Ireland’s PM says “serious consequences” if Israel Harms its Citizens on Humanitaian Ship to Gaza

June 2, 2010

Below is a segment of a blog from the NYTimes posted by Robert Mackey in regards to Isreal’s raid on the humanitarian ship to Gaza:

Greta Berlin, another leader of the Free Gaza Movement, told The New York Times on Tuesday that two more boats would head to Gaza soon. One passenger boat, she said, would be picking up additional activists and journalists, and was not expected to reach Gaza until Monday.

The other ship is an Irish cargo vessel named the Rachel Corrie — after an American protester who was killed by an Israeli bulldozer in 2003 while trying to prevent the destruction of a Palestinian home in Gaza. The Rachel Corrie was supposed to have been part of the flotilla intercepted on Monday, but was delayed and is now waiting in the Mediterranean for the passenger ship before proceeding in the direction of Gaza and the Israeli navy.

Ms. Berlin told The Irish Times: “Israel can haul the Rachel Corrie into Ashdod, as it did the other boats, or show good will to the world by allowing her to proceed to Gaza.”

The Irish newspaper also reported that Irish Prime Minister Brian Cowen said on Tuesday there would be “most serious consequences” should any harm come to Irish citizens involved with the aid boats trying to get to Gaza. Mr. Cowen and Ireland’s foreign minister both called on Israel to allow the Rachel Corrie to pass through its military blockade.

The newspaper added that Derek Graham, a passenger on the Rachel Corrie, said in a telephone interview from the ship that the vessel was carrying educational materials, construction materials, medical equipment and toys. “Everything aboard has been inspected in Ireland,” Mr. Graham said. “We would hope to have safe passage through.”

But an Israeli naval officer told Israel’s Army Radio that his unit was prepared to block the Rachel Corrie.

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Defense and Oil Companies Lobby Against Iran Sanctions

May 13, 2010

Bloomberg reported today that Boeing, Exxon Mobil and Halliburton are three of several companies lobbying against a fourth round of sanctions on Iran; the giant defense and oil and gas corporations say sanctions on Iran may cost $25 billion in U.S. exports.

The current legislation before Congress would expand the 1996 Iran and Libya Sanctions Act–later renamed the Iran Sanctions Act–financially penalizing foreign companies that invest more than $20 million for the development of petroleum resources in Iran. U.S. firms, already barred from investing in the country, claim their global sales could be negatively affected by provisions that prohibit doing business with companies in Europe, Russia or China that trade with Iran.

“We are up on Capitol Hill talking about the collateral damage,” William Reinsch, president of the National Foreign Trade Council, a Washington-based group that represents Exxon and Boeing, said in an interview. “There is legitimate, non- Iran business that will be cut off.”

Bloomberg reported that Cargill Inc., ConocoPhillips, Hannover Re, Bechtel Corp., Halliburton Co. and Siemens AG are among more than 20 international companies that have lobbied against increased sanctions.

The legislation passed the House by a 412-12 vote on Dec. 15 and the Senate unanimously on March 11. The bill is likely to pass Congress in final form later this month or early next month, according to Christopher Wenk, the trade lobbyist for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce; and While the Obama administration has tried to water down the bill, Wenk predicted the president would ultimately sign it.

The current legislation would expand the sanctionable investments to include the sale and refining of oil. It would also expand the financial penalties to cover property transfers or sales from U.S. companies to those that are sanctioned.

For U.S. companies, “virtually any transaction with foreign entities doing business related to the Iranian petroleum sector could be prohibited,” the National Association of Manufacturers said in a study that estimated the potential loss of $25 billion in exports.

Companies doing business in Iran “will pay a significant economic price for doing so,” Representative Howard Berman, a California Democrat who heads the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said in an e-mailed statement. “The safest course for all such companies, and their subsidiaries, would be to cease any and all business operations with Iran at the earliest possible opportunity.”

Wenk said the lobbying is largely focused at modifying, not totally killing, certain provisions of the bill.

“We know we can’t stop this bill,” Wenk said in an interview. “But the provisions go far beyond Iran. There are some real unintended consequences.”

According to the Bloomberg report, Boeing–the world’s second-largest commercial plane maker after Airbus SAS–wants to cut out a provision banning U.S. companies from being aided by foreign export-credit agencies that also guarantee exports to Iran, spokesman Timothy Neale said. Exxon, the biggest U.S. oil company, wants to eliminate a prohibition on joint ventures with companies that separately have oil projects in Iran, said Alan Jeffers, a spokesman for the Irving, Texas-based company. Lloyd’s and other insurers based abroad want an exemption for “cooperating countries” working with the U.S. to curb sales to Iran, Charles Landgraf, the insurance market’s Washington lobbyist, said in an interview.

Mothers of Jailed Hikers Given Visas

May 13, 2010

The mothers of the three American hikers who were arrested and jailed in July after they were picked up by Iranian authorities along the Iran-Iraq border told the Associated Press they received visas today and are set to travel to Tehran early next week in an attempt to see their children.

Josh Fattal, 27, Shane Bauer, 27 and Sarah Shourd, 31, are all UC Berkeley grads. They were picked up 10 months ago on charges that they were spies.

“We’re really over-the-top excited about this,” Nora Shourd–Sarah’s mother–told the AP. “I can barely breathe this morning. We’ve waited for this so long. And it’s going to be wonderful to see these kids, absolutely wonderful.”

In addition to visiting their imprisoned children, the three mothers expect to meet with their Iranian attorney and the Swiss ambassador in Iran; since the US and Iran have no official relations, negotiations are managed by the Swiss. The women also hope to meet with Iranian authorities, but their requests have not yet been answered.

Both Tehran and Washington have confirmed that the women were granted visas. Iranian foreign minister Manouchehr Mottaki publicly stated that the visas were granted on humanitarian grounds.

Though the three have been in jail for 285 days, Iran has reportedly not yet tried them, or made formal charges against them. Critics believe the three are being used as bargaining chips, and give evidence to their claim by pointing out that the Iranian president in February offered to swap them for Iranians reportedly jailed in the U.S.

According to the AP report, Bauer is a freelance journalist who had been hired to cover the Kurdish elections in Iraq. At the time of his arrest, however, his family said he was taking a hiking trip with his friends. Bauer and Shourd were dating and had been living in Damascus, Syria, where she taught English and had written for various online publications. Their friend Fattal was visiting them after traveling overseas on a teaching fellowship.

Can Brazil Save the World from War with Iran?

May 7, 2010

Can Brazil Save the World from War with Iran?
by Robert Naiman

Sao Paulo – For the last several decades, fundamental international issues of war and peace have been largely determined by a small group of countries, especially the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, the US, Britain, France, Russia and China, with some occasional input from other so-called G7 industrial democracies: Germany, Italy, Canada, and Japan. The five permanent members of the UN Security Council each have a veto over UN Security Council resolutions; they are also the only countries recognized as nuclear-weapon states under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

We are now at a new moment in international relations, in which countries outside of the permanent members of the Security Council and their handpicked allies are insisting on having some meaningful input into global issues of war and peace, and are starting to have some success in pressing their case for inclusion. Brazil has been a leader in these efforts.
A striking example of this shift is the recent willingness of Brazil and Turkey to challenge the leadership of the United States on the question of responding to Iran’s nuclear program.

The governments of the United States, Britain and France are currently working to get new economic sanctions imposed against Iran in the United Nations Security Council, as punishment for Iran’s refusal to suspend the enrichment of uranium. Iran says it needs enriched uranium to supply its civilian nuclear power program and its medical research reactor, but the US has accused Iran of having ambitions to acquire a nuclear weapon. Until now, as far as anyone knows, Iran has only produced low-enriched uranium, which cannot be used to produce a nuclear weapon. However, a stockpile of low-enriched uranium could be further enriched to weapons-grade – although this is not a trivial task, technically or politically – and therefore an increase in the size of Iran’s stockpile of low-enriched uranium does in a sense move Iran closer to having the capacity to produce a nuclear weapon.

The enrichment of uranium by Iran or other non-nuclear weapons states is not a violation of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and it is generally acknowledged that the NPT gives Iran the right to enrich uranium. Indeed, given that Germany, Japan, Argentina, Brazil and the Netherlands enrich uranium and are non-nuclear weapons state signatories of the NPT, the non-discrimination provision of Article 4 clearly suggests that the right to enrich uranium should extend to Iran as well.

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Shiite Parties Form Largest Coalition in Iraq; Ayatollahs to choose PM; Win for Iran

May 7, 2010

Shiite Parties From Largest Coalition in Iraq; Ayatollahs to Choose PM; Win for Iran

By Juan Cole

The pan-Arab London daily al-Hayat [Life] reports in Arabic that sources close to the two major Shiite coalitions have revealed that they will form a 10-person committee of “wise men” to choose the country’s prime minister.

The “wise men” will consist of or include prominent Shiite clerics chosen by Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the spiritual leader of the Shiites, according to AP.

The move comes in the wake of the sudden announcement the night before last that the Iraqi National Alliance (Sadrists, Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, some others) and the State of Law (Islamic Mission Party or Da’wa and some others) will form a broad coalition. The step gives them a combined tally of 159 of 325 seats in parliament, only 4 short of the 51% required to form a government on the second ballot and then to rule effectively. Likely they will nevertheless seek to form a government of national unity.

The secular Iraqiya list, for which most Sunni Arabs voted denounced the move as having been orchestrated by Iran and returning Iraq to the sway of sectarian religious parties. But Iraqiya failed to form a government in its own right in part because of frictions between Sunni Arabs in the North and Kurds in the East, over the division of spoils.

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Shiite Parties Form Largest Coalition in Iraq; Ayatollahs to choose PM; Win for Iran

May 7, 2010

Shiite Parties Form Largest Coalition in Iraq; Ayatollahs to choose PM; Win for Iran.

Iran Agrees “In Principle” to Brazilian Mediation

May 5, 2010

The Iranian president has reportedly agreed “in principle” to Brazilian mediation in the stalled United Nations-backed nuclear fuel swap deal, which was first offered to Iran in October. Iran had initially agreed to the deal, but when Iran’s representative went back to Iran with the news, Iran said it would agree to the deal on a conditional basis: The swap had to take place on Iranian soil and Iran would send out its LEU for reprocessing in smaller doses than the UN-back plan called for. The original plan would have required Iran to send almost 80 percent of its total LEU to Russia for enrichment to the 20 percent level and then to France, for conversion of the enriched uranium into fuel rods to be used in Iran’s for medical and scientific purposes.

A statement issued today by the Iranian president’s office said that President Ahmadinejad spoke about Brazil’s offer of mediation during a conversation with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez–a friend of Iran’s–yesterday.

Brazil has previously called on the international community to show flexibility on the deal. This comes as the West is pressuring for a fourth round of sanctions on Iran over its controversial nuclear program.

In the past, Ahmadinejad has repeatedly said his country would not give up its right under the NPT to enrich uranium. In an interview aired Wednesday, Ahmadinejad said pressure or threats from other countries would not force Iran to change its position. Tehran maintains that it’s nuclear program is for peaceful purposes, but many Western nations remain unconvinced.

Negotiations come a few weeks after the U.S. and Russia agreed to scale back their nuclear weapons caches. In an attempt to be more transparent about its own nuclear program, the Obama administration announced it has 5,113 nuclear warheads.

Iran Reformist Tries to Enlist Labor and Teachers

April 30, 2010

Iran Reformist Tries to Enlist Labor and Teachers
By ROBERT F. WORTH
New York Times

BEIRUT, Lebanon — The Iranian opposition leader Mir Hussein Moussavi released a video statement on Thursday calling on workers and teachers to join the reformist cause, in a bold new attempt to broaden and energize the country’s flagging protest movement.

The statement came as groups representing laborers and teachers called for demonstrations, and a labor coalition issued its own list of economic grievances to mark International Labor Day, on May 1, opposition Web sites reported.

Mr. Moussavi and other opposition leaders have previously urged workers and teachers to join them, but not as directly or as urgently. Now the possibility of laborers taking to the streets — as they did during the 1979 Islamic Revolution — has rattled the hard-line establishment.

On Wednesday, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, issued a veiled warning to workers not to allow themselves to be politicized, saying “the enemy has tried to use the workers as a leverage against the Islamic regime” in the past, but had always failed, according to the semiofficial ILNA news agency.

In his video appeal, Mr. Moussavi said the challenges workers faced — low wages, inflation, economic mismanagement and the inability to create independent organizations — were also essential grievances of the Green movement, as the opposition calls itself.

He urged the creation of a united front against government malfeasance and injustice, and even linked President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s foreign policy to workers’ circumstances. “The government’s illogical actions have a direct effect on what the people of Iran can put on their table,” Mr. Moussavi said.

Workers’ and teachers’ groups have often demonstrated and issued grievances on Labor Day, but their cause has been distinct from that of the reformists, who — at least until last year — were led largely by students, intellectuals and former government officials. Ali Akbar Baghbani, the director of the largest Iranian teachers’ union, and Mohammad Beheshti Langaroudi, the union’s spokesman, were arrested and taken to Evin prison this week, according to the BBC’s Persian service. They were briefly imprisoned last year at this time.

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Iranian Economy’s Biggest Vulnerability: Iran

April 30, 2010

Iranian economy’s biggest vulnerability: Iran
Posted By Patrick Barry Thursday, April 29, 2010 – 4:05 PM
Foreign Policy

“When your adversary is making a fool of himself, get out of the way.” So said Pat Buchannan last year in response to conservative hawks pushing for U.S. intervention in the wake of Iran’s controversial Presidential election. At the time, those words made a lot of sense. Better for the U.S. to not give the Iranian government a handhold as it descended into infamy by making itself the focus of attention. Buchanan’s advice could just as easily apply to the now-urgent question of U.S. economic sanctions. As a congressional conference committee begins to put the finishing touches on an Iran sanctions package, it’s worth considering the evidence that the biggest threat to the Iranian economy is actually the regime itself. Economic sanctions might actually rescue the regime from its own failings, and produce the opposite of what their backers expect.

Iran’s economy may not be on life-support, but it is in pretty terrible shape. While the statistics reported by the Iranian government paint a rosy picture, the reality is quite different. Iran’s real per capita growth rate was 3.5 percent per annum from 2002-2009, but this period of growth coincided with a period of a steady rise in oil prices, suggesting the “government has not been very successful in achieving diversification of the economy.” Inflation is also on the rise, reaching 10.4 percent in April. Though that’s much lower than the annual rate of 30 percent from last year, the current government has consistently struggled to contain rising inflation (which is often attributed to President Ahmadinejad’s redistribution of oil revenues). Actual inflation may be much higher. Looking at prices in downtown Tehran, the real number might be hovering around 20 percent.

If that wasn’t bad enough, Iran continues to struggle with pronounced inequality. Virginia Tech Economist Djavad Salehi-Isfahani notes that between 2005 and 2007, at a time when Iran was experiencing respectable economic growth, “the income of the top 20 percent rose more than four times as fast as that of the bottom quintile.” Here again, rising oil prices appear to have had a negative effect. “The influx of oil revenues, which trickle down Iran’s unequal structure of access to power and position, always seems to worsen the distribution of income,” writes Salehi-Isfahani.

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Despite Sanction Talk, Venezuela and Vienna Maintain Alliance with Iran

April 27, 2010

Iran and Venezuela have been building their friendship for years now, with joint banks and similar outlooks on the US, but Caracas denied this week a US report that Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps had an increasing presence in his country.

The Pentagon report presented to the Congress earlier this month reportedly said the Revolutionary Guards’ elite Qods force, which operates internationally, had a growing presence in Latin America, and specifically in Venezuela.

Responding to the US report, Venezuela’s President, Hugo Chavez said, “Look at what they are saying.  If the US applies sanctions to Iran, these forces that are here—something that is absolutely false—could then attack US territory or US interests with terrorist acts.”

Chavez explained the report as part of Washington’s effort to pressure and intimidate Caracas.

“Tell me this isn’t an open threat by the government of the United States against Venezuela once again using infamy and lies,” Chavez was quoted as saying.

But South American countries, like Venezuela and Bolivia, aren’t the only countries interested in working with oil-rich Iran.  A report out this week in the Wall Street Journal said Austria is moving closer towards Iran, as it welcomed Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki.

Vienna on Sunday hosted a joint press conference with Mottaki. As he shook hands with Austrian Foreign Minister Michael Spindelegger, the flag of the Islamic Republic flew on top of the building of the foreign ministry, together with those of Austria and the European Union. During the conference, Spindelegger was quoted as saying, “dialogue is a central element” and urged Iran to cooperate so that sanctions could be avoided.  Mottaki thanked his Austrian counterpart for hosting him, referring to Spindelegger as “my friend.”

It remains unclear as to whether or not Austria—a rotating member of the United Nations Security Council—would sign onto a fourth round of sanctions on its trading partner.

All this comes as Austria’s neighbors in Europe are working to reduce their trade ties with Iran, and while the U.S. and other Western countries look to Iran’s neighbors in the Middle East to secure petroleum supplies as a replacement to Iranian supplies.  Yet oil-hungry countries like China continue to remain trading partners with Iran, despite U.S. efforts.

According to the Wall Street Journal report, Austrian exports in general fell 20 percent in 2009; but exports to Iran—which reportedly include sophisticated machinery and electronic goods—rose by almost 6 percent in 2009.  All this while the U.S., Britain, France, and Germany are pushing hard for sanctions on Iran. 

“Bilateral business relations between Austria and Iran are excellent, but still expandable.” No wonder his Iranian counterpart Ali Naghi Khamoushi said a few years back that “Austria is for us the gateway to the European Union.”