Archive for March, 2013

Daughter of Iran’s Rafsanjani freed

March. 20, 2013

TEHRAN, March 20 (UPI) — The daughter of former Iranian President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani was released from prison after serving a six-month term, her lawyer said.

Faezeh Hashemi, the daughter of the former president, was imprisoned in late 2012 for making propaganda against the state. She was banned from political activity for five years.

Gholamali Riahi, her lawyer, said she was released from prison after serving a six-month term, state-funded broadcaster Press TV reports.

Rafsanjani was criticized by the conservative leadership for backing opposition leader and former Prime Minister Mir Hossein Mousavi during 2009 elections. Post-election violence that year sparked unrest not seen since the Islamic Revolution in 1979.

Iranian presidential elections are scheduled for June. Incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is ineligible to run due to term limits.

Rafsanjani, who served two consecutive presidential terms beginning in 1989, said last year he was “no longer ready for this job (of president).”

Source: United Press International (UPI).

Link: http://www.upi.com/Top_News/Special/2013/03/20/Daughter-of-Irans-Rafsanjani-freed/UPI-88811363786065/.

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Analysis: Khamenei mobilizes loyalists to swing Iran’s election

By Marcus George

DUBAI | Tue Mar 19, 2013

(Reuters) – Iran’s supreme leader may have helped Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to win two presidential elections, but he is now bent on stopping his turbulent protege from levering his own man into the job.

Time was when even reformist presidents would defer to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as the ultimate authority in the Islamic Republic’s clerical system. Ahmadinejad changed all that.

Ahmadinejad’s relentless quest for power and recognition has led him into direct confrontation with Khamenei, the man to whom he arguably owes his second term, if not his first.

And as Iran’s first non-clerical president since 1981, he has not stopped short of challenging the power of the clergy.

Even though he cannot stand for a third term, Ahmadinejad is widely seen as determined to extend his influence by backing his former chief of staff Esfandiar Rahim Mashaie for president.

Khamenei loyalists accuse Mashaie of inspiring a ‘deviant’ trend that favors strong nationalism over clerical rule.

“So magical is the political prowess attributed to Mashaie and Ahmadinejad’s populist appeal that Mashaie’s prospective candidacy causes much concern in the Khamenei camp,” said Shaul Bakhash, professor at George Mason University in the United States, weighing prospects for the election in mid-June.

Voters, preoccupied by bread-and-butter issues in an economy battered by Western sanctions imposed over Iran’s nuclear program, may only have conservatives to choose from.

Reformists are unlikely to get a look in. Mir-Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karoubi, who ran against Ahmadinejad in a 2009 election they denounced as rigged, languish under house arrest.

The reformist movement “has no organizational capacity and no recognized candidate right now,” said Scott Lucas of EA worldview, a news website that monitors Iranian media.

CLOSING RANKS

Iran’s rulers, keen to avert any repeat of the mass protests and violence that shook Iran after the 2009 poll, will try to ensure that only obedient candidates pass the vetting process.

And to block Mashaie or any other pro-Ahmadinejad candidate, Khamenei is turning to a three-man alliance of principalists – hardliners loyal to him – to unite behind one candidate to secure a quick and painless election win, say diplomats and analysts.

The driving force behind this appears to be the supreme leader’s foreign policy adviser Ali Akbar Velayati, who is one of the three possible contenders, along with Tehran mayor Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf and lawmaker Gholam Ali Haddad Adel.

“If principalists are divided … and the presidency is not in the hands of principalists in the future, we will have a tragedy,” Velayati said last month.

“From these three people one person will be introduced as a candidate, so we can finish the job in the first round.”

Analysts agree that Khamenei, deeply concerned about the election outcome, has given the nod to the initiative.

“Ayatollah Khamenei has systematically and effectively concentrated both power and authority in his person. No one in Iran today can become president without his approval,” said Ali Ansari, an Iran scholar at St Andrew’s University in Scotland.

Velayati appears to be leading a drive to eradicate Ahmadinejad’s power and unite all principality’s behind a single candidate – despite their own virulent political divisions.

A U.S.-trained doctor who served as foreign minister for 16 years until 1997, Velayati is now regarded as one of Khamenei’s most influential advisers, often deployed to carry out high-level initiatives on the leader’s orders.

Velayati’s partners in the anti-Ahmadinejad alliance are established politicians, but less well known abroad.

Haddad Adel is the father-in-law of Khamenei’s third son, Mojtaba, the gate-keeper of access to the leader himself. An MP and former parliament speaker, he commands influence in the assembly and much respect for his academic credentials.

His family ties to Khamenei have strengthened his position within the leader’s inner circle, but have opened him to accusations that he is little more than a pawn of the leader.

The third member of the trio, Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, is a former commander of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards (IRGC).

He is regarded as a pragmatist who “reaches out to more moderate conservatives”, said Scott Lucas of EA World view.

Popular, charismatic and boasting support from the Guards, Qalibaf’s inclusion in the alliance may be intended to stifle any threat he might pose by running as an independent candidate.

“He is too popular in his own right and may represent IRGC constituencies that the supreme leader is nervous about,” said a European diplomat who focuses on Iran policy.

DEMOCRATIC VENEER

Khamenei can tighten his grip on the poll via the Guardian Council, which can veto candidates – although barring too many would risk destroying public interest in a vote which, however circumscribed, bolsters Iran’s claims to democratic legitimacy.

“Without these elections and high participation, even the pretence of democracy would fall apart,” said Trita Parsi of the Washington-based National Iranian American Council.

But allowing an Ahmadinejad-backed contender – or dark-horse independents – to run has risks for the ruling establishment.

“Ahmadinejad has shown he isn’t going quietly,” said the European diplomat. “The danger will be if his candidate doesn’t get in amid voter fraud speculation – then we’ve got a 2009 situation, involving regime insiders.”

Tensions are already rising.

Last month Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani – also a principalist – was pelted with shoes and stones by Ahmadinejad supporters in the holy city of Qom, where he had come to make a speech on the 34th anniversary of Iran’s revolution.

It was the latest skirmish in a personal feud that had exploded into public days earlier when the president accused Larijani’s family of using its position for economic gain.

Larijani’s brother, Fazel, described Ahmadinejad’s behavior as a conspiracy carried out by “Mafia-like individuals”.

Such public wrangling among Iran’s conservative political elite is an embarrassment to the Supreme Leader.

“Khamenei no longer seems able to impose discipline eve among his own lieutenants when it comes to those fierce political rivalries,” said Bakhash.

Among independents to throw their hats in the ring are former Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki and former IRGC commander Mohsen Rezaie, a losing candidate in 2009. Both are conservatives who could disrupt Velayati’s campaign to close ranks for Khamenei and shut out any Ahmadinejad proxy.

A president loyal to Khamenei might prove slightly less adversarial than Ahmadinejad in relations with the West, but would still be unlikely to accept a major nuclear compromise.

“Since they are beholden to the supreme leader, I can’t see much change other than a reduction in some of the rhetoric,” said Ansari of St Andrew’s University. “Although this would help, at least on a superficial level.”

(Reporting By Marcus George; Editing by Alistair Lyon and Janet McBride)

Source: Reuters.

Link: http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/03/19/us-iran-election-idUSBRE92I0HY20130319.

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Poll Finds Mounting Hostility Among Arabs towards Iran

By Katelyn Fossett

WASHINGTON, Mar 6 2013 (IPS) – A poll released Tuesday shows a stark decline in favourability among Arab and Muslim citizens regarding the Iranian government and its policies.

Some who follow the issue are warning that tensions between Shia- and Sunni-led governments could ultimately be driving these shifts in attitude.

The poll, released by Zogby Research Services, is the latest in a series of surveys that charts public opinion in the Arab world on Iran. It polled 20,000 citizens in 17 Arab countries and three other non-Arab Muslim countries (Turkey, Azerbaijan and Pakistan), and was conducted over the course of several weeks beginning in September.

An earlier poll, conducted in 2006, had indicated skyrocketing public opinion in the Arab world on Iran, with favourability ratings around 75 percent. Six years later, the new poll shows those same rates plummeting to around 25 percent, a decline that is being attributed to shifting perceptions towards both the United States and Iran, as well as growing Sunni-Shia tension.

In an IPS article published almost two years ago, in July 2011, journalist Barbara Slavin noted that favourability ratings toward Iran in the region were already in steep decline. In an extreme case, the Egyptian attitude fell from an 89 percent rating to just 36 percent.

In 2012, the most favorable views of the United States were expressed in Saudi Arabia (30 percent) and Lebanon (25 percent). The least favorable views were found in Jordan (10 percent) and Egypt (six percent).

Numbers indicating favourability toward the United States were generally lower and more volatile than those toward Iran, in the five to 40 percent range.

Meanwhile, Iran was viewed most favourably in Lebanon, with 61 percent, and Egypt further behind with 38 percent.

Iranian favourability ratings began much higher in 2006 and fell in all countries over the next six years. Public opinion fell the least in Lebanon, where favourability toward Iran was the highest out of all the countries (65 percent) in the last year.

In virtually every question, including two on Iranian roles in Bahrain and Syria in which other countries’ favourability ratings severely dropped, Lebanese participants answered with favourability rates above 70 percent.

Different explanations for the results were discussed at the Wilson Center here on Tuesday.

James Zogby, director of the Arab American Institute, said that in 2006 Iran had benefited from the perception that it was the center of resistance against both the West, whose occupation of Iraq was then in its third year, and Israel, which had just fought a brief but very destructive war against Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Zogby suggested that Turkey was now supplanting Iran in this role, while the latter is perceived as stoking divisiveness in Iraq, Bahrain, Lebanon and Syria. The U.S. profile in the region, he noted, has also been reduced by its withdrawal from Iraq.

But analysts who responded to the poll cautioned against reading the results too optimistically and confusing anti-Iranian and anti-Shia sentiment.

“What we’re seeing is entrenched in a really quite frightening spread of sectarianism,” Marc Lynch, a Middle East expert and international affairs professor, said Tuesday. The results of the poll, he noted, need to be read as much as a “cautionary tale about the future of the Middle East as a feel-good tale of declining Iranian influence”.

Hisham Melham, head of the Washington bureau of Al Arabiya News Channel, also expressed concern over growing sectarianism in the region, going so far as to say that the Sunni-Shia divide is the worst it has ever been in the region.

Syria factor

The civil war in Syria also appears to be playing a significant role in this dynamic. Marc Lynch warned that some of the events that have proved crucial in undermining Iranian influence in the region, including the ongoing conflict in Syria, are creating new opportunities for expanding Iranian influence.

“Iranian influence in Syria is not going to go away,” he cautioned, “and one can easily imagine an insurgency fighting against what appears to be a Western-backed government in Damascus” when Syrian President Bashar al-Assad falls.

Middle East observers have been increasingly expressing concern over the region’s deepening sectarianism, especially as it exacerbates the conflict in Syria. After the removal of former president Saddam Hussein in Iraq, sectarian conflict and perception of a threat posed by Shi’ism has grown in the region.

Baghdad has been led by a predominantly Shia government since Hussein’s ouster and subsequent execution.

In the Syrian conflict, the government of President al-Assad has been backed primarily by Iran and the Lebanese Shia Hezbollah, while the rebels, who are predominantly Sunni, are supported primarily by the Sunni-led Gulf kingdoms and, to a lesser extent, Turkey. The Shia-led Iraqi government has also provided backing for al-Assad.

According to the new polling data, Palestinians hold particularly unfavorable views toward Iran, with favourability ratings in the 20 percent range. That compares, for instance, with relatively favorable polling outcomes towards the United States, with two-thirds of Palestinians responding that the U.S. contributed to stability in the Arab world.

Barbara Slavin, now a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s South Asia Center, expressed particular surprise at the Palestinian results, but likewise attributed the finding to the Syrian conflict.

“Iran and Hezbollah are rallying to the side of Assad in Syria, while Arab countries are funneling money and weapons to the largely Sunni rebels in Syria,” she told IPS.

Pan-Islamic image

One of the most striking results of the new poll was a change in Arab public opinion over the past half-dozen years regarding Iran’s efforts to expand its nuclear power program, producing enriched uranium that could be used for military purposes – a change Tehran denies.

In Saudi Arabia in 2006, for example, only about 15 percent of those polled believed Iran had nuclear weapons ambitions, compared with 78 percent in 2012. In Jordan, that number jumped from eight percent in 2006 to 72 percent in 2012.

The number increased in every country polled, albeit by smaller margins in the other six countries.

Although experts disagree on the underlying drivers of the shifting sentiments, it was clear that the polling results could potentially pose major problems for the Iranian government.

“Iranians have tried to project a pan-Islamic image of themselves since the 1979 revolution,” Slavin said, “which doesn’t work if they’re seen as a narrow sectarian power.”

Source: Inter-Press Service (IPS).

Link: http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/03/poll-finds-mounting-hostility-among-arabs-towards-iran/.

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Pakistan, Iran leaders inaugurate pipeline project

March 12, 2013

GABD, Iran (AP) — The leaders of Pakistan and Iran are pushing ahead with a pipeline to bring natural gas from Iran despite American opposition, and the Iranian president has declared the West has no right to block the project.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad spoke alongside his Pakistani counterpart, Asif Ali Zardari, in Iran near the Pakistani border during a ceremony Monday intended to mark the beginning of construction of the Pakistani side of the pipeline.

The Iran-Pakistan pipeline is designed to help Pakistan overcome its mushrooming energy needs at a time when the country is facing increased blackouts and energy shortages. But there are serious doubts about how Pakistan could finance the $1.5 billion needed to construct the pipeline and whether it could go through with the project without facing U.S. sanctions, which Washington has put in place to pressure Iran over its nuclear program.

“Today is a historic day. The gas pipeline project is the beginning of a great work,” said Ahmadinejad, speaking to dignitaries from both countries. “The Westerners have no right to make any obstacles in the way of the project.”

Monday’s ceremony comes just days before the Pakistani government’s term is set to expire and could be designed to win votes by making the ruling Pakistan People’s Party look like it’s addressing the energy crisis. It also allows the government to thumb its nose at the United States, which is widely unpopular in Pakistan despite billions of dollars in U.S. military and civilian aid.

Zardari praised Iran for its help in the project and said the pipeline was a vital part of his country’s development. “In order to help ourselves we’ve got to be economically sound,” he told the crowd.

The U.S. has opposed the project, instead promoting an alternative pipeline that runs from the gas fields of Turkmenistan to Afghanistan, Pakistan and then to India. The U.S. has also championed a number of electricity generation projects within Pakistan, such as helping renovate hydropower dams.

Iran’s deputy oil minister, Javad Owji, told Iranian state television that Tehran already built 900 kilometers (560 miles) of the pipeline, with about 320 kilometers (200 miles) remaining to be built inside Iran.

The Pakistan segment of the pipeline is expected to be about 780 kilometers (500 miles). Owji said Iranian contractors will be involved in building the Pakistani portion of the pipeline. Gas is supposed to start flowing in by the end of 2014, although few see that deadline as realistic, considering the delays so far.

The U.S. has repeatedly raised questions about the project although a state department spokeswoman pointed out the multiple stops and starts to the pipeline so far. “We have serious concerns if this project actually goes forward that the Iran Sanctions Act would be triggered,” Victoria Nuland told reporters in Washington on Monday. “All of that said, we’ve heard this pipeline announced about 10 or 15 times before in the past. So we have to see what actually happens.”

Under American regulations, a wide-ranging list of business-related activities with Iran can trigger American sanctions. Certain sales of technology or equipment that allow Iran to develop its energy sector are barred, as are most transactions involving gasoline or other fuels, according to a January statement by the Congressional Research Report. The regulations also bar business dealings with Iranian financial institutions.

Possible penalties include barring the offending entity from receiving American military equipment or making it essentially impossible to do business with American banks. Iran also faces separate European Union and U.N. sanctions over its nuclear program, which the West believes may be geared for building nuclear weapons. Tehran denies that, insisting the program is purely for peaceful purposes.

“The pipeline has nothing to do with the nuclear issue. You can’t build an atomic bomb with a natural gas pipeline,” Ahmadinejad said on Monday. Rhetoric aside, it remains to be seen whether Pakistan would ever actually face American sanctions. The PPP government led by Zardari likely has only days left leading the country, because elections are expected to be called by the end of the week.

“That timing is very important for the People’s Party because they are building their campaign on this,” said Hussain Yasar, a senior energy analyst at KASB Securities in Karachi. One of the chief complaints of Pakistanis with the current government is over the widespread blackouts that have only gotten worse since it took over five years ago. The government seems to be promoting its commitment to the pipeline as a way to prove it is committed to solving the energy crisis despite its track record, and it has emphasized that it is going forward with the project in the face of U.S. opposition.

One of the biggest challenges for cash-strapped Pakistan is how to come up with the money needed to build the pipeline. Few countries have been willing to risk American ire by financing the project. In a statement Monday, Pakistani officials said Iran will give Pakistan a $500 million loan to build part of it.

The Pakistanis said they will finance the rest of the project – roughly $1 billion – through a $500 million Chinese loan and an fee added to customers’ bills. But that is a tough proposition, considering how few Pakistanis actually pay for electricity.

It’s unclear whether Pakistan’s commitment to the project will continue if the ruling party loses the upcoming election. The PPP’s main contender is the Pakistan Muslim League-N, headed by former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who spent years living in exile Saudi Arabia.

The oil-rich gulf kingdom, a Sunni Muslim country with deep suspicion of Iran’s Shiite Muslim rulers, is believed to also be adamantly opposed to any deal that would benefit Iran. “It will be a tricky situation for the PML-N,” said Yasar.

Santana reported from Islamabad.

Associated Press writer Ali Akbar Dareini contributed to this report from Tehran, Iran.

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Iran Takes First Step to Send Man to Space

Tehran (FNA)

Jan 31, 2013

Sending a biocapsule to the space and retrieving it successfully was Iran’s first step on the path to sending a human to the space, Iran’s Defense Minister Ahmad Vahidi said after his agency announced on Monday that it had sent a monkey to the orbit, brought it back to the Earth and retrieved the animal and the relevant data successfully.

“Sending Explorer and retrieving it was the first step for sending human to the space in later stages,” Vahidi said, adding that he would soon announce some good news in the same regard.

He further pointed to the mission of the Explorer, and said, “Explorer Pioneer fulfilled its mission at 360,000 feet (120km) altitude well.”

Vahidi, whose ministry’s space organization was in charge of the project, said the biocapsule which contained a living creature (a monkey) came back to Earth safe and sound and at the planned speed and velocity.

He said Iran will soon inaugurate a space observation base.

The Defense Ministry’s Aerospace Industries Organization announced that it has sent a monkey into the space on the back of Pishgam (Pioneer) explorer rocket, and that it has brought back and recovered the living cargo.

The Aerospace Industries Organization said it had sent the living creature into space aboard an indigenous biocapsule as a prelude to sending humans into space.

The Aerospace Industries Organization said the capsule was sent to an orbit beyond 120km in altitude and carried out telemetry of the environmental data records.

The explorer rocket was launched by the Aerospace Industries Organization and it returned to the Earth after reaching the desired speed and altitude, and the living creature (monkey) was retrieved and found alive.

In mid-March 2011, Iran’s Space Agency (ISA) announced the launch of the Kavoshgar-4 rocket carrying a test capsule designed to house the monkey.

The capsule had been unveiled in February 2011 by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, along with four new prototypes of home-built satellites.

At the time, Director of Iran Space Agency (ISA) Hamid Fazeli called the launch of a large animal into space as the first step towards sending a man into space, which Tehran says is scheduled for 2020.

Iran has already sent small animals into space – a rat, turtles and worms – aboard a capsule carried by its Kavoshgar-3 rocket in 2010.

The Islamic republic, which first put a satellite into orbit in 2009, has outlined an ambitious space program and has, thus far, made giant progress in the field despite western sanctions and pressures against its advancement.

Iran has taken wide strides in aerospace. The country sent the first biocapsule of living creatures into space in February 2011, using its home-made Kavoshgar-3 (Explorer-3) carrier.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announced in 2010 that Iran plans to send astronauts into space in 2024. But, later he said that the issue had gone under a second study at a cabinet meeting and that the cabinet had decided to implement the plan in 2019, five years earlier than the date envisaged in the original plan.

Omid (hope) was Iran’s first research satellite that was designed for gathering information and testing equipment. After orbiting for three months, Omid successfully completed its mission without any problem. It completed more than 700 orbits over seven weeks and reentered the Earth’s atmosphere on April 25, 2009.

After launching Omid, Tehran unveiled three new satellites called Tolou, Mesbah II and Navid, respectively. Iran has also unveiled its latest achievements in designing and producing satellite carriers.

A new generation of home-made satellites and a new satellite carrier called Simorgh (Phoenix) were among the latest achievements unveiled by Iran’s aerospace industries.

The milk-bottle shaped rocket is equipped to carry a 60-kilogram (132-pound) satellite 500 kilometers (310 miles) into orbit.

The 27-meter (90 foot) tall multi-stage rocket weighs 85 tons and its liquid fuel propulsion system has a thrust of up to 143 tons.

Iran is one of the 24 founding members of the United Nations’ Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (UNCOPUOS), which was set up in 1959.

Source: Space-Travel.

Link: http://www.space-travel.com/reports/Iran_Takes_First_Step_to_Send_Man_to_Space_999.html.

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