Thursday, August 12, 2004

Sky News - Iran fears nuclear strike from Israel

Headline news from Sky News - Witness the event: "
Iran fears nuclear strike from Israel

IRAN IN MISSILE TESTS
Iran is secretly trying to develop nuclear weapons while its possession of missiles threatens Middle East peace, the United States has warned.

Washington's renewed criticisms came as Iran carried out a test on an upgraded version of its medium range Shahab-3 missile.
The US has been concerned by recent developments, including Tehran's continued denials of US claims that it is using a civilian nuclear energy programme to hide weapons development.

A spokesman for the State Department said: 'They've got a clandestine weapons programme which, combined with delivery systems, is a threat to stability.

'The United States has serious concerns about Iran's missile programmes and views Iran's efforts to further develop its missile capabilities as a threat to the region and the United States' interests.'

He added: 'We believe they're of concern and we are working with our international partners to address them.'

The Shahab-3 is the mainstay of Iran's military technology and has largely been developed to stave off an attack by arch enemy Israel.

Tehran fears Israel could launch a strike against its controversial nuclear programme.

Iran's missile is capable of carrying a one tonne warhead at least 800 miles - well within range of Israel. "

Iran, Pakistan discuss expansion of ties, Iraq issue

Hi Pakistan
"Iran, Pakistan discuss expansion of ties, Iraq issue

TEHRAN: Visiting Pakistani Foreign Minister Khursheed Mahmud Kasuri on Tuesday held talks with Chairman of Iranian Expediency Council Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani on expansion of relations as well as regional developments.

Akbar Rafsanjani told Kasuri that Iran and Pakistan should closely cooperate in dealing with the issues in Afghanistan. He said Iran called for restoration of stability, tranquillity and security to Afghanistan and welcomed any constructive views, which helped resolve the country’s issue.

Underlining the need for further expansion and upgrading of economic and commercial ties between the two countries, he said Iran was fully determined to play its role through laying of a gas pipeline to India via Pakistan.

Kasuri, for his part, highlighted his country’s views on regional developments, such as Iraq and Afghanistan. The current problems facing the regional countries, such as Afghanistan, would leave direct political, economic and security impact on Pakistan and that was why Islamabad was following up regional developments with "great sensitivity", said Kasuri.

Rafsanjani said history showed that people in Iraq and Afghanistan had never given into any foreign power. "As long as there is an unfair distribution of power among all ethnic groups in Iraq and Afghanistan, it will be difficult to expect peace and tranquillity to return to those countries," he was quoted as saying by the Public Relations Department of the Expediency Council.

Rafsanjani termed current situation in the region as "very significant". He said Iraq was passing through a critical time and if the Americans gave up hope in Iraq and respected people’s right to decide their own fate, the problem of war-shattered country would be solved. Iraqi people under no circumstances would "yield to any dictatorship or go under the yoke of any power", he said.

Expressing concern over the critical situation in Iraq, he warned if they decide to dictate their wishes to the country, Iraq would become "more insecure". The only logical and proper way to put an end to the existing challenges in Iraq was the firm determination of the United Nations to establish democracy in the war-battered country, he said. Americans are not able to dominate Iraq; therefore, they should heed to people’s views to this end, said Rafsanjani."

Daily Times - Site Edition

Daily Times - Site Edition: "Rafsanjani praises Pakistan’s anti-terror steps

TEHRAN: Foreign Minister Khurshid Mahmood Kasuri held comprehensive talks with Iranian leaders during his stay in Iran from August 8 to 10 and addressed a joint press conference with his Iranian counterpart Kamal Kharrazi.

Mr Kasuri met President Muhammad Khatami and First Vice President Mohammedreza Aref on Monday.

Mr Kasuri also called on Iran’s Expediency Council Chairman Hashemi Rafsanjani and Iranian Majlis Speaker Dr Ghulam Ali Haddad Adel on Tuesday.

During his meeting with Mr Rafsanjani and Dr Adel, Mr Kasuri discussed issues of mutual interest to Pakistan and Iran.

Mr Rafsanjani, who is the former president, praised the measures taken by President Pervez Musharraf to combat terrorism.

Both sides agreed that developments in Afghanistan were more important to Iran and Pakistan than any other country. They suffered with the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the influx of millions of refugees into their countries. The instability in Afghanistan also had affected both countries. The Iranian leaders and the Pakistani foreign minister felt that with the departure of Taliban and the emergence of new political dispensation in Afghanistan, the situation had changed and Iran and Pakistan were cooperating to promote peace and reconstruction in Afghanistan. They hoped that the forthcoming elections in Afghanistan would lead to a stable government.

They underlined the need for Iraq’s political independence, territorial integrity and unity. The leaders hoped that free, democratic elections in Iraq would lead to greater political stability and acceptance by the people of Iraq.

Both sides underlined the importance of laying the Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline. Mr Kasuri assured the Iranian leaders that Pakistan was ready to guarantee security of the pipeline. Mr Kasuri said the Iranian Consul’s kidnapping in Iraq was an act of terrorism. The Iranian Majlis speaker stressed the importance of cooperation between the parliamentary bodies of the two countries. He told Mr Kasuri that and the Iran-Pakistan Parliamentary Friendship Group was formed in the Iranian Majlis."

The Daily Star - Opinion Articles - Wisdom discourages a US attack against Iran

The Daily Star - Opinion Articles - Wisdom discourages a US attack against Iran: "Wisdom discourages a US attack against Iran

By Charles V. Pena
Special to The Daily Star
Friday, August 13, 2004


When President George W. Bush first named the "axis of evil" in his January 2002 State of the Union address, almost everyone knew that he was laying the groundwork for military action against Iraq. But now that the United States has invaded Iraq, the question is whether Iran will be deja vu all over again.

It's worth noting that based on the Bush administration's charges against the Iraqi regime - its development of weapons of mass destruction and support for terrorism - a better case can be made against Iran than Iraq. Prior to Dec. 2002, the focus of Iran's capability to develop nuclear weapons was on the Bushehr light water reactor. But at the time it was discovered that Iran was constructing two secret nuclear fuel cycle facilities at Natanz and Arak. Natanz was believed to be a uranium enrichment plant and Arak was thought to be a heavy water reactor. Iran denied any military purposes for these facilities and agreed to International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspections.

In August 2003, however, IAEA inspectors at Natanz found traces of highly enriched uranium, deemed questionable for non-military purposes. In February of this year, the IAEA found blueprints for building P2 gas centrifuges that are better suited for producing weapons-grade plutonium than the hundreds of P1 centrifuges that Iran already acknowledged possessing.

Subsequently, actual P2 centrifuge parts were discovered. And after the IAEA passed a resolution in June 2004 deploring the fact that "Iran's co-operation has not been as full, timely and proactive as it should have been" - which sounds eerily like the lack of cooperation provided by Iraq to UN weapons inspectors as claimed by the Bush administration - Iran announced that it was going to resume centrifuge activities, which are allowed for peaceful nuclear energy, but not for making weapons. Former CIA director Robert M. Gates thinks the Iranians can "go with a weapon whenever they want to."

According to "Patterns of Global Terrorism," published by the State Department, "Iran remained the most active state sponsor of terrorism in 2003." Iran provided funding, safe haven, training and weapons to anti-Israeli groups, such as Lebanon's Hizbullah and the Palestinian Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command.

The Sept. 11 Commission Report implicated Iran in the 1996 Khobar Towers bombing that killed 19 Americans and wounded 372. And the commission cited "strong evidence" that Iran facilitated the transit of several Al-Qaeda members before Sept. 11, including perhaps eight or more of the hijackers. This left open the question of whether Tehran knowingly assisted Al-Qaeda operatives, but stopped short of claiming it was involved in the Sept. 11 attacks.

Bush said of the alleged Iran-Al-Qaeda connection: "They're harboring Al-Qaeda leadership there. And we've asked that they be turned over to their respective countries. Secondly, they've got a nuclear weapons program that they need to dismantle. We're working with other countries to encourage them to do so. Thirdly, they've got to stop funding terrorist organizations such as Hizbullah that create great dangers in parts of the world." It could just as easily have been one of the president's pre-war statements about Iraq.

Neoconservative pundits were quick to jump on the Iran bandwagon. The same day that news stories broke about a possible Sept. 11-Iran link, the Weekly Standard's Bill Kristol wrote that a "serious policy" toward Iran included regime change. The American Enterprise Institute's Danielle Pletka, David Frum (the former Bush speechwriter who coined the phrase "axis of evil") and Michael Ledeen all wrote harsh commentaries against Iran in the weeks after the Sept. 11 report was released. Columnist Charles Krauthammer asked: "Did we invade the wrong country?" Former CIA Director James Woolsey and a host of other usual suspects revived the Committee on the Present Danger, taking out full-page ads in the New York Times and the Washington Post that cited "rogue regimes" - a euphemism that surely included Iran - as part of the grave threat facing America.


So is the United States heading down the path to war with Iran?

A front-page Aug. 8 New York Times headline proclaimed: "Diplomacy Fails to Slow Advance of Nuclear Arms" in Iran. And a Washington Post article the next day quoted National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice as saying: "We cannot allow the Iranians to develop a nuclear weapon." Thus, it seems that the stage has been set for a confrontation.

Many consider the notion of invading Iran absurd, especially with 140,000 American troops bogged down in Iraq. Although the Iranian military is not comparable to the US military, it is larger and better equipped than Iraqi forces that were dispatched in less than four weeks. The Iranians also have the benefit of learning from US military operations in Iraq to adapt their tactics accordingly (for example by adopting a more organized and better-equipped insurgent resistance). And unlike Iraq, Iran has not been subject to 12 years of aerial bombardment of its air defenses and other military targets. Finally, even though Iran is sandwiched between Afghanistan and Iraq, the security situation in both countries is not conducive for either to be a jumping off point for a military operation.

A ground invasion, then, seems unlikely - at least in the near term. But precision bombing of Iran's nuclear sites is certainly a possibility. After all, neither the US Air Force, with its JDAMs and laser-guided bombs, nor the US Navy, with its cruise missiles, is mired in Iraq. The risk would be how good the intelligence is on the locations of Iran's nuclear facilities. After all, Washington was surprised to discover that Iran's nuclear activities were not limited to Bushehr, so are there other unknown sites? There is also the issue of how many facilities are located in urban areas and the potential for civilian casualties even with precision weapons. For example, one of Iran's nuclear research centers is located in Tehran.

Finally, there is the question of the wisdom of military action against Iran - just as there was in Iraq. Attacking another Muslim nation after Afghanistan and Iraq would likely be interpreted as a war against Islam by the rest of the Muslim world, which would be playing right into the hands of Osama bin Laden and other radical Islamists seeking to polarize the over 1 billion Muslims around the world against the US. Like Iraq, without clear evidence that the regime in Tehran was involved in Sept. 11, or is otherwise supporting or harboring Al-Qaeda, attacking Iran would only make the terrorist threat to the US worse.


Charles V. Pena is director of defense policy studies at the Cato Institute (www.cato.org), a member of the Cato Institute Special Task Force that produced the book "Exiting Iraq: Why the US Must End the Military Occupation and Renew the War Against Al-Qaeda," and a terrorism analyst for MSNBC (www.msnbc.com). He wrote this commentary for THE DAILY STAR"

Iran's Internal Divisions Play Out in Iraqi Arena

Iran's Internal Divisions Play Out in Iraqi Arena: "Iran's Internal Divisions Play Out in Iraqi Arena
Tehran's efforts to gain sway in its fellow Shiite nation are hampered by rivalries, officials say.

By Megan K. Stack, Times Staff WriterKARBALA, Iraq — Pouring money into political parties, charities and armed organizations in a semi-covert campaign for influence and control, Iran has emerged as a silent and powerful force in postwar Iraq, Iraqi officials and Western diplomats said.

As a neighbor, former enemy in war and sometime haven for opponents of Saddam Hussein, Iran has long been a factor in Iraq's political life. Interviews with Western diplomats and Iraqis inside and outside government paint a picture of Iran seeking a new role since the U.S.-led invasion.

But Iran's internal divisions have muddied its goals in Iraq. Instead of working toward an overarching end, the Islamic Republic's clerics, political leadership and various military and intelligence branches are pursuing their own agendas.

Top political leaders in Tehran, for example, were quick to reach out to Iraq's interim government, hailing the end of U.S.-led rule and insisting that Iran would only suffer from bloodshed next door. Meanwhile, some Iranian intelligence cells were slipping money to insurgent groups in Iraq, Iraqi officials and Western diplomats said.

"Iran, unfortunately, speaks with a forked tongue," Iraqi Interior Ministry spokesman Sabah Kadhim said. The leaders call for stability, he said, but "every day we are catching people coming to Iraq [from Iran] with weapons. There are political parties backed by Iran."

The Iranian government is best understood as a group of semiautonomous power structures with sharply divided agendas, Kadhim said. "There seem to be various centers of power, and I'm not sure whether the official view we hear is really getting through. In a way, we are fighting Iranian politics in the arena of Iraq. Hard-liners and reformers are using Iraq as their fighting place."

Iran has called for the release of its diplomat, Faridoun Jihani, who was kidnapped in recent days by a Sunni Muslim group calling itself the Islamic Army in Iraq. The group said Jihani "had been involved in inciting sectarian strife and operating outside the sphere of diplomacy," the Al Jazeera satellite television channel reported. According to Al Jazeera, "The group also warned Iran against flagrant interference in the affairs of Iraq."

Defense Minister Hazem Shaalan went further and told Al Arabiya television this week that Iran was meddling in Iraqi affairs by sending weapons to Shiite Muslim insurgents.

Iran has dismissed charges that it has been stirring up violence in Iraq. There is "no logical reason or proof that would verify" Shaalan's charges, Defense Minister Ali Shamkhani said on Iranian state TV. Tehran also responded to the complaints by inviting Iraqi interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi for an official visit to try to repair relations.

Predominantly Shiite Iran has cultivated ties with Iraq, particularly in the south, where Shiites are the overwhelming majority. Iran has set about establishing clinics, factories and welfare programs, providing a socioeconomic safety net.

Iran has also spent millions of dollars in Iraq — much of it funneled to political parties that acknowledge the payments — in the hope of buying loyalty and influence, said Western diplomats, who asked to remain anonymous. In Iraq's four southern provinces, two of the governors and two of the police chiefs have strong links to Iran, one of the diplomats said. Smaller Iraqi Shiite parties often say they have to check with Iran before making even slight political moves, another diplomat said.

Meanwhile, diplomats fear that Iranian intelligence has established a presence in Iraq, with agents sending cash and weapons to the anti-U.S. militias. Tehran denies anything improper, but the diplomats said some elements in Iran continue to finance the Badr Brigade, the armed wing of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, and even appear to have forged ties recently with radical Shiite cleric Muqtada Sadr's forces. Sadr's militia is battling U.S. forces in Najaf.

"The Iranian government is heavily divided," said a Western diplomat who worked in southern Iraq. "Among the different intelligence and police agents [in Iraq] you have everything from people who are just watching and gathering information to people who are actively involved in attacking the coalition."

With Saddam Hussein deposed, Iran — a regional military power — could use its proxies and allies to become a factor in Iraq.

But there are barriers. Shiite Islam, the potential unifying force, is rife with tensions — the Iraqi and Iranian schools of thought are locked in a competition for eminence between the Koranic scholars of Najaf and Qom. And, nationalistic impulses and an ancient rivalry could hinder Iranian attempts to shape the future of Iraq, which fought an eight-year war with Iran in the 1980s.

Fouad Kadim Douraqi, head of Karbala's Islamic Dawa Party, acknowledged that the group received aid from Iran, but he denied that the contributions bought the right to steer the party.

"There are many Iraqis like me," Douraqi said in his sun-flooded offices here. "We appreciate what they have offered us, but we don't allow them to do anything on our land or take positions on our behalf."

During the 19 years he lived as an exile in Iran, Douraqi said, he never learned Persian or made Iranian friends. Now that he has returned to this sacred city, he feels gratitude, he said, but no particular obligation to follow commands from Tehran.

The links between Dawa and Iran are well known — the party has long been funded by Iran — but Douraqi insisted that the new Iraq had provided a moment of independence for the party. His party is "taking help" from an array of countries eager to curry favor, he said, mentioning Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.

"We don't object to cooperation with any country that wants to help, as long as Iraqi interests are above all else," he said. "Among the Iraqis, there is no will to accept the Iranian way. Historically we consider ourselves leaders to Iran, not the other way around."

American and Iraqi officials are deeply suspicious about the Iranian role in Iraq. Western diplomats said Iran, fearing that a stable, democratic Iraq could stir Iranians to rise up for a democracy of their own, was eager to see the United States fail.

Some Western analysts said they believed Iran didn't want Iraq to collapse into a civil war that could spread over their long and porous border. Nor does it want Iraq to turn into a stable host to a U.S. military presence.

Wedged between Afghanistan and Iraq, Iran is hemmed in by U.S. troops and wants to make sure that the Americans stay bogged down in Iraq lest they launch a new adventure against Iran, the officials said.

There are also fears about the extent of Iran's nuclear ambitions.

There are several factions in Iran, but they fall into two broad categories: traditionalists who seek to maintain the Islamic Republic, with its vision of a Shiite theocracy that controls all structures in government and society. The other camp is viewed as the modernizers; some are religious, but less strident, and some are secular.

Among the different groups are small fundamentalist elements in the Iranian intelligence services that cling to the old goal of exporting the revolution to Iraq and binding the two countries into a single nation, diplomats here said.

"They made sure that if Iran ever wanted to create any trouble, they've got control of the south," a diplomat said. "Not that Iran would use it to create a coup, but just in case they want to do something, the potential is there."

In Karbala, police say they have rounded up dozens of Iranian men who have drifted into town without passports and stayed for weeks. The men invariably say they have come to worship at the shrine of Imam Hussein, but officials accuse Iran of planting spies among the pilgrims and of willfully ignoring armed insurgents who cross the border disguised as worshipers.

"The ones who are coming to visit the holy places are clear," said Karbala police official Rahman Shawi. "But these other men are young men. They have no documents or any kind of identification card."

Links between the two countries are particularly strong in the south, where the people are bound by family connections and common religious beliefs. When Shiites and Kurds were suffering under Hussein, they were nourished by cash and solidarity from Tehran.

Shiites in Iran and Iraq have taken one another's exiles. Shiite leaders fled to Iran to escape Hussein, and it was from Najaf that Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini plotted his revolt against the shah of Iran. Having opened the country to Shiites suffering under Hussein, Iran now feels a sense of ownership and duty.

"Iran feels it is their right to defend the Shiites of Iraq by demanding their rights," said Hamid Bayati, Iraq's deputy foreign minister, and a Shiite who lived in exile in Iran. "I don't think Iran will accept a situation where Shiites are undermined or ruled by a minority."

Iranians also feel a sense of duty toward the holy cities of Najaf and Karbala, places from which they were banned under Hussein. The municipality of Tehran has pledged several public works projects in Najaf, said Numan Jabar Abbass, director of Najaf's municipal council.

Many of the Iranian-linked political parties insist that they will never allow Tehran to dictate their agenda. They say they are striking a thin balance between gratitude and independence.

Many of the Iraqi Shiites who fled to Iran for protection insist that they had nowhere else to go. They have seen the downside of the Iranian revolution, they say, and have no desire to repeat the experiment in their nation.

"We'll accept any kind of friendship, but not interference," Bayati said. "Iraqis always felt they were Iraqis before anything else.""