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War Within Iran.

The 192-member UN General Assembly on Dec. 18 voted its "deep concern" over atrocities in Iran, such as stoning, repression of female dissidents and persecution of human rights defenders. The government's campaign against its people has targeted Internet cafes and young women who show too much hair. Executions - many in public - were up at least 19% over 2006. At universities, dozens of students and teachers who are too liberal or speak out against the regime have been arrested or silenced - especially after President Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad was in 2006 heckled during a speech at the prestigious Amir-Kabir University of Technology. The leadership's paranoia over what Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Commander Mohammad Ali Ja'fari calls "internal threats" now extends to its own ranks.

Former nuclear negotiator Hossein Mousavian was arrested recently on espionage charges, which drew sharp response from Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei. Iran's 70m people - two-thirds younger than 33 - are alienated from their government and tired of nearly three decades of "Islamic revolution" with little to show for it. They resent the wasteful spending of billions of dollars in oil income. Public frustrations could explode in the lead-up to March 2008 elections for parliament or the 2009 presidential vote.

Riots erupted last June when subsidised gasoline prices were raised. As rigged as elections are by the ruling clerics, they do spark struggles between conservatives and reformers which reflect the public mood. The mood now is focused on an inflation rate of 20% - matched by a similar rate in unemployment. When he was elected in 2005, Ahmadi-Nejad promised to put "the oil money on people's dinner tables". People are eating inflated prices for food and other basics, barely coping in an economy rising too slowly for Iran's population growth. All this led 21 opposition parties to form a coalition recently in the name of saving Iran from crisis. The coalition is led by former Presidents Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and Mohammad Khatami, the latter inspiring the opposition to be bolder in its claims that it represents the interests of Iran's poor, not the current leadership. Ahmadi-Nejad claims the US is behind the discontent. Economic mismanagement and political repression are the real foes. Current UN economic sanctions on Iran for its nuclear ambitions add a measure of pressure on the theocracy. In January the UNSC may impose stiffer sanctions.

US Hits At Chinese Tehran Oil Deal: The US has complained to Beijing about the $2 bn Dec. 9 buy-back contract between the state-owned Sinopec and National Iranian Oil Co. (NIOC) to develop the giant Yadavaran oilfield in Iran. The FT on Dec. 21 quoted a "senior US official" as saying: "We were very concerned to see the announcement and we have followed up and communicated that concern to the Chinese multiple levels". He said the US was waiting for "further details" from China about the transaction, adding: "We don't think it makes sense for any country to be expanding its investment in the energy field in Iran".

Investments in Iran's energy sector are likely to escape UNSC sanctions in the near future, but they are key to Iran's economy - and are therefore the subject of concerted US lobbying. But other powers - including Britain and France, which both support further action - say the sanctions drive has been complicated by the Dec. 3 publication of the NIE. The official said: "We hope in...January to have a resolution passed by the full Security Council. The Iranians have been saying for the last two weeks [since publication of the NIE] that there is no longer a reason for the UN even to be involved in the issue...I think it will be a rude awakening to them that the permanent five [UNSC] members think otherwise".

Washington is frustrated by the deadlock at the UN. But although both Russia and China have reservations about sanctions, the US says it has received more co-operation from Moscow than from Beijing - despite Russia's announcement it had recently delivered a fuel shipment for Iran's nuclear reactor at Bushehr. The US had welcomed signs that Russia was not completing work on Bushehr before late 2008 as helpful additional leverage on Iran. The US official said: "For a very long time we thought it was good for Russia to delay the [Bushehr] project... This...makes our argument. Iran does not need its own capacity to produce fissile material...when it has a country like Russia willing to ship fuel in".

Iran on Dec. 17 indicated it was building a second nuclear power plant. The revelation came in comments by the head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organisation, Gholam-Reza Aghazadeh, made to state-run TV. He was dismissing speculation that the arrival of the Russian fuel would allow Iran to halt its uranium enrichment in Natanz. He said: "We are building a 360 MW indigenous power plant in Darkhovein", referring to a southern city north of Bushehr. He added: "The fuel for this plant needs to be produced by the Natanz enrichment facility". Bushehr and Darkhovein were both planned before 1979. It was not clear how much construction had been done at Darkhovein. The location is sometimes spelled Darkhovin, or referred to by other nearby place names, including Ahvaz, Esteghlal and Karun.

Aghazadeh said Iran needed to increase the centrifuges at Natanz from 3,000 to 50,000, adding that with the current 3,000 it could only produce fuel for a 100 MW plant. Moscow has indicated the 1,000 MW Bushehr plant could come on line within three months at up to 200 MW before being cranked up to full capacity nine months later.

The National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) told the Wall Street Journal of Dec. 11 that Tehran did shut down its nuclear weapons programme in late 2003 but restarted it a year later, dispersing equipment to thwart international inspectors (see news25-Iran-USDec17-07).
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Publication:APS Diplomat News Service
Geographic Code:7IRAN
Date:Dec 24, 2007
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