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The Mujahedeen-e Khalq (MEK) says that it has provided the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) with information that Iran is now producing polonium-210, beryllium, and neutron generators, giving Iran the capability to produce a detonator. MEK claims that Iran plans to have a nuclear weapon by the end of 2005. Mohammed Mohaddessin, head of the group’s foreign affairs committee, tells reporters that the information was obtained from “the Iranian people” and MEK’s network inside Iran. [Associated Press, 2/3/2005; Associated Press, 2/3/2005]
General Electric (GE) follows Halliburton and ConocoPhillips, announcing that the company will no longer accept business from Iran (see May 29, 2003). “Because of uncertain conditions related to Iran, including concerns about meeting future customer commitments, we will not accept any new orders for business in Iran effective Feb. 1,” explains Gary Sheffer, a GE spokesman. “This moratorium on new orders will be re-evaluated as conditions relating to Iran change.” [Associated Press, 2/2/2005; Forbes, 2/2/2005] Under current US law, companies are barred from doing business with nations that the US State Department has said are sponsors of terrorism. However the law does not prohibit a company’s foreign subsidiaries from engaging in such business. [BBC, 7/20/2004; Associated Press, 2/2/2005]
In an op-ed piece published by the Washington Post, David Kay, formerly of the Iraq Survey Group, recommends five steps the US should follow in order to avoid making the same “mistake” it made in Iraq when it wrongly concluded that Iraq had an active illicit weapons program. Three of the points address the issue of politicized intelligence. He implies that the US should learn from the experience it had with the Iraqi National Congress (see 2001-2003), which supplied US intelligence with sources who made false statements about Iraq’s weapon program. “Dissidents and exiles have their own agenda—regime change—and that before being accepted as truth any ‘evidence’ they might supply concerning Iran’s nuclear program must be tested and confirmed by other sources,” he says. In his fourth point, Kay makes it clear that the motives of administration officials should also be considered. He says it is necessary to “understand that overheated rhetoric from policymakers and senior administration officials, unsupported by evidence that can stand international scrutiny, undermines the ability of the United States to halt Iran’s nuclear activities.” And recalling the CIA’s infamous 2002 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iraq (see October 1, 2002), he says that an NIE on Iran “should not be a rushed and cooked document used to justify the threat of military action” and “should not be led by a team that is trying to prove a case for its boss.” [Washington Post, 2/9/2005]
Newsweek interviews Maryam Rajavi, one of the leaders of Mujahedeen-e Khalq (MEK), at the organization’s compound in the French village of Auvers sur Oise. “I believe increasingly the Americans have come to realize that the solution is an Iranian force that is able to get rid of the Islamic fundamentalists in power in Iran,” Rajavi tells the magazine. She also insists that her group’s history of anti-Americanism has long past. [Newsweek, 2/15/2005]
Newsweek reports that there is disagreement in the Bush administration over what to do with 3,800 Mujahedeen-e Khalq (MEK) fighters being held in custody by the US at Camp Ashraf (see April 2003). The magazine says that parts of the Defense Department want “to cull useful MEK members as operatives for use against Tehran, all while insisting that it does not deal with the MEK as a group.” They would be sent to Iran to gather intelligence and possibly reawaken a democratic movement in Iran. The CIA however has objected to this strategy “because senior officers regard them as unreliable cultists under the sway of [Maryam] Rajavi and her husband,” Newsweek explains. A Defense Department spokesman however denies there is any “cooperation agreement” with the MEK and claims that the Pentagon has no plans for using MEK members in any capacity. But an MEK official interviewed by Newsweek said the opposite: “They [want] to make us mercenaries.” Representative Brad Sherman (D-CA) also feels the Defense Department has plans for MEK members. “The Defense Department is thinking of them as buddies and the State Department sees them as terrorists. The truth is probably somewhere in the middle,” he told Newsweek. [Newsweek, 2/15/2005]
In Iran, a blast occurring at a dam construction site near the town of Dailam triggers false reports of a missile strike on Iran’s Russian-built Bushehr nuclear plant. News of the blast sends stocks on Wall Street downward and pushes up oil prices. Iranian official Ali Agha Mohammadi of the Supreme National Security Council claims that the false reports were engineered by Washington as part of “psychological warfare” against Tehran. [Associated Press, 2/16/2005; Fox News, 2/17/2005]
Sam Seder, hosting Air America’s Randi Rhodes show, interviews Scott Ritter about statements he made concerning US military plans against Iran three days earlier (see February 18, 2005). Responding to a question about possible US military air strikes on Iran, Ritter says: “I have sources, which are unimpeachable, which I would not state who they are, who told me in October of 2004 that the president had been briefed on military strike options against Iran that were to commence in June of 2005. And that the president signed off on these plans.” [Air America Radio, 2/21/2005]
During a news conference with European Union leaders in Brussels, President Bush says that rumors suggesting the US is preparing to strike Iran are “simply ridiculous.” But he quickly adds that “all options are on the table.” [Reuters, 2/22/2005; CBS News, 2/22/2005]
Pentagon spokesman Lawrence Di Rita denies that the US is flying drones on reconnaissance missions over Iran. He claims that recent news reports about the drones are inaccurate. “I would consider the source and leave it at that. I’m telling you that we’re not doing those kinds of activities,” Di Rita says. “To the best of our knowledge, it isn’t happening: period.” [US Department of Defense, 2/22/2005; Washington File, 2/22/2005]
Kazakh Foreign Minister Kasymzhomart Tokayev says during a news conference that the foreign ministries of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) are reviewing membership applications submitted by Iran and Pakistan. [Interfax, 2/25/2005]
Hassan Rowhani, Tehran’s chief nuclear negotiator, tells France’s Le Monde newspaper that Iran may be hiding its nuclear technology inside special tunnels because of threats of attack by the United States. Rowhani is asked, “Is it accurate that Iran has built tunnels meant to serve Iran’s nuclear activities?” He responds that these reports “could be true.… From the moment the Americans threaten to attack our nuclear sites, what are we to do? We have to put them somewhere.” [Associated Press, 2/25/2005]
Alexander Rumyantsev, head of Russia’s Federal Atomic Energy Agency, and Iranian Vice President Gholamreza Aghazadeh sign a nuclear fuel supply deal. Under the provisions of the agreement, Russia will supply Iran with uranium fuel for Iran’s Russian-built Bushehr nuclear power plant, which once complete will produce 1,000 megawatts of electricity. Iran will be required to return all of the spent fuel to Russia to prevent the possibility that some of it will be used to produce bomb-grade plutonium. According to Rumyantsev, the first batch of enriched uranium fuel is waiting in Siberia ready to be shipped. [Reuters, 2/27/2005; Los Angeles Times, 3/1/2005] Russia’s more than $1 billion contract to build the reactor is said to have played a significant role in maintaining the strength of Russia’s nuclear energy industry. Russia, which has sent more than 2,000 workers to work with 3,000 Iranians at Bushehr, is keen on securing more contracts with the Iranian government. An additional 1,500 Russian specialists are scheduled to go to Bushehr soon to install more equipment. [Los Angeles Times, 3/1/2005]
US ambassador to New Delhi David Mulford informs India’s Oil Minister Mani Shankar Aiyar in a meeting that the Bush administration has reservations about Indian attempts to strike a deal with Iran on the long proposed $3-4 billion Iran-Pakistan-India gas-pipeline project (see 1993). According to the Indian Express, the meeting marks the first time the US has formally conveyed its concerns about the pipeline proposal. [Agence France-Presse, 3/10/2005; Dawn (Karachi), 3/11/2005; Voice of America, 3/17/2005]
More than 250 members of the Mujahedeen-e Khalq (MEK), a militant Iranian opposition group, return to Iran from Camp Ashraf in Iraq, accepting Iran’s December offer of amnesty. For years, the MEK leadership has assured the group’s members they faced certain death if they returned to Iran. Many remaining MEK members, over 3,500 in Iraq alone, say they are skeptical of the Iranian government’s promises and [Christian Science Monitor, 3/22/2005] dismiss the defectors as “quitters.” According to the Los Angeles Times, which interviewed several of Camp Ashraf’s residents, remaining MEK members appear to “show no interest” in going back. [Los Angeles Times, 3/19/2005]
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reports in a statement to its 35-member board that the agency’s inspectors continue to have lingering questions about Iranian activities at the Parchin military site and that Iran has denied requests for additional visits to the complex (see Mid-January 2005). [BBC, 3/1/2005] Iran claims that it is not legally required to allow further inspections at Parchin, reasoning in a February 27 note to the IAEA that the “expectation of the Safeguards Department in visiting specified zones and points in Parchin Complex are fulfilled and thus there is no justification for any additional visit.” The agency disagrees. [New York Times, 3/1/2005] Additionally, the agency says in its statement that Iran has failed to provide information on how Iran obtained its advanced P-2 centrifuge equipment. The inspectors also say they are concerned about certain dual-use technologies at the Lavisan site, which Iran is also refusing to open to inspectors. [New York Times, 3/1/2005] A Western diplomat says the statement demonstrates “another failure to disclose activities, which fits a disturbing pattern,” adding, “It’s more evidence that the Iranians are unwilling to provide full disclosure.” [New York Times, 3/1/2005] But other officials note that the statement contains no evidence that Iran has an active weapons program. “The facts don’t support an innocent or guilty verdict at this point,” one agency official observes. [New York Times, 3/1/2005]
In response to a BBC request for her views on the crisis in Iran, Danielle Pletka of the neoconservative American Enterprise Institute says: “The longer we wait and the more we negotiate, the longer Iran has to pursue a covert [nuclear] program…. The road to co-operation between Europe and the US involves pursuing the ‘good cop, bad cop’ routine because it will force the Iranians to be serious about dealing with the friendlier party. However, there’s a suspicion in the US and in Europe, and a strong certainty in Iran, that when push comes to shove, the Europeans aren’t going to be willing to cut the ties with the Iranians and say simply that Iran has been cheating, the deal is broken. We need to persuade the Europeans that even if you’re the good cop, you have to be prepared to pull the gun and make the arrest.” [BBC, 3/1/2005; Christian Science Monitor, 3/2/2005]
Jackie Sanders, chief US delegate to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) board of governors, accuses Iran of “cynically” pursuing the development of nuclear weapons and attempting to deceive the world with claims that its nuclear program is peaceful. Her comments are in response to a recent report by the IAEA that said that Iran is not cooperating fully with inspectors, is continuing to construct a heavy water reactor despite agency requests to stop building, and is not fulfilling its reporting requirements in a timely fashion. Sanders called the IAEA report a “startling list of Iranian attempts to hide and mislead and delay the work” of the IAEA. [Associated Press, 3/2/2005]
Frances Townsend, Homeland Security Adviser to President Bush, tells the Club of Madrid, “State sponsors of terrorism such as Iran and Syria are with the terrorists and therefore against all of us.” She adds, “From this day forward the community of nations must be united in demanding a complete end to the state sponsorship of terrorism.” Praising Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, she refers to them as “ever stronger partners in the war against terror.” [India Monitor, 3/3/2005]
The Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) releases satellite images that show a heavy water plant under construction in Iran. Critics of Iran’s nuclear program say that once the plant is complete, it will be capable of supplying a heavy water reactor with enough heavy water to produce enough plutonium for one atomic bomb a year. But the heavy water plant is not illegal and Iran does not yet have a heavy water reactor. Iran claims its nuclear program is for civilian energy purposes only. [Reuters, 3/4/2005; Institute for Science and International Security, 3/4/2005]
The Bush administration says it will not back Europe’s plan to offer Iran economic and political incentives to abandon its uranium enrichment program unless there is a way to enforce it. The Bush administration favors an arrangement where the issue would be hauled before the UN Security Council, which has the authority to impose sanctions, in the event of Iranian non-compliance. [Reuters, 3/4/2005]
The New York Times reports that a nine-member bipartisan presidential panel is due to provide President Bush with a classified report describing American intelligence on Iran and North Korea by March 31 (see April 2, 2005). After a 14-month review, the panel, led by Laurence Silberman, a retired federal judge, and Charles S. Robb, a former governor and senator from Virginia, will conclude that US intelligence lacks sufficient intelligence to make firm judgments on Iran’s weapons programs. The Times reports that one of its sources said the “panel’s deliberations and conclusions characterized American intelligence on Iran as ‘scandalous,’ given the importance and relative openness of the country.” [New York Times, 3/9/2005; London Times, 3/10/2005]
Pakistan Minister for Information and Broadcasting Sheikh Rashid Ahmed says that the now pardoned A. Q. Khan was involved in black market nuclear arms deals and that he gave the Iranians centrifuge parts. “[Khan] had given centrifuges to Iran in his individual capacity and the government of Pakistan had nothing to do with this,” Ahmed tells reporters. Despite these acknowledgments, Ahmed says Pakistan “will not hand over [Khan] to any other country.” The Pakistani government insists that it had no knowledge of Khan’s activities, but numerous experts have questioned these claims noting that it would have been impossible for him to keep his activities secret. [BBC, 3/10/2005; CNN, 3/10/2005]
Passengers associated with the pro-monarchist group Azarakhsh (Lightning) stage a long-planned sit-in on a Lufthansa plane at the Brussels Airport in Belgium. Several passengers demanded to be heard, one saying that “We want the European Union to remove the Islamic leaders from Iran.” Several claim to be members of Anjomane Padeshahi, another pro-monarchist group that wants to restore the country’s royal Pahlavi family. The German magazine Der Spiegel says it had received a letter from the group denouncing torture in Iran. The group promises more activity, possibly within Iran, in the near future. [Deutsche Welle (Bonn), 3/11/2005; BBC, 3/11/2005; Reuters, 3/12/2005; Reza Pahlavi II website, 6/10/2005]
The United States and European Union (EU) indicate that they are ready to work together on a diplomatic approach to encourage Iran to give up its nuclear program. Condoleezza Rice says that the US is willing to drop it objections to Iran’s application to the WTO and “consider, on a case-by-case basis, the licensing of spare parts of Iranian civilian aircraft.” Europe, on the other hand, which has been under pressure from the Bush administration to harden its policy toward Iran, says it will have “no choice” but to support the issue being brought up at the UN Security Council if Iran does not discontinue its suspected nuclear weapons program. Up until now, the US and EU have been unable to agree on a single approach to dealing with Iran. [New York Times, 3/12/2005]
The India Daily reports that two US Navy aircraft carriers, the USS Theodore Roosevelt and USS Carl Vinson, appear to be heading toward the Middle East where they will be joined by a third carrier group. The newspaper notes that the convergence of three carriers in the region would send a strong signal to both Syria and Iran. [India Daily, 3/12/2005] There is speculation that Iran may face a US naval blockade. [India Daily, 3/15/2005]
Iran says that incentives put forward by Europe and the United States the previous day (see March 11, 2005) are meaningless. “The Islamic Republic of Iran is determined to use peaceful nuclear technology and no pressure, intimidation or threat can make Iran give up its right,” says Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi. The European Union and United States unveiled a “carrot and stick” approach to pressure Tehran to give up uranium enrichment which can be used to make bomb-grade fuel. Asefi argues that US prohibitions against the sale of aircraft spare parts to Iran should never have been imposed in the first place. “Lifting them is no concession and entering the WTO is a clear right of all countries.” He also says that Iran would be happy to implement measures—such as allowing intrusive UN inspections of its nuclear sites—in order to provide “objective guarantees” that it is not developing nuclear weapons. [Reuters, 3/12/2005; Voice of America, 3/12/2005]
The Sunday Times reports that Israel has drawn up plans for a combined air and ground attack on Iranian nuclear installations if Tehran does not give up its nuclear program. The plans have been discussed with US officials who, according to the Times, “are said to have indicated provisionally that they would not stand in Israel’s way if all international efforts to halt Iranian nuclear projects failed.” In preparation for the possible military strike, Israel has conducted military exercises using a mock-up of Iran’s Natanz uranium enrichment plant. “Their tactics include raids by Israel’s elite Shaldag (Kingfisher) commando unit and air strikes by F-15 jets from 69 Squadron, using bunker-busting bombs to penetrate underground facilities,” the Sunday Times says. [Sunday Times (London), 3/13/2005] Ariel Sharon gave “initial authorization” for an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities a month earlier (see February 2005).
Iranian Oil Minister Bijan Namdar Zanganeh signs a memorandum of understanding with his Indonesian counterpart Purnomo Yusgiantoro that Iran will build a $3 billion refinery in Indonesia. As part of the deal, Indonesia will receive 300,000 barrels per day of heavy crude and Tehran will get a 30 percent stake in PT Pertamina, Indonesia’s state oil company. National Iranian Oil Company and Pertamina will lead the four-year project, which Iran hopes will provide security for Iran’s market supply. [Islamic Republic News Agency, 3/16/2005; Bloomberg, 3/18/2005]
The Ukrainian government admits illegal arms dealers sold 12 Kh55 (X-55) cruise missiles to Iran and six to China in 2001 (see 2001). The missiles, with a range of 1550 miles, would give Iran the capability to strike Israel. The missiles, designed to carry nuclear warheads, were manufactured in 1987 with a reported service life of eight years. Former Russian Air Force commander Viktor Strelnikov and specialists who examined the missiles said that they were marked with the inscription “training.” Iran does not operate long-range bombers and experts say Iran would probably have to adapt its Soviet-built Su-24 strike aircraft to launch the missile. [BBC, 3/18/2005; Daily Star (Beirut), 3/18/2005; Financial Times, 3/18/2005; GlobalSecurity (.org), 4/28/2005]
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says the US is opposed to the proposed Iran-India-Pakistan gas pipeline because it would strengthen Iran and thus negatively affect the United States economically. “Our views concerning Iran are very well known by this time, and we have communicated our concerns about gas pipeline cooperation,” she says. [Al Jazeera, 3/19/2005]
Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, tells pilgrims in Mashad that it is “fiction” that Iran is developing an atomic bomb. He says that he would give his life on the battlefield if Iran were attacked by the US and adds that he would not go into hiding if that were to occur, referring to President Bush’s low profile during the September 11 attacks. [Al Jazeera, 3/21/2005]
Iran presents the European Union with a proposal whereby Iran would be permitted to produce enriched uranium on a small scale. The proposed pilot plant would have a small number of centrifuges, arranged in successive order to refine out enriched uranium. Experts say the plan would involve 500 to 2,000 centrifuges as opposed to the 54,000 that Iran currently has planned for large-scale industrial use. As part of the proposed agreement, Iranian officials would allow close monitoring of the pilot facility by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). [Agence France-Presse, 3/24/2005]
Alireza Jafarzadeh—a former spokesman of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), an organization that is listed by the State Department as a foreign terrorist organization (see August 15, 2003)—says that according to “well-placed sources” within the Iranian regime, “Iran has completed an underground tunnel-like facility in Parchin, which is now engaged in laser enrichment.” Jafarzadeh, who now heads the Washington-based think-tank Strategic Policy Consulting and regularly serves as a Fox News foreign affairs analyst, also says that “the underground site is camouflaged and built in an area of Parchin that deals with the chemical industry.” It is connected to “Iran’s secret nuclear weapons program,” he further claims. The underground facility is reportedly located in an area known as “Plan 1.” [Fox News, 2/20/2005; Reuters, 3/24/2005; Associated Press, 3/24/2005; Seattle Times, 3/25/2005] Iran has refused to give inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) unfettered access to Parchin (see March 1, 2005), and the US alleges that Iran is testing explosive devices there that could be used in nuclear weapons.
India’s petroleum and natural gas minister, Mani Shankar Aiyar, announces that Pakistan has invited India to join them in talks, set for April 2005, with the Iranian government on a proposal to construct a natural gas pipeline from Iran to India. India is Asia’s third-largest energy user and has long awaited such an invitation to join the $4 billion, 2,775-kilometer pipeline project. [BBC, 2/5/2005; Bloomberg, 3/28/2005; Agence France-Presse, 3/28/2005]
Iranian President Mohammad Khatami personally accompanies about 30 journalists deep into the underground nuclear plant at Natanz, a uranium enrichment facility located 250 km (150 miles) south of Tehran. The group of foreign and local journalists is permitted to film and take video footage of the complex. Natanz is built more than 18 meters (54 feet) below ground due to “security problems.” The journalists are shown another facility in the city of Isfahan. “If we were looking to make atomic weapons, we could have completed these [facilities] in hiding,” Khatami tells the reporters. The gesture is viewed by many as an attempt to undermine support for a possible aerial attack by the United States or Israel. [Reuters, 3/30/2005]
The Mujahedeen-e Khalq’s (MEK) political wing, the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), holds a press conference in Paris. Mohammed Mohaddessin of the NCRI tells reporters, “In mid-2004, [Iran’s supreme leader] Khamenei allocated $2.5 billion to obtain three nuclear warheads.” Mohaddessin claims the Iranian regime is accelerating work on a reactor in Arak, 150 miles south of Tehran, which could produce enough plutonium for one atomic bomb per year.
“The regime told the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) the reactor would be operational in 2014, but in reality, they want to start it in 2006 or 2007,” he says. In August 2002, the NCRI first revealed information about the Arak heavy-water production plant, along with the Natanz uranium enrichment plant (see August 2002) describing it then as part of a secret nuclear weapons program. Iran later declared both sites to the IAEA. [Reuters, 3/31/2005; National Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism, 5/12/2005]
Rumors spread in the Arab-dominated western Iranian city of Ahwaz that the government is considering the forced migration of Arabs to Iran’s northern provinces. The rumors are based on a letter purportedly written by Iran’s vice president, Muhammad Ali Abtahi. [Al Jazeera, 4/17/2005; BBC, 4/19/2005] The Iranian government claims the letter was fabricated by “foreign agents,” and aimed at exploiting ethnic tensions to create civil unrest. [Xinhua News Agency (Beijing), 5/26/2005] The Popular Democratic Front of Ahwazi Arabs in Iran, however, insists the letter is authentic and represents the regime’s long-standing objective to forcibly relocate Arabs. The controversial letter results in clashes between police and ethnic Arabs in Ahwaz. Although Arabs dominate Ahwaz, they account for only three percent of Iran’s total population. [Al Jazeera, 4/17/2005; BBC, 4/19/2005]
Fox News interviews two retired US military generals and a military expert and asks them to discuss the Bush administration’s military options for dealing with Iran. [Fox News, 4/24/2005] They offer four possible scenarios:
Covert action - The Bush administration could send CIA agents or commandos to sabotage Iran’s nuclear facilities.
Naval blockade - The US could implement a naval blockade at the Strait of Hormuz and halt Iranian oil exports.
Surgical strikes - The US could launch cruise missiles at Iran’s nuclear facilities. “e are moving some aircraft carrier groups into the Persian Gulf as we speak,” notes retired Army Major Gen. Paul Vallely. “They will be positioned to launch any aircraft from the Mediterranean Sea, the Arabian Sea and the Persian Gulf.” After the cruise missiles, F-117 stealth fighter jets would destroy the country’s radar system and B-2 bombers would drop 5,000-pound laser-guided bunker busters on buried targets like the Natanz enrichment site or the deep tunnels in Isfahan.
All-out assault - An all-out assault involving ground troops, according to the experts interviewed by Fox, would be the least likely scenario.
Asian News International reports that according to official Pakistani sources the US government is reconsidering its opposition to the $4.2 billion dollar Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline (see 1993). The Bush administration has been opposed to the proposed pipeline on grounds that it would help Iran, a potential target of future US military strikes. But since the consortium is hoping to involve US corporations, these companies are apparently putting pressure on the White House to back the pipeline. Without the approval of the US government, the companies would be barred from participating in the pipeline’s construction. According to sources, the US is considering pursuing a strategy that would leverage its possible support for the pipeline against Iran in its disagreement over the country’s nuclear program. [News (Islamabad), 4/2/2005]
As expected (see March 8, 2005), the Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction concludes that the CIA’s intelligence on Iran is weak. The nine-member commission, headed by Federal appeals court judge, Laurence Silberman, and Charles S. Robb, a former governor and senator from Virginia, finds that US intelligence had few human assets in Iran and only limited direct knowledge of Iran’s missile and nuclear programs. [New York Times, 3/9/2005; Los Angeles Times, 4/1/2005; Middle East Newsline, 4/2/2005]
The Bush administration announces plans to spend $3 million on supporting “the advancement of democracy and human rights” in Iran. The State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor says it expects to award between three and 12 grants ranging from $250,000 to $1 million to educational institutions, humanitarian groups, nongovernmental organizations, and individuals. [US Department of State, 4/8/2005; Associated Press, 4/11/2005] Iran’s ambassador to the United Nations, Mohammad Javad Zarif, says the plan is “a clear violation” of the 1981 Algiers Accords which prohibits the US from intervening “directly or indirectly, politically or militarily in Iran’s internal affairs.” [Islamic Republic News Agency, 4/11/2005]
Lorne Craner, president of the International Republican Institute (IRI), praises the Bush administration’s plan to spend three million dollars on the “advancement of democracy and human rights” in Iran (see April 11, 2005). “I am pleased to hear it has happened,” he tells United Press International. “The United States has been spreading democracy for years in other countries, it’s good we’re now doing it in Iran.” He also tells the newswire that IRI hopes to be awarded one of the State Department’s “democracy advancement” grants so it can work with Iranian groups. [United Press International, 4/11/2005] Only a year before, the Republican-controlled IRI was implicated in the ousting of Haitian President Jean Bertrand Aristide. It was accused of providing a cover for the training of a 600-member paramilitary army of anti-Aristide Haitians (see (2001-2004)).
The National Convention for a Democratic, Secular Republic in Iran is held in Washington, DC and attended by about 300 supporters. Speakers at the event include members of Congress, legal scholars, and Maryam Rajavi, president-elect of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), the political wing of Mujahedeen-e Khalq (MEK). Rep. Bob Filner (D-CA.) tells the crowd, “Unless we deal with Iran, there will never be a solution in Iraq.” [US Newswire, 4/13/2005; National Convention for a Democratic Secular Republic in Iran, 5/27/2005]
Speaking at a forum on Middle East peace sponsored by The Week magazine, former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger warns that if Iran succeeds in building nuclear weapons it could touch off an arms race that could lead to the end of civilization. “I do not believe that living in a world with 20 or 30 nuclear states is a situation that civilized life can support,” he says. [New York Daily News, 4/15/2005] But during the 1970s, Kissinger and other US officials had supported Iranian efforts to develop a nuclear energy program (see 1976 and April 22, 1975). At the time, they were not concerned about the potential for Iran to use the technology to develop nuclear weapons. Nor were they concerned about proliferation. Kissinger told the Washington Post in March that he did not “think the issue of proliferation came up.” [Washington Post, 3/27/2005]
Leslie Gelb, president of the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), returns from a trip to Iraq and complains that Washington is exhibiting a “totally unrealistic optimism” about events in that country. Gelb, a former Pentagon official, also says in his report that the US military is preparing Iraqis for a future war with Iran. “It became very apparent to me that these 10 divisions were to fight some future war against Iran. It had nothing to do—nothing to do—with taking that country over from us and fighting the insurgents,” Gelb concludes. [Gelb, 4/26/2005; Boston Globe, 6/17/2005]
Russian President Vladimir Putin dismisses Israeli concerns that Russian sales of nuclear components to Iran represent a threat to Israel’s security. According to the terms of Russia’s agreement with Iran, Putin explains, Iran must return all of its spent nuclear fuel to Russia so it cannot be used for military purposes. [Associated Press, 4/28/2005]
Human Rights Watch reports that 12 former members of the Mujahedeen-e Khalq (MEK) have alleged they were subjected to routine detention, solitary confinement, beatings, and torture as punishment for criticizing MEK leadership or trying to leave its ranks. The former MEK members, now in Europe, told Human Rights Watch that they spent several years in Abu Ghraib prison until Saddam Hussein released them during his last year in power. One of those interviewed, according to the report, recalled that during the mid-1990s a prisoner died after an intense beating. Two other former MEK members said they were held in solitary confinement for extensive periods of time, one for five years, and the other for eight and a half years. After the report’s release, Mujahedeen-e Khalq (MEK) denies the allegations cited in the report. [Human Rights Watch, 5/2005; BBC, 5/19/2005]
Jordanian journalist Fuad Hussein publishes a book that extensively quotes Saif al-Adel, who is believed to be al-Qaeda’s current military commander and possibly lives in Iran (see Spring 2002). Al-Adel claims: “Abu Musab [al-Zarqawi] and his Jordanian and Palestinian comrades opted to go to Iraq.… Our expectations of the situation indicated that the Americans would inevitably make a mistake and invade Iraq sooner or later. Such an invasion would aim at overthrowing the regime. Therefore, we should play an important role in the confrontation and resistance. Contrary to what the Americans frequently reiterated, al-Qaeda did not have any relationship with Saddam Hussein or his regime. We had to draw up a plan to enter Iraq through the north that was not under the control of [Hussein’s] regime. We would then spread south to the areas of our fraternal Sunni brothers. The fraternal brothers of the Ansar al-Islam expressed their willingness to offer assistance to help us achieve this goal.” [Bergen, 2006, pp. 120, 361-362] He says “the ultimate objective was to prompt” the US “to come out of its hole” and take direct military action in an Islamic country. “What we had wished for actually happened. It was crowned by the announcement of Bush Jr. of his crusade against Islam and Muslims everywhere.” [New York Times Magazine, 9/11/2005] Al-Adel seems to have served as a liaison between al-Qaeda and al-Zarqawi, and mentions elsewhere in the book that his goal was not “full allegiance” from al-Zarqawi’s group, but “coordination and cooperation” to achieve joint objectives. [Bergen, 2006, pp. 120, 353-354]
Iran announces that it will resume nuclear enrichment-related activities within a week following unsuccessful talks with European nations. In remarks that follow the announcement, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei says Iran has the right to develop a nuclear energy program. “Anybody who comes to power through the presidential elections will not want, nor will the nation allow him to, take a step against the people’s interests,” he says. [Associated Press, 5/1/2005]
In an interview with Britain’s Channel 4 television, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, insists his country has no intention of invading Iran. “I’ve got no intention of bombing their nuclear installations or anything else,” Blair says. [Islamic Republic News Agency, 5/4/2005]
The foreign ministers of Britain, France, and Germany write to Hassan Rouhani, head of Iran’s Supreme Security Council, warning that they will end negotiations with the Iranian government if it resumes its nuclear energy program. The letter marks the first time European countries have threatened to sign on to the Bush administration’s hardline strategy in dealing with Iran. [Washington Post, 5/12/2005]
South of Tehran, over 200 men and women attend a ceremony to volunteer themselves as suicide bombers against Israelis and against American forces in Iraq. It marks the third such ceremony organized by the Headquarters for Commemorating Martyrs of the Global Islamic Movement in the past year. The group is calling for martyrdom attacks against Israel, the assassination of British author Salman Rushdie, and “attacks against occupiers of holy places” in Iraq. The Iranian government has distanced itself from the organization. [Israeli Insider, 5/12/2005]
UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan warns the US that the Security Council would probably deadlock on any resolution to levy sanctions against Iran for its refusal to halt its nuclear energy program. The US and Britain have been urging that Iran be brought before the Security Council if it does not give up its program. In an interview with USA Today, Annan explains that both China and Russia, with their close ties to Iran, would certainly veto any proposal to impose sanctions. [USA Today, 5/15/2005]
The Washington Post reports that during the summer of 2004, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld approved a top secret Interim Global Strike Alert Order (see July 2004), code-named CONPLAN 8022, “directing the military to assume and maintain readiness to attack hostile countries that are developing weapons of mass destruction, specifically Iran and North Korea.” [Tribune (Chandigarh), 9/8/2004; Washington Post, 5/15/2005]
The governments of Iran and Azerbaijan sign a non-aggression pact agreeing that neither government will allow a third state to set up a military base on its soil in order to launch military strikes on the other. [Islamic Republic News Agency, 5/16/2005]
Representatives from Iran, Russia, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, and Azerbaijan meet in Tehran as part of an effort to resolve territorial disputes concerning oil and gas exploitation in the Caspian Sea. During the meeting, Iran’s special representative for the Caspian Sea Affairs, Mehdi Safari, says that Iran is opposed to the militarization of the Caspian region. [Xinhua News Agency (Beijing), 5/16/2005]
Iran’s foreign minister, Kamal Kharrazi, visits Iraq and meets with top officials, including Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari. The visit marks the highest profile meeting between Iran and Iraq since US forces ousted Saddam Hussein in spring of 2003. At a news conference, Kharrazi tells reporters, “We will not allow terrorists to use our lands to access Iraq,” and adds, “We will watch our borders and will arrest infiltrators, because securing Iraq is securing the Islamic Republic.” [CNN, 5/17/2005; Christian Science Monitor, 5/20/2005]
India’s Ministry of External Affairs, known as South Block, produces a report on the potential legal implications of going ahead with the long-proposed $4.3 billion Iran-Pakistan-India gas-pipeline project (see 1993). The report warns that India could get slapped with sanctions by the US under the Iran and Libya Sanctions Act of 1996. South Block says activities that lead to annual investments of over $40 million and directly increase Iran’s ability to develop its oil and gas resources may trigger sanctions from the US. But South Block also notes in its report that Turkey, Britain, the Netherlands, and Japan all invested in Iran’s hydrocarbon sector after the Act went into force and did not attract sanctions. The European Union and Canada have both challenged the law and Iran has called the law “inadmissible intervention in its internal and external affairs.” [US Congress, 8/5/1996; Indian Express, 5/21/2005]
About 500 protesters demonstrate in Huntington Beach, near Los Angeles, calling on the Bush administration to back the Mujahedeen-e Khalq (MEK), an Iranian opposition group, and remove the organization from the State Department’s list of US-designated foreign terrorist organizations. One of the speakers at the event is Maryam Rajavi, president-elect of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, the political front for the MEK. Addressing the crowd via satellite, she tells them that she believes the opposition’s efforts will soon payoff. [Los Angeles Times, 5/23/2005]
Iran’s information minister, Ali Younesi, accuses the US of pursuing a policy of regime change in Iran by exploiting ethnic and racial tension. One month before, the Iranian government claimed that “foreign agents” were behind an April letter (see Early April 2005) purportedly written by Iran’s former vice president, Muhammad Ali Abtahi, promoting the forced relocation of Iranian Arabs to the country’s northern provinces. Also that month, Washington earmarked $3 million to “promote democracy in Iran” (see April 11, 2005), a move criticized by Tehran as interfering in Iran’s internal affairs. [Xinhua News Agency (Beijing), 5/26/2005]
The London Times reports that according to a senior insurgent commander in Iraq, injured Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi has fled Iraq, possibly to Iran. Zarqawi has claimed responsibility for numerous bombings, assassination, and beheadings across Iraq since the fall of Saddam Hussein in March 2003. According to the insurgent commander, al-Zarqawi’s convoy was attacked as they were escaping an American offensive near the town of al-Qaim in northwestern Iraq in early April. [Sunday Times (London), 5/29/2005] Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hamid Reza Asefi dismisses the report as “amateur newsmaking.” [Associated Press, 5/29/2005]
Christopher Brown of the Hudson Institute writes that the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) is “perhaps the most dangerous organization that the American people have never heard of.” Brown asserts that the SCO’s publicly stated goals, including fighting terrorism, are a sham. He writes that the SCO is the most obvious but most ignored challenge to the US and warns that the potential future inclusion of Iran into the organization could lead to weapons proliferation. He reasons that “since one of the programs of the SCO is the linking of the road systems in the region,” the transportation of dangerous goods between Iran and China would increase dramatically. [FrontPage Magazine, 5/30/2005]
Former director of Israeli intelligence Uzi Arad says that many Israelis were keenly disappointed in the Bush administration’s decision to invade Iraq and not Iran. Arad says: “If you look at President Bush’s ‘axis of evil’ (see January 29, 2002), all of us said North Korea and Iran are more urgent. Iraq was already semi-controlled because there were [UN-imposed economic] sanctions. It was outlawed. Sometimes the answer [from the Bush neoconservatives] was ‘Let’s do first things first. Once we do Iraq, we’ll have a military presence in Iraq, which would enable us to handle the Iranians from closer quarters, would give us more leverage.’” Arad’s words are almost verbatim echoes from three years before (see Late January 2002). [Unger, 2007, pp. 307-308]
US Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld warns governments in Middle East not to help Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, recently reported to have been seriously injured in Iraq. “Were a neighboring country to take him in and provide medical assistance or haven for him, they, obviously, would be associating themselves with a major linkage in the al-Qaeda network and a person who has a great deal of blood on his hands.” [US Department of Defense, 6/1/2005] Zarqawi is rumored to have fled to Iran for treatment (see May 29, 2005).
Iran announces it has successfully tested a new solid-fuel missile motor for use in its Shahab-3 missiles. A Shahab-3 missile using solid-fuel has a range of 2,000 km (1,280 miles) compared to the standard Shahab 3 with a range of only 1,500 km (930 miles), putting US regional military bases and Israel within reach. The Shahab-3 can be configured as a two-stage missile equipped with a warhead. Solid fuel engines make ballistic missiles more accurate and improve deployment time. [Federation of American Scientists, 4/6/2005; New York Times, 6/1/2005; Ha'aretz, 6/1/2005]
Jephraim P. Gundzik, president of the investment firm Condor Advisers, Inc., writes in the Asia Times that George Bush’s unilateralist foreign policy has spurred “monumental changes in the world’s geostrategic alliances.” Chief among these “is the formation of a new triangle comprised of China, Iran, and Russia,” he notes. “To China and Russia, Washington’s ‘democratic reform program’ is a thinly disguised method for the US to militarily dispose of unfriendly regimes in order to ensure the country’s primacy as the world’s sole superpower. The China-Iran-Russia alliance can be considered as Beijing’s and Moscow’s counterpunch to Washington’s global ambitions. From this perspective, Iran is integral to thwarting the Bush administration’s foreign policy goals. This is precisely why Beijing and Moscow have strengthened their economic and diplomatic ties with Tehran. It is also why Beijing and Moscow are providing Tehran with increasingly sophisticated weapons.” [Asia Times, 6/4/2005]
A delegation from India visits Pakistan to discuss cooperation in the oil and gas sectors. The 11-person delegation is headed by Indian Minister for Petroleum and Natural Gas Mani Shankar Aiyar. The two countries agree to establish a working group to review the legal, technical, commercial, and financial parameters of the proposed Iran-India-Pakistan gas pipeline (see 1993 and January 27, 2003) that would transport natural gas 2,775 km from Iran to India via Pakistan. They plan to start the project by December 31, 2005. [Islamic Republic News Agency, 6/5/2005; Tribune (Chandigarh), 6/5/2005] At a press conference on June 6, Aiyar is asked about US concerns expressed by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in March (see March 19, 2005) that the pipeline would strengthen Iran. Aiyar responds that construction of the pipeline is contigent only upon an agreement being made between India and Pakistan. [Tribune (Chandigarh), 6/5/2005] India and Pakistan also discuss the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan (TAP) pipeline (see January 18, 2005), which they agree should extend to India. [Tribune (Chandigarh), 6/5/2005; Associated Press, 6/5/2005] The delegation also explores the possibility of exporting Indian diesel to Pakistan. [Islamic Republic News Agency, 6/5/2005]
In his new book, “Countdown to Terror,” Congressman Curt Weldon (R-PA), the vice chairman of the House Homeland Security and Armed Services Committees, accuses the CIA of dismissing an informant who he says has valuable information on Iran. Weldon’s source claims to have knowledge that Osama Bin Laden is in Iran and that Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, ordered a terrorist assault on the US called the “12th Imam attack.” But according to Bill Murray, a former CIA Station Chief in Paris who met with Weldon’s source on four occasions, the information provided by the informant was believed to have originated with Iranian gunrunner Manucher Ghorbanifar, a “known fabricator,” familiar to the CIA since the 1980s (see December 9, 2001 and December 2003). Murray compares Ghorbanifar to Ahmed Chalabi, whose false claims about Iraqi WMD were fed to US intelligence, Congress, and the public during the lead-up to war with Iraq. [American Prospect, 4/1/2005; New York Times, 6/8/2005] Murray later identifies Weldon’s source, whom Weldon nicknames “Ali,” as Ghorbanifar’s associate Fereidoun Mahdavi. According to Murray, Mahdavi is a complete liar. “Mahdavi works for Ghorbanifar,” Murray will say. “The two are inseparable. Ghorbanifar put Mahdavi out to meet with Weldon.” Weldon was accompanied on at least one visit to “Ali” by Peter Hoekstra, the Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. [American Prospect, 6/10/2005; Vanity Fair, 3/2007]
Iran downplays the significance of the opening of the US-backed $4 billion dollar Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) pipeline (see May 25, 2005) that will carry oil from the Caspian Sea to the Mediterranean port city of Ceyhan, Turkey. The project was supported by the US government, which believes the pipeline will weaken Iran’s leverage over the distribution of oil. Mahmood Khagani, director for Caspian Sea Oil and Gas Affairs in Iran’s petroleum ministry, says the project makes little economic sense. “Iran’s route is the shortest, cheapest, and potentially the most lucrative,” he says. [Agence France-Presse, 6/9/2005]
India’s Petroleum Minister Mani Shankar Aiyar says that Iran has agreed to research the possibility of extending the proposed 2,670 km Iran-Pakistan-India pipeline (see 1993) to China. [PakTribune (Islamabad), 6/13/2005]
Tehran’s ultra-conservative mayor, Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, wins 19.5 percent of the vote in Iran’s national election for president putting him in second place behind the moderate Ayatollah Hashemi Rafsanjani, who receives 21 percent. A run-off election is scheduled for June 25 (see June 24, 2005). Many say the strong voter turn-out—62.7 percent—is a response to George Bush’s denunciations of Iran’s electoral system and government which angered many Iranians. “I picked Ahmadinejad to slap America in the face,” says one voter. Abdollah Momeni, a political affairs expert at Tehran University, tells the Washington Post: “People faced a dilemma. In people’s minds it became a choice between voting or giving Bush an excuse to attack.” [Associated Press, 6/18/2005; Washington Post, 6/19/2005] Mehdi Karroubi, a reformist cleric and former parliamentary speaker who comes in third, alleges voter fraud and calls for an investigation. “There has been bizarre interference. Money has changed hands,” he says. [BBC, 6/18/2005]
Four Iranians are arrested in London under Britain’s anti-terror laws. The suspects are reportly connected to the dissident pro-monarchy group, Anjomane Padeshahi. The leader of the group, Dr. Froud Fouladvand, is among those arrested. London police say the men were arrested in connection with militant activity in the Middle East, possibly involving Iran’s elections (see March 11, 2005). [Guardian, 6/18/2005; Agence France-Presse, 6/18/2005]
The National Iranian Gas Company announces the awarding of a $2.2 billion contract to construct a gas refinery in the southwestern Iranian province of Khuzestan to a consortium headed by the British construction firm Costain Oil, Gas & Process (COGAP). [Costain, 6/24/2005 ; Forbes, 6/24/2005]
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. [Source: Associated Press]Tehran Mayor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is declared the winner of Iran’s presidential run-off election (see also June 24, 2005), winning 62 percent of the vote and beating President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who garners just 35.3 percent. An estimated 50 percent of eligible Iranian voters vote. Ahmadinejad wins the election with 62 percent of the vote. [CNN, 6/25/2005; Islamic Republic News Agency, 7/9/2005] Ahmadinejad ran on a humble anti-corruption platform based on embracing the founding principles of the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Ahmadinejad calls for encouraging foreign investment and partnership with Iran, modernizing industry, promoting a peaceful nuclear energy alternative while shunning reconciliation with the US. He had the support of many popular militia groups, as well as much of the poor. [CNN, 6/25/2005]
An article in the Washington Times suggests that Iran is “in effect doing an end run around US sanctions threats” by expanding oil, gas, and petrochemical deals with countries such as India, Russia, and Iraq. [United Press International, 6/29/2005] The Times list the following examples:
Proposed Iraq Oil Swap - “A proposed pipeline from Bandar Imam in Iran to Iraq’s Basra port would carry Iraqi crude oil to Iran’s Abadan refinery and refined oil products back to Iraq.” (see also October 24, 2003). [United Press International, 6/29/2005]
Iran-Pakistan-India gas-pipeline project - “[A] 1,700-mile pipeline—sometimes referred to as the ‘peace pipeline’—that would transport Iranian natural gas through Pakistan to India” (see also January 27, 2003). [United Press International, 6/29/2005]
Russia - Iran… is pursuing plans to let Russia export its Caspian Sea oil through a Persian Gulf [oil] swap scheme, under which Russia’s oil would be piped into Iran.” The Times notes: “The scheme is a direct challenge to the recently completed Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) oil pipeline, which, built with US backing, was designed to get Caspian Sea oil to market through Turkey while bypassing both Russia and Iran.” [United Press International, 6/29/2005]
Iranian security forces shoot and kill Kurdish political activist Shivan Qaderi. According to Qaderi’s brother, Qaderi was approached by security forces in public, shot three times, and then tied to a military vehicle and dragged through the city. The government had accused Qaderi of “moral and financial violations.” In the aftermath, protests erupt across the western province of Kurdistan. [Human Rights Watch, 8/11/2005; Amnesty International, 8/14/2005]
Curt Weldon’s book ‘Countdown to Terror,’ which warns of the so-called ‘12th Imam’ plot. [Source: Barnes and Noble]House Intelligence Committee chairman Peter Hoekstra (R-MI) and committee member Curt Weldon (R-PA) meet secretly in Paris with an Iranian exile calling himself “Ali.” The purpose of the meeting is unknown, but is soon disclosed by current and former US officials who request anonymity because they do not want to risk angering either of the congressmen. [McClatchy News, 7/20/2005] Weldon has just published a book, Countdown to Terror, which alleges that the CIA routinely ignores intelligence about Iranian-sponsored terror plots against US targets, and that Iran is planning a spectacular terrorist strike against the US, which he calls the “12th Imam plot.” Weldon also writes that Iran is very close to producing nuclear weapons, and that Osama bin Laden is hiding inside Iran. “Ali” is one of Weldon’s primary sources of information; much of Weldon’s book is composed of “intelligence memos” “Ali” sent him in 2003 and 2004.
'Ali' an Associate of Iranian Disinformation Peddler - Unfortunately, according to CIA station chief Bill Murray, “Ali” is really Fereidoun Mahdavi, a former minister of commerce for the long-deposed Shah of Iran, and a longtime business associate of discredited arms dealer Manucher Ghorbanifar. Like Ghorbanifar, Mahdavi is a known fabricator and source of disinformation. “The two are inseparable,” Murray says. “Ghorbanifar put Mahdavi out to meet with Weldon.” Murray also says Weldon broke government regulations by not informing the US ambassador to France of his 2003 and 2004 meetings with Mahdavi. Worse, Weldon denied having any meetings planned with Mahdavi, then proceeded to meet with Mahdavi in a hotel just around the corner from the US embassy. When asked by reporter Laura Rozen about the meetings between himself and Weldon, Mahdavi says he is stunned and perplexed to learn that Weldon wrote a book, and that the congressman never told him about any book plans. Mahdavi confirms that much of the information he gave Weldon came from Ghorbanifar, who was the subject of a CIA “burn notice” almost 20 years ago. In halting English, Mahdavi says: “Many information that I have given to Weldon is coming from Ghorbanifar. Because Ghorbanifar used me, in fact, to pass that stuff because I know he has problems in Washington.… I am well known in Tehran. How can I call Tehran? But Ghorbanifar is something else. He has all the contacts within Iran. Nobody has so many information and contacts that he has. Now if he is using that information through me to try to buy power indirectly, that is his business. I do it because I have known him for many years.” In Weldon’s book, one memo he receives from “Ali” reads: “Dear Curt. An attack against an atomic plant by a plane, the name mentioned, but not clear it begins with ‘SEA’,” perhaps indicating Seattle. Another memo reads: “Dear Curt:… I confirm again a terrorist attack within the United States is planned before the American elections.” Rozen calls the memos “comically overwrought.”
Interfering with Real Intelligence Work - Murray is less than impressed with Weldon’s literary effort. “Most of us [CIA officers] have been consumed with preventing real terrorist threats to the US for the past four years,” he says. “And virtually everything Ghorbanifar and his people come up with diverts us. I have hard-working people working for me, and they don’t have time for this bullsh_t.” [American Prospect, 6/10/2005; Unger, 2007, pp. 336]
Ongoing Disinformation Campaign against Iran - CIA analysts have examined Mahdavi’s “intelligence” and deemed it worthless. They do believe, however, that Mahdavi is engaged in an effort to destabilize the Iranian government, and is using Weldon and perhaps Hoekstra for those ends. Former CIA counterterrorism chief Vincent Cannistraro says Mahdavi “is just part and parcel of the longest-running, ongoing fabrication in US history.” [McClatchy News, 7/20/2005] In October 2006, one intelligence source will say that the Paris meeting was part of a larger intelligence disinformation campaign designed to plant propaganda in foreign news sources with the hope that it will filter into American news reporting and be presented as legitimate reporting. The idea is to promote the need for military action against Iran, and perhaps the overthrow of the Iranian government by the US military. [Raw Story, 10/16/2006]
Iranian Shahab III missile on display. [Source: GlobalSecurity.org]US intelligence officials meet with the leaders of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna and reveal the contents of what they say is a stolen Iranian laptop computer. The laptop contains over a thousand pages of documents describing Iranian computer simulations and results of experimental results that the US officials say show a long-term Iranian effort to design a nuclear weapon (see Summer 2004). The documents do not prove that Iran has a nuclear weapon at this time, the Americans acknowledge, but say that the documents are powerful evidence that Iran, despite its denials, is actively developing a nuclear weapon that can fit atop its Shahab III ballistic missile. That missile can reach Israel and other Middle Eastern countries. The briefing, which includes IAEA director Mohamed ElBaradei, is a secret part of a US campaign to bring international pressure to bear on Iran. Some countries, such as Britain, France, and Germany, have known of the documents for over a year, and have been convinced of their accuracy. Other countries unaware of the documents are not so willing to go along with the US campaign. Foreign analysts, unable to peruse the documents for themselves because of the unwillingness of the US to provide the actual documents, have not been willing to conclude that the documents are real. One European diplomat says, “I can fabricate that data. It looks beautiful, but is open to doubt.” However, IAEA analysts find the documents credible evidence of Iran’s progress with nuclear weapons. “They’ve worked problems that you don’t do unless you’re very serious,” says a European arms official. “This stuff is deadly serious.” [New York Times, 11/13/2005]
Iran marks the imminent ascension of hardline conservative Mahmoud Ahmedinejad to the presidency (see August 3, 2005) by announcing that it is resuming its previously-suspended conversion of uranium into plutonium. [BBC, 8/3/2005; Scoblic, 2008, pp. 251]
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is readying a vote on whether to recommend that the UN Security Council impose sanctions against Iran over that nation’s nuclear weapons program. The Bush administration, as part of its campaign to pressure the IAEA to vote for such a recommendation, briefs the president of Ghana, along with officials from Argentina, Sri Lanka, Tunisia, and Nigeria, all Security Council members, on its findings on Iran’s nuclear program derived from a laptop computer that contains evidence of Iran’s nuclear experiments (see Summer 2004). The briefing, actually a slide show, contains excerpts of the documents contained on the laptop. The US also presents a “white paper” containing summaries of the findings from the documents to another group of nations; the white paper contains no classified evidence and no mention of Iran’s purported attempts to develop a missile capable of deploying a nuclear weapon, but instead uses commercial satellite photos and economic analysis to argue that Iran has no need for nuclear power and has long hidden its nuclear ambitions. The white paper was prepared by analysts from the Los Alamos National Laboratory and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory on behalf of the State Department. The paper does contain extensive details about some of Iran’s previously hidden nuclear sites. Most foreign officials are unimpressed. “Yeah, so what?” says one European expert who heard the briefing. “How do you know what you’re shown on a slide is true given past experience?” Nevertheless, the presentation is effective; on September 24, the IAEA votes 22 to 1 to adopt a resolution against Iran, with 12 countries, including China and Russia, abstaining. The resolution cites Iran for “a long history of concealment and deception” and its repeated failure to live up to its obligations under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, which it signed in 1970. The resolution says Iran may now be considered for sanctions by the Security Council. Iran’s foreign minister, Manouchehr Mottaki, denounces the resolution as “illegal and illogical” and the result of a “planned scenario determined by the United States.” The IAEA will decide whether to send the recommendation to the Security Council in November. It is by no means certain that the Council will adopt the recommendation, as two countries rotating onto the Council, Cuba and Syria, are almost certain to refuse to bow to US pressure. And the IAEA itself is not wholly convinced of the accuracy of the documents, given the US’s refusal to allow the agency to examine the documents. IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei says he is bound to “follow due process, which means I need to establish the veracity, consistency, and authenticity of any intelligence, and share it with the country of concern.” In this case, ElBaradei says, “That has not happened.” [New York Times, 11/13/2005]
The US intelligence community releases a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran, the first of its kind since 2001. Its central conclusion is that Iran is about ten years away from manufacturing enough highly enriched uranium to make a nuclear weapon. That doubles the previous estimate of five years. (The “five years away” estimate has been a staple of US assertions about Iran’s nuclear program since 1995.) Even then, the report states, it is unclear whether Iran would have the technology capable of using the uranium in a functional nuclear device. The NIE gives little support for recent statements by Bush administration officials that assert Iran is working hard to develop and deploy a nuclear weapon, and that such deployment could happen much sooner than ten or even five years. President Bush has said repeatedly that while he wants to resolve the crisis with Iran diplomatically, “all options are on the table,” meaning a potential military strike is being considered. The NIE says that Iran is conducting clandestine work as part of its nuclear program, but there is no way to know if that work is on nuclear weapons development. Iran is, the report states, acquiring technologies that could be diverted to bomb-making. It is uncertain whether Iran’s ruling mullahs have decided whether to build a nuclear arsenal, the NIE says, but, according to a senior intelligence official, “it is the judgment of the intelligence community that, left to its own devices, Iran is determined to build nuclear weapons.” The White House has refrained from attributing its assertions about Iran’s nuclear program to US intelligence, as it did with Iraq before the March 2003 invasion. Instead, it has pointed to Iranian efforts to conceal its activities, and questioned why, since Iran has tremendous oil and natural gas reserves, it would need a nuclear energy program. The administration is riven with infighting and competing viewpoints on Iran’s nuclear program, and this NIE does little to resolve those differences. The NIE also says that the US intelligence community still knows far too little about Iran’s nuclear program. The intelligence community gathers most of its information from communication intercepts, satellite imagery, and reports from the UN inspectors who have been investigating Iran’s nuclear program since 2003. Those inspectors have found facilities for uranium conversion and enrichment, results of plutonium tests, and equipment bought illicitly from Pakistan, all of which raised serious concerns but could be explained by an energy program. Inspectors have found no evidence that Iran possesses a nuclear warhead design or is conducting a nuclear weapons program. Deputy Director of National Intelligence Michael Hayden says that since the October 2002 NIE, which wrongly concluded Iraq was reconstituting its nuclear program (see October 1, 2002), the rules governing the creation of NIEs have been revamped to mandate “a higher tolerance for ambiguity,” even if NIEs would be less conclusive in the process. [Washington Post, 8/2/2005] In 2007, a new NIE will conclude that Iran actually stopped work on a nuclear weapon in 2003 (see December 3, 2007).
After winning a contentious election in July, former Tehran mayor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, described by the BBC as an “ultra-conservative,” is confirmed as president of Iran. Ahmadinejad replaces moderate reformer Mohammad Khatami, who served as president for eight years. Ahmadinejad won the election in July, but only now becomes president after being formally endorsed by Iran’s supreme religious leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. With Ahmadinejad’s rise to power, hardline conservatives now control all the institutions of power in Iran. He is expected to lead a move to break off negotiations with European Union diplomats over constraining Iran’s nuclear development program (see January 2004), a move already heralded by Iran’s decision to resume converting uranium into plutonium (see Late July 2005). [BBC, 8/3/2005; Scoblic, 2008, pp. 251] Ahmadinejad tells the Iranian Parliament that while the nation will respect international norms regarding nuclear programs, it will never surrender to what he calls “illegal requests.” [Voice of America, 8/6/2005] Many believe that Khamenei is the driving force behind Ahmadinejad’s rise to power and the new sense of recalcitrant opposition to European diplomacy. [New York Times, 9/8/2006]
Two lobbyists for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), Steven Rosen and Keith Weissman, are indicted for crimes relating to their role in passing classified US government information to Israel (see April 13, 1999-2004). They are charged with conspiring “to communicate national defense information [to] persons not entitled to receive it,” applicable under the Espionage Act. Their charges are similar to those filed against former government employee Larry Franklin, their contact (see October 5, 2005). National security expert Eli Lake will call the charges against Rosen and Weissman “unprecedented,” noting that for them to face the same charges as Franklin puts them—two private citizens—under the same obligation as Franklin, a government official, to keep secret any classified information they might acquire. Lake will write: “[I]f it’s illegal for Rosen and Weissman to seek and receive ‘classified information,’ then many investigative journalists are also criminals—not to mention former government officials who write for scholarly journals or the scores of men and women who petition the federal government on defense and foreign policy. In fact, the leaking of classified information is routine in Washington, where such data is traded as a kind of currency. And, while most administrations have tried to crack down on leaks, they have almost always shied away from going after those who receive them—until now. At a time when a growing amount of information is being classified, the prosecution of Rosen and Weissman threatens to have a chilling effect—not on the ability of foreign agents to influence US policy, but on the ability of the American public to understand it.” [US v. Franklin, Rosen, and Weissman Criminal No. 1:05CR225, 8/4/2005 ; New Republic, 10/10/2005; Savage, 2007, pp. 174] Months later, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales will say that journalists and other private citizens can be prosecuted for leaking classified information (see May 21, 2006). Almost four years later, the charges against Rosen and Weissman will be dropped (see May 1, 2009).
Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick tells reporters that if China continues to pursue energy contracts with Iran it will find itself increasingly in conflict with the United States. He adds that it isn’t clear whether the force behind China’s dealmaking comes from new Chinese oil companies or some government “strategic plan.” He also asserts that China will not be able to guarantee its energy security through contracts with countries such as Iran “because you can’t lock up energy resources” in the global marketplace. [Reuters, 9/6/2005]
During a news conference in Washington, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice urges China, Russia, and India to support US threats of imposing sanctions against Iran for its nuclear programs. Iran needs to get a “unified message,” she says. “I think that after the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) report a couple of days ago, it is clear that Iran is not living up to its obligations, and so UN Security Council referral seems to be a reasonable option.” [US Department of State, 9/9/2005; BBC, 9/10/2005]
The International Atomic Energy Agency’s Board of Governors passes a resolution declaring Iran in non-compliance with its safeguard obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). The resolution calls on Iran to suspend all enrichment-related activity, cease construction on a heavy water research reactor, and provide agency inspectors access to research and development locations and documentation. The resolution also calls on Iran to “[p]romptly… ratify and implement in full the Additional Protocol,” which would require Iran to allow short-notice inspections of Iran’s nuclear facilities. [International Atomic Energy Agency. Board of Governors, 9/24/2005 ] Iran has signed but not ratified it. [Washington Post, 9/27/2005] If Iran fails to comply with this resolution, the board could decide at its next meeting in November to refer the matter to the UN Security Council. A referral to the Security Council would set the stage for the possible imposition of sanctions on Iran. Iran has repeatedly stated that it will not relinquish its right under the NPT to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes. The resolution, sponsored by Britain, France, and Germany, passes with 22 votes. Twelve countries abstain, including Russia, China, Pakistan, South Africa and Brazil, and only one—Venezuela—opposes the resolution. India, under strong pressure from the US (see September 10, 2005), backs the resolution, despite its close ties to Iran. The resolution marks the third time in two decades that an IAEA resolution has not been approved unanimously. [BBC, 9/25/2005; Associated Press, 9/25/2005; Washington Post, 9/25/2005; Economic Times (Gurgaon, India), 9/26/2005] Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki calls the resolution “politically motivated, illegal, and illogical,” asserting that the “three European countries implemented a planned scenario already determined by the United States.” [Economic Times (Gurgaon, India), 9/26/2005]
Britain’s Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, says there are no plans to use military force against Iran. “All United States presidents always say all options are open. But it is not on the table, it is not on the agenda. I happen to think that it is inconceivable,” he says, referring to President Bush’s history of stating “all options are on the table” when describing the situation with Iran. [Associated Press, 9/28/2005; Daily Telegraph, 9/28/2005]
Iran’s Supreme National Security Council spokesman, Ali Aghamohammadi, says that Iran has no intention of withdrawing from a multi-billion dollar deal to sell natural gas to India. There have been rumors that Iran, upset over India’s support of an International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) resolution declaring Iran in breach of its Safeguard Agreements (see September 24, 2005), had informed India the deal was in jeopardy. “We have had good, deep relations with India in many fields and regional affairs and their behavior at the IAEA was strange and we didn’t expect them to vote against Iran,” he says. Nonetheless, “We don’t want to review our current relations with India and their vote against Iran doesn’t affect the gas project.” [BBC, 9/28/2005]
Speaking at the New America Foundation, Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, the former chief of staff to former Secretary of State Colin Powell, argues that power in Washington has become so concentrated, and the inter-agency processes within the Federal government so degraded, that the government is no longer capable of responding competently to threatening events—whether such events are natural disasters or international conflicts. He describes how successive administrations over the last five decades have damaged the national security decision-making process and warns that new legislation is desperately needed to force transparency on the process and restore checks and balances within the federal bureaucracy. The process has hit a nadir with the Bush administration, he says, whose secrecy and disregard for inter-agency processes has resulted in disastrous policies, such as those toward Iraq, North Korea, and Iran, and the policies that resulted in the prisoner abuse scandal at Abu Ghraib. “Fundamental decisions about foreign policy should not be made in secret,” he says. “You don’t have this kind of pervasive attitude out there unless you’ve condoned it.” He says, “[T]he case that I saw for four-plus years was a case that I have never seen in my studies of aberrations, bastardizations, and perturbations in the national-security [policy-making] process.” This approach to government also contributed to the failures in responding to hurricanes Katrina and Rita. “Decisions that send men and women to die, decisions that have the potential to send men and women to die, decisions that confront situations like natural disasters and cause needless death or cause people to suffer misery that they shouldn’t have to suffer, domestic and international decisions, should not be made in a secret way.” His speech includes a very direct and open attack on the Bush administration. “What I saw was a cabal between the Vice President of the United States, Richard Cheney, and the Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, on critical issues that made decisions that the bureaucracy did not know were being made. And then when the bureaucracy was presented with those decisions and carried them out, it was presented in such a disjointed incredible way that the bureaucracy often didn’t know what it was doing as it moved to carry them out.” Wilkerson contrasts the current president with his father, George H.W. Bush, “one of the finest presidents we have ever had,” who, in Wilkerson’s opinion, understood how to make foreign policy work. Wilkerson likens George W. Bush’s brand of diplomacy to “cowboyism” and notes that he was unable to persuade US allies to stand behind his policies because “it’s hard to sell shit.” He explains that Bush is “not versed in international relations and not too much interested in them either. There’s a vast difference between the way George H. W. Bush dealt with major challenges, some of the greatest challenges at the end of the 20th century, and effected positive results in my view, and the way we conduct diplomacy today.” Wilkerson lays the blame for the Abu Ghraib detainee abuse directly at the feet of the younger Bush and his top officials, whom Wilkerson says gave tacit approval to soldiers to abuse detainees. As for Condoleezza Rice, then the national security adviser and now Powell’s successor at the State Department, she was and is “part of the problem.” Instead of ensuring that Bush received the best possible advice even if it was not what Bush wanted to hear, Rice “would side with the president to build her intimacy with the president.” Wilkerson also blames the fracturing and demoralization of the US military on Bush and his officials. Officers “start voting with their feet, as they did in Vietnam,” he says, “and all of a sudden your military begins to unravel.” Wilkerson is particularly scathing in his assessment of the Pentagon’s supervisor of the OSP, Douglas Feith, one of the original members of the Cabal. Asked if he agrees with General Tommy Franks’s assessment of Feith as the “f_cking stupidest guy on the planet.” Wilkerson says, “Let me testify to that. He was. Seldom in my life have I met a dumber man. And yet, after the [Pentagon is given] control, at least in the immediate post-war period in Iraq, this man is put in charge. Not only is he put in charge, he is given carte blanche to tell the State Department to go screw themselves in a closet somewhere.…That’s telling you how decisions were made and…how things got accomplished.” [American Strategy Program, 10/19/2005; Financial Times, 10/20/2005; Inter Press Service, 10/20/2005; Salon, 10/27/2005]
Hundreds of women from 23 women’s organizations demonstrate outside the British Embassy in Tehran protesting Britain’s support of international efforts to deny Iran its right to have a civilian nuclear energy program. [United Press International, 10/3/2005]
Britain accuses Iran of having played a role in the transfer of explosive technology from Hezbollah in Lebanon to the Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi army in Iraq. British officials say Iran is responsible for the deaths of all eight UK soldiers killed in Iraq this year, all of whom died in explosions. Iran denies the charges. [BBC, 9/5/2005; Reuters, 10/6/2005]
State Department spokesman Sean McCormack says that, despite reports to the contrary, there are no plans to establish direct diplomatic contact with Iran. “[T]here is no change in our policy with respect to Iran. I think that over the past, if anything, over the past weeks and months you have seen an even tougher-minded US policy as well as a tougher-minded policy from the international community with respect to Iran’s behavior,” he says. A recent State Department briefing paper reportedly suggested establishing direct diplomatic contact with Iran in an effort to reopen negotiations with the European Union. [Associated Press, 10/6/2005; US Department of State, 10/6/2005]
In 2004, Undersecretary of State John Bolton privately informed the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that Iran is conducting research into the carefully timed detonations of conventional weapons needed to trigger a nuclear device. The tests, Bolton claimed, are being held at Parchin, a secret facility south of Tehran that hosts Iran’s Defense Industries Organization, and a site where large amounts of conventional weapons and chemical munitions and fuels are manufactured. Satellite imagery shows a bunker that might be suitable for such tests. IAEA inspectors are granted limited access to the site, and find no evidence of Bolton’s claims. “We found no evidence of nuclear materials,” a European diplomat associated with the IAEA will say in 2007. The underground explosive-testing pit, the diplomat will recall, “resembled what South Africa had when it developed its nuclear weapons” in the 1970s. While the bunker could be used for nuclear trigger testing, it could also serve other purposes, such as testing rocket fuel, which routinely takes place at Parchin. The diplomat will say, “The Iranians have demonstrated that they can enrich uranium, and trigger tests without nuclear yield can be done. But it’s a very sophisticated process—it’s also known as hydrodynamic testing—and only countries with suitably advanced nuclear testing facilities as well as the necessary scientific expertise can do it. I’d be very skeptical that Iran could do it.” In November 2006, Israel will claim that new satellite photos show further evidence of possible nuclear trigger testing. [New Yorker, 11/27/2006]
Raymond Tanter. [Source: PBS]Neoconservative Raymond Tanter, a member of the Institute for Near East Policy and a fervent advocate of regime change in Iran, tells the National Press Club that the Bush administration should use the Iranian opposition group Mujahedeen-e Khalq (MEK) and its political arm, the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) as an insurgent militia against the Iranian government. “The National Council of Resistance of Iran and the Mujahedeen-e Khalq are not only the best source for intelligence on Iran’s potential violations of the nonproliferation regime,” Tanter says, but “[t]he NCRI and MEK are also a possible ally of the West in bringing about regime change in Tehran” (see January 2005). Tanter also advocates using nuclear weapons against Iran’s nuclear program, and suggests that Israel might use bombs sold to it by the US to avoid conflicts with the UN’s Non-Proliferation Treaty, which Israel has refused to sign. He says that the Bush administration should “delist” MEK and the NCRI from its list of terrorist organizations: “The international community should realize that there is only one group to which the regime pays attention and fears: the Mujahedeen-e Khalq and the political coalition of which the MEK is a part, the National Council of Resistance of Iran. By delisting the NCRI and MEK from the Foreign Terrorist Organizations listing maintained by the Department of State, it would allow regime change to be on the table in Tehran. With regime change in the open, Tehran would have to face a choice about whether to slow down in its drive to acquire nuclear weapons or not.” [Iran Policy Committee, 11/21/2005; Vanity Fair, 3/2007]
President Bush orders the Joint Chiefs of Staff to draw up a contingency war plan for Iran that can be implemented, upon orders from the president, within 24 hours. A special planning group will be formed to carry out the assignment. The plan will initially focus on a bombing campaign targeting Iran’s nuclear facilities. It will also include a scheme for regime change.
After a major strategy shift takes place in early 2007 (see Late 2006), the plan will be revised to include targets in Iran believed to be involved in the supplying or aiding of militants in Iraq. [New Yorker, 3/5/2007]
Author and media critic Frank Rich publishes a book entitled The Greatest Story Ever Sold about the Bush administration’s PR efforts. One of his conclusions is that, despite the administration’s foreign policy efforts, “all three components of the ‘axis of evil’ [Iraq, Iran, and North Korea] (see January 29, 2002) are more dangerous than they were when that phrase was coined in 2002.” [Rich, 2006, pp. 210]
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