FOCUS: Iran

April 19, 2006

Iran Police Kill Two Kurd Rebels

Iran Mania

LONDON - Iranian police have killed two members of a banned Kurdish rebel group operating close to the border with Turkey, Iran's state television reported.

The two, killed late Tuesday, were described as members of the Pejak group who were trying to infiltrate Iran's West Azerbaijan province.

Iran says Pejak is linked to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which has waged a 15-year insurgency against Ankara for self rule in Turkey's mainly Kurdish southeast, AFP noted.

Reports have said at least 120 Iranian police were killed and scores wounded in Kurdish rebel attacks last year, many of them blamed on Pejak.

Iran is bound by treaty with Turkey to fight PKK militants on its soil in return for Turkey fighting the Iranian armed opposition group, the People's Mujahedeen.

Iran has blamed US-led forces in neighbouring Iraq for a recent upsurge in violence among the Kurdish and Arab communities in its western border provinces.


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Russia to Sell Air Defense Systems to Iran

Xinhua

Russia will implement the contract to supply Tor-M1 air defense systems to Iran in full, Chief of General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces and First Deputy Defense Minister Yuri Baluyevsky said here on Wednesday.

Baluyevsky made the statement after his talks with James Johns, Supreme Commander of the United States and NATO forces in Europe.

"I'm sure this equipment is not strategic, but it is obvious that it will be delivered in accordance with Russia's international commitments in the nonproliferation sphere and under control by the appropriate bodies. I'm simply sure of it," Baluyevsky was quoted by the Itar-Tass news agency as saying.

Up to 30 Tor-M1 complexes are planned to be supplied to Tehran which will defend the key state and military facilities, foremost nuclear facilities in Isfahan, Bushehr, Tehran and in the east of the country.

The contract, worth 1.4 billion U.S. dollars, is the biggest arms deal Iran and Russia has ever concluded.

Deputy Prime Minister and Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov officially confirmed the fact of concluding the contract on December 5, 2005.

Ivanov noted that the contract "is implemented in strictest conformity with the Russian legislation and Russia's international commitments."

Tor-M1 is an all-weather air defense system intended for fulfilling air defense tasks at the battalion unit level. It ensures effective protection from cruise missiles, guided bombs, warplanes, helicopters, and pilotless and remotely controlled attack aircraft.


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Reformist Clerics Anxious About Nuclear Programs

Meysam Tavvab, Rooz Online

In their meeting with ayatollah Khamenei the leader of the Islamic regime, members of the reformist Association of clergies “Majma-e Rohaniyun Mobarez” raised their concerns about the country’s nuclear programs and policies. They called on Khamenei to take responsibility for the nuclear policies, which according to them sway from day to day and contradict official announcements made daily by different senior officials.

The members of the Association also criticized the limited scope of talks with the US, as announced by both parties and asked Khamenei that the government consider the views of all the major political factions and groupings of the country so as to form a national consensus on the nuclear issue.

It should be noted that this meeting took place just a few days after the major reform organizations and groups around the country sent a letter to Khamenei, calling on him to take leadership and control of the nuclear policy and issues of the country.

Also present in the meeting between Khamenei and the reformist clergies, were former president Mohammad Khatami, a prominent reform personality and former editor of influential Salam newspaper Mousavi Khoeniha, the moderate-turned cleric Mousavi Bojnourdi, and a member of late ayatollah Khomeini’s leadership office Tavasoli.


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Iran to Step Up U-Enriching Work, Asks EU to Join

Iran Mania

LONDON - Tehran plans to step up uranium enrichment work soon and has asked European countries to help in the effort, a senior French official told AFP.

Speaking after a meeting between Iranian officials and senior diplomats from Britain, France and Germany he said the Iranian officials had "indicated that Iran is preparing soon to launch two new centrifuge cascades" for enriching uranium.

The French official, who took part in a surprise meeting with the Iranian delegation in Moscow, spoke on condition that he not be named.

"They asked the political directors to take note of this situation and invited them to negotiate in taking part in this enrichment program," the official said, after the meeting between the Iranian officials and the diplomats from the "EU-3".

A cascade of basic "P1" centrifuges for uranium enrichment consists of 164 devices. Iran is believed to have one such cascade in operation at a nuclear facility in Natanz at present.

The French official said the European participants in the meeting responded to the invitation by saying there was "no question" of accepting any situation in Iran that ran contrary to resolutions of the United Nations Security Council and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Those resolutions have called on Iran to suspend all uranium enrichment activity.

The European political directors warned the Iranian officials that Tehran should freeze its sensitive nuclear work in line with UN requests.

"If it does not, then far from creating a situation allowing the resumption of discussions, Iran will face measures that will isolate it further," the official said.

The Iranian delegation was headed by Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi and Javad Waidi, the deputy head of Iran's national security council and aide to Tehran's top nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani.

The meeting between the Iranian officials and the EU-3 diplomats came at the end of two days of intensive discussions in Moscow among senior diplomats from the UN Security Council's five permanent members and the Group of Eight (G8) states on how to deal with the Iran nuclear impasse.

The EU-Iranian meeting in Moscow had not been expected but was agreed to quickly because "it seemed useful to listen to the Iranian side in order to evaluate the situation and hear its intentions with regard to the IAEA," the French official said.

He said Iran requested the meeting, which was hosted by Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Kislyak.


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Russian Military Won't Intervene in Iran: Official

Iran Mania

LONDON - Russia's military will not intervene on one side or the other should the current Iran crisis lead to an armed conflict, the chief of the Russian general staff said, AFP reported.

"You are asking which side Russia will take. Of course Russia will not, at least I as head of the general staff, suggest the use of force on one side or the other. Just as was the case in Afghanistan," General Yury Baluevsky told reporters, referring to the 2001 US-led intervention to oust the Taliban.

The general, who heads the Russian armed forces, stressed that he did not think a military scenario was likely in relation to Iran and said that diplomacy was "the proper course".

"In my view a military solution to the Iranian problem would be a political and military mistake," Baluevsky said.

He also confirmed that Russia planned to go ahead with fulfilling an order by Iran for a consignment of Tor-M1 mobile air defence systems, despite US concerns about the deal.

"I am absolutely sure that it will be delivered, in accordance with international norms on non-proliferation," he said.

Baluevsky is known for his hawkish position with regard to the United States. In December he accused Washington of "double standards" in its policies towards Iran and North Korea, saying it had closed its eyes to Israel's nuclear arsenal.

His comments on Wednesday came as the Iran issue continued to overshadow talks in Moscow among leaders of the Group of Eight rich nations.

Tehran also sent a high-ranking delegation to Moscow for talks amid renewed efforts to resolve the mounting international crisis.

Iran insists its nuclear programme is purely for civilian energy generation, but the West, led by the United States, suspects the programme is a cover for developing atomic weapons.


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Ahmadinejad: Oil Price Is Lower Than Value

Nasser Karimi, Associated Press

Wading into oil politics for the first time, Iran's hard-line president said Wednesday that crude oil prices — now at record levels — still are below their true value.

In statements likely to rattle world oil markets, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad also said developed countries, not producing countries like Iran, are benefiting the most from the current high prices.

"The global oil price has not reached its real value yet. The products derived from crude oil are sold at prices dozens of times higher than those charged by oil-producing countries," state-run Tehran radio quoted Ahmadinejad as saying.

"The developed nations are the biggest beneficiary of the added value of oil products," he said.

The president, who is embroiled with the West and the United Nations over Tehran's nuclear program, stopped short of saying Iran would use oil as a weapon, a tactic much feared by his antagonists on the nuclear issue. Nor did he say what oil prices should be.

Oil prices leapt above $72 a barrel Wednesday, settling at a record high for the third straight day.

"The products derived from crude oil cost over 10 times the price of oil sold by producing states. Developed and powerful countries benefit more from its value-added than any party," Ahmadinejad said.

Oil prices should be determined on the basis of market supply and demand, the Iranian leader said.

"Oil is the major asset of nations possessing it. Its price should not be lowered on the pretext that it will prove harmful to developing states, thus permitting the world powers to benefit the most from it," he said.

George Orwel, an analyst at the New York-based Petroleum Intelligence Weekly said he thought Ahmadinejad was playing the oil card to resist pressure over Iran's nuclear program.

"They are using the oil as a political football. Every time there's an issue with Iran, the oil market freaks out," he said in a telephone interview.

Earlier this week, as oil prices pushed above $70 a barrel, ABN Amro broker Lee Fader said the trigger was heightened fear about U.S. military action against Iran, which has said it would go ahead with plans to enrich uranium in defiance of the United States, Europe and the U.N. nuclear agency.

Iran says its nuclear ambitions are peaceful, but the West fears it is intent on arming itself with nuclear weapons.

If the United States were to attack Iran, Tehran might try to cripple the world economy by putting a stranglehold on the oil that moves through the Strait of Hormuz — a narrow, strategically important waterway running to Iran's south.

While discounting Ahmadinejad's seriousness in his Wednesday comments about the value of oil, Orwel conceded the oil industry could not do without the 2.5 million barrels that Iran exports daily.

"Ahmadinejad is trying to show his muscle so that the Bush administration can realize the consequences on the oil market of further confrontation with Iran," Orwel said, adding that he fully expected Iran to threaten to cut off oil if the confrontation with the West continued.

While Ahmadinejad did not say he would use oil as a weapon in his dispute with the West, Interior Minister Mostafa Pourmohammadi said last month the oil card was in play.

"If (they) politicize our nuclear case, we will use any means. We are rich in energy resources. We have control over the biggest and the most sensitive energy route of the world," he said, referring to the Straits of Hormuz.

In keeping with Iranian leaders' tendency of late to contradict themselves, Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki later denied Iran would adopt such a policy.

Iran is the world's fourth-largest oil-producing country and the second in OPEC.

Ahmadinejad urged oil-producing countries — within and outside the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries — to establish a fund to help alleviate the pressure resulting from high oil prices on Third World nations.

Oppenheimer & Co. oil analyst Fadel Gheit said he considered it unlikely that Iran had any intention of cutting off its oil, the lifeline of its economy.

Gheit noted, however, that there was some truth in Ahmadinejad's comment on developed countries benefiting most from increased oil prices, though the statement would likely be seen as an attempt at "fanning the flames" of a red-hot oil market.

"What he's saying makes a lot of sense. Unfortunately, the source of the comment is going to send jitters in the market," Gheit said.

"The street value (of oil) is triple what OPEC is making," Gheit added, referring to the value of a barrel of gasoline versus the value of a barrel of oil.

Gheit estimated that in London, where the retail price of gasoline is about $6 a gallon, about $150 worth of gasoline can be made and sold from every $50 barrel of oil.

"That is why Exxon Mobil and all the rest make so much money," he said.

___

Associated Press reporter Brad Foss in Washington and Tarek al-Issawi in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, contributed to this report.


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War Game Will Focus on Situation with Iran

Matt Kelley, USA Today

WASHINGTON — Amid rising tensions between the United States and Iran over the future of Iran's nuclear program, the Pentagon is planning a war game in July so officials can explore options for a crisis involving Iran.

The July 18 exercise at National Defense University's National Strategic Gaming Center will include members of Congress and top officials from military and civilian agencies. It was scheduled in August, before the latest escalation in the conflict, university spokesman Dave Thomas said.

It's the latest example of how otherwise routine operations are helping the United States prepare for a possible military confrontation with Iran. On Tuesday, President Bush refused to rule out military action — even a nuclear strike — to stop Iran's nuclear program.

"All options are on the table," Bush said in the Rose Garden.

The exercise is one of five scheduled this year, including others envisioning an avian influenza pandemic and a crisis in Pakistan. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld started the exercises involving members of Congress in 2002 to help the legislative and executive branches discuss policy options.

Such exercises do not involve military members simulating combat. Instead, officials gather for a daylong conference and discuss how to react to various events presented in a fictional scenario.
Prodded by the United States, the United Nations Security Council has demanded that Iran stop all uranium enrichment activities by April 28. Last week, Iran said it has mastered the technology to make fuel that could be used for power plants or bombs, but it insists its nuclear program is only meant to generate electricity. The United States and its allies say Iran is working to build nuclear weapons.

The July exercise may have real-world consequences since Iran could interpret it as evidence the United States plans to attack, said Khalid al-Rodhan, an Iran expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

"Anything the U.S. will do in the region will be seen as further provocation," al-Rodhan said. "Given what's happening in Iraq, it's clear the Iranians are afraid of U.S. intentions."

In the meantime, the Pentagon is also collecting and interpreting photos and other intelligence data about Iran's facilities, developing weapons to attack hardened targets and laying the policy groundwork for a possible strike, Gen. John Abizaid, head of U.S. Central Command, said in recent congressional testimony.

For example, the Department of Defense has announced several initiatives to destroy deeply buried facilities such as those used by Iran's nuclear program.

They include:

•Replacing the nuclear warheads on some submarine-launched Trident missiles with conventional explosives. The Pentagon asked Congress for $503 million next year to begin that program.

•Putting hardened tips on existing missiles to help them penetrate further into earth or concrete.

•Setting off a huge explosion to gather data for efforts to improve bunker-busting bombs. In the that test, the military's Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) plans to set off 700 tons of explosives in the Nevada desert to gather data on how to hit buried targets.

The June 2 test is meant to help solve the problems posed by hardened weapons sites in nations like Iran and North Korea, DTRA head James Tegnalia says.

July's war game will be the first on Iran to involve members of Congress, but several other military exercises have focused on Iran. Last week, for example, the British military confirmed a London newspaper's report that it joined the United States in a July 2004 war game involving Iran at Fort Belvoir in Virginia. A report in The Guardian said U.S. and British officers played out a scenario involving a fictitious country called "Korona" with borders and military capabilities corresponding with Iran's.

Similarly, a 2003 Marine Corps planning document envisioned a conflict in 2015 with Korona, again a country corresponding to Iran.

A 2004 war game coordinated by the Army's Training and Doctrine Command featured an invasion of "Nair," another Iran equivalent.


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April 18, 2006

Iran Police Crack Down on Unislamic Women's Dress

"100 vigilantes gathered in front of parliament on Tuesday, demanding an official crackdown on "prostitution" -- women who wear colourful headscarves and figure-hugging coats"
Parisa Hafezi, Reuters India

TEHRAN- Iranian police said on Tuesday they would launch a crackdown on "social corruption" such as women flouting Islamic dress codes, the semi-official Fars news agency reported.

"In accordance with the law, the police will confront those who appear in public in an indecent and inappropriate way," Fars quoted Tehran police chief Morteza Talaei as saying.
"Police will seize women with tight coats and cropped trousers."

Enforcement of strict moral codes governing women's dress, Western music and mingling of the sexes became more lax after President Mohammad Khatami's election in 1997 on a platform of social and political reform.

But hardliners have been clawing back these concessions since President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad swept to power last year with the backing of conservative clerics and the Basij religious forces, who condemn such "un-Islamic" practices.

The Islamic dress code imposed after Iran's 1979 Islamic revolution requires women to cover all their hair and wear long, loose-fitting clothes to disguise the shape of their bodies. Violators can receive lashes, fines or imprisonment.

Analysts said that taking a tough line on social offences could backfire on the government just when it wants support in its standoff with the West over Iran's nuclear programme.

"Iran is already under international pressure. A severe crackdown on social issues like the dress code could cause a popular backlash," said political analyst Saeed Leylaz.

Mina, a 17-year-old girl with heavy makeup, tight jacket and bright headscarf that barely covered her hair, said she had no intention of changing her style.

"They are so busy with international issues, they will have no time to pay attention to my improper dress," said Mina, who asked that her full name not be used.

MANY IGNORE CHADOR

Many girls, particularly in wealthier urban areas, ignore traditional head-to-toe black chadors, wearing calf-length Capri pants, tight-fitting, thigh-length coats and brightly coloured scarves pushed back to expose plenty of hair.

Some women, testing the boundaries of the law, have been seen recently with scarves slipped off while parking cars in the street, skiing or travelling to the northern Caspian coast.

The Islamic dress code is less commonly challenged in poor suburbs and rural regions.

The authorities -- whose campaign starts on April 21 -- tend to launch such crackdowns before the hot summer months when women like to wear lighter clothing.

Some parliamentarians, alarmed by the growing number of women wearing colourful scarves and tight coats, have criticised the clerical establishment for not acting sooner.

About 100 vigilantes gathered in front of parliament on Tuesday, demanding an official crackdown on "prostitution" -- women who wear colourful headscarves and figure-hugging coats -- Fars agency reported.

Talaei said the police would target taxis that carry women in "improper dress" and would sweep through popular shopping centres, where such outfits are sold. "Women who do not wear headscarves in public will also be confronted," he said.


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Iran Suspends Renault Car Project

Reuters

TEHRAN - Iran has suspended a joint venture project to produce the L90 or Logan car with French automaker Renault in the Islamic republic, a government official said on Tuesday.

Analysts said the move would be a further blow to foreign investment in Iran, seen as crucial for creating jobs for the country's young population. It also comes at a time of increasing international tension over Iran's nuclear programme.

A dispute over exports of the no frills car appears to be at the heart of the dispute.

"Iran's industry and mines minister has ordered the suspension of the L90 project until Renault company considers this ministry's views regarding the project," said Mohammad Karimi, a spokesman for the ministry.

An official for the L90 project in Iran said that Renault had accepted that 60 percent of the car should be built inside Iran, the car's platform could be used to build other models and that the L90 would not enjoy a monopoly in its class of car in Iran.

But he said: "the main problem remains where Iran wants to have a share of this company's (Logan) exports".

Renault said it was working with Iran to find a solution to the dispute.

"The (Iranian) government wants to put the emphasis on exports, we are studying together all possible solutions," Renault spokesman Stephane Farhi told Reuters.

He said there was no timetable for the discussions.

Renault has said it had set up a joint venture with an Iranian partner to produce the L90 in Iran from 2006.

The L90 is better known as the "Logan", a car that Renault already produces in Romania and which forms a key part of its strategy to boost sales in emerging markets.

Saeed Leylaz, an analyst who has close links to people involved in the project, said the decision would send a bad signal to international investors.

"It is a very bad sign to the world community. It shows they can't trust us again," Leylaz said, adding that it will also have a major impact on the local car parts industry.

He said that the joint venture company had signed contracts worth about $800 million with local firms to supply parts. These contracts were now being threatened, he added.

Leylaz pointed to a previous dispute in which Iran threw out a Turkish operator of a project to run a new Iranian airport, saying it had already damaged Iran's international commercial reputation.

"In this case, we are losing our internal reputation because hundreds of suppliers are involved in this project," he said.

(Additional reporting by Edmund Blair in Tehran and Nick Antonovics in Paris)


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Rumsfeld's Fast Iran Planning

William M. Arkin, Washington Post

More "wild speculation” about Iran war planning, specifically CONPLAN 1025, which I believe is the overall name for the war plan positing major combat operations against Iran.

In response to my Sunday piece, Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman predictably chose wittiness over clarification. He told AFP: “This is the United States Defense Department. We plan for all sorts of things."

I made my case, on Sunday and previously in these pages, why the American people would be better served if the U.S. government talked just a little bit about war plans. The danger of evasion and silence is a repeat of Iraq: Before implementation, an Iran war plan would do little to enhance diplomacy. If war came, the fabulous choreography of global strikes and major combat operations could again reflect group think and a flawed Secretary of Defense’s view of warfare.

In June 2002, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld issued his first formal "Contingency Planning Guidance" to the U.S. military, a new post 9/11 document intended to provide specific top-level guidance on what to plan for.

The Guidance was signed by President Bush early in 2002, institutionalizing the war against terrorism as the highest overseas priority of military commands, and directing each regional command to prepare specific contingency plans relating to adversary nations.

In the case of U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), Gen. Tommy Franks, then the commander, was directed to develop Iran war plans, though the looming Iraq war admittedly took all of the headquarters' attention and energy.


The subsequent Contingency Planning Guidance (CPG) for 2003 was more focused on the future, as well as on Rumsfeld’s fetish for flexibility and quickness. The 2003 Guidance instituted a significant change in the production and form Pentagon contingency plans would take in the future. There would still be existing operational plans (either OPLANs, CONPLANs, or “functional plans” that are fully completed), but Rumsfeld directed the transition to a more flexible set of “adaptive plans,” sometimes called “living plans.”

Under this adaptive planning construct, new plans would be designated at one of the four levels depending on the amount of detail necessitated by the contingency. They are called Level 1 through 4 plans.

Level 1 plans require the least amount of planning detail. Level 4 plans require the most detail. At levels 1 and 2, plans have enough content and a sets of options to allow the Chairman of the Joint Chief to issue an “alert order” triggering more detailed “crisis action” planning for quick reaction contingencies: They can be turned into “real” plans quicker and more flexibly. Levels 1 and 2 plans apply to lesser important countries or lower priority concerns.

The more complete Level 3 or 4 plans enable the military to plan for the real contingencies but to do so and more rapidly transition to war in a crisis. These plans have a complete base plan and a set of embedded options. A Level 3 plan most resembles the old Concept Plan (CONPLAN), which is applicable to Iran. It includes a base plan an a set of completed annexes (for the connoisseurs, those include Annexes A, B, C, D, J, K, S, V, and Z). When a level 3 plan is done, the combatant commander writes an estimate of the plan’s feasibility with respect to the availability and readiness of forces, logistics, and transportation. The Secretary of Defense is briefed on the constantly shifting results.

In the olden days, that is, a couple of years ago, the operational planning process was seen as too confining and rigid. Most of the energy went into elaborate force deployment databases and logistical structures to support operations. But the operations, that is, the strategies and operational focus, ironically took a back seat to the details. In the case of Iraq, for instance, there was a completed plan (OPLAN 1003) for fighting Saddam in 2001-2002, but the actual plan implemented in March 2003 (OPLAN 1003V) – avoiding Iraqi cities, driving to Baghdad, quick regime change at all cost – was not in the existing printed plan when 9/11 emboldened the Bush administration to continue its quest.

Under Rumsfeld’s new adaptive method, in theory, time isn’t being wasted on preparing set piece finished plans anymore. The focus instead has shifted to the more adaptive -- read fast -- mode where the “concept” of operations and the projection of contingencies is the centerpiece. It may seem like this was the way things operated in the past – the Defense Department plans for all sorts of things so Whitman says – but the reality is that the process and the form of “finished” plans in the past was far too rigid, particularly if you have a bunch of quick guns at the top who are contemptuous of military advice.

The Defense Department now has a quicker and more “adaptive” system to go to war.

Iran could be the first case. This is all the more reason to debate the plan – earth to Congress. I wonder whether the shift away from logistics and the “old” scut work of war doesn’t have the result of promoting the particular Rumsfeld style of war, which is light and fast and blind to the demands of the real world./span>


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US Pressuring Russia to Drop Iran Weapons Sale

Iran Mania

LONDON - Russia is coming under US pressure to cancel a contract to deliver Tor-M1 mobile air defence systems to Iran due to concerns about Tehran's nuclear programme, a respected business daily reporteday.

"Observers say that under pressure from the United States, Russia could cancel this deal and are already saying that it has been suspended," the Vedomosti daily said.

The newspaper cited a political analyst close to the Kremlin, Sergei Markov, as saying that delivery of the air defence systems had been delayed until the autumn out of consideration for US worries.

But the paper also referred to a source close to Russia's arms export agency, Rosoboronexport, as saying that the delay in fulfilling the order, originally signed last November, was due to the need to train personnel.

"The deal with Iran could only be broken in the event of the purchaser failing to pay. Cancellation of the contract under pressure from the United States would damage Russia's reputation as an arms exporter," the paper quoted an analyst, Konstantin Makiyenko of the Centre for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies, as saying.

Under the contract, signed in November, Iran is to pay more than $700 mln for 29 of the sophisticated short-range air defence systems, Russian defence sources said earlier, AFP stated.

Russia is a key ally of Iran's and has been building Iran's first nuclear power station at Bushehr, in the south of the country.

Washington suspects that Iran's stated aim of developing civilian nuclear power is a front for developing nuclear weapons.


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Russia Still Opposed to Sanctions on Iran

Nick Wadhams and Edith M. Lederer, Associated Press

MOSCOW - Russia said it remains opposed to sanctions against Iran, and China expressed hope for a negotiated solution as senior diplomats from six countries converged in Moscow on Tuesday to discuss the next step toward solving the Iranian nuclear standoff.

The United States and Britain say that if Iran does not comply with the U.N. Security Council's April 28 deadline to stop uranium enrichment, they will seek a resolution that would make the demand compulsory.

So far, Iran has refused to give up uranium enrichment, which the United States and some of its allies suspect is meant to produce weapons. Tehran insists its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mikhail Kamynin reaffirmed Moscow's insistence on more diplomatic efforts with Iran. "We are convinced that neither sanctions nor the use of force will lead to the solution of the problem," he said, according to the ITAR-Tass news agency.

Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Cui Tiankai, the country's top nonproliferation official, visited Tehran over the weekend and appealed to Iranian leaders to reach a negotiated settlement to the dispute, the Foreign Ministry said Tuesday.

Russia and China, two of the council's five veto-holding members, have opposed punishing Iran.

"A dark cloud is looming above our region, and it is metastasizing as a result of the statements and actions by leaders of Iran, Syria and the newly elected government of the Palestinian Authority," Israel's U.N. Ambassador Dan Gillerman warned.

On Friday, Ahmadinejad called Israel a "rotten, dried tree" that will be annihilated by "one storm." He previously angered many world leaders by calling for Israel to be "wiped off the map."

Iran's ambassador to Russia suggested that his country would prepare for war if necessary, according to the ITAR-Tass and Interfax news agencies.

"One of the ways to prevent a war is to be prepared for it. But Iran will do everything possible to avoid any war in the region," Gholamreza Ansari was quoted as saying. "We hope the Iranian question will be resolved through negotiations."

Diplomatic officials of Russia, the United States, France, Britain, Germany and China will meet over dinner Tuesday in Moscow to discuss the latest moves in the standoff, a Western diplomat said on customary condition of anonymity.

Discussions were to continue Wednesday during a meeting of envoys from the Group of Eight major industrialized nations, the diplomat said.

Even though Russia continues to call for more diplomacy, analysts said Tehran's stubborn refusal to halt uranium enrichment efforts would make it hard for both Moscow and Beijing to stave off a U.S. push for sanctions.

"Russia will search for ways of settlement without sanctions and the use of force ... but Iran must show wisdom and flexibility," said Alexei Arbatov, head of the Moscow-based Center for International Security. "If Iran doesn't help, Russia won't be able to do anything."

Tuesday's army parade in Iran gave leaders another opportunity to show off the country's modern military equipment, including missiles that are difficult to track with radar, super-fast torpedoes recently tested in war games and other domestically produced weapons.

The United States has said Iran may have made "some strides" in its military but was likely exaggerating its capabilities.

Analysts, too, said Iran's president could have been posturing when he said last week that Tehran is testing a P-2 centrifuge that could be used to more speedily create fuel for power plants or atomic weapons. Such a device would be a vast improvement over the P-1 centrifuges that Iran says it has used to do small-scale enrichment.

His assertion was sure to raise concerns that Iran might have a more sophisticated atomic program than had been believed. The IAEA and some independent groups have long questioned whether Iran might have a parallel, secret program that is further along.

But Anthony Cordesman, an expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, said Monday there was no way to gauge either the truth or the significance of Ahmadinejad's statement.

"Just making a claim about individual technical developments doesn't tell you a thing about what progress has really been made, or how it would change their operational capabilities," Cordesman said.

---
Associated Press writers Nick Wadhams and Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations and Ali Akbar Dareini in Tehran, Iran, contributed to this story.


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Senior Iranian Aide Irks Washington with US Visit

Sue Fleming, Reuters

WASHINGTON - As the United States tries to push other nations to impose a travel ban on Iranian government officials over Tehran's nuclear program, a senior Iranian official has created embarrassment in Washington by slipping into the country for a visit this month.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said on Tuesday he had heard that Mohammad Nahavandian, a senior aide to Iran's top nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani, was in Washington but he had not met U.S. officials and his presence was being looked into.

"It's a matter of interest for us and if I have any other information to share on the matter today or in the days ahead, I'll do so," McCormack told reporters.

Nahavandian's successful entry into the United States is embarrassing for Washington, which is pushing hard for other countries to impose travel restrictions on Iranian officials in talks in Moscow this week.

The talks follow Iran's announcement last week that it had enriched uranium for use in fueling power stations for the first time in defiance of a March 29 U.N. Security Council demand that it halt its enrichment program.

McCormack declined to say how Nahavandian got into the United States, where strict restrictions are in place on Iranian officials wanting to visit.

Nahavandian was in the United States legally, but not enter with a visa. This could mean he holds legal permanent residency in the United States or be traveling on the passport of a country where visas were not needed, said McCormack.

"We have no record of issuing a visa to a person with this name," he said, noting that the United States does not have diplomatic ties with Tehran and there are clear restrictions on travel by Iranian officials.

For example, Iranian diplomats at the United Nations in New York can travel only within a limited area.

The Financial Times quoted an Iranian advisor this month as saying Nahavandian was in Washington to float the idea of direct talks between the two countries.

But McCormack ruled out any possibility of U.S. officials meeting Nahavandian and reiterated the United States would not hold direct talks with Iran over its nuclear program.

"We have not issued an invitation to any such individual and at this point have no plans to do so," he said.

While rejecting any talks over Tehran's nuclear program, the Bush administration has given its ambassador in Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, permission to meet Iranian officials. However, those talks will be limited to Iraq.

Leading Republican Sen. Richard Lugar, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has urged the Bush administration to hold direct talks with Tehran, a suggestion U.S. officials have rejected.


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April 17, 2006

Inside the Real Iran

Angus McDowall and Raymond Whitaker, The Independent

Despite the welcome for their President's nuclear bragging and anti-Israel rhetoric, many Iranians have private worries about the economy - and the threat of war. By Angus McDowall in Tehran and Raymond Whitaker

Iran's turbulent President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, was compared to Saddam Hussein yesterday by a senior Israeli figure as the rhetoric and recriminations over the Iranian nuclear programme surged ever higher.

On Friday Mr Ahmadinejad said Israel was a "rotten, dried tree" that would be annihilated by "one storm", increasing fears over what Iran might do with the nuclear weapons it is presumed to be seeking. Shimon Peres, the veteran Israeli statesman, retorted that he sounded like Iraq's fallen despot, adding: "Ahmadinejad will end up like Saddam Hussein."

This followed moments of sheer surrealism earlier in the week, when the President told a rapturous crowd in the eastern city of Mashhad that Iranian scientists had successfully enriched uranium, despite the bullying of Western powers. "Iran is now a nuclear power," he said.

Moments later, against the same doves-of-peace backdrop, students danced with enormous plastic vials representing enriched uranium.

The national pride that greeted Mr Ahmadinejad's announcement was heartfelt, and showed how far many Iranians mistrust foreign powers. "We have to resist and achieve things like this that are our legal right," said Kambiz Bayat, a former civil servant. "Fortunately, we are used to hardship. In the [Iran-Iraq] war we went through periods without anything. I have brought up my children to learn they must be ready for such difficulties."

So is Iran a nation of zealots, united behind its messianic President? Is George Bush justified in contemplating the use of tactical nuclear weapons to eradicate the threat from Tehran, as the veteran investigative journalist Seymour Hersh charged last week?

Many years and much technological development lie between enriching uranium by 3.5 per cent for use in nuclear reactors, which is what Iran claims to have done, and the 90 per cent enrichment needed for warheads. But the more extravagant the Iranian President's language, the less doubt there appears to be that his country will inevitably get nuclear weapons.

What may be less obvious is that as Mr Ahmadinejad is using the issue to overshadow his unpopularity on other matters. Four months ago he was in crisis, reeling from stinging attacks made by critics within and outside his regime. But as he confronts the West with ever greater brio, his domestic opponents find it harder to challenge him in public since to do so looks unpatriotic and divisive.

Behind this façade of togetherness, however, the cracks are very real.
The firebrand President has already faced several revolts in a parliament controlled by members of what should be his own faction. And the pragmatic former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, his defeated rival in the elections last year, remains an influential opponent.

It is unclear where the true sentiments of other senior regime figures lie. On Friday the head of the Guardian Council, a constitutional watchdog with extensive powers, joined the chorus of officials attacking the US, calling it a "decaying power". And the military, which is believed to represent one of the President's power bases, has in recent weeks carried out major manoeuvres in the Persian Gulf and announced the development of new weapons systems.

But for all the public support of Iran's right to a nuclear programme, real doubts persist about the cost of it. The Iranian new year dawned three weeks ago - and on the streets people are worried what 1385 holds in store. "Will there be a war?" Iranians frequently ask foreigners. In public, Western officials have dismissed talk of military action, but speculation remains high.
Many people privately say the President should concentrate on the issues that brought him to power, such as corruption, drug abuse and the economy.

"As far as finance is concerned, sanctions are already under way," said a foreign banker in Tehran. "All the foreign banks now are too worried about the political situation and have just stopped lending. That's having a really big impact on all the major industrial projects that Iran is trying to carry out."

"Mr Ahmadinejad means well, but he's not experienced and this is just causing us problems," said a taxi driver who served in the Revolutionary Guard during the war with Iraq. "It's getting very dangerous."

WHAT IRANIAN BLOGGERS SAY...

Iran's acquisition of a full nuclear cycle... is more significant than qualifying for the World Cup... a memorable event in Iran's history

Sharare-ha va Shokufe-ha (Flames and Blossoms)

Iran's nuclear activities [are] just a cover up for continuing violation of human rights, a means to limit freedom of speech and to suppress opposition voices

Jomhur (Republic)

We congratulate Supreme Leader [Ayatollah Ali Khamenei] and Mr Ahmadinejad for the success of Iranian scientists... and we all chant loudly: 'Down with America!' and 'Long live Revolutionary Guards!'

Basiji-ye Tondro (Extremist Militia)

Recent military exercises, combined with the 'good nuclear news', leave no doubt about issues Iran has repeatedly denied in recent years

Hengameh Shahidi, activist and journalist

[The quake-hit city of] Bam was supposed to be revived. For three years no laughter has been heard in Bam. NO! We don't want nuclear energy!

Armanshahr (Dreamland)

Negotiating with the US... is sheer stupidity
Morteza Shimiyayi


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Iran Claims Tests of New Centrifuge

Nasser Karimi, Yahoo! News

Iran's president has thrown a new wrinkle into the nuclear debate by claiming his country is testing a centrifuge that could be used to more speedily create fuel for power plants or atomic weapons.

But some analysts familiar with the country's technology said Monday that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad could be deliberately exaggerating Iran's capabilities, either to boost his own political support or to persuade the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency to back off.

The U.N. Security Council has demanded that Iran cease enrichment work, which the United States and some of its allies suspect is meant to produce weapons. Russia and China, two of the council's five veto-holding members, have opposed punishing Iran.

Russia's Foreign Ministry said Monday the Kremlin insists on a diplomatic solution to the standoff rather than any tough measures against Iran. And Russia's U.N. ambassador said that Moscow is hopeful that Iran will suspend uranium enrichment before an April 28 Security Council deadline, suggesting that the Islamic republic's tough line so far was a negotiating tactic.
A Western diplomat said officials of the U.S., Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany would discuss the matter in Moscow on Tuesday.


Ahmadinejad, in a speech to students last week, claimed for the first time that Iran is testing a P-2 centrifuge for enriching uranium. Such a device would be a vast improvement over the P-1 centrifuges that Iran says it has used to do small-scale enrichment.

Iran previously told the International Atomic Energy Agency it gave up all work on P-2 centrifuges three years ago. It was not clear if Iran has been doing work all along on the updated model, or recently restarted efforts, or even if Ahmadinejad's comment was accurate.

But his assertion is sure to raise concerns that Iran might have a more sophisticated atomic program than had been believed. The IAEA and some independent groups have long questioned whether Iran might have a parallel, secret nuclear program that is further along.

"Our centrifuges are P-1 type. P-2, which has quadruple the capacity, now is under the process of research and test in the country," Ahmadinejad told students in remarks that were not reported by the official Iranian news agency but were later found on the presidential Web site.

Iran insists it is building up a nuclear program only for peaceful purposes — to generate electricity. But the United States and many of its allies think the Iranians want nuclear weapons.
Iran has come under pressure in recent months to halt all uranium enrichment, but Ahmadinejad is adamant it will press forward.


"He was likely posturing for his own political advantage and playing to national sentiment. We have to remember that the nuclear issue is very popular in Iran," said Khalid R. al-Rodhan, an Iran nuclear expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.
Anthony Cordesman, also an expert at CSIS, said there was no way to gauge either the truth or the significance of Ahmadinejad's statement.


"Just making a claim about individual technical developments doesn't tell you a thing about what progress has really been made, or how it would change their operational capabilities," Cordesman said.

Officials at the IAEA, the U.N. nuclear watchdog based in Vienna, Austria, refused to comment.
The IAEA has believed for some time that Iran obtained the plans for a P-2 centrifuge. Some experts believe the designs were in Iranian hands as long ago as the late 1980s through a black-market network run by A.Q. Khan, the father of Pakistan's nuclear bomb.


Iran previously told the IAEA that the only work it had done on the P-2 design was carried out between 2002 and 2003 and was very limited. It also said the work was halted in 2003, when Iran went back to the P-1 design.

But the IAEA has repeatedly questioned that claim and accused Iran of not coming clean on past efforts.

"We know that they have had the drawings for P-2 centrifuge and they've publicized that," said Gary Sick, professor of international affairs at Columbia University and a former adviser to the U.S. National Security Council.

"But up till now, they have said that they were not in fact pursuing that path. If in fact Ahmadinejad said that, it is a significant change," Sick said.

A diplomat in Vienna who agreed to discuss the matter only if not quoted by name because he was not authorized to speak with reporters, said if Iran has secretly developed its P-2 program, that could mean it will be able to produce weapons-grade enriched uranium faster and in greater quantities than previously thought.

The latest estimate from the CIA and other U.S. intelligence agencies says Iran could not create a bomb before the next decade. But that analysis was based on Tehran using P-1 centrifuges.


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