Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Iran Nuclear Watch Will Return Soon

I am out of the country, but will be back in full swing on June 8, 2007. Stay tuned...

Monday, May 14, 2007


Check out this new website, FreeHaleh.org, set up for the campaign to release Woodrow Wilson Middle East Program Director Haleh Esfandiari from Evin prison in Iran.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Rice: Bush Won't Give Up Military Option

In an interview with Al Arabyia television yesterday, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said, "The American president will not abandon the military option and I believe that we do not want him to do." She also added that Bush is "committed to the diplomatic option. If the world remained strong, there would be a chance for the success of the diplomatic option."

"I say to the Iranians ... there are two options -- isolation and dialogue," she said. "The international community has made its demands through the United Nations; Iran should stop nuclear enrichment, after that there would be a change in the U.S. policy that has been going on for 27 years and then I can talk to them about any issue."

Friday, May 04, 2007

Chill Factor

Hossein Mousavian, a member of the Iranian nuclear negotiating team until 2005 and political ally of former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, was arrested on April 30, 2007 and is being interrogated at Evin prison. Fars News Agency said Mr. Mousavian could be faced with espionage charges. According to an unidentified official speaking to the Fars News Agency, "Mousavian was arrested because of connections and exchange of information with foreign elements."

Mohammad Atrianfar, a prominent journalist close to Mr. Mousavian, told the Financial Times that "The unconfirmed charge is financial scandal, but there is strong speculation in political circles that it was somehow related to the nuclear issue."

The arrest will no doubt have a chilling factor on those involved in Track II negotiations, which is particularly problematic given how important such efforts are while there remains a lack of direct talks between the US and Iran.

According to the Financial Times:
"Iran has recently showed nervousness about prominent Iranians spending time abroad, and Mr. Mousavian has travelled regularly since losing in 2005 his post as chair of the foreign policy committee of the Supreme National Security Council (SNSC)."

Since the 2005 election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Mr. Mousavian has been a prominent critic of Iran's subsequent diplomacy over the country's nuclear program.

Another Opportunity Come and Gone?

Everyone has not doubt read many of the headlines today about the Iraq conference, such as here and here. The conference is more memorable for what did not happen than what did. On the what did happen side, press seized the story of Iranian Foreign Minister Mottaki storming out of the Diplomats dinner last night, allegedly because the female violinist was dressed too revealingly. The US State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack seized the opportunity to say, "I don't know which woman he was afraid of, the woman in the red dress or the secretary of state," across from whom he was directly seated. Mottaki of course claimed that there were problems with "Islamic standards" at the dinner and that was the only reason he left.

Apparently, however, Condi wasn't rude, as President Bush promised she would not be, when she exchanged pleasantries with Mottaki over lunch.

Neither the US nor the Iranians made a first move at the meeting to set up a real meeting where direct talks between the two countries to begin. When pressed why, Condi responded: "You can ask him why he didn't make an effort. I'm not given to chasing anyone."

According to the Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari , there were talks between the Iranian and American ambassadors to Iraq today on the sidelines of the conference, which is the second such meeting since March 10, 2007.

Iranian journalist and social activist Omid Memarian has a slightly different take on the conference. In his piece today for IPS news, he says that the mere fact that the Iranians were willing to participate in the conference boosts the chances for eventual negotiations between Tehran and Washington. According to Memarian, "Even if direct talks do not occur this round, indications are that both sides are seeking a way out of the impasse while saving face."

Meanwhile, Mottaki gave his speech on Friday, assailing US policy in Iraq: "There should be no doubt that the continuation of and increase in terrorist acts in Iraq originates from the flawed approaches adopted by the foreign troops. The United States must accept the responsibilities arising from the occupation of Iraq." Mottaki also demanded the release of five Iranian diplomats captured in Irbil, Iraq in January.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Missing Another Opportunity

Once again, the US and Iran will be missing an opportunity for direct talks this week when Foreign Ministers gather in Egypt to discuss Iraq security. Both the US and Iran have decided for different reasons that one-on-one talks between US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice and Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki will not happen, though the two are "likely to exchange pleasantries."

The US rationalized its decision based on consultations with EU Foreign Policy Chief Javier Solana. According to the Washington Post:

"After talks with European officials, the Bush administration has decided that any dialogue with Iran would be more enduring and significant if conducted through representatives of Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, rather than the Foreign Ministry. In Iran's government, Khamenei holds a lifetime appointment and has veto power over any government action, while the Foreign Ministry reports to a president who faces election every four years."

In the EU negotiations with Iran, Ali Larijani is the principal Iranian negotiator and he reports directly to the Supreme Leader.

As far as the Iranian decision to not engage in direct talks with the US at the upcoming meeting, there has been much heated debate within Iran. The Iranians have concluded that the US is not serious enough for the give and take of substantive negotiations.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

US Might Confront Iran on Nuclear Program

Yesterday, the Washington Post reported that Secretary of State Rice may confront Iran on its nuclear program when she goes to Egypt this week for a regional conference on Iraq security. Over the weekend, the Iranians had accepted an invitation to attend the conference on stabilizing Iraq.

According to President Bush: "Should the foreign minister of Iran bump into Condi Rice, Condi won't be rude. She's not a rude person. I'm sure she'll be polite. But she'll also be firm in reminding the representative of the Iranian government that there's a better way forward for the Iranian people than isolation...

"If, in fact, there is a conversation, it'll be one that says, if the Iranian government wants to have a serious conversation with the United States and others, they ought to give up their enrichment program in a verifiable fashion. And we will sit down at the table with them along with our European partners and Russia as well. That's what she'll tell him."

The statement appears to be a toughened stance from previous comments by Secretary of State Rice and State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack who said she would be willing to talk to the Iranians.