had weapons in the future. They would be wiped out in return. It is unlikely that Iran would cut off its oil supplies to the outside world - it cannot afford to. However, the development of nuclear weapons in the hidden parts of a country that has access to great oil wealth and harbours a lot of fanatical fundamentalists, and which does not take seriously any treaties or agreements it signs with 'the west', is not part of the international planning that the rest of the world is trying very hard to put in place.

My personal view is that for the moment we should make sure we proceed with solidarity, so all I ask is that George Bush keeps his mouth shut. There is no tyrant to remove.  What is really needed is to make sure that Iranians, in a powerful majority, understand WHY they are better off with the support of the international community. They have enough oil, gas and solar energy for their own needs and developing uranium enrichment technology will not bring them cheap energy or security in the future, quite the reverse. At the moment, that is not being done clearly enough. That is not to say that very intelligent sanctions should not be prepared by the UN Security Council if relations do not improve.

This is a good summary from Reuters

Iran pledges IAEA access to former atomic site

VIENNA (Reuters) - Iran has pledged access for U.N. inspectors to equipment from the former Lavisan military site in a possible bid to avert a crackdown by the U.N. nuclear watchdog (IAEA) next week, a senior diplomat said on Friday.

The diplomat, informed about IAEA affairs but asking not to be identified because of the issue's sensitivity, said Iran made the promise in a fax to IAEA safeguards director Olli Heinonen earlier this week before he took an inspections team to Iran.

Lack of IAEA access to Lavisan equipment has been a burning factor in a U.S.-European Union push to have the nuclear agency's 35-nation board refer Iran to the U.N. Security Council over suspicions it is secretly trying to develop atomic bombs.

Iran tore down a military-linked physics research centre at Lavisan in 2004 and stripped the ground around it before IAEA investigators could test for particles on equipment they believed was obtained by Iran for use in enriching uranium.

Iran says it wants nuclear energy only for electricity.

But after 18 years of hiding nuclear work from the IAEA, three years of agency probes stunted by delays and evasions and Iran's January 9 move to restart atomic fuel research, European Union powers called an emergency IAEA board meeting for February 2.

To update board members, Heinonen went to Iran this week to check on Lavisan and seek explanations from Tehran about alleged nuclear black-market activity and a document diplomats said described how to make the core of a nuclear bomb.

"Heinonen received a faxed promise from Iran that his team would get access to equipment used at Lavisan before it was demolished. That was one of the central rationales for his trip," the diplomat told Reuters.

"We don't know yet whether he actually got access, but if so it would be a very positive move and help Iran's case before the board and help it head off tough action," he said.


"Historically Iran has given concessions like this just before every board meeting to negate criticism. They hold these things back as bargaining chips, rather than giving full access and getting it all over and done with in one go."

He said that if Iran honoured the promise, it could fulfil a key condition set by IAEA director-general Mohamed ElBaradei to ease doubts that its nuclear programme is entirely peaceful. "It would help defuse pressure on Iran."

ElBaradei told Newsweek magazine earlier this month he could not rule out Iran might have an underground atomic bomb project parallel to its declared nuclear energy programme.

But he has rebuffed Western calls to advance a wide-ranging report on alleged Iranian defiance of nuclear non-proliferation rules for the February board, saying he had given Iran until the next regular meeting in March to clear up a broad array of questions.

Iran has threatened to end IAEA snap inspections of its nuclear project and, as the world's No. 4 oil supplier, hinted it would cut crude exports if put in Security Council hands.

Russia and China oppose the Western thrust to refer Tehran to the Security Council, calling it premature, and the EU has been amending a resolution for the February 2 IAEA meeting in search of consensus with key non-Western member states, diplomats say.

An EU diplomat said the text was being tweaked to help meet Moscow's demand that the IAEA only "inform" the Council about Iran and leave a referral motion at least until the March 6 IAEA board, depending on ElBaradei's findings by that time.

"This compromise could still give a clear signal to Iran. While it wouldn't allow an open Council debate, you could play around with it behind closed doors there," said the EU diplomat.

"This would set the stage for referral in March if Iran's behaviour hasn't changed by then."

Russia and China are veto-wielding permanent members of the Council, along with the United States, Britain and France.

Iran's chief nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani dampened hopes that it was leaning towards a proposed compromise solution to the crisis under which Russia would purify Iranian uranium to prevent diversions to weapons-making.

Larijani said the Russian proposal's "capacity is not sufficient for Iran's nuclear technology. It can be part of a package and taken into consideration within it".

But he added: "It cannot be said that it is a negative proposal. We therefore considered it worthy of studying..."

JANUARY 30th 2006  

The U.S. ambassador to India, David Mulford, said last week that if India did not oppose Tehran at the IAEA, a landmark India-U.S. nuclear cooperation pact could be in trouble.

"We cannot vote with the U.S. after his comments. We're planning to abstain," said one official, asking not to be named.

If Mulford is entitled to state that as policy, and as fact, would it not have been better done directly and discussed in private rather than in public?.

FEBRUARY 1st 2006
I find America's behaviour over Iran ridiculous. Iran is just winding Bush up to make him look a fool. There is absolutely no way Iran can launch a nuclear attack on anybody, now or in the future. If it attacked Israel it would wipe out the Palestinians and whoever it attacked it would be counter-attacked with devastating consequences. What is at stake, however, is material for nuclear weapons made in Iran getting into terrorist hands, to be used anonymously in a terrorist attack in an unknown locality in the future.

MARCH 6th 2006
A lot of hysteria in the media about US military options for Iran. All this based on the premis that Iran has a loonie for president, harbours some fundamentalist terrorists, and therefore represents a danger to world peace. I agree, but psychologists would say: "it takes one to worry about one." Diplomacy is the answer. Not the diplomacy of appeasement of course, but the likelyhood of the current Iranian regime surviving long and lobbing a nuke at the end, remote though it is, is only enhanced, not reduced, by current American efforts of UN Ambassador Bolton and the absurd Patrick Clawson - where did he sprout from?

APRIL 6th 2006
Recommended listening in case you missed it, on the BBC site

This is the extraordinary story of Dr Gernot Zippe, a pensioner currently living in Germany, who invented a uranium centrifuge which gave Iraq, Pakistan and North Korea the potential to build cheap nuclear bombs.

Listen again Listen again to the programme

Eighty-six-year-old Dr Zippe invented the Zippe-Type centrifuge which has now become the easiest way to make fuel for reactors as well as weapons of terrifying power.

In his first ever broadcast interview he tells the programme how he was kidnapped soon after the end of WWII and held prisoner in the Soviet Union where he was ordered to find an easy way of producing uranium’s rare U-235 isotope. Having done as he was asked he was freed by the Soviets only for the Americans to order him to repeat the process for their benefit.

Years later his plans were stolen by the Pakistani government who sold the secrets of the Zippe-Type on to North Korea and Iran allowing them to develop their nuclear industry. Another German scientist sold his plans to Saddam Hussein who used them as the basis for his attempt to acquire the bomb.

Dr Zippe remains philosophical about the chaos his invention has caused around the globe. “With a kitchen knife you can peel a potato or kill your neighbour,” he says. “It’s up to governments to use the centrifuge for the benefit of mankind.”

APRIL 10th 2006
The recent talk about a nuclear strike on Iran is absurd, but the perception of elements of the Bush administration as juvenile causes as much worry to some as elements of the Iranian regime do by being equally immature. Nuclear weapons are, as they have always been since their first use, a deterrent. Even their use for so-called bunker-busting is inappropriate. Nor is it conceivable that Iran would use them on Israel. The danger is of proliferation from any development in Iran but even that is no more likely than the risk that already exists because the technology is 'out there'.

To perform as President of the United States, you need to have a knowledge of History, Geography, Biology and English. When a speechwriter alters a phrase to read 'axis of evil', you need to know what this will mean to people who hear it, not just some leader it is aimed at but the people of the country it insults . You need to know when not to use the word 'crusade'. You need to know what goes on down the chain of your own command and you need to have good idea of other cultures. Above all you need to inspire confidence not just in your own countrymen but in all the citizens of the world who value freedom under the law with some form of parlamentary democracy and free and fair elections. It is not much use blaming George Bush when the job he has been handed is not one to which most people qualified for the job would care to stand for election.  This is not peculiar to the United States, but it matters more when it is the United States.

APRIL 12th
Pursuant to the above, the latest news from Iran demonstrates how utterly inept is the use of the threats of force to achieve political ends in the current millenium.  They are counter productive. "Speak loudly and wave a big unusable stick" is not a good maxim for political success. It only confirms the idea that your diplomatic skills are poor and you have only money and technology with which to do battle. Sanctions are also not a way to get people to agree with you. Sanctions are what you impose on people you want to isolate and punish. What is required in the case of Iran is to give the majority of Iranians the confidence to join the International Community, What is needed is to have the IAEA given full access. The fact that the Iranians have consistently lied about what they are doing is not, on the whole, surprising or even a question of morailty. Every western country has operated on the basis of secrecy, military and otherwise. What is held against them is the deliberate breaking of treaties from which they have profited, treaties which specifically override the imperatives of secrecy in certain areas of national defence. But we all know that even in religious dictatorships, and frequently in democracies, one part of government or the establishment does not know what the others are doing. What is done is done and we must move on. Building confidence was the way the Cold War ended. It was not achieved by the professional negotiators employed to represent entrenched interests.

MAY 5th
What is the signiicance of Jack Straw being moved from the Foreign Office? Not a great deal in my view. He has done a very good job and until the change of government in Iran he had kept relations with Iran on the right track. Nobody is going to get any sense out of the new leader, who is primitive in his diplomacy. The best thing to do is to refrain from insulting Iranians as a whole as it is they who have to bring some good sense to the running of their affairs. The best thing George Bush can do is not to discuss Iran at all. The amount of enriched uranium they are producing is not as important as the state of Iranian society. It is the latter that needs careful attention.

MAY 9th
The mismatch between 
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and  John Bolton  is such as to make dialogue virtually impossible. Ironically, Bolton is as closed and autistic a mind in his own way as is the president's. No doubt Bolton insists his vast experience, wherein he has 'seen it all before' makes any stance other than the plain and simple defence of US interests as a waste of time. The total certainty that US interests are those of the planet is scarcely different from the Iranian president's belief that a heavenly light surrounds him when he speaks for Allah.

For a broad summary of the debate on the risks of Iran going nuclear, try  .


In an attemp to 'clear the decks', Condoleeza Rice has declared a change in US policy. She is prepared to join direct talks, together with the Europeans, with Iran - the proviso is that Iran must verifiably cease uranium enrichment and publicly declare a policy of no nucear weapons development. It is unlikely that Iran will accept this deal but not impossible. They have won the diplomatic game hands down so far due to US ineptitude and may feel they have won the right to develop peaceful nuclear power. The US has acknowledged this right. One thing is certainly coming home to President Bush - however right he may be and however il-informed his opponents, he has been losing the support of public opinion throughout the world. It is quite difficult to lose to Mahmoud Ahmadinejahd, but so far he has managed. Perhaps a bit more logic and no more 'axis of evil stuff' may enable him to get the Iranian public and influential educated public on side. Be that as it may, Bush seems to have learned that the only people who can control Iran are Iranians.

JUNE 6th
At last some sense. Javier Solana is just the man to take the new proposals of the International Community to Iran.
Bush's policy [Talk loudly and threateningly and carry a stick of which your opponent already holds the other end] was lunacy from the start. Things could have got much worse. There is now a chance they might get better.

JUNE 08 has news of what has been known for some time, that Iran's military have been playing around with enriched uranium for ages. This is nothing new.

AUGUST 26th 2006
A bit of good sense here in an ANALYSIS from AP:

ANALYSIS: Bully role won't help with Iran

By ANNE GEARAN, AP Diplomatic Writer Sat Aug 26, 3:55 AM ET

WASHINGTON - The Bush administration may be on the verge of getting what it has long sought - United Nations sanctions on a defiant Iran over its accelerated nuclear program. That may not be much of a victory.

The UN Security Council isn't likely to approve tough sanctions anytime soon, analysts said, and Iran can easily shake off light punishments. The United States risks shattering an international coalition it fought hard to build if it plays the bully now.

Perhaps emboldened by what it views as a proxy victory over the West during the monthlong Israeli war with Iranian-backed Hezbollah militants, Tehran is testing the unity of the international front against it.

Iran has so far ignored an Aug. 31 U.N. deadline to stop nuclear development activities that Washington and some allies say is evidence that Iran wants to build a bomb. Iran says it wants only to develop peaceful nuclear energy, and has made its program a point of national pride.

On Tuesday, Tehran presented a lengthy response to a package of Western incentives, drawn up by the five permanent U.N. Security Council members and Germany, to get Iran to roll back its program. Washington considered the reply overdue and insufficient.

The offer came with the sweetener — a promise that the United States would join negotiations with Iran over the package if Iran first halted uranium enrichment — and the threat of sanctions if Iran failed to comply.

Iran said it was prepared for "serious negotiations" but did not agree to the key condition. Enriched uranium can be used either for weapons or to produce nuclear power.

"If a will is going to be imposed on us, we will be ready to pay the price for defending our rights," Mohammad Reza Bahonar, vice speaker of Iran's parliament, told the semiofficial Iranian Student News Agency on Friday.

If the deadline passes without any movement, the Security Council could take up a sanctions proposal as soon as next week.

The Bush administration has urged just that for more than two years, while European nations tried and failed to talk Iran out of the most troublesome aspects of its nuclear program.

Although slow and frustrating, the Iran diplomacy has so far represented a qualified victory for the United States.

Once deeply suspicious of U.S. motives in Iran and put off by tough talk from Washington, European governments have largely come around to the U.S. view that sanctions, or the threat of them, is the best strategy left.

Even Russia and China, with economic and strategic reasons to side more with Iran than with the United States, reluctantly agreed to the carrot-or-stick package now on the table. Those nations hold veto power as permanent members of the Security Council and are considered Iran's best defense against harsh punishment.

Now with sanctions looming, long-standing divisions and anxieties among the partners Washington will need are coming to the fore.

European nations with strong commercial ties to the major oil and energy exporter would be hurt themselves by the very sanctions on energy exports that would probably be most effective.

The United States is likely to bow to the European preference for weak sanctions as a first step. That would leave the Bush administration making the best of half-measures, such as a ban on travel by Iranian officials, while pressing for tougher economic sanctions down the line.

If Iran can split off Russia or China now, there may be no sanctions at all.

Iranian-born author and Middle East scholar Trita Parsi interprets Iran's ambiguous response this week as a bid to blur the bright lines of the U.N. demand, perhaps by offering a very brief suspension of enrichment. He thinks European nations may be tempted.

"Sanctions with teeth tend to bite back," Parsi said, and European leaders know their publics don't think the Iranian nuclear threat is worth economic hardship at home.

From Tehran's perspective, there is good reason to stall, said Council on Foreign Relations fellow Michael Levi.

"If their strategy was to divide the Security Council it seems to be working," Levi said, citing Friday's remarks from the Russian Vice Premier Sergei Ivanov that talk of sanctions is premature.

Meanwhile small nations that can vote, but not veto, at the Security Council are in an uproar over perceived U.S. bias toward Israel in the recent war with Hezbollah militants. It is unclear how much opposition those nations could raise to a U.S.-backed sanctions plan.

The United States should probably take what it can get at the Security Council for now, Levi said. He said mild sanctions are better than no sanctions, if only as a signal to Iran that the United States and its partners won't back down from a fight.

"There is no credible threat of sanctions if no one is willing to take even the smallest first step," Levi said. "Without even minor steps right now, Iran has essentially no reason to comply with U.N. demands."


EDITOR'S NOTE: Anne Gearan covers diplomacy and foreign affairs for The Associated Press in Washington

NOVEMBER 13 2006
UK and EU foreign policy has always been to maintain a mature dialogue with Iran. We should therefore not be surprised at the following now that Bush has been given a kicking by his own countrymen.

Blair looking to Iran and Syria
Tony Blair is to call for dialogue with Iran and Syria to secure peace in the Middle East, as Defence Secretary Des Browne says change is under way.

The UK prime minister believes the two states should be warned of the consequences of failing to help.

In a major foreign policy speech in London he will also defend the UK's close relationship with the US.

Mr Browne told the BBC change "has been under way for some time now" and denied it resulted from US political changes.

"Our strategy has been adapting throughout the time because it covers both security and politics and because the political settlement indeed will be the enduring part of change in Iraq," Mr Browne told BBC Radio Four's Today programme.

"And everyone agrees that you can't do this by military means alone.

"Throughout the conflict, for example, we've been calling on Iran and Syria to do more to stop the flow into Iraq of foreign fighters, bomb making equipment and know how - and we will continue to talk to all of Iraq's neighbours."

Asked if the change in policy was the result of the US mid-term elections last week, Mr Browne said: "Change has been under way for some time now and it distorts the reality to suggest that that change is predicated upon a change in American politics."

The White House has already indicated it would consider talking to Iran and Syria - previously described by President Bush as part of an "Axis of Evil" - about the future of Iraq.

Mr Blair will address the Lord Mayor's banquet at the Guildhall stressing the need to "make clear" to Syria and Iran how they can help make peace in the Middle East, an aide said.

And he will say that resolving the situation in Iraq requires action to deal with the region's other issues such as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Lebanon.

He will add that the only British foreign policy that could work is one based on "strong alliances".

'With or against us'

"For that reason, our partnership with America and our membership of the EU are precisely suited to Britain," he will add.

"For that reason anti-Americanism or euroscepticism are not merely foolish, they are the surest route to the destruction of our true national interest."

BBC political editor Nick Robinson said political change in Washington meant Mr Blair's calls for a renewed effort for Middle East peace, might be listened to.

And he said there had been a move away from the language that "you are either with us or against us".

On Sunday four British servicemen were killed and three seriously injured in a bomb attack on a patrol boat in southern Iraq.

On the same day, two suicide bombers killed 35 people and wounded 60 at a police commando recruiting centre in western Baghdad, police said.

And the US military said three American soldiers were killed in combat in western Al-Anbar province.

In the US, White House chief-of-staff Josh Bolten said "a fresh approach" was needed on Iraq.

Its Iraq Study Group is due to give its recommendations on US strategy in Iraq by the end of the year.

US panel

President George W Bush is meeting the panel on Monday, and Mr Blair will talk to it via video link on Tuesday.

The panel reportedly thinks that "staying the course" is an untenable long-term strategy, and is said to have been looking at two options.

One is the phased withdrawal of US troops, and the other is to increase contact with Syria and Iran.

We have to make the most of our friendships... with the moderate Arab nations of the Middle East
Shadow foreign secretary William Hague

A Downing Street spokeswoman said Mr Blair would ensure the members of the panel were "fully briefed on UK ideas" when he spoke to them.

British officials had been in contact with the panel since it began, and the prime minister's intervention was "a natural extension of that", she said.

Shadow foreign secretary William Hague welcomed Mr Blair's engagement with the US panel, stressing the need for "heavy British involvement" in the reassessment of current thinking.

But he told BBC News hopes of involving Iran and Syria in the short-term could prove "naive".

"We have to make the most of our friendships and build on our friendships with the moderate Arab nations of the Middle East," he said.

DECEMBER 06 2006
Iran has a limited influence in Iraq, but will ask the US to pay a hight price for them to use it. It has more influence in other areas of the Middle East.

Iran has limited influence in Iraq
By Sadeq Saba
Iran affairs analyst, BBC News

The Iraq Study Group has recommend that the United States should engage with Iran as part of efforts to stem the violence in Iraq.

But there is a limit as to what Iran can do to stabilise its neighbour.

There is no doubt that Iran has influence over the moderate Shia and Kurdish groups who dominate the current Iraqi government.

The largest Shia party - the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (Sciri), led by Abdel Aziz al-Hakim - was based in Iran during Saddam Hussein's rule, and the Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki's Dawa party has had close relations with Iran.

Iraq's Kurdish President, Jalal Talabani, is also an old friend of Tehran.

But the violence in Iraq is not believed to be coming from these groups.

Calls for restraint

Most of the insurgents belong to militant Iraqi and foreign Sunni groups over which Iran does not appear to have any influence.

And the militant anti-American Shia cleric, Moqtada Sadr, is not seen as an ally of Iran and is partly motivated by Arab nationalism.

It is true that some ordinary Shias are involved in sectarian violence but it does not seem that Iran can stop them.

These people are not even listening to Iraq's most prominent Shia cleric, Ayatollah Ali Sistani, whose repeated calls for restraint have been ignored.

It appears that the idea of dialogue with Iran should rather be seen as a proposal for a more pragmatic US foreign policy towards the Middle East in general, and in particular the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

In that context, Iran - with its huge influence on Islamic groups in Lebanon, Iraq and the Palestinian territories - can play a major role.

The American panel is also aware that if Tehran cannot turn down the heat in Iraq, it certainly can turn it up.

DECEMBER 12 2006
In the news item below, we can see that while Blair appreciates the adverse approach of the elements in Iran that are causing a great deal of trouble, he may be overestimating their ability to take the intellectual, military and commercial with them. It is only partly true that:

" This problem hasn't originated naturally. It's originated as a result of the deliberate outside interference linking up with internal extremism".

And this is the same way Totalitarian Communism came to the Soviet Union. We should learn the lesson on how not to deal with it. Do not make any population rally round their extremist leaders. Make sure their are good relations at many levels. Do not talk rubbish about evil empires. Do not use the 'rule of law' to put powerless people in a position they cannot cope with. Do not impose sanctions that hurt the people while the leaders and terrorists and black-marketeers make hay, even if they have nothing in common except their own self interest.

Iran is a problem but not a threat, though there are people who could become a problem if they keep control of Iran and rally the country against us. Unemployment is a problem that can cause any society to turn bad. Hitler took final and prolonged control because he put his nation to work.

Iran a 'major threat', says Blair
Tony Blair has said Iran poses a "major strategic threat" to the Middle East and is "deliberately causing" problems.

At his monthly media briefing the prime minister said the Iranian regime was "deeply extreme".

He called the Holocaust conference in Iran this week, which had speakers including an ex-Ku Klux Klan leader, "shocking beyond belief".

Mr Blair also played down suggestions current problems in Iraq were caused by US decisions after Saddam's fall.

There is no point in hiding the fact that Iran poses a major strategic threat to the cohesion of the entire region
Tony Blair
Prime Minister

"Iran is deliberately causing maximum problems for moderate governments and for ourselves in the region - in Palestine, in Lebanon and in Iraq."

He said there was "little point" in including Iran and Syria in regional issues, such as Iraq, "unless they are prepared to be constructive".

'Major challenge'

"There is no point in hiding the fact that Iran poses a major strategic threat to the cohesion of the entire region," Mr Blair told reporters.

There were "major, major problems" in Iraq, Lebanon and Palestine, but "all of this is now overshadowed by the issue of Iran".

He said it would be a "major challenge" to deal with Iran.

Describing a "deadlock" over the Palestinian situation, Mr Blair said: "You only have to see what is happening in Iran in the past couple of days to realise how important it is that all people of moderation in the Middle East try to come together and sort out the problems.

"There literally could be nothing more important on the international agenda at the moment than that."

This problem hasn't originated naturally. It's originated as a result of the deliberate outside interference linking up with internal extremism
Tony Blair

Asked about the Iraq Study Group's report, published in the US last week, Mr Blair said it was still the intention to withdraw British troops once Iraqi authorities were able to take over.

"I certainly do not take the Study Group as saying that we should get out, come what may.

"What they are saying is that we have to increase our driving up of the capability of the Iraqi forces, because it's obviously better that the Iraqis themselves take responsibility and indeed the Iraqi government is increasingly saying it wants to take responsibility.

"Then the coalition forces will still be in a support role but it won't be the same as it is at the moment."


He said the situation for UK troops in Basra was different from that for US troops in Baghdad, where there was more sectarian violence, but the UK withdrawal would not be affected by US decisions.

"If and when they [US troops] are able to change the situation in Baghdad, then they too will be in a different set of circumstances, but the pace at which both of those things may happen may be different," Mr Blair said.

Mr Blair was also asked about ex-defence secretary Geoff Hoon's suggestion recently that the UK had not wanted the Iraqi army disbanded after Saddam Hussein's fall.

Mr Blair said: "The principal reason we are having a problem in Iraq is because people are deliberately giving us a problem.

"There's sometimes a sense in which, it's as if, if only we sort of had a different post-conflict strategy, somehow we could have avoided this problem.

"This problem hasn't originated naturally. It's originated as a result of the deliberate outside interference linking up with internal extremism."

DECEMBER 24th 2006

Unbowed by election losses, Iranian leader mocks Bush

TEHRAN: President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Thursday seemed unbowed by the victory of his rivals in Iranian elections, mocking President George W. Bush and saying Iran would pursue its nuclear program despite the threat of United Nations sanctions.

JANUARY 19th 2007
The US contingency plans for an attack on Iran are in danger as being seen as a policy, This is incompatible with the theory of nuclear deterrence. We know that nuclear deterrence does not work against independent or stateless terrorists, but it is entirely effective against coherent states. Iran would never launch a nuclear strike against Israel or any other country under the nuclear umbrella of the US, or for that matter the UK or France or other nuclear power they know could strike back. The danger of nuclear proliferation is of nuclear weapons falling into the hands of terrorists outside the control of a state. Those who think that even the present leaders of Iran would make, or even need to make, a nuclear strike, are just completely wrong. The trouble is the US draws up contingency plans for everything, but seem unable to accept this practice in others. It is led by pathologically competitive individuals whose self-belief is a mirror image of their opponents and whose religious ideas are just as confused.

U.S. plans envision broad attack on Iran: analyst

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. contingency planning for military action againstIran's nuclear program goes beyond limited strikes and would effectively unleash a war against the country, a former U.S. intelligence analyst said on Friday.

"I've seen some of the planning ... You're not talking about a surgical strike," said Wayne White, who was a top Middle East analyst for the State Department's bureau of intelligence and research until March 2005.

"You're talking about a war against Iran" that likely would destabilize the Middle East for years, White told the Middle East Policy Council, a Washington think tank.

"We're not talking about just surgical strikes against an array of targets inside Iran. We're talking about clearing a path to the targets" by taking out much of the Iranian Air Force, Kilo submarines, anti-ship missiles that could target commerce or U.S. warships in the Gulf, and maybe even Iran's ballistic missile capability, White said.

"I'm much more worried about the consequences of a U.S. or Israeli attack against Iran's nuclear infrastructure," which would prompt vigorous Iranian retaliation, he said, than civil war in Iraq, which could be confined to that country.

President George W. Bush has stressed he is seeking a diplomatic solution to the dispute over Iran's nuclear program.

But he has not taken the military option off the table and his recent rhetoric, plus tougher financial sanctions and actions against Iranian involvement in Iraq, has revived talk in Washington about a possible U.S. attack on Iran.

The Bush administration and many of its Gulf allies have expressed growing concern about Iran's rising influence in the region and the prospect of it acquiring a nuclear weapon.

Middle East expert Kenneth Katzman argued "Iran's ascendancy is not only manageable but reversible" if one understands the Islamic republic's many vulnerabilities.

Tehran's leaders have convinced many experts Iran is a great nation verging on "superpower" status, but the country is "very weak ... (and) meets almost no known criteria to be considered a great nation," said Katzman of the Library of Congress' Congressional Research Service.

The economy is mismanaged and "quite primitive," exporting almost nothing except oil, he said.

Also, Iran's oil production capacity is fast declining and in terms of conventional military power, "Iran is a virtual non-entity," Katzman added.

The administration, therefore, should not go out of its way to accommodate Iran because the country is in no position to hurt the United States, and at some point "it might be useful to call that bluff," he said.

But Katzman cautioned against early confrontation with Iran and said if there is a "grand bargain" that meets both countries' interests, that should be pursued.

JANUARY 26th 2007               They just love winding up Bush.

UN atom agency's Iran section head must go: Tehran

By Mark Heinrich

VIENNA (Reuters) - Iran has demanded the removal of the U.N. official overseeing nuclear inspections in the country, accusing him of breach of trust, and barred all inspectors from nations behind sanctions, diplomats said on Friday.

Tehran's moves, following a ban on 38 inspectors from four major Western nations announced on Monday, appeared aimed at testing Western resolve over its disputed nuclear activity while stopping short of violating the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

The United Nations slapped preliminary sanctions on Iran last month for refusing to stop enriching uranium, the pathway to fuel for atomic energy or bombs, and impeding
International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) probes into the nature of its program.

Western powers suspect Iran is secretly trying to assemble warheads behind the facade of a civilian nuclear power project. Tehran, the world's No. 4 exporter of oil, insists it is seeking only peaceful nuclear generation of electricity.

A senior diplomat close to the IAEA said on Friday Iran had written to the Vienna-based agency asking for the ouster of its Iran section head, Chris Charlier, who is Belgian. Last year, Iran banned Charlier from traveling to the Islamic Republic.

"The note from Iran was not that strong," the diplomat said, without elaborating. There was no immediate IAEA comment.

Iran's official news agency IRNA quoted an unnamed Iranian diplomat as saying it had asked the IAEA to "delete a Belgian inspector from the list" of those allowed to work in Iran.

"Both Iran and the (IAEA) are informed that this inspector has passed confidential Iranian nuclear information, which was supposed to be kept between Iran and the IAEA, to inappropriate countries and their media," the diplomat said.

"Iran's cooperation with the IAEA will continue in the framework of the NPT ..., which means inspections and supervisions will continue," IRNA quoted the diplomat as saying.


But he also said there would be no place for inspectors from countries behind measures against "Iran's peaceful nuclear activities." He appeared to be referring to Britain, France and Germany, which drafted the U.N. sanctions.

It was not immediately known how many of the 200 inspectors assigned exclusively or part-time to Iran were from the three EU powers, or whether the barred 38 comprised all of them. That ban included Canadians, whose government stoutly backed sanctions.

The diplomat quoted by IRNA did not say what Iran would do if Charlier remained in his post. Diplomats close to the IAEA said earlier this month Charlier could still run inspection operations in Iran without being on location.

"The Iranians have not made threats here, they're just being persistent," said another diplomat familiar with IAEA-Iranian relations, when asked about Iran's new thrust against Charlier.

The IAEA said on Monday the prohibition of the 38 would not undermine monitoring as it had ample other inspectors, but on Wednesday it wrote to Iran to urge it to reconsider the ban.

Iran has brushed off the U.N. Security Council's decision to prohibit transfers of sensitive materials and know-how to Iran's nuclear and missile programs. It vows soon to escalate a now experimental enrichment program to "industrial-scale."

Diplomats said the IAEA, in pushing Iran to reverse the ban on 38 inspectors, did not want to see a precedent set for restricting inspections that could harden U.S. sentiment for an attack on Iran's nuclear sites.

(Additional reporting by Alireza Ronaghi in Tehran)

FEBRUARY 11th 2007

Iran, a long established country with no recent record of invading others or bombing them, maintains it has no intention of departing from this stance. A reasonable point of view, since they know that if they did they would be flattened. The US and some others continue to fear that they are bent on developing nukes to give to unattributable terrorists - for that is the only threat - and are obsessed by the fact that Iran has signed the non-proliferation treaty but not abided by it, and kept development secret. However, it must be acknowledged that this development is no longer secret, so that objection is at least removed.

More to the point is Iran's supply of deadly weapons to the insurgents in Iraq. The 3rd message below refers to this

Envoy: Iran poses no threat to Israel

By SLOBODAN LEKIC, Associated Press Writer 

MUNICH, Germany - Iran's nuclear program is not a threat to Israel and the country is prepared to settle all outstanding issues with the International Atomic Energy Agency within three weeks, its top nuclear negotiator said Sunday.

Ali Larijani, speaking at a forum that gathered the world's top security officials, said Iran doesn't have aggressive intentions toward any nation.

"That Iran is willing to threaten Israel is wrong," Larijani said. "We pose no threat and if we are conducting nuclear research and development we are no threat to Israel. We have no intention of aggression against any country."

Iran insists it will not give up uranium enrichment, saying it is pursuing the technology only to generate energy. The United States and some of its allies fear the Islamic republic is more interested in enrichment's other application — creating the fissile core of nuclear warheads.

In Israel, Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev dismissed Larijani's comments, saying Iran's government was trying to convince the international community that their intentions are benign.

"The fact is that they have failed in this attempt and there is a wall-to-wall consensus that the Iranian nuclear program is indeed military and aggressive and a threat to world peace," he said.

The IAEA, led by Mohamed ElBaradei, has said it has found no evidence that Iran is trying to build nuclear weapons. But the watchdog has suspended some aid to Iran and criticized the country for concealing certain nuclear activities and failing to answer questions about its program.

"I have written to Mr. ElBaradei to say we are ready to within three weeks to have the modality to solve all the outstanding issues with you," Larijani said at the forum.

On Friday, the IAEA suspended nearly half the technical aid it provides to Iran, a symbolically significant punishment for nuclear defiance that only North Korea and Saddam Hussein's Iraq had faced in the past.

That decision was in line with U.N. Security Council sanctions imposed on Iran for its refusal to suspend uranium enrichment. The suspension must still be approved by the 35 countries on the IAEA's board of the International Atomic Energy Agency.

"Today we announce to you that the political will of Iran is aimed at the negotiated settlement of the case and we don't want to aggravate the situation in our region," Larijani said. "We know that this issue can be settled won in a constructive dialogue and we welcome that."

ElBaradei's Friday report to board members called for the full or partial suspension of 18 projects that it deemed could be misused to create nuclear weapons. The agency had already suspended aid to Iran in five instances last month.

While the IAEA programs do not involve significant amounts of money, a senior U.N official familiar with Iran's file said the suspensions carry "symbolic significance" because they are part of Security Council sanctions.

Iran gets IAEA technical aid for 15 projects and 40 more involving multiple other countries. In projects involving other nations, only Iran was affected by the suspensions.

The United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany all want Iran to stop its enrichment program. But their approaches have differed over the past year, often straining the joint effort.

Russia and China, which both share economic and strategic interests with Iran, have been reluctant to impose harsh sanctions. After months of disputes, the Security Council imposed sanctions in December that fell short of the harsher measures sought by the United States.

In March, the IAEA board will also hear a report from ElBaradei expected to confirm that Iran has expanded its enrichment efforts — a development that would empower the Security Council to impose stricter sanctions.

Iran says wants to stay within nuclear rules

By Parisa Hafezi Sun Feb 11, 4:11 AM ET

TEHRAN (Reuters) - Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad marked the 28th anniversary of Iran's revolution on Sunday pledging to maintain the country's nuclear program but saying he wanted to remain within international rules.

"We are ready for talks but will not suspend our activities," he said in a speech broadcast on state television.

Thousands of people with banners gathered in Azadi (Freedom) square to hear Ahmadinejad, who had said Iran would celebrate its nuclear achievements on the anniversary of the 1979 Islamic revolution.

His comments had prompted talk Iran might say it had begun installing 3,000 centrifuges at its Natanz uranium enrichment plant, defying a U.N. sanctions resolution which gave Tehran until February 21 to suspend enrichment or face more measures.

Iran already runs two cascades of 164 centrifuges at the Natanz underground plant, but plans to install thousands of centrifuges and start "industrial-scale" enrichment.

However, some officials had suggested Tehran had no intention to take provocative steps and Ahmadinejad's comments in the end mixed defiance with conciliatory elements in a speech which made no major announcements on the nuclear program.

"Based on the law, we have the right to have the full (nuclear) fuel cycle," he said.

"The Iranian nation is interested in continuing its nuclear activities in the framework of the (International Atomic Energy) Agency's regulations and treaties," he said.

He added that it would be a "humiliation" for Iran to abandon its nuclear program and that sanctions would not harm the country.

The United States has accused Iran of having a secret program to build nuclear weapons. Tehran says its nuclear program is only for power generation.

Public buildings, mosques and streets were covered with flags, lights and portraits of the late founder of Iran's Islamic revolution, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, and his successor, Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.


"Death to America," shouted demonstrators, repeating the ritual chant of the revolution which toppled the U.S.-backed Shah in 1979 and swept the Shi'ite Muslim clergy to power.

"I am so proud of Iran's atomic achievements. Nuclear technology is our right," said government employee Ebrahim Ahmadizadeh, 24, wrapped in a white shroud symbolising his willingness to become a "martyr" for his country.

Officials had called for a big turnout to show Iranian unity in the face of Western pressure.

Iran's chief nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani told Reuters on the sidelines of a security conference in Munich on Saturday Tehran wanted a political solution to its standoff with the West. Larijani was expected to meet EU officials on Sunday.

Some Western diplomats said on Saturday a small group of European nations were weighing a compromise proposal they plan to put to Iran in the hope it could end the standoff.

The proposal would permit Iran to keep its uranium enrichment infrastructure of several hundred centrifuges but it would not be allowed to feed any processed uranium hexafluoride (UF6) into the machines while negotiating with six world powers over a package of incentives to observe U.N. demands.

Concerned Iran would gain nuclear skills merely by vacuum-testing centrifuges, neither the United States nor Britain would find the idea very attractive, some Western diplomats said.

After almost three decades, many Iranians, especially the young, have lost interest in the revolution. But most remain proud of their country's nuclear program.

U.S. officer: Iran sends Iraq bomb parts

By STEVEN R. HURST, Associated Press Writer Feb 11 2007

BAGHDAD, Iraq - High-tech roadside bombs that have proved particularly deadly to American soldiers are manufactured in Iran and delivered to Iraq on orders from the "highest levels" of the Iranian government, a senior intelligence officer said Sunday.

The officer, briefing reporters on condition he not be further identified, said that between June 2004 and last week, more than 170 Americans had been killed by the bombs, which the military calls "explosively formed projectiles."

Those weapons are capable of destroying an Abrams tank.

The officer said American intelligence analysts believe the EFPs are manufactured in Iran and smuggled into Iraq on orders from the top of the Iranian government. He did not elaborate.

U.S. officials have alleged for years that weapons were entering the country from Iran but had stopped short of alleging involvement by top Iranian leaders.

The U.S. officer said Iran was working through surrogates — mainly "rogue elements" of the Shiite Mahdi Army — to smuggle the EFPs into Iraq. He said most of the components are entering Iraq near Amarah, the Iranian border city of Meran, and the Basra area of southern Iraq.

The U.S. officer said American authorities had briefed Iraq's Shiite-led government on Iran's involvement and Iraqi officials had asked the Iranians to stop. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shiite, has said he told both the U.S. and Iran that he does not want his country turned into a proxy battlefield.

Al-Maliki, who has been reluctant to crack down on the Mahdi Army, largely because he does not want to lose the support of its leader, Muqtada al-Sadr, said Iraqi security forces would deploy in force this week as part of a U.S.-backed security sweep aimed at stopping the violence in Baghdad.

"The new security plan will not start from a specific area, but it will start from all areas and at the same time and those who will take part in it are from all formations of the army and police," he said earlier in the day. The Iraqi leader has faced criticism that delays in starting the operation have allowed attacks that have killed hundreds over the past few weeks.

In Tikrit, 80 miles north of Baghdad, a suicide truck bomber slammed into a crowd of police lining up for duty Sunday near Tikrit, collapsing the station and killing at least 30 people and wounding 50, police said.

Minutes later, a roadside bomb struck a car on a highway on Tikrit's western outskirts, killing two civilians and wounding two others, police said.

Residents who rushed to the scene of the first bombing tried to help with rescue efforts before civil defense squads arrived with shovels to remove the debris and pull out the dead and those injured. U.S. and Iraqi forces later surrounded the area.

Bashir Masour, a 46-year-old laborer, said the explosion blew out the windows of his house, about 500 yards away.

"I ran to help and I saw destruction everywhere, along with charred bodies and body parts. Blood was spilled across a big area," he said. "I carried six people who I thought were still alive but then realized they had died after being torn apart by shrapnel."

Adwar, about 12 miles southeast of Tikrit, is where former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein was captured on Dec. 13, 2003.

Insurgents frequently target Iraqi security forces, accusing them of collaborating with the U.S.

A U.S. soldier also was killed Saturday after coming under small-arms fire northeast of Baghdad, the military said, raising the number of American troops who have died this month to 37.

U.S. and Iraqi troops found 14 weapons caches and detained 140 suspects in a week, focusing on mainly Shiite eastern Baghdad in the initial phase of the security sweep, said U.S. Brig. Gen. John Campbell, the deputy commander of American forces in Baghdad.

"With the cache finds this week, the detentions we've made and creating a larger presence on Baghdad streets with the establishment of another combat outpost, we are making headway with the Baghdad security plan," Campbell said. "This is only the beginning."

The chief military spokesman, Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell, said Wednesday that the much-anticipated Baghdad security operation was under way. His remarks came about a month afterPresident Bush announced he was dispatching 21,500 more troops to curb sectarian bloodletting. The latest plan is the third effort to secure the capital since al-Maliki took office on May 20.

As the Baghdad operation begins, U.S. officials have been stepping up allegations that Iran is assisting Shiite militias that pose a major threat in the capital and surrounding areas.

Last week, U.S. officials said they were investigating allegations that the Shiite lawmaker Jamal Jaafar Mohammed, a member of the bloc that brought al-Maliki to power, was a main conduit for Iranian weapons. Mohammed has believed to have fled to Iran.

The allegations against Iran were made briefing which had been set for last week. But U.S. defense officials said it was postponed so that thePentagon could review the information.
That appeared aimed at avoiding the embarrassment suffered when evidence of Iraqi unconventional weapons presented by Secretary Colin Powell at the United Nations in 2003 proved to be wrong.

During the briefing, the officer said that one of six Iranians detained in January in a raid on an office in the northern city of Irbil was the operational commander of the Quds Brigade, a unit of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards that trains and equips Shiite militants abroad.

He was identified as Mohsin Chizari, who was apprehended after slipping back into Iraq after a 10-month absence, the officer said.

The Iranians were caught trying to flush documents down the toilet, he said. Bags of their hair were found during the raid, indicating they had tried to change their appearance, he added.

He said the dates of manufacture on weapons found so far indicate they were made after fall of Saddam Hussein — mostly in 2006. He said the "machining" on the components was traceable to Iran but did not elaborate.

In a separate briefing Maj. Gen. Jim Simmons, deputy commander of Multinational Corps-Iraq, told reporters there was no indication Iranian weapons were behind the latest spate of helicopter crashes.

FEBRUARY 13th 2007

Iran government link to Iraq not clear, says U.S. general

JAKARTA (Reuters) - Iranian weapons found in improvised explosive devices in Iraq and the capture of some Iranians did not by themself implicate Tehran, the head of the U.S. military's joint chiefs of staff said on Tuesday.

Officials of U.S.-led forces in Baghdad showed journalists on Sunday fragments of what they said were Iranian-manufactured weapons and said that those at the "highest levels" of Tehran's government were involved in arming Iraqi militants.

Marine Corp Gen. Peter Pace told a news conference in Jakarta that some of the material that has been used in improvised explosive devices in Iraq was fromIran and that some Iranians had been captured during operations against these networks.

"That could not translate to that the Iranian government per se procured these or is directly involved in doing this."

"What it does say that things that are made in Iran are being used in Iraq to kill coalition soldiers and that some Iranians have been captured in the process of the coalition going after the networks."

Washington has hardened its rhetoric over Iran's alleged role in the war in Iraq and tension has been growing between the two arch-foes over Tehran's nuclear plans.

"I can tell you we will continue to aggressively pursue anybody who is trying to kill our troops inside Iraq," Pace said.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad denied on Monday that Iran is supplying sophisticated weapons to Iraqi militants and said peace would return to Iraq only when U.S. and other foreign forces leave.

Pace is on a short visit to Indonesia to discuss military and other ties.

MARCH 5th 2007    
The Barnaby Report makes obvious sense, even though Blix, the man who thought he could discover WMD in Iraq by driving around looking for the, agrees with it. Pre-emptive air strikes would be counter-productive in the short, medium and long term. I realise that people do not have confidence in George Bush's judgment but I think even he understands that much now.

Air strikes on Iran could backfire: report

By Kate Kelland 

LONDON (Reuters) - Military strikes to destroy Iran's nuclear ambitions could backfire, increasing Tehran's determination to obtain atomic weapons and bolstering hostility toward the West, a report said on Monday.

The report "Would air strikes work?," written by a leading British weapons scientist, said strikes would probably be unable to hit enough targets to cause serious damage to Iran's nuclear facilities.

"With inadequate intelligence, it is unlikely it would be possible to identify and subsequently destroy the number of targets needed to set back Iran's nuclear program for a significant period," said the report.

"In the aftermath of a military strike, if Iran devoted maximum effort and resources to building one nuclear bomb, it could achieve this in a relatively short amount of time."

Such a weapon would then be wielded in "an environment of incalculably greater hostility," said the report, which was published by the Oxford Research Group and written by Dr Frank Barnaby, a nuclear physicist and weapons expert.

Barnaby, one of the few remaining people in the world to have witnessed an above ground nuclear test, urged greater diplomatic efforts to end a standoff with Tehran.

Iran refused to meet a United Nations deadline last week for halting uranium enrichment -- a process that can produce nuclear fuel for use in power plants or weapons.

Iran's defiance prompted Washington to say all options are on the table for dealing with what it sees as a potential nuclear threat from Iran, and an Iranian deputy foreign minister responded by saying Tehran was prepared even for war.


Iran is likely to have built secret facilities underground as well as "false targets" designed to look like nuclear sites and act as decoys, Barnaby's report said.

An attack on those facilities would boost support for the country's authorities, the author told Reuters in an interview ahead of the report's release.

"If Iran is bombed the whole community is going to be totally united behind the government to speedily produce a nuclear weapon," he said. "It would be an absolutely idiotic thing to do."

Strikes would also interrupt oil supplies and impact the global economy, he said.

Hans Blix, former U.N. chief weapons inspector, backed the conclusions and warned Washington and its allies to learn from Iraq, where a decision to invade was based partly on a false belief that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. 

"In the case of Iran, armed action would be aimed at intentions -- that may or may not exist. However, the same result -- tragedy and regional turmoil -- would inevitably follow," Blix wrote in a foreword to the report.

Barnaby said bombing targets such as the Bushehr nuclear power reactor in southwest Iran once they were operational could cause potentially catastrophic contamination.

"To bomb that would be absolutely criminal -- you'd have another Chernobyl on your hands," he said.

Barnaby, 79, witnessed an atomic weapons test and saw the awful power of the explosion in 1953 in the Australian desert.

"You can't avoid being profoundly affected by that kind of experience. Seeing these things explode in the atmosphere, it makes you imagine what would happen if it exploded over a city. It's absolutely horrifying -- and it convinces you quite rapidly that these weapons have to be negotiated away."

MARCH 15 2007

Agreement reached on Iran sanctions

  Thursday March 15, 05:43 PM

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Six major powers announced an agreement on Thursday to impose new U.N. sanctions on Iran for its nuclear program, but Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad vowed the initiative would not sway his country.

The sanctions measure was sent to the 15-nation U.N. Security Council for an anticipated vote next week. It would penalise Tehran for refusing to suspend uranium enrichment, which can be used in nuclear bombs or for peaceful ends.

Iran says it seeks only to produce electricity, and Ahmadinejad denounced any new U.N. sanctions resolution.

"Issuing such torn pieces of paper ... will not have an impact on (the) Iranian nation's will," he told a rally in central Iran, according to the official news agency, IRNA.

Britain's U.N. Ambassador Emyr Jones Parry announced the agreement after consultations with his counterparts from the United States, France, Russia, China and Germany. U.S. deputy U.N. ambassador Alejandro Wolff said the text was not perfect but that "I'm satisfied with the compromise outcome."

The proposed Security Council resolution includes a ban on Iranian arms exports, an assets freeze on individuals and firms involved in Tehran's nuclear and ballistic missile programs and a call for nations and institutions to bar new grants or loans except for "humanitarian and developmental" purposes.

A copy of the document was obtained by Reuters.

A key element of the agreement is an expanded list of individuals and entities subject to financial restrictions, such as firms owned by Iran's Revolutionary Guards Corp. and the state-owned Bank Sepah.

China's U.N. Ambassador Wang Guangya, who had been critical of the list, noted that Security Council members could still make changes to the draft. Asked if Beijing was happy with the draft, Wang said, "As the text stands, yes."

Lower-level diplomats will meet late on Thursday to begin reviewing the text.

French Prime Minister Dominique Villepin said that if Iran suspended its enrichment work, it would receive a strong economic incentive package, drawn by Europeans last year.

"Iran today knows and the people of Iran today know that they have a choice," Villepin told reporters during a U.N. visit.

The new measures follow a resolution adopted in December that imposed trade sanctions on Iran's sensitive nuclear materials and technology, and froze the assets of some Iranian individuals and companies. Iran ignored a February 21 deadline to suspend enrichment or face further action.

The agreement comes only days after the mutually wary United States and Iran participated, along with Syria and Iraq, in Baghdad talks on quelling sectarian violence in Iraq, which Washington accuses Tehran of fomenting.

It also comes a month after North Korea agreed in talks with the United States, China, South Korea, Japan and Russia to take steps towards abandoning its nuclear programs -- another Bush administration goal in nuclear diplomacy.

Passage of a new resolution by the 15-member council is not automatic. South African Ambassador Dumisani Kumalo, the current council president, has served notice that nations would send the text to their governments for approval and may offer changes.

The agreement says Iran is banned from exporting any conventional weapons. But the measure calls on states to "exercise vigilance and restraint" in shipping any heavy weapons to Tehran.

The draft would suspend all the sanctions if Iran complies with the council's demands within 60 days. If Tehran does not, further action would be considered.

There is no mandatory travel ban on individuals on the list, but nations would be required to notify a Security Council panel if the targeted officials enter their territories.

MARCH 20th 2007

Russia pulling out of Iran nuke project

By GEORGE JAHN, Associated Press Writer

VIENNA, Austria - Russia is bringing home its technicians and engineers from Iran's unfinished nuclear reactor site at a time of growing international pressure on Tehran to curb its atomic ambitions, U.S. and European representatives said Tuesday.

Although both Russia and Iran officially say their differences are financial, the dispute has a strong political component that the West hopes could result in Moscow lining up closer behind U.S.-led efforts to slap harsher U.N. sanctions on Tehran for refusing to freeze uranium enrichment.

The representatives — a European diplomat and a U.S. official — said a large number of Russian technicians, engineers and other specialists were flown to Moscow within the last week, around the time senior Russian and Iranian officials tried but failed to resolve differences over the nuclear reactor outside the southern city of Bushehr.

Russian officials deny links between the dispute over Bushehr and Iran's nuclear defiance. But two senior European officials, speaking separately, said Moscow recently dropped all pretexts and bluntly told Iran that Russia would not make good on pledges to deliver nuclear fuel for Bushehr unless Tehran complies with the U.N. demand for an enrichment freeze.

MARCH 21st 2007

Iran warns it may ignore nuclear rules

TEHRAN, Iran - Iran's top leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei warned Wednesday the country will pursue nuclear activities outside international regulations if the U.N. Security Council insists it stop uranium enrichment.

"Until today, what we have done has been in accordance with international regulations," Khamenei said. "But if they take illegal actions, we too can take illegal actions and will do so."

Khamenei did not elaborate what "illegal actions" could be pursued by Tehran as it faces new sanctions by the U.N. body over its refusal to halt enrichment which the West fears is used for arms making.

Earlier Wednesday, Russia's foreign minister said it will not support "excessive" sanctions against its economic partner Iran, as the U.N. Security Council drew closer to a vote on a new, harsher set of measures intended to push Tehran to freeze its nuclear program.

Ambassadors from the 15 Security Council nations held informal discussions at Britain's U.N. Mission in New York ahead of a meeting later Wednesday to discuss possible changes to the draft resolution.

Germany and the five veto-wielding permanent council nations — the United States, Russia, China, Britain and France — agreed on the modest package of new sanctions Thursday to step up pressure on Iran to suspend uranium enrichment, which can be used to produce nuclear energy or nuclear weapons.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Moscow "will not support excessive sanctions against Iran," and added that the draft resolution has been softened at Moscow's behest.

Lavrov also denied claims that Moscow had told Iran it would not deliver nuclear fuel for the Russian-built Bushehr nuclear power plant in southern Iran unless Tehran complies with U.N. demands.

"There is no link whatsoever between the U.N. resolution ... and the implementation of the Bushehr project," he told lawmakers in the lower parliament house.

The proposed new sanctions in the draft resolution would ban Iranian arms exports and freeze the assets of 28 additional individuals and organizations involved in the country's nuclear and missile programs — about a third linked to Iran's Revolutionary Guard, an elite military corps.

The package also calls for voluntary restrictions on travel by the individuals subject to sanctions, on arms sales to Iran, and on new financial assistance or loans to the Iranian government.

Lavrov said an earlier, tougher version of the draft resolution that included broader restrictions on officials' travel and a ban on credits to Iran had been softened on Russia's advice. "We ... have agreed to influence Iran by gradually applying proportionate pressure," Lavrov said.

At Russia's insistence, neither the existing Security Council resolution nor the draft being discussed makes any mention of Bushehr. Lavrov said the Bushehr contract is in line with all international agreements aimed at preventing nuclear weapons proliferation.

European and U.S. officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the talks said Tuesday that Moscow had bluntly told Tehran it would not ship fuel for Bushehr until Tehran freezes its uranium enrichment program, as demanded by the U.N. Security Council.

Lavrov dismissed the claims as an "unscrupulous trick."

"It's not the first time that we are seeing such an unscrupulous approach aimed at driving a wedge between us and Iran," he said.

Russia has said fuel for Bushehr would not be supplied this month, as had been planned earlier, because of alleged Iranian payment delays that prompted Moscow to indefinitely postpone the Bushehr reactor's launch, which had been set for September. Russian officials also said that the number of workers at Bushehr had dwindled due to the funding shortage.

Iran angrily denied falling behind in payments and accused Russia of caving in to U.S. pressure to take a tougher line on Tehran. Iranian state television on Tuesday described Russia as an "unreliable partner," adding: "It is clear that Russia has stopped construction of this plant under pressure and for political reasons."

On Wednesday, Lavrov repeated Russia's assertions that Iran had dragged its feet on payments for Bushehr.

"Regrettably, our Iranian colleagues aren't telling the truth when they blame Russia for the financial problems which have emerged. Financial problems do exist, but they are linked to the Iranian side breaching an earlier-agreed schedule of payments," he said.

Britain protests Iran seizure of sailors

By JIM KRANE, Associated Press Writer

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates - Iranian naval vessels on Friday seized 15 British sailors and marines in disputed Persian Gulf waters off the coast of Iraq, British and U.S. officials said. The detentions come at a time of high tension between the West and Iran, which accused the British of intruding on its territory.

The British government protested immediately, saying the 15 were taken captive in Iraqi waters and summoning the Iranian ambassador in London to the Foreign Office: "He was left in no doubt that we want them back," Britain's Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett said after the meeting.
Britain's Defense Ministry said the Royal Navy personnel were "engaged in routine boarding operations of merchant shipping in Iraqi territorial waters," and had completed a ship inspection when they were accosted by the Iranian vessels.

MARCH 24th 2007

Security Council slaps new UN sanctions on Iran

by Gerard Aziakou Sat Mar 24, 7:26 PM ET

UNITED NATIONS (AFP) - The UN Security Council Saturday slapped new sanctions on Iran over its suspect nuclear program as Western powers warned Tehran it faced becoming even more internationally isolated.

The council's 15 members unanimously adopted Resolution 1747, co-sponsored by Britain, France and non-member Germany, broadening UN sanctions imposed on Iran in December for spurning repeated demands to suspend sensitive uranium enrichment.

"The unanimous adoption of this resolution reflects the international community's profound concern over Iran's nuclear program," said Britain's UN Ambassador Emyr Jones Parry, one of the sponsors.

But foreign ministers of veto-wielding council members China, France, Russia, Britain and the United States plus non-member Germany also issued a statement proposing "further talks with the Islamic Republic of Iran to see if a mutually acceptable way can be found to open negotiations."

In a statement released by the US State Department and endorsed by the European Union, the six reaffirmed their commitment "to a negotiated solution (with Iran) that would address the international community's concerns."

But speaking at the United Nations after the vote, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki swiftly dismissed the UN sanctions as "unlawful" and "unjustifiable actions" orchestrated by a few of its members.

The important thing now is just to play the incident of the arrested UK service personnel very cool. Iran is a confused society (not that others are not) and there is no point in strutting our stuff politically. They will cool down. EU and UN solidarity is the order of the day.

"This is a very serious situation and there is no doubt at all that these people were taken from a boat in Iraqi waters," Blair told reporters at a European Union summit in Berlin.

MARCH 27th 2007
I did not imagine when I wrote the above that we would have some idiots in the UK getting their knickers in a twist over this supremely trivial episode. The last thing that is required is military action. That is what the Israelis do when one of their little soldiers is kidnapped, thereby causing an orgy of bombing and shooting and almost a civil war in Lebanon. Nor do we want a prisoner exchange, releasing those who were legitimately detained on suspicion of terrorism in exchange for servicemen on a UN approved mission,

Our sailors are not being abused. Iran is a confused society that needs help, not bombing or publicly humiliating. They are embarrassed enough by their President and their terrorists, just a we are embarrassed by our football supporters, some of our soldiers (thankfully few) and the head of state of our chief ally.

UK in 'discreet talks' with Iran

The government is attempting to "discreetly" talk to the Iranians to secure the release of 15 Royal Navy personnel, Downing Street has said.

Tony Blair's spokesman said that if the talks were unsuccessful, the government may have to become "more explicit".

He said they were "utterly confident" the 15 had been in Iraqi, not Iranian, waters, when they were captured.

Meanwhile, Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett will shorten a visit to Turkey to fly home to help manage the crisis.

The 15 sailors and marines from HMS Cornwall were captured on Friday after searching a boat in the Gulf, off the coast of Iraq, which they suspected was smuggling cars.

'No doubt'

Iran says the British personnel were trespassing in Iranian waters when they were seized - but the prime minister said the group were in Iraqi waters under a UN mandate.

The prime minister's spokesman said the matter was being dealt with "privately" but the Iranians could be "in no doubt that we expect the immediate release of our personnel".

Earlier, Mr Blair warned of a "different phase" if diplomacy failed to secure their release.

His spokesman said he was referring to a "different way" of handling talks, which could involve making public reasons why the UK was certain the group was in Iraqi waters.

It is understood this could include producing evidence such as boat co-ordinates and details of the searched vessel apparently still anchored in Iraqi waters.

The spokesman told reporters: "We are utterly confident that we were in Iraqi waters, and not just marginally in Iraqi waters but in Iraqi waters. It's a case of tactics and if and when we have to prove that."

However, one high-ranking Iraqi official has expressed surprise that British forces were operating in the area.

Brigadier-General Hakim Jassim, commander of Iraq's territorial waters, said: "Usually there is no presence of British forces in that area, so we were surprised and we wondered whether the British forces were inside Iraqi waters or inside Iranian regional waters."

The BBC has been told the group are being held at an Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps base in Tehran.

They have been held for five days, but are said to be being treated humanely.

Commons statement

On Tuesday, Defence Secretary Des Browne chaired a meeting of ministers and officials - under the auspices of the government's "civil contingencies committee" known as Cobra - to discuss the situation.

Officials said it was intended to ensure coordination across Whitehall and keep civil servants updated on the latest developments.

Cobra leads responses to national crises and convened in recent years for the 7 July London bombings, the fuel protests and 11 September attack.

It is understood that while still in Turkey, Mrs Beckett spoke to Iran's Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki to push again for immediate consular access to them.

The Associated Press news agency reported that Iranian officials had repeated assurances that British diplomats would get access to the detainees once their inquiry into the incident was complete.

On Wednesday, Mrs Beckett is expected to make a statement to the Commons.

Faye Turney, one of the 15 captured, was interviewed by the BBC last week.

She said: "Sometimes you may be called upon, and when you do you've just got to deal with it and get on with it".

Meanwhile, her family, from Shrewsbury, Shropshire, have said it is a "very distressing time" for them.

MARCH 28th 2007

This incident gets stupider by the day. It is obvious that an Iranian group were planning this in order to get a bargaining position for the release of Iranians detained in Iraq. In their impatience to carry it out they they cocked it up by picking a position that, while it may have been marked on their maps as Iranian waters, their diplomats realised immediately was not internationally recognised as such. They also know that even if the UK ships had been in Iranian waters they could not legally be stopped or boarded or their personnel arrested. They could at most be requested to leave.

I can see no reason to get excited over this or put any particular pressure on Iran, Time alone and solidarity in the international community will be sufficient. The current Ayatollah's authority depends on his being as incrutable and inacessible as possible and saying as little as possible. He knows as well as I do that his status is all based on bluff, so let's just leave it to settle. We will get access in due course and in the mean time I am sure the hostages (which is what they are) are all well.

That is not to say that quite independently of all this there are not engineers in Iran who are working hard on nuclear weapons projects. It s hardly likely that there would not be if that is their speciality. The efforts to discourage this should continue, but let us not confuse that with the current trivial difficulty.

UK reveals Iran dispute evidence

The Royal Navy says satellite data proves 15 personnel being held in Iran were 1.7 nautical miles inside Iraqi waters when they were seized.

Vice Admiral Charles Style said the sailors were "ambushed" after the search of a vessel and that their detention was "unjustified and wrong".

Prime Minister Tony Blair told the Commons it was now time to "ratchet up" diplomatic pressure on Iran.

Iran has insisted the group were in its waters when they were taken on Friday.

The eight sailors and seven marines, based on HMS Cornwall, which has its home port in Plymouth, were taken at gunpoint by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard as they returned after searching a boat.

At a briefing in London on Wednesday, the Ministry of Defence said it "unambiguously contested" claims that the navy personnel had strayed into Iranian waters.

UK government says merchant vessel boarded by crew from HMS Cornwall was 1.7 nautical miles inside Iraqi territorial waters
HMS Cornwall was south-east of merchant ship, inside Iraqi waters
Iranian government initially told UK that merchant vessel was at a point still within Iraqi waters
After UK pointed this out, Iran provided alternative position, within Iranian waters

Prime Minister Tony Blair's spokesman said the evidence presented by the MoD was "difficult to dispute".

The spokesman added that "the important thing is that Iran recognises that these personnel were in Iraqi waters not Iranian waters".

Earlier, Turkey's prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan was quoted as saying his diplomats may be allowed to meet the group, taken in the Gulf.

Mr Blair's spokesman welcomed that move but said the government still wanted British consular officials to have access to them.

On Tuesday, UK Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett discussed the plight of the Britons with Turkey, its Nato ally.

Mrs Beckett cut short her visit to Turkey to return to the UK where she will give a statement on the crisis to MPs.

She decided to return after a phone call to the Iranian foreign minister on Tuesday made no progress.

Salah Al Shaikhly, Iraq's ambassador to the UK, said his country would try to help the bid to secure the personnel's release and "the voice of reason should prevail".

BBC News has broadcast footage of an interview it carried out last week with Faye Turney, the only woman among the 15 who were captured

It showed the married 26-year-old, who had a photo of her three-year-old daughter very close at hand throughout the filming, on the Cornwall just hours before the incident.

The BBC has been told the group are being held at an Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps base in Tehran, where they are said to be being treated humanely.

This evening Iran broadcast some film and a statement from Leading Seaman Specialist Faye Turney and we saw a letter sent to her family. Those familiar with these things will recognise instantly language dictated by her captors. She was clearly careful to use the words they insisted on so as to make it clear to those reading and listening that they were not her own words and were delivered under duress. The rest were shown eating and saying nothing. I must say this is further evidence that in Iran we are dealing with primitive and troubled people. There must be many Iranians who are intelligent an mature and who are keeping their heads down. We should not mock. These things can happen to any society. There were times in Germany, Russia and elsewhere within living memory when all sensible people kept their heads down and their mouths shut. You think it could not ever happen here? Well it is not likely at the moment, but it can happen anywhere and even here if we don't understand why it can but must not.

Apparently the latest wheeze from Iran is that we can have access, but to get the guys back we have to admit they were in Iranian waters. That would be daft, though of course we could do it, as nobody takes what they say or think seriously. However, a better idea is to ask for the boats back and tell them to put the crew on trial. I am sure they will be well fed and come to no harm. At the trial we can produce the evidence to establish the position. The Navy can find replacements for the time they are away. But above all lets not dignify this with an argument a la Monty Python about the position. The ship they boarded was after all anchored and is still where it was, well inside Iraqi waters.

Those who think our boys should have reacted more forcefully are overlooking a simple fact: they were not challenged. The Iranians approached in a friendly manner. Only at the last minute did they show their hand and intentions, backed by overwhelming force. Remember, deception is a way of life in those parts, and that includes self-deception.

MARCH 29th 2007
There was, of course, never the slightest chance that Iran would have released Faye Turney once they had forced her to write and recite even the first lot of garbage for propaganda purposes, let alone the second lot. Much though I regret it we will have to ask our fine Naval crew to sit this one out, for however long it takes. Although we have managed a feeble 'statement' from the Security Council there was no point in going for a resolution or even a stronger statement. The Russians are right. We are dealing here with a paranoid theocracy, not a coherent state who gives a fig for the UN. The correct action is to do and say absolutely nothing. Sorry, guys. You will come home when they realise it is pointless to keep you. Good will come of it eventually, but any action now will be counter-productive.

UN's 'Grave Concern' Over Iran Captives

Sky News Thursday March 29, 11:49 PM

The UN Security Council has backed a statement expressing "grave concern" at Iran's detention of 15 British sailors and marines. It also supports consular access to the captives.

After hours of negotiations, Britain's ambassador Emyr Jones Parry said the council called Russia had prevented a tougher statement that would have demanded an immediate release of the British servicemen and woman.

Britain had wanted a statement saying the UN "deplored" the Iran's action.

The Ministry Of Defence says satellite data proves the detainees were seized last week in Iraqi waters, not Iranian waters.

Tehran responded by showing video of the capture and charts it says show the opposite.

MARCH 30th 2007
Another member of the British crew in Iran has been paraded apologising for entering Iranian waters. We can now appreciate that the 'regime' (if one can use that word in such a confused context as Iran) is desperately trying to impress its own public and some of the neighbours and desperate to hide the fact they have made a mistake. The 'regime' is clearly feeling very shaky. We should not take comfort from that, actually, we should prefer a stable Iran which has control over its various parts and an internal rule of law. Anarchy is never a good alternative to a lack of democracy. Tony Blair is handling this well. We must be very patient.

One does begin to understand (see below) why the US, EU and even Russia are convinced Iran should not be in control of nuclear weapons - ever. If the past few millennia have only got them this far we must face the facts and treat them like children. Meanwhile the EU has passed a suitable motion demanding the unconditional release of the detainees.

It occurs to me that as the initial approach of the Iranian ships was 'friendly', perhaps they lured the British boats over the border by encouraging them in stages, using a number of boats, requesting contact. The invitation then turned into an ambush. Either way, this operation was planned in advance and we fell for it, or it was opportunistic and a cock-up. I repeat my advice - either they are released via quiet diplomacy or we should accept they go on trial and we have access. If they go on trial, they cannot be said to be hostages.

Iran airs second sailor 'apology'
A second member of the Royal Navy crew captured in the Gulf has apologised for "trespassing" in Iranian waters, in a broadcast on Iranian television.

The crewman, who introduces himself as Nathan Thomas Summers, says: "I would like to apologise for entering your waters without permission."

Tony Blair said "parading" crew in this way would only "enhance people's sense of disgust with Iran".

The UK denies Iranian claims the crew had been in its waters last Friday.

The serviceman is seen alongside two colleagues, including Leading Seaman Faye Turney, 26, from Shropshire, who was shown apologising to Iran earlier in the week.


A third letter allegedly from LS Turney was released on Friday in which she said she had been "sacrificed" to the policies of the UK and US governments.

It also demanded an end to "oppressive behaviour towards other people", including prisoners at Abu Ghraib jail in Iraq.

Meanwhile, the BBC has been able to confirm the names of six of the 15 captured sailors.

Along with LS Turney and seaman Summers, who is from Cornwall, they are Paul Barton from Southport, Danny Masterton from Ayrshire, Joe Tindall from south London and Adam Sperry from Leicester.

The UK prime minister said the only possible outcome to the situation was the release of the crew.

Britain was pursuing the problem with "firmness and determination" but also with patience, he said.

Mr Blair said: "I really don't know why the Iranian regime keep doing this. All it does is enhance people's sense of disgust at captured personnel being paraded and manipulated in this way.

"It doesn't fool anyone. And what the Iranians have to realise is if they continue in this way they will face increasing isolation."

'Illegal act'

UK Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett described the latest footage as "quite appalling" and "blatant propaganda".

She also disclosed there was nothing in a formal letter from the Iranians to the UK that suggested they were looking for a solution to "this difficult situation".

The note condemned the navy's "illegal act" and said "similar acts had taken place in the past" despite "prior warning".

It is perfectly obvious these people were in Iraqi waters under a United Nations mandate
Tony Blair

It also demanded guarantees against "the recurrence of such acts" in the future.

Earlier, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was quoted as telling Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan that Britain must apologise.

"In recent years British forces have violated international law and crossed the Iranian border," he said.

Meanwhile Whitehall sources told the BBC that procedures for patrolling in the Gulf close to the Iran-Iraq maritime border - and the equipping of British forces there - were both under review.

'No harm'

In the latest video, the crewman says he has been in the navy for two years, "operating mechanical warfare".

He then says: "Since we've been arrested in Iran our treatment has been very friendly.

1 Crew boards merchant ship 1.7NM inside Iraqi waters
2 HMS Cornwall was south-east of this, and inside Iraqi waters
3 Iran tells UK that merchant ship was at a different point, still within Iraqi waters
4 After UK points this out, Iran provides alternative position, now within Iranian waters

"We have not been harmed at all. They've looked after us really well.

"The food they've been serving us is good and I am grateful that no harm has come to us.

"I would just like to apologise for entering your waters without permission. And that happened back in 2004, and the government promised that it wouldn't happen again.

1 Royal Navy crew stray 0.5km inside Iranian waters
2 Iran gives set of co-ordinates to back up their claims
3 According to seized GPS equipment, the Royal Navy crew had previously entered Iranian waters at several other points
4 Iran informs Britain of the position where the crew were seized, inside Iranian waters

"Again I deeply apologise for entering your waters."

Earlier, the UN Security Council agreed a statement voicing "grave concern" at Iran's actions.

The statement also calls on Tehran to allow the UK consular access to the personnel and urges an "early resolution", including release of the crew, but stops short of "deploring" Iran's action, as requested by the UK.

Iran's UN mission said Britain's attempt to involve other nations in the crisis was "not helpful".

European Union foreign ministers are expected to express their solidarity with the UK at a meeting in Germany.

The Britons, based on HMS Cornwall, were seized a week ago by Iranian Revolutionary Guards as they returned from searching a vessel in the northern Gulf.

The US is quite right to stay well out of this affair.
Though Bush has now said Iran must release "the hostages".

BBC NEWSUS rejects Iran captives exchange
US officials have ruled out a deal to exchange 15 Royal Navy personnel captured in the Gulf for five Iranians seized by American forces in Iraq.

State department spokesman Sean McCormack rejected suggestions that a swap could be made.

The five, believed to be members of Iran's Revolutionary Guard, were seized in January in the Iraqi city of Irbil.

Britain denies Iran's claims that the UK crew were in its waters when seized on 23 March.


The five Iranians were captured in a raid along with equipment which the Americans say shows clear Iranian links to networks supplying Iraqi insurgents with technology and weapons.

US officials have condemned Iran's actions and publicly supported the UK.

But the BBC's James Coomerasamy said they are otherwise seeking to stay out of the dispute.

A Pentagon spokesman said the stand-off was a "delicate situation at a critical stage".

Likely outcome now: they will either be released within a week or put on trial.
A trial will be fine as long as we have access and right to represent.

APRIL 01 2007
In the report below you will read that Lt Carman says he 'understood why the Iranians were angry about the intrusion'. That is because the Iranian public have been told there was an intrusion. He goes on to explain why according to Iranian maps and GPS info they went into Iranian waters. It is important to understand that the Iranian government cannot back down, even if they were to see now that there was no intrusion, without losing so much credibility that their authority would be destroyed.

That is why it is for the moment just as well that the British crew are going along with this, even though it must be putting the Navy and the British government in a very difficult position. In order to give Iran a way out of this, they must be able to release their prisoners without admitting to their own people that they made a mistake. The only way this can possibly happen is if the crew themselves play along and tell the Iranian public their government was right. Then there is just a chance, if the UK media and the idiots who phone into the BBC and advocate bombing Teheran (yes, there was one, and fortunately Jonathan Dimbleby treated his argument with contempt) shut up their idiot mouths, then Iran can play the card of great generosity and peace and let them go.

Captured UK officers shown on TV

Two of the captives were shown in front of a chart of the northern Gulf
The new footage
Iranian state television has aired new footage of two of the 15 Royal Navy personnel captured nine days ago.

Royal Marine Capt Chris Ayre and Lt Felix Carman were shown separately in front of a chart of the Gulf, where the Britons were seized on 23 March.

Capt Ayre said Iranian maps apparently showed the group was inside Iranian territorial waters. Lt Carman said he understood why Iran was angry.

The Foreign Office described showing the TV footage as "unacceptable".

'Treated well'

In the footage shown on official TV channel Al-Alam, Capt Ayre is shown describing how the group was captured.

He said: "Approximately about ten o'clock in the morning we were seized - apparently at this point here from their maps on the GPS they've shown us - which is inside Iranian territorial waters."

We've been treated very well by all the people here
Capt Chris Ayre

He went on to say that the crew had been "treated very well".

Lt Carman also pointed to the map to indicate where the crew had been captured and said he understood why the Iranians were "angry about the intrusion".

Britain denies Iran's claims that the UK crew was in its waters and is demanding their "immediate" return.

In a statement, the Foreign Office said: "It's completely unacceptable for these pictures to be shown on television, given the potential to cause distress to their families."

BBC diplomatic correspondent James Robbins said there was "no question" that the footage would "intensify" the government's efforts to resolve the crisis diplomatically.

Although the showing of the video "poisoned the climate" it should not suggest that diplomacy was not working, he added.

'Under pressure'

Ex-Navy chief Admiral Sir Alan West told the BBC the UK personnel were under intense pressure.

"It's very unlikely that any of them would have had counter interrogation-type training which we give to people like aircrew and special forces when they go in," he said.

The footage was "a charade" set up for "internal show in Iran and other parts of the Arab world", he added.

Iranian students earlier threw stones and firecrackers at the British embassy in the capital Tehran in protest against what they said was the "illegal entry" into their waters by the UK personnel.

BBC correspondent Frances Harrison said the protesters were chanting "death to Britain" and calling for the deportation of the British ambassador.

The Britons, based on HMS Cornwall, were seized by Revolutionary Guards as they returned from searching a vessel in the northern Gulf.

APRIL 02 2007   In retrospect, this entry was spot on

An American idiot has been claiming there is a total breakdown of discipline because the British crew have said anthing other than give name rank and number. We are not at war with Iran, dipshit!
The reason why 'name, rank and number' is not applicable here is that we are not dealing with anything like an army or even a proper government. If we are to get these guys back, we have to let the Iranian regime 'get away with it' as far as their own people are concerned. They can only release them of they save face with their own public. Our guys will have realised that. They will assume that the outside world knows what's happening. Thank God Maggie Thatcher was not in charge. As for the Americans, they haven't a clue how to deal with a situation such as this and they never, never, never learn, it seems.

6:30 pm GMT: Ali Larijani, head of Iranian natinal security and cheif negotiator in discussions on nuclear issues, gave an interview to Channel 4's Jon Snow. From what he said we can conclude that if the UK press buttons it's idiot lips for a bit Iran is willing to have a meeting at high level to discuss whether or not there has been an infringement of Iranian waters. If we can get a public statement out of that which does not use condemnatory language and will allow what he calls a 'rational' agreement on the division of the waterway and how to respect it, then the situation can be brought to an end. We will just have to go along with that. That is the way the Iranians like things done. It is not our way, but our way has its faults too, so I suggest we relax and go along with it. The Foreign Office says it will 'consider his comments very carefully. Good.

I think Patrick Cockburn's article, published on 26 March apparently but headlined in The Independent on April 3rd, is relevant.

American raid and arrests set scene for capture of marines

By Patrick Cockburn in Arbil

Published: 26 March 2007

At 3am on 11 January US military forces raided the Iranian liaison office in the Kurdish capital Arbil and detained five Iranian officials who are still prisoners.

The attack marked a significant escalation in the confrontation between the US and Iran.

Britain is inevitably involved in this as America's only important foreign ally in Iraq. In fact the US raid could have had even more significant consequences if the Americans had captured the Iranian official they were targeting. Fuad Hussein, the chief of staff of the Kurdish president Massoud Barzani, told The Independent that "they were after Mohammed Jafari, the deputy chairman of Iran's National Security Council."

It is a measure of the difficulty America has in getting its close allies in Iraq, notably the Kurds, to join it in confronting Iran that Mr Jafari was in Arbil as part of an Iranian delegation. He had just visited Mr Barzani in his mountain-top headquarters at Salahudin and earlier he met with Iraqi President Jalal Talabani in Dokan in eastern Kurdistan.

The political links between Iran and Iraq will be difficult to sever. Most Iraqi political leaders, Arab or Kurdish, were exiles in Iran or in Syria. They are also conscious that one day the US will withdraw from Iraq but Iran will always be there.

Some businessmen in Arbil scent profitable opportunities as the UN tightens its embargo on trade with Iran, announced at the weekend by the UN. As official trade is squeezed, they foresee remunerative possibilities for smuggling goods in and out of Iran.

Economically, northern Iraq needs Iran more than Iran needs it. Iranian petrol commands a premium price because it is considered pure and Kurdistan is eager to increase its supply of electricity, of which it is permanently short, from Iran.

In terms of US domestic and international politics, an American confrontation with Iran on the nuclear issue probably makes sense. Washington can rally support against Iran in a way that it cannot do when it looks for support for its occupation of Iraq. Seeing the US bogged down in Iraq, the Iranians may have overplaying their hand in developing nuclear power.

Inside Iraq, confrontation with Iran does not make much political sense. All America's allies in Iraq have close ties with Iran. The only anti-Iranian community in Iraq is the five million Sunni who have been fighting the US for the past four years.

The US raid on Arbil in January would have had far more serious consequences if Mr Jafari had been abducted. As it was, the seizure of five Iranian officials seems to have set the scene for the Iranian Revolutionary Guards seizing 15 British sailors and marines.

APRIL 04 2007

Iranian diplomat seized in Iraq released

By NASSER KARIMI, Associated Press Writer 

TEHRAN, Iran - An Iranian diplomat in Iraq seized two months ago by uniformed gunmen has been released, Iran reported Tuesday, while in Baghdad a senior foreign ministry official said his government was "intensively" seeking the release of five Iranians detained there by the U.S.
The developments came as British Prime Minister Tony Blair said the next two days would be "fairly critical" to resolving the dispute over a British navy crew seized by Iran.

The Iraqi official also said Iraq had exerted pressure on those holding the Iranian diplomat, Jalal Sharafi, who was released Monday and returned to Tehran on Tuesday. The official would not say who had custody of the diplomat.

A senior government official, however, said Iraqi intelligence had held the Iranian diplomat. Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release the information.

Sharafi was seized on Feb. 4 when his car was intercepted by vehicles carrying armed men in the Karradah district of Baghdad. The gunmen, who wore Iraqi uniforms, forced him into one of their vehicles and sped away.

Iran's official Islamic Republic News Agency confirmed Sharafi's release but gave no indication of the circumstances surrounding his Feb. 4 disappearance or his release. In January, the U.S. military seized five Iranians in a raid in northern Iraq, accusing them of links to an Iranian Revolutionary Guard faction that funds and arms insurgents and militias in Iraq.

Two days after the raid, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said President Bush approved the strategy of raiding Iranian targets in Iraq as part of efforts to confront the government in Tehran.

Iran had insisted that the five detained Iranians were engaged exclusively in consular work.

"We are intensively seeking the release of the five Iranians," the Iraqi foreign ministry official said. "This will be a factor that will help in the release of the British sailors and marines."

An official at the Iranian embassy confirmed Sharafi's release, but said he did not know who was responsible for freeing him: "He was kidnapped and I don't have further details," said the official, who was not authorized to speak to the media and commented only on condition of anonymity.

The developments come amid signs that Britain and Iran were seeking to resolve the dispute over the seized British crew.

Iran maintains the British sailors had encroached on Iranian territory and that it had no intention of offering to swap them for Iranians held in Iraq. Britain insists its service members were in Iraqi waters and has demanded their unconditional release.

The chief Iranian negotiator, Ali Larijani, told Britain's Channel 4 news Monday through an interpreter that Iranian officials "definitely believe that this issue can be resolved and there is no need for any trial."

Blair told Scotland's Real Radio that if Iran wants to resolve the standoff with diplomacy, "the door is open."

Britain had two options, Blair said.

"One is to try settle this by way of peaceful and calm negotiation to get our people back as quickly as possible," he said. "The other is to make it clear that if that is not possible that we have to take an increasingly tougher position."

The 15 British sailors and marines were captured by Iranian forces in the Persian Gulf on March 23. They were detained while patrolling for smugglers near the mouth of the Shatt al-Arab, a waterway that has long been a disputed dividing line between Iraq and Iran.

On Monday, an Iranian state-run television station said all 15 of the detained Royal Navy personnel had confessed to illegally entering Iranian waters before they were captured.

However, Iranian state-run radio said the confessions would not be broadcast because of what it called "positive changes" in the negotiating stance of Britain, whose leaders have been angered by the airing of videos of the captives.

The radio did not elaborate on the supposed changes by the British. But in London, a British official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, said Prime Minister Tony Blair's government had agreed to consider ways to avoid such situations in the future.

The official insisted Britain was not negotiating with the Iranians and still wanted the captives freed unconditionally.

Larijani also urged Britain to guarantee "that such violation will not be repeated," but avoided repeating Tehran's demand for an apology. British leaders have insisted they have no reason to apologize.

The comments suggested the sides were seeking a face-facing formula in which each could argue its interests were upheld while the captives could go free. Under such a formula, Iran could claim Britain tacitly acknowledged the border area is in dispute, and Britain could maintain it never apologized.

A generation ago, such a formula helped free Americans held by Tehran for 444 days. The United States pledged not to interfere in Iranian affairs, enabling the hostage takers to claim they had achieved their goal.


Associated Press writers Qassim Abdul-Zahra in Baghdad, Robert H. Reid in Amman, Jordan, and David Stringer in London, contributed to this report.

Boundary experts say Britain, Iran can agree deal

By Luke Baker 

LONDON (Reuters) - Shifting sands and a poorly defined maritime border could give Britain and Iran enough room to save face in their 12-day stand-off over a group of detained British sailors and marines, border experts say.

Because the maritime boundaries off the Shatt al-Arab waterway, drawn up in 1975 but not updated since, are open to a certain degree of interpretation, Britain and Iran could "agree to disagree" over exactly who crossed into whose territory.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair said on Tuesday the next 48 hours could prove critical as both the British and Iranian governments have sought to moderate their positions after several days of heightened tension.

"It's certainly not an irresolvable dispute," said Martin Pratt, the director of the International Boundaries Research Unit at Britain's Durham University.

"The fact that the coastline is constantly shifting means more issues would need to be taken into consideration than if the coastlines were more stable and there was agreement on exactly where the baselines along the coast were."

Both the Iranian and British governments appear to have softened their stances in the past 24 hours, with each highlighting their desire to reach a negotiated solution.

Pratt said that suggested both realized they couldn't afford to be too insistent about an issue that comes down to who says where exactly an incident occurred on a disputed boundary.

"You can't be dogmatic about a maritime boundary that hasn't been properly agreed," he said.

Maritime lawyers said they expected British and Iranian officials to be able to sort out the wording of any agreement themselves, without turning to an outside arbiter such as the United Nations, which has handled maritime disputes in the past.

On Monday, Ali Larijani, the secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, called for a "delegation" to determine whether the British sailors were in Iran or not, but didn't define what sort of delegation.

"I think there's plenty of scope in the uncertainty of the situation to be able to craft some kind of solution," said Richard Harvey, the head of admiralty and casualty practice at law firm Reed, Smith, Richards, Butler.

"It strikes me that a) there is a lot of scope for disagreement and therefore b) quite a lot of scope for agreement."

Blair said the next two days would be critical.

"We're not looking for confrontation over this and actually the most important thing is to get the people back safe and sound. And if they want to resolve this in a diplomatic way the door is open," Blair told a radio station in Scotland.





APRIL 5th 2007

It turns out I need not have been so pessimistic in the short term about the release of the sailors. My first estimate, that the British crew were handling it perfectly, playing along with what was required to get the release, which I repeated on April 02, was right. Ahmadinejad was able to make his grand gesture as predicted. Unfortunately this will now make it even more difficult for the US, UK and EU to convince world opinion that they need to take a firm line over nuclear issues with Iran. They are lovely, peaceful, generous people we will be told. The fact that they have a leadership that has to include the philosophically primitive, driven by a divine mission, who believe that America is home of Satan (instead of just a mess) is mainly America's fault. The 'axis of evil' speech was on exactly the same level. The most George Bush can ever claim to is to have been a Saddam Hussein removal tool. Do you know the guy who wrote that speech is still employed.... only in America!

Iranians release British sailors
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad says 15 British naval personnel captured in the Gulf are free to leave.

He repeated Iran's view that the British sailors and marines "invaded" Iranian waters, but said they were being released as a "gift" to Britain.

He said they would be taken to Tehran airport and flown home within hours.

Downing Street welcomed news of the release, while Iranian state media said the British crew members "shouted for joy" on hearing the news.

Television pictures showed the Iranian president smiling and chatting with the crew.

Of course diplomacy worked, it was a diplomatic incident
Colin Campbell, Stockholm, Sweden

He joked to one: "How are you? So you came on a mandatory vacation?"

The Britons were wearing suits, rather than the military uniform and tracksuits they wore in previous pictures. The one female crew member, Faye Turney, wore a blue headscarf with dark pink shirt.

An unidentified crew member said: "I'd like to say that myself and my whole team are very grateful for your forgiveness. I'd like to thank yourself and the Iranian people... Thank you very much, sir."

Mr Ahmadinejad responded in Farsi: "You are welcome."

'Theatrical gesture'

Mr Ahmadinejad announced the decision to release the Britons at a news conference marking Persian New Year.

1 Crew boards merchant ship 1.7NM inside Iraqi waters
2 HMS Cornwall was south-east of this, and inside Iraqi waters
3 Iran tells UK that merchant ship was at a different point, still within Iraqi waters
4 After UK points this out, Iran provides alternative position, now within Iranian waters

He spoke at length, attacking the West over its policy in the Middle East, and it was more than an hour before he even mentioned the captives issue.

He repeated allegations that the Britons were captured in Iranian waters, and awarded medals to the Iranian commanders responsible for detaining them.

It was all part of the build up to his extraordinary theatrical gesture, says the BBC's diplomatic correspondent James Robbins.

"We have every right to put these people on trial," Mr Ahmadinejad asserted.

"But I want to give them as a present to the British people to say they are all free."

The British government was not even brave enough to tell their people the truth
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

"I'm asking Mr Blair to not put these 15 personnel on trial because they admitted they came to Iranian territorial water," he added, referring to taped "confessions" made by the British sailors and marines.

Britain says the 15 were in Iraqi waters under a UN mandate when they were captured nearly two weeks ago. It says the confessions were extracted under duress.

"I ask Mr Blair: Instead of occupying the other countries, I ask Mr Blair to think about the justice, to think about the truth and work for the British people not for himself," Mr Ahmadinejad said.

"Unfortunately the British government was not even brave enough to tell their people the truth, that it made a mistake."

The Iranian leader said no concessions had been made by the British government to secure the releases, but that Britain had pledged "that the incident would not be repeated".

1 Royal Navy crew stray 0.5km inside Iranian waters
2 Iran gives set of co-ordinates to back up their claims
3 According to seized GPS equipment, the Royal Navy crew had previously entered Iranian waters at several other points
4 Iran informs Britain of the position where the crew were seized, inside Iranian waters

The solution to the crisis - freeing the Britons while rewarding the Iranian commanders of the operation - appears to be a face-saving compromise, says the BBC's Francis Harrison in Tehran.

She says speculation is likely to continue over whether it had anything to do with developments in Iraq, where an Iranian envoy has reportedly been given access to five Iranians captured by US forces, and where a kidnapped diplomat was released on Tuesday.

Earlier on Wednesday Syria revealed that it had been mediating between Iran and the UK over the sailors and marines.

A spokesman for Prime Minister Tony Blair said: "We welcome what the president has said about the release of our 15 personnel. We are now establishing exactly what this means in terms of the method and timing of their release."

The family of one of the captives, Royal Marine Adam Sperry, hailed the announcement as "the best present imaginable".

"Whoever has been in the right or wrong, the whole thing has been a political mess, so let's just get them home," said his uncle, Ray Cooper.

Mr Ahmedinejad asked, if we valued our women, why we put them in harm's way. I would ask Mr Ahmedinejad why taking on the task of customs officer, on a United Nations operation, should involve any harm at all when they were in Iraqi waters at the request of Iraq, when Iran is not at war with Iraq or Britain, and even if they entered Iranian waters it was of little or no consequence. The purpose of their activity was clear and Iran has not even claimed that it was against Iran's wishes. They could have been advised of their intrusion, had it been real. Instead they were threatened with advanced weaponry and arrested. They were then treated very well for a very good reason: they had not been bombing civilians or shooting at anyone military and had they been treated anything less than civilly Iran would have had a public relations disaster on their hands. Our crews handled it quite brilliantly and we can be really proud of them. They represented us well.

The media anchors are still suggesting the statements by the UN and the EU were inadequate and should have threatened sanctions. What rubbish. Dealing with the confused, divided and paranoid is not achieved by isolating them even further. I have tried to explain this in the case of North Korea even though that is a quite different situation. It was right to go to the UN and EU, and it was right for both to be wise in their actions. John Boulton says this will embolden Iran and make it more difficult for the IAEA to control nuclear non-proliferation. It will, but only because Bolton and his ilk are so unsure of themselves, took this very seriously, and allowed sanctions or even force to be considered and wanted them threatened. What an utter pillock that great walrus is. He is a frightened man, losing authority in the twilight of his life. He is absolutely right about the bad news, utterly unaware he and his lot are the cause of it. Never threaten, mate. If you have to warn, do it privately through a mutual contact you can trust and who can keep it private.

So, summing up, this was half a good result, marred by public discussion and disagreement in the West. Iran, where they were (a) in the wrong and (b) seriously confused, handled it brilliantly in the short term, because they do not have an open society ad can therefore control all public discussiom. In the longer term they will of course come out less well in some respects.

APRIL 5th 2007
Lord Lamont was at his best on Iran in this morning's Today programme on BBC Radio 4. He was deadly accurate in most respects. Usually I disagree with every single opinion he holds but here he was knowledgeable and dealt from a pack of facts. Even the guy wheeled on to put an opposing view agreed with him. But As soon as he strayed from that, speculating on whether it was right to have gone to the UN, he was as usual wrong. It was vital to go to the UN because this was a UN mission. It was also right, as the Russians suggested, to avoid stoking the UN rhetoric or threatening Iran, particularly when the Iranian government was on holiday. We gave their revolutionary guards an opportunity to pounce on a very inconvenient day for all, though it may have been all for the best eventually as the Iranians needed time to engineer their exit strategy.

Although everyone feigns surprise at the way it ended that was the only possible conclusion barring a long-term holding of the crews as security (a cheap deterrent) or a trial (that would have called Iran's bluff) and this was pointed out by myself on April 1st including all the trimmings and blessings. I could have even added there would be a plea by Imadinnerjacket to Blair not to punish them when they got home. Although this is seen as the ultimate absurdity in chutzpah you must realise this guy is on a different planet. He thinks he has an aura qround his head when he speaks in public and he was picked for the part by a canny Ayatollah who keeps mum whenever possible and will dump him if the magic fails.

And can we end the talk of humiliation with respect to this business? It is not possible for an honest man, or nation when he is acting for it, to be humiliated unless they are paranoid. And let us not forget the Iranian ships did not approach as hostile or even displeased. It was dissimulation and an ambush. Their short term PR victory is short term.

The lesson to be learned is that our armed services are undermanned and underequipped. They do that job deliberately underarmed of course so as not to provoke. It is a peacetime job and we know how jumpy the Iranians are with George Bush blundering around. But there should always have been chopper cover.

Yesterday on a blog somewhere I gave Blair 7/10 for his handling of the affair and the F.O. 8/10. Now I see what others would have had him do, and what they have to say of the outcome, I give them both 10/10. If the readers of the Daily Express etc feel humiliated, that tells us something about Daily Express readers.

APRIL 7th 2007

Max Hastings has done more damage to the UK in the last few days than any foreign journalist or any foreign power by implying that our servicemen and women were a pushover. They were on the contrary correct in their handling of the affair at every stage.

During the Vietnam War, if US pilots or infantry had cracked they would have been kept in Vietnam and put on TV regularly for months and even years. There was every merit in their not cooperating. America was fighting a long war. They were incredibly brave and very correct.

In this case, the situation was reversed. The Iranian moves were planned for propaganda and the aim for the British was to get home as soon as possible to avoid what could have become a long drawn out disaster. Iran would not have given them up without doing it the way they did. Our guys figured out the best plan (astonishingly well in the circumstances) and played the game required. They represented their country very well indeed while doing it and gave all the required clues to those of us watching that they had to do this to achieve the vital goal. Had they remained there all sorts of mistakes could have occurred.

When they were taken captive and deprived of all outside contact, they could not even know after a day or two even if a state of war had been declared between Iran and the UK. They had to guess what was the best thing to do at every moment. They got it spot on.

The techniques used on them are standard practice there - there would be no reason even to complain about this if it were not that we were not at war with Iran and they were seized, arrested and detained illegally. It is to that extent wrong to report the crew as 'complaining' about their treatment. They are just reporting the facts. This sort of stuff is to be expected from a confused and paranoid people.

Now let me come to the unspeakable Mr Hastings. That he feels humiliated is because he is a pompous ass who pretends he has contacts of repute amongst the military who share his opinions. Let me assure you he has not. He is a pompous man who is completely out of touch and he is Mr Ahmadinejad's dream target. He is the imaginary Brit that Iran hoped to humiliate, nonexistent in the real world of politics and the military today. I have no doubt Hastings does feel humiliated, his whole life these days is bluff and pomposity, though to be humiliated by Ahmedinejad you have got to be a person of no substance at all.

But by plastering this silly idea over the headlines he will have encouraged the odd Iranian hothead to be even more stupid and make it even more difficult for us to play a relaxed but vigilant operation with Iran. The only people to humiliate themselves are the Iranians, and he has managed to show it as the reverse for his own pompous purposes.

It was quite right for the Navy to be carrying out these operations lightly armed. To have been doing it armed to repel such an attack would have been very wrong. We should continue the work with better surveillance and some tough quick-reaction backup, but with the inspection crews still lightly armed and not expecting attack. It was a mistake to discontinue the the inspections at all but I guess we were short of hardware and crew and backup at the time.
There will be no gunboat diplomacy or invasion of Iraq, but UN approved operations will be carried on and if interfered with will meet with an iron fist. Superannuated diplomats and pundits should just keep out of it.

Iran seeks goodwill over captives
Iran's ambassador to London has said Britain should respond "in a positive way" to the release of the 15 Royal Navy personnel held for 13 days.

Rasoul Movahedian said that Iran wanted help to release five Iranians held by the US in Iraq, and to ease fears over its nuclear programme.

He told the Financial Times: "If [the British] want to be helpful and use their influence we will welcome that."

The crew have two weeks' compassionate leave to spend with their families.

Iran has said a press conference where the crew described being bound and held alone was "theatrical propaganda" that did not justify their "mistake".

Mr Movahedian told the FT: "We played our part and we showed our good will... now it is up to the British government to proceed in a positive way," he said.

Someone said, I quote, 'lads, lads I think we're going to get executed'
Royal Marine Joe Tindell

He denied that the release of the crew was linked to the case of the Iranians being detained in Iraq or any other case.

But he added: "If they [the British] want to be helpful and use their influence we will welcome that.

"We will welcome in general any steps that could defuse tensions in the region."

The ambassador also suggested the resolution of the dispute should be used as an opportunity to open up a dialogue between Iran and the UK.

"We share in the British people's happiness and we believe it is the right time for the British government to affirm its willingness to establish sensible lines of communication with Iran," he said.

The BBC's Jill McGivering told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that some analysts believed "a face-saving compromise was worked out after Britain and Iran opened up a new, high level and direct channel of communication".

'Key' US role

She added: "That has led to debate about whether a similar approach could also be applied to larger disputes with Iran from the nuclear issue to its involvement in Iraq."

However, our correspondent argued that "the key" to Western links with Iran depended on "how the US feels".

Sir Christopher Meyer, a former British ambassador to the US, said the outcome of the dispute meant that "Iran's standing in the Muslim world...will have been raised".

He said the capture of the sailors had resulted in "humiliation" for the UK.

Similarly, former Iranian diplomat Mehdi Varzi said the dispute was used by Tehran "to show the Arab world these British sailors were just normal people and could be taken at will", therefore undermining the image of western military strength in the region.

'Reasonable people'

He added that Tehran had used the situation to "project a slightly softer image".

Mr Varzi said Iran wanted to show that "if somebody comes to negotiate with them they are reasonable people".

On Friday, at the Royal Marines Barracks at Chivenor, Devon, the crew said they were told by their captors that if they did not admit they were in Iranian waters when captured they faced seven years in prison.

The officer in charge, Lieutenant Felix Carman, 26, of Swansea, said the sailors and marines were 1.7 nautical miles from Iranian waters when they were captured.

Royal Marine Captain Chris Air, 25, from Altrincham, Cheshire, said the crew had made it clear they were on a "routine operation allowed under a UN mandate" but that the Iranians had a "planned intent."

They are now safely at home but in our minds it was never a foregone conclusion that they would return safely
Faye Turney's parents

Lt Carman said they were taken to a prison in Tehran where they were stripped and dressed in pyjamas.

They were kept in stone cells, sleeping on blankets and held in isolation until the last few nights and frequently interrogated.

The only woman in the group, Leading Seaman Faye Turney, believed for at least four days that she was the only one still being held.

In a statement, her parents - Alan and Rosalind Boswell - said they were "relieved" that Faye and her colleagues had returned home safely.

"They are now safely at home but in our minds it was never a foregone conclusion that they would return safely, and so soon," they said.

The BBC's Frances Harrison, in Tehran, said Iran insists the press conference revelations were the result of sailors "being briefed" by the UK government who "dictated to them".

The navy is reviewing the circumstances surrounding the incident and the wider rules of engagement for UK forces operating in the area.

There are those whoo claim that the US is holding illegally arrested hostages in Guantanamo Bay. But whatever one thinks of the intelligence and politics behind Guantanamo detention, the fact is that far from these prisoners being wanted back by their home states (as is the case with our Navy crew and recent civilian who have been kidnapped) the US cannot find a country willing to accept those still detained in Guantanamo). The Iranians detained in Iraq have not been on a UN authorised mission and have presumably been detained under suspicion of promoting civil unrest in what is a state of virtual civil war. I would suggest clarification is needed first, and that certainly does require communication at some effective level.

CIA tortured me, says Iran envoy
An Iranian diplomat freed last week after being abducted in Iraq in February has said he was tortured by his captors, including CIA agents.

Jalal Sharafi, the second secretary at Iran's embassy in Baghdad, told Iranian media the agents had interrogated him on his country's role in Iraq.

Mr Sharafi said he had been taken from his car by men in Iraqi army uniforms.

The US military in Iraq said the coalition forces had not been involved in the abduction or any torture.

Irbil detentions

Mr Sharafi told the Irna state news agency he was subjected to torture "day and night".

"I was kidnapped on a Baghdad street while shopping by officials who had Iraqi defence ministry ID cards and were riding in American forces vehicles," he said.

The Multi-National Force Iraq was not involved in his kidnapping or any kind of claims of torture
Lt-Col Christopher Garver,
US military

Mr Sharafi said he was taken from the Karrada district to a base near Baghdad airport and questioned in Arabic and English.

"The CIA officials' questions focused mainly on Iran's presence and influence in Iraq," he said.

"When faced with my responses on Iran's official ties with the Iraqi government they increased the torture."

Iran's Fars news agency said: "He showed reporters the marks left by torture on his body that are now being treated by doctors."

US military spokesman Lt-Col Christopher Garver denied any coalition role in the case.

"The Multi-National Force Iraq was not involved in his kidnapping or any kind of claims of torture that he is now stating that he was subjected to," Col Garver said.

Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari said Baghdad did not know who had held him.

Diplomatic tension remains high between Washington and Tehran over the detention by US forces of five Iranians in the Iraqi city of Irbil in January.

The US suspects them of aiding the Iraqi insurgency. Tehran says they have diplomatic status.

Iran this week released 15 UK sailors it had held for 13 days.

By the way, I did not mention it before but the Pope's intervention didn't do any harm either. A good move. We could have a lot worse. Whether we can make any sensible progress now is still an unknown. ('a known unknown' for Rumsfeld speakers)

Iranian: U.K. can help mend relations

By JILL LAWLESS, Associated Press Writer 

LONDON - Fifteen British sailors and marines freed from captivity in Tehran began two weeks' leave with their families Saturday, while Iran's ambassador to London urged Britain to help his nation mend relations with the international community.

Ambassador Rasoul Movahedian told the Financial Times newspaper in an article published Saturday that Iran had "showed our goodwill" by freeing the Britons.

"Now it is up to the British government to proceed in a positive way," he was quoted as saying. "We will welcome in general any steps that could defuse tensions in the region."

The British mariners, captured in the Persian Gulf on March 23, were freed Wednesday by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who called their release a gift to Britain.

Movahedian told the Financial Times that the release of the British crew was not connected to the fate of five Iranians held by U.S. forces in Iraq. U.S. officials said last week that Iran would be granted access to the detainees, but denied the decision was linked to the fate of British crew. Britain also has denied a link.

But Movahedian indicated help from the British on the matter would be appreciated.

"If they want to be helpful and use their influence we will welcome that. ... We will welcome in general any steps that could defuse tensions in the region," he said.

Movahedian called on Britain to use the resolution of the crisis as a chance to "establish sensible lines of communication with Iran."

He said the key issue for Iran was recognition from the West of its right to a nuclear power program.

"That's the prime issue for Iran and I think that could help set a new basis for our future relations with Western countries," he said.

The United States and allies, including Britain, fear Iran is pursuing a nuclear weapons program under cover of its civilian nuclear program. Iran denies this, insisting it seeks to use the program only for nuclear energy.

Britain's Foreign Office had no immediate comment on the Iranian ambassador's remarks. A spokesman said officials "will need time to assess the implication for diplomatic relations with Iran" of the crew's accounts of their treatment in detention.

The newspaper said Movahedian spoke before several crew members described Friday how they had been blindfolded, bound, kept in solitary confinement and subjected to psychological pressure during their captivity.

The Vatican said Pope Benedict XVI had written to Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, to intercede for the release of the crew. Vatican officials declined to give details of the letter, although The Guardian newspaper reported that the letter had asked Iran to free the crew in time for Sunday's Easter holiday as a religious gesture of goodwill.

The sailors' said during their Friday press conference that they were coerced into saying they had been in Iranian waters when they were detained.

Iran dismissed the sailors' news conference as propaganda — just as Britain condemned the crew members' frequent appearances on Iranian TV during their captivity.

The British crew was detained while patrolling for smugglers near the mouth of the Shatt al-Arab, a waterway that has long been a disputed dividing line between Iraq and Iran.

Despite the resolution of the crisis, tensions in the Persian Gulf remain high. The U.S. has two aircraft carrier groups off Iran's coast, its largest show of force in the region since the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

The Guardian reported Saturday that the U.S. military offered to mount "aggressive patrols" over Iranian Revolutionary Guard bases after the sailors and marines were captured.

The newspaper, which did not name its sources, said Britain had declined the offer and asked the U.S. to tone down its military activity in the Gulf. The Guardian said U.S. forces "modified their exercises to make them less confrontational."

The British Foreign Office declined to comment on the report.

APRIL 08 2007  Easter Day

The report below states the inevitable, I am sad to say. Why our newspapers should pay large sums for a story of predictable boredom, mixed with moments of terror and discomfort is not a mystery. They will hope to recoup the expenditure in increased sales and advertising. Why our servicemen and women would sell them is because their families say they could do with the money. It strikes me curious that people willing to sacrifice their lives for their country would sell their dignity and solidarity with the rest of Britain's servicemen (and women) for money. Perhaps they were never willing to risk their lives in the first place. However, it is up to them. I think it is right to let them, and the fools who bid for their stories, make this mistake. The one thing that is becoming more and more evident is that brave though most of our servicemen (and women) are, some of their families are a pain in the arse. The money raised should all go to services and charities for servicemen and women who have sustained lasting injuries in Iraq, and their families.

Naval captives can sell stories
The 15 Royal Navy personnel held captive by Iran are to be allowed to sell their stories to the media.

The Ministry of Defence said their experiences amounted to "exceptional circumstances" that allowed its usual ban on such payments to be lifted.

Politicians and military commentators have attacked the move, warning the crew may lose public sympathy.

The sailors and Royal Marines were held after Iran accused them of entering its waters, a claim they denied.

The personnel later said they were blindfolded, bound and held in isolation during their 13 days of captivity.

'Raised eyebrows'

In a statement the MoD said: "Serving personnel are not allowed to enter financial arrangements with media organisations.

"However, in exceptional circumstances such as the awarding of a Victoria Cross or events such as those in recent days, permission can be granted by commanding officers and the MoD."

Many people who shared the anxiety of the hostages' abduction will feel that selling their stories is somewhat undignified
Liam Fox,
shadow defence secretary

But opposition politicians have been strongly critical of the move, with the Conservatives say a bidding war would be inappropriate and undignified and the Liberal Democrats warning the strategy could backfire.

Shadow defence secretary Liam Fox said: "Many people who shared the anxiety of the hostages' abduction will feel that selling their stories is somewhat undignified and falls below the very high standards we have come to expect from our servicemen and women."

Liberal Democrat defence spokesman Nick Harvey said the MoD's statement would "raise eyebrows".

He said: "I sincerely hope this will not backfire into a loss of public sympathy for the service personnel.

"The MoD would be well advised to take a fresh look at the rules and consider whether they need revising in the light of this experience."

Leading Seaman Faye Turney, 26, the only woman in the party, was not among the six personnel who appeared at a press conference on Friday at the Royal Marines Base at Chivenor, Devon.

But reports in the Sunday Times and the Sunday Telegraph said the mother-of-one had now sold her story to ITV1's Tonight with Trevor McDonald programme and a newspaper for more than £100,000.

The Sunday Times reported the marines had decided to pool their money, giving 10% to their service benevolent fund, while the sailors were expected to keep theirs individually.

It said the MoD hoped to retain control over the publicity.

'Real danger'

But Col Bob Stewart, who commanded the British peacekeeping forces in Bosnia, told the BBC he was appalled the crew were being allowed to sell their stories.

"We're glorifying something that we would hope would be fish and chip paper next week," he said.

"Hype it up and you'll have real danger here, because some of the stories given out by the hostages, even at the press conference, seemed not to confirm what each one of them said."

Craig Murray, a former head of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office's maritime section, was also critical.

He said: "I think a great many serving military people are going to wonder where on earth this all leads and the idea that you can make several years' pay out of being captured - as opposed to not being captured and doing your job normally - is a rather strange incentive system."

Iraq deaths

The move came as members of the released crew continued to pay tribute to the four British soldiers killed in Iraq on the day they flew back to the UK.

Royal Marine Corporal Dean Harris from Trevaughan, south Wales, said the deaths in Basra meant he was finding it hard to take part in homecoming celebrations.

"It's so difficult to be ecstatic at a time like this because four soldiers have lost their lives," Cpl Harris said.

Leading Seaman Turney's parents, Alan and Rosalind Boswell, also said their thoughts were with the families of those killed.

In a statement, they also thanked the government, diplomats, the MoD and the Royal Navy who all helped secure the release of their daughter.

I am glad to see some amongst the crews have had the same idea as I about what to do with the fees.

Captives' media fees spark fury
The Ministry of Defence's decision to allow Royal Navy personnel held captive by Iran to sell their stories has sparked anger and unease.

Opposition MPs said the move was undignified while relatives of soldiers killed in Iraq said they did not want to make money from their tragedies.

But the MoD said families of the crew had already been offered "significant sums" by the media.

Lt Felix Carman, who was held, said any fee was likely to go to charity.

"I am not interested in making money out of this," the 26-year-old from Swansea told the BBC.

"My main aim is to tell the story. There's some people who might be making money, but that's an individual's decision, that's very private."

He added: "I think every one of us has had offers. I think the MoD has played this quite well. Somebody, somewhere is going to make money out of this story, and they've said we're happy for you guys, the people who've been involved, to actually be the ones that do that."

The MoD said its decision would ensure officials "had sight" of what might be said as well ensuring "proper media support" to the captured crew members.

'Extremely distasteful'

Craig Murray, a former head of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office's maritime section, was among those to criticise the decision.

"The idea that you can make several years' pay out of being captured - as opposed to not being captured and doing your job normally - is a rather strange incentive system," he said.

Quite aside from the human interest story surrounding these individuals, there are also sensitive strategic issues in play
Ministry of Defence

Liberal Democrat leader Sir Menzies Campbell said he was concerned at the impression the episode would make on governments involved behind the scenes in helping to free the personnel, and possible inadvertent leaks of sensitive information in interviews.

Mike Aston, whose son Corporal Russell Aston was one of six military policemen killed by a mob in Iraq in 2003, said he was "absolutely amazed" by the decision.

He told the BBC: "It beggars belief. On the day that they were released four servicemen and women were killed in Iraq. That's four grieving families who have to watch the television to see other families celebrating.

"I'm very pleased that they've been released. But I think the circumstances really needed to be low key, not high key. And to actually now go round and sell their story I think it's tacky and it's sordid".

Rose Gentle, whose son Fusilier Gordon Gentle was killed in Basra in 2004, told the Sunday Times: "This is wrong and I don't think it should be allowed."

Shadow foreign secretary William Hague said the Conservatives would be raising the issue in the Commons and questioned whether the decision had been properly thought through.

"If, whenever people have been in a difficult situation, they are going to be allowed to sell their story quickly after that, then I think we are going to lose steadily that dignity and respect for our Armed Forces," he told Sky News.

Colonel Bob Stewart - who commanded the British peacekeeping forces in Bosnia - said he understood the reasons for the MoD decision.

But he described the situation as "extremely distasteful".

'Strategic issues'

The sailors and Royal Marines were held after Iran accused them of entering its waters, a claim they denied.

The personnel later said they were blindfolded, bound and held in isolation during their 13 days of captivity.

The MoD has said experiences of the navy crew amounted to "exceptional circumstances" that allowed its usual ban on such payments to be lifted.

Responding to reaction to its initial announcement, the MoD said: "It is a fact that the media have been making direct contact with the families and offering them significant sums of money - this is not something that the Navy and the MoD have any control over.

"Quite aside from the human interest story surrounding these individuals, there are also sensitive strategic issues in play."

Former SAS soldier Andy McNab said he thought the MoD decision was "sensible" and showed "forward thinking".

He said: "I think the MoD now understand that the story will come out very quickly via a third party, whether it's a family member or even another service personnel."

PR agent Max Clifford has confirmed some of the group had already approached him for advice.

But he said: "The surprise was that the Ministry of Defence encouraged them to do this".

Faye Turney, the only woman among the 15, had sold her story to ITV1's Tonight with Trevor McDonald programme, reportedly for more than £100,000.

The Sunday Times reported the marines had decided to pool their money, giving 10% to their service benevolent fund, while the sailors were expected to keep theirs individually.

APRIL 9th 2007
This morning we had Michael Heseltine pontificating on how, if the returned Iranian hostages were allowed to sell their stories, it would be the end of all military discipline etc.etc. We heard how the MOD was out of its mind and no doubt we would hear from all the military chiefs to this effect, how General Dannat had already made it clear to the Army etc. etc. and that this was political spin to make Blair look good etc. etc.

OK, we understand why he thinks that, but it is beside the point. Details of this saga are going to come out in the press one way or another. The reporting so far has contained errors of fact and opinions based on errors of fact. Maximum damage limitation can now be achieved by the unadulterated truth coming independently from the actual horses mouths, vetted by the MOD for security. That way any spin and personal bias of the operation as a whole is visibly avoided and many second hand versions nipped in the bud or discredited in advance.

That leaves only the question of the payment by the media, which is a separate part of the problem and yes, in my view, every contributor would be well advised to donate their full share to real victims of war in our armed services, no matter how unjust this may seem to them.

If all of the above is done, and the release of the information is with MOD permission (though they cannot conceivably distort it when there are so many unimpeachable sources) then no dangerous precedent is set. The alternative would have been to have a version written by the MOD and queried ever after by journalists claiming they had another version of the truth from the grandmother of one of the participant's girl-friends. Such is the world we live in.

As for Kelvin McKenzie, how that pile of stumbling horse-shit had the nerve to say what he did on the Today programme, to the effect that if he were the editor of the Sun he would not touch the story with a barge pole......well, we all know that's his forte. That's 'what he does' and how he has made his living - brazen hypocrisy with a straight face. Keep it up, Kelvin, we wouldn't want you to prove us wrong about you now!

APRIL 10th 2007
I am absolutely delighted that, after even the pond life of the media world including Max Clifford have been moved to distance themselves from the reality of the world they and their kind have created, the MOD have felt able to stamp on the commercialisation of this military episode.

There is now a chance that this can stick, but only because the usual suspects have had a mirror held up for them and it has made them vomit on their own boots. Those of us who have hoped for some time that giving the media complete freedom would eventually lead to sufficient absurdity and bad taste that, like a drug addict reaching rock bottom it would seek it own salvation, are gratified.

I congratulate the MOD on its U-turn, and on having it approved by the public in advance, with readers, runners and riders ashamed of themselves and yet now able to take the credit and castigate MOD twice, first for bad judgment (the first decision) and second for inconsistency (the U-turn). I hold no brief for the MOD or the Government, but both the first and the second were correct.

APRIL 14th 2007
I would like to think, judging from the article in today's Independent, that this newspaper (easily the best in Britain today) was not itself part of the bidding war. But who is to know? Although I sometimes disagree profoundly with editiorials in The Independent it is a truly extraordianary publication. There are days when the content, including the supplements, exceed what one would expect of the highest quality weekly combined with a daily news sheet at the cutting edge.

Having said that, I remain of the opinion that in general the British press, its owners, editors and reporters, both represent and cater to the scum that forms on the ferment of our national body politic and social. There are some great contributors and commentators I respect highly - but they are very, very few. As for the businessmen who apparently call the tune while denying any interference in editorial or reporting content, this denial is worthless when the bottom line is to sell as much by chasing the lowest common denominator in every story, every public fear, every chance to pose as the heroic champion of the oppressed or strut a self-righteous pose.

Never was a nation more confused, as endlessly replacing generations of young journalists discover with apparent surprise the facts that our ancestors knew in their nappies. Today we are told that sunlight is good for us, with some supposedly 'new' science which is old as civilisation. We need to be told it is new to excuse the crap that was told us recently to the effect that we should cover ourselves in sun blocker. As I have explained in relation to practically every human activity, it is abuse and excess and indulgence, by people with neither innate sense or acquired wisdom, that leads to damage. Ingesting medicaments for amusement instead of emergency repairs is abuse. Getting sunburnt is as stupid as bathing in boiling water.
I imagine the Minister for Defence could now be hounded out of office by MPs scared of the press, for giving in to the press. I am sure that the minister should have told them all to take a running jump, but if he had I am sure the press would have had his head for that. I hope he does not resign. I hope this is the beginning of a fight back against the rule by newspapers and the audience of the Dimbleby bros circus.

How losers in the bidding war turned on minister

By Terri Judd       The Independent

Published: 14 April 2007

Eight days ago, at the gates of Royal Marine Base Chivenor, the country's media stood expectantly, awaiting an opportunity to finally hear from the marines and sailors at the centre of one of the hottest stories of the year.

Eventually, word emerged that just six out of the 15 of the returnees freed by the Iranians were to be put up for an afternoon press conference. Repeatedly the question was asked: "Will Faye Turney be there?" The answer was no.

Hundreds of media descended upon the Union Jack-clad hall for the conference to hear a prepared statement read by officers Lieutenant Felix Carman and Captain Chris Air.

For the Royal Navy it was an undoubted triumph. After days of debate about whether their team had behaved with appropriate decorum on Iranian television or capitulated in an unseemly fashion, it was an opportunity to counter it with news of mistreatment and psychological torture.

Behind the scenes, however, far more important negotiations were ongoing as the world of cheque-book journalism battled it out for the prized exclusives. The one female in the group was considered the ultimate catch while the youngest sailor, Operator Maintainer Arthur Batchelor, was deemed the second prize.

Letters welcoming the sailors home were passed on, offering huge rewards for interviews. The bidding war was nothing new in the super-competitive world of British newspapers. But this was no celebrity kiss-and-tell. The intended interviewees were serving military personnel - a group usually banned from communicating with the press.

The Navy had taken what it believed at the time was a wise decision to control the bidding war, little knowing that the matter would explode into a scandal.

On Monday, the winners became clearly obvious when The Sun and ITV's Tonight with Trevor Mcdonald boasted a joint coup - Leading Seaman Turney's story for a figure reported to be between £80,000 and £100,000. The Mirror had secured OM Batchelor's tale at a far lower cost.

Immediately, the quality press and other broadcasters reacted with outrage. The tabloid papers who had lost the bidding game were savage in their criticism. The fact that the return had coincided with the deaths of four soldiers in Basra provided ample scope for scathing comparisons.

The two sailors, pawns in a military, political and media game, were vilified for dishonouring their uniforms. The welcome home had suddenly turned nasty.

Swiftly, the blame game focused up the chain of command to the Defence Secretary, Des Browne, and on to Downing Street.

By Thursday Mr Browne was left isolated amidst calls for him to "fall on his sword" as No 10 distanced itself from the whole affair, insisting none of its staff had anything to do with the decision to authorise the sale of stories.

And yesterday, the furore appeared no closer to abating. Whispers in Whitehall predicted that Mr Browne could soon pay the ultimate professional price for a Fleet Street bunfight that turned very nasty indeed.

Leading article: This outrage over a saga of sailors and spin is missing the real target

If it is morally wrong for them to sell their stories, it is also surely wrong for media organisations to buy them

Published: 14 April 2007

The public storm over the conduct of the 15 British sailors captured by Iranian forces last month continues to rage. Sir General Michael Rose has become the latest former senior military officer to criticise the decision of the Ministry of Defence to allow the sailors to sell their stories. Meanwhile, calls for the resignation of the Defence Secretary Des Browne grow more insistent. The demands for an account of Downing Street's role in the affair continue. The opposition parties are turning up the heat. The press and the media fulminate daily at a national humiliation.

Of course it was wrong for the Ministry of Defence to waive its rules and allow the sailors to sell their stories. And yes, it is unedifying to see ministers scrambling away from responsibility. Mr Browne's claim that he was "not content" with the Navy's decision to allow its personnel to sell their stories but went along with it anyway is pathetic. The decision seems to have sprung from a desperate attempt to score a few points in the propaganda war with Iran. Yesterday's revelation that the Press Complaints Commission was ignored when it offered to help the Ministry of Defence to calm down the media frenzy on the sailors' release suggests that MoD officials actually wanted to get the stories out. This affair also shows how the Government has lost its discipline as the date of Tony Blair's departure gets ever closer.

Yet there is something missing: the role of the media itself. The inescapable fact is that the sailors could never have sold their stories unless there were newspapers and broadcasters willing to buy them. There is a hefty dollop of hypocrisy in the media's coverage of this row. It is galling to see newspapers - among them the pioneers in chequebook journalism - pouring scorn on the decision to allow the sale of these stories. Would those same newspapers now be singing the same tune if they had been the ones to secure the exclusive interviews? Of course not. Would they have castigated the sailors who did the deals if they had won the interview themselves? No. The sword cuts both ways: if it is morally wrong for servicemen to sell their stories, it is also surely wrong for those media organisations to buy - or attempt to buy - them.

But there is a bigger issue here, for this hysteria reveals something rather uncomfortable about our public culture. There is a worrying absence of focus here. This week a suicide bomber managed to blow himself up in the Iraqi parliament, penetrating the heart of the supposedly impregnable "green zone" in Baghdad. And yet the outcry here has been for the Defence Secretary to resign over his mishandling of the media. What does this say about our national sense of priorities? And, if the hapless Mr Browne were to resign, what would it say about political accountability? The Prime Minister and a Cabinet that rushed into the most calamitous foreign intervention in the past half-century would remain in their posts. Meanwhile, the Defence Secretary would have fallen on his sword on account of a couple of embarrassing interviews.

The invasion of Iraq has ruined Britain's reputation abroad. It has damaged morale in the armed forces (far more than the selling of these stories). It has exposed this country, its citizens - and especially its servicemen and women - to far greater risk. Let us not forget that the only reason these sailors were in a position to be captured in the first place is because they were patrolling Iraqi waters.

This uproar is a distraction from the bigger picture. There should be moral outrage over events in the Persian Gulf. But it should be aimed at those that led us into the quagmire in the first place, not the lesser figures involved in this sorry saga of sailors, spin and media hypocrisy.

APRIL 23rd 2007
This article by Dr
Charles Tannock, MEP for London, written on April 4th, is worth reading.

MAY 4th 2007       Magaret Becket is intending to discuss with Iranian diplomats the resolution of the Shat-al Arab incident involving the arrest of the UK naval crew (now safely returned) and the confiscation of their craft (still outstanding). Could be tricky since Ahmedinejad himslef has just been accused by his own establishment of improper behaviour when he greeted a woman (wearing gloves) by kissing her hand. It seems the violinist in the story below was not wearing gloves.

Rice, Iranian have little contact

By ANNE GEARAN and QASSIM ABDUL-ZAHRA, Associated Press Writers 

Iran's foreign minister walked out of a dinner of diplomats where he was seated directly across from Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, on the pretext that the female violinist entertaining the gathering was dressed too revealingly.

"I don't know which woman he was afraid of, the woman in the red dress or the secretary of state," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said Friday, regarding the actions of Iran's Manouchehr Mottaki.

The dinner episode Thursday night amid a major regional conference on Iraq perfectly revealed how hard it was to bring together the top diplomats of the two rival nations.

Meanwhile, Iraq's neighbors on Friday negotiated a declaration that would pledge support for Iraq's embattled Shiite-led government in return for more inclusion of Sunni Arabs in the political process.

A draft copy of the six-page declaration said the summit participants would agree to support Iraq's government as long as it ensured the "basic right of all Iraqi citizens to participate peacefully in the political process through the country's political system."

Going into the summit, the Iraqi government had hoped for a breakthrough meeting between Rice and Mottaki. Instead, their only direct contact was a wary exchange of pleasantries over lunch Thursday, punctuated by a wry, somewhat mysterious comment by Mottaki.

Mottaki walked out of the diplomats' dinner on the pretext that the female violinist entertaining the gathering was dressed too revealingly.

The Iranian entered the lunch, greeting the gathered diplomats with the Arabic phrase, "As-salama aleikum," or "Peace be upon you," according to an Iraqi official who was present.

Rice replied to him in English, "Hello," then added: "Your English is better than my Arabic," according to the Iraqi official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the lunch was private.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit then piped in, telling Mottaki, "We want to warm the atmosphere some."

Mottaki smiled and replied in English with a saying: "In Russia, they eat ice cream in winter because it's warmer than the weather" — more or less meaning, "You take whatever atmosphere-warming you can get."

"That's true," Rice replied, according to the Iraqi official.

After lunch, Egypt's Aboul Gheit told the Associated Press he would try to arrange a further informal meeting between Rice and Mottaki at a gala dinner being thrown by the Egyptians Thursday night on the beach of a nearby resort hotel.

"Why not?" Aboul Gheit said. "It is only one table." But asked if he would seat Rice and Mottaki next to each other, he said, "No, no."

As it turned out, Mottaki's place was set directly across the table from Rice. When Mottaki entered the dinner and saw the arrangement, he immediately told his hosts that he had to excuse himself and leave, said a U.S. official who accompanied Rice.

Mottaki complained that the Egyptian female violinist playing nearby was too revealingly dressed, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity, also because the dinner was a closed affair.

The Iraqi government and some Arab countries had hoped for a real one-on-one meeting between Rice and Mottaki, saying that the two countries' conflict is only fueling Iraq's chaos. Ahead of the two day conference in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheik, Rice had expressed a willingness to meet, and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad said he would welcome talks.

But on Thursday, Rice said the American side was not asking for a meeting, and the Iranians appeared reluctant to be the ones to make the first move.

The U.S. accuses Iran of increasing Iraq's violence by backing militants there, as well as accusing Tehran of aiming to build a nuclear weapons program. The Bush administration has rejected direct talks with Iran despite growing calls for contacts.

Iran denies the U.S. accusations and is calling for U.S. troops to leave neighboring Iraq, blaming Washington's policies for the country's bloodshed.

Separately Thursday, summit participants agreed on the International Compact with Iraq — an ambitious blueprint to stabilize the nation.

The plan sets benchmarks to achieve a stable, united, democratic Iraq within five years. It defines international help for Iraq — including debt relief — but also sets tough commitments on the Baghdad government, particularly carrying out reforms aimed at giving Iraq's Sunni Arabs a greater role in the political process.

The Iraqi government, the United Nations and many of the more than 60 countries and international organizations gathered here hailed the launch of the blueprint as a milestone.


Associated Press correspondent Edith M. Lederer contributed to this story.


Meanwhile in Rafsanjani (south-eastern Iran) Ahmadinejad has said Iran was willing to discuss with the West how to maintain global security but would not bargain over its right to pursue civil nuclear technology. Ahmadinejad said Iran was willing to contribute to global peace and security but not be deprived of its internationally acknowledged right to have peaceful nuclear projects aimed at generating electricity. Tehran would be willing to negotiate with the West how to establish peace and security in Iraq, but not approve of Western powers imposing their policies on a sovereign country which already had a democratically elected government. The Fars news agency quoted Ahmadinejad as saying that Iran has never attacked any country or violated rights of other states and would never do that. "But at the same time Iran will decisively stand behind its nuclear right and no official has the right to retreat from this right." Ahmadinejad called on big powers to stop their hegemonic policies and rather return to the course of friendship with all world countries.

That is reasonable talk for internal consumption, presumably intended for international consumption as well. We will eventually get some sense into this dialogue. A military solution is not, in my view, a necessity. The nuclear security issue must be dealt with, but not in the way Israel dealt with Saddam's nuclear threat.

U.S., Iranian experts meet at Iraq talks

By Mariam Karouny and Sue Pleming - Reuters  

Iran and the United States met at expert level on the sidelines of an international conference in Egypt on Friday, Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari said.

"A meeting took place on the sidelines of the meeting, not at foreign minister level but at expert level, between the American side and the Iranian side," he told a news conference.

Diplomats said U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had been open to a meeting with Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki -- which would be the highest level contact since Iran's 1979 revolution -- but the Iranians were cool to the idea.

On Thursday Rice did meet Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem, marking a shift in U.S. President George W. Bush's once resolute opposition to high-level contacts with Iran and Syria as he seeks ways to end the Iraq conflict.

Rice and Mottaki have been together in the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh for two days for the conference on financial support for Iraq and on relations with its neighbors.

Zebari added: "I don't know what went on in that meeting (of experts) but I think it was a positive sign that at least such a thing did take place while we are here.

"This is a process I think. It needs more work. There is a lot of suspicion. There is a lot of mistrust. But it is in my country's interest really to see a reduction of this tension."

Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit said the meeting was "the beginning hopefully of a process," adding that the officials who met were ambassadors. He did not identify them.

He was speaking after Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki urged Iraq's neighbours to stop militants sneaking into Iraq, saying his country would "not allow terrorist organizations to use Iraqi territory as a safe haven."

Iraq's six neighbours are attending the Sharm el-Sheikh meeting, which welcomed Arab League attempts to hold a conference on national reconciliation.

The five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, the European Union and the Group of Eight leading industrialized countries also took part in the meeting.


The talks focused on border security, Iraqi refugees and political reconciliation between Iraqi factions and ethnic and religious communities.

The final communique from the conference called on the Arab League to resume preparations for the reconciliation conference for Iraq, a project which has languished for over a year.

"We are ready for this. We are ready to host Iraqi national reconciliation," Mouusa said. "Now is not the time to exchange accusations but is the time to work together."

The communique gave no time frame for such a meeting, nor say where it would be held.

The 22-member Arab League is based in Cairo but Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said the best place for the conference would be inside Iraq.

Iran had been cool about a meeting with Rice and an Iranian spokesman said on Tuesday that it would not negotiate with Washington until it stops its "evil approach."

In his speech to a closed session, Mottaki blamed Iraq's troubles on the U.S. invasion of 2003 and called for the release of five Iranian civil servants held by the Americans in Iraq.

He called for U.S. and other foreign troops to leave Iraq, coupled with stronger support for the Shi'ite-led Baghdad government, but did not say when this should happen.

MAY 08 2007

Iran 'seeking conflict by proxy in Afghanistan': Des Browne

AFP - Tuesday, May 8 09:22 pm

LONDON (AFP) - Defence Secretary Des Browne said Tuesday there were signs that Iran was helping the Taliban fight coalition forces in Afghanistan.

Indications were that it was seeking to attack international troops "by proxy," he told the defence committee of parliament's lower House of Commons, which scrutinises Ministry of Defence administration and policy.

"Demonstrably they have sought confrontation by proxy with us and the United States and other NATO members elsewhere in the region and there is some indication that they are doing the same in Afghanistan," he said.

Last month Prime Minister Tony Blair accused elements in Tehran of "backing, financing, arming, supporting terrorism in Iraq."

Browne said that Iran was otherwise playing a positive role in Afghanistan, sealing its border and cutting off the flow of illegal drugs and providing investment.

He said that as with other regional powers, such as India and Pakistan, it was in Iran's interest to see a strong, stable Afghanistan.

"This is a complex environment," Browne said.

"Regionally, an Afghanistan which is not a failed state and has a reduced drugs economy is in the strategic interest of all these countries.

"Iran do make a very positive contribution on the border in relation to drugs. They make significant investment inside Afghanistan as well."

Browne praised Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf for his efforts in tackling support for Taliban insurgents emanating from his country.

"I believe that President Musharraf is committed to taking on this problem and in recent months they have stepped up their action against the Taliban to a level that we haven't previously seen," he said.

He warned, however, that there "is no doubt that historically there were relations between elements of the Pakistan government structure and the Taliban, and it is highly improbable that those have gone away."

Browne said Britain was encouraging Pakistan to clamp down on the madrassas -- Islamic religious schools blamed for radicalising youths.

"It is a strategic issue for us because it is a strategic issue in relation to the security of the streets of this city (London), never mind Afghanistan," he said.

Britain has pledged an extra 1,400 troops for Afghanistan, who are due to arrive within weeks, taking the country's contingent in the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) to 7,700.

MAY 11 2007

Cheney warns Iran to keep sea lanes open

By TOM RAUM, Associated Press Writer

From an aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf, Vice President Dick Cheney warned Iran on Friday the U.S. and its allies will keep it from restricting sea traffic as well as from developing nuclear weapons.

"We'll keep the sea lanes open," Cheney said from the hangar deck of the USS John C. Stennis as it steamed about 150 miles from the Iranian coast.

Cheney is touring the Middle East asking Arab allies to do more to help Iraq and to curb Iran's growing power in the region. With Iraq in turmoil, both Iran and Saudi Arabia are maneuvering to see who can help fill the leadership vacuum.

The vice president made clear the United States' intentions on the rivalry. "We'll stand with others to prevent Iran from gaining nuclear weapons and dominating this region," he said.

On Saturday, Cheney will make a fence-mending visit to Saudi Arabia.

The oil-rich kingdom, long a key American ally in the Middle East, recently has been shunning the U.S.-supported government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, suggesting he is too close to Iran.

Roughly a quarter of the world's oil supplies pass through the narrow Straits of Hormuz connecting the Persian Gulf with the open waters of the Arabian Sea. Iran controls the eastern side of the straits.

With two U.S. carrier groups now in the region, the vice president declared, "We're sending clear messages to friends and adversaries alike. We'll keep the sea lanes open."

The carrier was in the Gulf about 20 miles off Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates. Cheney is spending time there after a two-day tour of Iraq.

Standing in front of five F18 Super Hornet fighters and a huge American flag in the cavernous hangar deck — one flight below the carrier's flight deck — Cheney sounded a hard line both on holding firm in Iraq and confronting Iran if necessary.

Just over four years after President Bush stood on another aircraft carrier beneath a "Mission Accomplished" banner and declared an end to major combat, Cheney had a far more subdued message.

"We want to complete the mission, get it done right, and return with honor," he told Stennis crew members.

Officials said that between 3,500 and 4,000 of the carrier's 5,000 sailors and Marines stood in sweltering heat — hovering over 100 degrees — to hear Cheney speak.

"It's not easy to serve in this part of the world. It's a place of tension and many conflicts," said Cheney.

"We'll stand with our friends in opposing extremism and strategic threats. We'll disrupt attacks on our own forces," he added. U.S. officials have said that some of the sophisticated roadside bombs used against U.S. troops in Iraq have come from Iran.

After returning from the carrier, Cheney had dinner with Emirates Crown Prince Sheik Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan.

On Saturday, before leaving for Saudi Arabia, Cheney is expected to press Emirates President Sheik Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan to support U.S. efforts in Iraq and to shut down Iranian companies in his country that U.S. officials believe are backing Iran's nuclear development.

Some 500,000 Iranians live in the Emirates.

Cheney's visit comes just two days before Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is to visit Abu Dhabi.

Ahmadinejad wants the Emirates and other Gulf Arab countries to drop their military alliances with Washington and join Iran in regional efforts. The United States has about 40,000 troops on land bases in Gulf countries outside Iraq and about 20,000 sailors and Marines in the region.

No Gulf state has yet backed Iran's offer of an alliance.

Iran's top nuclear negotiator said Friday that a compromise over its nuclear program was impossible if the West continued to demand Tehran suspend uranium enrichment, Iran's state broadcasting company reported on its Web site.

Ali Larijani's comments came a day after the U.S. and France took Iran to task during a conference on nuclear proliferation for defying a U.N. Security Council demand that it freeze enrichment.

"If the West again applies the past wordings about Iran's nuclear case, this issue will not conclude," the Web site quoted Larijani as saying. "They should abandon this idea that they can change conditions of Iran's nuclear case by applying harsh word policy."

When he goes to Saudi Arabia on Saturday, Cheney faces a difficult diplomatic mission — trying to ease concerns of King Abdullah about the direction of al-Maliki's Shiite-dominated government in Iraq.

Abdullah has increasingly sent signals that he doubts the U.S. troop buildup to help secure Baghdad will work.

The king refused to see al-Maliki as the Iraqi prime minister was making a tour of Arab countries late last month. And during a regional conference in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheik in early May, Saudi Arabia's foreign minister was one of the few Arab diplomats al-Maliki did not meet in face-to-face talks.

Abdullah's snub to al-Maliki appeared aimed at showing Saudi Arabia's concern that the Iraqi government is too close to Iran and is not doing enough to reconcile with Iraq's Sunni Arab minority, a Saudi official said at the time.

Iran, like Iraq, is heavily Shiite. Saudi Arabia has a predominantly Sunni Muslim population.

The visit to the Stennis was a return trip for Cheney, who came to the carrier — then in the Arabian Sea — in March 2002 as he was trying to build support in the area for invading Iraq.

Cheney flew to and from the carrier Friday by helicopter.

MAY 13 2007

Iran, U.S. willing to hold talks on Iraq

By NASSER KARIMI, Associated Press Writer

The U.S. and Iran said Sunday they will hold upcoming talks in Baghdad about improving Iraq's security — a historic political turnabout for the two countries with the most influence over Iraq's future.

Expectations of progress remain low, however, with tough issues at stake and mutual suspicions running high. Even as it announced the talks, Iran lashed out at Vice President Dick Cheney's weekend warnings about its nuclear program, saying it would retaliate if the U.S. attacked it.

Yet the two sides said they were setting aside such differences to focus on a narrow issue — Iraq's continued violence and sharp political deterioration.

"The purpose is to try to make sure that the Iranians play a productive role in Iraq," said Gordon Johndroe, the White House's National Security Council spokesman.

Cheney's spokeswoman, Lea Anne McBride, also confirmed the upcoming talks, saying the vice president supports the move as long as they focus solely on Iraq.

Iran agreed to the talks "after consultation with Iraqi officials, in order to lessen the pain of the Iraqi people, support the Iraqi government and establish security and peace in Iraq," the state-run news agency, IRNA, quoted Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini as saying.

Iraqi leaders have leaned on the Bush administration to try to cooperate with Iran in the interest of stabilizing their country. Likewise, some Mideast Arab allies of the U.S. — increasingly distrustful of Iraq's Shiite-led government — have pushed for talks with Iran as a way to reduce sectarian tensions in the country and stop attacks against Sunnis.

The decision to talk comes at a critical time of plunging U.S. support for the war and growing pressure from Congress for Iraq's government to make some political progress, or lose U.S. backing. Many critics say the U.S.- and Iraqi-led security push and troop buildup is also struggling.

In March, lower-level U.S. and Iranian diplomats did hold rare, brief talks on the sidelines of a Baghdad gathering. At a follow-up conference a week ago in Egypt, there was a casual chat between the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker, and Iran's deputy foreign minister, Abbas Araghchi.

There had been speculation of a Cabinet-level meeting at that Egypt conference, but neither Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice nor Iran's foreign minister wanted to make the initial move, passing up what would have been the first high-level, face-to-face talks since the U.S. broke off relations with Tehran after the 1979 hostage crisis.

Until this spring, the Bush administration had dismissed calls for both outreach to Iran and Syria. At the Egyptian conference, Rice did sit down for a talk with Syria's top diplomat.

The timing of the upcoming talks in Baghdad was unclear, but Johndroe and Iraq's foreign minister, Hoshyar Zebari, both said they expected them to occur sometime in the next few weeks. The talks could be between Crocker and the Iranians, Johndroe said.

The Baghdad setting will allow for "serious, quiet and focused discussions on the responsibilities and the obligations of all to help stabilize the situation in Iraq," Zebari said.

Despite the planned talks, mutual suspicion and tension between the two countries runs high.

During a visit to the United Arab Emirates, hard-line Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad demanded Sunday that the U.S. leave the Middle East — two days after Cheney warned Tehran that Washington will not allow it to develop nuclear weapons or dominate the region.

"We are telling you to leave the region. This is for your benefit and the benefit of your nation," Ahmadinejad told the crowd at a soccer stadium in Dubai.

Iran has stressed that it sees the U.S. military presence in Iraq as a serious threat to its security. More than 140,000 U.S. troops are in Iraq — with more expected this month as part of a stepped-up Baghdad security operation.

The U.S. sees Iran as the biggest threat to Iraq's stability, accusing Tehran of supplying Shiite militias with deadly roadside bombs that kill American troops. Iran denies the accusations.


Associated Press writers Tom Raum in Cairo, Egypt; Jim Krane in Dubai, United Arab Emirates; Kim Gamel in Baghdad; and Ben Feller in Jamestown, Va. contributed to this report.

MAY 27th 2007

U.S., Iran reach Iraq policy consensus

By STEVEN R. HURST, Associated Press Writer2 hours, 12 minutes ago

The United States ambassador in Baghdad said he and his Iranian counterpart agreed broadly on policy toward Iraq during four-hour groundbreaking talks on Monday, but insisted that Iran end its support for militants.

The Iranian ambassador later said the two sides would meet again in less than a month.

Hassan Kazemi Qomi, the Iranian envoy, also said that he told the Americans that his government was ready to train and equip the Iraqi army and police to create "a new military and security structure."

Kazemi did not elaborate nor would he say how U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker responded.

The Baghdad talks were the first of their kind and a small sign that Washington thinks rapprochement with Iran is possible after more than a quarter-century of diplomatic estrangement that began with the 1979 Islamic revolution.

"The next meeting will occur in Iraq in less than one month," Kazemi told an Associated Press reporter after his news conference at the Iranian Embassy.

Crocker earlier said the Iraqis planned to propose a second session and that the United States would decide upon a follow-on meeting when the invitation was issued.

"We will consider that when we receive it," Crocker told reporters in the U.S.-controlled Green Zone. "The purpose of this meeting was not to arrange other meetings."

Crocker described the session as businesslike and said Iran proposed setting up a "trilateral security mechanism" that would include the U.S., Iraq and Iran, an idea he said would require study in Washington.

The U.S. envoy also said he told the Iranians their country needed to stop arming, funding and training the militants. The Iranians laid out their policy toward Iraq, Crocker said, describing it as "very similar to our own policy and what the Iraqi government have set out as their own guiding principles."

He added: "This is about actions not just principles, and I laid out to the Iranians direct, specific concerns about their behavior in Iraq and their support for militias that are fighting Iraqi and coalition forces."

Kazemi did not raise the subject of seven Iranians now in American custody in Iran, Crocker said: "The focus of our discussions were Iraq and Iraq only."

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (news, bio, voting record), who was criticized by the White House for her trip to Syria — also a U.S. rival — praised the Bush administration for holding Monday's talks.

"I think it's very important, and at the end of the day we want to know that every remedy, every diplomatic remedy has been exhausted," she said in Berlin.

The talks were held at Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's Green Zone office.

Al-Maliki did not attend the meeting, but the prime minister greeted the two ambassadors, who shook hands, and led them into a conference room, where the ambassadors sat across from each other.

Before leaving, al-Maliki told both sides that Iraqis wanted a stable country free of foreign forces and regional interference. The country should not be turned into a base for terrorist groups, he said. He also said that the U.S.-led forces in Iraq were only here to help build up the army and police and the country would not be used as a launching ground for a U.S. attack on a neighbor, a clear reference to Iran.

"We are sure that securing progress in this meeting would, without doubt, enhance the bridges of trust between the two countries and create a positive atmosphere" that would help them deal with other issues, he said.

Speaking in Tehran, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said the United States should admit its Middle East policy has failed.

"We are hopeful that Washington's realistic approach to the current issues of Iraq by confessing its failed policy in Iraq and the region and by showing a determination to changing the policy guarantees success of the talks and possible further talks," Mottaki said.

Monday's talks, as predicted, had a pinpoint focus: What Washington and Iran — separately or together — could do to contain the sectarian conflagration in Iraq.

"The American side has accusations against Iran and the Iranian side has some remarks on the presence of the American forces on Iraqi lands, which they see as a threat to their government," said Ali al-Dabagh, an Iraqi government spokesman.

But much more encumbered the narrow agenda — primarily Iran's nuclear program and Iranian fears that the Bush administration will seek regime change in Tehran as it did against Saddam Hussein in Iraq.

Washington and its Sunni Arab allies, on their side, are deeply unnerved by growing Iranian influence in the Middle East and the spread of increasingly radical Islam.

Compounding all that is Iran's open hostility to Israel.

Other issues clouding the talks included U.S. Navy exercises in the Persian Gulf last week and tough talk from President Bush about new U.N. penalties over the Iranian nuclear program. The United States says Iran is trying to build a bomb; Iran says it needs nuclear technology for energy production.

Further complicating the talks, Iran said Saturday it had uncovered spy rings organized by the United States and its Western allies.

and here is the report of the same event from Reuters:

U.S., Iran hold "positive" talks on Iraq violence

By Ross Colvin

The United States urged Iran on Monday to stop supporting militias in Iraq in the most high-profile meeting between the two countries in almost 30 years that both sides later described as positive.

The rare talks in Baghdad were narrowly focused on Iraq's spiralling sectarian violence and did not touch on Iran's controversial nuclear program, which has ratcheted up tensions between the two arch foes in recent months.

"Positive" was how both sides characterized the four-hour meeting that began with a handshake between U.S. ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker and his Iranian counterpart Hassan Kazemi-Qomi at Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's office in Baghdad.

In new violence in Iraq, a truck bomb exploded near an important Sunni Muslim mosque in central Baghdad, killing 24 people and wounding 68 others shortly after the talks broke up.

The Iranians appeared keen for further talks, with Kazemi-Qomi calling the meeting "a first step in negotiations between these two sides" and saying Tehran would seriously consider an Iraqi invitation for further discussions.

For his part, Crocker said he had been less interested in arranging further meetings than laying out Washington's case that Shi'ite Iran is arming, funding and training Shi'ite militias in Iraq, a charge Iran denies.

He said he did not produce any evidence, although the U.S. military has previously displayed what it says are Iranian-made rockets, mortars and roadside bombs seized in Iraq. The military says the bombs have killed scores of American soldiers.

"The purpose of this effort was not to build a legal case. Presumably the Iranians know what they are doing. Our point was simply to say we know as well. We wanted to say it is dangerous for Iraq and dangerous for the region," Crocker said.

"The talks proceeded positively. What we need to see is Iranian action on the ground. Right now their actions are running at cross purposes to their stated policy."

Kazemi-Qomi, speaking at a separate media conference several hours later, said Iran also saw positive steps in the talks.

"Some problems have been raised and studied and I think this was a positive step ... In the political field, the two sides agreed to support and strengthen the Iraqi government, which was another positive item achieved in these talks," he said.

He said Iran had offered to help train and arm Iraq's security forces, presently the job of the U.S. military.

The meeting marked a shift in the U.S. policy of shunning almost all contact with Iranian officials since Washington severed formal diplomatic ties with Tehran in 1980, 14 months after Iran's Islamic Revolution and five months after Americans were seized in a hostage crisis at the U.S. embassy in Tehran.

Crocker said he would refer to Washington a proposal by the Iranians for a mechanism with Iranian, U.S. and Iraqi participation to coordinate Iraqi security matters.


He said he had told the Iranians they must end their support for the militias, stop supplying them with explosives and ammunition and rein in the activities of Iran's Revolutionary Guards Qods Force in Iraq.

The Iranians had rejected the allegations but did not respond in detail. In turn, they had criticized the "occupying" U.S. military's training and equipping of the new Iraqi army, saying it was "inadequate to the challenges faced."

"In terms of what happens next we are going to want to wait and see not what is said next but what happens on the ground, whether we start to see some indications of change of Iranian behavior," Crocker said.

In a brief address to the delegations before the start of the talks, Maliki said Iraq would not be a launchpad for any attacks on neighboring states, an apparent reference to Iranian fears of a U.S. attack. It would also not brook any regional interference in its affairs, he added.

U.S. and Iranian officials had said they did not expect any breakthroughs from the talks, which come as U.S. warships hold war games in the Gulf and after Tehran said it had uncovered spy networks on its territory run by Washington and its allies.

While mid-ranking officials from Iran and the United States have met occasionally in the past, Monday's talks are the most high profile since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

(With additional reporting by Mariam Karouny, Mussab Al-Khairalla and Paul Tait in Baghdad and Edmund Blair in Tehran)

JUNE 21st 2007
The news from Teheran is not good at all. I am suddenly very pessimistic indeed about the next stage of developments in Iran. I think the country will be taken over by a mixture of fundamentalists and xenophobes.

Iranian students report crackdown
By Frances Harrison
BBC News, Tehran

Iranian students and professors say an unprecedented number of disciplinary cases have been brought against students in the last month.

They say 29 have been arrested in the last two months for political activism and 207 were taken before disciplinary committees in the last 40 days alone.

By comparison, just four students were disciplined a month on average under the last government.

University professors who criticise the government are also losing their jobs.

One of the best-known reformist professors to be affected by the latest purge is the outspoken cleric Mohsen Kadivar.

The despotic understanding of religious rules would eventually lead to a form of theocracy
Mohsen Kadivar
speaking in a recent BBC News website debate

He has lost his chair in philosophy and literature at the teachers training university and has been transferred to a research institute in philosophy and ethics where he will have little contact with undergraduates.

Earlier, a university disciplinary committee had listed a number of complaints against him, including giving interviews to the BBC.

He is among scores of university professors who have been forced into early retirement or eased out of their positions since President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad came to power two years ago.

It is part of a campaign to purge the universities of secular and liberal ideas - a movement described by its supporters as a second cultural revolution.

Students critical of the government have also faced problems.

Eight have been jailed from Amirkabir University where students called the president a dictator to his face when he visited there last December.

SEPTEMBER 24th 2007
With the passage of time, the overexcited Ahmadinejad probably is getting a grip on reality. Most of his educated countrymen had already come (a long time ago) to the obvious conclusion that the use of a nuclear weapon by Iraq would be the quickest suicide not in history. All we need now is for the US to understand that the Iranians understand that the etc. etc....
That will not stop the endless game of wind-up of the US by Iranians who just cannot accept the moral authority of a superpower led by a man they regard as historically, geographically and morally primitive. He of course regards them as similarly defective, and much of the rest of the world agrees with both of these judgements.

Iran leader plays down 'US war'
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has said Iran is not heading for armed conflict with the United States.

In an interview with US TV network CBS, he said Iran was not on a path of war with the US and that Iran had no need of nuclear weapons.

Protests have been held outside Columbia University in New York, where Mr Ahmadinejad is due to speak later.

The US is leading moves to impose further sanctions on Iran because of its nuclear development programme.

Many Americans think Mr Ahmadinejad should not have been invited to speak at Columbia - but tickets to the event were snatched up within an hour of becoming available.

In political relations right now, the nuclear bomb is of no use
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
Dozens of protesters gathered outside the university on Sunday with placards saying: "Don't give a platform to hate," and calling Mr Ahmadinejad a "Hitler wannabe".

Mr Ahmadinejad has called in the past for an end to the Israeli state and described the Holocaust as a myth.

Columbia's president Lee Bollinger defended the decision to invite Mr Ahmadinejad, saying the university was "committed to confronting ideas", AFP news agency reported.

'No need' for bomb

In his CBS interview, conducted in Tehran last week, Mr Ahmadinejad said: "It's wrong to think that Iran and the US are walking towards war. Who says so? Why should we go to war? There is no war in the offing."

He also denied Iran had nuclear arms ambitions.

"You have to appreciate we don't need a nuclear bomb. We don't need that. What need do we have for a bomb?" Mr Ahmadinejad asked.

"In political relations right now, the nuclear bomb is of no use."

Mr Ahmadinejad's comments follow a warning on Saturday that anybody who attacked Iran would experience nothing but regret, although he said Iran's forces were just for defence.

He is due to address the UN General Assembly in New York on Tuesday - his third address to the assembly in as many years.

The president had wanted to lay a wreath at Ground Zero during his visit, but the New York authorities refused that request on security grounds.

OCTOBER 11 2007

Rice says Iran 'lying' about nukes

By MATTHEW LEE, Associated Press Writer 

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Thursday accused Iran of "lying" about the aim of its nuclear program, saying there's no doubt Tehran wants the capability to produce nuclear weapons and has deceived the U.N.'s atomic watchdog about its intentions.

"There is an Iranian history of obfuscation and, indeed, lying to the IAEA," she said, referring to the International Atomic Energy Agency.

"There is a history of Iran not answering important questions about what is going on and there is Iran pursuing nuclear technologies that can lead to nuclear weapons-grade material," Rice told reporters aboard her plane as she headed to Moscow.

U.S. officials have long accused Iran of trying to develop nuclear weapons behind the facade of a civil atomic energy program, charges that Tehran denies. But Rice's strong words, including the blunt reference to Iranian "lying," come at a critical time in dealing with the matter.

The United States is trying to win Russian support for new U.N. sanctions against Iran but has faced sharp resistance from Moscow, which has nuclear cooperation agreements with Tehran and argues the country should be given more time to come clean on its programs.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said this week there is no proof Tehran is trying to build the bomb. Rice and Defense Secretary Robert Gates are scheduled to see him in Moscow on Friday.

Washington has been pressing for more sanctions since earlier this year.

But last month, the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council — Britain, China, France the United States and Russia — and Germany agreed with the support of the European Union to hold off on a new sanctions resolution until November to allow negotiations with Iran to continue.

If no progress is made on two separate tracks — talks with E.U. foreign policy chief Javier Solana on an offer of assistance in exchange for a suspension in Iran's nuclear program and discussions with IAEA on its past activities — they are to bring the resolution to a vote.

It remains unclear, though, if Russia and China, which also opposes sanctions, will support it.

Even as work on the proposed resolution is to continue at an Oct. 17 meeting of senior diplomats in Europe, Putin said Wednesday that Russia was not convinced Iran is trying to create nuclear weapons.

His comments came after talks with French President Nicolas Sarkozy, whose government is firmly behind the U.S. sanctions drive, and appeared to deal a new blow to efforts to forge a consensus.

"We have no objective data that Iran is seeking to make atomic weapons," Putin said. "Therefore, we proceed from the assumption that Iran has no such plans."

Rice, however, stressed that Russia had signed on to the Sept. 28 agreement to consider new sanctions in November and said she did not "expect that there is any deviation from that course at this point" from the Russian side.

She also noted that Russia had in the past demonstrated its concern about Iran's program by limiting its cooperation to prevent Tehran from acquiring a full nuclear fuel cycle that could be used to produce weapons-grade material.

"That concern was seen very clearly in Russia's offer to Iran to enrich and reprocess in a joint venture and to bring back any spent fuel so that the fuel cycle wouldn't be available to Iran," she said. "I think there is a reason for that and that is suspicion about Iran's intentions."

OCTOBER 17th 2007

Bush: Threat of World War III if Iran goes nuclear

By Matt Spetalnick - Reuters

U.S. President George W. Bush warned on Wednesday a nuclear-armed Iran could lead to World War III as he tried to shore up international opposition to Tehran amid Russian skepticism over its nuclear ambitions.

Bush was speaking a day after Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has resisted Western pressure to toughen his stance over Iran's nuclear program, made clear on a visit to Tehran that Russia would not accept any military action against Iran.

At a White House news conference, Bush expressed hope Putin would brief him on his talks in Tehran and said he would ask him to clarify recent remarks on Iran's nuclear activities.

Putin said last week that Russia, which is building Iran's first atomic power plant, would "proceed from the position" that Tehran had no plans to develop nuclear weapons but he shared international concerns that its nuclear programs "should be as transparent as possible."

"The thing I'm interested in is whether or not he continues to harbor the same concerns that I do," Bush said. "When we were in Australia (in September), he reconfirmed to me that he recognizes it's not in the world's interest for Iran to have the capacity to make a nuclear weapon."

Bush, who has insisted he wants a diplomatic solution to the Iranian issue, is pushing for a third round of U.N. sanctions against Iran.

Russia, a veto-holding member of the Security Council, backed two sets of limited U.N. sanctions against Iran but has resisted any tough new measures.

Stepping up his rhetoric, Bush said a nuclear-armed Iran would pose a "dangerous threat to world peace."

"We've got a leader in Iran who has announced that he wants to destroy Israel," he said. "So I've told people that, if you're interested in avoiding World War III, it seems like you ought to be interested in preventing them from having the knowledge necessary to make a nuclear weapon."


Iran rejects accusations it is seeking to develop a nuclear bomb, saying it wants nuclear technology for peaceful civilian purposes such as power generation, and has refused to heed U.N. Security Council demands to halt sensitive uranium enrichment.

Chief Iranian nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani was quoted by Iran's official IRNA news agency on Wednesday as saying that Putin had delivered a "special message" on its atomic program and other issues. No other details were given.

Putin's visit on Tuesday was watched closely because of Moscow's possible leverage in the Islamic Republic's nuclear standoff with the West. It was the first time a Kremlin chief went to Iran since Josef Stalin in 1943.

Asked about Putin's "special message," U.S. State Department spokesman Tom Casey said he was not aware of any deal or offer put forward by Moscow to Tehran over the nuclear program.

On Russian opposition to Caspian Sea states being used to launch attacks against Iran, Casey reiterated that Bush kept all his options on the table but that the United States was committed to the diplomatic path with Tehran.

(Additional reporting by Frederick Dahl in Tehran and Sue Pleming in Washington)

25th OCTOBER 2007
There is a contradiction between the position of Iran as described by President Bush and by President Karzai of Aghanistan and the Iraq Prime Minister. The latter two do not regard Iran as unhelpful, but President Bush says Iran it is in the hands of, or giving free rein to, terrorists who are supplying dangerous weapons and fighters against NATO and the US and the coalition. Should we look at this as a 'Good Cop/Bad Cop approach? There is no doubt there is a disagreement on the tactics. in Iraq the 'surge' seems to be gradually winning the day, militarily and morally, while in Afghanistan, where failure is not an option, civilian deaths are being blamed on NATO which is not good for the hearts and minds battle.

The UK is committed to the "long-term success" of Afghanistan and will not allow the Taliban to regain control, the PM has said.

In a joint press conference with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, Mr Brown said that the UK's efforts in Afghanistan were a "top foreign policy priority" and that he was determined that the country "should never be a failed state again".

The US has today announced serious financial sanctions against Iran affecting banking and investment and expect their allies to support these. There is no doubt that both the US and the UK government find Iran's continuing sponsorship of insurgance and refusal to abandon uranium enrichment unacceptable. The resignation of Larijani has not gone down well. I am not sure that our approach is the right one but time will tell. Bush seems to expect that financial pressure on Iran will weaken the regime and make it unpopular. I don't think that will necessarily be the result unless the international community exhibits more solidarity.

NOVEMBER 22nd 2007
Ahmedinejad seem to be losing backing in Iran. He has not brought prosperity, he has reduced foreign investment. He has not made life safer or better for his countrymen. If Bush plays it firm but very, very cool, things might get saner.

UN atomic agency unsure about Iran's nuclear intentions

by Simon Morgan AFP

The head of the UN's atomic watchdog said Thursday the agency was still unable to confirm that Iran's nuclear drive is entirely peaceful, despite increased cooperation from Tehran in key areas.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) "has so far not been able to verify some important aspects of Iran's nuclear programme," its director general Mohamed ElBaradei told a board meeting here.

He specifically cited key questions related to the scope and nature of Iran's centrifuge enrichment activities, "as well as those relevant to alleged studies and other activities that could have military applications".

As a result, the UN watchdog was "unable to provide credible assurance about the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities." Such assurances were "crucial... to restore confidence in the peaceful nature of Iran's nuclear programme," ElBaradei said.

The Egyptian-born diplomat noted that the IAEA had seen an increased level of cooperation from Iran in answering questions about the past, but its knowledge of Tehran's current programme has "diminished" since 2006.

One western diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the conclusions were a source of grave concern for many board members.

"No-one can deny there have been one or two results in a modest sense," he said.

"But looking at the big picture, a lot these are answers to questions we should have had years ago. None of this is doing anything to improve our confidence that Iran is actually engaging (with the IAEA) with any great sincerity or any great commitment," the diplomat said.

The main bone of contention in the nuclear stand-off is Iran's adamant refusal to suspend its enrichment activities, a potential pathway to developing the atom bomb.

In fact, Tehran has actually stepped up such activities, flying in the face of UN demands to stop or face fresh UN sanctions.

Iran's UN envoy to the IAEA, Ali-Asghar Soltanieh, told reporters that Tehran had provided "all the information" the IAEA had requested and also allowed access to all the necessary sites.

"We have provided all the information and the agency has been visiting all workshops producing centrifuge machines, every piece of it," Soltanieh told reporters, referring to the centrifuges that are used to enrich uranium,

In fact, from Tehran's point of view, the centrifuge issue was "closed," Soltanieh insisted.

But such was not the feeling of the board, the western diplomat said.

ElBaradei's report is "very clearly not saying we've got as far as we get on this question and we know all we need to know," he said.

In terms of glasses that are half full or half empty, "the percentage of fullness we're looking at is probably no more than eight, nine or 10 percent," the diplomat said.

And if Iran failed to recoup that so-called "confidence deficit" soon, western countries would move ahead with their drive for further sanctions, he added.

For his part, Iran ambassador Soltanieh warned that any talk of possible sanctions would be counterproductive.

If there was "peaceful dialogue and negotiation, then we show utmost flexibility as we have done" so far.

"But if you're going to use the language of threat or sanction, that will be counterproductive and it will definitely not work," Soltanieh said.

Iran's top nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili and EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana are expected to meet on or around November 30 for talks on the nuclear issue.

Solana has been trying to persuade Tehran to resume talks on suspending uranium enrichment in exchange for a package of political and economic incentives, but Tehran has refused to offer concessions.

Solana must report the outcome of his efforts to the UN Security Council by the end of November.

December 27th 2007
A new year coming and a good new start from Russia's Foreign Minister

Iran needs no uranium enrichment: Russia's Lavrov


Russia's delivery of nuclear fuel to the Bushehr power station makes it unnecessary for Iran to pursue its enrichment program, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was quoted as saying on Wednesday.

Lavrov, interviewed by the Moscow daily Vremya Novostei, also said any suggestion of "regime change" in Tehran had to be ruled out in discussions on verifying Iran's nuclear program.

"We believe that Iran has no economic need to proceed with its program of uranium enrichment," Lavrov told the daily.

"We are trying to persuade the Iranians that freezing the program is to their advantage as it would immediately lead to talks with all countries of the "six," including the United States."

Such talks, he said, would aim to end any suspicion that Iran had any secret aim to produce nuclear weapons. "Iran's agreement to this proposal is in everyone's interest."

Iran was aware, he said, that should there be any deviation from agreements to build Bushehr under the supervision of the International Atomic Energy Agency, "we will freeze our cooperation."

Russia this month delivered the first shipment of 80 metric tons of nuclear fuel to Bushehr, which Russian engineers are building under a $1 billion contract.

U.S. President George W. Bush said the delivery could help international efforts to persuade Iran to halt enrichment, but a senior Iranian official said the delivery had nothing to do with any decision on the program.

The U.N. Security Council has imposed two sets of sanctions on Iran for its refusal to halt enrichment.

In his comments, Lavrov said the six countries dealing with Iran -- Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States -- had a mandate to assess Tehran's program and there could be no talk of trying to change Iran's leadership.

"If, in fulfilling these declared aims, our American partners pursue the aim of regime change, this would be an improper partnership," he told Vremya Novostei. "This would be an alteration of policies and we would oppose it."

(Writing by Ron Popeski, editing by Tim Pearce)

FEBRUARY 22nd 2008
Iran is openly defying the UN / IAEA demands to stop proliferation-sensitive nuclear activity, while secretly continuing with weapons research and telling its own citizens it is doing neither but complying with UN / IAEA requirements. Let's face it, we are dealing with a screwed up leadership clique who will say black is white if it can keep them in control of the country.

Here is a report from Reuters,

By Mark Heinrich - Reuters

VIENNA (Reuters) - The U.N. nuclear watchdog said on Friday Iran had failed to explain Western intelligence reports showing explosives and missile work linked to making atomic bombs and that this was a "serious concern."

Full report:

MARCH 11th 2008

WASHINGTON - The Navy admiral in charge of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan announced Tuesday that he is resigning over press reports portraying him as opposed to President Bush's Iran policy.

Adm. William J. Fallon, one of the most experienced officers in the U.S. military, said the reports were wrong but had become a distraction hampering his efforts in the Middle East. Fallon's area of responsibility includes Iran and stretches from Central Asia across the Middle East to the Horn of Africa.

I assume that neither Bush nor Fallon favours or intends significant military action against Iran, that Fallon does not wish to prepare for it, but for Bush non-preparation means ruling it out as part of the stick/carrot approach which is is Bush's only way of diplomacy. Stick/carrot does not work with Iranian religious fundamentalists. It s the one thing that makes their cooperation quite impossible.

MARCH 15th 2008
I did not take Ahmadinejad seriously when he first arrived on the scene. Unfortunately it turns out he is the figure head of a basically fascistic element in Iran, a man riding a tiger. We do not know the size of the tiger, but it is definitely nastier than any traditional Iranian Islamic collective and has drawn on some of the elements that remind one more of the Nazi party. I get the impression that the Guardan Council has taken the blame for certain undemocratic restrictions it is not, in fact, the author of. We are looking at something dangerous here.

Hard-liners 'dominate Iran poll'
Hard-line allies of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad are ahead in Iran's parliamentary election, partial results suggest.

But conservative critics of Mr Ahmadinejad also appear to be making a strong showing that could undermine his domination of the parliament.

Reformists are said to be struggling after large numbers of their candidates were barred from the race.

The United States says this means the results were "cooked".

The Associated Press (AP) news agency reports that 144 out of 290 parliamentary seats have been decided so far.

Quoting state television, official news agency IRNA and reports from local officials, AP says pro-Ahmadinejad politicians have won 53 seats, reformists 18, and conservative critics of Mr Ahmadinejad 38.

Independents whose political leanings were not immediately known claimed the remaining 35, the agency says.

An Iranian official claimed that Friday's turnout was as high as 65%, the BBC's Jon Leyne in Tehran reports.

But our correspondent says that polling stations in the capital were not busy, and many people said they felt there was nothing or no-one to vote for.

Eighth parliamentary election since 1979 revolution
43 million eligible voters
290 seats from 30 provinces
About 40% of those who applied to stand disqualified by the Guardian Council

The Iranian authorities had called for a big turnout to defy the US and other countries they say are Iran's enemies.

The election will shape the political map ahead of 2009's presidential poll.

President Ahmadinejad flew in from an Islamic summit in Senegal to cast his vote.

He said the world had chosen Iran as its "role model and saviour".

Real winners

The reformists seem to have given up the fight after many of their candidates were disqualified on the grounds of alleged lack of loyalty to Islamic values, says our correspondent.

They made up the bulk of about 1,700 candidates barred from running by Iran's Guardian Council - an unelected body of clerics and jurists that vets election candidates.

The Guardian Council has denied bias.

Analysts expect the poll's real winners to be former members of the hardline Revolutionary Guards, who could replace the Muslim clergy as the biggest force in the assembly.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei could also gain strength if, as forecast, a new younger generation of hard-line loyalists gains positions of power.

Going nuclear

The likely effect of a further increase in conservative self-confidence, our correspondent says, will be even less chance of compromise over Iran's nuclear programme, and a yet more assertive foreign policy.

It is thought the reformists may struggle to hang on to the 40 or so seats they hold in the assembly.

They say the election is unfair but still urged Iran's 44 million eligible voters to turn out for the country's eighth parliamentary elections since its 1979 Islamic revolution.

President Ahmadinejad's political opponents blame him for the three rounds of sanctions imposed on Iran by the United Nations over its nuclear programme.

The US, Israel and key Western powers accuse Iran of attempting to build a nuclear bomb, but Tehran insists it is only enriching uranium for a civilian energy programme.

MAY 22nd 2008           At last some sense....

Generals criticize Iran but see better relations

By ROBERT BURNS, AP Military Writer

Two of the U.S. military's most prominent voices on Middle East issues are holding out the prospect of improved relations with Iran despite tensions over its nuclear and military ambitions.

Army Lt. Gen. Martin Dempsey, acting head of the U.S. Central Command, said in an Associated Press interview that Washington and Tehran could seek common ground on tough issues like combating the illicit drug trade in Afghanistan if Iran would stop its "malign activity" inside Iraq.

And Army Gen. David Petraeus, who is expected to win Senate confirmation as the permanent head of Central Command, told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday that although Iran is fueling proxy wars in the Middle East he sees a possibility of "more constructive relations."

Their remarks reflect a U.S. effort — from President Bush and Defense Secretary Robert Gates on down — to highlight Iranian activity that Washington deems harmful in Iraq, Lebanon and elsewhere in the Middle East while also encouraging Tehran to change its behavior.

At a time of growing speculation that Iran and the United States are edging closer to open conflict, the generals' comments appear hopeful, perhaps indicating a view that there is a reasonable prospect of avoiding war by using diplomatic and other means to nudge Iran in a new direction.

Dempsey, whose Central Command area of military responsibility features numerous interrelated problems, including the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, said it is clear Iran is exerting its influence across the region, from Lebanon to Iraq and possibly even into western Afghanistan.

Even so, Dempsey said in the interview Wednesday at his Central Command headquarters in Tampa, Fla., that he believes there are "plenty of opportunities to have some region-altering events." He cited as an example the announcement that Syria and Israel were negotiating a peace deal.

"There is even reason to find common ground with Iran on certain issues, like counter-narcotics," he said. "But it's pretty difficult to do that when (U.S.) soldiers are dying because of lethal munitions provided by them."

Dempsey was referring to U.S. allegations that Iran is training Iraqi Shiite militiamen and providing them with rockets, mortars and technology for a particularly deadly type of roadside bomb.

The narcotics trade that stems largely from vast opium harvests in Afghanistan is an issue of great interest to both the United States and Iran, Dempsey said. The U.S. government sees stopping it as central to transforming Afghanistan's meager economy and supporting the country's political development.

"Iran has a vested interest in actually getting rid of the poppy because that's where it ends up," Dempsey said. "There are opportunities in the region for finding common interests with Iran. But we can't act on those opportunities in the face of such malign activity inside of Iraq."

Dempsey said Iran is a problem to be viewed in a regional context.

"We've got to counter Iranian influence inside Iraq because Iran very clearly sees it as in their interest to keep the level of violence up and to keep the Shiite parties at odds and to try to discredit U.S. forces and U.S. policy in the region," he said. "It's going to take an acknowledgment on the part of the Iraqis and the regional partners that this is a destabilizing influence across the region."

In his opening statement to his Senate confirmation hearing, Petraeus made a similar point about Iran.

"It persists in its non-transparent pursuit of nuclear technology and continues to fund, train and arm dangerous militia organizations," Petraeus said. "Iran's activities have been particularly harmful in Iraq, Lebanon, the Palestinian territories and Afghanistan. In each location, Tehran has, to varying degrees, fueled proxy wars in an effort to increase its influence and pursue its regional ambitions."

He added, however, that there is room to hope for change.

"Even as we work with leaders in the region to help protect our partners from Iranian intimidation or coercion, however, we must also explore policies that over the long term offer the possibility of more constructive relations, if that is possible," Petraeus said. "Together with regional and global partners, we need to seek ways to encourage Iran to respect the integrity of other states, to embrace nonproliferation of nuclear weapons, and to contribute to regional stability rather than regional instability."

Dempsey was thought to have been in the running to succeed Navy Adm. William J. Fallon as commander of Central Command after Fallon resigned abruptly in March, but Bush instead nominated Petraeus, the more widely known commander of coalition forces in Iraq.

Fallon quit after a magazine report cast him as resisting a White House inclination to go to war with Iran.

Because Petraeus is not expected to move from Iraq to Central Command until September, Dempsey is in the unusual position of heading the command for several months with his successor in waiting. If Petraeus takes command in September as expected, Dempsey will move to a post for which he was confirmed by the Senate in March: commander of U.S. Army Europe, a four-star post.

In the AP interview, Dempsey said he is determined to stay in close touch with his counterparts in the Middle East, as well as in Afghanistan, Pakistan and other nations in Central Asia.

"It's all about continuity and commitment," he said, alluding to the transition from Fallon to Petraeus.

He took that message on a journey last week that included stops in Afghanistan, Iraq and Lebanon, and he said he will reinforce it during another trip next week to Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Afghanistan.

MAY 28th 2008
Bolton still thinks his approach to international politics is the only way, failing only because not pursued forceully enough. But in the current public western mindset it could never have been pursued forcefully without global international backing.

Iran strike an unattractive last resort: Bolton

Military action against Iran would be a last resort but the United States and its allies have not done enough to promote the alternative, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations said on Wednesday.

John Bolton, who was a leading hawk in President George W. Bush's administration, told an audience at the Hay literary Festival that five years of "failed" negotiation with Iran over its nuclear program had left just two options for dealing with the issue -- regime change and use of force.

"The use of military force is an extremely unattractive option and only to be used as a last resort," he said, adding he would favor regime change.

Bolton said the elements for regime change were present in Iran -- the economy was in difficulties, young Iranians could see the possibility of a different life and there were ethnic tensions within the country.

But he added that the United Nations and its allies had not done enough to bring about the required change.

"I wish that we had had a much more vigorous policy five years ago," he said.

Bolton, in Hay to promote his book "Surrender is not an Option," said the insistence of Britain, France and Germany on trying to negotiate a solution with Iran and U.S. acquiescence in this policy had failed.

"Today Iran is five years closer to having a nuclear weapons capability," he said.

Western leaders fear Iran aims to build atomic weapons and the United Nations has hit Tehran with three rounds of sanctions since 2006, demanding it cease nuclear enrichment activities. Tehran has refused, saying its nuclear program is peaceful.

Bolton, who was also Under-Secretary of State under Colin Powell at the time of the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, was jeered by protesters shouting "war criminal" as he left the stage.

(Reporting by Nigel Stephenson; Editing by Ibon Villelabeitia)

JUNE 8th 2008
MmYesss, I am glad Israeli defense officials have put the boot in here. While we have to defend Israel's right to exist now the appalling and unnecessary mistake of founding it in the first place has been committed and can't be undone, there is no need to suffer more than we have to from the fallout from the stupidity and arrogance of its people and their leaders.

Israelis round on Mofaz's "political" Iran threat

By Dan Williams  Reuters

Israeli defense officials and political pundits rounded on Deputy Prime Minister Shaul Mofaz on Sunday after he threatened attacks against Iran, accusing him of exploiting war jitters to advance his personal ambitions.

Mofaz, a former armed forces chief and likely challenger to the Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in their Kadima party, said in a newspaper interview last week that Israeli strikes on Iran looked "unavoidable" given progress in its nuclear plans.

The remarks helped drive up oil prices by nearly 9 percent to a record $139 a barrel on Friday and drew a circumspect response from Washington, which has championed U.N. sanctions against Iran and only hinted force could also be a last resort.

While the White House suggested Mofaz was giving voice to the Jewish state's fear of the Islamic republic, officials in Israel's Defence Ministry pointed to a power-struggle roiling centrist Kadima as Olmert tries to beat off a bribery scandal.

"Turning one of the most strategic security issues into a political game, using it for the internal purposes of a would-be campaign in Kadima, is something that must not be done," Deputy Defence Minister Matan Vilnai told Israel Radio.

The state-owned broadcaster quoted another senior defense official as saying Mofaz's interview "did not reflect policy" and "risked making it even harder for Israel to persuade more countries to step up their sanctions against Iran."

Asked about the flurry of criticism, Mofaz aide Talia Somech said he had spoken "out of his more than 40-year-long commitment to the national security of Israel."

"We would like his statements to be taken at face value, and not be given alternative interpretations," she told Reuters.

Iranian-born Mofaz had served as defense minister until Olmert made him transport minister in a 2006 cabinet reshuffle.


Though Iran denies seeking nuclear weapons, the virulently anti-Israel statements of its government pose a challenge for Israeli leaders, who must at once reassure their public while trying to keep in sync with U.S. interests in the Middle East.

Israel, which is assumed to have the region's only atomic arsenal, bombed an Iraqi reactor in 1981 and, last September, a Syrian target which the Bush administration described as a North Korean-built reactor. Damascus denied having such a facility.

But many independent analysts say Iran's nuclear sites are too numerous, distant and fortified for Israel to take on alone. Iran, for its part, has threatened to retaliate for any attack with missile salvoes against Israel and U.S. assets in the Gulf.

The mass-circulation Israeli daily Maariv devoted a full spread to the fallout from Mofaz's interview with the rival Yedioth Ahronoth. Maariv's headlines -- "Big Mouth," "Demonstrable Damage" and "Boomerang" -- made clear its views.

"Were Mofaz defense minister today, he would demand that the transport minister be fired forthwith," wrote Maariv's Ben Caspit. "Suddenly, (Iranian President Mahmud) Ahmadinejad is the underdog. Iran is on the defensive from crazed Jews."

There was agreement from Yedioth's economic analyst, Sever Plotzker, who suggested that Mofaz was, paradoxically, giving a back-end boost to Iran -- the world fourth-biggest oil producer:

"Blathering away about how 'we'll attack and destroy you' does not deter the decision-makers in Tehran, but it does drive the oil markets crazy ... And who profits from that? Tehran."

(Editing by Ibon Villelabeitia)

JULY 9th 2008
In spite of the continuing development of both missiles and fissile material, there is not the slightest chance of Iran launching an attack on Israel as both the mullahs and the revolutionaries know the counterattack would wipe Iran off the map. The Iranian strategy is to allow their patriotic hotheads to cause Bush and allies endless trouble, while building up their missile capabilities as a deterrent against any surgical strike by way of retaliation against their support for what we call terror and define as asymmetric warfare. They know it leaves Bush frustrated and Bolton and co. incandescent with rage, and they enjoy every minute of it. The Iranian capability to block the straits of Hormuz makes them feel even more cheeky. While in no way supporting Iran's behaviour, I maintain the United States needed and still needs to be taught some very great lessons, and their reasonable friends would never dream of doing it. Iran is not really a threat, but because of the'western' perceptions of the situation it can become one. In reality Iran's future depends on sensible relations with the International Community and that is that.

Iran missile test sends message to US, Israel

By ALI AKBAR DAREINI, Associated Press Writer Wed Jul 9, 4:06 PM ET

Iran test-fired nine missiles Wednesday, including ones capable of hitting Israel, making a dramatic show of its readiness to strike back if the United States or Israel attacks it over its nuclear program.

The launches sparked strong U.S. criticism and a jump in oil prices — underlining fears Iran might seal off the Strait of Hormuz, the Gulf waterway through which 40 percent of the world's crude passes, if military conflict does break out.

The tests of the long- and medium-range missiles did not appear to mark a significant advance in Iran's missile capability — similar ones have been tested previously. But the timing and location were clearly aimed to send a message, coming as Iran has sharply stepped up the tone of its warnings of retaliation if attacked. This week, a top official of Iran's Revolutionary Guards, Ali Shirazi, warned Tel Aviv would be "set on fire" in any Iranian retaliation.

The tests took place amid a military exercise that Iran has been conducting in the Hormuz strait, where Tehran has threatened to block oil traffic in response to any U.S. or Israeli military action.

Iran has long warned it would strike back for any attack against it. But it has sharpened its rhetoric since Israel's military sent warplanes over the eastern Mediterranean in June for a large military exercise that U.S. officials described as a possible rehearsal for a strike on Iran's nuclear facilities.

Gen. Hossein Salami, the Revolutionary Guards air force commander, said Iran's war games this week — code-named "Noble Prophet" — "demonstrate our resolve and might against enemies who in recent weeks have threatened Iran with harsh language," state TV reported.

"Hundreds and maybe thousands of missiles are ready to be fired at specified targets," he said. "A small part of our defense options was put on display for the world today. Our real reaction against enemy threats will be quicker and stronger."

The West needs to "assess Iran's might accurately," he added.

State TV aired footage of at least six missiles being fired simultaneously, and said the barrage included a new version of the Shahab-3 missile, which officials have said has a range of 1,250 miles and is armed with a 1-ton conventional warhead. That would put Israel, Turkey, the Arabian peninsula, Afghanistan and Pakistan within striking distance. The TV report did not say whether the test took place near the Hormuz strait.

The U.S. Defense Department said it was studying the test to determine exactly what was launched and what it shows about Tehran's missile capabilities.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called Wednesday's tests "evidence that the missile threat is not an imaginary one."

"Those who say that there is no Iranian missile threat against which we should build a missile defense system perhaps ought to talk to the Iranians about their claims," Rice said while traveling in Sofia, Bulgaria.

On Tuesday, Rice and Czech counterpart Karel Schwarzenberg signed a deal allowing the U.S. to base a missile defense shield in the Czech Republic.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the test bolsters the U.S. argument that Tehran is a threat and a missile defense system is needed in Europe.

A White House spokesman called the tests "completely inconsistent with Iran's obligations to the world" and said they further isolate the country.

Iran should "refrain from further missile tests if they truly seek to gain the trust of the world," said Gordon Johndroe, spokesman for the National Security Council, speaking from Japan where President Bush is attending the Group of Eight summit.

Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama said Iran's missile tests highlight the need for direct diplomacy as well as tougher threats of economic sanctions and strong incentives to persuade Tehran to change its behavior.

John McCain, the Republican seeking the presidency, said the tests demonstrate a need for effective missile defense, including missile defense in Europe and the defense system the U.S. plans with the Czech Republic and Poland. Oil prices rose Wednesday on news of the tests, along with a U.S. government report showing crude stockpiles fell more than expected. Light, sweet crude for August delivery rose $1.50 to $137.54 a barrel in early afternoon trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

Israeli defense officials said there were no major surprises in the latest Iranian missile tests. The officials said they appeared to be more of an exercise in psychological warfare than a breakthrough in military technology.

"Israel does not desire hostility and conflict with Iran," Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev said. "But it is clear that the Iranian nuclear program and the Iranian ballistic missile program is a matter of grave concern."

The test could also be aimed to show the West there cannot be a military solution to the standoff with Iran over its nuclear ambitions. Iran denies U.S. accusations it seeks to build nuclear weapons, and earlier this week it sent a response to a Western package of economic incentives aimed at pushing it to halt uranium enrichment. EU officials have said they are still evaluating the response, but Tehran has insisted it will not suspend enrichment.

Iranian leaders have said they don't believe the U.S. or Israel will attack, citing U.S. problems in Iraq and the effect on already soaring oil prices. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Tuesday called the idea of an attack a "funny joke."

But at the same, Iran has been more vocal in warning of the fallout of any U.S. or Israeli strike.

The semi-official Fars news agency, which is believed to be close to the Revolutionary Guards, reported details on the missiles tested Wednesday, saying they included a "newly upgraded" Shahab-3, first tested in its longest-range version in 2004.

The Shehab-3 tested Wednesday has been designed with a "cluster" warhead, that allows it to release multiple bombs over a wider area, Fars said, without elaborating. It also boasts a more accurate navigational system that allows a control room to bring the missile back on route if it strays or destroy it if it goes too far off course, it said.

The other missiles tested included the Zelzal, versions of which have a range of 130-185 miles, and the Fateh, with a range of 105 miles.

JULY 10t 2008
Oh goody! Homer Simpson has some smarter friends. It has taken the Rand org to come up with the first sentence below.
DOH! They have not yet worked out that it might be the fear of a military strike which drives Tehran's nuclear policy, but at least they have figured out that carrying one out would not prove the Iranian leadership wrong.

Study urges long-term policies to influence Iran

Thu Jul 10, 12:37 AM ET - Reuters

A military strike on Iran would be unlikely to force changes in Tehran's nuclear policy, the Rand research organization said on Thursday in an analysis recommending long-term policies to deal with the country.

The United States is leading international efforts to rein in Iran's suspected effort to develop nuclear weapons. Tehran says its nuclear program is for purely civilian energy purposes.

"If Iran's facilities were to be bombed, public support for any retaliation its government took would likely be widespread," the Rand report concluded.

The United States also accuses Iran of arming insurgents in Iraq and meddling in Iraqi politics.

The Rand report came amid increased tensions with Iran, which on Wednesday test-fired nine missiles it said could reach Israel and U.S. assets, and warned Washington and Israel it was ready to retaliate for any attack over its nuclear projects.

"Attacks on Iran proper would generate a great deal of ill-will and, in our view, would be unlikely to change Iranian policy," said the report by the independent research group.

It added that "U.S. policy should focus on creating conditions for effective relations over the long haul."

The report recommended an expansion of contacts and exchanges with Iranian citizens; muting U.S. policy statements advocating "regime change" and penalizing the Iranian government and its officials for pursuing policies that harm U.S. interests.

"The U.S. government has some ability to foster favorable trends in Iran, but these policies will take time to come to fruition," the Rand report concluded.

The New Yorker magazine reported last month the United States was escalating covert operations against Iran aimed at destabilizing its leadership.

The article said U.S. Special Operations Forces had been conducting cross-border operations from southern Iraq since last year.

The U.S. ambassador in Iraq, Ryan Crocker, in a CNN interview last month, denied the allegations of cross-border operations.

(Reporting by JoAnne Allen; Editing by Peter Cooney)

JULY 16th 2008
I assume these moves by Bush are for US internal polictical purposes only, but we shall see.

U.S. to establish presence in Tehran: report


The United States will announce in the next month that it plans to establish a diplomatic presence in Tehran for the first time in 30 years, a British newspaper said on Thursday.

In a front-page report, the Guardian said Washington would open a U.S. interests section in the Iranian capital, halfway towards opening an embassy.

The unsourced report by the newspaper's Washington correspondent said: "The Guardian has learned that an announcement will be made in the next month to establish a U.S. interests section in Tehran, a halfway house to setting up a full embassy.

"The move will see US diplomats stationed in the country."

Senior U.S. diplomat William Burns said in testimony to Congress last week the United States was looking to opening up an interest section in Tehran but had not made a decision yet.

The Guardian said the development was "a remarkable turnaround in policy by President George Bush who has pursued a hawkish approach to Iran throughout his time in office."

Washington said on Wednesday it was sending Burns to join atomic talks with Iran this weekend to signal to Tehran and others that Washington wanted a diplomatic solution to their nuclear impasse.

Iran says its nuclear work is for peaceful power generation, and not for the development of nuclear weapons as the West suspects, and has rejected conditions it give up uranium enrichment.

On Sunday, President Amhmoud Ahmadinejad suggested Iran would consider any proposal by the United States for a U.S. interests section in the Islamic Republic, should one be forthcoming.

U.S. media have reported that the State Department is considering opening an interests section that could mean U.S. diplomats returning to Tehran but operating under another country's flag.

The United States cut off diplomatic ties with Tehran during the 1979-1981 hostage crisis, in which a group of militant Iranian students held 52 U.S. diplomats hostage at the American embassy for 444 days.

Iran maintains an interests section at the embassy of Pakistan in Washington. Mottaki said it serves the large Iranian community in the United States.

(Reporting by Andrew Dobbie; additional reporting by Sue Pleming in Washington; editing by Ralph Boulton)

MARCH 21st 2009
As recorded elsewhere on this website, America now has a new president. He is keen to avoid repeating the failed policies of his predecessor while taking on board the responsibilities to which the US has committed its self. This article from the IHT is a concise summary.
International Herald Tribune
Obama's message to Iran is opening bid in diplomatic drive
Saturday, March 21, 2009

WASHINGTON: The groundbreaking message to Iran that President Barack Obama delivered by videotape on Friday was part of a strategy intended to emphasize a positive message to Iran in the prelude to that nation's presidential election this summer, according to administration officials and European diplomats.

Among other measures being weighed are a direct communication from Obama to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's supreme leader, and an end to a prohibition on direct contacts between junior American diplomats and their Iranian counterparts around the world, the officials and diplomats said.

At least for now, the American strategy calls for an emphasis on diplomacy, in part out of concern that a more confrontational message that focused on Iran's nuclear program might prove counterproductive in the political heat of the Iranian election season. The officials said that Obama had set aside for the next few months a quest for more punitive sanctions aimed at Iran, which had been the Bush administration's main focus.

After three decades of a freeze in American-Iranian relations, it appeared significant that Obama directed his comments not just to the Iranian people but to Iran's leaders, and that he referred to Iran as "the Islamic Republic," indicating an apparent willingness to deal with the current clerical government.

Iranian officials responded cautiously to Obama's message. Administration officials, who are still conducting a strategic review of Iran policy, say they have not given up on tougher sanctions for Iran, but have concluded that sending a positive message now offers more chance of success. One reason is that Russia in particular appears unlikely to support tougher sanctions until after Obama demonstrates that he has first gone significantly farther than President George W. Bush did to engage Iran.

The video from Obama that was released by the White House at 12:01 a.m. on Friday, with subtitles in Persian, coincided with the Iranian festival of Nowruz, a 12-day holiday that marks the new year in Iran.

"In this season of new beginnings, I would like to speak clearly to Iran's leaders," Obama said in the message. "My administration is now committed to diplomacy that addresses the full range of issues before us, and to pursuing constructive ties among the United States, Iran and the international community. This process will not be advanced by threats."

The Israeli government also sent a New Year's message to the Iranian people on Friday, although administration officials and Israeli officials insisted that the gestures were not part of a coordinated plan. "I know we notified allies about our message last evening," the White House spokesman, Robert Gibbs said, but he added that he did not know if Israel had also notified the United States ahead of time.

Some experts said the fact that the American message was sent on the same day as Israel's had the potential to dilute the effect of Obama's message, by linking it to Israel, whose government has been much more hostile toward Iran.

In his own message, Obama made a point of saying that "the United States wants the Islamic Republic of Iran to take its rightful place in the community of nations." The reference to Iran as an "Islamic Republic," and the direct statement about not threatening Iran, diplomats said, offered a first clear signal from the Obama administration that it would not pursue a change of government in Iran, a key concern of Iran's leadership.

"That wording is designed to demonstrate acceptance of the government of Iran," said Martin Indyk, a former United States ambassador to Israel and author of "Innocent Abroad: An Intimate Account of American Diplomacy in the Middle East."

"The message is dripping with sincerity and directly addresses one of the things they are most concerned about," Indyk said.

Obama went so far as to quote the medieval Persian poet Saadi. "The children of Adam are limbs to each other, having been created of one essence," he said.

In Iran, officials were tepid in their initial response, saying that Obama's message must be followed up with concrete actions to address past grievances, like the downing of an Iranian airliner in 1988. Ali Akbar Javanfekr, a high-ranking adviser to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, praised the effort to reach out to Iranians but said that Iran wanted more than words.

"This cannot only be done by us, we cannot simply forget what the U.S. did to our nation," he said. "They need to perceive what wrong orientation they had and make serious efforts to make up for it."

But Karim Sadjadpour, an Iranian-American expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said that Obama's message would force hard-line Iranian officials — like Ahmadinejad — to put up or shut up on prospects for better relations with the United States.

"What this message does is, it puts the hard-liners in a difficult position, because where the Bush administration united disparate Iranian political leaders against a common threat, what Obama is doing is accentuating the cleavages in Iran," Sadjadpour said. "It makes the hard-liners look increasingly like they are the impediment."

European diplomats applauded the move, but expressed dismay that President Shimon Peres of Israel followed with his own message to the Iranian people as well. "This is a real shame because the key effect should be Obama, and this dilutes from that," said one European diplomat, speaking on the condition of anonymity under normal diplomatic rules.

Israeli officials have told the White House that by the end of the year, at the latest, Iran will have everything it needs if it decides to produce a nuclear weapon. The officials have hinted that Israel will take unilateral action against Iran if they believe Obama's diplomacy was going nowhere. It is unclear how much of that threat is bluff, and how much is real.

Israel has also been pushing the Obama administration to consider new, tougher sanctions. Among those they advocate are a cut-off of refined gasoline to Iran — a sanction that Obama himself discussed as a last resort during last year's campaign — and full inspection of all ships leaving Iran, to make sure they are not carrying weapons.

For the Obama administration, time for diplomacy may be short. Iran appears to have solved many of the technological problems that hampered its enrichment of uranium. Today its centrifuges appear to be running at high efficiency, according to reports by the International Atomic Energy Agency. It has already produced roughly the amount of uranium to make, with further enrichment, enough fuel for a single nuclear bomb.

APRIL 18th 2009
Obama's new approach to Iran has shown to be effective. It has clearly worried the hardliners who do not wish a rapprochement or productive talks that could lead to agreement on nuclear issues or anything else. The absurd arrest and conviction for spying of Roxana Saberi is a desperate act to derail any sensible moves by reasonable diplomatic parties. Clinton and Obama should play it cool and relaxed and not fall for it. Give Iran time to sort itself out internally.

Obama dismayed by Iran sentence

The US has expressed dismay after a court in Iran jailed an Iranian-American journalist, Roxana Saberi, for eight years on spying charges.

Ms Saberi, 31, was sentenced after a secret one-day trial in Tehran.

President Barack Obama "is deeply disappointed at this news," his spokesman Robert Gibbs said.

Correspondents say the case will have serious implications for US-Iranian relations at a time when Mr Obama has reached out to the Tehran.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton earlier expressed her disappointment at the sentence.

She said the US would vigorously raise its concerns about the case with Tehran.

Washington, which has no diplomatic ties with Iran, was working with Swiss diplomats in Tehran to obtain details about the court's decision and ensure Ms Saberi's well-being, she said.

Diplomatic setback

The verdict came despite calls by the Obama administration for Ms Saberi's release and diplomatic overtures to Iran after three decades of severed ties.

It raises deep suspicions over whether the case has been hijacked by hardliners within the Iranian government, eager to sabotage any reconciliation, the BBC's Jon Leyne reports from Tehran.

No details of the evidence against Ms Saberi have been made public.

Ms Saberi, who was arrested in January and went on trial this week, denies the charge and plans to go on hunger strike, her father said.

Reza Saberi told National Public Radio (NPR) that his daughter was tricked into making incriminating statements by officials who told her they would free her if she did.

Senators from Ms Saberi's home state of North Dakota described the court ruling as a shocking miscarriage of justice that would damage Iran's international credibility.

Press reaction

Ms Saberi has reported for a number of foreign news organisations including the BBC, NPR and Fox News.

Roxana was tried in secret and no evidence of espionage has been made public
BBC Press Office

"We are extremely concerned at the severe sentence passed on Roxana Saberi," the BBC Press Office said.

"Roxana's many friends in the BBC are saddened by the decision and are thinking of Roxana and her family at this difficult time."

NPR's chief executive, Vivian Schiller, said: "We are deeply distressed by this harsh and unwarranted sentence."

The conviction was also criticised by the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, which said her trial had "lacked transparency".

"We call on the Iranian authorities to release her on bail pending her appeal," said Mohamed Abdel Dayem, the group's Middle East and North Africa programme coordinator.

Public awareness of Ms Saberi's situation is low in Iran, where local media do not seem to have reported her arrest or trial in any way, our correspondent says.

Miss America

The journalist originally faced the less serious accusation of buying alcohol, and later of working as a journalist without a valid press card.

Then, in a period of less than two weeks, the charge of spying was introduced, and she was tried by the Revolutionary Court and sentenced.

Ms Saberi's lawyer Abdolsamad Khorramshahi and her father confirmed that an appeal would be made.

A US-Iranian national, Ms Saberi has spent six years in Iran studying and writing a book.

The daughter of an Iranian father and a Japanese mother, she was once crowned Miss North Dakota and was among the top 10 finalists in Miss America 1998.

She holds two master's degrees, from Northwestern University in the US and from Cambridge University in the UK, and is currently studying for a third.

JUNE 11th 2009

We are coming up to a moment of change. At the election, there is a good chance Ahmedinejad will be replaced. Iranians need freedom of thought. His popularity rests on farm subsidies, but he has so wrecked the main economy by his hostile foreign policy that his opponents have a good case even for rural voters. Obama has made the right moves to open up relations. We have a chance for a breakthrough in time if we take it steadily.

JUNE 14th 2009

Well, that went badly wrong. It is not often I call a wrong shot on this web site, but it seems there was no chance at all of a change here. The 'establishment' had it sewn up, with complete control of everything from the phones to the web and broadcasters, and they were not having a 'freedom of thought' election at all. Let us hope these unfortunate people can live with the result. As John Simpson said, it is a 'strange place' with its own ways, they will have to sort it out for themselves. They will learn that the status quo is unsustainable, let us hope they do not (like North Korea) invent foreign foes and wars to justify their internal repression to the extent that their paranoid fears become self fulfilling.

JUNE 16th 2009

It now looks as if it was not so much the Supreme Leader or the educated establishment that had this election under control but the hard core for whom Ahemedinejad is the front-man, a hard core I have warned against before. They are a fascistic/demagoguic fundamentalist movement and they rigged the election. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has now had to backtrack and order a selective recount of some contested areas. The hardcore movement has repsonded by shutting down the BBC again to a significant extent and clamping down on a number of freedoms. In short, there is a power struggle going on between different levels and forns of authority. There is a complex system of checks and balances and it is reaching deadlock. If massive fraud is found, the whole election is suspect. Khameinei will need to handle it well if he is not to lose face. One thing is certain: a large majority of Iranians disapprove of the foreign and domestic policy of the Ahmedinejad faction, so if he stays it will have to change. It would be better if he went and the politics of his followers was denounced.

JUNE 19th 2009
Khamenei has now clearly lost it, realising that if he orders a recount it will probably lead to a collapse of his authority. he has called for all demonstrations to stop, declared the election fair, accused the UK government of being 'evil', and in essence exhibited all the types of behaviour that have caused many educated Iranians to hope not only for Ahmedinejan's departure but an end to the paranoid dictatorship of the fundamentalist theocracy. No doubt the complaint against the British Government is based on the fact that it funds the BBC World Service, which has allowed an open discussion of affairs in Iran.

Obama has been careful to stay out of the ring, very wisely. Senator John McCain has criticised him. Since over the last few days I accidentally met someone who knew a lot about John NcCain's business dealings many years ago, someone I have reason to trust, with no axe to grind and who did not suffer as result, I have rather lost respect for McCain. Obama's election in the US has no doubt inspired many in Iran but they do not want external interference. They are brave people who will fight their own political battles, peacefully as they can. There must be no excuse for violence from misguided and paranoid militia or tottering theocrats. Patience is needed, persistence and patriotism.

JUNE 22nd 2009
It seems likely to me that the effective power in Iran at the moment is being wielded by a strange alliance between ambitious technocrats and the current controllers of the 'Revolutionary Guards'. They no doubt feel about Iran as UKIP feel about the United Kingdom. They wish to control it and own it financially, and they will use Ahmedinjad quite cynically
, as a puppet, to bring in the rural vote, and buy it if necessary. Meanwhile the theocrats will back them as the party to hold the country together as an Islamic state, continuing as in previous centuries with religious control of society. Iran will have to work this out the same as any other country. The worry is they feel they have to defend their choice and isolation with nuclear weapons, rather like the case with N. Korea, against the whole of the modernised emancipated world. I would be the first to admit the modernised world has its problems, but they have to be worked through. It is one of the axioms of evolution that 'progress' cannot be avoided, no matter how dangerous.

As to what will happen on the ground now, it is hard to know what to hope for. Glasnost alone can work an improvement. It seems that the freedoms allowed in the runup to the election was allowed in the knowledge that the result was already safe - by one means or another.

When considering the interface of religion and politics in this part of the world, it is interesting to read of the conflict in Iraq between conservative/fundamentalists and modernists that spawned much violence. The British diplomatic staff were evacuated from Baghdad in 1963, their building burned and few westerners apart from the odd international airline pilot were found in situ. I passed through myself in the course of delivering an aircraft to Teheran and was sent smartly on my way at 6am the day after I had touched down with the advice that below 15,000 feet I risked being shot down.

This free sample extract on the web might encourage anyone interested in that period to get the book. If history repeats itself the future doesn't look rosy, but history never does, really, does it? (rhetorical)

Religion and politics in Iraq

 By M. Ismail Marcinkowski, Hamid Algar

August 1st 2009
Over the past months, protests against the flawed election process have continued, innocent people have been shot and now some senior Iranian political figures have been arrested and will be 'put on trial' for supporting the protests. If all goes well (which it might not) there could be some progress here, but the different perspectives in Iran are indeed difficult to reconcile.
Iran reformers slate trial 'sham'

Iran's biggest reformist party has dismissed the court appearance of 100 people, including leading opposition figures, as a "laughable show trial".

The accused are on trial for alleged involvement in post-election violence, on charges including acting against national security and vandalism.

Pro-government media reported what they said were confessions by some of the leading reformists.

But the party, Mosharekat, said the "confessions" had been forced.

It said "even a cooked chicken" would laugh at the charges.

The party was the principal backer of Mir Hossein Mousavi, the main opposition candidate in the 12 June presidential elections.

Meanwhile on his website Mr Mousavi rejected the authorities' claims that Western countries had fuelled the post-election unrest.

'National heroes'

Kasra Naji, special correspondent for BBC Persian Television, says the timing and scale of the trial came as a surprise and suggests Iran's leadership wants to send a message to stop any more protests.

  • Mohammad Ali Abtahi (left): former vice-president, member of the Assembly of Combatant Clerics
  • Mohsen Mirdamadi (centre): leader of the biggest reformist party, the Islamic Iran Participation Front
  • Behzad Nabavi (right): member of the central council of the Organisation of the Mujahideen of the Islamic Revolution, former industry minister and former vice speaker of parliament
  • Mohsen Aminzadeh : former deputy foreign minister, served under reformist president Mohammad Khatami, member of Islamic Iran Participation Front
  • But judging from messages on micro-blogging site twitter and the internet, our correspondent says, the move may have the opposite effect, with several people talking about the need for new demonstrations and calling those on trial "national heroes".

    Some of the defendants told the court their earlier claims of fraud during the 12 June poll were baseless, official media said.

    Allegations of vote-rigging were made by defeated candidates and their supporters as soon as it became clear President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had been re-elected by a large margin.

    But former vice-president Mohammad Ali Abtahi was quoted by Fars news agency as telling the court: "I say to all my friends and all friends who hear us, that the issue of fraud in Iran was a lie and was brought up to create riots."

    He said that the aim was to create a "velvet revolution", referring to the overthrow of Communism in Czechoslovakia in 1989.


    At the trial, pictures from the packed courtroom showed seated defendants wearing prison uniforms and with guards next to them.

    Foreign media, including the BBC, have been restricted in their coverage of Iran since the election protests turned violent.

  • 12 June Presidential election saw incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad re-elected with 63% of vote
  • Main challenger Mir Hossein Mousavi called for result to be annulled, alleging poll fraud
  • Mass street protests saw at least 30 people killed and foreign media restricted

  • Official news agency Irna said other charges against the accused included "having ties with counter-revolutionary groups", rioting and conspiring against the ruling system.

    The defendants included supporters of opposition leaders Mr Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi - both defeated in the election - and aides of former reformist president Mohammad Khatami.

    Fars news agency reported that former deputy foreign minister Mohsen Aminzadeh, former government spokesman Abdollah Ramazanzadeh, former senior lawmaker Mohsen Mirdamadi and former Industry Minister Behzad Nabavi were among the defendants.

    The protests were the largest mass demonstrations seen in Iran since the 1979 revolution, which brought the current Islamic regime to power.

    In the days of violence following the re-election of President Ahmedinejad at least 30 people were killed.

    Authorities also arrested hundreds during the protests.

    About 140 people arrested at the time were released from prison on Tuesday, with a further 200 accused of more serious crimes remaining in prison.

    Opposition groups believe the number of prisoners and those killed in the violence to be higher.

    Mr Ahmadinejad is due to be officially sworn in on 5 August.

    Clashes have continued since his election, most recently during mourning to mark 40 days since the death of Neda Agha Soltan, who was shot as she watched protests on 20 June.

    SEPTEMBER 25th 2009
    The reason why Iran is a problem is not that it poses an immediate nuclear risk. It is that it never ever comes clean, always tries to deceive, and is undermining the nuclear non-proliferation treaty - a try which MUST hold so that the established nuclear powers can between them agree nuclear arms reduction and eventuall put all nuclear arms under international control, their number minimised and retained only as a global defense capability should it be used for either a new rogue element or an asteroid collision risk.
    Iran 'concealed nuclear facility'

    Iran concealed a partially-built second uranium enrichment plant in defiance of calls for transparency over its nuclear plans, US President Barack Obama says.

    The US, UK and France said the UN had to be given immediate access and urged tough new sanctions, while Russia also said it was "seriously concerned".

    But Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad denied that the facility was in breach of IAEA rules.

    The Western leaders would regret their statements, he added.

    Iran told the UN about the plant on Monday, saying it was not operational yet and would provide nuclear energy.

    Tehran has previously acknowledged it has one enrichment plant, at Natanz.

    Iran must abandon any military ambitions for its nuclear programme
    Gordon Brown UK Prime Minister

    Iran's decision to build a secret facility represented a "direct challenge to the basic compact" of the global non-proliferation regime, US President Barack Obama said, making a statement in Pittsburgh, where he is hosting a G20 summit.

    Despite Iran's assertions that the facility was for peaceful purposes, the new plant was "not consistent" with that goal, the US president said.

    'Line in the sand'

    Speaking alongside UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown and French President Nicolas Sarkozy, Mr Obama said it was time for Iran to begin meeting its international commitments.

    BBC World Affairs correspondent Paul Reynolds

    Iranian ambitions for this site are not known. It could be that they wanted a back-up in case their main plant at Natanz was attacked. But another fear is that they intended to enrich uranium more highly at the secret plant, to a level suitable for a nuclear explosion.

    The discovery will strengthen the demands by the US and its allies for further sanctions to be imposed on Iran unless it suspends all enrichment, as required by the Security Council.

    "Iran must comply with UN Security Council resolutions and make clear it is prepared to meet its responsibilities as a member of the community of nations," Mr Obama said.

    Tehran would be held accountable for any failure to meet these responsibilities, he said.

    Speaking after Mr Obama, the French and British leaders used strong language to insist that Iran would now have to disclose full details of its entire nuclear programme or face new and tougher sanctions.

    Gordon Brown stressed that the US, France and UK were "at one" on the issue, and accused the Iranians of "serial deception".

    There was now "no choice but to draw a line in the sand" over the nuclear issue, he said.

    "Iran must abandon any military ambitions for its nuclear programme."

    Mr Sarkozy said the situation was a challenge to the entire international community.

    "Everything must be put on the table," the French president said, adding that the world needed to see a "step change" from Iran in the coming months.

    Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, informed of the plant's existence by Mr Obama this week, said the second plant was against the requirements of UN Security Council resolutions.

    Iran must co-operate fully with the UN watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Mr Medvedev said.

    China also said Iran should work with the UN watchdog, a foreign ministry spokesman said in Pittsburgh.

    Underground plant

    Speaking in New York, where he has been attending the UN General Assembly, Iran's President Ahmadinejad struck a defiant tone after the Pittsburgh proclamations.

    "It's not a secret site. If it was, why would we have informed the IAEA about it a year ahead of time?" he said.

    He insisted Iran was acting within the boundaries of IAEA rules, saying it does not need to inform the agency of any new site until 180 days before any nuclear material is placed within it.

    The existence of Iran's first enrichment plant, at Natanz, was only confirmed after intelligence emerged from Iranian exile groups several years ago.

    Western governments are said to have known of the existence of the new enrichment plant for some time. Mr Obama was first told about it during the "transition" period before he took office in January, officials say.

    In Washington, US officials said the Western nations decided to reveal their intelligence assessments when the Iranians realised the plant's secrecy was compromised.

  • Iran insists that all its nuclear facilities are for energy, not military purposes
  • Bushehr: Nuclear power plant
  • Isfahan: Uranium conversion plant
  • Natanz: Uranium enrichment plant, 4,592 working centrifuges, with 3,716 more installed
  • Second enrichment plant: Existence revealed to IAEA in Sept 2009. Separate reports say it is near Qom, and not yet operational
  • Arak: Heavy water plant
  • The new facility is said to be underground at a mountain on the site of a former missile site belonging to the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, north-east of the holy city of Qom.

    Construction on the facility - believed by the US to be large enough to contain 3,000 centrifuges, not large enough for commercial work - started in earnest in mid-2006, diplomatic sources said.

    Iran's letter to the UN watchdog, the IAEA, on Monday informed it that "a new pilot fuel enrichment plant is under construction".

    Iran told the agency that no nuclear material had been introduced into the plant, and enrichment levels would only be high enough to make nuclear fuel, not a bomb.

    In response, the IAEA has requested Iran to "provide specific information and access to the facility as soon as possible", an IAEA statement adds.

    The disclosure of the new plant comes one day after world leaders stressed the need for greater co-operation against nuclear proliferation and shortly before Iran is due to resume talks with international powers on the issue.

    Since taking office in January, Mr Obama has told Tehran than he is ready for direct talks on the nuclear issue, but has had no firm response from Iran.

    Earlier this month, Tehran agreed to "comprehensive" talks on a range of security issues - but made no mention of its own nuclear programme.

    The talks are due to be held in Geneva on 1 October with Tehran and the five permanent UN Security Council members - US, UK, Russia, China and France - plus Germany.

    The International Community will demand access right away to the newly publicly admitted Iranian underground facility. The Iranian Government will comply, unless they are completely in the hands of idiots, which I doubt.

    OCTOBER 01 2009

    U.S., Iran face off at six-power nuclear talks

    GENEVA (Reuters) – Six world powers held talks with Iran on Thursday that U.S. officials said would need to convince them Tehran was prepared to show it was not hiding plans for a nuclear bomb.

    Underlining they would not threaten fresh sanctions against Tehran but had prepared them in case the talks made no progress, Washington also said there could be an opportunity for a rare bilateral meeting with the Iranians.

    "This can't be a phony process," a senior U.S. official said in Washington. "It can't be a process where they go through the motions."

    U.S. diplomats sat alongside those from Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China for the talks near Geneva on how to end the long-running standoff over Iran's nuclear program, which Tehran says is designed purely for generating electricity.

    Tehran had said the program was not up for discussion and the talks should focus on regional issues like Afghanistan, but a Western diplomat close to the meeting said Iran's nuclear negotiator had touched on it in his opening statement.

    The diplomat said it was not yet clear if the Iranians would give any signs behind closed doors that they would be open to a compromise on the issue of suspending uranium enrichment, as demanded by five U.N. Security Council resolutions.

    Western diplomats said they also want Iran to allow immediate U.N. inspections of a second uranium enrichment facility at Qom, which Tehran revealed only last week, and provide access to documents and people working there.


    In Washington, senior Obama administration officials said the United States would not threaten Iran with fresh sanctions at the one-day talks. "This is the engagement track ... not the pressure track," one senior official said.

    But the official said the United States has been preparing "a range of areas" in which to pursue sanctions against Iran if Tehran ignores Western entreaties about its nuclear program.

    The officials would not elaborate on the sanctions, which experts believe may be targeted at the energy sector. They said consultations had been active and sanctions could be applied through the U.N. Security Council or by individual states.

    "You're in a much better position to prepare the ground on the pressure track if you have demonstrated unmistakably that you're doing everything you can on the engagement side," one official said.

    The meeting at the elegant villa made available by the Swiss for decades to bring foes together was the first time a U.S. official was a "full participant" in such talks.

    U.S. officials said Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs William Burns, head of the U.S. delegation, was not actively seeking one-on-one talks with Iran's chief nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili but would not reject one if the opportunity arose.

    A Burns-Jalili meeting would be the highest level U.S.-Iran talks in nearly 30 years. Washington severed relations with Tehran in 1980 during a hostage crisis in the wake of Iran's Islamic Revolution.

    The administration of former President George W. Bush reluctantly began to take part in multilateral talks with Iran

    toward the end of his presidency. President Barack Obama, Bush's successor, has said he wants to improve U.S.-Iranian ties but Tehran has reacted coolly to his overtures.


    Professor Mohammad Marandi, head of North American studies at Tehran university, said the Iranians expected the six powers to accept it had a right to a nuclear program.

    Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said in New York last week his delegation would ask at the Geneva meeting that Iran be allowed to buy enriched uranium for medical purposes from the United States or any other country prepared to sell it.

    A U.S. official said Washington would make clear that it was not prepared to sell Iran any uranium.

    The Western powers also want to gauge Russian and Chinese reaction to last week's announcement that Tehran had been concealing the uranium enrichment plant at Qom. Western diplomats said Moscow and Beijing seemed to share their concern.

    "The Russians and Chinese don't want a nuclear-armed Iran," a Western diplomat told Reuters. "They've made that clear."

    NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said in London he hoped Iran realized it had to abandon its nuclear plans.

    "Recent events including the fact that Iran had not declared the existence of a nuclear site testifies to the importance of this issue and stresses the need for an increased international, political and diplomatic pressure on Iran," he told reporters.

    The senior U.S. official said Thursday's talks could not be an "open-ended process or talks just for the sake of talks," but that the issue was likely to need more than one meeting.

    Obama has said he wants progress before the end of the year. The six powers also want a clear response from Iran to their offer of economic and political incentives in exchange for a suspension of enrichment activities.

    (Additional reporting by Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva, Steve Holland in Washington, Fredrik Dahl in Tehran and Jonathan Saul in London; editing by Philippa Fletcher

    OCTOBER 3rd 2009
    Amid the concerns, some progress...

    Iran 'co-operation' draws praise

    The US and the UN have given an upbeat assessment of the possibility of settling the nuclear dispute with Iran.

    US National Security Adviser Jim Jones said Tehran was now "willing to come to the table", following talks this week between Iran and major powers.

    The head of the UN's nuclear agency, who is in Tehran, said there had been a "gear shift" towards co-operation.

    He announced that inspectors would visit a newly revealed nuclear site in the Iranian city of Qom, on 25 October.

    The BBC's Richard Lister in Washington says the US administration is still a long way from taking Iranian co-operation on the nuclear issue for granted, but it does see some reasons for optimism.

    Asked about Iran's offer to allow inspection of the Qom uranium enrichment facility and its agreement in principle to ship nuclear materials to Russia for re-processing, Mr Jones said these were "very significant" moves.

  • Iran insists that all its nuclear facilities are for energy, not military purposes
  • Bushehr: Nuclear power plant
  • Isfahan: Uranium conversion plant
  • Natanz: Uranium enrichment plant, 4,592 working centrifuges, with 3,716 more installed
  • Second enrichment plant: Existence revealed to IAEA in Sept 2009. Separate reports say it is near Qom, and not yet operational
  • Arak: Heavy water plant
  • "We now have an Iran that is willing to come to the table," he told CBS television on Sunday.

    Earlier the head of the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohamed ElBaradei, said in Tehran that inspectors would ensure that the Qom facility was for "peaceful purposes".

    He added: "I see that we are shifting gears from confrontation into transparency and co-operation. I continue, of course, to call on Iran to be as transparent as possible."

    Mr ElBaradei's visit comes as the New York Times quoted an internal IAEA report as saying Iran could have the know-how to produce a workable nuclear bomb.

    The confidential report, excerpts of which have also been published on the website of the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS), emphasises that its conclusions are tentative and unconfirmed.

    "The agency... assesses that Iran has sufficient information to be able to design and produce a workable implosion nuclear device," ISIS quoted the report as saying.

    The New York Times said this went well beyond the public positions taken by the US and other countries on the possibility of Iran creating a bomb.

    Mr Jones told CBS that whether Tehran was in a position to do so remained a matter of "conjecture".

    Iranian 'engagement'

    However on Sunday the US ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice, told NBC television that Iran had a "finite period" to come to a settlement on its nuclear programme.

    "We're not interested in talking for talking sake," she said.

    But she declined to set a deadline for Tehran to allow full international inspections.

    Tehran insists it has the right to develop nuclear energy, but the revelation of the second enrichment facility has heightened fears among Western governments that it is trying to develop nuclear weapons.

    Iran denies any attempt to develop a military nuclear capability.

    The UN Security Council has demanded a halt to uranium enrichment by Iran.

    The talks in Geneva earlier this week between Iran and six major powers - the five permanent members of the Security Council plus Germany - were the first since July 2008.

    Officials said the talks marked "engagement" on the part of Tehran after the country agreed to co-operate "fully and immediately" on opening the second enrichment facility to inspectors.

    The two sides also agreed to hold further talks in October.

    OCTOBER 25th 2009
    An exceptional BBC Analysis presented by Edward Stourton is very much to the point.
    Full transcript:

    NOVEMBER 27th 2009
    The UN and IAEA are losing patience with Iran's dysfunctional leadership.
    Russia an China are in accord with the US and Europe.
    What deals Cuba, Venezuela and Malaysia have going to keep them from joining the rest of the world on this is a matter or speculation

    Iran rebuked by UN nuclear body

    The UN nuclear watchdog's governing body has passed a resolution condemning Iran for developing a uranium enrichment site in secret.

    The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) also demanded that Iran freeze the project immediately.

    The resolution, the first against Iran in nearly four years, was passed by a 25-3 margin with six abstentions.

    Iran called the move "useless" but the US said it showed time was running out for Iran to address key issues.

    Iran says its nuclear programme is for peaceful energy purposes, but the US says it is seeking nuclear weapons.

    In September, it emerged that as well as its uranium enrichment facility at Natanz, Iran had a second such facility near the town of Qom.

    The revelation deepened Western fears about the country's nuclear ambitions.

    'Clear signal'

    The IAEA resolution was passed with rare Russian and Chinese backing. Only Cuba, Venezuela and Malaysia voted against it.

    I believe the next stage will have to be sanctions if Iran does not respond to what is a very clear vote
    Gordon Brown

    It called on Iran to reveal the purpose of the second plant and confirm that it is not building any other undeclared nuclear facilities.

    After the resolution, the US said Iran needed to address "the growing international deficit of confidence in its intentions".

    "Our patience and that of the international community is limited, and time is running out," White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said.

    "If Iran refuses to meet its obligations, then it will be responsible for its own growing isolation and the consequences."

    Speaking at a Commonwealth summit in Trinidad and Tobago, UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown said that sanctions were the next step if Iran did not respond to what was "a very clear vote".

    Russia's Foreign Ministry urged Iran to react "with full seriousness" to the resolution.

    Jon Leyne, BBC Tehran correspondent This resolution is a sign of Iran's growing isolation. It is the first at the IAEA since 2006. Crucially it secured the support of Russia and China. That makes it more likely they will vote for new sanctions on Iran when debate is stepped up in the new year, though there are still some tough negotiations ahead.

    It seems that Iran's hesitation over a new fuel deal for its Tehran research reactor and its reluctance to engage in more constructive talks has infuriated even those countries which have protected it in the past.

    On Thursday IAEA head Mohamed ElBaradei, who has always pressed for a compromise solution, expressed his frustration in dealing with Iran.

    In response, Iran has threatened to reduce its co-operation with the UN nuclear watchdog, but not to break off ties completely. The real trouble for Tehran is that the Iranian government now seems to be in too much internal turmoil to make clear decisions and follow them through.

    But Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast called the IAEA vote "a theatrical move aimed at pressuring Iran" that would be "useless", state news agency Irna reported.

    And Iran's ambassador to the IAEA, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, said it was a "hasty and undue" step that would jeopardise the chances of success in negotiations.

    "The great nation of Iran will never bow to pressure and intimidation vis-a-vis its inalienable right to peaceful uses of nuclear energy," he said.

    The resolution came a day after the outgoing head of the IAEA, Mohamed ElBaradei, expressed frustration at Iran's refusal to accept an international proposal to end the dispute over its nuclear programme.

    The plan envisages Iran's low-enriched uranium being shipped overseas for processing into fuel. This is seen as a way for Iran to get the fuel it wants, while giving guarantees to the West that it will not be used for nuclear weapons.

    Addressing IAEA governors in Vienna on Thursday, Mr ElBaradei said his inspectors had made no progress in their attempts to verify the peaceful nature of Iran's nuclear programme.

    "It is now well over a year since the agency was last able to engage Iran in discussions about these outstanding issues," he said. "We have effectively reached a dead end, unless Iran engages fully with us."

    NOVEMBER 30th 2009
    Western nations have warned Iran not to defy international demands by building 10 uranium enrichment sites.

    A bit more than the usual wind and piss again from Iran, indicating that the Revolutionary Guard are shaking their spears. While we should make it clear this is  not helpful there is not need to get excited. We have to wait for the Iranians to sort their own country out. They are not about to attack anyone; this is all to do with their own problems.

    FEBRUARY 06 2010
    Unfortunately western officials are right, there is nothing genuine in the words coming from Iran. They do not accept the concept of negotiated agreements and are saying they have the right to decide unilaterally on the terms of any future agreement and to ignore the terms of the non-proliferation treaty they have signed already.

    Western officials dismiss Iranian nuclear proposal

    MUNICH – Iran's claims to be close to an agreement on its nuclear program have yet to be backed up by any concrete actions, Western officials said Saturday at a gathering of the world's top defense officials.

    FEBRUARY 8th 2010
    Typical Iranian switch.
    Personally I think we should do as little as possible. Sanctions should be confined to strategic materials.

    Pressure is building in the West for new international sanctions against Iran, following its announcement that it will step up uranium enrichment.

    AUGUST 8th 2010
    After a distinct lack of progress the world is now applying some quite serious sanctions and this is a good idea. Why? because they are being applied consistently across the international community. The reason for this success is, in my view, a growing realisation that the 'Revolutionary Guard' were gradually taking control of Iran's finances, assets and nuclear facilities. If there is one thing worse than a fundamentalist religious government controlling a country it is a bunch of nationalist fanatics who can terrorise some of their opponents and get their hands on enough income to dominate or bribe the rest. We are better off with a mix of Ayatollahs, genuine patriots and intelligent diplomats and industrialists even if it is sprinkled with some intractable xenophobic and dictatorial elements. Iranians do not want the Revolutionary Guard running their country. One of the major worries I have had about American policy is that it has sometimes played into their hands.

    JANUARY 22nd 2011

    Foreign powers negotiating with Tehran on its nuclear programme say they are "disappointed" after a round of talks ended without progress in Istanbul.

    EU foreign policy chief Baroness Ashton, who led the international team, said Iran had come to the talks with pre-conditions.

    Q & A on the nuclear issues:

    NOVEMBER 29th 2011
    A few days ago Britain stopped all banking relations with Iran on the basis of the latest report from the IAEA that Iran was continuing to develop nuclear weapon technology. The events in Teheran are a mix of confused behaviour from the various parts of the Iranian government and security services. The latter conspicuously avoided their duty to protect the British Embassy. It is not clear if we are heading to a hostage situation. The truth is Iran is hurting in the current global financial climate on top of its usual hurt for wich it is itself to blame.

    NOVEMBER 30th 2011
    All British staff have safely left Iran. The Embassy is closed. Iranian diplomats have been given 48 hrs to leave Britain and their Embassy in London will be closed. I think that is the best procedure in Iran sorts itself out with its own coherent government that can act with a single voice. At the moment there about 3 distinct power centres.

    DECEMBER 20th 2011
    The situation vis-a-vis "PRESS TV" and whether reciprocal treatment of Iran is permissible and equitable is an extremely complex one. I make no judgement at this time. I suggest you read all this carefully so as well as providing the link I have pasted the text here. Treating Iran 'as a whole' is not necessarily pragmatically sensible given that Iran is not 'a whole', it is a frightened incoherent mess that could unite around an extreme position if threatened, while being unable to unite around a reasonable position for historic, topical, religious and geographical reasons.

    Iran's battle for TV influence takes shape on Press TV

    The attack on the British embassy in Tehran and the expulsion of Iranian diplomats from London propelled UK-Iranian engagement into the deep freeze. But in the world of television, relations have been frosty for some time.

    Press TV is a glossy, English-medium channel that comes under the umbrella of Iran's state broadcaster, the IRIB. In the UK it is available on the Sky satellite service.

    The station's high-profile presenters include the former MP George Galloway and, until earlier this year, it counted on the services of the former London Mayor, Ken Livingstone.

    Press TV Ltd in London sells programmes to Iran, mainly talk shows, and Press TV International in Tehran produces most of the news and documentaries.

    When Press TV launched in 2007, its stated aim was to give Western audiences what it called "a second eye".

    It is pro-Palestinian, anti-sanctions against Iran, and critical of Western - especially US and UK - foreign policy.

    Arrested for 'spying'

    But in the UK, the channel has come under scrutiny. Earlier this month Press TV was fined £100,000 by the broadcasting regulator Ofcom, who upheld a complaint by Maziar Bahari.

    A journalist and film-maker of Iranian origin, Bahari was in Iran in 2009 covering the presidential election for Channel 4 News and Newsweek magazine.

    He filmed the demonstrations that followed the contested election.

    Then he was arrested, accused of being a spy, held in solitary confinement and interrogated.

    Bahari was told that if he did a television interview according to a pre-agreed script, he would be released.

    He says one of the crews who came to film the "interview" was from Press TV.

    "My interrogator's boss wrote the scenario and it was divided into questions and answers. The reporters asked the questions and I gave the answers, so we were basically reading from the same sheet," he told Radio 4's The Report.

    When Press TV aired a report claiming the Western media's coverage of the demonstrations was biased, they included a clip from Bahari's prison interview.

    Once he was released after 180 days in jail, he returned to the UK and made a complaint to Ofcom.

    He claimed the airing of part of the interview by Press TV had breached broadcast rules on fairness and privacy. Ofcom agreed.

    Farooq Bajwa, a solicitor who acts for Press TV, says the channel realises interviewing prisoners under arrest is not ideal.

    "The fine is something Press TV can live with," he says.

    "But I think it may help reinforce the image amongst Press TV supporters that in fact Ofcom is treating Press TV more harshly than it might have treated other news channels."

    He points to one of the US embassy cables from February 2010 that was released by Wikileaks.

    "Her Majesty's government is exploring ways to limit the operations of the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting's Press TV service, which operates a large bureau - over 80 staff - in London," it read.

    'Being watched'

    Mr Bajwa believes this is evidence that Press TV in the UK is under suspicion.

    "We know from Wikileaks that in fact the British government has discussed Press TV at the highest level with their American counterparts.

    "So to pretend that it is just another channel in the same way that you might look at a French or German channel just isn't credible.

    "Press TV is obviously viewed differently. That means it is watched like a hawk."

    Inside Iran there is no doubt that the authorities are watching the BBC's Persian television, according to its head, Sadeq Saba.

    "The Iranians have been jamming BBC Persian television on and off for the last three years.

    "Now Iran targets certain programmes. A couple of months ago we made a documentary about Ayatollah Khamenei, Iran's supreme leader, and they started jamming it on all satellites.

    "So it's become 'intelligent' jamming - they jam programmes they think are most harmful to them," he said.

    Bahari thinks the jamming of BBC Persian in Iran is a good argument for taking Press TV off the air in the UK.

    "I think it should be banned at least because of reciprocity. People who are working for BBC Persian in Iran can be charged with espionage, they can be incarcerated, they can even be executed."

    Sadeq Saba understands why some people feel strongly.

    "I sympathise with people who say something must be done because the BBC is not allowed to operate in Iran and Press TV is operating in London," he says.

    "In Iran the BBC has no bureau, this is an anomaly. We could easily jam Iran, but we never do that because we believe in freedom of expression."

    But Abbas Edalat, from the Campaign Against Sanctions and Military Intervention in Iran, says it is unfair to compare the jamming of the BBC in Iran with any proposal to take Press TV off the air in the UK.

    "The Iranian authorities see themselves in a state of siege," he says.

    "They are surrounded by US military bases, they are threatened with military attack, and there are covert military operations in Iran.

    "None of these things exist for the UK. So it is not an equal situation."

    With diplomatic relations between the UK and Iran on ice, and tensions high across the Middle East, all television will inevitably find its output subject to scrutiny and debate.

    The Report is on BBC Radio 4 on Thursday 29 December at 20:00 GMT. Listen to the full programme via the Radio 4 website or download the programme podcast.

    JANUARY 7th 2012
    While relations between Iran and the US are as bad as ever, the rescuing of some Iranian fishermen from Somali pirates gives some (not all) in Iran some embarrassment. Let's face it, Irans citizens are terrorized by their own Revolutionary Guard and the Mullahs are terrified of them too. Fanatics have that ability, in the absence of a rational, secular, democratic state to get away with murder.

    JANUARY 9th 2012
    The stance of the US appears to be self-contradictory. Sanctions are said to have the purpose of bringing Iran to the negotiating table but when they come, they are accused of coming in bad faith, only there because of sanctions. That may be the case, but they are still negotiations and if agreements are possible they should be tested.