U.N. nuclear chief holds talks in Tehran, hopes for deal


The U.N. nuclear watchdog chief held rare talks in Tehran on Monday after voicing hope for a deal to investigate suspected atomic bomb research – a gesture Iran might make to try to get international sanctions relaxed and deflect threats of war.

International Atomic Energy Agency Director-General Yukiya Amano began discussions with the head of Iran’s nuclear energy organization, Fereydoun Abbasi-Davani, a few hours after his pre-dawn arrival, according to ISNA news agency.

Amano, who was on his first trip to Iran since taking office in 2009, a period marked by rising tension between the IAEA and Tehran, was also due to meet Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili and Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi on Monday. There was no word on the course of the talks by mid-afternoon.

“I really think this is the right time to reach agreement. Nothing is certain but I stay positive,” Amano, a veteran Japanese diplomat with long experience in nuclear proliferation and disarmament affairs, said before departure from Vienna airport. He added that “good progress” had already been made.

But while Amano scheduled Monday’s talks with Iran at such short notice that diplomats said a deal on improved IAEA access in Iran seemed near, few see Tehran going far enough to convince the West to roll back swiftly on punitive sanctions when its negotiators meet global power envoys in Baghdad on Wednesday.

“We are not going to do anything concrete in exchange for nice words,” a Western diplomat said of the Baghdad meeting, the outcome of a big power session with Iran in Istanbul last month that ended a diplomatic freeze of more than a year.

Two days after seeing Amano, Jalili will hold talks in the Iraqi capital with Catherine Ashton, the European Union foreign policy chief heading a six-power coalition comprised of the five U.N. Security Council permanent members – the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China – plus Germany.

By dangling the prospect of enhanced cooperation with U.N. inspectors, diplomats say, Iran might aim for leverage for the broader talks where the United States and its allies want Tehran to curb works they say are a cover for developing atomic bombs.

Pressure for a deal has risen. Escalating Western sanctions on Iran’s economically vital energy exports, and threats by Israel and the United States of last-ditch military action, have pushed up world oil prices, compounding the economic misery wrought by debt crises in many industrialized countries.

HOPE VIES WITH MISTRUST

Some diplomats and analysts said Amano, given a recent history of mistrustful relations with Iran, would go to Tehran only if he believed a framework agreement to give his inspectors freer hands in their investigation was close. Iran has been stonewalling IAEA requests for better access for four years.

“Amano would not have travelled to Tehran had he not been provided with assurances that progress could be made. If he returns to Vienna empty-handed, the embarrassment will be more damaging for Tehran than the agency,” said Ali Vaez, senior analyst at the International Crisis Group.

“However, if the IAEA is satisfied with Tehran’s cooperation, Iranian negotiators will have a new trump card to play at the negotiating table in Baghdad.”

The U.N. watchdog is seeking access to sites, nuclear officials and scientists and documents to shed light on work in Iran applicable to developing the capability to make nuclear weapons, especially the Parchin military complex outside Tehran.

Two meetings between Iran and senior Amano aides in Tehran in January and February failed to produce any notable progress. But both sides were more upbeat after another round of talks in Vienna last week, raising hopes for a deal.

“We need to keep up the momentum. There has been good progress during the recent round of discussions between Iran and the IAEA,” Amano said, stressing that he did not expect to visit Parchin during his short, one-day stay in Tehran.

“We regard the visit … as a gesture of goodwill,” Salehi said. He hoped for agreement on a “new modality” to work with the IAEA that would “help clear up the ambiguities”.

DOUBTS

Yet while an Iranian agreement on a so-called “structured approach” outlining the ground rules on how to address the IAEA’s questions would be welcome, it remains to be seen how and when it will be implemented in practice.

“We’ll see if the Iranians agree to let the agency visit Parchin. I have my doubts, no matter what any agreement says on paper,” said one Western envoy ahead of Amano’s visit to Iran.

Such a deal would also not be enough in itself to allay international concerns. World powers want Iran to curb uranium enrichment, which can yield fuel for nuclear power plants or for nuclear bombs, depending on the level of refinement.

Iran, to general disbelief from its Israeli and Western adversaries, insists its nuclear program is intended only to generate electricity in a country that is one of world’s top oil exporters and to produce isotopes for cancer treatment.

Unlike its arch-enemy Israel, assumed to harbor the Middle East’s only nuclear arsenal, Iran is a signatory to treaties that oblige it to be transparent with the IAEA.

ISRAEL SKEPTICAL

Leaders of the Group of Eight, worried about the effect of high oil prices on their faltering economies, turned up the heat on Iran on Saturday, signaling readiness to tap into emergency oil stocks quickly this summer if tougher new sanctions on Tehran threaten to dry up supplies of crude.

Israel, convinced a nuclear-armed Iran would pose a mortal threat, has – like the United States – not ruled out air strikes to stop Iran’s atomic progress if it deems diplomacy at an end.

Israel believes Iran is using the talks only to buy time.

In Baghdad, the powers’ main goal is to get Iran to stop the higher-grade uranium enrichment it started two years ago and has since expanded, shortening the time needed for any weapons bid.

“What the powers are proposing right now is a kind of interim arrangement … (but) this certainly is not sufficient to stop the military (nuclear) project in Iran,” said Israeli Vice Prime Minister Moshe Yaalon.

“Our fear is that from Iran’s perspective this is a sort of sacrifice of a pawn in a chess game in order to protect the king. We are not voicing satisfaction with this move, if it is the final move,” he told Israel Radio.

Iran says it needs uranium enriched to a fissile concentration of 20 percent for its medical isotope reactor. Enrichment to 5 percent of fissile purity is suitable for power plant fuel, while 90 percent constitutes fuel for bombs.

The IAEA wants Iran to address issues raised by an agency report last year that revealed intelligence pointing to past and possibly ongoing activity to help develop nuclear explosives.

Iran says the intelligence is fabricated, and has so far resisted requests for inspectors to examine Parchin, maintaining that it is a purely conventional military installation outside the writ of nuclear inspectors.

Additional reporting by Justyna Pawlak in Brussels, William Maclean in London, Patrick Markey in Baghdad, Ori Lewis and Dan Williams in Jerusalem; Editing by Mark Heinrich

U.N. Watchdog Reports Iran’s Increased Capability


Iran significantly increased its ability to make nuclear fuel this summer, the U.N.’s nuclear watchdog said in a new report. According to The New York Times, the report released Friday by the International Atomic Energy Agency detailed an increase in the number of centrifuges installed, which are used to enrich uranium. The current number of more than 8,300 centrifuges is more than 1,100 above the June total.

Despite the boost, the report revealed that the pace at which Iran was enriching uranium had slowed. IAEA inspectors could not determine the reason behind the slowdown, nor did Iran offer any explanation. Still, outside experts say that if the uranium amassed by Iran was purified further, it could create fuel for nearly two nuclear warheads.

Though Iran recently opened some important sites to inspectors after barring their entrance for more than a year, the Islamic Republic continues to withhold crucial documents detailing the military’s involvement with the nuclear program and refuses to allow investigators to interview personnel suspected of involvement in weapons development. The U.S. State Department said the report “clearly shows that Iran continues to expand its nuclear program and deny the IAEA most forms of cooperation,” according to The Times.

UN watchdog: Iran nuclear program has ‘military dimensions’


A new report commissioned by the International Atomic Energy Agency says that Iran’s nuclear energy program may contain “military dimensions.”

In other words, the report states that Iran may be working towards acquiring a nuclear weapons capability. The report was issued just prior to the annual meeting of IAEA member states which is scheduled to convene next month in Vienna.

Read the full story at HAARETZ.com.

Jewish Charities Get Favorable Rating


If you’re concerned that the money you donate to Los Angeles Jewish charities is eaten up by administrative and fundraising costs, fear not.

Most Jewish charities in Los Angeles have a favorable rating for the amount of dollars spent on their projects compared to dollars spent on costs, according to Charity Navigator, a new philanthropic watchdog. The group assessed some 130 Jewish nonprofits, including seven from Los Angeles, among 2,500 charities across the United States. It then rated the groups based on the Form 990 tax returns that all nonprofit charities, except religious institutions, must provide annually to the IRS.

Charity Navigator evaluated the groups’ overall financial health, fundraising and organizational efficiency. The goal was to equip potential donors with enough detail to “make more intelligent giving decisions,” spokeswoman Sandra Miniutti said.

Independent analysis of charities and philanthropies remains relatively rare, so many in the Jewish philanthropic world welcome the extra focus.

Such data “should serve as a reminder to donors that it is not enough to find a cause that tugs at your heart strings,” said Mark Charendoff, president of the Jewish Funders Network. “We have to hold charities we care about to higher standards of efficiency, effectiveness and transparency.”

Among all kinds of charities, Jewish and non-Jewish, the median fundraising costs were about $.08 of every dollar, she said — “pretty good” compared to the most efficient charities. Those charities deemed the most efficient spent no more than $.10 cents, or 10 percent, to raise each dollar. It’s estimated that there are between $25 billion and $50 billion in assets in the coffers of U.S. Jewish philanthropies, from foundations and federations to nonprofits and pension funds.

What the watchdog calls religious charities range from museums to universities to the U.S.-based fundraising arms of Israeli institutions to Jewish federations and political groups. Each charity was assigned up to 70 points and up to four stars, with better scores going to those showing greater financial health and streamlined bureaucracies.

The Jewish groups ranked similarly to other nonprofits when it came to areas such as fundraising and program expenses, but ranked poorly regarding money in the bank.

Checked for their “working-capital ratio,” or how much cash each group would have left if fundraising dried up, Jewish charities had enough to last for only 3.6 months on average, compared to 8.3 months for non-Jewish charities. Such “liquid assets” could be cash, stocks or easily sellable property such as real estate. The Jewish charities ranked lower because they typically raise the bulk of their money around the High Holidays and at the end of the year, but don’t have cash on hand year-round, Miniutti said.

In Los Angeles, the top rated Jewish charities were Jewish Family Services (JFS), Mazon: A Jewish Response to Hunger and the Skirball Cultural Center, which were all awarded four stars, and 62, 63, and 68 points respectively. According to Charity Navigator, JFS spends only $.02 to raise every dollar, Mazon spends $.07 and the Skirball spends $.04.

The charity with the next highest rating was the Simon Wiesenthal Center which was awarded three stars and 53 points, and spends $.17 cents to raise every dollar. The Bureau of Jewish Education, Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles and the Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation were granted two stars.

Nationally, the top Jewish charity was the Shefa Fund, which won a four-star, 69-point rating. The fund, dedicated to advancing social responsibility through grants, spent $.04 cents to raise each dollar, according to its Form 990.

Jeffrey Dekro, president of the Shefa Fund, said his organization’s first-place ranking “is really consistent with the doctrine of our work.”

At the bottom of the Jewish heap sat the Jerusalem Fund of Aish HaTorah, which is dedicated to Jewish education and outreach. The group garnered only 19 points and zero stars, spending $.23 cents to raise each dollar.

In several cases, Charity Navigator ranked branches of the same charities separately because they were incorporated separately for nonprofit status and file different forms to the IRS. Aish HaTorah represented one such case, with its New York branch, which it says is dedicated to “wisdom for living,” gaining 53 points and three stars, spending only $.13 cents to bring in every dollar.

Irwin Katsof, the Los Angeles-based president of Aish HaTorah, said he couldn’t discuss the findings until he had studied them more closely.

“I’m not really going to comment until I’ve had a chance to analyze how they did it,” Katsof said.

Charendoff, whose Jewish Funders Network is an umbrella group for many of the more than 8,000 private Jewish family foundations in the United States, some of which were rated byc Navigator, said the rankings provide useful data but miss some subtleties.

While the rankings allow one to compare a range of similar charities for their efficiency, they offer only a snapshot that does not reflect an organization’s development over time.

Newer charities “may take a few years to achieve a balance between building the business and delivering the product,” he said.

The rankings also do not take into account the size of an organization, he added. A small foundation may have only one fundraising professional, accounting for a major share of its budget, compared to bigger organizations with more money and a few more fundraisers.

Charity Navigator’s rankings, compiled in August and updated Sept. 3, were based on federal reports from 2001 and 2002, but the group “looked back” to 1997 and 1998 to “calculate growth as well,” Miniutti said.

Other national Jewish nonprofits that got ranked for overall efficiency included Hillel: the Foundation for Jewish Campus Life, which ranked 10th, and the World Jewish Congress, which was listed 112th.

Staff Writer Gaby Wenig contributed to this report.

Challenging Content


Hollywood may be taking a drubbing lately for its content and marketing practices, but if you ask Mark Honig, the industry has no one to blame but itself.

Honig, the executive director of the Los Angeles-based Parents Television Council (PTC), a national watchdog group, says, “Hollywood doesn’t have a monopoly on the First Amendment. They have every right to put out whatever product they want, but that doesn’t mean we have to sit by and keep quiet when they broadcast atrocious and violent program-ming to our children at 8 o’clock in the evening.”PTC, founded in 1995 by noted conservative Brent Bozell, is chaired by Steve Allen and has grown to 535,000 members nationwide. Its rapid expansion stems largely from the organization’s national full-page newspaper ad campaign, which has run more than 1,000 times. In the ad, Steve Allen urges parents to join PTC, thus sending a message to Holly-wood that “we’re not going to stand by and accept their raunchy programming any longer.”

Clearly, PTC is swimming against the cultural tide. Its staff must watch the very shows they abhor in order to tally the acts of violence, vulgarities and sexual references that appear every hour on prime-time television. For example, during four weeks of programming last fall in the 8 p.m.-11 p.m. time slot, PTC counted 1,173 vulgarities, nearly five per hour on six net-works, and a rate five times higher than in 1989. Honig, who is Jewish, admits that despite the work of PTC, the overall quality of television continues to decline. Still, he can point to some successes. After Allen showed up at an MCI Worldcom shareholders meeting and blasted the company’s advertising support for UPN’s “WWF Smackdown!,” the company pulled its advertising dollars. PTC efforts also led to others doing the same, including Ford, Coca-Cola, M and M Mars, and the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force and Coast Guard.

PTC worries about what it considers the inappropriate content of much of today’s tele-vision offerings. Their newsletters warn parents about particularly sleazy shows, and lists names, addresses and phone numbers of companies advertising on them. However, they also laud shows they consider wholesome, such as “7th Heaven,” “Touched by an Angel,” and “Sabrina, the Teenage Witch.”

Honig claims that it isn’t sufficient to tell people to just turn off the TV. “Even if your own kids aren’t watching, your neighbors’ kids are being influenced by it.”

Honig also points to several studies, including a University of Michigan researcher’s 22-year study which linked prolonged television exposure with violent acts committed by youth, such as rape and murder. In the past 18 months, four people have been killed imitating wrestling matches from the popular and ultraviolent wrestling programs, such as “WWF Smackdown!” For this reason, “Smackdown!” continues to be a prime target of PTC’s efforts to wean advertisers off programming.

Honig disagrees with Hollywood claims that warning labels and ratings should be enough. “V-chips and warning labels are only Band-Aid approaches, and they have the unintended conse-quence of giving the industry a protective shield without addressing the underlying problem of the sexual and violent content.”Besides, Honig says, many parents complain that the ratings system is complicated and confusing. “For some reason, networks now feel they have to offer edgier and shallower content, which often deals flippantly with issues of teen sexuality, incest and violence.”

As a nondenominational group, PTC includes people of all faiths. But Honig’s Jewishness motivates his work with the group. “My Jewishness affects my entire life,” he says. “I believe that as Jews we should try to set examples that are moral in nature. The popular culture has become so powerful that this is one way where I can effect change for the better.”

Some prominent Jews on PTC’s advisory board include Michael Medved, Mort Sahl and Senator Joseph Lieberman, whose vice-presidential candidacy thrills Honig. “He has seen the content that he speaks about and has raised this in the national debate,” Honig says. “I hope all the candidates continue to address it.”Honig says he is sometimes “saddened” by the number of Jews involved in writing and produ-cing some of what he would call Hollywood’s worst products. “Unfortunately, most Jews in Hollywood don’t ask themselves, ‘How can I as a Jew put out a product that will uplift us?'” He hopes that Jews in Hollywood might band together in an organized way to work toward that goal, just as more than 1,000 Christian actors, writers and producers have in the group Intermission.

“We want to reach out to all who are concerned about the direction of our popular culture, and that obviously includes the Jewish community. For thousands of years, Jews have helped shape values that know no time constraints. Therefore it’s very important that we address this issue, especially considering the large Jewish contingency in Hollywood.”

For more information about Parents Television Council, visit www.parentstv.org