Congressmen tell Obama to increase pressure on Iran over nukes


In the wake of Iran’s recent election, a bipartisan group of congressmen are calling on President Obama to increase pressure on Iran to dismantle its nuclear weapons program.

The new Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani, was perceived to be the most moderate of the candidates and “while this was not a free and fair election, judged by international standards, its outcome reflected considerable dissatisfaction by the Iranian people with an autocratic and repressive government that has internationally isolated Iran,” the letter from the congressmen to Obama noted.

The June 28 letter was signed by Reps. Ed Royce, (R-Calif.) and Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) and 43 other members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

The letter pointed out that “Iran’s election unfortunately has done nothing to suggest a reversal of Iran’s pursuit of a nuclear weapons capacity.” It also noted that Rouhani previously served as his country’s nuclear negotiator and had indicated his support for the program in a post-election news conference.

“Our diplomatic goal must be to reach a negotiated settlement in which Iran agrees to verifiably dismantle its nuclear weapons program. For this outcome to be realized, Iran must face intensifying pressure,” the congressmen wrote.

Iran, world powers ‘far apart’ after new nuke talks


The world powers will pursue further talks with Iran over its nuclear program, but will not continue them indefinitely, John Kerry said a day after another round of talks failed to produce any new proposals.

The talks between Iran and six world powers – the United States, Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia, ended Saturday in Almaty, Kazakhstan.  Kerry made the statement Sunday in Istanbul.

The world powers waited for Iran's response to a proposal under which Iran would halt production of nearly weapons-grade enriched uranium in exchange for the easing of economic sanctions.

In return, Iran said it made a “comprehensive proposal” to “establish a new bedrock for cooperation,” similar to a proposal rejected by the powers in June.

The announcement by Ali Baqeri, deputy head of the Iranian delegation, came following the opening session of talks in Kazakhstan.

Baqeri said that Iran had more than met demands from American and European officials that his country offer a concrete show of willingness to address international concerns about its nuclear program.

“These steps are referred to as confidence-building measures, but they are part of a comprehensive set of measures,” Baqeri said.

European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who led the talks, said the sides “remain far apart on the substance.” No new talks were scheduled.

At the last round of talks in February, the world powers offered a modest easing of international sanctions if Iran takes steps to limit its supply of dangerous enriched uranium. The proposal required Iran to shut its enrichment plant at Fordow.

While Iran says its nuclear program is exclusively for civilian purposes, American, Israeli, European and other Western officials suspect that Tehran is seeking the technology for nuclear weapons.

Israel minister: Possible war with Iran could be month-long affair


War with Iran would probably turn into a month-long conflict on various fronts with missile strikes on Israeli cities and some 500 dead, Israel’s civil defense minister said in an interview published on Wednesday.

“There is no room for hysteria. Israel’s home front is prepared as never before,” Matan Vilnai, a former general who is about to leave his cabinet post to become ambassador to China, told the Maariv daily.

The interview coincided with Israeli media reports over the past week suggesting that Israel might attack Iran’s nuclear facilities before the U.S. presidential election in November.

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said on Tuesday that Washington does not believe Israel has made a decision on whether to strike.

“I don’t want to be dragged into the debate,” Vilnai said, when asked if Israel should go to war against Iran. “But the United States is our greatest friend and we will always have to coordinate such moves with it.”

Echoing an assessment already voiced by Defence Minister Ehud Barak, Vilnai was quoted as saying hundreds of missiles could hit Israeli cities daily and kill some 500 people in a war with Iran, which has promised strong retaliation if attacked.

“There might be fewer dead, or more, perhaps … but this is the scenario for which we are preparing, in accordance with the best expert advice,” Vilnai said.

“The assessments are for a war that will last 30 days on several fronts,” he said, alluding to the possibility Iranian-backed Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon and Palestinian militants in Gaza would also launch rockets at Israel.

Israel has built a sophisticated missile shield likely to stop some of the salvoes and regularly holds civil defence drills to prepare for rocket strikes.

Vilnai made no mention in the interview of the impact a month of conflict would have on Israel’s economy should Tel Aviv, Israel’s commercial center, be hit by long-range missiles.

Tel Aviv was not struck by missiles during Israel’s three-week war in the Gaza Strip in late 2008 and early 2009 and in a 34-day conflict with Hezbollah in 2006. But it came under Scud rocket fire from Iraq during the 1991 Gulf war.

War jitters with Iran, which denies accusations that it is striving to develop nuclear weapons, caused steep declines in Israeli financial markets on Monday although some of those losses were recovered on Tuesday.

“Just as the citizens of Japan have to understand they are likely to be hit by an earthquake, Israelis must realize that anyone who lives here has to be prepared for missiles striking the home front,” Vilnai said.

Vilnai is set to leave office by the end of August. Netanyahu announced on Tuesday that he will be replaced by Avraham Dichter, a previous head of the Shin Bet, Israel’s domestic intelligence agency.

Writing by Jeffrey Heller; editing by Crispian Balmer

Amid new Iran nuke rumors, Barak and Panetta to meet


Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak will meet with his U.S. counterpart, Leon Panetta, in Washington amid reports that Iran may have achieved the capability to build a nuclear bomb.

Israel has said that such a capability is a “red line” that could trigger military action.

The defense chiefs are scheduled to meet Thursday.

The Associated Press reported this week that it had obtained a drawing of an explosives containment chamber said to exist on an Iranian military site. The chamber’s only known use would be to test nuclear weapons.

Iran has denied reports that it is seeking a nuclear weapon. Western experts have said the Islamic Republic appears to be moving closer to such a capability.

The Obama administration has endeavored to keep Israel from striking while it pursues sanctions and diplomatic pressure as a means of getting Iran to retreat from its suspected nuclear weapons program.

Report: Iran to allow inspection of suspected nuclear site


Iran will allow inspectors from the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog group to visit a suspected nuclear site on a military base near Tehran.

The International Atomic Energy Agency will be granted access to the Parchin military complex at a time to be announced, the semi-official ISNA news agency reported Tuesday.

The visit cannot be held, however, until an agreement is reached on inspection guidelines, according to the ISNA.

It is believed that Parchin is home to a large chamber to test nuclear explosives.

The IAEA requested to visit the site last month during talks in Tehran, but the request was denied.

The nuclear watchdog last visited the site in 2005, but did not look in the area where the explosives chamber is believed to be located, Reuters reported.

The site could be taken out in a possible Israeli attack on Iranian nuclear sites.  U.S. President Barak Obama met Monday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu where they reportedly discussed the Iranian nuclear crisis.

Obama: Diplomacy still the way to stop Iran nukes, but military option on table


President Obama said it was still possible to resolve Iran’s suspected bid for a nuclear weapon through diplomacy, but added that a military option was still on the table and that containment was not an option.

“I firmly believe that an opportunity remains for diplomacy, backed by pressure, to succeed,” Obama told the annual American Israel Public Affairs Committee policy conference on Sunday in Washington.

“The United States and Israel both assess that Iran does not yet have a nuclear weapon, and we are exceedingly vigilant in monitoring their program,” he said. “Now the international community has a responsibility to use the time and space that exists.”

The comments did not earn applause; there have been reports that Israel and AIPAC are pressing Obama to make the military option more explicit.

Obama did appear to ratchet up the military threat later in the speech, earning a standing ovation after saying that his policy is to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

“Iran’s leaders should have no doubt about the resolve of the United States, just as they should not doubt Israel’s sovereign right to make its own decisions about what is required to meet its security needs,” the U.S. leader said. “I have said that when it comes to preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, I will take no options off the table, and I mean what I say. That includes all elements of American power; a political effort aimed at isolating Iran; a diplomatic effort to sustain our coalition and ensure that the Iranian program is monitored; an economic effort to impose crippling sanctions; and, yes, a military effort to be prepared for any contingency.

“Iran’s leaders should know that I do not have a policy of containment; I have a policy to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.”

West seeks to pressure Iran at U.N. nuclear meet


Western powers hope to win Russian and Chinese backing for rebuking Iran at the U.N. nuclear agency next week over Tehran’s failure to address mounting fears that it is secretly bent on acquiring nuclear weapons capability, diplomats say.

Seeking to ward off any such diplomatic action, Iran has warned its opponents and others against making “provocative statements” at the March 5-9 meeting of the 35-nation governing board of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Western envoys say the lack of progress at talks this year between the IAEA and Iran and Tehran’s acceleration of sensitive atomic activity mean the board should respond to the country’s defiance of increased international pressure.

But they make clear they want broad support for any new board resolution and especially from Russia and China, which have backed four rounds of U.N. sanctions since 2006 but criticised unilateral Western punitive steps against Iran.

An IAEA resolution, while containing no concrete measures, would be aimed at sending a united message to Iran that it must stop stonewalling the U.N. agency’s investigation into possible military dimensions to its nuclear programme, diplomats say.

“We think there needs to be a resolution that makes clear … that Iran needs to do more, a lot more, to comply with the agency’s requirements,” a senior Western official said.

He said Iran’s lack of cooperation with a senior IAEA team, during two rounds of meetings in Tehran in January and February, represented a “gigantic slap in the face” for the IAEA.

But an ambassador of a non-Western state showed a lack of enthusiasm, saying a resolution that was adopted at the most recent board meeting in November, and voiced increasing concern about Iran’s nuclear programme, was still “relevant”.

It was more important, he said, to create “favourable conditions” for a resumption of wider nuclear negotiations between Iran and the six major powers – the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany.

They are discussing how to react to an Iranian offer last month to restart talks which have been frozen for more than a year, as Iran presses ahead with its nuclear programme.

A report by the IAEA last week said Iran was significantly stepping up uranium enrichment, a finding that sent oil prices higher on fears tensions between Tehran and the West could escalate into military conflict.

Israel has threatened to launch strikes to prevent Iran getting the bomb, saying Tehran’s continued technological progress means it could soon pass into a “zone of immunity”. U.S. officials say sanctions should be given time to work.

IRAN’S “OUT OF THE BLUE” OFFER

The IAEA’s report showed Iran had tripled monthly output of uranium enriched to a fissile concentration of 20 percent, well above what is usually needed to fuel nuclear power plants.

Iran says the more highly refined uranium will replenish the dwindling special fuel stocks of a reactor that produces medicinal isotopes.

But 20 percent enrichment, experts say, represents most of the effort needed to attain the 90 percent threshold required for nuclear explosions.

Much of this work is carried out deep inside a mountain at Iran’s underground Fordow facility to better shield it against military strikes, and it is preparing for a further expansion.

Iran is now believed to be capable of increasing its output capacity of 20 pct uranium four-fold “over a fairly short period of time”, a Western diplomat said.

The IAEA report showed total production so far of this higher-grade material at about 110 kg, roughly half way to the quantity Western experts say would be sufficient for one bomb.

Iran denies Western accusations that it is seeking weapons of mass destruction, saying it needs higher-grade uranium for the Tehran research reactor making isotopes for cancer care.

Iran’s envoy to the IAEA, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, insisted that “substantial progress” was made in the Tehran meetings.

“There shouldn’t be any provocative statements. There should be encouraging statements for Iran and the agency to continue the work,” he told reporters this week.

During the two rounds of talks in the Iranian capital, Iran did not grant IAEA requests to visit the Parchin military facility, seen as central for its investigation.

The November IAEA report said the agency had information that Iran had built a large containment chamber at Parchin to conduct high-explosives tests which, it said, were “strong indicators of possible weapon development.”

Vienna-based diplomats said the agency team at the talks had turned down a last-minute offer for them to go to another site, in the region of Marivan, also mentioned in the IAEA report as it detailed research activities relevant for atomic bombs.

But that offer came “out of the blue” and the agency team was completely unprepared to go there, one envoy said.

The IAEA board was also expected to touch on North Korea’s announcement this week that it would suspend major elements of its nuclear weapons programme and allow U.N. inspectors back for the first time in three years.

On another sensitive nuclear issue, diplomats said Syria had once again made clear, in an exchange of letters with the IAEA, that it was not in a position to engage with the agency in its long-stalled investigation into Damascus’s atomic activity.

“I simply can’t imagine that there is any capacity in Syria at the moment to mobilise any sort of practical response on this,” the Western diplomat said, referring to President Bashar al-Assad’s ongoing campaign to stamp out a popular uprising.

Iran parliament vote seen bolstering Supreme Leader


Iranians voted on Friday in a parliamentary election likely to reinforce Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s power over rival hardliners led by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Iranian leaders were looking for a high turnout to ease an acute crisis of legitimacy caused by Ahmadinejad’s re-election in 2009 when widespread accusations of fraud plunged the Islamic Republic into the worst unrest of its 33-year history.

Iran also faces economic turmoil compounded by Western sanctions over a nuclear program that has prompted threats of military action by Israel, whose leader meets U.S. President Barack Obama in the White House on Monday.

The vote in Iran is only a limited test of political opinion since leading reformist groups stayed out what became a contest between the Khamenei and Ahmadinejad camps.

“Whenever there has been more enmity towards Iran, the importance of the elections has been greater,” Khamenei, 72, said after casting his vote before television cameras.

“The arrogant powers are bullying us to maintain their prestige. A high turnout will be better for our nation … and for preserving security.”

The vote will have scant impact on Iran’s foreign or nuclear policies, in which Khamenei already has the final say, but could strengthen the Supreme Leader’s hand before the presidential vote next year. Ahmadinejad, 56, cannot run for a third term.

Iranians may be preoccupied with sharply rising prices and jobs, but it is Iran’s supposed nuclear ambitions that worry the outside world. Western sanctions over the nuclear program have hit imports, driving prices up and squeezing ordinary Iranians.

OBAMA-NETANYAHU TALKS

Just days away from the talks between Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, their aides were scrambling to bridge differences over what Washington fears could be a premature Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear sites.

Netanyahu will press Obama, who is facing a presidential election campaign, to stress publicly the nuclear “red lines” that Iran must not cross, Israeli officials say.

Global oil prices have spiked to 10-month highs on tensions between the West and Iran, OPEC’s second biggest crude producer.

The election took place without two main opposition leaders. Mirhossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karoubi, who both ran for president in 2009, have been under house arrest for more than a year.

No independent observers are on hand to monitor the voting or check the turnout figures that officials will announce.

Former president Hashemi Rafsanjani made a pointed reference to the outcome of the 2009 vote, which he questioned at the time. “If the election outcome turns out to be what the people cast in the ballot boxes, God willing we will have a good parliament,” the elder statesman said after voting in Tehran.

Ahmadinejad also voted, but state media did not immediately show this or report any comment he might have made. The outgoing parliament is due to grill him next week on his handling of the economy and other issues – an unprecedented humiliation for an incumbent president, but one he may use to hit back at his foes.

Polling stations opened at 8 a.m. (0430 GMT) and were due to close at 6 p.m., but might stay open longer. Ballots are counted manually and Iran may have to wait three days for full results.

Voting was slow at first in affluent northern Tehran but picked up later. Voters queued up in poorer parts of the capital and in provincial cities, Reuters witnesses said.

“I am here to support my establishment against the enemies’ plot by voting,” said Mahboubeh Esmaili, 28, holding her baby in a queue of about 50 people at a central Tehran polling centre.

SLAP IN FACE

Khamenei has told Iranians that their vote would be a “slap in the face for arrogant powers” such as the United States.

A U.S. official said Iran had clamped down on dissent since the turbulent presidential election nearly three years ago.

“Since then, the regime’s repression and persecution of all who stand up for their universal human rights has only intensified,” U.S. Under Secretary of State Mario Otero told the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva.

U.N. human rights chief Navi Pillay said in her report to the council she was alarmed at a “surge in executions” reported in Iran in the past year. She gave no figures.

The two main groups competing for parliament’s 290 seats are the United Front of Principlists, which includes Khamenei loyalists, and the Resistance Front that backs Ahmadinejad.

The president, a blacksmith’s son, has long appealed to Iran’s rural poor with his humble image and cash handouts from state funds, but spiraling prices have dented his popularity.

Energy and food imports have been hit by sanctions aimed at forcing Iran to halt sensitive nuclear work that the West suspects is a cover for a drive to build atomic bombs. Tehran says it has only peaceful aims, such as generating electricity.

Prices of staple goods, many of them imported, have soared because the Iranian rial’s value has sunk as U.S. and European Union sanctions on the financial and oil sectors begin to bite.

Ahmadinejad’s critics accuse him of making things worse for low-income Iranians, saying his decision to replace food and fuel subsidies with direct monthly payments since 2010 has fuelled inflation, officially running at around 21 percent.

ALLIES FALL OUT

The president enjoyed solid support from Khamenei in the months of “Green Movement” protests that followed the 2009 election, but the two men have fallen out badly since then.

For Khamenei, the parliamentary election could reinforce his grip on power against a president seen as trying to undermine the clergy’s central role in Iran’s complex political hierarchy.

Ahmadinejad and his “deviant current” allies have alarmed Khamenei’s conservative camp by emphasizing nationalist themes of Iranian history and culture over the Islamic ruling system introduced by revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

Khamenei succeeded Khomeini, who died in 1989.

Some Iranian media reports said Ahmadinejad hoped to secure the election of his chief of staff, Esfandiar Rahim-Mashaie, to succeed him. Khamenei will want to install one of his own loyalists to prevent further divisions within the ruling elite.

Powerful establishment groups, including senior clerics, the elite Revolutionary Guards and bazaar merchants, formed an alliance to back Khamenei loyalists in the parliamentary vote.

Not everyone can run in Iranian elections. The hard-line Guardian Council, made up of six clerics and six jurists who vet candidates, approved more than 3,400 out of 5,382 applicants.

Some politicians said the council barred many established Ahmadinejad supporters, forcing him to pick political unknowns.

The rift between Khamenei and Ahmadinejad broke into the open in April 2011 when the Supreme Leader forced the president to reinstate an intelligence minister he had insisted on firing.

Khamenei has kept up the pressure in recent months. Dozens of Ahmadinejad allies have been detained or sacked for links to the “deviant current”.

Most strikingly, the president’s media adviser, Ali Akbar Javanfekr, has received a one-year jail term for insulting Khamenei, which an appeal court upheld on Wednesday.

The authorities suggested that malign foreign hands were trying to disrupt the election.

“So far, 10 saboteurs who came to Tehran from outside the country have been arrested and are now in detention,” Mohammad Taqi Baqeri, a Tehran election official was quoted as saying by the semi-official Fars news agency. He gave no details.

Additional reporting by Hashem Kalantari in Tehran, Marcus George in Dubai and Matt Spetalnick in Washington; Writing by Alistair Lyon; Editing by Mark Heinrich

Iran defiant as U.N. nuclear talks fail


The U.N. nuclear watchdog ended its latest mission to Iran after talks on Tehran’s suspected secret atomic weapons research failed, a setback likely to increase the risk of confrontation with the West.

The United States criticized Iran on Wednesday over the failure of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s latest mission, saying it again showed Tehran’s refusal to abide by its international obligations over its nuclear program.

Expressing defiance, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said Iran’s nuclear policies would not change despite mounting international pressure against what the West says are Iran’s plans to obtain nuclear bombs.

“With God’s help, and without paying attention to propaganda, Iran’s nuclear course should continue firmly and seriously,” he said on state television. “Pressures, sanctions and assassinations will bear no fruit. No obstacles can stop Iran’s nuclear work.”

A team from the Vienna-based IAEA had hoped to inspect a site at Parchin, southeast of Tehran, where the agency believes there is a facility to test explosives. But the IAEA said Iran “did not grant permission.”

The failure of the two-day visit by the IAEA could hamper any resumption of wider nuclear negotiations between Iran and six world powers – the United States, China, Russia, Britain, France and Germany – as the sense grows that Tehran feels it is being backed into a corner.

‘INTERNATIONAL OBLIGATIONS’

In Washington, White House spokesman Jay Carney also said the United States was continuing to evaluate Iran’s intentions after Tehran sent a letter to EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton last week, raising hopes for the prospects of renewed talks with world powers.

“This particular action by Iran suggests that they have not changed their behavior when it comes to abiding by their international obligations,” Carney told reporters, expressing U.S. disappointment that the IAEA mission had ended in failure.

Iran rejects accusations that its nuclear program is a covert bid to develop a nuclear weapons capability, saying it is seeking to produce only electricity.

As sanctions mount, ordinary Iranians are suffering from the effects of soaring prices and a collapsing currency. Several Iranian nuclear scientists have been killed over the past two years in bomb attacks that Tehran has blamed on its arch-adversary Israel.

In response, Iran has issued a series of statements asserting its right to self-defense and threatening to block the Strait of Hormuz, a vital oil tanker route.

The collapse of the nuclear talks came as Iran seems increasingly isolated, with some experts seeing the Islamic republic’s mounting defiance in response to sanctions against its oil industry and financial institutions as evidence that it is in no mood to compromise with the West.

Parliamentary elections on March 2 are expected to be won by supporters of Khamenei, an implacable enemy of the West.

The United States and Israel have not ruled out using force against Iran if they conclude that diplomacy and sanctions will not stop it from developing a nuclear bomb.

In Jerusalem, Israel’s Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman dismissed appeals by world powers to avoid any pre-emptive attacks against Iran’s nuclear program.

Lieberman said that “with all due respect I have for the United states and Russia, it’s none of their business. The security of Israel and its residents, Israel’s future, is the responsibility of Israel’s government.”

The failure of the IAEA’s mission may increase the chances of a strike by Israel on Iran, some analysts say.

But this would be “catastrophic for the region and for the whole system of international relations,” Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov said.

Referring to Iran’s role in the failure of the IAEA mission, French Deputy Foreign Ministry spokesman Romain Nadal said: “It is another missed opportunity. This refusal to cooperate adds to the recent statements made by Iranian officials welcoming the progress of their nuclear activities.”

In the view of some analysts, the Iranians may be trying to keep their opponents guessing as to their capabilities, a diplomatic strategy that has served them well in the past.

“But they may be overdoing the smoke and mirrors and as a result leaving themselves more vulnerable,” said professor Rosemary Hollis of London’s City University.

‘WAGING A WAR’

Iranian analyst Mohammad Marandi said providing the West with any more access than necessary to nuclear sites would be a sign of weakness.

“Under the current conditions it is not in Iran’s interest to cooperate more than is necessary because the West is waging a war against the Iranian nation,” he told Reuters.

Earlier, Iran’s envoy to the IAEA, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, said Tehran expected to hold more talks with the U.N. agency, but IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano’s spokeswoman said no further meetings were planned.

“During both the first and second round of discussions, the agency team requested access to the military site at Parchin. Iran did not grant permission for this visit to take place,” the IAEA said in a statement.

“It is disappointing that Iran did not accept our request to visit Parchin. We engaged in a constructive spirit, but no agreement was reached,” Amano said.

A Western official added: “We think that if Iran has nothing to hide, why do they behave in that way?”

Iran’s refusal to curb sensitive atomic activities which can have both civilian and military purposes and its record of years of nuclear secrecy have drawn increasingly tough U.N. and separate U.S. and European measures.

An IAEA report in November suggested Iran had pursued military nuclear technology. It helped precipitate the latest sanctions by the European Union and United States.

One key finding was information that Iran had built a large containment chamber at Parchin to conduct high-explosives tests. The U.N. agency said there were “strong indicators of possible weapon development”.

The IAEA said intensive efforts had been made to reach agreement on a document “facilitating the clarification of unresolved issues” in connection with Iran’s nuclear program.

“Unfortunately, agreement was not reached on this document,” it said in an unusually blunt statement on Wednesday.

Additional reporting by Dan Williams, John Irish, William Maclean and Matt Spetalnick; writing by Giles Elgood and Will Dunham; editing by Mohammad Zargham

Russia to Israel: Attacking Iran would be ‘catastrophic’


Russia warned Israel on Wednesday that attacking Iran would be a disastrous and played down the failure of a U.N. nuclear agency mission to Tehran, saying there is still a chance for new talks over the Iranian atomic program.

“Of course any possible military scenario against Iran will be catastrophic for the region and for the whole system of international relations,” Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov told a news conference.

It was one of Russia’s starkest warnings against resorting to force, an option Israel and the United States have not ruled out if they conclude that diplomacy and increasing sanctions will not stop Iran from developing a nuclear bomb.

“I hope Israel understands all these consequences … and they should also consider the consequences of such action for themselves,” Gatilov said. “I hope a realistic approach will prevail, along with a sensible assessment.”

Russia, China as well as many allies of the United States are concerned that any military action against Iran could engulf the Middle East in wider war, which would send oil prices rocketing at a time of global economic troubles.

Iran has threatened to retaliate for any attack, or even if it feels endangered, by closing the Strait of Hormuz, the conduit for Gulf oil exports crucial to the global economy, and hitting Israel and U.S. interests in the Middle East.

Tehran has refused to stop sensitive nuclear work such as uranium enrichment despite four rounds of U.N. sanctions and a slew of additional measures imposed by the United States and the European Union, which fear Tehran is seeking nuclear weapons.

The Islamic Republic says its efforts to produce nuclear fuel are solely for electricity generation.

IAEA-IRAN TALKS GO NOWHERE

The failure of two days of talks between Iran and senior International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) officials, who were refused access to a military site where they believe Iran tested explosives of use in nuclear weapons, dimmed the chances of Western powers agreeing to renew broader negotiations with Iran.

A warning from Iran’s clerical supreme leader on Wednesday, hours after the Tehran talks concluded, that no obstacle would derail Iran’s nuclear course added to tensions.

Gatilov suggested that Iran should be more cooperative but there is more room for diplomacy. He said Iran’s discussions with Russia, China, the United States, Britain, France and Germany, frozen for a year, could still be revived.

“Iran and IAEA should boost their dialogue in order to rule out the … possibility of the existence of military dimensions in the Iranian nuclear programme. We hope that this dialogue will be continued,” he said.

“I think we still have opportunity to continue diplomatic efforts, to renew the six-nation talks.”

Russia, which built Iran’s first nuclear power plant, has often stressed the need for talks and that too much coercive pressure on Iran is counterproductive, a stance that has prompted concerns Moscow has helped Tehran play for time.

Last week, Russia said global powers must be serious about proposing solutions Iran might accept, warning that Tehran’s desire for compromise was waning as it moved closer to being technically capable of building atomic weapons.

Reporting by Alexei Anishchuk; Writing by Steve Gutterman; Editing by Mark Heinrich

Iran boasts nuclear advances, deepening standoff


Iran proclaimed advances in nuclear know-how on Wednesday, including new centrifuges able to enrich uranium much faster, a move that may hasten a drift towards confrontation with the West over suspicions it is seeking the means to make atomic bombs.

Tehran’s resolve to pursue a nuclear program showed no sign of wavering despite Western sanctions inflicting increasing damage on its oil-based economy.

“The era of bullying nations has passed. The arrogant powers cannot monopolize nuclear technology. They tried to prevent us by issuing sanctions and resolutions but failed,” President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said in a live television broadcast.

“Our nuclear path will continue.”

However, Iran’s Arabic-language Al Alam television said the government had handed a letter to EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton expressing readiness to “hold new talks over its nuclear program in a constructive way.”

An Ashton spokeswoman confirmed receipt of the letter, saying she was evaluating it and would consult with the United States, Russia, China and other partners among the big powers.

Iran has long refused to negotiate curbs on its nuclear program, saying it is intended to produce electricity for booming domestic demand and for other civilian uses.

The United States and Israel have not ruled out military action against Iran if diplomacy and sanctions fail.

Washington however played down Iran’s latest announcement, saying its reported advances were “not terribly new and not terribly impressive.”

“We frankly don’t see a lot new here. This is not big news. In fact it seems to have been hyped,” a State Department spokeswoman said.

IRAN DENIES BANNING OIL EXPORTS TO EU

Iran’s Oil Ministry denied a state media report that it had cut off oil exports to six European Union states.

“We deny this report … If such a decision is made, it will be announced by Iran’s Supreme National Security Council,” a spokesman for the ministry told Reuters.

Iran’s English language Press TV said Tehran had halted oil deliveries to France, Portugal, Italy, Greece, Netherlands and Spain—its biggest EU customers—in retaliation for an EU ban on Iranian crude due to take effect in July.

The Islamic Republic is the world’s No. 5 oil exporter, with 2.6 million barrels going abroad daily, and the EU consumes around a fifth of those volumes.

With Western sanctions now spreading to block Iran’s oil exports and central bank financing of trade, Tehran has been resorting to barter to import staples like rice, cooking oil and tea, commodities traders say.

The most recent talks between world powers and Iran failed in January 2011 because of Tehran’s unwillingness to discuss transparent limits on enrichment, as demanded by several U.N. Security Council resolutions passed since 2006.

NEW GENERATION OF CENTRIFUGE

The nuclear achievements proclaimed by Tehran involved a new line of uranium enrichment centrifuge and the loading of its first domestically produced batch of fuel into a research reactor that is expected to soon run out of imported stocks.

Tehran has for some years been developing and testing new generations of centrifuges to replace its outdated, erratic “P-1” model. In January it said it had successfully manufactured and tested its own fuel rods for use in nuclear power plants.

Ahmadinejad said the “fourth generation” of centrifuge would be able to refine uranium three times as fast as previously.

If Iran eventually succeeded in introducing modern centrifuges for production, it could significantly shorten the time needed to stockpile enriched uranium, which can generate electricity or, if refined much more, nuclear explosions.

Last year, Iran installed two newer models for large scale testing at a research site near the central town of Natanz.

But it remains unclear whether Tehran, under increasingly strict trade sanctions, has the means and components to make the more sophisticated machines in industrial quantity.

“We have seen this before. We have seen these announcements and these grand unveilings and it turns out that there was less there than meets the eye. I suspect this is the same case,” said Shannon Kile at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).

However, Ahmadinejad said Iran had significantly increased the number of centrifuges at its main enrichment site at Natanz, saying there were now 9,000 such machines installed there.

In its last report on Iran, in November, the U.N. nuclear watchdog said there were 8,000 installed centrifuges at Natanz, of which up to 6,200 were operating.

MAJOR THREAT, FRANCE SAYS

France said Tehran’s latest moves again demonstrated that it would rather ignore international obligations than cooperate.

A British Foreign Office spokesman said: “(This) does not give any confidence that Iran is ready to engage meaningfully on the international community’s well-founded concerns about its nuclear program. Until it does so we’ll only increase peaceful and legitimate pressure on Iran to return to negotiations.”

Russia said global powers must work harder to coax concessions from Iran, warning that Tehran’s willingness to compromise was waning as it makes progress toward the potential capability of building nuclear warheads.

Making a case for a renewed dialogue, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said U.N. sanctions and additional measures introduced by Western nations had had “zero” effect on its nuclear program.

Iran has threatened retaliation for any attack or effective ban on its oil exports, suggesting it could seal off the main Gulf export shipping channel, the Strait of Hormuz, used by a third of the world’s crude oil tankers.

NEW FUEL FOR RESEARCH REACTOR

State television aired live footage of Ahmadinejad loading Iranian-made fuel rods into the Tehran Research Reactor and called this “a sign of Iranian scientists’ achievements.”

The Tehran reactor produces radio isotopes for medical use and agriculture. Iran says it was forced to manufacture its own fuel for the Tehran reactor after failing to agree terms for a deal to obtain it from the West.

In 2010, Iran alarmed the West by starting to enrich uranium to a fissile purity of 20 percent for the stated purpose of reprocessing into special fuel for the Tehran reactor.

In boosting enrichment up from the 3.5 percent level suitable for powering civilian nuclear plants, Iran moved significantly closer to the 90 percent threshold suitable for the fissile core of a nuclear warhead.

Analysts remained doubtful that Iran would be able to operate the research reactor with its own special fuel.

“As usual, the announcement surely is exaggerated. Producing the fuel plates … is not so hard. But the plates have to be tested for a considerable period before they can be used safely in the reactor,” said Mark Fitzpatrick of London’s International Institute for Strategic Studies.

“If Iran is really running the reactor with untested fuel plates, then my advice to the residents surrounding the building would be to move somewhere else. It will be unsafe.”

Spent fuel can be reprocessed into plutonium, the alternative key ingredient in atomic bombs. But Western worries about Iran’s nuclear program have focused on its enrichment program, which has accumulated enough material for up to several bombs, in the view of nuclear proliferation experts.

Analysts say the fuel rod development itself will not put Iran any closer to producing nuclear weapons, but could be a way of telling Tehran’s adversaries that time is running out if they want to find a negotiated solution to the dispute.

Iran appears to have overcome one serious recent obstacle to nuclear development by succeeding in neutralizing and purging the “Stuxnet” computer virus from its nuclear machinery, European and U.S. officials and private experts told Reuters. Many believe Israeli operators planted the virus.

Additional reporting by Mitra Amiri, Ramin Mostafavi in Tehran, Fredrik Dahl in Vienna, Steve Gutterman in Moscow, John Irish in Paris, Dmitry Zhdannikov and Adrian Croft in London; Editing by Mark Heinrich

Former IDF chief Ya’alon: West can hit all of Iran’s nukes


The West could carry out a military strike on any of Iran’s nuclear facilities, former Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Moshe Ya’alon said.

Ya’alon, the country’s deputy prime minister and minister of strategic affairs, told the 2012 Herzliya Conference Thursday that all of Iran’s nuclear facilities are within striking range.

“Any facility defended by a human being can be penetrated,” he said. “Any facility in Iran can be hit, and I speak from experience as the IDF chief of staff.”

Ya’alon added that “the West has the ability to strike, but as long as Iran isn’t convinced that there’s a determination to follow through with it, they’ll continue with their manipulations.”

The Wall Street Journal last week cited American military officials as saying that they did not have arms strong enough to penetrate all of Iran’s nuclear installations.

Ya’alon did not discount the idea that international sanctions could serve as a deterrent against an Iranian nuclear attack.

Earlier Thursday, Israel’s director of military intelligence, Maj.-Gen. Aviv Kochavi, told the conference that Iran has enough enriched uranium to produce four nuclear bombs and that Israel is threatened by some 200,000 missiles at any moment.

Ross: Iran nukes pose danger of nuclear war


The greatest danger posed by a nuclear Iran would be the increased likelihood of a Middle East nuclear war, Dennis Ross said.

“If Iran has nuclear weapons, the potential for nuclear war in the Middle East goes up dramatically,” Ross, whojust retired as the White House’s top Iran policy official, said during his first post-Obama administration address at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

The danger, Ross said, lies in the complete lack of communication between Israel and Iran, as opposed to open lines between earlier nuclear antagonists, like the United States and the Soviet Union.

“You are not going to have a stable situation where anyone can feel that they are going to wait,” he said. “If there is the slightest indication that Iran is changing its readiness, can Israel wait? … The potential for miscalculation would be enormous.”

Ross said President Obama was committed to preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.

“The administration prides itself on a certain reality that it does what it says,” he said, referring to Obama’s making good on his promise to capture or kill Osama bin Laden.

Regarding Iran, Ross said, when Obama “says all options remain on the table, it doesn’t mean that force is his first choice, but it means that that’s an option that he intends to exercise.”

On Israeli-Palestinian peace, Ross said the psychological gap between the sides remains wide, although substantively they are close.

He said that absent talks, Israel should preserve a “political horizon” that “validates” Palestinians that favor nonviolence, such as the current Palestinian Authority leadership. He suggested allowing the Palestinian police to expand their presence in parts of the West Bank and increasing economic access for Palestinians to all of the West Bank.

Ross has returned to work at the Washington Institute, an influential Washington think tank where he served as a top scholar from 2001 to 2009.

U.S. official says no sign Iran shot down drone


Iranian media reported on Sunday that their country’s military had shot down a U.S. reconnaissance drone in eastern Iran, but a U.S. official said there was no indication the aircraft had been shot down.

NATO’s U.S.-led mission in neighboring Afghanistan said the Iranian report could refer to an unarmed U.S. spy drone that went missing there last week.

The incident comes at a time when Tehran is trying to contain foreign outrage at the storming of the British embassy on Tuesday, after London announced sanctions on Iran’s central bank in connection with Iran’s nuclear enrichment program.

Iran has announced several times in the past that it shot down U.S., Israeli or British drones, in incidents that did not provoke high-profile responses.

“Iran’s military has downed an intruding RQ-170 American drone in eastern Iran,” Iran’s Arabic-language Al Alam state television network quoted a military source as saying.

“The spy drone, which has been downed with little damage, was seized by the Iranian armed forces,” the source said. “The Iranian military’s response to the American spy drone’s violation of our airspace will not be limited to Iran’s borders.”

Iranian officials were not available to comment further.

NATO’s International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan said in a statement: “The UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) to which the Iranians are referring may be a U.S. unarmed reconnaissance aircraft that had been flying a mission over western Afghanistan late last week.

“The operators of the UAV lost control of the aircraft and had been working to determine its status.”

A U.S. official, who asked not to be named, said: “There is absolutely no indication up to this point that Iranians shot down this drone.”

Tuesday’s storming of the British embassy attracted swift condemnation from around the world, further isolating Iran.

Britain evacuated its diplomatic staff from Tehran and expelled Iranian diplomats from London in retaliation. Several other EU members like Germany, France and Spain also recalled their ambassadors from Tehran.

The United States and Israel have not ruled out military action against Iran’s nuclear facilities if diplomacy fails to resolve a dispute over a program they suspect is aimed at developing atomic weapons. Iran says it would respond to any strike by attacking Israel and U.S. interests in the Gulf.

In January Iran said it shot down two unmanned Western reconnaissance drones in the Gulf. In July Iran said it had shot down an unmanned U.S. spy plane over the holy city of Qom, near its Fordu nuclear site.

Western nations on Thursday significantly tightened sanctions against Iran, with the European Union expanding an Iranian blacklist and the U.S. Senate passing a measure that could severely disrupt Iran’s oil income.

Iran warned the West on Sunday any move to block its oil exports would more than double crude prices with devastating consequences on a fragile global economy.

“As soon as such an issue is raised seriously the oil price would soar to above $250 a barrel,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast told the Sharq newspaper.

So far neither Washington nor Brussels has finalized a move against Iran’s oil trade or its central bank. Crude prices were pushed up over the British embassy storming with ICE Brent January crude up 95 cents on Friday to settle at $109.94 a barrel.

Additional reporting by Ramin Mostafavi in Tehran, Caren Bohan and David Alexander in Washington and Missy Ryan in Bonn; Writing by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Peter Graff

American Enterprise Institute admits the problem with Iran is not that it would use nukes


Suddenly the struggle to stop Iran is not about saving Israel from nuclear annihilation. After a decade of scare-mongering about the second coming of Nazi Germany, the Iran hawks are admitting that they have other reasons for wanting to take out Iran, and saving Israeli lives may not be one of them. Suddenly the neoconservatives have discovered the concept of truth-telling, although, no doubt, the shift will be ephemeral.

The shift in the rationale for war was kicked off this week when Danielle Pletka, head of the American Enterprise Institute’s (AEI) foreign policy shop and one of the most prominent neoconservatives in Washington, explained what the current obsession with Iran’s nuclear program is all about.

The biggest problem for the United States is not Iran getting a nuclear weapon and testing it, it’s Iran getting a nuclear weapon and not using it. Because the second that they have one and they don’t do anything bad, all of the naysayers are going to come back and say, “See, we told you Iran is a responsible power. We told you Iran wasn’t getting nuclear weapons in order to use them immediately.” … And they will eventually define Iran with nuclear weapons as not a problem.

Watch here.

Hold on. The “biggest problem” with Iran getting a nuclear weapon is not that Iranians will use it but that they won’t use it and that they might behave like a “responsible power”? But what about the hysteria about a second Holocaust? What about Prime Minister Netanyahu’s assertion that this is 1938 and Hitler is on the march? What about all of these pronouncements that Iran must be prevented from developing a nuclear weapons because the apocalyptic mullahs would happily commit national suicide in order to destroy Israel? And what about AIPAC and its satellites, which produce one sanctions bill after another (all dutifully passed by Congress) because of the “existential threat” that Iran poses to Israel? Did Pletka lose her talking points?

Apparently not.

Pletka’s “never mind” about the imminent danger of an Iranian bomb seems to be the new line from the bastion of neoconservativism. 

Earlier this week, one of Pletka’s colleagues at AEI said pretty much the same thing. Writing in the Weekly Standard, Thomas Donnelly explained that we’ve got the Iran problem all wrong and that we need to “understand the nature of the conflict.” He continued:

We’re fixated on the Iranian nuclear program while the Tehran regime has its eyes on the real prize: the balance of power in the Persian Gulf and the greater Middle East.

This admission that the problem with a nuclear Iran is not that it would attack Israel but that it would alter the regional balance of power is incredibly significant. The American Enterprise Institute is not Commentary, the Republican Jewish Coalition, or the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, which are not exactly known for their intellectual heft.

It is, along with the Heritage Foundation, the most influential conservative think tank. That is why it was able to play such an influential role in promoting the invasion of Iraq. Take a look at this page from the AEI website from January 2002 (featuring, no surprise, a head shot of Richard Perle). It is announcing one of an almost endless series of events designed to instigate war with Iraq, a war that did not begin for another 14 months. (Perle himself famously began promoting a war with Iraq within days of 9/11, according to former CIA director George Tenet.) AEI’s drumbeat for war was incessant, finally meeting with success in March 2003.

And now they are doing it again. On Monday, Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) — AIPAC’s favorite senator — will keynote an event at AEI, with Pletka and Donnelly offering responses. It will be moderated by Fred Kagan, another AEI fellow and Iraq (now Iran) war hawk. The event is built on the premise that “ongoing efforts to stop Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons have failed.”

We all know what that means. AEI will, no doubt, continue to host these “it’s time for war” events through 2012 and beyond, or until President Obama or his successor announces either that the United States has attacked Iran or that Israel has attacked and we are at her side.

If you didn’t know any better, you might ask why — given that Pletka and Donnelly are downgrading the Iranian nuclear threat — AEI is still hell-bent on war. If its determination to stop Iran is not about defending Israel from an “existential threat,” what is it truly about?

Fortunately, Pletka and Donnelly don’t leave us guessing. It is about preserving the regional balance of power, which means ensuring that Israel remains the region’s military powerhouse, with Saudi Arabia playing a supporting role. That requires overthrowing the Iranian regime and replacing it with one that will do our bidding (like the Shah) and will not, in any way, prevent Israel from operating with a free reign throughout the region.

This goal can only be achieved through outside intervention (war) because virtually the entire Iranian population — from the hardliners in the reactionary regime to reformists in the Green Movement working for a more open society — are united in support of Iran’s right to develop its nuclear potential and to be free of outside interference. What the neoconservatives want is a pliant government in Tehran, just like we used to have, and the only way to achieve this, they believe, is through war.

At this point, it appears that they may get their wish. The only alternative to war is diplomacy, and diplomacy, unlike war, seems to be no longer on the table.

At a fascinating Israel Policy Forum (IPF) this week, Barbara Slavin, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council and a longtime journalist and author who specializes on Iran, noted that the Obama administration has spent a grand total of 45 minutes in direct engagement with the Iranians. Forty-five minutes! Just as bad, the administration no longer makes any effort to engage.

This is crazy. Of course, there is no way of knowing if the Iranian regime wants to talk, but what is the harm of trying? If they say no, they say no. If we talk and the talks go nowhere, then at least we tried. But we won’t try out of fear of antagonizing campaign donors who have been told that the alternative to war is the destruction of Israel. (Thanks to those same donors, Congress is utterly hopeless on this issue.)

So, instead of pursuing diplomacy, we are inching closer toward war.

At IPF, Slavin predicted what the collateral results of an attack on Iran would be:

What’s the collateral damage? Oh my lord. Well, you destroy the reform movement in Iran for another generation because people will rally around the government; inevitably they do when country is attacked.

People always talk about the Iranians being so irrational and wanting martyrdom. That’s bull. They’re perfectly happy to fight to the last Arab suicide bomber. But they don’t put their own lives on the line unless their country is attacked.

So, you know, they would rally around the government and that would destroy the reform movement. And of course the price of oil would spike. The Iranians will find ways to retaliate through their partners like Hezbollah and Hamas. I think the Israelis would have to attack Lebanon first, to take out Hezbollah’s 40,000 rockets. It’s not just a matter of a quick few hops over Saudi Arabia and you hit Natanz, you know, and a few other places.

That’s why the Israelis want the United States to do it, because they can’t do it, frankly. U.S. does it? Okay, the remaining U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan are sitting ducks. Iran is already playing footsie with the Taliban in Afghanistan. That will become much more pronounced. They will perhaps attack the Saudi oil fields.

Slavin continues, but the point is clear. An Iran war would make the Iraq war look like the “cake walk” neoconservatives promised it would be.

And for what? To preserve the regional balance of power? How many American lives is that worth? Or Israeli lives? Or Iranian? (It is worth noting that this week, Max Boot, the Council on Foreign Relations’ main neocon, wrote that an attack on Iran, which he advocates, would only delay development of an Iranian bomb.)

Nonetheless, at this point war looks likely. Under our political system, the side that can pay for election campaigns invariably gets what it wants. There is, simply put, no group of donors who are supporting candidates for president and Congress based on their opposition to war, while millions of organized dollars are available to those who support the neocon agenda. Pundits used to say: As Maine goes, so goes the country. It’s just as simple today: As the money goes, so goes our policy.

Iran: Explosion occurred during research on weapons that could strike Israel


A massive explosion that killed 17 troops including an officer regarded as the architect of Iran’s missile defenses last week took place during research on weapons that could strike Israel, the Islamic Republic’s military chief said on Wednesday.

Iran has insisted the blast at a military base on Saturday, which rattled window and nerves in parts of the capital Tehran 45 km (28 miles) away, was an accident and denied speculation of possible sabotage by Israel or the United States.

“This recent incident and blast has no link to Israel or America but the outcome of the research, in which the incident happened as a consequence, could be a strong smack to the mouth of Israel and its occupying regime,” armed forces chief of staff Hassan Firouzabadi was quoted as saying by the student news agency ISNA.

Asked on Israel’s Army Radio on Sunday about the scope of damage from the blast, Defense Minister Ehud Barak said he did not know, but added: “May there be more like it.” There was no indication that the explosion was a deliberate attack.

Iranian officials had previously said the accident happened while munitions were being moved at the base, without linking it directly to weapons research.

Brigadier General Hassan Moqaddam, hailed as the founder of Iran’s missile program, was the most senior casualty.

Iran already has missiles, the Shahab-3, first tested in 1998, that it says could reach Israel, which has threatened to strike Iran’s nuclear sites if diplomacy and pressure fail to stop it getting the bomb.

Iran denies its nuclear work is aimed at developing atomic weapons but doubts about that were reinforced by a report published by the United Nations nuclear agency last week, a few days before the explosion.

The U.N. report further strained Iran’s relations with the West and the Iranian parliament is debating ending cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), a prospect that Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi sought to play down.

“Our response to this report is the one of patience and vigilance,” Salehi told state broadcaster IRIB on the sidelines of a cabinet meeting.

“Westerners like to push us toward a hasty reaction and they like to hear that Iran says it would withdraw from the NPT (nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty).”

Salehi said Iran would soon send a detailed and analytical rebuttal of the concerns raised in the report, which he called “unstudied and unjust.”

He also said Iran remained open to resuming the talks with world powers concerned about its nuclear program that stalled in January, and that he had presented a counter-proposal to Russia about how those talks might be structured.

“We presented another proposal and informed the Russian officials of that proposal and all our efforts are to find a way out of the faked nuclear issue,” he said.

Russia has sought to revive he talks between Iran and the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, the United States, Russia, China, Britain and France, plus Germany (P5+1) that stalled in January.

Reporting by Ramin Mostafavi; Writing by Robin Pomeroy; Editing by Mark Heinrich

Peres: Military option to deal with Iran is nearer


Israeli President Shimon Peres added to a debate raging in Israel over whether to attack Iran, when he said on Friday that a military option to stop the Islamic republic from obtaining nuclear weapons was nearer.

Asked by Channel Two News if “something was bringing us closer to a military option rather than a diplomatic one,” Peres said: “I believe so, I estimate that intelligence services of all these countries are looking at the ticking clock, warning leaders that there is not much time left.

“Iran is nearing atomic weapons and in the time left we must turn to the world’s nations and demand (they) fulfill their promise … which is not merely passing sanctions. What needs to be done must be done and there is a long list of options.”

Israeli media has been rife with speculation this week that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is working to secure cabinet consensus for an attack on Iranian nuclear installations.

Western powers, including Israel, suspect Tehran of developing nuclear weapons—something Iran denies—and have imposed sanctions in an attempt to curb its program.

Iran, which opposes Israel’s existence, says it is enriching uranium only to power reactors for electricity generation.

Though no direct threats of military action on Iran have been made by Netanyahu, both Israel and the United States have repeatedly hinted at possible use of force, saying all options were on the table.

Writing by Maayan Lubell; Editing by Louise Ireland

Netanyahu trying to persuade cabinet to support attack on Iran


Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak are trying to muster a majority in the cabinet in favor of military action against Iran, a senior Israeli official has said. According to the official, there is a “small advantage” in the cabinet for the opponents of such an attack.

Netanyahu and Barak recently persuaded Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who previously objected to attacking Iran, to support such a move.

Although more than a million Israelis have had to seek shelter during a week of rockets raining down on the south, political leaders have diverted their attention to arguing over a possible war with Iran. Leading ministers were publicly dropping hints on Tuesday that Israeli could attack Iran, although a member of the forum of eight senior ministers said no such decision had been taken.

Western intelligence officials agree that Iran is forging ahead with its nuclear program. Intelligence services now say it will take Iran two or three years to get the bomb once it decides to (it hasn’t made the decision yet ).

Netanyahu did not rule out the possibility of the need for a military action on Iran this week. During his Knesset address on Monday, Netanyahu warned of Iran’s increased power and influence. “One of those regional powers is Iran, which is continuing its efforts to obtain nuclear weapons. A nuclear Iran would constitute a grave threat to the Middle East and the entire world, and of course it is a direct and grave threat on us,” he said.

Barak said Israel should not be intimidated but did not rule out the possibility that Israel would launch a military attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities. “I object to intimidation and saying Israel could be destroyed by Iran,” he said.

“We’re not hiding our thoughts. However there are issues we don’t discuss in public … We have to act in every way possible and no options should be taken off the table … I believe diplomatic pressure and sanctions must be brought to bear against Iran,” he said.

Former Defense Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer said he feared a “horror scenario” in which Netanyahu and Barak decide to attack Iran. He warned of a “rash act” and said he hoped “common sense will prevail.”

Read more at Haaretz.com.

Russia urges Iran to cooperate with UN on nuclear program


Russia urged Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Wednesday to be “more constructive” when dealing with global powers on nuclear issues, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said after the leaders of the two countries met.

Russia believes Iran could do more to cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the 5+1 grouping of the five permanent United Nations Security Council members and Germany, Lavrov told reporters in the Kazakh capital Astana.

“We raised the question with Ahmadinejad about the necessity of more constructive cooperation with 5+1 and, more importantly, about increasing the transparency of contacts between Iran and the IAEA,” Lavrov said.

Read more at Haaretz.com.

Nukes agency head says Iran ‘steadily’ enriching uranium


Iran continues to produce a steady supply of enriched uranium, despite a cyber attack believed to have originated in Israel, the head of the United Nations nuclear watchdog group said.

In an interview with The Washington Post published Monday, Yukia Amano, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said that Iran is producing uranium enriched to 3.5 and 20 percent “steadily, constantly.”

Iran has more than 6,600 pounds of enriched uranium and it continues to stockpile, despite U.N. Security Council resolutions that order it to stop.

Amano said she does not know how much of the uranium Iran needs to build a nuclear bomb.

The IAEA is “not sure” if Iran is “hiding something,” she said, explaining that the Islamic Republic is asked to “declare” its nuclear activities, and there is no telling what it is doing outside of the declarations.

Amano told the Post that the IAEA needs “more access, better cooperation from Iran and better implementation of the rules.”

“I am not against Iran. I just want everyone to respect and implement rules,” she said.

Meanwhile, a new report released Feb. 11 by the computer security software firm Symantec says that the Stuxnet software worm, widely believed to have been released by Israel, attempted to infect five Iranian nuclear facilities over 10 months in three waves of attacks.

The worm, designed to destroy Iran’s nuclear centrifuges at its Natanz nuclear reactor, was believed to have set back Iran’s nuclear program by several months or years.

Russia ratifies START nukes pact


Both houses of Russia’s parliament ratified the START nuclear arms reduction treaty.

The upper house Federation Council ratified the treaty on Wednesday, a day after the Duma, the lower house.

The U.S. Senate ratified the treaty in December, overcoming resistance from a faction within the Republican Party that said its terms were too loosely defined.

The Obama administration solicited backing from Jewish groups for passage, saying it was critical to getting Russia’s cooperation in isolating Iran.

The pact will reduce arsenals by about 30 percent.

WikiLeaks: U.S. advised to fight Iranian nukes with ‘covert sabotage’


The United States was advised by a German think tank to use “covert sabotage” to disrupt Iran’s march toward nuclear weapons, a leaked U.S. diplomatic cable reveals.

The cable from the U.S. ambassador to Germany, Philip Murphy, sent in January 2010, said that Volker Perthes, director of Germany’s government-funded Institute for Security and International Affairs, advised U.S. officials to use methods such as computer hacking and unexplained accidents. Such actions, the cable said, “would be more effective than a military strike, whose effects in the region could be devastating.”

Leaked by WikiLeaks, the cable was published Tuesday in the British newspaper The Guardian. The name of the institute was blacked out in the cable.

The release of the cable comes just days after a New York Times expose said that the United States and Israel were responsible for the Stuxnet computer worm that reportedly set back Iran’s nuclear program by several months to several years. The virus, which was designed to destroy nuclear centrifuges at the Natanz nuclear reactor in Iran, reportedly was tested at Israel’s Dimona nuclear complex.

Perthes also advocated for a ban on conventional weapons sales to Iran, the cable said.

Senators to Obama: Pressure Iran


A bipartisan slate of senators urged President Obama to increase pressure on Iran in nuclear talks.

The major powers, including the United States, concluded talks Tuesday in Geneva aimed at getting Iran to make transparent its nuclear program. The parties agreed to reconvene in Istanbul in January.

In a letter Monday, six U.S. senators—three from each caucus, and all continuing into the next Congress—called on Obama to increase the pressure.

“It is absolutely essential that the United States and its partners make clear to the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran that we intend to keep ratcheting up this pressure through comprehensive enforcement of existing sanctions as well as imposition of new measures,” it said.

The Obama administration has led the international community in imposing a broad range of sanctions targeting Iran’s financial and energy sectors.

In recent days, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has said that the United States again is ready to switch to a posture of engagement.

The letter, signed by Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.), also called on the Obama administration not to strike a deal that would allow Iran to enrich uranium. Obama this year rejected such a deal proposed by Turkey and Brazil.

Separately, another bipartisan and bicameral letter urged Obama to pressure the International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N. nuclear watchdog, to conduct “special inspections” in Syria because it has resisted routine inspections.

Signatories to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty are required to accommodate such exceptional inspections.

“Failure to verify the absence of undeclared nuclear activities in Syria will destabilize further a region already troubled by Iran’s efforts to acquire nuclear weapons-making capability in violation of United Nations Security Council resolutions,” said the letter. “It will also encourage states with ambitions for weapons of mass destruction programs to follow the models for nuclear misbehavior created by Iran and Syria.”

Kyl, Gillibrand and Lieberman also signed this letter, along with Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) and U.S. Reps. Edward Markey (D-Mass.), Ed Royce (R-Calif.), Brad Sherman (D-Calif.) and Jeff Fortenberry (R-Neb.).

Report: S. African records show Israel has nukes


Secret apartheid-era documents show that Israel offered to sell nuclear warheads to South Africa in the mid-1970s, a British newspaper reported.

The papers provide the first documentary evidence that Israel has nuclear weapons, the U.K. Guardian reported Monday.

The documents were discovered by American scholar Sasha Polakow-Suransky while researching the book “The Unspoken Alliance: Israel’s Secret Relationship with Apartheid South Africa,” which was published by Pantheon in the United States this week.

The documents include minutes of meetings between senior officials of Israel and South Africa, and allegedly show that then-South African Defense Minister P.W. Botha asked then-Israeli Defense Minister Shimon Peres for warheads. Peres, now president of Israel, reportedly told Botha that “the correct payload was available in three sizes.” The “three sizes” are believed to refer to conventional, chemical and nuclear weapons, the Guardian said.

Botha reportedly did not purchase the weapons, in part because they were too expensive. South Africa eventually built its own nuclear bombs—possibly with Israeli assistance, according to the newspaper.

Israel pressured the current South African government not to declassify the documents, the Guardian reported.

On Monday, Peres denied the claims.

“There is no basis in reality for the claims published this morning by the Guardian that in 1975 Israel negotiated with South Africa the exchange of nuclear weapons,” Peres’ office said in a statement. “Unfortunately, the Guardian elected to write its piece based on the selective interpretation of South African documents and not on concrete facts. Israel has never negotiated the exchange of nuclear weapons with South Africa. There is no Israeli document or Israeli signature on a document that such negotiations took place.”

The statement said it regrets the Guardian’s decision to publish the article without requesting comment from any Israeli officials.

Obama: Israel, others should join nukes treaty


President Obama expects Israel and other nations to join the nuclear non-proliferation treaty.

“As far as Israel goes, I’m not going to comment on their program,” Obama said at a news conference Tuesday concluding his summit on nuclear security.  “What I’m going to point to is the fact that consistently we have urged all countries to become members of the NPT.”

Obama outlined his nuclear goals: Countries with nuclear weapons should reduce stockpiles, those without nuclear weapons should not obtain them, and all countries should have access to nuclear energy.

“And so whether we’re talking about Israel or any other country, we think that becoming part of the NPT is important,” he said. “And that, by the way, is not a new position.  That’s been a consistent position of the United States government even prior to my administration.”

Israel’s reported nuclear weapons program was in place before 1970, when the NPT came into force, which would theoretically exempt Israel from the conditions that new signatories must not have weapons.

However, it also would require transparency; Israel’s policy is currently one of not confirming or denying reports that it maintains up to 200 nuclear warheads.

Mousavi would shun nuclear weapons, says Iran scholar


Even if the Iranian authorities succeed in suppressing the large demonstrations, the opposition might adopt other forms of protest – such as manifestos, strikes and mass resignations by university professors. That is the assessment of Ervand Abrahamian, a professor of history at the City University of New York and author of several books about Iran, most recently “A History of Modern Iran” (Cambridge University Press, 2008). “There is talk about the opposition trying to encourage its supporters to go out into the market places and prevent commercial activity,” he told Haaretz last Wednesday in a phone conversation from New York. “That’s the question: How will the bazaars behave, will the strike reach commerce.”

One of the repressive steps taken this week, he said, was “having young people appear on television to ‘confess’ that the BBC et al had incited them to choose the wrong way, which was the reason why they had demonstrated.” Abrahamian believes they were tortured. This was the method used during the “ideological period” of the 1980s – torture of leftists considered opponents of the system, who were then told “to confess their crimes” on television broadcasts. Abrahamian, who in fact wrote a book on this subject (“Tortured Confessions: Prisons and Public Recantations in Modern Iran,” University of California Press, 1999), is fearful that “we’ll begin to see senior activists in [Mir Hossein] Mousavi’s office or journalists who support the opposition ‘confessing’ in public.”  Read the full story at HAARETZ.com.

Israelis catch U.S. election fever


TEL AVIV (JTA) — Just beyond the beer taps at a Tel Aviv bar with an American flag hanging out front, a makeshift polling station draws dozens of Americans in Israel casting their vote for the U.S. election, 6,000 miles away.

“This is more fun than voting in the Bronx,” said one voter, sealing his ballot in an envelope Sunday night at the Dancing Camel, the Tel Aviv bar where the Vote From Israel organization set up its absentee voting operation in the city.

Israelis — including the American citizens among them, as many as half of whom hail from swing states — have been closely following the election campaign across the ocean.

Hourly radio news bulletins routinely report the latest U.S. polls, Israeli media have dispatched reporters to cover the campaign trail and have been rebroadcasting Tina Fey’s Sarah Palin impersonations on “Saturday Night Live.” Some Israelis have even gotten involved on the grassroots level. One group produced a YouTube video called Israelis for Obama that has been seen some by some 400,000 viewers.

All the while, Israelis have been following the disproportionate mention of their small country in the campaign with a mix of amusement and validation (in the vice presidential debate alone, Israel got 17 references).

The visits to Israel this summer by both Sens. Barack Obama and John McCain lent further credence to the Israeli joke that Israel is America’s 51st state. During their visits, both candidates made the perfunctory pledges of support for Israel. The gestures may have been meant for Jewish voters back home, but they also put at ease Israelis not too familiar with either candidate.

Israelis “feel very much involved in this election and have deep opinions about it,” said Abraham Diskin, a Hebrew University political scientist.

The author of a new book on the history of the U.S. presidency titled “The Presidents,” Diskin said he was surprised by the high level of demand in Israel for his new book, which includes chapters on Obama and McCain and features the two on its cover.

With the U.S. election just days away, poll results released this week by the Rabin Center for Israel Studies found that 46.4 percent of Israelis would vote for McCain and 34 percent for Obama, with 18.6 undecided. Nearly half of the 500 Israelis surveyed, or 48.6 percent, said McCain would be better for Israel; 31.5 percent said Obama would be better.

The results are very different from U.S. polls showing Obama in the lead, including among American Jews. They reflect the wariness some Israelis, including Americans living here, have about Obama’s untested relationship with Israel. With the growing threat of a nuclear Iran high on Israelis’ minds, some Israelis see McCain as the safer choice, due to his foreign policy record and experience and more hawkish line on national security.

Others support Obama’s message of change and are eager to see a U.S. president with a less unilateral approach to foreign affairs than President Bush and whose actions will boost America’s standing in the world, which is seen to benefit Israel. They also support the Democratic candidate’s positions on abortion rights, health care policy and the economy.

Among registered Democrats in Israel, Obama lost in the primaries to Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.). who beat Obama 54 to 45 percent. Clinton polled better in Israel than both Obama and McCain; her popularity here is thought to be due to her familiarity to Israelis and to the popularity of her husband in Israel.

With its large community of expatriate Americans — Israel is thought to have the fifth-largest U.S. expatriate community in the world, after Canada, Britain, Germany and Mexico — Israel is seeing its share of political activity around the U.S. election.

One New Jersey native now living in Israel, Noah Hertz-Bunzl, 22, founded a group called Americans in Israel for Obama, which coordinated efforts with the Obama campaign for two voter registration events. The group also has been calling Jews in swing states to convince them to vote Obama.

“The basic point we make is not to be scared off by Obama and to counter the misconception that Israelis are opposed to him,” Hertz-Bunzl said.

Kory Bardash, co-chairman of Republicans Abroad Israel, said that he expects most American voters in Israel to side with McCain, noting that in 2004 approximately 70 percent of Israel’s Americans voted for Bush.

“People who vote in Israel are typically either religious or people who care about Israel,” Bardash said. “It’s foreign policy and the economy that matter, and traditional liberal issues do not play so much of a role here.”

McCain’s support among Orthodox Jews is stronger than among liberal ones.

Elliott Nahmias, 37, originally from California, said he’s voting McCain in large part because of foreign policy considerations.

Jennifer Shapiro, 27, who grew up in New Jersey, said she’s become obsessed with the elections, even from the distance of Israel.

“I don’t do anything but read and watch news about the election,” she said.

Shapiro said she is supporting Obama because she favors his international outlook and his positions on domestic issues, including health care and the economy.

When it comes to Israel, she says the Jewish state will know how to take care of itself no matter who is president: “It will do what it needs to do to protect itself,” she said.

Should we ‘roll the dice’ on untested Obama?


The pretentiously messianic Sen. Barack Obama would be comical, except many people vote apparently not for president but for debate team captain. While partisans argue unconditionally for Obama or Sen. John McCain, both candidates are, as in any election, flawed. It isincreasingly unlikely the imperfect McCain will win, but he should. And he still could.

There has been a liquidity crisis, which means the dysfunctional credit markets collapsed temporarily, not forever. When people lack confidence in economic calculation, the economy paralyzes. Meanwhile, the Iraq War has improved, so General Obama’s opposition to the surge is discredited, another reason he neatly changes the subject.

Stocks were sold as if the world is coming to an end. The media encouraged fear of an economic Armageddon, consequently, a political panic ensued. The schizophrenic McCain campaign — Obama is wonderful, no, risky — has been slow to adapt. People do not understand what has caused the economic mess. They want change. This inescapable synergy tilts toward Obama, who is mindlessly applauded when he boasts he was for change first, as if he defined a profile in courage.

The common misconception fed by the infatuated media is: Wholesale deregulation by the Bush administration is the culprit. In reality, most Democrats and some Republicans share a long history of irresponsibility. The machinations are largely creatures nurtured in government test tubes, broken, the virus highly contagious. History is thus: Government intervention, per Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman, actually exacerbates instability.

Without the collusion, if not the encouragement of the feds, these mortgages would not have been given to poor credit risks — unknown income, no down payment. But the federal government, via its quasi-governmental agencies known as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, subsidized the loans, assumed the risk. Fannie and Freddie should never have been created. President Bill Clinton expanded their charter.

A few years later, Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles) said we should not ” fix something that wasn’t broke.” She praised “the outstanding leadership” of Fannie Mae CEO Franklin Raines, who subsequently left in disgrace but with $90 million of bonuses after an accounting scandal.

Obama is the largest recipient ever of campaign money from Fannie/Freddie, which generously supported mainly Democratic Fannie and Freddie defenders like Senate Finance Committee chair Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) and his House Financial Affairs Committee counterpart, Barney Frank. Frank resisted reform: “I want to roll the dice a little bit more in this situation towards subsidized housing.”

Do we now similarly “roll the dice” on the untested Obama? We do not know much about Obama. He portrays his community organizing as altruistic. In fact, he parlayed those community contacts into a political base.

Ambition is not bad. Own up to it. More to the point, Obama affiliated with the Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s church not because of its spirituality but because of its politics.

I cannot say Obama hates America or Jews, but Wright, in my opinion, hates both. That someone as bright and curious as Obama could attend Wright’s church for so many years, where his sermons were available on tape, and not know what Wright was/is about is implausible.

Obama used Wright and his church for political volunteers, voter registration and turnout then this year opportunistically discarded him. Obama succeeded as a go-along, get-along Chicago machine politician, not as an anti-establishment reformist.

Voters confuse Obama stagecraft with vision. He is articulate and confident but also glib and cocky. This is not a humble man who knows what he doesn’t know. This is someone who earlier this year dismissed Iran as a threat because it, unlike the former Soviet Union, is “a small country.”

The Soviets, precisely as a major power, acted rationally; the doctrine of mutually assured destruction deterred nuclear war. Iran has no such inhibitions, professor Obama: Such small rogue nations are temperamentally capable of a nuclear first strike.

Readers of this newspaper are interested in Israel. We know McCain is absolutely solid. Obama is, at best, evolving. For example, immediately after his American Israel Public Affairs Committee speech endorsing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, Obama abruptly reversed himself.

If Israel were under attack and its prime minister called the White House at the proverbial 3 a.m., who would you want at the other end of the line? If you’re for Obama for other reasons, that’s fine. But don’t say it’s because of his position on Israel.

Many voters see Obama as an agent of change, when he, in fact, is an ideologue — most left voting record in the Senate. In a centrist nation, the favored Obama is much, much farther to the left than the struggling McCain is somewhat to the right.

On the economy, maverick McCain would be more likely to take on the establishment. McCain had warned more than two years ago, “American taxpayers will continue to be exposed to the enormous risk that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac pose to the housing market, the overall financial system and the economy as a whole.” As even the liberal Washington Post editorialized, Obama was AWOL.

Obama had an undistinguished record as a part-time member of the Illinois Senate, where he often voted simply “present.” Then in his brief two years in the U.S. Senate, he has never taken on his party’s leadership. Unlike McCain, Obama does win the congeniality award not because he worked in a bipartisan way but because he never made waves.

The unqualified Obama communicates well; the qualified McCain communicates poorly, and communicating is a qualification. But when the American economy requires seismic change to compete in the global economy, who will adapt? McCain — long pro-change record — or Obama — short anti-change record?

Who would be more likely to embrace a Smoot-Hawley Tariff associated with the Great Depression — protectionist Obama or free-trader McCain? An economic corollary: If you think education reform is essential, do you want McCain, who champions innovation and supports school choice, or Obama, who is beholden to the teachers union and opposes school choice?

Obama has not run anything, met a payroll or served in the military. No Obama legislation or even bipartisanship. Admittedly contentious, McCain has challenged his party’s leadership, even worked collaboratively with opposing Democrats who, until recently, praised him.

For the economy, the present cure could be worse than the disease, unless down the line we get the government out of the banking business. McCain can do that. He believes in limited government, low taxation, economic opportunity and growth.

Obviously, we can’t bet the farm on Obama.

Arnold Steinberg is a political strategist and analyst.

Questions for Obama’s California strategist, Mitchell Schwartz


Mitchell Schwartz heads up Sen. Barack Obama’s presidential campaign in California and also sits on the board of Temple Israel of Hollywood. He has worked on campaigns for Sen. Barbara Boxer, Gov. Gray Davis and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, as well as Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign. He also traveled to Israel with Clinton while working for the State Department.

Schwartz’s Los Angeles-based public relations firm, Bomaye Co., directed publicity for the film, “An Inconvenient Truth,” and the Save Darfur Campaign.

Jewish Journal: How did you get involved with Obama?

Mitchell Schwartz: I’m 47, have been involved in politics for quite a while. I thought I was too old but got very inspired by his message. I went to a rally in February of ’07 and was very impressed with what I saw.

JJ: What more does the campaign plan to do to appeal specifically to Jewish voters in close races like Florida and Ohio?

MS: Many members of Congress are Jewish. We have those who know Obama speak everywhere. They will go to Florida, where the condos are, and go to synagogues and temples. Mel Levine, Adam Schiff, Brad Sherman, Henry Waxman, Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer all speak for us. We have them go out and say Obama is a great friend of the Jewish community and Israel.

JJ: Why should a Jew believe that Obama would be a friend of Israel and the Jewish community?

MS: I think the concern in the Jewish community is overstated. I think we will do great. AIPAC give him a great record; Jewish [representatives] and senators say what a great friend of Israel he will be. For a lot of people, we are still learning about Obama and getting comfortable with him. The numbers I’ve seen are that Jews are strong supporters of this ticket. He does have a name that sounds foreign, and he is new. We just have to get his record out there, and we feel confident we will garner support of the majority of the Jewish community.

JJ: Was Gov. Sarah Palin wrong to have alluded to Obama’s relations with Bill Ayers?

MS: As President Clinton said that campaigns are a contact sport. I won’t complain; I’ll let others decide what is moral or not. Everything is fair game.

What I would ask is, is that really important that he knew that guy? I would ask, is this what Americans are really interested in? I don’t think so. It is completely irrelevant to what is going on today. It’s not going to work.

Frankly, the McCain campaign is doing anything to not talk about issues. That that even got attention when stock market is going down and hundreds of billions of dollars are being spent on bailout, that she wants to talk about someone he knew in Chicago is just indicative of the kind of campaign they are running — a meaningless, devoid of issues campaign.

JJ: And what of Obama’s connections to people like Rashid Khalidi, a Columbia professor who worked as a PLO spokesperson while it was listed as terrorist organization and has been a strident critic of Israel since?

MS: I don’t know anything about that.

All this stuff is what I think we will see from McCain — more and more attacks. They will desperately avoid talking about the issues. They will try to smear him with passing relations. They won’t talk about the issues and just attack our guy. So we expect these unwarranted attacks, because there is no way they can talk about the issues.

JJ: What is the biggest difference between Obama’s approach to Iran and McCain’s?

MS: What McCain did by supporting war in Iraq was helping Iran. One of the biggest beneficiaries of the war is Iran. He did it unwittingly because of a lack of judgment, and it made Iran stronger; they were the big winner. Now Iran is stronger and poses a bigger threat to Israel.

Both said they won’t allow Iran to become a nuclear power. Obama’s position on ending war in Iraq will be a huge factor in making that whole area hopefully less … in bringing down the temperature a bit.

JJ: How did President Clinton handle or mishandle the peace process, and how will that compare to Obama’s plans?

MS: What I give President Clinton tremendous credit for is how engaged in the peace process he was. You can’t have Bush’s hands-off policy. America has to be a leader in the peace process. It is not easy and not sexy.

[President Clinton] worked hard ’til his last day in office trying to make a peace settlement. He was unsuccessful, but he tried and it didn’t work. You can make treaties. Israel has treaties with Jordan and Egypt. It is difficult work. The worst thing is to not engage diplomatically, and Obama will engage diplomatically. Obama will be a big break with the Republican way of handling it and more in line with what Clinton was trying to do.

JJ: Clinton recently blamed Democrats for resisting Republican efforts to tighten regulatory and accounting standards on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac when there was a push to ease home loan rates for lower-income brackets. Isn’t the current meltdown a bi-partisan mess, and shouldn’t the Obama campaign stop using it as a means to attack McCain and the Republicans?

MS: Obama did warn that there was not enough regulation — he is on record two years ago warning about that. The blame being bipartisan, yeah, I would agree with that. But I would definitely put more blame on the Republicans — they think the market is king; they want to deregulate. That is their philosophy.

We saw what happened when they thought that they didn’t need safeguards, and now we are paying the price. The barn door opened, and the horses are out, and now they want to lock the door. They have to live with what they did when they were in charge. They can’t back out of what is their philosophy. That is why they will try to smear Barack with attacks.

UN Security Council reaffirms Iran sanctions


The U.N. Security Council reaffirmed existing sanctions against Iran but did not expand them.

The resolution, adopted unanimously Saturday, called on “Iran to comply fully and without delay” with three earlier resolutions imposing sanctions until Iran cooperates fully with U.N. nuclear inspectors.

Sanctions passed over the past year-and-a-half ban most types of uranium enrichment dealings with Iran, freeze some Iranian assets overseas, ban travel by Iranian individuals suspected of involvement in Iran’s alleged nuclear program, monitor Iran’s financial institutions and impose inspections of Iranian cargo.

Israel and Western nations want to expand the sanctions to include actual bans on financial institutions and the export of refined petroleum to Iran. That won’t happen without the support of China and Russia, two of the five permanent, veto-wielding members of the Security Council. The failure to tighten the sanctions Saturday is a product in part of recent U.S.-Russia tensions stemming from Russia’s invasion last month of Georgia.

Israel commended the resolution.

“Today’s U.N. Security Council resolution re-emphasizes the severity of the threat emanating from Iran’s nuclear program to world peace and reiterates the urgency of applying drastic and effective international sanctions,” said a statement issued by Sallai Meridor, the Israeli envoy to Washington.