Friday, June 28, 2013

Eye on Iran: Iranian Official Signals No Scaling Back in Nuclear Activity

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Reuters: "Iran will press ahead with its uranium enrichment program, its nuclear energy chief said on Friday, signaling no change of course despite the victory of a relative moderate in the June 14 presidential election. Fereydoun Abbasi-Davani, head of the Islamic Republic's Atomic Energy Organization, said production of nuclear fuel would 'continue in line with our declared goals. The enrichment linked to fuel production will also not change.' Speaking through an interpreter to reporters at a nuclear energy conference in St Petersburg, Russia, he said work at Iran's underground Fordow plant - which the West wants Iran to close - would also continue. Iran refines uranium at Fordow that is a relatively close technical step away from weapons-grade."

Bloomberg: "Sony Corp. sold almost $13 million in video and medical equipment to dealers in Dubai that resold the gear in Iran, the company said. The recipients included groups under U.S. sanctions. In a U.S. filing yesterday, Sony said it sold broadcast equipment, security cameras and video-conferencing gear to dealers who planned to resell or resold the products to groups including the Information Technology Department of the Iranian Police and the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting. The law allows the U.S. to seek fines against suppliers of products used to oppress people in Iran. Sony's dealings were outlined under requirements that businesses report transactions with Iran or others sanctioned under programs relating to terrorism or the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, according to the Tokyo-based electronics maker's filing."

Bloomberg: "Tupras Turkiye Petrol Rafinerileri AS (TUPRS), Turkey's only oil refiner, will cut imports of crude oil from Iran this year 22 percent to 5.6 million tons, or 105,000 barrels a day, to comply with sanctions. The U.S. extended exemptions to sanctions against Iran's nuclear program to countries dependent on Iranian crude for another six months from June, Tupras Chief Executive Officer Yavuz Erkut said yesterday. Iran is Turkey's largest supplier. 'We have diversified crude oil sources and the decrease in Iran supplies is being compensated for by purchases from Saudi Arabia and Iraq,' he said. Iraq supplied 3.8 million tons in 2012 while Saudi Arabia 2.8 million tons, he said."
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Nuclear Program

USA Today: "The United States plans to give Israel weapons that would enable it to send ground forces against Iranian nuclear facilities that it can't penetrate from the air. The deal includes air-refueling aircraft, advanced radars for F-15 fighter jets, and up to eight V-22 Ospreys, an aircraft that can land like a helicopter and carry two dozen special operations forces with their gear over long distances at aircraft speeds. The Osprey 'is the ideal platform for sending Israeli special forces into Iran,' says Kenneth Pollack, a former CIA analyst now at the Brookings Institution's Saban Center for Middle East Policy... 'One of the possibilities is (Israel) would use special forces to assault the Fordow facility and blow it up,' Pollack said."

WashPost: "A retired four-star Marine Corps general who served as the nation's second-ranking military officer is a target of a Justice Department investigation into a leak of information about a covert U.S.-Israeli cyberattack on Iran's nuclear program, a senior Obama administration official said. Retired Gen. James E. 'Hoss' Cartwright served as deputy chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and was part of President Obama's inner circle on a range of critical national security issues before he retired in 2011. The administration official said that Cartwright is suspected of revealing information about a highly classified effort to use a computer virus later dubbed Stuxnet to sabotage equipment in Iranian nuclear enrichment plants."


Reuters: "Japan's oil imports from Iran in May jumped 86 percent from a year earlier, recovering from a plunge the previous month when there was a near halt amid uncertainty about continued sovereign guarantees on shipping insurance. Despite the rise in May, Japan's imports for the first five months of year are down by 20 percent from a year ago. Imports by Japan, Iran's No. 3 crude buyer, are still expected to decline this year after dropping 39.5 percent last year as the United States and the European Union ratchet up sanctions targeting Iran's disputed nuclear programme."

Platts: "China has taken delivery of around 88,000 mt of Iranian LPG in June after a break of four months, as the Islamic republic extends exports to North Asia in its attempts to circumvent sanctions aimed at preventing it from exporting oil products, market sources said this week. The VLGC, Gas Jasmine, discharged its cargo comprising 33,000 mt of propane and 11,000 mt butane at the Chinese port of Daxie, in Ningbo, on June 21 after a voyage from Khor Fakkan in the UAE, according to Platts ship tracking tool cFlow. This followed a ship-to-ship transfer of the cargo in the Persian Gulf, trade and shipping sources said. The ship is currently heading to Fujairah in the Persian Gulf in an unladen state. 'We heard it's sold by PCC via a Middle Eastern company, hence it can only be taken by China and not South Korea,' a market source said, referring to Iran's Petrochemical Commercial Co."

Korea Economic Daily: "Korea's automotive parts makers such as Hyundai Wia are in danger of losing the money from selling auto parts to Iran. As the United States government extended the sanctions on the pariah nation to be in effect on July 1, it has also banned financial transactions such as payments for bills payable. To make matters worse, most Korean banks have stopped releasing the money wired by Iranian importers even before the sanctions go into effect. According to the Ministry of Trade, Industry, and Energy and auto parts industry sources on June 26, as many as 1,300 auto parts suppliers will be affected by the newly expanded sanctions. 'Executive Order 13645' issued by the U.S. government on June 3 imposes sanctions on any person that engages in significant transactions relating to the sale of significant goods or services for use by Iran's automotive sector, including goods used in the manufacture or assembly of trucks, cars, motorcycles and other vehicles in Iran."

Syrian Civil War

FT: "Iran, Russia and China are propping up Syria's war-ravaged economy, with President Bashar al-Assad's regime doing all its business in rials, roubles and renminbi as it seeks to beat western sanctions, according to the country's senior economics minister. Syria's three main allies are supporting international financial transactions, delivering $500m a month in oil and extending credit lines, Kadri Jamil, deputy prime minister for the economy, said in an interview with the Financial Times. He added that its allies would also soon help with a 'counter-offensive' against what he called a foreign plot to sink the Syrian pound... 'It's not that bad to have behind you the Russians, the Chinese and Iranians,' Mr Jamil told the FT. 'Those three countries are helping us politically, militarily - and also economically.'"

Opinion & Analysis

Vance Serchuk in WashPost: "Over the past two years, Syria's descent into civil war has provoked alarm and horror in Washington. While officials have argued over the extent to which the United States can and should intervene, everyone agrees that the conflict poses a humanitarian catastrophe and a threat to U.S. interests across the Middle East, including to the stability of allies, the struggle against Islamist extremism and the effort to keep weapons of mass destruction out of terrorist hands. Lately, however, another argument has crept into the debate: the idea that, while unquestionably tragic, Syria's slow-motion unraveling might not be an unmitigated calamity for the United States. Rather, it could carry a Machiavellian upside by embroiling Iran, our foremost enemy in the region, in a costly, protracted struggle with al-Qaeda. Syria, the theory holds, could be for Iran what the Iraq war was for the United States. For the Obama administration, under fire for its handling of the crisis, this could be an appealing notion - and a convenient rationalization for not attempting more decisive intervention that might stop the spiral of violence. But there's good reason - beyond its ugly moral calculus - that this argument is mostly whispered on the margins. Under scrutiny, it withers. For starters, the argument presumes that the Syrian conflict is bogging down the Iranians, sapping their strength and distracting them from more vital interests. Unfortunately, the evidence suggests that as Tehran has been riding to the rescue of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, it has made disturbing inroads elsewhere, including Yemen and Iraq. That's because the instability the Syrian conflict is fueling across the Middle East is largely good for Iran: Sectarian polarization is driving anxious Shiite populations closer to Tehran, while refugee flows are weakening key U.S. allies such as Jordan and Turkey. Iran, meanwhile, is suffering no meaningful blow-back for its deadly interference in Syria. On the contrary, protracted bloodshed there fosters regional conditions in which Iranian power is likely to thrive.  Involvement in Syria also hasn't done - and won't do - anything to set back Iran's strategic trump card: its nuclear program. In the two years since the uprising against Assad began, Tehran has made steady progress toward weapons capability. It has expanded its stockpile of enriched uranium, installed next-generation centrifuges and moved forward with a heavy-water reactor that will provide an alternative path to a bomb. Nor does Iran's aid to Assad seem likely to exhaust the Islamic Republic. Although surely an unwelcome burden at a time when the regime is battling economic sanctions, Tehran's approach to the conflict has not been an Iraq-style commitment of hundreds of thousands of ground troops. Rather, it's pursuing a 'light footprint' more akin to the Obama administration's preferred approach to the war against terrorism by relying on a small number of its version of special-operations forces, the Quds Force, who are bolstering local proxies."

Michael Knights in WINEP: "As the war in Syria drags on, external actors may play an increasingly important role in tipping the balance through material support and sponsorship of individual armed units. One of the most significant international brigades currently fighting on the Assad regime's side is the Damascus-based Liwa Abu Fadl al-Abbas (LAFA), a collection of predominantly Iraqi Shiite fighters organized and supported by the Qods Force, an elite branch of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). Though relatively small in size, LAFA could have a strategic impact on the war's course. More broadly, its expansion marks a potentially dangerous turn for the region, giving Tehran a transnational Shiite militant legion that it could use to bolster its allies outside Syria. According to Phillip Smyth, an independent expert on LAFA's operations, the number of Iraqi Shiite militants in Syria fluctuates between 800 and 2,000. These fighters are drawn almost exclusively from three Iraqi groups. The main contributor is Asaib Ahl al-Haqq (AAH), a 2,000-3,000-strong militant group that splintered from Muqtada al-Sadr's movement in 2006 with support from the IRGC Qods Force and Lebanese Hezbollah. The second is Kataib Hezbollah (KH), an elite 400-man cadre of experienced Iraqi Shiite fighters reporting directly to the IRGC Qods Force leadership. The third is Kataib Sayyid al-Shuhada (KSS), a 200-man force led by Abu Mustafa al-Sheibani (a.k.a. Hamid al-Sheibani), an Iraqi Shiite who has worked under the Qods Force since the late 1980s. Reports also indicate the presence of Iraqi Shiites from the Badr Organization and Muqtada al-Sadr's Liwa al-Youm al-Mawud (Promised Day Brigades). Regardless of its exact composition, LAFA appears to have soaked up a large proportion of the hardened, Iranian-supported militant cadres that harassed the U.S. military in Iraq. Indeed, Iran has played a key role in the formation and sustainment of Iraqi volunteer groups active in Syria. Since fall 2011 -- about the time that Shiite insurgents in Iraq began to scale down their attacks on the dwindling numbers of U.S. forces in that country -- AAH and KH have apparently been streaming fighters to Iran and Lebanon to be retrained for intervention in Syria. Specifically, they have been taught how to move from the insurgent tactics used in Iraq (e.g., roadside bombs, hit-and-run rocket attacks, assassinations) to the urban street-fighting and conventional military skills required for regime security operations in Syria -- skills that could also be used in Lebanon or even Iran if needed."

Ilan Berman in USA Today: "History, it is said, doesn't repeat itself, but occasionally it does rhyme. So it is with Western policy toward Iran, which is on the verge of returning to the costly rhythm of the past. To understand why, it's necessary to recall the summer of 1997. That was when a relatively obscure, soft-line cleric named Mohammad Khatami unexpectedly emerged as the front-runner for the Iranian presidency. Khatami's subsequent victory electrified policymakers and the mainstream news media in Washington and European capitals, all of whom were eager for some sort of d├ętente with Tehran after nearly two decades of unremitting hostility. Khatami, in turn, fanned those desires by calling for a 'dialogue of civilizations' with the West. This enthusiasm, however, turned out to be misplaced. At home, Khatami, despite campaign rhetoric about the need for social reform, presided over a worsening human rights situation, culminating in the regime's infamous July 1999 suppression of protests at Tehran University, an incident that left at least four dead and hundreds injured. As for the civilizational dialogue envisioned by Khatami, it turned out to have less to do with genuine reconciliation with the U.S. and Europe than with an effort to lessen Tehran's deepening diplomatic isolation. Western outreach predictably fizzled, despite repeated overtures on the part of the Clinton administration and various European governments. Fast-forward 16 years, and the situation is eerily similar. The June 14 election of Hasan Rowhani, a purported 'moderate,' to the Iranian presidency has reignited hopes in many quarters that some sort of negotiated settlement with Tehran might be within reach. Rowhani has deftly played upon those hopes, offering his own, updated version of Khatami's dialogue of civilizations in calling for 'constructive interaction' with the West on a range of issues. The devil, however, is in the details. Already, Rowhani has made plain that the Iranian regime won't budge on the two matters preoccupying Western policymakers the most: Iran's nuclear program, and its support for the regime of Bashar Assad in Syria. In his first news conference as president-elect, Rowhani ruled out a cessation of Iran's uranium enrichment activities and made clear that the Iranian government will continue to try and keep Assad in power with both diplomacy and materiel."

Naghmeh Abedini in Fox News: "I would have never imagined that I would spend my ninth wedding anniversary - coming up on June 30th - alone, with my husband in captivity in Iran for his faith. Nor could I have imagined that when Saeed and I said our vows for better or worse, just how those vows would be tested as I waited and prayed for my husband's return to our family one year later. On June 22, 2012, as I had so many times before, I kissed my husband goodbye in the early hours of the morning for what was intended to be a short trip to Iran to obtain the final approval from the Iranian government on a non-sectarian orphanage. While our family was hopeful this trip would mark the opening of the doors to the orphans we had longed to make a part of our family, we were also excited for Saeed's prompt return so we could get started on our summer plans. We had dreamed of a secure future in which our family would take the long-awaited trip to Disneyland Saeed had promised our son Jacob for his fifth birthday. But two days before his hopeful return, the picture of our family's future dramatically changed. On July 28, 2012, Revolutionary Guards forced my husband off of a bus in Iran and put him under house arrest. Suddenly, I was forced to trade certainty for uncertainty. My ideas and conceptions of the future were stripped of their relevance and value, and plans that I had no reason to change were forcefully overturned. What would the future look like now? For the last year, I have been traveling into a future that I once thought would follow some semblance of normalcy. Life was now anything but normal. The future became even more uncertain when, on September 26, 2012, my husband was forcibly taken to Evin prison - a place with memories that haunt our family. You see, when I was a young girl, my 18-year-old uncle was executed without warning in Evin prison because his political views differed from the new radical Regime. Our family knows all too well the uncertainty of Evin."

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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