Saturday, January 22, 2005

Times Online - Jack Straw Fears Neocon Stupidity towards Iran

Times Online - Sunday Times: "Straw snubs US hawks on Iran
David Cracknell and Tony Allen-Mills, Washington

JACK STRAW has drawn up a dossier putting the case against a military attack on Iran amid fears that President George W Bush’s administration may seek Britain’s backing for a new conflict.
Straw and his officials fear that hawks in Washington will talk the American president into a strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities, just as they persuaded him to go to war in Iraq.

The foreign secretary has produced a 200-page dossier that rules out military action and makes the case for a “negotiated solution” to curbing the ayatollahs’ nuclear ambitions amid increasingly bellicose noises from Washington.

He will press home the point at a meeting with Condoleezza Rice, the incoming secretary of state, at a meeting in Washington tomorrow.

The document says a peaceful solution led by Britain, France and Germany is “in the best interests of Iran and the international community”. It refers to “safeguarding Iran’s right to the peaceful use of nuclear technology”.

The dossier, entitled Iran’s Nuclear Programme, was quietly issued in the Commons on the eve of Bush’s inauguration last week for fear of provoking a public rift with Washington — although privately tensions are running high between the two nations.

The approach contrasts with the government’s two Iraq dossiers, which were trumpeted to make the case for war.

US agents have tried to locate suspected nuclear sites in Iran, according to a report last week by Seymour Hersh, the investigative journalist who broke the Abu Ghraib prison torture scandal.

British officials are increasingly concerned that months of patient European-led diplomacy may explode in a torrent of bunker-busting attacks by US stealth bombers. There is also concern in London that the Pentagon may be ordered to act on the basis of its flawed intelligence, while British agents on the ground believe Iran is complying with nuclear inspectors.

Fears in London of an attack were fuelled when Dick Cheney, the American vice-president, said that Iran was “top of the list” as a trouble spot for the administration. Rice said it was an “outpost of tyranny”.

The message that the British government wants no part in another war in the Middle East will be reinforced by Tony Blair when he meets Bush in Brussels next month and at an Anglo-American summit in Washington after the British general election, which is expected in May.

The foreign secretary’s dossier sets out in detail the work of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) since Iran signed up to an agreement 15 months ago.

Despite his confidence in the negotiations, which have been frustrated by setbacks, IAEA minutes published in his dossier show that the agency believes that all declared nuclear material has been accounted for.

However, minutes of a key meeting last November show that “the agency is not yet in a position to conclude there are no undeclared nuclear materials or activities in Iran”.

The minutes go on: “In view of the past undeclared nature of significant aspects of Iran’s nuclear programme, and its past pattern of concealment, however, this conclusion can be expected to take longer than in normal circumstances.”

The agency has yet to be satisfied that a “clandestine supply network” for the production of Iran’s “centrifuge enrichment programme” — equipment for making nuclear weapons — has been cut off.
In his preface to the dossier, Straw admits that Iran’s compliance with international inspectors is “mixed and incomplete”. He writes: “There are a number of issues which have still to be fully resolved.

“A negotiated solution, in which both sides have a feeling of ownership, is in the best interests of Iran and of the international community. It gives stronger guarantees of future behaviour than an imposed solution and is more likely to build the long-term confidence and trust which can enable the broader relationship to develop positively.

“We have worked hard to achieve agreement with Iran on the way in which this issue is handled, to give the international community the reassurance we seek while safeguarding Iran’s right to the peaceful use of nuclear technology.”

A cabinet minister said: “Jack is making clear, as is Tony, that we are not getting involved in American sabre-rattling to make Iran comply with its international obligations.”

In a YouGov poll for The Sunday Times today, 65% of people said that Britain should not support American military action against Iran, compared with 16% who were in favour.

However, a consensus is emerging among the “neoconservative” hawks in Washington who are close to Bush that European-led diplomacy with Iran is failing to produce results.

A prominent Washington defence hawk said: “At some point the Americans are going to turn to the Europeans and say: ‘The goal is disarmament but all we are getting is arms control. It’s time for a bigger stick’.”

Richard Perle, a former Pentagon adviser, said: “What Straw should be nervous about is the reliability of his Iranian interlocutors. There’s certainly scepticism (in Washington) about whether the Europeans are going to achieve a result.

“To do that you have to believe that the Iranian regime is not unswervingly committed to nuclear weapons. I find it hard to believe that they will part from them based on this diplomatic initiative.”"

latimes: Focus on Iran Causes Unease

Focus on Iran Causes Unease: "Focus on Iran Causes Unease
Reaction in Tehran is stern, but analysts abroad see Cheney's warning of a possible Israeli strike as a way to prod Europe. Bush's speech is criticized.

By John Daniszewski, Times Staff Writer
LONDON — The Bush administration's warning that Iran might face military action from Israel raised the ire of Tehran, but politicians and analysts said Friday that it could bolster European efforts to get the Islamic Republic to end its suspected nuclear weapons program.

Israeli politicians were quick to say they had no imminent plan to attack Iran, even as some commentators elsewhere expressed unease at the sweeping and "messianic" tone in President Bush's inaugural speech marking the start of his second term.

Tehran did not respond directly to Vice President Dick Cheney's comments Thursday about a possible Israeli strike against Iran.

Cheney's remarks brought into focus comments Bush made in his address, in which the president said the United States stood ready to defend itself and protect its friends "by force of arms if necessary."

At Friday prayers in Tehran, a forum that often reflects the thinking of Islamic hard-liners who wield power, a leading cleric sounded a defiant note.

Saying he was speaking to "Americans and Zionists," Mohammed Emami Kashani said: "The world will catch you red-handed. If you ask the people in the world, everyone will tell you how despised you are…. People will become increasingly aware of your plots and hopefully you will not achieve anything."

The conservative Tehran Times accused the Bush administration of "belligerent, unilateralist policies [that] brought about nothing but crisis and insecurity for the world."

Israeli and U.S. analysts share the view that Iran is secretly working to acquire or build nuclear weapons and is moving to build longer-range missiles capable of delivering them, a charge the Iranian authorities dispute.

On Sunday, the New Yorker magazine reported that U.S. forces had already gone into Iran seeking to verify targets for a possible military strike. Bush administration officials disputed the accuracy of the report but did not categorically deny it.

Israel has said it will allow negotiations, led by Britain, France and Germany, to try to bring about a verifiable halt in the alleged weapons program. In October, the Europeans won an agreement from Iran to temporarily suspend its efforts at enriching uranium. Enriched uranium can be used to make nuclear weapons.

The U.S., which has no direct relations with Iran, also has given its backing to the European efforts for now.

A senior Israeli official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Cheney's remarks were intended to spur European countries to get tougher with Tehran.

What Cheney said "was not intended to warn Iran, or caution Israel, as much as to encourage the Europeans to take a much stronger stance on imposing a more rigid regime of inspection on Iran with regard to its nuclear program," the official said.

"In effect, Cheney was telling the Europeans, 'Hurry up and get your act together, or we can't be responsible.' "

Israel has said that it regards Iran's alleged nuclear weapons program, if unchecked, as a threat to its existence. But the Jewish state also says it would consider military action against the country only if all other options had been exhausted.

"We are not going to initiate an attack against Iran at this stage," said Raanan Gissin, an aide to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. "We don't believe that the diplomatic measures and sanctions that can be imposed have been fully tried yet."

Bush's inaugural speech was directed to a world community that remains largely disenchanted with the U.S. president. A BBC World Service Poll of 22,000 people in 21 countries showed this week that 58% of respondents, and a majority in 16 countries, considered the world more dangerous because of Bush's reelection.

But in France, some commentators expressed confidence that Bush's second term would start with a new emphasis on diplomacy and cooperation, even with regard to Iran.

The U.S. and Europe are pursuing a logical "good-cop-bad-cop" approach toward Iran, with British, French and German negotiators trying to persuade Iran to dismantle its weapons programs or face American military might, said Bruno Tertrais of the Foundation for Strategic Research, a Paris think tank.

"We are not on the eve of a large military operation against Iran," Tertrais said in an interview on Europe1 radio. He said U.S. leaders wanted "to keep the pressure on Iran. They trust the Europeans to conduct negotiations … but they need to threaten at the same time."

But in Germany, the parliamentary foreign policy spokesman for the opposition Christian Democrats was irked by the comments from Bush and Cheney.

"It would be sensible if the Americans would think not only about potential military strikes. It would be good if they would participate more constructively in the diplomatic efforts of the European Union," Friedbert Pflueger told a Berlin radio station.

Commentators in various regions chided Bush for what they said was his aggressive projection of American power and questioned whether the president was sincere about backing freedom fighters and not dictators, as they say the U.S. does now in the Middle East and Asia.

"The U.S. president issued a blood-curdling cry yesterday" warning America's enemies to expect "an untamed fire of freedom," wrote London's Daily Star. It's up to British Prime Minister Tony Blair to use his influence to make sure the U.S. defends freedom "with a cool head," the Star said.

"Super-Zero Mr. Un-Credible Goes on the Warpath," said the irreverent Daily Mirror, a British tabloid, calling the president's speech "bizarre."

"There is a sense of a man who considers the whole world as his own parish," said Italy's left-leaning La Repubblica.

Belarusian President Alexander G. Lukashenko, the leader routinely referred to as Europe's last dictator and one seen as being in the sights of the Bush administration, was sardonic in his reaction to Bush's call for an expansion of freedom.

"Suppose someone or other didn't really want such 'freedom,' soaked in blood and smelling of oil?" he asked his National Security Council on Friday. (Belarus thumbed its nose at Bush two days earlier when its state television aired "Fahrenheit 9/11," the anti-Bush documentary by U.S. director Michael Moore.)

Britain's conservative Daily Telegraph, generally supportive of Bush, was also skeptical, fearing that Bush would be too bogged down in Iraq to deal with any of the other six "outposts of tyranny" recently mentioned by Secretary of State-designate Condoleezza Rice: Belarus, Myanmar, Cuba, Iran, North Korea and Zimbabwe.

"With a much strengthened mandate for his second term, Mr. Bush has vaulting ambitions for liberty," the paper said. "The president's ambitions are admirable, but he has got to get Iraq right if they are to have a hope to be realized. That is the unfinished business of his first term, and will doubtless preoccupy him throughout the second."

French officials such as Foreign Minister Michel Barnier have taken the inauguration as an opportunity to declare "a new era" in U.S.-French relations that will put the Iraq-related tensions in the past.

Nevertheless, Bush's rhetoric struck some editorialists in France as short on substance.

"No mention of the situation in Iraq was made, nor about the role of the United Nations or Europe," Swiss journalist Richard Labeviere said in an editorial on Radio France International. "His repeated incantations for world freedom do not provide any manual, any program, any policy … only moral values based on a spiritual revival that has overwhelmed America."

L'Union newspaper in eastern France said the speech was "messianic," and the Sudouest regional newspaper may have best expressed the typical French view.

"With this president, the world feels like it's dancing on a volcano," wrote columnist Bruno Dive. "We're not only talking about his foreign policy, which set Iraq on fire, worsened the situation in the Middle East and loosened the link with European allies.

"We also think about his economic policy based on abysmal deficits which put the USA (and therefore the rest of the world) on the edge of a financial crash."

Alexander Konovalov, president of the Institute for Strategic Assessment, a think tank in Moscow, said Bush's ambitions exceeded the reality of U.S. power.

"The words that all the oppressed can count on America's help are just a declaration," Konovalov said. "It has been shown quite explicitly that, in reality, not all the oppressed can count on America's stepping in."

Although he doubted that the U.S. or Israel could attack Iran, Viktor A. Kremenyuk, deputy director of the USA-Canada Institute in Moscow, said he felt that Bush's remarks did not bode well for Russia.

"The U.S. is claiming the right to sit in judgment and decide whether Russia conforms to the standards of democracy. And since it is clearly understood that there is less and less democracy in Russia … it is possible to predict that Russia will be getting plenty of dressings-down in the near future."

Times staff writers Megan K. Stack in Cairo, Laura King in Jerusalem, Sebastian Rotella in Paris, Bruce Wallace in Tokyo, Ching-Ching Ni in Beijing, Maria De Cristofaro in Rome, Petra Falkenberg in Berlin and Alexei V. Kuznetsov in Moscow contributed to this report." - "Iran-Iraq trade exchanges poor": Iraqi Minister - "Iran-Iraq trade exchanges poor": Iraqi Minister: ""Iran-Iraq trade exchanges poor": Iraqi Minister

Saturday, January 22, 2005 - ©2005
LONDON, Jan 22 (IranMania) - Visiting Iraqi Finance Minister Abdil Abd Al-Mahdi said that the volume of Iran-Iraq exchanges was low and called for a boost in trade cooperation.

According to IRNA, the Minister called on Iranian officials to establish a permanent market in Iraq.

The Iraqi official criticized the nine-percent trade exchanges among the Islamic states, saying the current world trade situation is discriminatory to the Islamic nations.

He termed the export of wheat from Bandar Imam Khomeini to Iraq and bolstering Iran-Iraq transit as 'effective' in increasing the level of bilateral trade.

The Iraqi official underlined the adoption of joint policies, saying that Iraq should make use of Iran's experience in the reconstruction of the country after war.

Iraq is involved with security and political issues, he said, adding the upcoming election would create a peaceful situation in Iraq.

The Iraqi Minister added that rectifying the investment law, insurance law and independence of Iraqi Central Bank, adopting certain laws for the activities of foreign banks in Iraq and establishment of official export-import gateways were among the measures taken by his country's officials.

Al-Mahdi also discussed opportunities and challenges ahead of two-way trade cooperation in his meeting with Iran's Commerce Minister Mohammad Shariatmadari. The Iranian Minister said that the Islamic Republic attaches importance to trade with Iraq and is keen on signing free trade agreements, establishing banking cooperation and arranging trade exchanges within the framework of border markets.

He pointed out that the opening letters of credit (L/Cs) in two countries calls for government guarantees."

Seattle Post-Intelligencer: Iran council: women can run for president

Seattle Post-Intelligencer: AP - Middle East: "Iran council: women can run for president


TEHRAN, Iran -- Iran's hard-line constitutional watchdog has decided that women can run for president in June elections, state-run television reported Saturday.

"If they posses the necessary qualifications, women can also run for president," the television quoted Guardian Council spokesman Gholamhossein Elham as saying.

The announcement clears up ambiguities within the constitution about whether only men can hold the post. Under Iran's constitution, the president must be elected from among political "rijal." Rijal is an Arabic word that can be interpreted as men or simply political personalities regardless of their gender.

"The word rijal doesn't negate gender," Elham was quoted as saying.

For the past 25 years, the Guardian Council has rejected women from running on the basis of the "male" interpretation.

Elham did not elaborate and it was not clear what caused the council to change its interpretation.

Iran's presidential election is slated for June 17. Reformist President Mohammad Khatami is prevented from running for a third term by the constitution.

The next Iranian president will face substantial challenges, including the task of convincing the world that Iran's nuclear program is peaceful."