Friday, March 19, 2010

Et Tu, Vlad? Schizophrenic Iran

Martin Indyk
Ahmed Rashid
Jumana El Heloueh

"And I'm sure you remembered to turn your clock ahead an hour, unless, of course, you're a Democrat working on health care. Then you might want to turn it back a year and start all over again." – Jay Leno

"You know, I was thinking about this health care problem. If you took all the money the Republicans have spent to stop health care and all the money Democrats have spent trying to get health care, we could afford health care." – Jay Leno
"Sarah Palin, out in Arizona, is campaigning with John McCain. He's running for Senate re-election. They're campaigning together out there. I thought, yeah, I mean, there's an unbeatable combination." – David Letterman

How quickly the news changes. The article I wanted to reference to after reading it in the paper this morning suddenly became old news, and I had to go to the archives to find it. Luckily, I was able to use my library skills to ferret it out... It looks like March is turning out to be "Let's Bash the USA" pver our foreign policy. First, the Israelis ambushed and embarrassed Joe Biden, who only came to praise them, and ended up as the butt of a right wing prank. Then, Hillary travels to Russia, trying to get a more solid backing from them over imposing sanction against Iran. In a press conference, she gets dissed by Vladimer Putin: "Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin made the announcement on the much delayed power plant, near the Iranian city of Bushehr, earlier Thursday, just as Mrs. Clinton arrived for talks about Iran, the Middle East and a new arms control agreement.

When Mrs. Clinton was asked about the announcement at the news conference, she said, “We think it would be premature to go forward with any project at this time, because we want to send an unequivocal message to the Iranians.” Mr. Lavrov responded unequivocally, saying, “The project will be completed.” Of course, Mr Putin's brutish nature won't allow him to come up with something original and clever, he has to copycat Netanyahu and be smug about it.

Russia contracted with Iran years ago to build this nuclear plant and to run it, with extended maintenance for years to come, so it is lucrative for them to honor the contract and get 'er done. Complaints have been made that they have been dragging their heels.

The US would like Russia to continue to delay, at least until Iran shows us that it has no ambitions to produce a weapon. Queen to Rook 5. Russia counters that they will be overseeing the plant and taking the depleted uranium rods out of the country for disposal, and that there will be frequent inspections by the IAEC. Check.

The main obstacles in this chess game are the intangibles, the machismo of the men running the Iranian government, Ahmadinejad wanting to never loose face or appear to back down. The US also wants to strut like John Wayne on a bad hair day, finding ways to neutralize Iran and bully them a little. A large part of diplomacy is being patient and letting the principles have their temper tantrums, and after they have gone to take their naps, of picking the pieces they threw onto the floor back up, and getting back to the negotiating table.

It hasn't been easy for Hillary: "In a grueling 36 hours of diplomacy, devoted to two of America’s most delicate relationships, Mrs. Clinton found herself trying to reinforce a new start with an old adversary, Russia, while bridging a rift with an old friend, Israel." The end result is that Israel has offered ideas to move the peace process along, and it looks like we are making up and moving along with it. Too bad this new attitude hasn't filtered down to the street level, as there are new outbreaks of violence by frustrated Palestinian teenagers in the West Bank...

schizophrenic iran...
The news coming out of Iran is just as divisive and complicated as a chess match. In order to obtain as much money as they can before any more sanctions are imposed, the Iranian government set free many of the people they had jailed over the past few months. Some had to pay up to $450,000 bail, others also had to pay hefty fines and had their charges dropped. Thousands of others who could not come up with the bribe money were not so fortunate: "The advocacy group Human Rights Activists in Iran said on Friday that around 18,000 people have been arrested since last summer, and many of them remain in prison. Emadedin Baghi, a human rights activist and journalist, has been in solitary confinement for the past 50 days, the opposition Jaras Web site reported. At least six people were sentenced to death last week for their role during the protests, in addition to two others who were executed in February."

Mir Mousavi used this brief leniency to post onto his web site and a video on Facebook, beating the Ayatollah Kohamenei in his usual announcement of naming the Persian new year, in a battle of pithy remarks. But the opposition was able to send a representative to Washington, asking that Internet access be made more available in Iran, instead of limiting it: "In recent months the government has carried out cyberwarfare against the opposition, eliminating virtually all sources of independent news and information and shutting down social networking services.

The sanctions against online services — provided through free software like Google Chat or Yahoo Messenger — were intended to restrict Iran’s ability to develop nuclear technology, but democracy advocates say they ended up helping the government repress its people." Internet service is provided by satellite in Iran, and the government's jamming of transmissions is in violation of international agreements. Switching to a newer satellite that transmits in higher and faster bandwidth would help counter that, as well as give more areas access to news sites and the BBC. Curiously, any products made by Cisco are under sanctions, but if the opposition cound score a few high end routers, they might be able to wage a better cyberwar against the government, who is scheduled to spend $500 million on cyberwarfare this year. It could come down to a virtual war in the Mid East this summer: "Iran, which has no communications satellites of its own, is dependent on foreign companies for broadcasting all its local channels as well as English, Persian and Arabic channels. Its jamming of BBC Persian and Voice of America violated international regulations.

“What Iran is doing can cause serious chaos in the international satellite order,” said Sadeq Saba, the director of Persian-language BBC television. “If other countries begin to retaliate and jam Iran’s channels, there will be serious chaos.”

Also on Thursday, the authorities jailed Hussein Marashi, a relative of Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani ,: "... one of the nation’s most influential politicians, an opposition Web site, Kalame, reported. Mr. Rafsanjani sided with the opposition in the aftermath of the elections but has occupied a hazy middle ground in recent months. Mr. Marashi, who was a senior reformist politician and a close relative of Mr. Rafsanjani, was charged with “spreading propaganda against the regime.” Analysts said the arrest could be an effort to pressure Mr. Rafsanjani, who enjoys wide support among the traditional clerics in Qom, to side with the government." The classic case of using the carrot and the stick, the Iranian government is using tactics from the ancient Chinese book, The Art of War, instead of consulting the Koran...

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