Monday, December 3, 2012

Eye on Iran: Senate Votes to Add Iran Sanctions as White House Objects

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"The U.S. Senate approved new economic sanctions on Iran, overriding objections from the White House that the legislation could undercut existing efforts to rein in Iran's nuclear ambitions.  The Senate voted 94-0 yesterday to impose additional U.S. financial penalties on foreign businesses and banks involved in Iran's energy, ports, shipping and shipbuilding sectors, and impose sanctions on metals trade with Iran. Senators Bob Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat, and Mark Kirk, an Illinois Republican, the architects of a year-old law that has curtailed Iran's oil exports and revenues, said the new measure would go further toward squeezing Iran's economy and increase the pressure on the Islamic Republic to negotiate on its disputed nuclear program. White House officials told Senate Democratic leaders in a late-night e-mail on Nov. 29 that the administration didn't think more sanctions are needed yet and asked them to hold off until next year, according to the e-mail to the lawmakers obtained by Bloomberg News. The new provisions were confusing and inconsistent in applying sanctions, according to the e-mail, and the ambiguities 'would hamper implementation' of sanctions.  'We believe additional authorities now threaten to undercut' existing sanctions, National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor said yesterday in a statement. 'We also have concerns with some of the formulations as currently drafted in the text and want to work through them with our congressional partners to make the law more effective and consistent with the current sanctions law to ensure we don't undercut our success to date.'"

FP: "The White House announced its opposition to a new round of Iran sanctions that the Senate unanimously approved Friday, in the latest instance of Congress pushing for more aggressive punitive measures on Iran than the administration deems prudent. On Thursday, Sens. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Mark Kirk (R-IL) introduced the amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act, which the Senate passed 94-0. The new legislative language would blacklist Iran's energy, port, shipping, and shipbuilding sectors, while also placing new restrictions on Iran's ability to get insurance for all these industries. The legislation would also vastly expand U.S. support for human rights inside Iran and impose new sanctions on Iranians who divert humanitarian assistance from its intended purpose. 'The window is closing. The time for the waiting game is over,' Menendez said on the Senate floor Thursday night. 'Yes, our sanctions are having a demonstrable effect on the Iranian economy, but Iran is still working just as hard to develop nuclear weapons.' But the White House told several Senate offices Thursday evening that the administration was opposed to the amendment. National Security Spokesman Tommy Vietor sent The Cable the administration's official position, explaining the White House's view the sanctions aren't needed and aren't helpful at this time."

Bloomberg: "Oil-importing nations are continuing to cut back their purchases from Iran, making it likely those countries will earn a new round of exceptions from U.S. sanctions next week.  Two U.S. officials said yesterday that publicly available oil trading figures indicate that the seven nations whose waivers are up for renewal on Dec. 8 have continued to significantly reduce their Iranian oil imports over the last 180 days. The Obama administration certified six months ago that India, Turkey, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Malaysia and South Africa had 'significantly reduced' their purchases of Iranian oil, in keeping with a December 2011 law that imposes U.S. sanctions on foreign financial institutions that facilitate oil transactions with Iran. On Dec. 8, those 180-day exceptions from sanctions will expire, and the administration must certify whether the countries have continued to reduce their purchases and qualify for a renewal. Malaysia and South Africa have stopped importing oil from Iran, and the other five nations appear to have continued to reduce their purchases, putting them on track to earn a second round of exceptions from sanctions if all the figures are certified, the officials said."
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Nuclear Program   

Reuters: "The United States is open to bilateral talks about Iran's nuclear program if Tehran is 'ever ready,' U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Friday. Responding to a question, Clinton called Iran the hardest issue she has dealt with as secretary of state 'because of the dangers that its behavior already poses and the geometrically greater danger that a nuclear-armed Iran would pose.' ... 'We are working on the P5+1 and making our willingness known that we are ready to have a bilateral discussion if they are every ready to engage,' said Clinton, who has said she plans to step down as secretary of state next year. While giving no details, Clinton said the P5+1 was trying to craft a proposal to Iran 'that does make it clear we are running out of time. We have got to get serious; here are issues we are willing to discuss with you but we expect reciprocity.'"

AFP: "Iran fiercely denied Friday seeking nuclear weapons and threatened to withdraw from a key treaty aimed at stopping their spread, in another note of defiance just as fresh diplomatic efforts gather pace. Speaking at a tense UN atomic agency meeting, Iran's envoy said that no 'smoking gu' indicating a covert weapons drive had ever been found and that the West wanted to hijack the agency for their own ends. Presenting a list of '50 questions and answers,' Ali Asghar Soltanieh said that 'no doubt is left that the (International Atomic Energy Agency) file has to be closed immediately.' He told the closed-door IAEA meeting in Vienna that the six resolutions on Iran passed by the UN Security Council were 'illegal' and that Tehran would 'never suspend' its programme, according to the text of his remarks... One Western diplomat called the comments 'absolutely ridiculous' and said that it made him 'very pessimistic' about renewed diplomatic efforts to resolve the long-running crisis."

WSJ: "The U.S. has significantly stepped up spying operations on Iran's Bushehr nuclear reactor over the past two months, American officials said, driven by heightened concerns about the security of weapons-grade plutonium after Tehran unexpectedly discharged fuel rods from the facility in October. The increased U.S. surveillance of Bushehr, on Iran's southwestern coast, has been conducted in part with the Pentagon's fleet of drones operating over the Persian Gulf. The effort resulted in the interception of visual images and audio communications coming from the reactor complex, these officials said. Tehran suggested an American drone was spying on Bushehr on Nov. 1 when it sent Iranian fighter jets to pursue the unmanned craft, firing at it but missing. The drone in question was conducting surveillance that day, but not on Bushehr, U.S. officials said."

Reuters: "A Russian-built nuclear reactor in Iran was shut down last month to limit any damage after stray bolts were found beneath the fuel cells, a Russian nuclear industry source said on Friday. The explanation for the shutdown of the 1,000-megawatt Bushehr plant contradicted assurances by Iran that nothing unexpected had happened and removing nuclear fuel from the plant was part of a normal procedure. 'Indicators showed that some small external parts were ... in the reactor vessel,' said the source, identifying them as bolts beneath the fuel cells."

AP: "Iran's nuclear chief says fuel was removed from the country's sole nuclear reactor in October because debris had been left behind during its construction. The Sunday report by several Iranian newspapers quotes Fereidoun Abbasi as saying that bolts and welding material left inside the Russian-built Bushehr reactor had led to abnormal readings during operation. Abbasi added that fuel removal and temporary plant shutdown is part of normal operating procedures. On Wednesday, Iran said the power plant is ready to resume operations after refueling."

AP: "A leaked diagram suggesting that Iran is pursuing a nuclear weapon is scientifically flawed, diplomats working with the U.N. nuclear agency conceded Friday. However they insisted that it still supports suspicions that Tehran is trying to build a bomb, especially when combined with other documents that remain secret. The Associated Press reported Tuesday, citing the document leaked by officials from a country critical of Iran's atomic program, that it indicated that Iranian scientists had run computer simulations for a nuclear weapon that would produce more than triple the explosive force of the World War II bomb that destroyed Hiroshima. The diagram showed a yield of 50 kilotons. But subsequent criticism of the AP's report showed that result was widely inaccurate. Instead, the yield of the hypothetical weapon was much higher and hugely greater than any bomb ever produced - meaning it was next to impossible that Iran was contemplating such a weapon."

Reuters: "Iran has stationed defense staff in North Korea since late October apparently to strengthen cooperation in missile and nuclear development, Japan's Kyodo News agency reported on Sunday, citing a Western diplomatic source. The report came as North Korea said on Saturday it would carry out its second rocket launch of 2012 between December 10 and December 22, near the first anniversary of the death of young leader Kim Jong-un's father. The Iranian mission, Kyodo said, is made up of four experts from Iran's Ministry of Defense and firms close to it. Citing the source, it said they were staying at a military facility 85 km (53 miles) from the North Korean border with China."


WashPost: "U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan E. Rice and her husband own modest stakes in companies that have until recently done business with Iran, prompting new questions from those opposed to her possible nomination as secretary of state. The companies are global conglomerates. At least some of them have stopped doing business with Iran in order to comply with international sanctions... One of the biggest of the holdings, between $50,000 and $100,000, according to Rice's disclosure statement for 2011, is Royal Dutch Shell. The international oil giant stopped buying crude oil from Iran early this year as sanctions were tightened to block oil exports by Iran and to stop financial transactions with its central bank... Rice and her husband also own between $15,000 and $50,000 of stock in ENI, the Italian international oil company. ENI has said that it is no longer doing business with Iran, but it has a waiver from sanctions to enable it to collect oil as payment for about $1 billion Iran owes the company from earlier business deals. The company had been purchasing crude oil and developing natural gas fields... Several of the companies in which Rice has invested have been cited by an organization called United Against Nuclear Iran, chaired by Mark Wallace, a deputy ambassador to the United Nations under President George W. Bush. The organization, which claims bipartisan support in pushing to isolate the Iranian regime, publishes a list of companies doing business in Iran."

AP: "Iran's oil minister has said the country plans to increase its oil production capacity to up to 5.2 million barrels per day by early 2016. A Sunday report by state TV quotes Rostam Ghasemi as saying this requires some $300 billion investment in the oil industry. He says current capacity is about four million barrels per day. The remarks come as the country is struggling to sell crude oil due to Western sanctions over its disputed nuclear program, which the West suspects has a military dimension. Iran denies the charge. According to the International Energy Agency, Iran's oil exports plunged to 1 million barrels a day in July, after standing at the 1.74-million-barrel mark a month earlier. Crude oil exports account for about 80 percent of the country's foreign revenue."

AFP: "Sri Lanka will purchase oil from Iraq after the United States imposed new sanctions on Iran, the island's main supplier of crude oil, a report said on Sunday citing a senior official... Sanctions have made it difficult to procure oil from Iran, prompting Colombo to turn to Baghdad for oil purchases, the local Sunday Times reported... Sri Lanka has relied on Iran for 92 percent of its crude oil requirements. Last week, Sri Lanka announced that it will set aside two billion rupees ($15.38 million) owed to Iran for oil imports and will use the money to finance an irrigation scheme on the island which is funded by Tehran."

Syrian Uprising

NYT: "The American effort to stem the flow of Iranian arms to Syria has faltered because of Iraq's reluctance to inspect aircraft carrying the weapons through its airspace, American officials say. The shipments have persisted at a critical time for President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, who has come under increasing military pressure from rebel fighters. The air corridor over Iraq has emerged as a main supply route for weapons, including rockets, antitank missiles, rocket-propelled grenade and mortars. Iran has an enormous stake in Syria, which is its staunchest Arab ally and has also provided a channel for Iran's support to the Lebanese Islamist movement Hezbollah... Regarding the arms shipments, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton secured a commitment from Iraq's foreign minister in September that Iraq would inspect flights from Iran to Syria. But the Iraqis have inspected only two, most recently on Oct. 27. No weapons were found, but one of the two planes that landed in Iraq for inspection was on its way back to Iran after delivering its cargo in Syria. Adding to the United States' frustrations, Iran appears to have been tipped off by Iraqi officials as to when inspections would be conducted, American officials say, citing classified reports by American intelligence analysts."

Human Rights

Reuters: "The United States on Friday demanded that Iran free jailed human rights activist Nasrin Sotoudeh, who it said has been on hunger strike for more than six weeks, and sharply criticized Iranian authorities for their treatment of the 49-year-old prize-winning lawyer. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said reports of Sotoudeh's rapidly declining health were deeply troubling, and that she had been denied medical care and kept in solitary confinement. 'We demand the Iranian government cease its intolerable mistreatment of Sotoudeh and immediately release her and the more than 30 other female political prisoners detained in Evin Prison,' Nuland said in a statement."

Reuters: "Iranian legislators are to visit Tehran's Evin prison and look into the case of an imprisoned lawyer on hunger strike there amid concerns over her deteriorating condition, Iranian media reported on Sunday. Nasrin Sotoudeh, a lawyer and human rights activist, is serving a six-year jail sentence after being arrested in September 2010 on suspicion of spreading propaganda and conspiring to harm state security... The parliamentary committee has decided to visit Evin, where Sotoudeh is being held, to determine if conditions there conform to the law, legislator Mohammad Hassan Asfari told the Iranian Labour News Agency (ILNA) on Sunday. 'If the stories regarding Ms. Sotoudeh are true, we will request an explanation from (the justice minister),' Asfari was quoted as saying by ILNA."

Reuters: "The head of Tehran's cyber police unit has been dismissed over the death in custody of an Iranian blogger, police said on Saturday, in a case that has sparked international condemnation and led to Iranian calls for an official investigation. Sattar Beheshti, a little-known 35-year-old blogger who was critical of the government, was arrested on October 30 after receiving death threats, and died some days later, after complaining he was tortured. According to a statement posted on the website of Iran's police force on Saturday, the chief of Tehran's cyber police unit was fired for 'failures and weaknesses in adequately supervising personnel under his supervision.'"

Reuters: "Iran has suspended the death sentence for a computer programmer convicted on charges of running a pornographic website after he 'repented for his actions,' his lawyer was quoted as saying on Sunday. Saeed Malekpour, an Iranian citizen and Canadian resident, was arrested in 2008 while visiting relatives in Iran, according to Amnesty International. Although Iranian authorities accused him of running a pornography site, Amnesty has said the charges appear to stem from a software program created by Malekpour that was used without his knowledge to post pornographic images. Such images are illegal in the Islamic republic. Malekpour's lawyer Mahmoud Alizadeh Tabatabaei told Mehr news agency that his client had repented for his actions after his death sentence, issued by the Revolutionary Court, was confirmed by Iran's Supreme Court."

Domestic Politics

Reuters: "Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has moved his chief of staff, seen as a potential successor and a target of criticism from hardline conservatives, to another job, according to the president's official website on Saturday. Esfandiar Rahim Mashaie has provoked the ire of Ahmadinejad's conservative rivals, who accuse him of trying to undermine Iran's theocratic system. Ahmadinejad has defended his closest aide throughout the attacks. In a statement on Saturday, Ahmadinejad thanked Mashaie for his service, appointing him to a position in the Non-Aligned Movement, the 120-member bloc of countries whose rotating chair is held by Iran. 'I consider knowing and working with you to be a divine gift and great honor,' Ahmadinejad wrote in the statement addressed to Mashaie. Ahmadinejad, who has faced criticism from conservative rivals in parliament over his economic performance, is finishing his last year in office and by law cannot run again in presidential elections due in June 2013. Some analysts, and Ahmadinejad's rivals, believe he has been grooming Mashaie to succeed him."

AP: "A news agency reports Iran's president is urging parliament to abandon possible revisions in laws governing presidential elections. The call appears part of widening political battles before June's election to pick Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's successor. Ahmadinejad has faced attacks from powerful rivals since defying Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei last year over a key Cabinet post. Iran's ruling clerics vet all candidates for the presidency, but parliament may impose new guidelines of age and experience that could undercut Ahmadinejad's allies. The semiofficial ISNA news agency says lawmakers Sunday began discussing possible changes."

Foreign Affairs

Reuters: "Ghaus worked in Iran for five years but has nothing to show for it. All he has are memories of being jailed, beaten and sent home to Afghanistan. Afghanistan's oil-rich western neighbor has for years been a destination for Afghans seeking work or fleeing war. Afghanistan and Iran share a language, and cultural and historical links. But hostility to the U.S. role in Afghanistan, regional ambitions and an economy choked by Western sanctions have persuaded Iran to cast out Afghan migrants, to the dismay of those forced home and their government. In May, Iran threatened to expel Afghan refugees and migrant workers, in all about 2.4 million people, if Afghanistan signed a strategic security pact with the United States. The deal was struck. 'Afghan refugees and migrants are becoming the victims of big political games played between the Iranian and U.S. powers,' said Abdul Samad Hami, Afghanistan's deputy minister for refugees."

Opinion & Analysis

Mary Anastasia O'Grady in WSJ:
"Until more than 2,700 innocents were slaughtered at the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, the worst terrorist attack in the Americas was the July 18, 1994, bombing of the Israel-Argentina Mutual Association (known by its Spanish initials as AMIA) in Buenos Aires. The blast from a van packed with explosives ripped through the five-story brick building that housed the Jewish community center and triggered its collapse. Eighty-five people were killed and more than 150 injured. In the years that followed, the Argentine government showed little interest in bringing the perpetrators to justice, and the trail seemed to go cold. Then, in 2005, then-President Néstor Kirchner named Alberto Nisman as special prosecutor in the case and backed a new investigation.  In October 2006, Mr. Nisman indicted seven Iranians and one Lebanese-born member of Hezbollah for the mass murder. Interpol issued 'red notices' for their arrest. But six years later none of the accused has been captured. (The Lebanese suspect was killed in Syria in 2008, allegedly by Israel's Mossad secret service.)  The AMIA bombing is back in the news because the Argentine government has disclosed that it is engaged in bilateral talks with Iran about the case at the United Nations in New York and Geneva. The talks themselves are secret, and Mr. Nisman has been denied access to them. Foreign Minister Hector Timerman represents Argentina. The victims' families must hope that Argentina's goal is to win extradition of the suspects. Anything less would be a grave injustice. But the secrecy, Argentina's closeness with Iranian-allied Venezuela, and recent efforts by Argentina to bolster trade relations with Tehran have raised suspicions about the integrity of the effort. Given that Iran and its Hezbollah terrorist affiliate seem determined to set up shop in the Americas, this case should give pause to all Americans, North and South. Mr. Nisman's investigation concluded that the 1994 attack was a joint Hezbollah-Iran operation, with Iran playing the key organizational role and Hezbollah operatives carrying it out. The list of eight indictments includes former Iranian President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a former Iranian minister of information and security, and a former foreign relations minister. Also indicted is Ahmad Vahidi, a former commander of the Quds force of Iran's Revolutionary Guards Corps and the country's current defense minister. Another suspect, Mohsen Rabbani, is the former Iranian cultural attaché in Buenos Aires. Mr. Rabbani's name shows up in a Jan. 13 news release from the U.S. attorney's office in the Eastern District of New York summarizing the sentencing of Kareen Ibrahim for his role in 'conspiring to commit [a] terrorist attack at JFK Airport.' According to the news release, 'the plotters . . . sent [alleged conspirator] Abdul Kadir to meet with his contacts in the Iranian revolutionary leadership, including Mohsen Rabbani, the former cultural attache indicted for his leading role in the 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish cultural center in Buenos Aires, Argentina.'"
Clyde Russell in Reuters: "Asia's buyers of Iranian crude believe they've cut their purchases from Tehran enough to justify an extension of their U.S waivers, and strictly speaking, they probably have. The United States this week will likely announce whether China, India and South Korea will join Japan in receiving exemptions allowing them to continue buying Iranian crude. But even if the waivers are renewed, the question for lawmakers in the United States and Europe is whether they should be asking Asia to do more in their battle against Iran's nuclear programme, which they fear is aimed at developing weapons despite Tehran's insistence it is only for electricity. Looking at the numbers, only India would have cause for concern as its purchases from Iran are actually up 7.1 percent in the first 10 months of the year from the same period in 2011. India bought 366,400 barrels per day (bpd) from Iran in October, up 14 percent from September and 17 percent from a year earlier. This was even up from the 328,400 bpd for the first 10 months of the year, ensuring that India remains the top buyer of Iranian oil behind China. Indian officials will point to the fact that in the first seven months of the contract year that started in April, imports from Tehran are down 12 percent from the same period a year earlier. While this does show India's refiners have made some effort to cut purchases, the big jump in October imports doesn't look good if they are trying to convince the Americans they really are an ally against Tehran. Even the Chinese, who have made it quite clear they don't support the concept of sanctions targeting Iran's oil trade, have made deeper cuts than the Indians. In the first 10 months of 2012, China imported 424,000 bpd from Iran, a drop of 22.2 percent from the same period last year. However, how much of this was due to a genuine willingness of the Chinese to at least cooperate with the United States is open to debate. It's quite possible that China's drop in purchases is more down to the dispute over contract terms at the start of the year and the later insistence that Tehran uses its own tankers to deliver cargoes after European insurers withdrew coverage for vessels carrying Iranian crude. South Korea has the strongest case for the renewal of its waiver for Iranian crude, having cut purchases by 40 percent in the first 10 months of the year over the same period in 2011. South Korea imported an average 145,546 bpd from Iran in the year to end October, but after stopping purchases altogether in the middle of the year, refiners in the North Asian nation have once again stepped up buying. In October, South Korea bought 186,451 bpd of Iranian oil, and the recent increase in purchases may slightly undermine Seoul's case among Washington lawmakers. Japan, the other significant buyer of Iranian crude, had its waiver renewed in September and its purchases of Iranian crude were 38.4 percent lower in the first nine months of 2012 over the same period last year. Although Japan's imports from Iran fell in October from September, they have risen since the middle of the year when purchases stopped amid concern over the measures to prevent European re-insurers, who dominate the global shipping industry, from offering coverage. What is clear from looking at the big four Asian buyers of Iranian crude is that they made some effort to cut purchases, but seem in recent months to be happy to resume taking cargoes, albeit at lower volumes than in past years. This tallies with the International Energy Agency's November 13 report, which said Iranian exports rose to 1.3 million bpd in October from 1 million bpd the prior two months. Asia's big four took 1.165 million bpd of Iran's October total, meaning that if the Western powers are looking to further squeeze Tehran, they will have to look at Asia to both inflict the pain and take the pain of finding alternate crude sources. Given the seeming lack of progress on resolving the dispute over Iran's nuclear ambitions and the ongoing defiant tone of Tehran's leaders, it seems that making the crude waivers tougher to obtain may only be a matter of time."

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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