MIDDLE EAST BULLETIN: A Publication of Middle East Progress
Tuesday, February 09, 2010
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Today's News

Defiant Iran Accelerates Nuclear Program
by Glenn Kessler (The Washington Post)

Iran said Tuesday that it had begun producing higher-grade enriched uranium, marking a new and potentially dangerous turn in Tehran's confrontation with the West over its nuclear ambitions. ...

Iran's announcement Monday elicited immediate criticism from many countries involved in talks with Iran--but China made no immediate comment. "The only path that is left to us at this point, it seems to me, is that pressure track, but it will require all of the international community to work together," Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said Monday in Paris.

U.S. and EU Fear Fresh Government Crackdown in Iran
by Reuters

The United States and the European Union said on Monday they feared the Iranian government may crack down on opponents during this week's anniversary of Iran's 1979 Islamic revolution.

Washington and the EU issued a rare joint statement on Iran, warning the country's leaders to live up to their international human rights obligations. "We are particularly concerned by the potential for further violence and repression during the coming days, especially around the anniversary of the Islamic Republic's founding on 11 February," they said.

$20B Black Hole in Ahmadinejad Budget
by Maryam Sinaiee (The National)

One week after parliament and the Guardian Council approved a controversial bill to begin cutting energy subsidies, the president is seen as hoping to squeeze more resources out of it than the bill originally allowed. The conflict has raised concern among parliamentarians and ordinary Iranians as legislators prepare to debate next year's budget.

Iran has been paying about US$100 billion yearly to subsidize energy, water, some foodstuffs and such services as postal and aviation. The subsidy reform bill sees cutting the subsidies by $20bn a year for five years.

Iran Detains 7 Tied to U.S.-Funded Radio for Spying
by Nasser Karimi (The Associated Press)

Iran has arrested seven people linked to a U.S.-funded Farsi-language radio station for allegedly fomenting unrest, and accused some of the suspects of working for American spy agencies, Iranian state media reported Sunday.

The official IRNA news agency and Iran's state radio both cited an Intelligence Ministry statement saying the suspects played a role in violent anti-government demonstrations in Tehran on Dec. 27. On that day, at least eight people were killed and hundreds were arrested during clashes between opposition supporters and security forces.

In Response to Iran's Nuclear Program, German Firms Are Slowly Pulling Out
by Judy Dempsey (The New York Times)

German companies, long Iran's biggest trading partners in Europe, are finding it increasingly difficult to do business there as the United States, Israel and others campaign for tougher United Nations sanctions in response to the country's nuclear program.

Yet even those companies that said they were pulling out--most notably Siemens--will probably take years to wind down operations and wrap up outstanding contracts. Others are simply lowering their profile or finding third countries to do business through, fearing they will lose a lucrative market forever if they abandon it now.

Setting the Record Straight

Considering All Options

"There are two outcomes, one is Iran getting its nuclear weapons, the other is Israel or somebody uses military force to stop it. That's where we are."
--John Bolton, former U.S. ambassador to the UN, interview, Fox News, February 8, 2010


"In my view, there is no greater threat to the world than the prospect of a nuclear Iran. ... Peace-loving people must take every peaceful step possible to prevent Iran from going nuclear. There is no certain means of achieving this goal, but I can think of no more likely way to achieve it than through strong sanctions. ... Sanctions may not work, but, for the sake of peace, they are worth a try. Sanctions that hurt the Iranian economy will impose painful nukes-or-butter choices on a regime that is already tottering."
--Rep. Howard L. Berman (D-CA), chairman, House Committee on Foreign Affairs, remarks to Americans for Peace Now, January 24, 2010

Anniversary of the Iranian Revolution

Iranian protestor during Ashura (AP)

"Right now [a compromise is] unlikely. A lot will depend on what happens on Thursday. The state is not going to compromise unless it absolutely has to. ... On the other side ... I think that if Khamenei is interested in compromising at all, people like Khatami and Mousavi are going to encourage the movement to stop protesting. ... [But] that doesn't guarantee that the demonstrations end."

Understanding the Situation in Iran

The symbolic leader of the opposition, Mir Houssein Mousavi, in particular, has called for people to demonstrate and for the demonstrations to be peaceful. However, because parts of the opposition have become quite radicalized, people are expecting that that radical fringe will definitely come out and it's likely that, as happened in December, they will fight back when the Basij starts shooting and beating demonstrators. Because there's so much hostility in the population now against the government, it's not really about the rigged election anymore in June, it's about the fact that people have seen the terrible human rights violations that have gone on over the last several months. ...

On the other side, the authorities see this as being in a fight for their own survival. Some hardliners, such as an ayatollah by the name of Janiti, announced that the state will use all of its military might to crush people who demonstrate this Thursday no matter how much violence is required. Both sides are placing a lot of importance on this day as a way to demonstrate their own strength. Access the full interview>> Watch recent CAP event with Geneive Abdo


Mullahs, Guards and Bonyads

by David E. Thaler, Alireza Nader, Shahram Chubin, Jerrold D. Green, Charlotte Lynch, Frederic Wehrey (RAND Corporation)

The elite of the Islamic Republic of Iran perceive Iran as the natural, indispensable, and leading power of the Middle East, even of the Muslim world. ... Iran's sense of pride and importance is influenced by feelings of victimization, insecurity, and inferiority arising from historical exploitation by outside powers. The Iranian view of the United States as the successor to British imperial rule was shaped by the 1953 Anglo-American coup that ousted Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh and returned Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi to power. This perception is still an important factor in shaping and driving Iran's strategic culture and worldview. The Islamic Republic now views the United States as its main adversary and as a threat to the regime's survival. ...

The Iranian system is one in which the informal trumps the formal, power and influence derive as much (if not more) from personality as from position, and domestic factional dynamics drive policy debates and policymaking. ... The more powerful, influential, and well-connected the individual or individuals leading an institution are, the greater the weight that institution gains in policymaking and implementation within Iran. ...

Khamenei is the most powerful and influential individual in Iran. ... But, lacking Khomeini's iconic status and charisma, Khamenei must balance a multitude of competing interests to ensure that no single faction or group becomes so dominant that it threatens his power and prerogatives. This means operating in what is a relatively dysfunctional political system that tends toward stasis and where the absence of forward movement and innovation in the system is normal. Access the full report>>

The Greening of Islam

by Abbas Milani, Hamid and Christina Moghadam Director of Iranian Studies, Stanford (The New Republic)

[T]o limit the discussion of the Green Movement's religiosity to rhetoric and political maneuverings is to diminish the significance of the happening. The Green Movement (and the Ayatollah Khamenei's clumsy response to it) has exacerbated a split with Shiism. It has accelerated the development of profound and potentially far-reaching doctrinal innovations. The course of the coming months will determine the extent to which these innovations will transform Shiism and Iran. ...

To varying degrees, thinkers and theologians identified with the democratic movement have been offering a new reading of Shiism that makes the faith more amenable to democracy and secularism. The most significant innovation--found in essays, sermons, books, and even fatwas--is the acceptance of the separation of mosque and state, the idea that religion must be limited to the private domain. ...

The clear target of these new teachings is the Ayatollah Khamenei. It is important to remember that he owes his position as supreme leader to a deathbed appointment. ... While this may have been an unorthodox appointment, the method by which he was selected is very much within the tradition of the strain of Shiism dominant in Iran. But this tradition of appointment is under assault. Access the full article>>

Arab Silence is No Substitute for Policy on a Troubled Iran

by Emile Hokayem, political editor, The National

The world is justifiably perplexed by how the popular uprising in Iran will shape that country's future. The increasingly violent contest between the heterogeneous opposition and a hardened regime is nothing if not opaque, complex and uncertain. From Iran's closest Arab neighbors, what is most perceptible is their silence. Beyond a principled reluctance to comment on another country's internal affairs and a muted relief at seeing the Iranian system questioned from within, the silence is also explained by political caution and strategic confusion. ...

Erring on the side of prudence, however, should not preclude contingency planning. The Gulf states have mostly been worried that Iran's growing regional influence and nuclear resolve could lead to one of two dreadful outcomes: a regional war or a grand bargain with the U.S. that would subordinate their interests to an Iranian hegemony in the region. ... But the Green movement is now a mainstay of Iranian politics, so it is time to examine how its potential success could affect both Iran and Gulf security. ...

To avoid an unsatisfactory outcome, the Arab side needs to devote more thought to how a normal relationship with Iran could and should look like. Access the full article>>

Heard on the Street

Two-Track Diplomacy

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, interview with Candy Crowley, State of the Union, CNN, February 4, 2010:

"[I]n Iran, I don't know what the outcome would have been if the Iranian Government hadn't made the decision it made following the elections to become so repressive. But the fact is, because we engaged, the rest of the world has really begun to see Iran the way we see it. When we started last year talking about the threats that Iran's nuclear program posed, Russia and other countries said, well, we don't see it that way. But through very slow and steady diplomacy, plus the fact that we had a two-track process--yes, we reached out on engagement to Iran, but we always had the second track, which is that we would have to try to get the world community to take stronger measures if they didn't respond on the engagement front."

Background Basics

Iran's National Security Framework

Supreme Leader
* Designated the political and religious leader of the Islamic republic.
* Controls all critical foreign policy decisions.
* Appoints the six religious members of the Council of Guardians.
* Appoints the head of the judiciary, leader of the state-run media and the top military officials.
* Commands the armed forces, decides when to mobilize the military and is the only person who can declare war and peace.
* Possesses final authority over all decisions and recommendations made by the Supreme Council for National Security.

Guardian Council of the Constitution
* A 12-member group, 6 theologians and 6 lay jurists that can veto laws and treaties passed by the legislature.
* Vets candidates for the presidency, legislature and Assembly of Experts.

* Holds the second-highest office after the supreme leader.
* Highest-elected official in Iran and holder of the most visible public office.
* Presides over the Supreme Council for National Security, but cannot veto its decisions; signs treaties approved by the legislative body; and accepts the credentials of ambassadors.
* Heads the executive branch and is responsible for appointing cabinet ministers.
* All candidates pre-screened by the Council of Guardians after declaring candidacy.

Supreme National Security Council

* Runs the country's security policy framework as determined by the supreme leader.
* Composed of the heads of the executive, legislative and judiciary branches, as well as military leaders and other senior officials.

Assembly of Experts
* Directly-elected group of 86 clerics charged with electing and supervising the supreme leader. All have to possess religious authority to issue fatwa.

* The 290-seat legislative body approves all treaties and international agreements.

Expediency Discernment Council
* Advises the supreme leader on policy.
* Resolves disputes between the Majlis and the Council of Guardians.

Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps
* Established to safeguard the revolution; reports directly to the supreme leader.
* Former members occupy top political positions in the Ahmadinejad government.
* Operates separately from the regular armed forces and maintains parallel branches, including ground, air, naval, intelligence and strategic operations.
* Possesses control of Iran's strategic rockets and missiles.

The Quds Force
* Responsible for supporting strategic operations outside the country for the IRGC.
* Labeled a terrorist organization by the Bush administration in 2007.
* Accused by the United States of supplying munitions and other military support to Hezbollah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, the Taliban in Afghanistan and militants in Iraq.

Armed Forces
* Responsible for guarding the independence and territorial integrity of the country.

Middle East Progress appreciates the support and cooperation of Americans for Peace Now, Geneva Initiative, and New Israel Fund.