Monday, March 19, 2012

Eye on Iran: Banking Group Faces Pressure to Cut Iran Ties

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The Hill: "Lawmakers will push forward with legislation targeting a worldwide banking cooperative despite its decision to stop doing business with some Iranian banks. On Thursday, the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT) announced that it would comply with new European Union (EU) sanctions and not provide financial messaging services to designated Iranian banks. The EU, like the United States, is worried about Iran's nuclear program. Some of SWIFT's most ardent critics praised the move, but also pledged to continue pushing for tougher sanctions. 'It's a good positive step forward and it will cause real difficulties for the regime,' said Mark Wallace, president of United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI). 'But to get the job done, SWIFT should deny access to all Iranian banks and, at a minimum, should comply with U.S. law.' Wallace, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations during the George W. Bush administration, said SWIFT's decision to follow only the EU sanctions would not create the 'international banking blockade' that is needed. 'There's a huge difference,' Wallace said. 'They have gone for the most narrowest subset, which is just the EU-designated institutions.'"

NYT: "While American spy agencies have believed that the Iranians halted efforts to build a nuclear bomb back in 2003, the difficulty in assessing the government's ambitions was evident two years ago, when what appeared to be alarming new intelligence emerged, according to current and former United States officials. Intercepted communications of Iranian officials discussing their nuclear program raised concerns that the country's leaders had decided to revive efforts to develop a weapon, intelligence officials said. That, along with a stream of other information, set off an intensive review and delayed publication of the 2010 National Intelligence Estimate, a classified report reflecting the consensus of analysts from 16 agencies. But in the end, they deemed the intercepts and other evidence unpersuasive, and they stuck to their longstanding conclusion. The intelligence crisis that erupted in 2010, which has not been previously disclosed, only underscores how central that assessment has become to matters of war and peace."

AP: "Despite saber-rattling from Jerusalem, Israeli officials now agree with the U.S. assessment that Tehran has not yet decided on the actual construction of a nuclear bomb, according to senior Israeli government and defense figures. Even so, there is great concern in Israel about leaving Iran 'on the cusp' of a bomb - explaining why Israel continues to hint at a military attack on Iran's nuclear installations before it moves enough of them underground to protect them from Israel's bombs. Israel's leaders have been charging in no uncertain terms for years that Iran is trying to build nuclear weapons. Though officials say they accept the more nuanced American view, they warn that it is just a matter of semantics, because an Iran on the verge of being able to build a bomb would still be a danger."

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Nuclear Program

"Iran will make absolutely no concessions on its nuclear programme, a key lawmaker declared on Sunday amid high geopolitical tensions and ahead of mooted talks with world powers. 'The parliament will never allow the government to go back even one step in its nuclear policy,' Aladin Borujerdi, the head of Iran's parliamentary foreign policy commission, told the official IRNA news agency. Iran's recent announcements that is stepping up uranium enrichment and made its own 20-percent enriched nuclear fuel showed the country 'totally masters nuclear science,' he said. 'If the P5+1 countries don't accept the reality of Iran's nuclear abilities, they will suffer from that,' Borujerdi was quoted as saying."


WSJ: "Faced with U.S. pressure to move faster in isolating Iran's financial sector to choke off funds for Tehran's nuclear program, the European Union took an action last week that officials in Brussels admit goes well beyond the carefully-calibrated sanctions they originally intended. In January, divided between countries who wanted to move quickly to toughen up sanctions and others who were more reluctant, the EU agreed a compromise: They would start a full oil embargo on Iranian crude exports on July 1, they sanctioned a number of Iranian individuals, banks and other firms, and slapped partial restrictions on the central bank. However to avoid hurting normal Iranian businesses, they allowed the central bank an exemption that permitted it to make and receive payments for legitimate, non-oil trade with European companies. Last Thursday, the EU took an additional step, ordering European firms to cut off blacklisted Iranian banks from any financial transactions or communications."

WSJ: "Iran's central bank said Sunday that it was lifting the restrictions on foreign currency trading introduced earlier this year in what could be a sign of confidence that the worst speculation is over. 'Licensed foreign exchange houses are permitted to implement agreed rates with regard to buying and selling for the purpose of meeting customers' needs, including travelers, students, patients, importers and exporters,' the bank said on its website. The central bank imposed an official exchange rate of 12,260 rials to the dollar at the end of January after a European ban on Iran oil and U.S. sanctions against the Bank itself led to a sharp drop in the domestic currency. The unofficial dollar rate has now reached about 19,000 rials."

AFP: "A major Indian trade delegation to Iran to explore export opportunities created by US-led sanctions against the Islamic republic was a big success, a leader of the mission has said. The 80-member delegation spent five days in the Persian Gulf nation last week in a bid to boost Indian exports as a way of paying the country's huge oil bill to Iran. 'The visit was very good and very successful,' said Rafeeque Ahmed, president of the government-backed Federation of Indian Export Organisations, which spearheaded the mission. 'We saw a lot of interest from the Iranians in buying Indian goods,' Ahmed told AFP late on Saturday. 'We talked about the excellent opportunities in food grains, food processing, pharmaceuticals, auto parts and other areas.'"

Reuters: "India has exempted payment in rupees for oil imports from Iran from hefty local taxes, a move that would help refiners settle some of their oil trade with the sanctions-hit country if the current mechanism through Turkey folds under fresh sanctions. The finance bill, part of the annual budget presented on Friday, said the exemption in the 'national interest' would be implemented from April 1. India and Iran in January agreed to settle 45 per cent of oil trade in rupees, which are not freely traded on international markets. Iran planned to use rupees to pay for imports from India. But the mechanism had not been taken up because of the 40 percent withholding tax, which both Indian refiners and the National Iranian Oil Co (NIOC) had refused to pay on transactions."


AFP: "An Indian court issued on Saturday an arrest warrant against another Iranian suspect in an attack last month on an Israeli diplomat in New Delhi, a report said. Israel has accused Iran of masterminding the attack. But India has held back from blaming traditional ally Tehran although the Indian police's probe appears to be focused on Iranian nationals and those with ties to the Islamic Republic. Delhi Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Vinod Yadav issued the warrant against Masod Sedaghatzadeh, an Iranian who has been detained in Malaysia, after police alleged he was also involved in the Delhi blast conspiracy, the Press Trust of India said."

Human Rights

WSJ: "Iran hasn't been shy about its bids to monitor, filter and block content on the Internet. Now it has taken the next leap, turning online censorship into an institution. In the past week, the government has announced it has formed a high council dedicated to cleansing the country's Internet of sites that threaten morality and national security, launching what amounts to a centralized command structure for online censorship. The Supreme Council of Cyberspace, created by decree last week by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, includes heads of intelligence, militia, security and the powerful Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, as well as media chiefs. Charged with supervising all cyberactivity, it will have the power to enact laws, according to state media."

Opinion & Analysis

Dina Esfandiary in The Atlantic: "'The nuclear program has considerable support in Iran,' I heard someone say at a recent talk in London, repeating what's become one of the most entrenched pieces of conventional wisdom on Iran today. Western officials and media outlets often say that it wouldn't matter if the regime changed because support for the program cuts across political lines. This may have been true in the past, but continued pressure and the rising cost of sanctions is now changing Iranian public opinion, and the nuclear program may not be as popular as it once was. Iranians have always been proud of their country's technological developments, and the nuclear program has been no exception. The Islamic Republic has successfully played on these sentiments, framing the issue as one of prestige and nationalism. Western pressure has only intensified this, making nuclear enrichment a symbol of national independence. The broad base of support for the program was especially clear in 2009, when President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad agreed to a fuel-swap deal that would have involved Iran trading a large part of its stockpile of low-enriched uranium in exchange for fuel for the Tehran Research Reactor. When he brought the deal back to Tehran he could not get it approved, facing significant opposition, including from ex-presidential candidates and opposition figures Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi. In fact, a 2010 Rand Survey found that a whopping 87% of Iranians surveyed strongly favored the 'development of nuclear energy for civilian use' and 97% believed nuclear energy to be a national right. This helps the Iranian government to portray Western efforts to curtail the program as an assault on the Iranian public's rights. Interestingly, although the number of people who support the development of nuclear weapons is much lower -- 32% -- it is still considerable. However, a much more recent poll, from just one month ago shows that most Iranians polled still approved of a civilian nuclear program, but by a significantly narrower margin. Only 57% of respondents say they supported the program, a decrease of 30%. And that's not the only interesting number. In the 2010 Rand poll, no one refused to answer the question and only 2% claimed they didn't know. In Gallup's most recent poll, the number of people who refuse to answer or say they don't know goes up to almost a quarter of those polled. Finally, the number of people who say they support the development of 'nuclear power capabilities for military use' is still significant; 40% of those polled. The change in polls numbers, assuming they're accurate, indicates three things about Iranian public opinion. There seems to have been a significant drop in Iranian support for a nuclear energy program, more Iranians are aware of how sensitive the issue is (which may explain why so many more people chose not to answer), and less than half of those polled are in favour of developing a nuclear weapon. Times have changed. Today's Iran is one marred by internal problems, from the power struggle between Ahmadinejad and Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei to the tightly controlled parliamentary elections to the worsening economic strains on the daily lives of Iranians. Official figures put inflation at 21.6% and unemployment at 11.8%, although independent economists estimate that it is much higher. The Iranian currency, following the latest sanctions on Iran's Central Bank and its oil exports, has lost over 50% of its value, making trade riskier and more expensive for Iranians. Naturally, public attention has shifted to daily problems. Many Iranians now consider pursuit of the nuclear program as too costly."

Irwin Cotler in JPost: "There is increasing - and compelling - evidence of Iranian footprints in a series of recent aborted terrorist attacks in India, Georgia, Azerbaijan and Thailand. The Indian police have just reported that the Iranian connection to the bombing of the Israeli Embassy car has been 'conclusively established' and that the bombing was connected to a botched attack targeting Israeli consular staff in Bangkok. Thai officials have now detained three Iranian nationals in connection with the plots, while a fourth has been detained in Malaysia. Similarly, an Indian journalist with close ties to Iran's notorious Quds Force was also arrested last week for facilitating the New Delhi attack. An Indian court has now issued arrest warrants for three other Iranian nationals in connection with the bombing. Two other Iranian nationals suspected of involvement in the Thai attack, including the alleged mastermind who is presently in Iran, remain fugitives. Moreover, Thai investigators have released photos of unexploded bombs found in the home of one of the suspects, which are strikingly similar to those used in the Georgian and Indian attacks. And in what is perhaps the most shocking - albeit least reported - development yet, Azerbaijani police are reporting that they are detaining nearly two dozen people for allegedly plotting attacks on the country's U.S. and Israeli Embassies and other Jewish and Western targets. According to initial reports, a number of the operatives were trained in Iranian military camps and armed by its intelligence agency. Given the evolving evidence of Iranian involvement, these attacks constitute a major Iranian escalation in its state sponsorship of international terrorism and in the systematic targeting of diplomatic missions in defiance of preemptory norms of international law. Such an escalation dovetails with the converging Iranian fourfold threat - nuclear, incitement, terrorism, massive domestic repression - and its corresponding incendiary rhetoric which finds increasing expression in the regime's serial use of terrorist violence as a central tenet of its foreign policy. Indeed, the recent web of attacks comes in the aftermath of ominous warnings by Gen. Masoud Jazayeri, the spokesman for Iran's Joint Armed Forces Staff that 'the enemies of the Iranian nation, especially the United States, Britain and the Zionist regime have to be held responsible for their activities.' Senior Iranian officials have also recently warned of their intention to strike Israeli and Jewish targets worldwide. In particular, since the fraudulent election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2009, Iran's escalating rhetoric has been accompanied by increasingly brazen terrorist acts and attempts. In what has become an annual tradition, Iran was once again designated by the US State Department's Country Report on Terrorism as 'the most active state sponsor of terrorism.' The United States' recent indictment of senior Iranian officials, accused of orchestrating an elaborate plot to assassinate the Saudi Ambassador in Washington is but the latest example."

Ray Takeyh in IHT: "It is rare for obscure historical events from distant countries to condition policy debates in Washington. But two events - the end of Iran-Iraq war in 1988 and Iran's agreement to suspend its nuclear program in 2003 - seemingly affirm the international community's approach to Iran. After all, faced with mounting pressure, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini drank the poisoned chalice and agreed to an armistice that he had long abjured. And it is undeniable that America's shock-and-awe success in Iraq caused a fearful theocracy to suspend its nuclear program. Such a historical narrative is as convincing as it is incomplete. The reason why Iran embarked on a judicious recalibration of its interests in both episodes stemmed not just from pressures, but also from the presence of a powerful, pragmatic coalition within the government that managed to prevail in internal deliberations. In today's Islamic Republic, all moderate voices have been excised from the corridors of power, and the debates of the previous decades have been displaced by a consensus among a narrow cast of militant actors. The final years of the Iraq-Iran war were difficult ones for the Islamic Republic, which had made the demise of Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq the centerpiece of its strategy. Iran had managed to sustain the war despite its acute isolation, economic difficulties and popular disenchantment. By the late 1980s, a series of battlefield setbacks were compounded by a smaller pool of volunteers, which undercut Iran's strategy of utilizing manpower to overcome Iraq's technological superiority. It was then that Iran fractured, causing an important segment of the ruling elite to revisit the country's most fundamental national decision. It appears that by 1987, Hashemi Rafsanjani, who was speaker of the Parliament at the time, and Mir Hussein Moussavi, the then-prime minister and the currently imprisoned leader of the Green Movement, began assembling a coalition of clerical politicians, key legislators and members of the regular military to press for ending the war. Against them stood the Revolutionary Guards, who wanted to continue the war no matter what. In Khomeini, the Guards had an important patron who appreciated their commitment to his revolutionary message. Rafsanjani and Moussavi spent a year widening their circle and gradually adding more converts to their cause. Unlike today, the Supreme Leader then trusted his moderate disciples, took their views into consideration and eventually conceded to their arguments. It was not just the reality of pressure but the presence of a formidable internal faction that managed to sway Khomeini. In the spring of 2003, Iran's defiant posture concealed its concern that it might yet emerge as a target of American retribution. The speed of the U.S. attack and its quick dispatch of Saddam's vaunted forces shocked the Islamic Republic. Iran had fought for eight years without securing even a modest change of the boundaries, and yet in three weeks, American forces had managed to march into Baghdad. It is beyond doubt that America's initial success caused Tehran to suspend its nuclear program. The question remains, however, why did the suspension persist long after the American enterprise in Iraq collapsed in the midst of occupational disarray and sectarian conflict. The reason is that the much-maligned reformist government stood against the pressure of the hard-liners and managed to sustain the suspension until the presidential triumph of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2005. For the reformist President Mohammad Khatami and his allies, the nuclear program was seen in the context of Iran's overall international relations and thus had to be balanced with other concerns. Given their desire to integrate into the global order, the reformers took the threat of United Nations censure seriously."

Eye on Iran is a periodic news summary from United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI) a program of the American Coalition Against Nuclear Iran, Inc., a tax-exempt organization under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. Eye on Iran is not intended as a comprehensive media clips summary but rather a selection of media elements with discreet analysis in a PDA friendly format. For more information please email

United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI) is a non-partisan, broad-based coalition that is united in a commitment to prevent Iran from fulfilling its ambition to become a regional super-power possessing nuclear weapons. UANI is an issue-based coalition in which each coalition member will have its own interests as well as the collective goal of advancing an Iran free of nuclear weapons.

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