04/06/13: The New York Times reports negotiations over Iran’s disputed nuclear program broke off on Saturday without signs of even incremental progress, much less an agreement on tighter controls and tougher international oversight demanded by six world powers in exchange for some easing of sanctions that now have a stranglehold on the Iranian economy. The failure to reach any accord was a serious setback for the talks, which have become complicated by the Iranian presidential election now just 10 weeks away. After the conclusion of two days of tense bargaining, Catherine Ashton, the European Union’s foreign policy chief, said that after “long and intense discussions” it was clear that the sides “remain far apart on the substance." No future negotiations were announced and Ms. Ashton said that she would be "in touch very soon" with the top Iranian negotiator, Saeed Jalili, "in order to see how to go forward.” Russia’s lead negotiator at the talks, Sergei Ryabkov, also sounded a dark note but said there was still hope for future discussions.
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.
04/01/13: The blog Space War reports Iraq will step up searches of Iranian flights over its airspace to Syria, days after US Secretary of State John Kerry publicly criticized Baghdad for turning a blind eye to them. But while Prime Minister Nuri al-Malik’s spokesman spoke of newly tightened restrictions, the head of Iraq’s civil aviation authority acknowledged that no planes had been searched since October. “Because of a lot of information which referred to transportation of weapons, we have increased the activity of inspections,” Maliki spokesman Ali Mussawi said Saturday. “We will carry out more random searches, to be assured that there is no weapons transfer.” Kerry said in Baghdad that he “made very clear to [Maliki] that the overflights from Iran are in fact helping to sustain [Syrian President Bashar] al-Assad and his regime.”
03/31/13: Al Jazeera reports The first commercial flight between Egypt and Iran in thirty-four years took off Saturday, the latest step towards restoring ties broken following the 1979 Iranian Revolution. Egypt and Iran agreed to resume direct flights in October 2010 before President Hosni Mubarak was ousted from power, but no flights were made. “A flight by Air Memphis, owned by Egyptian businessman Rami Lakah, took off from Cairo to Tehran earlier on Saturday carrying eight Iranians including diplomats,” an airport official said. Diplomatic relations between Iran and Egypt were cut in the aftermath of the 1979 Iranian revolution in Tehran when the government in Cairo gave sanctuary to the deposed Shah. But ties improved over the years and have become significantly better since the election of Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi in June 2012.
03/29/13: The New York Times reports the assault, which took American Express offline for two hours, was the latest in an intensifying campaign of unusually powerful attacks on American financial institutions that began last September and have taken dozens of them offline, costing millions of dollars. JPMorgan Chase was taken offline by a similar attack this month. And last week, a separate, aggressive attack incapacitated 32,000 computers at South Korea’s banks and television networks. The culprits of these attacks, officials and experts say, appear intent on disabling financial transactions and operations. Corporate leaders have long feared online attacks aimed at financial fraud or economic espionage, but now a new threat has taken hold: attackers, possibly with state backing, who seem bent on destruction. “The attacks have changed from espionage to destruction,” said Alan Paller, director of research at the SANS Institute, a cybersecurity training organization. “Nations are actively testing how far they can go before we will respond.” Security experts who studied the attacks said that it was part of the same campaign that took down the Web sites of JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Bank of America and others over the last six months. A group that calls itself the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Cyber Fighters has claimed responsibility for those attacks. The group says it is retaliating for an anti-Islamic video posted on YouTube last fall. But American intelligence officials and industry investigators say they believe the group is a convenient cover for Iran. Just how tight the connection is is unclear. Government officials and bank executives have failed to produce a smoking gun. North Korea is considered the most likely source of the attacks on South Korea, though investigators are struggling to follow the digital trail, a process that could take months. The North Korean government of Kim Jong-un has openly declared that it is seeking online targets in its neighbor to the south to exact economic damage.
03/29/13: The New York Times reports the global effort to regulate the sale of conventional weapons suffered a significant but not fatal setback on Thursday after Iran, Syria and North Korea opposed the draft Arms Trade Treaty, blocking the consensus needed for passage after years of arduous negotiations. Achieving consensus among all 193 member states of the United Nations is considered a monumental task, but it was hoped that it would be possible in this case because so many countries supported the idea of trying to regulate the $70 billion annual industry at the root of much death and destruction. The treaty would require states exporting conventional weapons to develop criteria that would link exports to avoiding human rights abuses, terrorism and organized crime. It would also ban shipments if they were deemed harmful to women and children. After Iran and North Korea voted against the draft treaty, Peter Woolcott, the Australian ambassador who was the president of the treaty conference, suspended the meeting. When it resumed, Syria voted against the treaty as well. In the absence of consensus, it was expected that the treaty would be sent to the General Assembly as early as next week for approval. That is considered a weaker, but no less binding, manner of getting it passed. After General Assembly passage, the treaty would still require ratification by 50 member states before it could take effect.
03/25/13: The Washington Times reports a new manual commissioned by NATO’s cyberwarfare center says the cyberattack by the US and Israel that crippled Iran’s nuclear program by sabotaging industrial equipment constituted “an act of force” and was possibly illegal under international law. The Tallinn Manual on the International Law Applicable to Cyber Warfare says, “Acts that kill or injure persons or destroy or damage objects are unambiguously uses of force.” The international group of researchers who wrote the manual were unanimous that Stuxnet — the self-replicating cyberweapon that destroyed Iranian centrifuges that were enriching uranium — was an act of force, but were divided on whether its effects were severe enough to constitute an “armed attack,” which would trigger hostilities under the UN Charter and allow Iran to retaliate in self-defense. Neither Israel nor the United States has publicly acknowledged being behind Stuxnet, but they are widely believed to have been responsible.
03/24/13: The Associated Press reports Secretary of State John Kerry said Sunday that the US has made clear that Iraq shouldn’t allow Iran to use its airspace to ship weapons and fighters to Syria. Following private discussions with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki during an unannounced trip to Baghdad, Kerry said the two had a “very spirited discussion” on the subject of Iranian overflights. The US believes the Iranian shipments are aiding Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and undermining Western-backed opposition groups. “I made it very clear that for those of us who are engaged in an effort to see President Assad step down ... anything that supports President Assad is problematic,” Kerry said. Kerry also said lawmakers and the American people are “increasingly watching what Iraq is doing and wondering how it is a partner.”
03/18/13: The Miami Herald reports Iran’s judiciary has indicted eighteen suspects on charges of involvement in the killing of nuclear scientists. Since 2010, at least five Iranian nuclear scientists, including a manager at the Natanz enrichment facility, have been killed. Tehran has accused Israel’s Mossad, the CIA, and Britain’s MI6 of being behind the assassinations; Washington and London have denied the allegations, while Tel Aviv has not commented. Iranian state media said Sunday that authorities have issued indictments against the eighteen suspects, who will be tried in the coming months. In 2012, Iran hanged a man for the 2010 killing of a nuclear physicist.
03/17/13: The Miami Herald reports Iran on Sunday launched its domestically built destroyer in the Caspian Sea, the nation's first heavy military presence in the oil-rich sea. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad inaugurated the guided-missile destroyer Jamaran-2 in the port city of Anzali, about 150 miles northwest of Tehran. Iran launched a previous version of the Jamaran destroyer in 2010 in the Persian Gulf. Iran, Russia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, and Turkmenistan, the nations surrounding the Caspian, have not reached an agreement on exploitation of its resources. Iran supports equally sharing the sea, but the other four countries have reached agreements on exploiting the resources through mutual pacts, putting Iran's share at about 12% of the resources of the sea.
03/17/13: The Miami Herald reports an Iranian opposition group Saturday turned down Albania's offer of asylum to 210 of its members who are living at a former US military base near Baghdad. Albanian Prime Minister Sali Berisha made the offer after meeting with US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Barbara Leaf, UN envoy in Iraq Martin Kobler, and other officials. Berisha said the offer of asylum for the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq members was made for humanitarian reasons. Shahin Gobadi of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, which oversees the Mujahedeen, said that while they "really appreciate the [Albanian] government's helping hand," they couldn't accept an offer of asylum for such a small portion of the group. The UN says more than 3,000 members (nearly fifteen times Albania's offer) live at the former US base.
03/15/13: The New York Times reports President Obama told an Israeli television station on Thursday that his administration believed it would take Iran “over a year or so” to develop a nuclear weapon, and he vowed that the United States would do whatever was necessary to prevent that from happening. Less than a week before his first visit as president to Israel, Mr. Obama pledged to continue diplomatic efforts, but he promised that the United States would keep all options on the table to ensure that Iran did not become a nuclear threat to its neighbors. Mr. Obama’s estimated timeline contrasts with Mr. Netanyahu’s stated belief that Israel and its Western allies are likely to have to intervene by the spring or summer, when, he says, Iran’s scientists will have enriched enough uranium to become a nuclear threat. Iran denies that its nuclear program has any military aim. Mr. Obama has rarely been so specific about how long American intelligence agencies estimate it will take Iran to build a bomb. In defining the problem as he did — when Iran could get a weapon, rather than when it could have the capability to build one — he subtly indicated that he and Mr. Netanyahu still saw the problem in very different terms.
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 New York Times reports the foreign ministers of Syria and Iran on Saturday harshly criticized the United States’ decision to provide aid to rebels fighting to topple Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, saying that such assistance would only prolong the conflict. The remarks were the first official statements from Tehran and Damascus since US Secretary of State John Kerry’s announcement last week that Washington would begin providing nonlethal aid directly to Syria’s rebels. Speaking at a joint news conference in Tehran, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem and his Iranian counterpart Ali Akbar Saleh, said that Assad’s fate would be determined by Syrian voters in a presidential election scheduled for next year. Iran is a staunch ally of Syria’s government and has stood by Assad throughout Syria’s nearly two-year-old conflict.
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: The Miami Herald reports Israel and the US on Monday carried out a successful test of the next-generation Arrow 3 missile defense system, for the first time sending an interceptor into outer space, where it could destroy missiles fired from Iran. The Arrow 3 is part of a multilayered system that Israel is developing to protect against a range of missile threats, from short-range rockets in the Gaza Strip and Lebanon to medium and longer-range missiles in the hands of Syria and Iran. The Arrow is designed to stop sophisticated Iranian-made Shahab ballistic missiles. Israel’s Defense Ministry said it was the first flight test of the Arrow 3 interceptor. It was conducted at an Israeli test range over the Mediterranean Sea. The system is about three years away from becoming operational.
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.
02/24/13: The New York Times reports Iran’s Revolutionary Guards said Saturday that they had captured a foreign unmanned aircraft during a military exercise in southern Iran. General Hamid Sarkheili, a spokesman for the military exercise, said the guards’ electronic warfare unit spotted signals indicating that foreign drones were trying to enter Iranian airspace. General Sarkheili said experts took control of one drone’s navigation system and brought it down near the city of Sirjan. “While probing signals in the area, we spotted foreign and enemy drones which attempted to enter the area of the war game,” Sarkheili said on the state news agency. “We were able to get one enemy drone to land.” General Sarkheili did not say whether the drone was American, and a CIA spokeswoman in Washington declined to comment on the report.
02/24/13: The Washington Times reports Iran has selected sixteen locations as suitable for new nuclear power plants it intends to build to boost its energy production over the next fifteen years. Tehran says it needs twenty large-scale plants to meet its growing electricity needs. It currently operates a 1,000-megawat nuclear power plant at Bushehr, a coastal town on the Persian Gulf, and is planning to build a 360-megawatt nuclear power plant in the southwestern town of Darkhovin. A statement released by his organization said the sites were chosen in part for their resistance to earthquakes and military air strikes. The US and some of its allies fear that Iran could ultimately be able to develop a nuclear weapon. Iran says its nuclear program is geared toward peaceful purposes such as generating electricity nuclear medicine.
02/10/13: The Miami Herald reports Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says the upcoming visit of US President Barack Obama will focus on Iran’s nuclear program, the violence in Syria, and the stalled peace process with the Palestinians. Speaking at a government meeting on Sunday, Netanyahu said he had agreed with Obama on the issues to be discussed. Obama is expected to visit Israel along with the Palestinian Authority and Jordan next month. The visit has raised expectations that peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, which collapsed about four years ago, can be resumed. Netanyahu welcomed Obama’s trip, his first visit to Israel as president.