November 4, 2009

Israel, the U.S. and the Arab World

Iran Police, Protesters Clash at U.S. Embassy Rally

Associated Press
November 4, 2009

Iranian security forces beat anti-government protesters with batons Wednesday on the sidelines of state-sanctioned rallies to mark the 30th anniversary of the U.S. Embassy takeover. The counter-demonstrations were the opposition's first major show of force on Tehran's streets in nearly two months.

The opposition sought to display unity and resolve after relentless crackdowns on their protests following the disputed June presidential election. Though the crowds were far smaller than during last summer's outrage, authorities were ready with the same sweeping measures: dispatching paramilitary units to key locations and disrupting mobile phones, text messaging and Internet access to frustrate protest organizers.

The contrasts in the latest protest wave were stark: people chanting "Death to America" outside the former U.S. Embassy while hundreds of opposition marchers in central Haft-e-Tir Square denounced President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad with cries of "Death to the Dictator."

Other opposition protesters marched silently and flashed the V-for-victory sign. Many wore green scarves or wristbands that symbolized the campaign of opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi, who claims Ahmadinejad stole the election from him through fraud. Mousavi and his allies, including former President Mohammad Khatami, appeared to encourage opposition protesters to return to the streets.

Witnesses told The Associated Press that security forces — mainly paramilitary units and militiamen from the elite Revolutionary Guard — swept through the hundreds of demonstrators at Haft-e-Tir Square, clubbing, kicking and slapping protesters. The witnesses spoke on condition of anonymity because of fear of reprisals from authorities.

Pro-reform Web sites said police fired into the air to try to clear the square — about half a mile from the annual anti-American gathering outside the former U.S. Embassy. The report could not immediately be independently verified.

The state-run Islamic Republic News Agency reported police also used tear gas to disperse protesters in other parts of the city. There was no independent information on injuries or arrests, but state-run Press TV said no one was hurt.

A leading opposition figure, Mahdi Karroubi, fell to the ground after being overcome by tear gas, according to a posting by his son Hossein on Karroubi's Web site. His supporters carried him into his car, which plainclothes government supporters attacked as it drove away, the account said.

Karroubi did not need medical attention, his son said.

Other witnesses — also speaking on condition of anonymity — said about 2,000 students at Tehran University faced off against security forces, but there were no immediate reports of violence.

In Washington, the White House called for an end to the violence against anti-government protesters in Iran. White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said Obama administration leaders are following reports of the unrest and "hope greatly that violence will not spread."

The opposition movement began as objection to Ahmadinejad's re-election, but it has expanded into a catchall movement for complaints that include the unlimited powers of the ruling clerics, Iran's sinking economy and its international isolation. Their tactics now appear to rely on pinpoint protest strikes to coincide with government-backed events, such as September's anti-Israel day.

The size and scope of Wednesday's protests were difficult to determine — possibly several thousand, according to witnesses. But the total is significantly smaller than the hundreds of thousands who streamed into the streets last summer during the worse domestic unrest since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Some opposition groups reported demonstrations in other cities such as Shiraz and Isfahan.

Media restrictions now limit journalists to covering state media and government-approved events, such as the rally outside the former embassy.

Authorities appeared determined to avoid opposition rallies overshadowing the anniversary of the embassy takeover. They had warned protesters days in advance against attempts to disrupt or overshadow the annual gathering outside the former embassy, which was stormed by militants in 1979 in the turbulent months after the Islamic Revolution.

Fifty-two Americans were held hostage for 444 days in a crisis that began a three-decade diplomatic freeze between the two nations.

Security forces fanned out around Tehran at daybreak on Wednesday after opposition leaders refused to call off their appeals for counter demonstrations.

Volunteer militiamen linked to the Revolutionary Guard patrolled the streets on motorcycles — a familiar sight during the summer unrest. Hours after the clashes, police helicopters passed low over Tehran's rooftops.

Outside the former U.S. Embassy, thousands of people waved anti-American banners and signs praising the Islamic Revolution.

The main speaker, hard-line lawmaker Gholam Ali Haddad Adel, denounced the United States as the main enemy of Iran. He did not mention the talks with the West, including the United States, on Iran's nuclear program.

But he labeled opposition leaders as dangerous for the country, saying they claim to support the ideals of the Islamic Revolution but aid Iran's perceived enemies.

President Barack Obama noted the anniversary of the takeover of the U.S. Embassy and urged the two countries to move beyond the "path of sustained suspicion, mistrust and confrontation."

The hostage crisis "deeply affected the lives of courageous Americans who were unjustly held hostage, and we owe these Americans and their families our gratitude for their extraordinary service and sacrifice," Obama said in a statement.

Khamenei Rejects Talks If Outcome Fixed By U.S., Marks Embassy Hostage Anniversary

DEBKAfile Special Report
November 3, 2009

"We do not want any negotiation the result of which is predetermined by the United States," said Iran's spiritual leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in the clearest rejection yet of the world powers' UN-brokered proposal for Iran to ship three-quarters of its enriched uranium overseas for reprocessing.

"Giving the U.S. a veto over the nuclear talks would be like a sheep and wolf relation, which the late imam (Khomeini) has said 'we do not want,"" he said.
To drive his anti-U.S. message home, the ayatollah spoke Tuesday, Nov. 3, the eve of the 30th anniversary of the U.S. embassy seizure by radical students on Nov. 4, 1979 shortly after Khomeini's Islamic revolution - pouring salt on a sensitive landmark in Iranian-US relations. The 53 Americans were held hostage 444 days before being freed on Jan. 1981, but relations were never restored.

President Barack Obama and his engagement policy were singled out by Khameini for a smack in the face when he said:
"Whenever the U.S offers a smile, it hides a dagger in his back."
The level of unrelenting anti-U.S. rhetoric heard from the all-powerful spiritual ruler was exceptional even in Iranian terms.

DEBKAfile's Iranian sources report that the all-powerful Ayatollah may have left a wafer-thin crack more divisive than constructive open for the negotiations begun in Geneva last month to continue. The United States must have no say in their outcome, he insisted in the hope of isolating the U.S. from its fellow negotiators, Russia, China, the UK, France and Germany.

U.S. secretary of state Hillary Clinton said Tuesday:
"This is a pivotal moment for Iran. Acceptance fully of this proposal (overseas uranium enrichment) would be a good indication that Iran does not wish to be isolated and does wish to cooperate."
Monday, Nov. 2, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner warned that the six world powers negotiating with Iran would not tolerate delaying tactics.
"If the Iranian response is to stall, as it seems to be, we will not accept this," he told journalists in Paris.

U.N. Wants Swift Response from Iran on Fuel Proposal

November 2, 2009

U.N. nuclear watchdog chief Mohamed ElBaradei on Monday urged Iran to respond quickly to his nuclear fuel proposal while warning the world against using force.
"I therefore urge Iran to be as forthcoming as possible in responding soon to my recent proposal based on the initiative of the United States, Russia and France which aimed to engage Iran in a series of measures that could build confidence and trust," ElBaradei told the U.N. General Assembly.
Such measures, he said, could lead to a substantive dialogue between Iran and the international community.

The IAEA proposal calls for Iran to transfer about 75 percent of its known 1.5 metric tons of low-enriched uranium to Russia for further enrichment by the end of this year, then to France for conversion into fuel plates for a Tehran reactor that produces radio isotopes for cancer treatment.

Iran has not responded formally, though Western diplomats said Tehran has asked to be provided with fresh nuclear fuel before it considers sending its uranium stocks abroad. That demand, the diplomats said, is unacceptable.

Iran's U.N. Ambassador Mohammad Khazaee did not mention the fuel proposal in his speech to the 192-nation assembly, which was meeting to discuss the annual report of the Vienna-based U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Instead, Khazaee called Israel's presumed nuclear weapons program "the most serious threat to the regional as well as international peace and security." Israel has never confirmed or denied possessing nuclear weapons.


Iran rejects Western allegations it is secretly developing nuclear weapons and has ignored U.N. Security Council demands to suspend enrichment, saying its program aims to peacefully generate electricity.

ElBaradei also urged the Iranians to respond to outstanding IAEA questions about their past nuclear activities. Tehran says this demand is based on false Western accusations about alleged Iranian research into building an atomic warhead.

The IAEA director-general warned other countries not to "jump the gun" or be swayed by politics, urging them to allow the IAEA to conduct its inspections thoroughly and properly.

Apparently referring to intelligence mistakes made in pre-war Iraq, ElBaradei said:
"We need to assess the veracity of intelligence information."

"Force should never be used unless every other option has been exhausted, and only then within the bounds of international law ... All of these lessons are applicable today in the case of Iran," he added.
Former U.S. President George W. Bush accused Iraq of reviving its nuclear weapons program but this was later proven to be untrue and partially based on forged documents.

The United States and Israel have not ruled out using force to deal with Iran's nuclear program.

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