04/02/13: The New York Times reports Iran’s double-digit inflation rate worsened for the sixth consecutive month in March, the government said on Monday, in what appeared to be an implicit acknowledgment that international sanctions linked to the disputed Iranian nuclear program are causing some economic harm. The government’s statistics office said the rate increased in March to an annualized 31.5 percent, compared with 30.2 percent in February and 26.4 percent a year earlier, the semiofficial Mehr News Agency reported. The Mehr report did not offer an explanation for the increase except to specify that much of it was in the categories of food, beverages and tobacco. Many economists say the real rate could be at least double the official rate, partly because it does not fully take into account the prices of many imported goods, which have become prohibitively expensive. The main reason is the severe depreciation of the rial, Iran’s national currency, as the sanctions that have limited Central Bank activities and oil exports have taken hold. Some experts believe the Iranian inflation calculation deliberately understates the actual rate in order to present a public face of resistance to the coercive pressures inflicted by the sanctions, which have been imposed largely by the United States and European Union.
03/18/13: CNN reports China warned Monday that the United States’ plans to beef up its missile defenses against North Korea are likely to inflame tensions already running high over Pyongyang’s nuclear program. “Bolstering missile defenses will only intensify antagonism, and it doesn’t help to solve the issue,” Hong Lei, a spokesman for the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said at a news briefing in Beijing. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced Friday that the United States will deploy additional ground-based missile interceptors on the West Coast as part of efforts to enhance the nation’s ability to defend itself from attack by North Korea. The announcement came after North Korea recently threatened a preemptive nuclear attack on South Korea and the United States in response to stepped-up UN sanctions over its latest nuclear test last month.
03/17/13: Haaretz reports Bulgaria's new interim Prime Minister said Saturday he would not initiate any move to impose EU sanctions on the Islamist group Hezbollah, even though the country had implicated Hezbollah in a bombing at a Black Sea resort. Marin Raikov did not give a reason for his decision, but it will likely be seen as a concession to Bulgarian opposition groups, who have argued the country could open itself up to more attacks if it takes the lead in blacklisting Hezbollah. "Bulgaria will not initiate a procedure [for listing Hezbollah as a terrorist organization]," Raikov told state media. "We will only present the objective facts and circumstances and let our European partners decide." Last month, then-Interior Minister Tsvetan Tsvetanov said an investigation had linked Hezbollah to the Black Sea attack.
March 17, 2013 at 10:04 AM in Law Enforcement / Criminal Law, Terrorism / Counterterrorism, Politics, Diplomacy / Foreign Assistance, International Law / Law of War / Human Rights, Terrorist Finance / Material Support, Europe / Eurasia, Middle East / Northern Africa, Financial / Diplomatic Sanctions | Permalink
03/11/13: The Miami Herald reports the European Union is tightening sanctions against Iran, concerned about alleged violations of human rights in the country. EU foreign ministers, meeting Monday in Brussels, added nine people they said were “responsible for serious human rights violations” to the list of those subject to a travel ban and an asset freeze, bringing the number of people sanctioned in this way to eighty-seven. The foreign ministers also decided to freeze the assets of one “entity,” meaning a company or organization. The measures will be valid until April 13, 2014; the names of the targets will be published Tuesday. Iran carried out at least fifty-five public executions in 2012, UN spokeswoman Cecile Pouilly has said. Some 400 people were reportedly put to death in the country last year.
03/10/13: The Space War blog reports French President Francois Hollande and his Israeli counterpart Shimon Peres said on Friday sanctions on Iran over its contested nuclear program are biting but need to be strengthened further. “I have said how much we want the sanctions to be beefed up, which are already efficient,” Hollande said after meeting Peres. Iran last month held talks with the five UN Security Council permanent members, plus Germany, in Kazakhstan. “I was very glad to hear from [President Hollande] that he plans to take more measures because if we can end this danger without military use, it will be better,” Peres said. Although Hollande and Peres both hold the title “President,” the latter is a figurehead; the real power in Israel lies with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Peres’ former political rival.
03/04/13: The New York Times reports the head of the United Nations’ nuclear regulatory body urged Iran on Monday to permit access by international inspectors to a military site near Tehran to ascertain whether tests have been carried out there on nuclear bomb triggers. International Atomic Energy Agency director Yukiya Amano spoke just weeks after IAEA inspectors returned from talks in Tehran that failed to obtain access to the Parchin site, twenty miles south of Tehran. “I request Iran once again to provide access to the Parchin site without further delay,” Amano said. The talks about Parchin are separate from the negotiations Tehran is conducting with six global powers on the broader question of its disputed nuclear program. Western powers suspect that Iran is seeking the technology for nuclear weapons.
03/03/13: The Miami Herald reports Iran’s nuclear chief says his country has produced more than 3,000 advanced centrifuges which are used to enrich uranium. Fereidoun Abbasi said Sunday that the old generation of IR-1 centrifuges will be phased out soon. Iran has more than 12,000 IR-1 centrifuges enriching uranium at its main Natanz uranium enrichment facility in central Iran. Abbasi said last month that Iran has begun installing the newer IR-2 centrifuges, which can produce more enriched uranium in a shorter period of time. He said the production line of the new, advanced centrifuges has been completed but did not elaborate. The US and its allies fear that Iran may eventually be able to develop a nuclear weapon, a charge Tehran denies. Iran has repeatedly been hit with sanctions over the program.
02/25/13: Reuters reports major powers will offer Iran some relief from crippling sanctions during talks in Almaty, Kazakhstan, this week if Tehran agrees to curb its nuclear program. However, a US official said the Islamic Republic could face more economic pain if the standoff remains unresolved. Reports indicate the United States, Russia, China, Britain, Germany, and France will offer to ease sanctions on trade in gold and precious metals if Iran closes its Fordow underground uranium enrichment plant. Iranian officials have indicated, however, that this will not be enough. The US hopes the Almaty meeting February 26-27 will lead to follow-up talks, and the United States may also be prepared to hold bilateral talks with Tehran if it was serious about it.
02/13/13: Al Jazeera reports the UN Security Council has “strongly condemned” North Korea’s third nuclear test and vowed to take action against Pyongyang. “The members of the Security Council strongly condemned this test, which is a grave violation of Security Council resolutions,” said South Korean Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan, whose country is president of the Council this month. He said the council would now consider “appropriate measures” but did not elaborate on what those might be. The nuclear test drew universal condemnation from several countries and organizations, including the US and Pyongyang’s usual ally China. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said it was “deplorable” that North Korea had defied international appeals to refrain from such provocative acts. Ban’s spokesman called the test “a clear and grave violation of the relevant Security Council resolutions.”
02/06/13: Reuters reports the United States is urging fellow members of the UN Security Council to agree to demands by the government in Mogadishu to lift the arms embargo on Somalia, which has been in place for the past twenty-one years. Washington’s push comes after UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said last week that the Council should consider lifting the embargo to help rebuild Somalia'’ security forces and consolidate military gains against al-Qaeda-linked al-Shabaab militants. The Security Council imposed the embargo in 1992 to cut the flow of arms to feuding warlords. “I think we’ll come down in terms of having probably a political lift of the arms embargo but retaining some controls,” said a senior Western diplomat. Britain and France have been reluctant to support ending the arms embargo.
02/03/13: Al Jazeera reports a spokesman for the European Union’s foreign policy chief said Sunday that world powers have proposed holding a new round of talks with Iran over Tehran’s nuclear program the week of February 25 in Kazakhstan. But Catherine Ashton’s team, which coordinates diplomatic contacts with Iran on its nuclear program on behalf of the United States, Russia, China, France, Germany and Britain, is still hoping for confirmation of the date and venue from Tehran. Earlier on Sunday, Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi confirmed the proposal for the new round of talks but stopped short of pledging Iran’s attendance. Iran and the six nations held three rounds of talks last year aimed at resolving the standoff over Iran’s nuclear activities.
02/03/13: BBC News reports Iran’s Foreign Minister says the country welcomes an American offer of bilateral nuclear talks, but wants the US to show an “authentic … fair and real intention to resolve the issue.” Ali Akhbar Salehi said the US should stop threats to take action against Iran as it offers talks. He was speaking at a security conference in Germany a day after Vice-President Joe Biden told the gathering Iran had to be “serious” on the issue. International talks on Iran’s nuclear program are due later this month. Iran is under an array of UN-imposed sanctions. Western countries suspect it wants to develop nuclear weapons, but Tehran says its nuclear program is for energy generation and research.
01/28/13: The Miami Herald reports a US envoy says North Korea is playing a dangerous game with the international community by threatening a nuclear test. Glyn Davies, US Special Representative for North Korea Policy, urged Pyongyang on Monday to return to its international obligations and abandon its nuclear programs. Davies met with Japanese Foreign Ministry officials in Tokyo to discuss the anticipated nuclear test, after visiting Seoul for similar talks over the weekend. North Korea said Sunday that leader Kim Jong Un had ordered top security and foreign affairs officials to take “substantial and high-profile important state measures.” The move fueled speculation that North Korea is going ahead with a threat to explode a nuclear device in defiance of the United Nations.
01/23/13: The New York Times reports North Korea said on Wednesday that its nuclear weapon program was no longer negotiable, and indicated that it might conduct its third nuclear test to retaliate against the United Nations Security Council’s tightening of sanctions against the isolated yet highly militarized country. Although it was not the first time North Korea issued such strident rhetoric, its posture, coming under the new leadership of Kim Jong-un, threw a direct challenge to President Barack Obama as he starts his second term, and Park Geun-hye, who will be sworn in as president of South Korea next month. Simultaneously, Washington reaffirmed its policy of punishing North Korea for moving toward the development of long-range missiles tipped with a nuclear warhead when it spearheaded international backing for a unanimous Security Council resolution on Tuesday.
01/23/13: Reuters reports Russia warned Israel and the West on Wednesday against any military strikes on Iranian nuclear facilities but suggested Tehran should be quicker to cooperate over inspections of its nuclear sites. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov mixed words of caution over attacking Iran with a gentle nudge to Tehran over the inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). “Attempts to prepare and implement strikes on Iranian nuclear facilities and on its infrastructure as a whole are a very, very dangerous idea. We hope these ideas will not come to fruition,” Lavrov said. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has hinted strongly at possible military action to stop Iran from developing an atomic bomb. Lavrov added that he hopes Tehran will agree to inspections by the IAEA and should act “a little bit faster.”
10/24/12: The Miami Herald reports Iran’s intelligence chief says up to fifty people have been arrested in connection with the decline in the value of the national currency and the chaos that followed the slide. Heidar Moslehi says those detained have been accused of cooperating with the country”s enemies to create currency “disruptions” and economic instability. He spoke after a Cabinet meeting Wednesday. Iran’s rial has lost nearly 40 percent of its value against the US dollar this month. The rate Wednesday – about 31,500 rials to the dollar – was a bit better than the record low of 35,500 rials to the dollar earlier this month. The rial’s decline has been blamed on a combination of government mismanagement and the bite from Western sanctions imposed over Iran’s nuclear program.