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A protester holds a placard during a demonstration against the execution of Shi'ite cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr in Saudi Arabia, outside the Saudi Arabian Embassy in London, Britain, January 3, 2016. Toby Melville/Reuters

ISNA and ICNA condemn killing of Saudi Shia cleric

A protester holds a placard during a demonstration against the execution of Shi'ite cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr in Saudi Arabia, outside the Saudi Arabian Embassy in London, Britain, January 3, 2016. Toby Melville/Reuters

A protester holds a placard during a demonstration against the execution of Shi’ite cleric Sheikh Nimr An-Nimr in Saudi Arabia, outside the Saudi Arabian Embassy in London, Britain, January 3, 2016. Toby Melville/Reuters

By Aatif Ali Bokhari

TMO Managing Editor

The Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA) and the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) have condemned the execution of Saudi Shia cleric Sheikh Nimr Baqir An-Nimr and three other Shia activists this week. ICNA and ISNA are two of the largest Sunni Muslim umbrella organizations in North America.

Sheikh Nimr had criticized the Saudi government’s treatment of the Shia religious minority and had called for political reform.

In a statement, ISNA President Azhar Azeez said, “The actions taken by the Saudi government against its critics like Sheikh Nimr in the name of counter-terrorism undermine the unity of the worldwide Muslim community and violates the protection of religious minorities.”

ICNA also released a statement that denounced the execution.

“ICNA believes that all citizens of any country have the right to voice their opinion peacefully and these executions go against the universal concepts of justice and freedom,” said the statement. “We believe that these executions undermine Shia-Sunni relations and makes peace in the Middle East, the main objective of Muslims in the region, a more difficult goal to achieve.

“ICNA appeals to all political leaders and religious scholars in the U.S., the Middle East and everywhere else to work vigorously for the unity and harmony among all Muslims.”

Reaction to the statements on ISNA and ICNA’s Facebook pages was highly polarized, with some in support of Saudi and its allies and others in support of Sheikh Nimr. Khalid Goncalves was one who appeared for calm on both sides.

“The powers that be want Muslims to fight each other. To them, there would be nothing worse than a truly united ‘ummah. Please don’t fall for the extremist rhetoric on either side. Condemn all unjust killings and engage in dialogue with your Sunni and Shi’i brothers and sisters,” he said.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani addresses attendees during the 70th session of the United Nations General Assembly at the U.N. headquarters in New York, September 28, 2015. Carlo Allegri / Reuters

Rouhani says U.S.-Iran ties could be restored but U.S. must apologize

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani addresses attendees during the 70th session of the United Nations General Assembly at the U.N. headquarters in New York, September 28, 2015. Carlo Allegri / Reuters

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani addresses attendees during the 70th session of the United Nations General Assembly at the U.N. headquarters in New York, September 28, 2015. Carlo Allegri / Reuters

ROME (Reuters) – The nuclear deal reached between world powers and Iran could lead to better relations between Tehran and Washington if the United States apologized for past behavior, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani was quoted as saying on Thursday.

The pragmatist president, who championed the July 14 deal, has pushed for closer engagement with the West since his 2013 landslide election win.

But Iran’s top authority, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has continued to rule out normalizing ties with the “Great Satan”, as he routinely calls the United States.

In an interview with Italy’s Corriere della Sera newspaper, Rouhani suggested that the United States and Iran could open embassies in each other’s capitals after decades of mutual hostility, but said Washington should apologize, without going into further detail.

“One day these embassies will re-open but what counts is behavior and the Americans hold the key to this,” Rouhani told the newspaper ahead of a trip to Italy this weekend, his first to a European capital.

“If they modify their policies, correct errors committed in these 37 years and apologize to the Iranian people, the situation will change and good things can happen.”

Iran and Washington severed ties shortly after the 1979 Islamic revolution when radical students seized the U.S. embassy in Tehran and held 52 Americans hostage for over a year.

Relations came under further pressure in the last decade over Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

Under the nuclear deal reached in July, Iran will curb its nuclear program in exchange for an easing of sanctions on its economy. Tehran denied Western suspicions it wanted to develop an atomic bomb.

Khamenei, who has the final say on all state matters, gave his conditional approval to the deal with six world powers including the United States, but has warned against allowing any U.S. political or economic influence on Iran.

Rouhani said Washington would have to fulfill its part in the nuclear accord for relations to improve. The United States approved conditional sanctions waivers for Iran, though these will not take effect until Tehran has complied with the nuclear accord.

“The way this agreement is applied can have an impact on the future,” Rouhani said in the interview.

“If it is well applied it can lay the foundation for fewer tensions with the United States, creating the conditions to open a new era. But if the Americans don’t respect their part of the nuclear accord, then surely our relationship will remain as it has been in the past,” he said.

Rouhani is due to see the Italian prime minister and business leaders during his Nov. 14-15 visit to Rome and will also hold talks with Pope Francis.

He will then fly to Paris for talks on Nov. 16-17.

Iran deal debate devolves into clash over Jewish stereotypes and survival

By Lauren Markoe
Religion News Service

The most heated debate over the proposed Iran nuclear deal has not centered on centrifuges, inspections and sanctions — but on the Jews.

“The only thing more absurd right now than the language surrounding the Iran deal is the language around Donald Trump,” said Rabbi Jonah Pesner, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, the lobbying arm of the largest stream of American Judaism.
As the nuclear deal heads toward a September vote in Congress, American Jews — who appear divided on the agreement — are monitoring the rhetoric closely.

Consider:

* When the deal was announced in July, Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee invoked the Holocaust, saying ratification would “take the Israelis and march them to the door of the oven.”

* When Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., who is Jewish and a key congressional voice on the agreement, announced last week that he would vote against it, some critics called him more loyal to Israel than to the U.S.

* And President Obama has decried critics of the deal as “many of the same people who argued for the war in Iraq,” a phrase which has brought to mind charges leveled during the Iraq conflict that neoconservative Jewish thinkers had pushed the U.S. to invade.

Jewish leaders, in turn, accused the administration of legitimizing age-old stereotypes of Jews as warmongers.

“It’s kind of wrong-minded to hijack the conversation and make this all about whether you support Israel or the Jewish community,” said Tony Kireopoulos, associate general secretary of the National Council of Churches, who has written in support of the deal.

“The deal should be looked at just on the merits of the deal,” he said.

But history and the current tenor of American political discourse — particularly sharp in the waning days of the Obama presidency and the early days of a presidential campaign — will likely keep the Jewish question at the center of the nuclear deal debate.

Supporters of the agreement find themselves compared to Neville Chamberlain, the British prime minister who went down in history as the man who tried to appease Hitler. Their critics ask how they can endorse a deal — which would lift Iranian economic sanctions and allow it to pursue a limited nuclear program — when its leaders threaten to destroy the world’s only Jewish state.

“What makes this a little tough for Jews is that it’s very hard to forget that there was another country out there and another leader who used this kind of language in the 1930s, and a lot of people refused to take it seriously,“ said Jonathan Sarna, professor of Jewish history at Brandeis University. “We all know how that turned out.”

The Holocaust looms over the nuclear deal debate.

Obama doesn’t seem to understand that fear, said Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, president of the pro-Israel International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, which has launched a campaign to sink the deal and recently released a video featuring an exploding bomb that deal supporters are likely to deem incendiary.

“When there’s rhetoric saying ‘we’re going to destroy you’ and they have the power to do so, we’ve learned ‘never again,’” said Eckstein. “Take them at their word and don’t let it happen.”
Supporters of the deal have also struck harsh tones, which some have taken as thinly veiled anti-Semitism.

A cartoon in the Daily Kos depicts Schumer as a woodchuck drawn against an Israeli flag and labeled a “traitor.” Social media tagged him for his “dual loyalty” and as an “Israel firster.” And Moveon.org has asked its 8 million members to withhold donations from Democrats who succeed in scuttling the Iran deal, editorializing that Schumer “is siding with the Republican partisans and neoconservative ideologues who are trying to scrap this agreement and put us on the path to war.”

Though American Jews are anxious about the Iran nuclear deal, there is no clear consensus among them as to whether its passage would make the Middle East and the world more secure. Generally, more Orthodox and conservative Jews oppose the deal, while liberal-leaning Jews decline to take a position or support it with caution.

Susan Turnbull, chair of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, said she finds the discourse on the Iran deal mostly civil outside the activist Jewish community, but she has heard some ugly exchanges among Jewish leaders.

“I was at a meeting where someone literally told me that my organization’s position was immoral,” she said of a July gathering. “I found that obviously extremely distressing but also an indicator of how difficult it’s going to be for the community to come together.”
The JCPA has not issued an opinion on the deal.

Next week the Union for Reform Judaism and the Central Conference of American Rabbis, representing the largest branch of American Jews, plan to announce a joint position on the Iran nuclear agreement.

Rabbi Pesner said the statement will embody an ancient rabbinic text about two competing schools of Jewish thought. Though one school would prevail, the other’s deeply held beliefs could not be dismissed. “The decisions of both these and those are the words of the Living God,” the text declares.

It is a call for tolerance, Pesner said of the teaching. “The fact that debate has taken a turn into this kind of a sideshow flies in the face of that Jewish value.”

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Money trumps fear in reactions to West’s nuclear accord with Iran

By Jamsheed K Choksy and Carol E B Choksy

The Islamic Republic of Iran boasts the world’s fourth-largest oil reserves, second-largest gas reserves and the 29th-biggest economy, estimated at US$415.3 billion in 2014. Its gross domestic product is growing about 3% a year despite the crippling impact of decades-old sanctions.

Not surprisingly, then, potential economic gains are prevailing over military, terrorism and human rights concerns in shaping responses to the historic deal agreed to this week between Iran and six major world powers (P5+1).

While Iran trails Saudi Arabia as the biggest economy in the region thanks to the latter’s energy dominance, it has many advantages over its rival that are sure to become more pronounced as sanctions are lifted. Iran’s economy is more diversified and includes a robust manufacturing sector that supplies domestic and Asian markets with chemicals, plastics, automobiles and household electronics.

Iran is also set to get a boost from about $100 billion in assets currently frozen by US and UN sanctions once the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) certifies that Tehran is fulfilling its part of the deal, probably by the end of the year.

As sanctions fall away, Iran should rise swiftly back into the major leagues, propelled by larger energy exports that could top $100 billion a year, the release of hitherto frozen funds and a highly educated and motivated workforce.

Iran, for its part, has been stressing the economic and stability benefits of the agreement. President Hassan Rouhani emphasized to his nation: “We are on the brink of a new era in the international community.”

Ever the cautious international bureaucrat, IAEA director general Yukiya Amano simply endorsed the Vienna accord as a “significant step forward.” But then, the IAEA has no fiscal stake in the plan’s success or failure.

Most nations, however, do, and are counting on Iran becoming a major market for their goods and services, signaling why money is trumping other concerns when it comes to reactions to the accord. And for those that remain opposed, their rivalry with Iran meant they didn’t expect to gain anything in the first place.

Here’s a look at how 20 countries with a variety of ties to Iran reacted to news of the accord, and how economic interests were the dominant factor.

Russia and China await big benefits

Russia is one superpower whose stance is as clear as that of many developing countries. President Vladimir Putin has declared that relations with Iran “will receive a new impetus and will no longer be influenced by external factors.”

Foremost in fiscal terms will be high-tech weapons sales and atomic reactors for civilian energy generation. Russia expects to benefit despite knowing a flood of Iranian oil and gas on the market will lower energy prices, hurting its own main source of income.

China is another superpower that warmly welcomed the deal as a “historic day.” China, like Russia, plans to sell civilian nuclear plants to Iran and is in talks to invest in gas, oil and rare earth mineral mines in Iran. Beijing, which imports more than 500,000 barrels of Iranian crude a day despite the sanctions, also hopes to have fewer problems fueling its economy.

US, Canada, Australia and UK reactions more mixed

In the US and Canada – which have little need for Iranian oil or other exports but whose companies hope to strike lucrative deals selling technology, energy infrastructure and consumer goods – the political reaction has understandably been more mixed.

Reflecting the divisions within the US about Iran’s potential martial threat, Republican presidential hopefuls such as Jeb Bush denounced the agreement as “dangerous, deeply flawed, and shortsighted.”

Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, however, is less fearful of this threat and more focused on pitching economic welfare to American voters. She described it as “an important step” — one that she helped set the groundwork for as secretary of state.

Canada, which severed diplomatic relations in 2012 over Iran’s nuclear and human rights violations, said it needed to examine the deal further before taking any specific action, even as pressure mounts to embrace the fiscal benefits of reestablishing ties.

Australia greeted the deal by stressing “caution at least as much as the welcome,” but its exports, largely grains, to Iran are small at $222 million.

The UK, which also participated in the negotiations, has increased its trade over the past year by 36% to $109 million. London hopes to gradually restore calm to a relationship that broke off in 2011.

Israel, the GCC and the Sunni–Shia struggle

Israel lives under the verbal threat of annihilation by Tehran and naturally does not expect to have any commercial dealings directly or indirectly with the Ayatollah’s regime.
Freed from economic considerations, Prime Minister Netanyahu called the deal “a bad mistake of historic proportions.”

Certainly, seen from Jerusalem, the anti-Semitic leaders of the Islamic Republic could deploy vast portions of their newfound funds to strike terror via Hezbollah and Hamas. Consequently, antipathy and fear of Iran had brought Israel closer to erstwhile Arab foes in opposing Iran.

Saudi Arabia, for example, which is locked in a sectarian struggle against Iran for dominance in Iraq, Syria, Yemen and the Gulf, had its diplomats speak confidentially about “extremely dangerous” Persian expansionism in the wake of the nuclear deal.

Fellow Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) members Kuwait, Bahrain and Qatar, also part of this Sunni–Shiite struggle, were much more nuanced in their reaction.

All three Gulf monarchies know full well that the deal provides both economic benefits and costs. Iranian cash soon to be heading their way will boost real estate, luxury goods and consulting services. At the same time, higher Iranian oil and gas exports will eat into their established energy-based income streams. Iran’s oil minister is already planning to boost exports by 500,000 barrels per day within six months and top out at 2.5 million barrels per day within a couple of years. This will be a particularly major blow to the Saudis, whose crude oil will become far less vital to the global energy market.

Two other GCC member states, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Oman, are taking a more positive approach, regarding Iran’s economic and strategic reemergence as inevitable. The UAE, which has been rebuilding non-energy trade with Iran that’s now worth $17 billion, extended “congratulations” coupled with hope that the agreement will contribute to “strengthening regional security and stability.”

Oman, which helped sow the seeds of this agreement by opening up communication channels between Iran and the US, went even further, hailing the agreement as a “historic win–win.”
Oman has longstanding commercial ties with Iran in addition to a confessionally mixed population of Ibadi, Sunni and Shiite Muslims. So it cannot afford to foment intrafaith tensions that would rip apart its society and doom its emerging status as a diplomatic and mercantile hub.

Iran’s allies praise deal

Iraq’s Shiite government is allied with Iran confessionally and dependent upon it both commercially and in the battle against the Islamic State. Accordingly, Iraq sees the deal as a “catalyst for regional stability.”

Indeed, long after the US is gone from its soil, Iraq’s Shiite majority knows that maintaining not just political but economic clout over its restive Sunni population north of Baghdad will depend on Tehran’s largess via militias and cross-border trade.

Then there is dysfunctional Syria, where the tottering regime is a client beholden fiscally, commercially and militarily to Tehran.

Having just accepted a $1 billion line of credit from Iran, Bashar al-Assad could hardly do anything but praise the agreement as “a great victory” and “a fundamental turning point.” Presumably, Assad hopes that if he can just hang on to Damascus a little longer, Iran will be more empowered in convincing the US and EU that the Alawite ruling class can still secure Syria against the Islamic State.

Neighbors see gains from trade, oil flows

Istanbul, despite being a regional rival of Tehran on the political stage, declared that “the nuclear deal is great news for the Turkish economy,” will lead to investment and help reduce the price of oil.

Indeed, Turkey’s economy, presently Iran’s third-largest trading partner, will benefit both from larger flows of cheap Iranian gas and oil to its own consumers and from tariffs on energy that passes through its borders to European countries.

Likewise, the entire Turkish supply chain – from corporations to individuals – stands to reap windfalls from goods flowing through its borders to Europe and beyond.

Pakistan and India, similarly, hardly feel threatened by Iran even despite Tehran’s influence on Afghanistan, due to their own nuclear capabilities. Thus, each welcomed the deal and its economic impacts.

Pakistan expects “economic growth along with an increase in trade” especially through the Iran-Pakistan pipeline. Iranian gasoline, smuggled across the border of Baluchistan and Makran provinces, has long kept the Pakistani economy afloat. But those supply lines provide no tax revenues. Now, as energy imports can take place freely and overtly, the central government in Islamabad stands to benefit.

India also expressed delight at additional “energy cooperation and connectivity” plus a reaffirmation of each country’s “right to peaceful uses of nuclear energy.” India has an ever-rising demand for fuel, and Iran is positioned a short distance away to deliver a steady supply.

Kazakhstan’s officials hailed the accord as they expect swift gains from a recently inaugurated trans-national railway. The Central Asian nation also plans to work with Iran toward enhanced cooperation in the energy-rich Caspian Sea.

Jockeying for position

China is currently Iran’s largest trading partner, with non-fuel trade expected to rise from $13 billion in 2014 to at least $80 billion by the end of this year. Rounding out the top fiveare the UAE, Turkey, the European Union and South Korea. Seoul also quickly joined Iran’s other top trading partners in welcoming the nuclear deal.

As the end of sanctions bolsters Iran’s economy, these 20 and many other countries will be competing over the coming months and years to enjoy the benefits that will accompany the nuclear accord taking effect.

Clearly it’s no surprise that money is dominating reactions, rather than ideals or even fear. For better or worse, global and regional responses are being shaped by fiscal calculations. Even security and strategic interests are being seen in commercial rather than military terms.

It’s the economy, stupid.

Editor’s note: Jamsheed K Choksy is chairman, and distinguished professor of the Department of Central Eurasian Studies at Indiana University, Bloomington. Carol E B Choksy is a lecturer at the School of Informatics and Computing at Indiana University, Bloomington. This article originally appeared on TheConversation.com and is reprinted here with permission. All views expressed here are solely those of the authors.

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My prayer: Iran deal will help millennials in US and Iran bridge the divides

Serene Jones

Religion News Services

I woke up Tuesday (July 14)  to buzz after buzz on my phone — texts flooding in from young Iranians I had met in June, celebrating the historic nuclear agreement that had just been announced.

Only a few weeks have passed since I visited Iran with a select interfaith U.S. delegation, where we worked to break down the cultural and religious barriers that separate us and Iran.

I am hopeful that this deal will empower many of the brilliant young leaders in Iran to steer their country to a better, more inclusive place.

When many Americans think of Iran, they generally envision conservative Muslim religious and political leaders who articulate a strict and unyielding adherence to their version of the teachings of the Quran.

This appearance of religious conservatism leaves the impression that the people of Iran fully subscribe to the religious and political beliefs of their nation’s leaders.

However, as I came to know the Iranian people, particularly Iranian millennials, what I experienced was strikingly similar to my day-to-day interactions with Americans, especially students here at Union Theological Seminary in New York.

From the streets of Tehran to the bazaars of Isfahan, we met young people who would smile and hug us as Americans, and who were eager for conversations. It was as if cousins who hadn’t seen one another for decades were finally having a chance to sit down and share a meal.

Like my students at Union, young Iranians have grown up with the Internet; thus, the world they are discovering feels much smaller and more interconnected. They listen to a lot of the same music that Americans do, watch a lot of the same shows on Netflix, do yoga, text constantly and seldom speak on the phone.

They followed Occupy Wall Street, the Arab Spring and the #BlackLivesMatter movement, all while they are deeply suspicious of religious and political authorities as demonstrated through the 2009 Iranian Green Movement.

As with U.S. millennials, this suspicion leads them to test the boundaries of the traditions they have received. One of the most obvious manifestations of this trend is the loosening of headscarves on the heads of young Iranian women. Those scarves barely hang on the tops of their ponytails as the young women walk the streets of even the most traditional cities.

Iranian young people are more secular in their religiosity. They claim their Shia heritage and celebrate the major holidays, all the while questioning some of the traditional values espoused by the ayatollahs.

Indeed, they question the very motives of the ayatollahs, wondering whether their teachings are rooted in the purest reading of the Quranic text, or if their doctrines are designed to maintain the ayatollahs’ status, wealth and power.

Iranian youth share many of the same problems of American youths. Drug and alcohol abuse is rampant behind closed doors, we were told. Cosmetic surgery is as common in Iran as nearly anywhere in the world. Eating disorders and abuse of diet pills are even more common than in America.

Over 60 percent of Iran’s population is under 30 years old, so young people’s relevance to the political and religious life of their country is growing quickly. That is one of the main reasons this deal gives me great hope. In the next 15 years, Iran has a chance to flourish as a thriving, pluralistic state, strongly influenced by energized and active Iranian millennials.

With the policy of mandatory conscription, Iranian millennials are transforming the national army. We may see changes in the military more quickly than we see changes more generally.

Very little is certain about the future of Iran, but I applaud President Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry, the Iranian government and the five other involved nations for this deal. My prayer is that it will give the new generation the space to create a world where they can bridge the divides that have plagued our world for generations. May God bless them and carry them and us toward true freedom and peace.

Editor’s note: Serene Jones is president of Union Theological Seminary and the Johnston Family Professor for Religion and Democracy. Her views are solely her own.

 

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif answers a question during a news conference at the foreign ministry in Madrid on April 14. Photo credit: Andrea Comas / Reuters.

Iran nuclear deal for removal of sanctions should boost Iranian economy, yet unknowns remain

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif answers a question during a news conference at the foreign ministry in Madrid on April 14. Photo credit: Andrea Comas / Reuters.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif answers a question during a news conference at the foreign ministry in Madrid on April 14. Photo credit: Andrea Comas / Reuters.

By Nader Habibi

The framework nuclear agreement that was announced earlier this month by Iran and the so-called P5+1 calls for a substantial rollback in the country’s nuclear program in return for a lifting of sanctions.

While no specific time table was mentioned, the preliminary agreement calls for the suspension and then lifting of international sanctions once the International Atomic Energy Agency has verified Iran’s compliance with ongoing restrictions on its nuclear activities.

The removal of sanctions, in other words, will take place in stages and will serve as the main incentive for Iran to fulfill its obligations. As interpreted by the US, the sanctions will be suspended and P5+1 will be able to reintroduce them if it determines that Iran is in violation of the agreements. (The P5+1 is made up of permanent UN Security Council members US, UK, France, Russia and China plus Germany.)

Despite being conditional and taking place in several phases, the lifting of sanctions will be a major relief for Iran’s economy and it is the main reason for the immediate display of joy and celebration by Iranians in the streets of Tehran immediately after the deal’s announcement.

But given the preliminary nature of the accord, it raises many questions about its impact. How significant will that relief on Iran’s economy be and when will it actually take place? How will the deal affect business investment, particularly among US oil companies that are certainly eager to get involved with the world’s fourth-largest oil reserves? And what will be the impact of a final agreement, if reached, in June?

The sting of sanctions

There is no denying that the most recent sanctions imposed in 2010 have taken a significant toll on Iran’s economy, with even government officials repeatedly acknowledging their adverse effects.

Iran’s economy has fallen bellow its potential by 15% to 20% as a result, while oil exports have dropped in half to a little more than one million barrels a day, costing the government tens of billions of dollars a year in revenue. The sanctions also made it difficult for Iran to repatriate much of its oil export revenues from Asian countries such as Japan and China, which are still allowed to buy its crude.

Beyond the oil industry, the sanctions also disrupted a wide range of export and import activities, causing severe disruptions to the manufacturing sector. Many foreign firms that were involved in joint ventures with Iranian firms in manufacturing and construction projects were forced to withdraw.

Together, these pressures caused unemployment and inflation rates to soar to record levels in recent years.

Uncertain timing, limited impact

The framework agreement lacked a fixed timetable for the removal of these sanctions, creating some uncertainty about when Iran’s economy might start to feel the real benefit. But since their removal is linked to Iran’s compliance with the restrictions on its nuclear program, it also acts as an incentive for quick compliance.

The agreement requires Iran to suspend the operation of a large number of enrichment facilities, something that can be easily accomplished, and other modifications to its nuclear program have already been implemented during the 18 months of negotiations.

While we won’t see a significant effect until after a final accord is reached within three months, we should begin to witness a number of important though limited changes begin to take place.

Jockeying for pole position

First off, it is very unlikely that any sanctions will be suspended or scaled back before the June 30 deadline. During this three-month period, while intense talks are underway over the final details, corporate executives and other economic players will be watching carefully to see if the deal can be protected against its domestic opponents in both countries. Still, we will likely begin to see a sharp increase in business negotiations and preparations for projects that can be launched after specific sanctions are suspended.

The lifting of the SWIFT ban and other financial sanctions, for example, will open up a large volume of trade between Iranian businesses and their international partners in Europe and Asia. Sanctions enacted three years ago prohibited Iran’s banks from using SWIFT, the financial messaging system that transmits and tracks international transactions.

Major international corporations such as France’s Renault and Chinese shipping firm COSCO that had suspended operations in Iran for fear of heavy financial penalties will prepare to return. Even if it may be some time before they can, companies will be jostling to regain their market presence ahead of the economic boom that is likely to follow the actual lifting of sanctions.

Iran has already prepared a large number of projects in its oil and natural gas industry to attract foreign investment. These projects include the the South Pars Gas Fields in the Persian Gulf and the Azadegan oil field in South Western Iran. Some of the largest European and Chinese oil and gas companies such as Total, Eni and SINOPEC would be among the long list of firms that are likely to compete for investment opportunities in Iran.

Internal investment

Equally significant, we should witness an increase in domestic investment and a shift from hording foreign currency to productive investments by a large number of Iranian households.

Despite all the uncertainties, Iranian businesses and households already anticipate that Iran’s oil revenues will increase as a result of the deal and the country will be able to repatriate a large amount of financial assets that were blocked because of the sanctions. While there are no official statistics on the total value of these blocked resources, it is estimated to be around $100 billion. The sums will become available to Iran as soon as the SWIFT sanctions are lifted.

Injection of all this cash back into the economy will help stabilize the exchange rate, and many households may try to anticipate this by dumping their dollars and euros in favor of the Iranian rial. That should enable Iran’s central bank to strengthen the national currency, which has lost 60% of its value versus the dollar over the past five years.

So far, the Tehran hard currency exchange market has not reacted much to the framework agreement. Iran’s stock market, however, has enjoyed a significant gain, which indicates optimism about business environment in the months ahead. The main index has surged 7% since the deal was announced.

Three months of business lobbying

During this three-month waiting period, we are also likely to witness an intense lobbying effort by Iran’s business community in support of the agreement. This business lobby will strengthen the Rouhani government against hardline opponents of the deal among conservative factions of the ruling regime.

Iran’s business community, especially the traditional bazaar merchants, have enjoyed good relations with the ruling Islamic clerics and will be able to make their voiced heard in the halls of power. They are likely to be joined by the industrialists and manufacturers, who are set to benefit from the reduction of tensions with the international community.

Some business interests in the US might also voice support for the agreement. But the Obama administration will need to manage the removal of sanctions in a manner that does not put American companies at a disadvantage compared with Asian and European ones for access to Iran’s trade and investment market.

US governments for more than 30 years have barred American companies from doing business with Iran, placing far more pressure on them than others simply because it has more regulatory control over them. So a key question US firms will be asking is whether the schedule for removal of sanctions according to the final agreement will give international rivals any advantage.

Well aware of the lobbying power of these businesses, particularly the US energy conglomerates, Iran has actively invited Western oil companies to invest in its oil and gas sector. If President Barack Obama can find a way to put US businesses on an equal (or better) footing than their foreign competitors, they are likely to help ensure a final deal has Congressional support.

With this in mind, the Iranians seen celebrating in the streets should have reason to feel joyful as there’s a good chance their many years of economic isolation are near an end.

Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared on TheConversation.com and is reprinted here with permission. All views expressed here are solely those of the author.

Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani smiles while replying to a question during a news conference on the sidelines of the 69th United Nations General Assembly at United Nations Headquarters in New York, September 26, 2014. Adrees Latif/Reuters

Tens of billions potentially up for grabs if nuclear deal opens Iran economy to outside investment

By Andrew Torchia

Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani smiles while replying to a question during a news conference on the sidelines of the 69th United Nations General Assembly at United Nations Headquarters in New York, September 26, 2014. Adrees Latif/Reuters

Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani smiles while replying to a question during a news conference on the sidelines of the 69th United Nations General Assembly at United Nations Headquarters in New York, September 26, 2014. Adrees Latif/Reuters

DUBAI, April 3 (Reuters) – Iranian investment banker Ramin Rabii says he shouted in joy when he learned that Tehran and world powers had reached a deal which promises to lift economic sanctions on Iran. Then he called colleagues to discuss the business implications.

Rabii, managing director of Turquoise Partners, a Tehran-based investment firm with about $200 million of assets under management, has been grappling for years with the results of the sanctions: unstable growth, high inflation, international banking restrictions and hard currency shortages.

The agreement on curbing Iran’s nuclear program, reached on Thursday, will – if confirmed in a final deal by a June 30 deadline – begin to ease those crippling problems for Turquoise and thousands of other Iranian firms.

“We’ve been preparing for this moment for 10 years,” Rabii said by telephone, adding that in the months leading up to the deal Turquoise was in touch with hundreds of potential foreign investors about opportunities for them if sanctions were lifted.

He said the company now planned to develop its asset management and brokerage businesses, and would hold roadshows for investors in Europe and possibly Dubai.
Frozen out of the international banking system, its foreign trade slashed by the sanctions, Iran looks likely to become the biggest country to rejoin the global economy since post-Communist eastern Europe in the early 1990s.

The resulting boom could create tens of billions of dollars worth of business for both local and foreign companies and shift the economic balance in the Gulf, which has so far been heavily weighted towards the rich Gulf Arab oil exporting countries.

“Precautionary talks have already started between Iran and some big Western investors” in areas such as oil and autos, said Iranian-born economist Mehrdad Emadi of London’s Betamatrix consultancy. “Now there will be accelerating momentum.”

He predicted annual growth of Iran’s $420 billion economy would rise by as much as 2 percentage points to over 5 percent in the year after a final nuclear deal. It could accelerate further to 7 or 8 percent in the following 18 months – matching the growth of Asia’s “tiger economies” during their boom years.
Iran’s trade with the European Union, which totalled 7.6 billion euros ($8.3 billion) last year, could balloon 400 percent by mid-2018, Emadi said.

Banking sanctions

The complex web of financial, shipping, energy and technology sanctions woven by the United States, the European Union and the United Nations is expected to take years to remove, even if a final nuclear agreement is reached and implemented smoothly.

As a result Iran’s oil exports, cut by the sanctions to about 1.1 million barrels per day from 2.5 million bpd in 2012, may not start rebounding before 2016.

But the single most damaging sanctions measure, the U.S. Treasury’s use of Section 311 of the USA PATRIOT Act to identify Iran as a money laundering area, could be lifted quickly by the Obama administration, analysts believe.

This would have a big impact on trade and investment by letting foreign banks deal with Iran without fear of being targeted by U.S. officials. Iran could be re-admitted to the SWIFT global payments system, from which it was expelled in 2012, within three months of a final nuclear deal, Emadi said.
Rabii said the boost to Iranian production from easier trade would quickly spur the economy, even if big foreign investment deals took longer to arrange.

“Iranian industry is currently operating at about 60 to 70 percent capacity. Thirty percent is idle – that’s because of the sanctions. Getting this working again is the low-hanging fruit of lifting the sanctions.”

The economic benefits would extend across the Gulf, particularly to Dubai, which is a traditional hub for business with Iran and has a large Iranian community.

The sanctions slashed Dubai’s trade with Iran by more than a third; the emirate could now become a jumping-off point for foreign companies going back into Iran.

Airlines and logistics firms around the region also stand to profit. Tarek Sultan, chief executive of Kuwait-listed logistics giant Agility, said Iran was potentially attractive because its isolation had encouraged it to develop indigenous expertise that could allow it to leapfrog other economies.

“When the international situation is resolved and restrictions are lifted, we’ll be among the first ones in there,” Sultan told Reuters late last year.

Other parts of the Gulf economy may at least temporarily be hurt by the rise of Iran. Gulf Arab stock markets are reforming themselves to attract foreign capital; Saudi Arabia plans to open its bourse to direct foreign investment within months. These markets will now have a major rival for funds in Tehran.

Any increase in Iranian oil sales could come at the expense of Saudi Arabia, OPEC’s biggest producer, which has lifted its output near 10 million bpd. The kingdom already faces a record budget deficit this year because of low oil prices.

17-15

World powers welcome Iran nuclear deal

OnIslam & News Agencies

LAUSANNE – In a breakthrough agreement, Iran and world powers sealed a deal outlining limits on Iran’s nuclear program that would put an end to 12 years of hardships faced by the Islamic Republic.

“The political determination, the good will of all parties made it possible,” EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini was quoted by Reuters on Thursday, April 2.

“This is a crucial decision laying the agreed basis for the final text of joint comprehensive plan of action. We can now start drafting the text and annexes,” said Mogherini, who has acted as a coordinator for the six powers – Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States.

Curbing Iran’s nuclear activities, the tentative deal between Iran, US and other world powers would limit the country’s enrichment of uranium for 10 years.

Signed eight days after marathon talks in Switzerland, the framework will “limit Iran’s nuclear activity to the Natanz plant and reduce the number of centrifuges it operates from 19,000 today to just over 6,104”.

It also prohibits building any new facilities for the purpose of enriching uranium until 2030.

Until a final deal is reached by June 30, all sanctions on Iran will remain in place.

“We’re still some time away from reaching where we want to be,” Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohamad Javad Zarif cautioned.

With many details still needed to be worked out, US Secretary of State John Kerry said: “The political understanding with details that we have reached is a solid foundation for the good deal we are seeking.”

“We will not allow excuses that will allow a return to the old system,” Zrif was quoted by Al Jazeera.

“Good Deal”

Hailing Thursday’s agreement with the Islamic Republic, US President Barack Obama described the outcome as “a good deal”.

“Today, the United States, together with our allies and partners, has reached an historic understanding with Iran, which if fully implemented, will prevent it from obtaining a nuclear weapon,” Obama declared.

Meanwhile, Obama assured reassured Israel and Arab States that their concerns would be addressed.

A similar praise was echoed by French President Francois Hollande.

“France will be watchful…to ensure that a credible, verifiable agreement be established under which the international community can be sure Iran will not be in a position to have access to nuclear arms,” Hollande said.

On its part, Russia said the deal would boost Iran’s role in the regions and would foster security in the Middle East.

Praising the agreement, the British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said: “This is well beyond what many of us thought possible even 18 months ago and a good basis for what I believe could be a very good deal. But there is still more work to do.”

IAEA Director General, Yukiya Amano, has also welcomed the agreement, saying that his agency “will be ready to fulfill its role in verifying the implementation of nuclear related measures, once the agreement is finalized,” RT reported.

On the other, the deal was met with dismay by Israel that considered it “detached from a wretched reality”.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said a final deal based on this agreement “would threaten the survival of Israel”.

In November 2013, Iran and world powers signed a deal to curb its nuclear programin exchange for relief from some economic sanctions.

As part of the deal, Iran will be required to dilute its stockpile of uranium that had been enriched to 20%.

The deal also mandates Iran halt all enrichment above 5% and dismantle the technical equipment required to do that.

 

Analysis: 2012 Could Prove Even Wilder Ride than 2011

By Peter Apps, Political Risk Correspondent

LONDON (Reuters) – The ancient Mayans attached special significance to 2012, possibly the end of time. That has spawned a rush of apocalyptic literature for the holiday season.

But you don’t have to believe the world is about to end to realize that next year contains perhaps the widest range of political risks to the global economy in recent history.

With elections and leadership changes in the most powerful countries, Europe in crisis, ferment in the Middle East and worsening economic hardship driving unrest and discontent everywhere, 2012 could be just as volatile as 2011 if not worse.

The current year may yet carry a sting in its tail, with worries over the euro and jitters over a possible Israeli strike on Iran likely to keep financial markets and policymakers on tenterhooks all the way to the New Year.

More than three years after the collapse of Lehman Brothers prompted the worst financial crash since the Great Depression, economic turmoil looks to be driving political upheaval in what could become a particularly disruptive feedback loop.

Economic stresses — from rising food prices to worsening economic hardship in the developed world — were at the heart of many of 2011’s political stories. As they intensify, political volatility, gridlock, confrontation and conflict — whether domestic or international — look set to worsen.

“It’s going to get worse before it gets better,” said Jonathan Wood, global issues analyst at London-based risk consultancy Control Risks. “If you look at what’s been driving events this year, none of the factors has gone away and many of the economic drivers are still growing.”

Presidential elections in the United States, France and Russia and the dual transition of power at the top of China’s Communist Party will add to the uncertainty. They may make it harder for political leaders to find compromises or push through tough policy choices.

GROWING GRIDLOCK?

That, many analysts warn, brings with it a mounting risk of political gridlock coming just as the world needs leadership most. The failure of the U.S. Congressional “super committee” to agree on how to reduce the budget deficit may be a sign of things to come domestically in many countries.

President Barack Obama faces a tough re-election bid, whomever the Republicans choose to challenge him, because of a sluggish economy, 8.6 percent unemployment and a squeeze on the middle classes due to fallen home and stock prices.

A fragile global consensus forged at a 2009 summit of leaders of the Group of 20 major economies may be gone for good, replaced by what Ian Bremmer, president of political risk consultancy Eurasia Group, calls a rudderless “G-zero” world.

Top of the list of 2012 risks for many analysts is the unresolved sovereign debt crisis in the euro zone.

If the 17-nation European single currency is to survive in its current form, its members will have to confront harsh economic adjustments and seismic political reform. Last week’s Brussels summit, the 16th since the start of the two-year-old crisis, was billed by some as the last chance to save the euro.

While euro zone leaders and some non-euro states agreed to forge a closer fiscal union with stricter budget discipline, the outcome fell short of guaranteeing the euro’s ultimate survival.

At worst, 2012 could still see a disorderly breakup bringing with it a chain of defaults, bank runs and civil unrest, not to mention a savage global economic shock worse than that of 2008.

Ultimately, however, many believe the euro will endure — although not without colossal strains as it tries to reconcile very different economies such as Germany and Greece.

“The greatest single risk is obviously the euro zone but it might also be the risk that is sorted out the quickest,” says Alastair Newton, a former British government official who is chief political analyst at Japanese bank Nomura.

“But even if that happens then you’re still going to have very low growth and a rise in social unrest in the southern euro zone in particular and across Europe in general. Even in the best case scenario, 2012 looks pretty rough.”

For others, the Middle East remains the most important area to watch for potential disruption to the global economy.

Almost a year after the beginning of the “Arab Spring” democracy movement, the region remains in political flux with untested Islamist parties winning power across north Africa and Syria’s uprising slowly turning towards outright civil war.

CONFLICT, UNREST

After the fall of several veteran Western-backed Arab rulers, the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq is seen as the latest sign of the diminishing influence of Western powers in a region they dominated for some 200 years.

In the resulting vacuum, regional powers such as Turkey, Saudi Arabia and an isolated and perhaps more erratic Iran appear in increasingly open confrontation.

Western intelligence estimates that Iran is moving closer to a viable nuclear weapon have a shorter timeline, and some analysts say 2012 could be the year when Tehran’s enemies decide to go beyond covert sabotage with a military strike that could spark retaliation against oil supplies in the Gulf.

“The bigger wild card out there is an Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities and elements of regime control,” says Thomas Barnett, chief strategist of political risk consultancy Wikistrat, saying neither the Israeli nor the Iranian leadership looks inclined to back down. “The setting here is scary… something has got to give in this strategic equation.”

Even if the world avoids a devastating shock such as a Middle East war or a European breakdown, many analysts fear the business of politics and policy-making could become increasingly difficult around the world.

With economic growth slowing and unemployment creeping up, most analysts believe the risks of social unrest will continue to rise across much of the developed and developing world.

“We have all the problems you’d expect from economic hardship. At some stage we will have rising food prices which are always destabilizing and we have a question over whether China will overheat,” says Elizabeth Stephens, head of credit and political risk at London insurance brokers Jardine Lloyd Thompson.

“Even a fall of one or two percentage points of GDP (in China) could be enough to really question social stability if they can’t keep job creation going… We (also) have probable ongoing unrest in Europe and the ongoing transition in the Middle East and North Africa could be quite unstable.”

In the dying days of the year, other long held assumptions of stability have be thrown into question — not least by the rising tide of protest against Russia’s Vladimir Putin. The one certainty for 2012, many believe, is more of the unexpected.

“2011 was a nightmarish year to be a policy maker or an investment portfolio manager but it was a great one to be a political analyst,” says Newton. “I’d certainly expect the same for next year.”

(Reporting By Peter Apps)

13-52

Malfunction Likely Put U.S. Drone in Iranian Hands

By Andrea Shalal-Esa and David Alexander

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The unmanned U.S. drone Iran said on Sunday it had captured was programmed to automatically return to base even if its data link was lost, one key reason that U.S. officials say the drone likely malfunctioned and was not downed by Iranian electronic warfare.

U.S. officials have been tight-lipped about Iranian claims that its military downed an RQ-170 unmanned spy plane, a radar-evading, wedge-shaped aircraft dubbed “the Beast of Kandahar” after its initial sighting in southern Afghanistan.

The U.S.-led NATO mission in Afghanistan said the Iranians might be referring to an unarmed reconnaissance aircraft that disappeared on a flight in western Afghanistan late last week. But they declined to say what type of drone was involved.

A U.S. government source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the plane was on a CIA mission. The CIA and Pentagon both declined to comment on the issue.

The incident came at a time of rising tensions between Iran and the West over Tehran’s nuclear program. The United States and other Western nations tightened sanctions on Iran last week and Britain withdrew its diplomatic staff from Tehran after hard-line youths stormed two diplomatic compounds.

The United States has not ruled out military action against Iran’s nuclear facilities if diplomacy fails to resolve a dispute over the program, which Washington believes is aimed at developing atomic weapons.

The RQ-170 Sentinel, built by Lockheed Martin, was first acknowledged by the U.S. Air Force in December 2009. It has a full-motion video sensor that was used this year by U.S. intelligence to monitor al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan ahead of the raid that killed him.

Former and current military officials familiar with the Sentinel said they were skeptical about Iranian media reports that Iran’s military brought down one of the drones in eastern Iran, especially since Tehran has not released any pictures of the plane.

POSSIBLE ‘CATASTROPHIC’ MALFUNCTION

The aircraft is flown remotely by pilots based in the United States, but is also programmed to autonomously fly back to the base it departed from if its data link with U.S.-based pilots is lost, according to defense analyst Loren Thompson, who is a consultant for Lockheed and other companies.

Other unmanned aircraft have a similar capability, including General Atomics’ Predator drone, industry sources said.

The fact that the plane did not return to its base suggests a “catastrophic” technical malfunction, agreed one industry executive familiar with the operation and programming of unmanned aerial vehicles.

U.S. officials say they always worry about the possibility of sensitive military technologies falling into the hands of other countries or terrorist groups, one reason U.S. planes quickly destroyed a stealthy helicopter that was damaged during the bin Laden raid in Pakistan.

Many classified weapons systems have self-destruction capabilities that can be activated if they fall into enemy hands but it was not immediately clear if that was the case this time.

In this case, the design of the plane and the fact that it had special coatings that made it nearly invisible to radar were already well documented. If it survived a crash, all on-board computer equipment was heavily encrypted.

Lockheed confirmed that it makes the RQ-170 drone, which came out of its secretive Skunk Works facility in southern California, but referred all questions about the current incident to the Air Force.
Thompson and several current and former defense officials said they doubted Iranian claims to have shot the aircraft down because of its stealthy features and ability to operate at relatively high altitudes.

Iran was also unlikely to have jammed its flight controls because that system is highly encrypted and uses a direct uplink to a U.S. satellite, they said.

“The U.S. Air Force has experienced declining attrition rates with most of its unmanned aircraft. However this is a relatively new aircraft and there aren’t many in the fleet, which means that malfunctions and mistakes are more likely to occur,” Thompson said.

One former defense official familiar with the RQ-170 and other unmanned aircraft said he “absolutely” agreed that the aircraft was not lost due to any action by Iran.

Exact details about the drone remain classified but industry insiders say the plane flies at around 50,000 feet and may have a wing span of up to 90 feet. Its shape harkens back to the batwing design of the radar-evading B-2 bomber.

(Editing by Jackie Frank)

13-50

American Enterprise Institute Admits The Problem With Iran Is Not That It Would Use Nukes

By M J Rosenberg

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File picture of Danielle Pletka, undated screengrab from C-SPAN.

Suddenly the struggle to stop Iran is not about saving Israel from nuclear annihilation. After a decade of scare-mongering about the second coming of Nazi Germany, the Iran hawks are admitting that they have other reasons for wanting to take out Iran, and saving Israeli lives may not be one of them. Suddenly the neoconservatives have discovered the concept of truth-telling, although, no doubt, the shift will be ephemeral.

The shift in the rationale for war was kicked off this week when Danielle Pletka, head of the American Enterprise Institute’s (AEI) foreign policy shop and one of the most prominent neoconservatives in Washington, explained what the current obsession with Iran’s nuclear program is all about.

The biggest problem for the United States is not Iran getting a nuclear weapon and testing it, it’s Iran getting a nuclear weapon and not using it. Because the second that they have one and they don’t do anything bad, all of the naysayers are going to come back and say, “See, we told you Iran is a responsible power. We told you Iran wasn’t getting nuclear weapons in order to use them immediately.” … And they will eventually define Iran with nuclear weapons as not a problem.

Hold on. The “biggest problem” with Iran getting a nuclear weapon is not that Iranians will use it but that they won’t use it and that they might behave like a “responsible power”? But what about the hysteria about a second Holocaust? What about Prime Minister Netanyahu’s assertion that this is 1938 and Hitler is on the march? What about all of these pronouncements that Iran must be prevented from developing a nuclear weapons because the apocalyptic mullahs would happily commit national suicide in order to destroy Israel? And what about AIPAC and its satellites, which produce one sanctions bill after another (all dutifully passed by Congress) because of the “existential threat” that Iran poses to Israel? Did Pletka lose her talking points?
Apparently not.

Pletka’s “never mind” about the imminent danger of an Iranian bomb seems to be the new line from the bastion of neoconservativism.

Earlier this week, one of Pletka’s colleagues at AEI said pretty much the same thing. Writing in the Weekly Standard, Thomas Donnelly explained that we’ve got the Iran problem all wrong and that we need to “understand the nature of the conflict.” He continued:

We’re fixated on the Iranian nuclear program while the Tehran regime has its eyes on the real prize: the balance of power in the Persian Gulf and the greater Middle East.
This admission that the problem with a nuclear Iran is not that it would attack Israel but that it would alter the regional balance of power is incredibly significant. The American Enterprise Institute is not Commentary, the Republican Jewish Coalition, or the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, which are not exactly known for their intellectual heft.

It is, along with the Heritage Foundation, the most influential conservative think tank. That is why it was able to play such an influential role in promoting the invasion of Iraq. Take a look at this page from the AEI website from January 2002 (featuring, no surprise, a head shot of Richard Perle). It is announcing one of an almost endless series of events designed to instigate war with Iraq, a war that did not begin for another 14 months. (Perle himself famously began promoting a war with Iraq within days of 9/11, according to former CIA director George Tenet.) AEI’s drumbeat for war was incessant, finally meeting with success in March 2003.

And now they are doing it again. On Monday, Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) — AIPAC’s favorite senator — will keynote an event at AEI, with Pletka and Donnelly offering responses. It will be moderated by Fred Kagan, another AEI fellow and Iraq (now Iran) war hawk. The event is built on the premise that “ongoing efforts to stop Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons have failed.”
We all know what that means. AEI will, no doubt, continue to host these “it’s time for war” events through 2012 and beyond, or until President Obama or his successor announces either that the United States has attacked Iran or that Israel has attacked and we are at her side.

If you didn’t know any better, you might ask why — given that Pletka and Donnelly are downgrading the Iranian nuclear threat — AEI is still hell-bent on war. If its determination to stop Iran is not about defending Israel from an “existential threat,” what is it truly about?

Fortunately, Pletka and Donnelly don’t leave us guessing. It is about preserving the regional balance of power, which means ensuring that Israel remains the region’s military powerhouse, with Saudi Arabia playing a supporting role. That requires overthrowing the Iranian regime and replacing it with one that will do our bidding (like the Shah) and will not, in any way, prevent Israel from operating with a free reign throughout the region.

This goal can only be achieved through outside intervention (war) because virtually the entire Iranian population — from the hardliners in the reactionary regime to reformists in the Green Movement working for a more open society — are united in support of Iran’s right to develop its nuclear potential and to be free of outside interference.

What the neoconservatives want is a pliant government in Tehran, just like we used to have, and the only way to achieve this, they believe, is through war.

At this point, it appears that they may get their wish. The only alternative to war is diplomacy, and diplomacy, unlike war, seems to be no longer on the table.

At a fascinating Israel Policy Forum (IPF) symposium this week, Barbara Slavin, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council and a longtime journalist and author who specializes on Iran, noted that the Obama administration has spent a grand total of 45 minutes in direct engagement with the Iranians. Forty-five minutes! Just as bad, the administration no longer makes any effort to engage.

This is crazy. Of course, there is no way of knowing if the Iranian regime wants to talk, but what is the harm of trying? If they say no, they say no. If we talk and the talks go nowhere, then at least we tried. But we won’t try out of fear of antagonizing campaign donors who have been told that the alternative to war is the destruction of Israel. (Thanks to those same donors, Congress is utterly hopeless on this issue.)

So, instead of pursuing diplomacy, we are inching closer toward war.

At IPF, Slavin predicted what the collateral results of an attack on Iran would be:

What’s the collateral damage? Oh my Lord. Well, you destroy the reform movement in Iran for another generation because people will rally around the government; inevitably they do when country is attacked.

People always talk about the Iranians being so irrational and wanting martyrdom. That’s bull. They’re perfectly happy to fight to the last Arab suicide bomber. But they don’t put their own lives on the line unless their country is attacked.

So, you know, they would rally around the government and that would destroy the reform movement. And of course the price of oil would spike. The Iranians will find ways to retaliate through their partners like Hezbollah and Hamas. I think the Israelis would have to attack Lebanon first, to take out Hezbollah’s 40,000 rockets. It’s not just a matter of a quick few hops over Saudi Arabia and you hit Natanz, you know, and a few other places.

That’s why the Israelis want the United States to do it, because they can’t do it, frankly. U.S. does it? Okay, the remaining U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan are sitting ducks. Iran is already playing footsie with the Taliban in Afghanistan. That will become much more pronounced.

They will perhaps attack the Saudi oil fields.

Slavin continues, but the point is clear. An Iran war would make the Iraq war look like the “cake walk” neoconservatives promised it would be.

And for what? To preserve the regional balance of power? How many American lives is that worth? Or Israeli lives? Or Iranian? (It is worth noting that this week, Max Boot, the Council on Foreign Relations’ main neocon, wrote that an attack on Iran, which he advocates, would only delay development of an Iranian bomb.)

Nonetheless, at this point war looks likely. Under our political system, the side that can pay for election campaigns invariably gets what it wants. There is, simply put, no group of donors who are supporting candidates for president and Congress based on their opposition to war, while millions of organized dollars are available to those who support the neocon agenda. Pundits used to say: As Maine goes, so goes the country. It’s just as simple today: As the money goes, so goes our policy.

13-50

Is Mideast Sleepwalking … into a War?

By Aijaz Zaka Syed

YOU may fool some people some of the time, counseled Abraham Lincoln, but not all the people all the time.

The earthy wisdom of the US president credited with uniting America and ending slavery has been repeatedly challenged by his own country. 

Seems you can’t just fool all the people all the time, you can get away with murder by lying through your teeth.

What happened in Iraq eight years ago appears all set to repeat itself as the Western powers gang up against Iran. And you thought the world has learned its lessons from the catastrophe of Iraq.

Savaged by the trillion dollar wars being waged by the US and its NATO allies, coupled with the open loot and corruption on the Wall Street, the world economy is battling for its life.  Look at the God-awful mess in Europe. Who would have thought a decade ago, or at the time of Western invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan, the rich European Union and its much-wanted euro would be faced with the calamity they are facing today? Even the “with-us-or-against-us” leader of the free world, who had persuaded himself he was on a divine mission to save Israel from its imagined enemies, seemed to have his share of doubts about the whole circus when he left the White House.

Of course, those weapons of mass destruction that Saddam Hussein was supposed to have piled up to attack the peace-loving, democratic state of Israel are yet to be found, not to mention the million plus Iraqis who have paid with their lives for the Oedipal insecurities of the most powerful man on the planet.

Yet here we are back once again sleepwalking, eyes wide shut, toward yet another calamitous showdown. It’s déjà vu all over again as the Goebbelsian propaganda machine bombards us with the characteristically disingenuous fiction masquerading as “facts” and “expert opinion” about the clear and present danger the world faces from Iran.

Just as the UN and its numerous experts were used to build the case against Iraq, IAEA’s services are being employed today to corner Tehran. In its latest report, the UN nuclear watchdog suggests Iran may have developed necessary know-how and expertise to build a nuclear weapon after receiving “critical support from foreign scientists.”

Since when has knowledge become a crime? In doing so, the IAEA has trashed its own findings and numerous reports by its experts presented over the past decade following endless visits to Iran’s nuclear sites, ruling out the possibility Tehran is working on the bomb — a fact corroborated by America’s own intelligence agencies in the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate.

The latest IAEA report is based on the “evidence” provided by a Russian scientist, who is supposed to have helped the Iranians in building the detonation system for nuclear weapons, and data found on a stolen laptop! Russia, which has helped Iran with its nuclear power program over the years, has dismissed the claim and IAEA report with utmost contempt. Tehran has, of course, rejected the IAEA report as being stage-managed by the West. Considering the US contributes 26 percent of the IAEA’s annual budget and has many US officials serving in senior positions, the Iranian claim is hardly exaggerated, especially after the Russian “nuclear weapons expert” has turned out to be a specialist in the production of nanodiamonds!

The IAEA, instead of enforcing Nuclear non-Proliferation Treaty and confronting big powers on their hoards of nukes, is increasingly acting like a US government outfit. Unlike Israel, North Korea, India and Pakistan, Iran is a signatory to the NPT and has allowed regular international inspections of its nuclear sites.

But we have been here before, haven’t we? In the run up to the Iraq invasion, many such experts were produced out of Uncle Sam’s hat.  From the fiction of Iraq sourcing uranium from Niger to Blair’s claim of Saddam being within the 45-minute striking distance of a WMD attack on the UK, the history of colonial deceptions is endless. And thanks to the blessings of Internet, every blatant lie and every piece of the charade that passes for international diplomacy in the run-up to the Iraq 2003 has been preserved for posterity. Just Google and see for yourself. The resemblance with Iran 2011 is uncanny.

The same saga of subterfuge and plotting continues against Iran, notwithstanding the historical irony that it was the US and Israel that had helped Tehran build its nuclear program in 1970s, in an attempt to check the Arabs. Indeed, Israel was supposed to supply Reza Shah Pahlavi with missiles and nuclear warheads. The program was abandoned in haste when the people power threw the Shah out in 1979, forcing him to seek refuge with the very Arabs he loved to hate. His old friends in the West had spurned him, just as they recently abandoned Hosni Mubarak, Ben Ali and Qaddafi.  The Shah died a broken man in Cairo in 1980, only a year after the Revolution.

What cruel irony of history that today the same Arabs are being hammered into believing that the Islamist Iran, and not Israel and its powerful partisans with a large nuclear arsenal and a long history of aggression, is their worst enemy!

For eight long years, George W. Bush and the fellow crusaders obsessed over Tehran dreaming of doing an Iraq to Iran. Not because the long sanctioned Iran with its archaic weaponry and crippled economy was a threat to world peace but because Israel said so. Indeed, but for the “shock and awe” that the empire faced in Iraq and Afghanistan, Iran might have been the third front in America’s war.  And the irony of ironies, the man who as a senator voted against the Iraq invasion eight years ago, is now parroting and reading from the same hymn sheet that his predecessor did. The script of the Middle East’s theater of the absurd remains unchanged; only dramatis personae have changed. As Scott Ritter, the former UN weapons inspector who exposed his own government’s game on Iraq, puts it, it’s the same bull…. with a different president!

So as Israel steps up the beating of war drums on Iran with the politicians in the US competing with each other to woo the Zionists, can Obama afford to be left behind? So promising more “effective” sanctions against an already much punished country over the past 33 years, he thunders “all options are on the table,” reminding one of W’s rhetoric. So much for the audacity of hope!

The irony of it all may not be entirely lost on the Nobel laureate president. But with the reelection battle fast approaching and all Republican hopefuls, except Ron Paul and Herman Cain, promising to hit Tehran, how can Obama appear “weak on national security”? The rejection of the Palestinian state was part one of the strategy for the Jewish vote and money. An attack on Iran would seal the pact with the devil.

— Aijaz Zaka Syed is a commentator on the Middle East and South Asian affairs. Write him at aijaz.syed@hotmail.com

13-48

When Is a Bet not a Bet? A Day at Iran’s Races

By Mitra Amiri

2011-11-02T141330Z_641412934_GM1E7B21PW301_RTRMADP_3_IRAN-HORSERACING

Jockeys whip their horses during the final stretch of the race during the summer races at the Norouzabad Equestrian center on the outskirts of Tehran September 16, 2011. Under Islamic sharia law, gambling is generally seen as illegal. But thanks to certain religious rulings, many race-goers are permitted to put money on the horses legally as long as they are “predicting” through official channels. Picture taken September 16, 2011.        

REUTERS/Caren Firouz

NOWRUZABAD, Iran, Nov 2 (Reuters) – As Rio Collection galloped across the finishing line, Sardar hooted with joy and high-fived his friends.

He had just won 200,000 rials (almost $20). Not by “betting” on the horse, he insisted — betting is illegal under Iran’s Islamic law — but by “predicting” Rio Collection would win.

“I knew he would win. I predicted correctly,” said the 18-year-old.

Under Islamic Sharia law, gambling is generally seen as illegal and Sardar’s wager, made with a friend, was actually not permitted. But thanks to certain religious rulings, many race-goers are permitted to put money on the horses legally as long as they are “predicting” through official channels.

The Koran describes gambling as “evil, unclean and Satanic” and people found guilty of illegal gambling in the Islamic Republic can be sentenced to flogging and jail.

However, three forms of gambling are permitted under Islam, said a cleric consulted on the matter by Reuters.

“All forms of gambling are haram (forbidden by Islam) except for horse racing, camel racing and archery,” said Mohsen Mahmoudi, a cleric at a north Tehran mosque, adding that those manly, warrior sports were all encouraged by the Prophet Muhammad (s).

But technically, he added, only the archery contestants and riders of the horses or camels in the races are permitted to bet.

To make it possible for spectators to take part, the Equestrian Federation of Iran sought permission from senior clerics known as “sources of emulation”, to whom Shi’ite Muslims turn for guidance on moral issues.

“In negotiations with some sources of emulation , we finally managed to receive permission to bet on horses under certain conditions,” said Ebrahim Mohammdzadeh, an official at Tehran’s horse-racing committee.

The way it works is that jockeys authorise the horse-racing committee to place bets for other people on their behalf.

MASS APPEAL

In pre-revolutionary Iran, horse riding was considered an elite sport. Mohammad Reza Pahlavi — the last shah who was overthrown in the 1979 uprising led by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini — was a keen horseman and aimed to expand racing.

After the revolution the idea fell out of favour and today there are only four racetracks in the country. Camel racing — popular in some Arab countries across the Gulf — is not a significant sport in Iran and archery has no great popular following.

The 2,000-capacity Nowruzabad track off a major highway to the west of Tehran is the only track easily accessible to the population of the capital. It hold races over a 10-week season each year.

Despite its limited availability, people from many walks of life crowd the “predictions” office next to the track in Nowruzabad where legal betting takes place inside a building where an electronic screen advertises: “Make a prediction, win a prize”.

Inside, a dozen women, wearing obligatory headscarves, sit behind windows, taking predictions and paying out winnings. As well as a computer screen with race details, each has a basket into which they toss the takings.

Prediction tickets can be bought for as little as 10,000 rials (around $1) with no official upper limit, although large bets are rare. Odds are not given before the race and returns are calculated afterwards.

People can also place bets on horses through the federation’s website, but that misses out on the spectacle.

As the horses pass the finishing line, the spectators — including dozens of women — jump up from their seats near the track and rush to the predictions office to see how much they have won and place money on the next one.

“I just paid 50,000 rials. I hope I can win something,” said Erfan, 15.

“I always buy prediction tickets from this office but my dad bets directly with others,” he said. “He once won 30 million rials.”

Betting among individuals is not legal but still goes on.

Wearing loose black trousers and speaking with a strong local accent, Sardar, a carpenter, said he chose not to buy prediction tickets as winnings were limited.

“People are reluctant to place big bets with the prediction office,” he said . “Big bets take place unofficially and the winnings are exchanged from hand-to-hand.”

The really big bets happen at bigger tracks, particularly at the 10-000 capacity Gonbad-e Kavoos hippodrome in northern Iran.

“Last year someone won $75,000 there in a bet,” a race official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Cleric Mahmoudi warned of the dangers of gambling.

“The bettor makes gains easily, without working and this causes others to lose money with consequent dissatisfaction and grief,” he said, pointing out one reason Islam regards gambling as “haram”.

Most of the people buying prediction tickets legally from the racetrack office did not seem concerned, however.

“I just lost 30,000 rials but I had a lot of fun,” said fine arts student Tamanna, 30, showing her ticket printed with a line that says cash spent buying the ticket goes to support the horse races, rather than in the hope of winning.

Of the total money coming into the official betting office, some 70 percent is given out as winnings with the remaining 30 percent going to cover the costs of racing.

“I had a great time,” Tamanna said. “In a way we are donating this money to help develop the races.”

13-48

Iranian Girls Soccer Team No Longer Banned

By Parvez Fatteh, Founder of http://sportingummah.com, sports@muslimobserver.com

iran_1610091c It was a happy day for a gaggle of young girls in Iran who were finally being allowed to play ball. The Iranian girls soccer team, who had been banned last month from participating in August’s inaugural Youth Olympics, was now being allowed to compete in the six-nation tournament in Singapore. There was a disagreement between FIFA, the governing body of soccer, and the Iran Football Federation, over what headwear the Iranian girls could don. And on April 5th, FIFA took the step of banning the girls from the upcoming tournament. Thankfully, further discussion ensued, and an agreement was reached the first week of May. “We sent FIFA a sample of our new Islamic dress and fortunately they accepted it,” said Abbas Torabian, director of the International Relations Committee of Iran’s soccer federation. “They announced that there was no objection if the players covered their hair with hats,” he told the Tehran Times. Alas, an accord was reached, but the road traveled to reach the agreement speaks volumes about the state of Islamophobia in this world.

The Iranian National Olympic Committee had originally urged FIFA and the International Olympic Committee to review the ban on the hijab, worn by girls and women as part of Islamic dress code. Jerome Valcke, FIFA’s secretary general, rejected the request, saying FIFA had no other choice but the reject Iran’s requests. He cited FIFA’s rulebook of conduct, with Law 4 stating “basic compulsory equipment must not have any political, religious or personal statements.” So, what this argument attempts to do is to reduce the wearing of the hijib to the level of a political or religious statement, rather than the measure of modesty that it is.

The hijab issue was first examined in 2007 after an 11-year-old girl in Canada was prevented from wearing one for safety reasons. FIFA’s rules-making arm, the International Football Association Board, declined to make an exception for religious clothing. The Quebec Soccer Association said the ban on the hijab is to protect children from being accidentally strangled. This mechanism of strangulation has never been documented in sports, nor has it even been properly explained. And if the covering of the back of the neck is such a violation of sporting principles, then should there not be restrictions also on hair length below the ears?

Faride Shojaee, the vice president of the women’s department of the Iranian Football Federation, said that FIFA officials had previously allowed Iranian athletes to participate in the Olympics with their hijab, “before denying them the right to do so in the letter they sent on Monday.” Several athletes, in fact, competed at the Olympic Games in Beijing in 2008 wearing a hijab, including Bahrain sprinter Ruqaya Al-Ghasara, her country’s flag bearer in the Opening Ceremonies.
The hijab has made its way onto the most wanted list around the globe, but particularly in Europe. France, under Nicholas Sarkoczy, has been well publicized in its growing body of rules outlawing the hijab, particularly in school. Now there is a law on the table in Belgium banning the hijab, and a similar law is being considered in the Netherlands as well. With the growing numbers of Muslims in this world, and the corresponding rise in anti-Islamic sentiment, the hijab does seem to be looked upon as more of a symbol or statement. But that is in the eye of the beholder. An eye that is increasingly becoming jaundiced by Islamophobia.

So, finally, a compromise was reached on, ”… a cap that covers their heads to the hairline, but does not extend below the ears to cover the neck.” Now the Iranian girls are back on track to compete from August 12-25 in Singapore, where about 3,600 athletes, ages 14 to 18, will compete in 26 sports. They will represent Asia against Turkey, Equatorial Guinea, Trinidad and Tobago, Chile, and Papua New Guinea. They will have to wear caps instead of hijabs. But, in the end, a happy group of girls will be allowed to play ball. What kind of person would have wanted to prevent that?

12-20

War & Water in South Asia

By Geoffrey Cook, MMNS

Los Angeles—April 10th—Ashok C. Shukla, an independent scholar, who has written and edited several books on South Asian security issues that are largely available in India, but, unfortunately, too often have to be imported from there into North America.  He has been commissioned by an editor to compose a chapter on energy security in the environs for as yet unnamed publisher.

Most of the presentation was on the problematic future transport of oil and gas across Pakistan into India.  Yet, the crucial issue of water came up early.  With today’s political situation, fresh water is problematical there, too — competitive to say the least. The Ganges-Brahmaputra basin provides the fresh water or part of it for all but two of the area’s nations.  This probably supplies a billion people with their drinkable supply of water.  The competition between India and Pakistan is a volatile one, and most likely will not terminate itself to the satisfaction of all parties anytime soon.  At the very worse it could become a trigger for thermo-nuclear war between the two military giants within Southern Asia that could destroy hundreds of millions of people along with its ancient civilization!

(Also, not as pressing, towards the east, there have been unsubstantiated accusations that India has been skimming off part of Bangladesh’s aquifer.)

As has been intimated, Dr. Shukla’s chapter will examine the energy insecurity of the remarkably expanding economy of India.  (Since this is the Muslim Observer, although Bharat (India’s) population is only 12% Islamic [about the same percentage as Afro-Americans in the United States], it has the second highest Islamic national numbers in the world.  In Pakistan, 98% of the country is Muslim; Afghanistan, who potentially could play a role in the transportation of oil and gas to the Subcontinent, is circa 99%.  Bangladesh is an Islamic State Constitutionally along with substantial non-Muslim minorities, though; and most of the new raw energy-rich former Soviet Republics are (Socialist) secularized Islamic States currently rediscovering their Islamic roots.  (Your essayist wishes to point to the veracity of the Islamic political issues of the discussion which were not considered by Mr. Shukla.)

Both India and Pakistan are important to the interests of Washington because of the economic rise of New Delhi and the strategic military significance of Rawalpindi.  Also, within, South Asia, there are overbearing ecological issues impacting the entire globe.  India desperately, requires propulsion sources for their spectacularly expanding industries which resides in raw form in Central Asia and Iran, but Islamabad (and to a lesser extent Afghanistan) holds the key transit routes for the necessary pipelines.  The bad feeling between Indo-Pakistan means that in any crisis the Pakistanis have the capability to turn off the valves bringing India’s burgeoning economy to a halt.  Further, the United States is against India buying Iranian gas which would, also, transverse Pakistan.  (This goes back to our bad relations with the Persians which probably will turn out to be temporary anyway.) The United States is pressing for the pipelines to go through Turkestan.  Nevertheless, added to American opposition, New Delhi does not accept Pakistan’s terms to permit a pipeline from Tehran.) 

Whatever, SAARC (the South Asian Association for Regional Co-operation) will not involve itself in political matters between India and Pakistan by the very nature of its charter (it is only an economic organization), and, thus, will not intervene in bi-lateral matters.  (For this reason, it lacks relevance as a prospective influential territorial negotiator on dangerous political issues over the vastness of the geographical extent of the Indic sphere. 

Ashok C. Shukla ended his proposed chapter with the statement that South Asia totally lacks energy security.

(Your reporter pointed to the fact that Bangladesh, one of the poorest countries in the world, may be sitting on a sea of gas.  Although a Muslim country it is friendly to India [as is Iran and the Central Asian Republics].  One of the reasons that the gas fields have not been developed is that the technology to liquefy the gaseous energy has not been perfected yet in large enough quantities to ship it to the West and China on ships.  It would make sense, though, to send it to India through pipes, and that would solve the energy security issue for New Delhi, and, further, it would help with the ecological problem since the Republic of India depends on coal for its industrial expansion, and natural gas is much, much cleaner burning).

Dr. Shukla rejected this due to Bangladesh’s nationalistic sensibilities (which your writer finds it hard to believe, for the East Bengals badly require foreign exchange, and their gas could make them as rich as some of the Middle East oil giants! ) 

12-20

Obama Fights ‘Otherization’

of Muslims, through Envoy Rashad Hussain

By Josh Gerstein, Politico

2010-05-05T172601Z_01_BTRE6441CFM00_RTROPTP_3_POLITICS-US-USA-COURT
 

President Barack Obama’s aggressive outreach to the Muslim American community is reducing its sense of isolation, President Barack Obama’s envoy to the Muslim world told a conference in Washington Wednesday evening.

“We’ve really started to knock down that sense of otherization,” said Rashad Hussain, a White House lawyer who also serves as liaison to the Organization of the Islamic Conference. Hussain defined the rather esoteric term “otherization” as a sense that many Muslims had during the Bush years that their value or danger to society was viewed solely through the prism of terrorism.

“Muslims … sometimes feel like they don’t have as much of a stake or a role in the future of the country,” Hussain told the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy conference. “That’s something that all of the engagement that the United States has done on these issues both internationally and domestically has helped to counter.”

Hussain was the keynote speaker at the session, which marked one year since Obama’s historic speech in Cairo last April, where he attempted to reset America’s relationship with Muslims around the globe.

In many ways, the most remarkable thing about Hussain’s speech was the context in which it took place: a conference that featured explicitly “Islamist” political leaders from Algeria, Bahrain and Morocco, as well as a provocative Oxford scholar whom the Bush administration effectively banned from the U.S., Tariq Ramadan. Many Republicans, such as former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, continue to use the term “Islamist” to describe enemies of the U.S. The GOP politicians also fault Obama for failing to recognize the threat such an ideology poses to the U.S.

Giuliani’s view is pretty much 180 degrees from the prevailing sentiment at Wednesday’s conference. “There doesn’t really seem to be much of a debate about whether engagement with Islamists should happen,” Professor Peter Mandeville of George Mason University declared. “There really is no other alternative. The question now is about the nature of that engagement … rather than the question of whether this is something the United States should do.”

In his 20-minute speech and a subsequent Q & A session, Hussain generally stuck to Obama’s rhetorical formulation of using the term “violent extremism” for what the Bush folks — and just about everyone else — used to call “terrorism.” However, Hussain did use the T-word a couple of times. He touted the U.S. commitment to resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, to a diplomatic resolution of tensions with Iran, to avoiding religious- and nationality-based profiling in airport security screening and to freedom for Muslims around the world to wear Islamic garb.

In response to a question about the U.S. willingness to deal with Taliban members who are prepared to renounce violence, Hussain said, “The U.S. will engage those groups that are lawfully elected and are lawfully part of the political process and don’t engage in violence, and that is a commitment that is demonstrated over a set period of time.”

Pressed by a questioner urging U.S. action against Israel over its refusal to end settlement-building activity, Hussain didn’t offer much to satisfy the pro-Palestinian audience. “The best way to address that issue is to get negotiations between the parties back on track again. … It’s not something that you will see this administration walk away from,” he said.

Hussain did seem a tad exasperated by complaints that, despite the vaunted Muslim outreach campaign, Obama has failed to visit a mosque in the U.S. as president. “If there is this silver bullet people are looking for, that the president visit a religious center in the United States, I’m sure there will be an appropriate time for that as well,” Hussain said.

Shortly after his appointment as the OIC envoy earlier this year, Hussain grabbed some headlines for a flap over comments he made in 2004 describing the Bush administration’s actions against some terror suspects as “politically motivated persecutions.” He initially said he had no recollection of making the remarks, but after POLITICO obtained a recording of the presentation he conceded he’d made the comments and called them “ill-conceived or not well-formulated.”

12-19

While You Were Sleeping

By Sumayyah Meehan, MMNS Middle East Correspondent

COV_iranFlag This week has seen a spurt of would-be terror plots that painfully highlights the reality that our world is still not as safe as it should be, despite the two wars still being waged against purported terrorist regimes. The most notable occurred in the heart of New York City as Pakistani-American Faisal Shahzad has confessed to being the mastermind behind the car bomb that, luckily, did not explode in Times Square. Shahzad was just barely apprehended as he sat on an Emirates flight set for Dubai.

The tiny Gulf State of Kuwait also got its own dose of a potential terror-plot in the making when security personnel unraveled a tangled web of deceit within its own borders. A ‘sleeper cell’ network of spies, apparently working covertly for the Iranian government’s Revolutionary Guard, was exposed this past week much to the surprise of the denizens of the region. For weeks, local Kuwaiti newspapers have been reporting renewed ties between Kuwait and Iran as well as a couple of deals, like oil exports. By all appearances the sleeper cell was put into place to gather intelligence on primary Kuwaiti and American targets, in the event that America decided to take a preemptive military strike against Iran. Iranian President has always promised to lash out at any Gulf neighbor that allows its land to be used by the US and its allies in a show of force against Iran.

Kuwait’s security forces have arrested at least eleven high-ranking Kuwaiti citizens that worked in close proximity to both the interior and defense ministries as well as several Arab nationals whose nationalities have not been released. During the bust, Kuwaiti security personnel raided the home of one of the leaders of the sleeper cell and found a great deal of incriminating evidence including maps for sensitive targets in Kuwait, hi-tech gadgetry and an estimated $250,000 stockpile of cold hard cash. Key players within the sleeper cell have also revealed to Kuwait security forces that they were instructed to recruit new members from Kuwait that were sympathetic to the plight of Iranians.

It’s not surprising that Kuwait was chosen as a primary location for the Iranian sleeper cell to settle in unnoticed. There are several American army bases littered throughout the country and Kuwait is a key stopping point for American troops headed to the frontlines in Iraq and Afghanistan. However, the strongest reason is most likely the friendship that Kuwait and America have built ever since the 1991 Desert Storm war, where America and its allies literally pulled Kuwait out of the clutches of the late Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

Word out of Iran is that the whole fiasco is merely a chance for Kuwait to discredit the country. However, the evidence is strongly leaning towards the validity of the sleeper cell and the Iranian governments full knowledge of its existence. And according to the Kuwaiti government there are still at least seven more members of the sleeper cell who have not yet been apprehended. But what is most disturbing is that interrogations with the suspects are slowly revealing that the espionage stretches clean across the Gulf Corporation Council (GCC) member states with several Gulf countries supposedly having an invisible sleeper cell operating from within. Leaders from the Arab world are expected to meet in the foreseeable future to join forces in combating Iranian spy rings.

12-19

Muslim Business Leaders Invited by Democrats

By Adil James, MMNS

The blowback of the Bush administration’s fierce pressure against Muslims has been the movement of once stalwart Republican Muslims over firmly to the Democratic camp.  Thus, 28 powerful Muslim businessmen and politicians flocked to a Democratic fundraiser in Washington, meeting with White House and Democratic Congressional leaders on April 14th and 15th–a project sponsored by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC).

The event was organized by Keith Ellison and Andre Carson, the two Muslim congressmen.

It comprised on the first day (April 14) a visit to the White House, and on the second day (April 15) a breakfast and meeting with House Democratic Congressional leaders.

This meeting was actually the second annual DCCC “Leadership Summit.” The delegation of 28 Muslims went to the White House and met with White House senior advisor Valerie Bowman Jarrett (Assistant to the President for Intergovernmental Relations and Public Relations), who interestingly was born to American parents in Iran and speaks Persian.

The delegation had a very friendly and fraternal meeting with congressmen including Keith Ellison and Andre Carson,  and the following Democratic congressional leaders, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Majority Whip James Clyburn, DCCC Chaimran Chris Van Hollen, Chairman of the House Finance Committee Barney Fank, Chairman of Ways and Means Committee Sandy Levin, Chairman of the Homeland Securiity Committee Bennie Thompson, as well as seven other members of congress, and the DCCC executive director Jon Vogel.  The friendly nature of the meeting is evidenced by the testimony of attendees and also by the warmth of the discussions from pictures from the event.

Saeed Patel, a prominent New Jersey businessman, President of Amex Computers, said of the two days of meetings that “the main theme was making introductions, raising concerns, and the second thing was promotion of business.”

“Ellison now has been looking into arranging trade delegations to other countries, including India,” explained Mr. Patel–”he’s focusing on Muslim countries but there are also 150 million Muslims in India.”

Patel attended a recent such trade commission to Turkey.  “We went to Turkey last year–one week, different places, to promote trade.  We were hosted by the US ambassador in Ankara.  We met quite a few people… made a lot of contacts.”

“I am hopeful,” he said.  There can be “a lot of business between here and Turkey.”

The delegates, as described by Mr. Patel, included “a lot of people, some social activists, some doctors.”

“I felt that [Democratic leaders] were very gracious–they went out of their way to make sure we were comfortable.  Pelosi, Jarrett, all were very nice.  Very sympathetic.”

The honorable Mohammed Hameeduddin, a city councilman of Teaneck NJ, explained that his  agenda was “racial profiling.”

As an example, Hameeduddin cited the recent visit by Saeed Patel to Turkey–saying Patel on his return trip was “treated harshly by the TSA.”

“I expressed my views to Pelosi, Frank, and Benny Thompson,” said Hameeduddin.

Patel explained that the meeting was “very promising, Ellison and Carson both mentioned that, and Jarrett–this is not just hello and goodbye, this is hello and more hello, more interaction.”  The democrats communicated that “You are more than welcome, give us your personal opinions and experiences to take into account.”

“It was a good exchange,” said Patel.  “Nobody was holding back, everyone was speaking his mind.”

Some of the delegates expressed some consternation, he said, that Obama and the Democrats have been in office more than a year and yet there is still harassment in travel.

Benny Thompson, chair of the Homeland Security Committee, explained in seriousness that if a person is mistreated by airport security personnel he should “always get the name of the person disrespectful to you.”  But he also quipped, “Not too long ago your community was Republican, was it not?”

Patel explained that a follow-up meeting is in the works with Attorney General Eric Holder, on the subject of civil rights abuses against Muslims.

12-17

Stories of Friendship & Faith: The Wisdom of Women Creating Alliances for Peace

opening hearts, opening minds, opening doors

By Brenda Naomi Rosenberg

WisdomWomen_PROMOcover In Metro Detroit, a mostly segregated area of isolated and sometimes hostile communities, with almost every person affected by the failing economy, a devastated auto industry, sky- rocketing unemployment, an area where homes have been devalued by as much as 50%, I saw a spark of hope. A spark ignited with my friends from WISDOM (Women’s Interfaith Solutions for Dialogue and Outreach in MetroDetroit), women who share my passion for opening hearts and opening minds, women who dare to cross boundaries to make friends. Together, we created FRIENDSHIP and FAITH; the WISDOM of women creating alliances for peace, a book that offers hope and the possibility of how we can create peace if we are willing to extend our hands in friendship and formulate meaningful connections.

Twenty nine of us, ages 20 to 80 from seven different faiths -Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Baha’i, Sikh, and Buddhist-collaborated for a year to produce a collection of inspiring stories, stories of creating friendships across religious and cultural divides. Stories that describe everything from surviving flat-out hatred—to the far simpler challenge of making friends with someone of a different religion and race when you share a hospital room; stories that describe making friends at school, overcoming misunderstandings with colleagues at work and even daring to establish friendships that circle the globe; stories that will lift spirits—perhaps even inspire people to spark a new friendship wherever they live.

Our Journey to create Friendship & Faith began on January 24, 2009, when 14 WISDOM leaders gathered for a retreat at the Muslim Unity Center in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, led by the Rev. Sharon Buttry, whose story appears in the book. The retreat was called “Building Bridges”. Together we explored ways to strengthen relationships between women and create innovative projects for the future. To deepen our reflections that weekend, we divided into pairs— I teamed up with Gigi Salka, a Muslim friend and board member of the Muslim Unity Center. Our first exercise was to draw the bridge that connected us. Our bridge was a beautiful rainbow of colors; filled with many of the interfaith and educational projects we had worked on together, including placing a mini Jewish library, a gift of the Farbman family, at the Muslim Unity Center.  I wanted to share not only our bridge-building efforts but all the stories in the room. I proposed a book of our personal stories of how we built bridges across religious and cultural divides, with the hope to inspire others to reach out and to expand the circle of WISDOM.

The group’s enthusiastic response led to a task force focused on gathering stories from dozen of women from diverse backgrounds. Our task force includes WISDOM members Padma Kuppa, Sheri Schiff, Gail Katz, Trish Harris, Ellen Ehrlich, Judy Satterwaite, Paula Drewek and me. We turned to another friend: David Crumm, (founding editor of Read The Spirit www.ReadTheSprit.com, an online magazine, and publisher of ReadTheSpirit Books. David not only published our book, but helped us expand our creative circle. We invited writers from a similarly wide range of backgrounds to help us. Some of the writers are still in college—and some are veteran, nationally-known writers.

As you open the book, you’ll meet my three dear friends; Gail Katz, (Jewish) Trish Harris, (Catholic) and Shahina Begg, (Muslim) who will invite you to sit down with them around a kitchen table. They’ll tell you about the creation of WISDOM – their meeting at an interfaith event, the documentary premier of “Reuniting the Children of Abraham” at Kirk in the Hills Presbyterian Church, and how WISDOM has developed into a dynamic women’s interfaith dialogue organization hosting many successful educational and social-service programs.

Many stories will feel like you’re witnessing events unfolding in your back yard – stories about overcoming tough problems with relationships at school—or finding solutions when families suddenly encounter friction over interreligious marriages. Other stories take you to times and places around the world that you’ll find so compelling—so memorable—that you’ll want to tell a friend – two girls in Iran risking the wrath of religious authorities with their interfaith friendship,  a Jewish woman, child of holocaust survivors, who finds an unexpected friendship when a German couple moves in next door – a Muslim-Hindu marriage that raises cross-country anxiety in India—and a rare true story about an innocent Japanese girl who bravely faced hatred  in an internment camp here and also in Japan during World War II.  You will read the heartfelt stories of personal struggles. One Muslim woman shares her story of how challenging it was for her to start wearing a head scarf after 9/11, and another about how she ended an abusive marriage, stopped wearing her head scarf and started helping other Arab woman in all their relationships. And, some stories like mine show how a lunch with an Imam led to creating an interfaith project  “Reuniting the Children of Abraham”  that has crossed race, faith, cultural barriers and  international boundaries.

Read our book with a friend or neighbor. Meet us online at our www.FriendshipAndFaith.com web site.  Look for our stories on www.ReadTheSpirit.com.,and our book on www.Amazon.com.  We would love to come to your congregation or organization and present our program 5 Women 5 Journeys, an insightful exchange about our faiths, beliefs and challenges as women. If you are interested in organizing a congregational –wide “read” of this book contact: Gail Katz at gailkatz@comcast.net

12-15

Is This the Culmination of Two Years of Destabilization?

Are the Iranian Protests Another US Orchestrated “Color Revolution?”

By Paul Craig Roberts

A number of commentators have expressed their idealistic belief in the purity of Mousavi, Montazeri, and the westernized youth of Tehran. The CIA destabilization plan, announced two years ago (see below) has somehow not contaminated unfolding events.

The claim is made that Ahmadinejad stole the election, because the outcome was declared too soon after the polls closed for all the votes to have been counted. However, Mousavi declared his victory several hours before the polls closed. This is classic CIA destabilization designed to discredit a contrary outcome. It forces an early declaration of the vote. The longer the time interval between the preemptive declaration of victory and the release of the vote tally, the longer Mousavi has to create the impression that the authorities are using the time to fix the vote. It is amazing that people don’t see through this trick.

As for the grand ayatollah Montazeri’s charge that the election was stolen, he was the initial choice to succeed Khomeini, but lost out to the current Supreme Leader. He sees in the protests an opportunity to settle the score with Khamenei. Montazeri has the incentive to challenge the election whether or not he is being manipulated by the CIA, which has a successful history of manipulating disgruntled politicians.

There is a power struggle among the ayatollahs. Many are aligned against Ahmadinejad because he accuses them of corruption, thus playing to the Iranian countryside where Iranians believe the ayatollahs’ lifestyles indicate an excess of power and money. In my opinion, Ahmadinejad’s attack on the ayatollahs is opportunistic. However, it does make it odd for his American detractors to say he is a conservative reactionary lined up with the ayatollahs.

Commentators are “explaining” the Iran elections based on their own illusions, delusions, emotions, and vested interests. Whether or not the poll results predicting Ahmadinejad’s win are sound, there is, so far, no evidence beyond surmise that the election was stolen. However, there are credible reports that the CIA has been working for two years to destabilize the Iranian government.

On May 23, 2007, Brian Ross and Richard Esposito reported on ABC News: “The CIA has received secret presidential approval to mount a covert “black” operation to destabilize the Iranian government, current and former officials in the intelligence community tell ABC News.”

On May 27, 2007, the London Telegraph independently reported: “Mr. Bush has signed an official document endorsing CIA plans for a propaganda and disinformation campaign intended to destabilize, and eventually topple, the theocratic rule of the mullahs.”

A few days previously, the Telegraph reported on May 16, 2007, that Bush administration neocon warmonger John Bolton told the Telegraph that a US military attack on Iran would “be a ‘last option’ after economic sanctions and attempts to foment a popular revolution had failed.”

On June 29, 2008, Seymour Hersh reported in the New Yorker: “Late last year, Congress agreed to a request from President Bush to fund a major escalation of covert operations against Iran, according to current and former military, intelligence, and congressional sources. These operations, for which the President sought up to four hundred million dollars, were described in a Presidential Finding signed by Bush, and are designed to destabilize the country’s religious leadership.”

The protests in Tehran no doubt have many sincere participants. The protests also have the hallmarks of the CIA orchestrated protests in Georgia and Ukraine. It requires total blindness not to see this.

Daniel McAdams has made some telling points. For example, neoconservative Kenneth Timmerman wrote the day before the election that “there’s talk of a ‘green revolution’ in Tehran.” How would Timmerman know that unless it was an orchestrated plan? Why would there be a ‘green revolution’ prepared prior to the vote, especially if Mousavi and his supporters were as confident of victory as they claim? This looks like definite evidence that the US is involved in the election protests.

Timmerman goes on to write that “the National Endowment for Democracy has spent millions of dollars promoting ‘color’ revolutions . . . Some of that money appears to have made it into the hands of pro-Mousavi groups, who have ties to non-governmental organizations outside Iran that the National Endowment for Democracy funds.” Timmerman’s own neocon Foundation for Democracy is “a private, non-profit organization established in 1995 with grants from the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), to promote democracy and internationally-recognized standards of human rights in Iran.”

Paul Craig Roberts was Assistant Secretary of the Treasury in the Reagan administration. He is coauthor of The Tyranny of Good Intentions.He can be reached at: PaulCraigRoberts@yahoo.com.

12-15