If Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is a wolf in sheep's clothing, as Benjamin Netanyahu claims, then this sheep has one savvy media team.
Mere days after Iran inked a landmark nuclear deal with a team of Western negotiators, the producer for Rouhani's electoral campaign ads released a video called "The New Journey" or "Aspirations," depending on the translation. It's a clip with remarkable overtones to the 2008 Obama-inspired viral video, "Yes We Can." Instead of will.i.am and 30 of his celebrity friends singing over an inspirational Obama's speech, the Iranian version performs a similar trick with Rouhani's inaugural remarks. Released to mark the first 100 days of Ruohani's time in office, the video stars Iranian celebrities and even includes a sign-language cameo -- just like its American counterpart.
For the past several weeks, the world's attention has been fixed on a Geneva luxury hotel where Western negotiators and their Iranian counterparts have flitted in and out in search of a deal to end the stand-off over Tehran's nuclear program. But the real action, it turns out, took place 3,000 miles away in the Omani city of Muscat.
Working through the Sultan Qaboos-bin-Said, the ruler of Oman, U.S. diplomats have secretly huddled with a team of Iranian diplomats since 2011 to carry out bilateral talks aimed at securing an agreement to put the brakes on Iran's nuclear ambitions. While negotiations in Geneva appear to have generated all-important consensus among Western powers, the meat of the agreement looks to have been hammered out in Muscat, far from the prying eyes of the international media gathered in the Swiss city.
That subplot -- secret negotiations carried out in a little-known Middle Eastern capital known for the production of exceptionally aromatic frankincense -- has added a level of subterfuge to what is already one of the biggest diplomatic developments in recent memory. That a landmark nuclear deal could be worked out in secret is perhaps not surprising but it does cast the spotlight on the man who shepherded the agreement. Just who is Sultan Qaboos?
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In the war of words over the nuclear deal with Iran, any metaphor is fair game.
Skeptics of the agreement hashed out in Geneva see parallels between this deal and, well, just about every bad, no good, awful, catastrophic moment in international politics since 1914. Meanwhile, its defenders have run out of breathless adjectives with which to describe a deal that just, maybe, might, possibly be similar to President Nixon's opening to China.
In short, the debate over how to interpret the Geneva agreement has descended into a fun house of dueling metaphors. This is your guide to those metaphors -- and the argument -- that will surely dominate the next few months as the world debates whether the Geneva agreement represents a bona fide diplomatic breakthrough.
Get ready to hear a lot about Neville Chamberlain and "peace in our time." Oh, also: Appeasement.
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For weeks, Western negotiators have huddled in a luxury hotel in Geneva with their Iranian counterparts to defuse tensions over Tehran's nuclear program. In the early hours Sunday, the diplomats finally secured their long-sought prize: a deal that puts the breaks on Iran's nuclear ambitions in exchange for sanctions relief.
Now comes the hard part. With the details of the agreement public, skeptics of Iran's sudden willingness to compromise with the West have been handed heaps of ammunition with which to attack the Obama administration as a sell-out to Tehran. The Geneva deal bears the hallmarks of a compromise solution, the terms of which do not require Iran to dismantle its nuclear program -- as Israel has demanded -- but to scale back activities over the next six months that are most useful for producing a nuclear weapon. The diplomats who drafted the agreement are describing it as an interim, confidence-building measure. Iran skeptics are describing it as hopelessly naïve. "If five years from now a nuclear suitcase explodes in New York or Madrid, it will be because of the deal that was signed this morning," Naftali Bennett, Israel's economic minister, said in a statement.
At the center of that debate -- whether the agreement represents a clear-eyed test of Iran's true intentions or a victim of Iran's savvy bait-and-switch negotiating tactics -- is the question of whether the document recognizes what Tehran describes as its right to enrich uranium. Immediately after the agreement was announced, Fars News, the Iranian state-sponsored news outlet, proclaimed that the accord "includes recognition of Tehran's right of uranium enrichment" and that the "right to enrichment has been recognized in two places of the document." Secretary of State John Kerry, meanwhile, made exactly the opposite claim on ABC's This Week on Sunday: "There is no right to enrich. We do not recognize a right to enrich."
Over the next few weeks one of these two narratives will become the dominant interpretation of the Geneva agreement -- and which one catches on will go a long way toward determining its ultimate success. Either the West has by force and calculation compelled Iran into accepting a change in its strategic outlook and abandoned its nuclear ambitions. Or the West has backed down -- "appeased" Iran, if you will -- and allowed Tehran to hold on to its nuclear program in the hopes of avoiding war in the Middle East.
The problem for the ideologues on either side of this debate is that the text of the agreement provides no clear answer on whether Iran does or does not have the right to enrich uranium. And that piece of diplomatic maneuvering provides important clues about what lies ahead for President Obama's effort to defuse the stand-off with Iran.
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If the West makes a deal this weekend with Iran -- one of the world's largest oil producers -- the price of crude will almost certainly fall on Monday.
But after that? Don't count on it.
"The assumption that a deal was coming had put some downward pressure on oil," said Daniel Sternoff, Director of Energy Research, at Medley Global Advisors. Sternoff said that some people in the market see a deal as an indication that the Iran sanctions could be lifted, bringing Iranian oil back to the market.
Prices of crude have fluctuated this week with the prospects of success in Geneva, where the United States is negotiating with Iran and five other countries about suspending some of the sanctions on the Iranian economy in exchange for Tehran curbing parts of its nuclear program. The price of crude oil fell in the middle of the week, but recovered to over $95 per barrel by Friday. Though oil sanctions aren't necessarily on the table in Geneva, an interim deal could raise hopes in the market that they'll be lifted in the future, which could in turn send prices lower.
Yet that view could be optimistic, Sternoff said. "Even under an interim deal, it's not like we're going to see a huge rush of Iranian oil back on the market."
At it's peak, Iran produced close to 4 million barrels of oil per day, but sanctions have reduced that close to 2.5 million barrels per day.
Amy Myers Jaffe, who studies fuel markets at the University of California Davis, said any drop in prices if there's a deal this weekend wouldn't necessarily be about "how much extra oil is going to come out from Iran."
Instead, "the real impact is in changing the market psychology and that's just much harder to predict," said Jaffe, who is the Executive Director of Energy and Sustainability at the University of California at Davis's business school. Changing that psychology would require not just a deal with the United States, Jaffe added, but improved relations with Saudi Arabia and Israel as well.
"If we start to see a resolution of the way that Iran engages in all these different domains," then that lowers the risk of conflict in Syria, Jaffe said.
Patrick Clawson, Director of Research at the Washington Institute, said a fair amount of this week's movement in oil prices around the Geneva talks is about the reduction of this "risk" premium, which is the extra amount factored into the price of oil based on the risk of conflict in the area.
"The risk of there being a conflict that imperils oil shipments from the Persian Gulf goes down and therefore oil prices go down," Clawson said.
Recently, Iranian officials and foreign oil companies, like Chevron, Total, and Royal Dutch Shell, have been talking. Some have taken that as a sign that Iran is willing to give foreign companies better terms than before, when Iran often required companies to enter into agreements with state-controlled companies. A U.S. official said Iran is losing $5 billion a month because of lost oil sales, according to the AP.
"If there's an accord that will allow foreign companies to come back to Iran, they're much more likely to be interested," Clawson said. Though he adds that oil companies have many more choices for investment these days, including in Africa and the United States.
While a broad deal could signal greater stability in the region and therefore reduce the extra "premium," actually increasing the amount of Iranian oil on the market would likely take more time. There are a lot of practical hurdles to Iran increasing output, even if sanctions are lifted.
Kamran Dadkhah, an associate professor at Northeastern University who has studied the Iranian economy, said Iran's oil industry has been left behind as technology has improved because there's been no real investment in Iran's oil fields in decades. For instance, he said, the lack of investment means Iran's oil wells aren't well maintained.
"If the sanctions are lifted and investment goes to Iran, in the long run, you will have a very, very positive effect," Dadkhah said. But, he added, the big caveat is whether Iran sticks to any deal it makes in Geneva.
Yemen has sentenced eight sailors for smuggling arms to local rebels. The crew of the Jihan sailors received sentences ranging from one to six years in prison; the alleged mastermind of the operation, tried in absentia, received ten. No one in the Jihan's crew is Iranian, but Tehran's presence was certainly felt during the trial -- and is the answer to what the Jihan and its deadly cargo were doing in the Gulf of Aden in the first place.
On Jan. 23, the Yemeni military, working closely with the U.S. Navy, stopped a 130-foot sailboat off the coast of al Ghaydah, a Yemeni city near the Oman border. A search of the ship, according to Yemeni officials, revealed that it was carrying an entire arsenal of Chinese surface-to-air missiles, C4 explosives, rocket propelled grenades, mortar shells, and other military equipment bound for Houthi rebels, a Shia revivalist movement that has waged an intermittent war for autonomy in Yemen's northern Saada province over the past decade. The eight-person crew of the ship, all Yemenis, was arrested for arms smuggling.
Almost immediately, Iran was fingered as being behind the deal. It wouldn't be the first time -- the Yemeni government has accused Iran of supporting the Houthis for years, with little evidence to show for it. But starting in 2012, as other ships smuggling arms were intercepted, including some shipments being directed through Turkey to mask their origin, U.S. officials started finding the Yemeni accusations more credible. These shipments, Yemeni officials said, contained heavy weapons and the materials for making explosively formed projectiles (EFPs), a lethal variety of roadside bomb that was commonly used by Iranian-allied Shiite militants against U.S. soldiers in Iraq. The timing, though, was strange. After fighting a half-dozen "Saada wars" under President Ali Abdullah Saleh between 2004 and 2010, the Houthis had been relatively quiet since the start of the country's revolution in early 2011, some even coming to the capital, Sanaa, to participate in sit-in protests against the government.
That lull has come to an end this month with a fresh round of fighting between Houthis and Salafists in the city of Dammaj, which was a flashpoint during the Saada wars. Over several decades, Salafism that has spread from Saudi Arabia, along with the kingdom's large patronage network among the Yemeni tribes, has reshaped Yemen's religious landscape. Dammaj's Dar al-Hadith institute, a center of Salafist study, is emblematic of the growth of Salafism in Yemeni society that the Houthi movement was in many ways a reaction against. Clashes over Dar al-Hadith over the past two weeks, which have killed over 100 people and persisted despite attempts to find a diplomatic solution, has drawn the attention of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which announced its "total solidarity with our Sunni brothers in the centre in Dammaj," adding that the Houthis's "crimes against the Sunni people will not pass without punishment or disciplinary action."
Iran has been a vocal supporter of the Houthis, part and parcel with Tehran's self-appointed role as the defender of the Middle East's Shiite communities -- though the Iranian leadership practices a different variation of Shiism than the Houthis. "Salafis Continue Attacking Houthis in Northern Yemen," begins one recent Iranian report on the fighting in Dammaj, "Al-Qaeda threatens Yemeni Shia community," reads another. But Iran's interest in Yemen goes beyond cheerleading and quietly smuggling weapons to the Houthis based on their shared Shia heritage: It's also a contested sphere of influence in the Saudi-Iranian cold war. Iran has also tried to make inroads with Yemen's democracy activists, as well, regardless of their religion. Supporting the Houthis is "an indirect means to attack the Saudis," Reuel Marc Gerecht, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies told FP. When it comes to the different sects of Shiism practiced by Iran and the Houthis, Iran "is ecumenical about these things, especially when the shared foe is the Saudi family."
The Saada conflict is often overlooked amid Yemen's al Qaeda insurgency and Southern separatist movements. But the recent flare-up on Yemen's forgotten battlefield is and the Jihan sentencing are quiet signs that Iranian-Saudi cold war is still heating up where their proxies meet.
MOHAMMED HUWAIS/AFP/Getty Images
Fars News Agency, the state-run Iranian news outlet famous for picking up an Onion story and presenting it as news, has apparently decided that plagiarizing satirical articles isn't brazen enough. On Thursday, the news agency's editors reprinted a Foreign Policy article on the debate over chemical weapons in Syria. And by "reprinted" we mean they lopped off entire paragraphs, changed key words, and added others to turn the argument into a case for why the U.S. shouldn't take military action in Syria -- and why the rebels, not Syrian President and Iranian ally Bashar al-Assad, have committed unspeakable atrocities (oh, and Iran comes off looking pretty good too). "This article originally appeared on the US Foreign Policy magazine," the Fars article notes at the end of the story. We beg to differ.
American college life is often depicted as a four- (or five-, or six-) year suspension of reality, in which the normal rules of society cease to apply and the nation's youth indulge their baser instincts. Social media-inflected binge drinking, no-strings-attached sex, and all-night, amphetamine-fueled study benders are just a few of the troubling behaviors that have recently captured the imaginations of worried parents and New York Times writers. Ridiculous portrayals of college and fraternity life are a time-honored feature of the American media landscape, and most people know to take these caricatures with a grain of salt. But when you're a filmmaker working for a hostile nation's state television, it can be difficult to separate fact from fiction.
Enter PressTV. The state-owned Iranian broadcaster's English-language programming has previously been criticized for alleged Holocaust denial and conspiracy-theorizing. And while it claims to be merely "heeding the often neglected voices and perspectives of a great portion of the world," the finished product often bears a strong resemblance to Iranian propaganda. Nevertheless, reporters must report, and so, following its stated vision of "embracing and building bridges of cultural understanding," PressTV dispatched an intrepid team of filmmakers to document the hedonism of America's youth. The result is the documentary Behind the Campus Walls.
The documentary begins with pleasant shots of San Francisco, where, deep within the rows of quaint townhouses, we meet Yaou. He is enrolled at an unnamed local university, and he's on a mission to break the law. He is, the narrator informs us, "neither a terrorist nor an escaped convict. But he is too young to drink in the United States." Our hero then leads the filmmakers, playing the part of latter-day Henry Mayhews, into the seedy underbelly of working-class San Francisco to witness the purchase of a fake ID:
AFP PHOTO/Roberto SCHMIDT
Tehran might "welcome" direct flights between the United States and Iran, but that doesn't mean it's going to happen.
On Wednesday, Iran's PressTV reported that the country's foreign minister, Ali Akbar Salehi, had told reporters that "launching direct flights is for the sake of public welfare, and we have no problem with this issue." The PressTV article cited Mehr News Agency, another Iranian media outlet, reporting that the United States and Iran are preparing to sign a memorandum of understanding that would allow direct flights between the two countries, and that Delta Air Lines was one of the participating carriers (such a report does not appear to still be on Mehr News' English-language website, though Iran's Fars News Agency also ran with the news).
The report was met with appropriate skepticism on Twitter:
Appropriate because the news seems to be completely made up. Anthony Black, a spokesman for Delta, flatly denied the report to Foreign Policy, explaining that providing service to Iranian airports would violate sanctions administered by the Office of Foreign Assistance Control. "So," he said, "what you have, heard, seen, read: untrue.... We have done nothing on our part to engage in any service to Iran."
So, if you're headed to Tehran, keep looking for connecting flights.
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Residents of Tehran are celebrating in the streets tonight.
Earlier on Saturday, Iran's interior minister confirmed that Hassan Rowhani had secured an outright majority in presidential elections, eliminating the need for a run-off. Rowhani trounced the competition, securing just over 50 percent of the vote and beating his nearest rival by a three to one margin.
Taken together with Saeed Jalili's third place finish -- he was the Ayatollah's preferred candidate -- Rowhani's victory sends a strong message of discontent to Iran's ruling clerics and serves as a reminder that the reformist sentiment that brought thousands into the streets following the hotly contested election in 2009 has not faded. Though Rowhani was not the most progressive candidate to throw his hat into the ring, he at least pledged to break somewhat with the prevailing orthodoxy.
To get a sense of what Iranians are thinking about this election, consider this: Tonight, the residents of Tehran were chanting the name of Mir Mousavi, the candidate who lost the 2009 election:
With Iran still at loggerheads with the international community over its nuclear program, the big question on every Iran-watcher's mind now is whether Rowhani may abandon his predecessor's hardline stance in nuclear negotiations.
Though Rowhani's plans for the program remain largely a mystery, a fascinating speech he delivered sometime between October and November 2004 offers some insight as to his thinking about the program and how his country deals with the West.
For those seeking a diplomatic resolution to the stand-off, the speech offers both good and bad news. On the one hand, Rowhani argues that Iran should engage more directly with the West through diplomatic channels. On the other hand, he observes that Iran's strategy of slow-playing the West through negotiations while covertly developing its nuclear program has largely served the country well.
Iran's technical progress, he observed in the speech, "is good for our international reputation and shows that we have made good technological progress and have been successful in the area of technology .... It is going to be a very effective and important statement." The very same progress, Rowhani continued, is the key to Iran gaining the international acceptance it so desperately desires: "If one day we are able to complete the fuel cycle and the world sees that it has no choice -- that we do possess the technology -- then the situation will be different. The world did not want Pakistan to have an atomic bomb or Brazil to have the fuel cycle, but Pakistan built its bomb and Brazil has its fuel cycle, and the world started to work with them. Our problem is that we have not achieved either one, but we are standing at the threshold."
Much of the technical progress that Rowhani praises in fact occurred while the Iranians pretended to be making nice with Western diplomats. Rowhani reveals that Iran's chief goal in negotiations was to at all costs avoid being referred to the U.N. Security Council, and to that end, the country's diplomats pursued a stalling tactic, dragging out talks and negotiations while Iran's scientists worked feverishly behind closed doors. In a telling revelation, Rowhani says that Iranian diplomats only agreed to concessions in areas not beset by technical problems.
This strategy, Rowhani believes, served the country well: "While we were talking with the Europeans in Tehran, we were installing equipment in parts of the facility in Isfahan.... in fact, by creating a calm environment, we were able to complete the work in Isfahan. Today, we can convert yellowcake into UF4 and UF6, and this is a very important matter." UF4 and UF6 -- uranium tetraflouride and uranium hexaflouride, respectively -- are two important materials in the nuclear enrichment process.
There is nothing to indicate in the speech that Rowhani thinks Iran should abandon its nuclear program; rather, his focus on how to best manage the international community and the domestic Iranian population. As soon as Iran has mastered the enrichment process, Rowhani observes, "a country that can enright uranium to about 3.5 percent will also have the capability to enrich it to about 90 percent." (90 percent is weapons grade.) This suggests that Rowhani believes the issue may be settled -- Iran has already achieved 3.5 percent enrichment -- and that the challenge lies in its efforts abroad. Equally important, Rowhani observes, is maintaining domestic support for the program, which as Chen Kane, a senior research associate at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, observes in the accompanying analysis, represents a surprising concern at the highest levels of Iranian politics.
Rowhani is nothing if not an expert on Iran's nuclear program -- he says he led a mid-2003 interagency review of the program and served as the chief nuclear negotiator from October 2003 to August 2005 -- and he also has a clear sense of how to navigate the international waters. By exploiting the differences in the negotiating positions of the major diplomatic powers -- the United States, Russia, China, the United Kingdom, France, and Germany -- Rowhani says Iran can secure protection at the Security Council in the form of a guaranteed veto. Which is exactly what it has often received from China and Russia.
It has to be noted that Rowhani did not advocate in the speech that Iran should pursue a nuclear bomb -- though the possibility of doing so was certainly hinted at in his references to 90 percent enrichment. "As for building the atomic bomb, we never wanted to move in that direction and we have not yet completely developed our fuel cycle capability," Rowhani says. "This also happens to be our main problem."
In Rowhani, Iranians have elected a man well-versed in the country's nuclear program and a man who clearly wants to improve relations with the West.
But to what end is not entirely clear.
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Just how disillusioned have ordinary Iranians become about Friday's presidential election? Enough for one Iranian to sell his vote on eBay.
Iranian authorities have vowed to avoid a repeat of the protests that spilled into Tehran's streets and presented a powerful challenge to the ruling clerics following the country's disputed 2009 election. Reformist candidates have been barred from running, and only one candidate in this year's field -- Hassan Rowhani -- has professed views that differ even mildly from the prevailing orthodoxy.
So starting at €99, a user named Khordad92 is offering to sell his vote -- just as long as you don't ask him to cast a ballot for the regime's preferred candidate, Saeed Jalili, Iran's hardline nuclear negotiator.
For a modest price, you too can be a part of history -- and a rubber-stamp election.
(h/t: Saeed Kamali Dehghan)
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What's in a name? When it comes to the body of water nestled between Iran and the Arabian Peninsula: a whole lot. For years, the Persian (to some) or Arabian (to others) Gulf has been a source of tension between Iran and its Arab neighbors. In 2010, for instance, Iran threatened to ban airlines that didn't use "Persian Gulf" from flying in its airspace. And just last year, Google received a warning from Tehran that it would face "serious damages" if it didn't definitively label the space "Persian" on its Maps. Now the conflict has spilled into the world of sports.
On Tuesday, Iran's Fars News Agency reported that Iran's Football Federation will file a complaint against the United Arab Emirates "for using a fake name for Persian Gulf in the title of its soccer league."
The "fake name" Fars is referring to: the Arabian Gulf League. Mohammed Thani Murshed Al Romaithi, the chairman of the UAE's Pro League Committee, has announced that the country's professional soccer league will operate under the new name beginning in the 2013-2014 season.
"Football in the UAE is moving into a new phase, and with it we adopt a new name to take us forward from next season," he told a crowd at the Etisalat Pro League Awards in Dubai on Sunday. And while the remarks began innocuously enough, he left no doubt about the political undertones of the gesture, going on to say, "We pledge our allegiance to the Arabian Gulf as the heart of the Arabic origin and heritage. Announcing this new name is a letter of love from the UAE to the Gulf; we name our League after the Arabian Gulf as a gesture to show our appreciation for the bounteous resources and opportunities it has afforded us."
Not surprisingly, the Iranians were not amused. Fars quotes Houshang Nasirzadeh, the head of the legal committee for the country's football federation, as saying the organization "will object to the fake naming in the next two days. It will send a letter to the FIFA ethics committee. It regards the UAE's behavior as politically-tainted and racist."
While his anger may seem extreme, disputes over the Gulf's nomenclature have much deeper and more political roots than the controversies over Google Maps and airline designations might suggest. According to some sources, the rivalry began in the 1960s with the rise of Arab nationalism. (A fun fact for all you geography nerds: Back in the days of Ptolemy, maps did depict an Arabian Gulf, though the name referred to the Red Sea.)
According to Al Jazeera correspondent Teymoor Nabil, who wrote an article on the dispute after the U.S. Navy faced criticism for using the term Arabian Gulf on its Facebook page in 2010, "ironically, among the major drivers of the movement for change were Arab perceptions that Iran, driven by Washington, had supported Israel during the Arab-Israeli war of 1973."
Fars is quick to point out that the United Nations has officially weighed in on Iran's side:
The UN sent a circular to all 186 countries of the world in 1995, stressing that they must use the term "Persian Gulf" when referring to the waterway....
However, some regional and hostile western countries continue to distort historical facts by misnaming the "Persian Gulf", in an organized attempt to steal the true identity of the Persian Gulf, but to no avail.
The debate may not be going away anytime soon, but look on the bright side: At least the name "Britain Sea," which was used for the Gulf in London's Times Journal in 1840, never caught on.
On Saturday, the five-day registration period for Iran's June 14 presidential election came to a dramatic close when several last-minute candidates entered the running. And buried deep in news articles reporting the participation of popular former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani as well as Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei -- Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's top aide and the father of Ahmadinejad's daughter-in-law -- was a surprising name: Davood Ahmadinejad, the president's older brother.
So which relative will Iran's president support? It's pretty clear Mashaei is getting the nod. For months, analysts have asserted that Ahmadinejad is grooming Mashaei, his current chief of staff, to be his successor, and Ahmadinejad confirmed these suspicions shortly after Mashaei announced his intention to run. "Mashaei means Ahmadinejad, and Ahmadinejad means Mashaei," the president declared. So much for brotherly love. Iran's election officials, in fact, have threatened to bring charges against Ahmadinejad (ones that could carry jail time or 74 lashes) for accompanying Mashaei as he registered for the election.
Davood, meanwhile, has announced that he will be running as an independent candidate, according to Iran's state-run Fars News Agency. We know little about his ideology and background, but we do know that in recent months he has been a vocal critic of his brother's administration, joining the president's hard-line opponents in referring to members of Ahmadinejad's team as a "deviant current" in Iranian society.
But the Ahmadinejad brothers haven't always been rivals; once upon a time, not long ago, the two were actually political allies. During Ahmadinejad's first term in office, which began in 2005, Davood served in his administration as the chief of the president's office of inspection. It was only in 2008 that they split ways. In a 2011 interview excerpted by PBS's Tehran Bureau, Davood claimed the separation was an ideological one:
We have separated our ways from those who have deviated from the path of Velaayat-e Faghih [guardianship of the Islamic jurist, represented by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei], even if it is our brother [who has done so].
According to a leaked 2010 U.S. embassy cable, however, the falling out was a bit more personal than Davood let on. And it may have centered on an individual in the news again this week: Ahmadinejad's confidant, Mashaei. As the cable explains:
Ahmadinejad's brother Davud, the former head of the president's office of inspection, accused Mashaei of saying 'absurd' things to keep the system busy and to prevent progress towards Khomeini's goals. He mockingly implied that Mashaei's only 'accomplishment' is his friendship with Hooshang Amir Ahmadi.
The mention of Hooshang Amirahmadi, a New Jersey-based professor and current presidential hopeful (see Katie Cella's profile of him for FP), is surprising. But what U.S. diplomats said next is more telling:
(COMMENT: Davud Ahmadinejad, who resigned his position as in August 2008, reportedly did so due to disagreements with his brother regarding Mashaei. END COMMENT.)
With Iran's Guardian Council now set to narrow down hundreds of presidential candidates to just a few names by May 17, analysts are predicting that Mashaei is unlikely to make the cut because of opposition from the supreme leader and his conservative backers. Davood probably won't make it through either. But if he somehow does, and he wins, don't expect Mahmoud to land a job in the new administration.
When it comes to the death penalty, European governments are ardently abolitionist. Yet the European taxpayer may in fact be unwittingly fueling executions for drug-related offenses in the Islamic Republic of Iran.
In a recent post on Iran's war on drugs, Marya Hannun mentions the "steep price" of the country's drug war -- namely the execution of hundreds of individuals annually for the possession, use, and trafficking of narcotics.
While Hannun referenced the praise that the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has bestowed on Iran's anti-narcotics program despite the high execution rate for drug-related offenses, what is not discussed is the funding provided by European nations for these efforts. Countries such as France and Germany provide funds to the UNODC's integrated program of technical cooperation on drugs and crime in Iran, which ultimately results in gross human rights violations perpetrated by Iranian authorities.
According to the UNODC website, the integrated program was launched in March 2011 thanks to a "generous financial contribution" from the government of Norway. The program "aims to support national efforts on drugs and crime" and consists of three sub-programs: 1) illicit trafficking and border management; 2) drug demand reduction and HIV control; and 3) crime, justice and corruption.
There are counter-narratives to UNODC's high regard for Iran's anti-narcotics efforts, including allegations that law enforcement personnel in Iran are in fact partaking in and facilitating the sale of illicit drugs for profit on the black market. Regardless of government complicity, the fact remains that thousands of individuals are arrested each year with the technical and material support provided by sub-program 1, including body scanners, drug-detection kits, sniffer dogs, vehicles, and night-vision devices.
Of those arrested, hundreds will subsequently be sentenced to death by Iran's judiciary on drug allegations. Iran is a global leader in executions, with only China exceeding it in number of people put to death annually. According to Iran Human Rights, a Norway-based group that documents executions in Iran, at least 580 people were executed in the country in 2012. In these documented cases, at least 76 percent of executions were due to drug-related charges.
Since news of the frequency with which Iran puts individuals to death for drug-related offenses has come to light, UNODC and donor countries have come under fire for their support of the program, and human rights groups have encouraged donors to request greater transparency from the Iranian government about how their money is spent in this joint initiative.
While the Norwegian government provided the initial cash infusion to the integrated program, it has since ceased funding sub-program 1 and requested that its support only be applied to sub-programs 2 and 3. The Danish government, meanwhile, announced last month that it would no longer provide financial support to the program following revelations that its donations were indirectly sponsoring the death penalty in Iran. At the time of the decision, the Danish government had provided about 5 million Danish kroner (or $875,000) annually in the previous two years to the program and was expected to provide about 7 million Danish kroner ($1.2 million) over the next two years.
While Denmark's decision to cut the funding has been welcomed by human rights groups, there's more work to be done. Questions remain over the transparency of the program -- specifically UNODC's ability to ensure that donor countries who have restricted their support to only sub-programs 2 and 3 will indeed have that money applied to the intended targets.
To this end, the France-based anti-death penalty group Together Against the Death Penalty (Ensemble contre le peine de mort, or ECPM) has started a petition calling on other European Union member states to follow the Danish example. Short of governments cutting off funding altogether, ECPM and its organizational co-signers are requesting that funding from donor countries be conditioned on an immediate moratorium on death sentences for drug-related offenses in Iran and that contribution amounts be made public and solely allocated to prevention programs.
Given that abolition of the death penalty is a pre-condition for entry of any nation into the European Union, it is time the EU call on its member states to apply more scrutiny of its support for such activities abroad as well. The case of Iran is a fine place to start.
BEHROUZ MEHRI/AFP/Getty Images
It's open season in Tehran: For five days beginning on May 7, presidential hopefuls are registering to run for president in the country's June 14 presidential election. And the number of entrants into the rough-and-tumble world of Iranian politics is staggering, with more than 200 candidates signed up as of Thursday.
So the race must be wide, wide open, right? Not exactly. While nobody's quite sure who the frontrunners are yet, they will most likely be largely loyal to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, as the Associated Press points out.
That's because the country's 12-member Guardian Council will vet the vast array of candidates between May 12 and May 17, applying a rigorous set of standards to narrow the field way down. In 2009, for instance, only four of 475 names made it through the lightning round. So what, exactly, does the Guardian Council look for in whittling down the candidates? Presidential hopefuls can be disqualified for failing to meet a host of criteria enumerated in Article 115 of the Iranian Constitution.
Like its U.S. counterpart, the Iranian Constitution stipulates that a viable candidate must have Iranian citizenship. Not only does the presidential hopeful need to be a citizen (I found no mention of an age limit), but he also must be of "Iranian origin." Candidates who aren't Shiite Muslims or "religious and political personalities" need not apply.
Some of the constitution's conditions read more like a help-wanted ad. A viable candidate, for instance, must have "administrative capacity and resourcefulness" and no criminal record (incidentally, the latter is not a prerequisite to hold the highest office in the United States). The candidate must demonstrate "trustworthiness and piety" and must have a firm "belief in the fundamental principles of the Islamic Republic of Iran."
Those are high bars to clear -- particularly when compared with the low bars to registering. And that means we won't see much more of some of the more colorful aspirants who have already registered or have been floated as candidates .
On Tuesday, for example, Razieh Omidvar became the first woman this year to throw her hat into the ring. While it is often reported that the constitution explicitly forbids women from running for president, the language is, in fact, a bit more ambiguous. In 2009, the spokesman for the Guardian Council said it "has never announced its opinion on whether a registrant is a man or a woman," suggesting that it is open to interpreting the constitution's language in favor of both male and female participation. Still, Omidvar shouldn't get her hopes up. The spokesman was quick to add, "[w]henever a woman has been disqualified, it has been because she's lacked general competence."
Then there's Mostafa Kavakebian, a reformist politician who was disqualified by the Guardian Council in 2009 and also registered on Tuesday, even picking green as his campaign color in homage to the Green Movement that arose after the country's disputed presidential election four years ago. While his persistence is admirable, Kavakebian is just as unlikely as Omidvar to make the cut a second time around.
Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, Ahmadinejad's current chief of staff, may be one of the more high-profile contenders. But conservatives in the country, who are locked in a power struggle with Ahmadinejad, predict he will also be knocked off the slate. Though he has yet to register, Ahmadinejad has been grooming Mashaei to take over in what the Guardian describes as a "Putin/Medvedev-style reshuffle."
Meanwhile, Ali Rahimi, a 59-year-old surgeon who graduated from the University of Kentucky, does not seem deterred by the many factors that could keep him out of the running. "I am extremely overqualified,'' he told the Washington Post after registering, "so I want to see what sort of reason they come up with for refusing my candidacy.''
If there's a sure bet in this election, it's that Iranian authorities will find one.
BEHROUZ MEHRI/AFP/Getty Images
Iran's English-language, state-sponsored media service PressTV may have stumbled onto something, in spite of itself. An article published Thursday cites a bizarre YouTube rant by financial analyst and PressTV contributor Mike Stathis (author of recent articles "Jewish Mafia tied to death of America" and "Zio-Saudis use petrodollar to wage war," which are as unhinged as their titles suggest), in which he accuses Starbucks of blocking PressTV's website but not, for example, pornographic websites.
The YouTube video, which PressTV's article does not link to, lays out Stathis's conspiratorial theory, which is that Starbucks is censoring PressTV's site as part of an effort by a hypothetical Jewish cabal to control U.S. opinion. Stathis has some unkind things to say about Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz and investment guru Peter Schiff (no, he does not connect those dots beyond "they're both Jewish"; yes, it's just as nonsensical in the video). And he takes a break from his rant to talk to a pornographic webcam recording he claims he's accessing from a Starbucks. The whole thing is strange and uncomfortable to watch, and not terribly work appropriate. I can't say I recommend it.
Here's the thing, though: Stathis is on to something. On Friday, I walked across the street to Starbucks. Sure enough, PressTV's website wouldn't load. In an effort to find another website that wouldn't load (and probably put myself on a few watch lists), here are some other sites I tried: Iran's other English-language state news agency Fars, the Syrian Arab News Agency, Russian propaganda machine Pravda, white supremacist web forum Stormfront, and PornHub, which is exactly what it sounds like. They were all accessible -- at the glacial speed of coffee shop Wi-Fi, but accessible. I walked two blocks to another Starbucks. Once again, PressTV gave me an error message, while Stathis's crazy YouTube video loaded without a hitch. Same thing at a third Starbucks. Back here at the FP office: PressTV's site loaded, no problem.
When reached for comment, Laura Mill, a spokesperson for Starbucks, told FP, "We do not filter our content or websites that can be accessed in our stores in the U.S. There're some global nuances, but in the U.S. there's no filtering." IT specialists at Starbucks told her the site might be blocked by the Internet service provider.
Starbucks's Wi-Fi is provided by AT&T, which did not reply to a request for comment by press time. But PressTV was easily accessible on the protected Wi-Fi network at the AT&T store across the street from one of the Starbucks locations I visited Friday. Starbucks's Wi-Fi also has AT&T terms and conditions that users agree to when logging in. And buried in the fine print, AT&T passes the buck back to Starbucks:
The owner or operator of the Location may have implemented URL filtering or other content filtering services which block access to certain websites or content while at the Location ('content filtering').
As it happens, AT&T's terms and conditions protect it from liability for just about any disruption in service you can imagine (and a few that you probably didn't think of):
AT&T will not be liable for any failure of performance, if such failure is due to any cause beyond AT&T's reasonable control, including acts of God, fire, explosion, vandalism, nuclear disaster, terrorism, cable cut, storm or other similar occurrence, any law, order or regulation by any government, civil, or military authority, national emergencies, insurrections, riots, wars, labor difficulties, supplier failures, shortages, breaches, or delays, or delays caused by you or your equipment.
Something does seem to be blocking access to PressTV at Starbucks, but whether that's a person or just a glitch -- and why PressTV and not, say, the Fars News Agency as well -- remains unclear. But if you think it's evidence of a grand conspiracy to deprive the American public of Iranian propaganda, maybe it's time to take off your tinfoil hat.
As Barack Obama arrives in Mexico for the first visit of his second term in office, talk has inevitably turned to the United States' floundering war on drugs in Latin America. And as efforts are made to scrutinize what the United States and Mexico are doing wrong, it's worth looking at where things are going right. In recent years, one unlikely victor has emerged in the global war on drugs: Iran.
It's a favorite topic for Iran's state-run news outlets. The Islamic Republic has been lauded by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime for having "one of the world's strongest counter-narcotics responses." While the country continues to have one of the highest rates of opium addiction, Iranian security forces seize a larger volume of heroine and opiates than any other country, according to a 2012 U.N. report.
In October, Italy's U.N. representative Antonino de Leo said the praise is warranted. He even drew a direct comparison to Latin America's war on drugs when he told the New York Times that Iran's success is all the more impressive because "[t]hese men are fighting their version of the Colombian war on drugs, but they are not funded with billions of U.S. dollars and are battling against drugs coming from another country."
Iran has also cooperated with the U.N., dispatching thousands of police officers to tightly patrol the border with Afghanistan and devoting vast resources to the problem of addiction inside the country. In an April article for Foreign Affairs entitled "How Iran Won the War on Drugs," Amir A. Afkhami discussed how a recent turn to preventative methods has vastly improved Iran's drug addiction problem, noting that by the year 2002, "over 50 percent of the country's drug-control budget was dedicated to preventive public health campaigns, such as advertisement and education."
Iran's latest effort to curtail drug trafficking came as recently as Wednesday, when the government signed a memorandum of understanding with Armenia on a counternarcotics campaign. "Iran, located at the crossroad of international drug smuggling from Afghanistan to Europe leads international efforts in fighting drug networks and narcotic traffickers," the country's Fars News Agency boasted in its report on the bilateral agreement.
But Iran's victory has come at a steep price. According to Human Rights Watch, the past few years have seen a dramatic increase in drug-related executions in the Islamic Republic. In 2011 alone, 81 percent of the country's over 600 executions were due to drug-related offenses, including the use of narcotics.
For this reason, Faraz Sanei of Human Rights Watch warned in a 2011 Guardian op-ed that we should be careful about crowning Iran a victor in the global effort to combat trafficking:
In praising Iran's "strong" anti-narcotics response, [U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime Executive Director Yuri] Fedotov focused on Iran's seemingly effective supply-and-demand reduction programmes, including innovative treatment and rehabilitation measures for more than 150,000 people in communities and prisons.
Yet he said nothing, publicly at least, about the other human tragedy that is unfolding – the dozens of prisoners Iran has hanged and unceremoniously buried following flawed trials, or the hundreds of others who await a similar fate. The silence is especially puzzling since the UN agency opposes the death penalty for drug-related offences.
If this is what victory in the war on drugs looks like, it makes you wonder whether it's a battle that can ever be truly won.
If Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin is to be believed, Russia has stopped worrying about U.S. missile defense systems in Eastern Europe. In a speech delivered Tuesday at the Russian embassy in London, Rogozin claimed that the American missile shield no longer poses a threat to his country -- a statement that contradicts years of Russian officials howling about the presence of U.S. missiles near the Russian border.
"We have solved the issue of penetrating the missile shield," Rogozin said, according to RIA Novosti. "We regret that the United States waste their money on missile defense and compel us to do the same. The missile shield is nothing for us, it's a bluff. It poses no military threat, but remains a political and economic problem."
American officials have repeatedly tried to assure the Russians that the missile defense system is intended to counter the missile threat from Iran, but this has done little to assuage the Russians. In his remarks Tuesday, Rogozin called the system "excessive" and "provocative by nature" -- attributes that made Russia feel "compelled to search for a wise and asymmetric response."
Could it be that Russia has found a way to circumvent the missile defense system?
If so, Rogozin would certainly be in a position to know. Prior to his elevation to deputy prime minister, Rogozin served as the Russian envoy to NATO and as President Vladimir Putin's special envoy to the alliance on missile defense issues. In his current role, Rogozin oversees the Russian defense industry, a position that would certainly give him the insight to comment on innovations in Russian missile technology.
While Rogozin's comments may amount to nothing more than bluster, he has previously alluded to Russia's desire to create an effective military counterweight to U.S. missile defense systems. In February, he replied to comments by NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen defending the alliance's missile shield by writing on Twitter that "we also feel responsibility for protecting our population from your missile threat and will create a reliable air and space defense." In June, 2011, Rogozin wrote in the International Herald Tribune that for "Russia it is a matter of principle to remove any threat to its strategic capabilities, which guarantee our sovereignty and independence."
But until now, there has been no indication from Russia that it has found a way to counter U.S. missile defense systems through technical means.
Interestingly, when in March the United States chose to bolster its missile defense systems in the Pacific region in response to threats issued by North Korea, it effectively canceled the final phase of the missile system the Russians opposed. That development led to hopes that Russia and the United States might reach a rapprochement on the issue -- one that did not appear.
Perhaps that was because Russia has been waiting to unveil a military breakthrough to render the issue irrelevant.
ALEXANDER NEMENOV/AFP/Getty Images
Journalists have had their hands full this week with reports of Iran's fake time machine, not to mention the 6.3-magnitude earthquake that shook the country's south. But somehow, in all the excitement, an Iranian proposal to annex Azerbaijan went largely unnoticed.
On Tuesday, Iran's Fars news agency reported that Azerbaijani-speaking lawmakers in Iran had introduced a bill to re-annex their neighbor to the north. Iran lost Azerbaijan in 1828 -- "The most frustrating chapter in the history class!" Fars laments -- when it was forced to sign the Turkmenchay treaty, ceding the territory to Russia. The legislators propose revisiting the terms of the treaty, which, according to Fars, means "the 17 cities and regions that Iran had lost to the Russians would be given back to Iran after a century."
For its part, Azerbaijan has told Iran to "bring it" -- diplomatically speaking. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reports that Siyavush Novruzov of the ruling New Azerbaijan Party has declared that revisiting the treaty would result not in Azerbaijan being annexed to Iran, but rather in Tehran ceding its northwestern territory to Azerbaijan.
While all this may sound like the makings of an international showdown in a strategically sensitive region, here's the comforting part: in the years since the collapse of the Soviet Union, both sides have repeatedly brandished the treaty as an empty threat. Take a look at this January 1992 edition of one Kentucky daily:
Screenshot of the Kentucky New Era
Or a December 2011 headline from Azer News that reads, "MP wants to 'annex Azeri territory to Iran.'"
On the other side of the border, Azerbaijan has threatened more than once to reclaim the region in Iran known as "Southern Azerbaijan." And as we wrote in February 2012, minority lawmakers in Baku have even provocatively suggested changing the country's name to "Northern Azerbaijan," implying ownership over the Iranian territory to the south.
Writing in Foreign Affairs in January, Iran expert Alex Vatanka explained why, despite significant cultural and linguistic overlap, the two countries remain tense neighbors. After securing independence in 1991, Azerbaijan failed to become the close Shiite ally that Tehran wanted, he notes. And since 2003, Vatanka adds, "Baku has grown both considerably richer -- thanks to revenues from energy exports -- and noticeably bolder in its foreign policy."
This boldness -- which includes the purchase of weapons and technology from Israel in exchange for granting the country a foothold on the Iranian border -- has driven an increasingly substantial wedge between Azerbaijan and Iran. In other words, don't be surprised if we see this headline crop up again ... and again and again.
Iran may have just scored a massive, albeit largely symbolic, victory in its cold war with the United States. And it is a very cold war -- because the battle being waged is over ice cream.
On Monday, the Iranian ice cream company Choopan appeared to unseat Baskin-Robbins as the reigning Guinness World Record holder for the largest tub of ice cream. In celebration of Nowruz, the Persian New Year, Choopan made a five-ton batch of chocolate ice cream in a carton more than six feet wide and five feet tall. Representatives from the Guinness Book of World Records were on hand to observe the occasion but have yet to announce whether the Iranian company officially beat Baskin-Robbins's 2005 record of four tons of vanilla.
The Iranian state news outlet PressTV was on hand to record the achievement. "I'm here with my family to see the biggest ice cream in the world in Iran, and Iran is making it, and I think everyone is having fun," one woman told a reporter. "First, I came to this event because it gives me national pride for our achievement, and of course I love ice cream," said another.
When reached for comment, Baskin-Robbins issued a statement to FP saying, "While we understand another company is vying to break this record, we remain focused on serving our guests around the world our delicious variety of ice cream flavors, custom ice cream cakes and frozen treats, and wouldn't rule out trying to break another record in the future."
This is just the latest battle in the long-churning U.S.-Iranian ice cream war, and it was previously fought on the proxy battlefield of Baghdad. In December 2010, as the United States wound down its commitments there while still trying to maintain its influence, Liz Sly reported in the Washington Post that an Iranian ice cream franchise was investing where American companies wouldn't.
[Ice cream parlor co-owner Ali Hazem] Haideri says he did not deliberately site the outlet near the embassy, and indeed seems somewhat anxious about the store's proximity to rockets aimed at Americans.... Yet there's something brazen about the Green Zone location of a franchise whose Web site declares that its goal is "to exalt the name of Iran and reinforce Iranian identity."
With no immediate plans from American companies to try and retake the record, the ice cream war could melt away before it has a chance to morph into a large-scale culinary conflict like the great Lebanese-Israeli hummus war.
BEHROUZ MEHRI/AFP/Getty Images
On Monday, Barack Obama released a message to the Iranian people marking the beginning of Nowruz, an ancient holiday celebrating the start of the Persian New Year and the advent of spring. In a YouTube video with Farsi subtitles, the president offered a brief note of celebration before launching into the crux of his message: "the world's serious and growing concerns about Iran's nuclear program, which threatens peace and security in the region and beyond." He continued:
As I have every year as President, I want to take this opportunity to speak directly to the people and leaders of Iran. Since taking office, I have offered the Iranian government an opportunity -- if it meets its international obligations, then there could be a new relationship between our two countries, and Iran could begin to return to its rightful place among the community of nations.
In past years, Obama's annual Nowruz address has been regarded by some as a shining example of soft diplomacy and by others as a cynical case of political opportunism -- but all have agreed that the president is seizing the moment to send a message to the Iranian people and government. Which raises the question: What about the millions of non-Iranians who also celebrate the holiday?
Foreign Policy caught up with Adil Baguirov, who serves on the board of directors of two D.C.-based advocacy organizations -- the U.S. Azeris Network and the U.S. Turkic Network -- that have repeatedly lobbied Obama to make his Nowruz address more inclusive and less politicized. "The Turkic people who number some 200 million spanning across Eurasia, from Yakutia to Europe, were once again overlooked" in this year's message, he wrote in an e-mail.
But, he notes, this wasn't always the case. Baguirov drew a pointed distinction with the Bush years, when the president would "congratulate not only all the Iranic people (people of Iran, Tajikistan, Afghanistan , and some people living in other regional countries, as well as the diaspora in U.S.), but all the Turkic people and diaspora that trace their heritage from Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgysztan, Turkey, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan, as well as a multitude of autonomous regions in Russia, Ukraine, Moldova, the Turcomans in Iraq, the Uzbeks and Hazara's in Afghanistan, the Uighurs in China, and others."
In his 2006 Nowruz message, for example, Bush noted that for "millions of people around the world who trace their heritage to Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Turkey, Pakistan, India, and Central Asia, Nowruz is a celebration of life and an opportunity to express joy and happiness." (It's worth noting that Bush focused a bit more on Iran in 2003, and devoted his entire 2002 address to Afghans and Afghan-Americans after the fall of the Taliban.)
Baguirov, for his part, said Obama's approach is as if Iran's Ayatollah Khamenei spoke directly to the American people on Christmas or New Year's Day. "Other countries, especially if they have been celebrating those holidays far longer, would be rather baffled and even offended by such preferential treatment," he pointed out.
Clearly, the Obama administration now sees Nowruz as a chance to address Washington's increasingly fractious relationship with Tehran, and to reach out to and draw support from the Iranian people. Whether or not Iranians appreciate the gesture, it's clear at least some other Nowruz celebrants don't.
Several news outlets, including the pro-reform Shargh daily, said French lawyer Isabelle Coutant-Peyre is in Iran for talks with officials over how and where to file the lawsuit. She is also the lawyer for notorious Venezuelan-born terrorist Ilich Ramirez Sanchez, known as Carlos the Jackal.
This isn't the first time the Iranian government has complained about the film's portrayal of the Iranian people during the 1979 hostage crisis. In February, the government even organized a conference to highlight the anti-Iranian ideology behind Ben Affleck's film and other movies. The lawsuit was discussed on Monday during yet another conference in Tehran for Iranian cultural officials and movie critics entitled "The Hoax of Hollywood."
While the details of how (and if) Iran will go about suing Hollywood have yet to be released, one can't help but wonder: Does Iran actually have a case?
The short answer? Not really. "The threshold for a defamation suit in this context is pretty steep," Cory Andrews, senior litigation counsel for the Washington Legal Foundation, told FP. To prove defamation, you have to not only establish that what is presented as fact is actually false (a difficult task when dealing with a partially fictionalized movie), but also that the plaintiff's reputation was injured, causing financial damages. "I'm not sure how the current Iranian regime would go about proving damages," Andrews notes. "The film is loosely based on events from 1979, not 2013. Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini is dead, and as a general rule of law you cannot libel the dead."
Even if Iranian officials choose to pursue a case of group libel -- a controversial legal theory, typically raised in cases of racial hate speech -- they would still have to prove that the regime suffered an injury to reputation and measurable damages as a result of the film.
As for where Iran could file its lawsuit, Noah Feldman, a professor of international and constitutional law at Harvard, tells FP, "The Iranianans could bring suit in any place where the film is shown, I suppose, and rely on anti-defamation laws." Still, he adds, "it seems highly unlikely to go anywhere in any credible jurisdiction."
Then again, Andrews reminds us, "it's the easiest thing in the world to file a suit." So while Iran might have an exceedingly difficult time proving their case, that won't necessarily stop them from giving the makers of Argo a minor headache in the process.
© 2012 - Warner Bros. Pictures
Last night, Argo, Ben Affleck's account of the Iranian hostage situation, surprised few when it claimed the Academy Award for best picture. Also unsurprising was the reaction of Iranian media.
The film, which looks at Hollywood's role in helping smuggle six hostages out of Iran amidst the fraught 1979 revolution, has garnered intense criticism from the country for its negative portrayal of Iranians. The Iranian government even organized a conference to discuss the ideology behind films like Argo, and their use in promoting an anti-Iranian, Islamophobic agenda. And when Michelle Obama presented the Oscar via live feed from the White House, this seemed to confirm the worst fears for many in the Iranian media.
In a rare occasion in Oscar history, the First Lady announced the winner for Best Picture for the anti-Iran Film ‘Argo,' which is produced by the Zionist company Warner Bros.
Mehr News dubbed the award the "most political Oscar" saying, "the anti-Iranian movie ‘Argo', the 85th Academy Awards ceremony, unveiled the bare politicization in Hollywood."
Meanwhile Iran's state TV called the whole thing an "advertisement for the CIA."
In his acceptance speech, Affleck included a couple of shout outs to the frustrated nation:
I want to thank our friends in Iran living in terrible circumstances right now. I want to thank my wife who I don't usually associate with Iran.
Not the most diplomatic of speeches, this prompted Mehr to further lament: "Ben Affleck continues to show a bleak picture of Iran: Iranians live in terrible circumstances.”
The state-owned, Press TV, went in a different direction. In a snub worthy of the Academy, they chose not to acknowledge the film at all in their coverage of the evening, making it seem, for those who wouldn't know better, that Life of Pi and Amour were the big winners of the night.
Kevin Winter/Getty Images
A Dead Sea's worth of water has disappeared from the Middle East. It sounds like something out of Carmen Sandiego, but it's actually the finding of a joint study by scientists from NASA, the University of California, Irvine, and the National Center for Atmospheric Research, published today in the journal Water Resources Research.
Using gravity-measuring NASA satellites -- which allowed them to bypass political boundaries and gather data from space -- the scientists learned that between 2003 and 2009, the Tigris and Euphrates river basins lost 117 million acre feet of stored freshwater. Jay Famiglietti of UC Irvine described the findings:
GRACE data show an alarming rate of decrease in total water storage in the Tigris and Euphrates river basins, which currently have the second fastest rate of groundwater storage loss on Earth, after India.... The rate was especially striking after the 2007 drought. Meanwhile, demand for freshwater continues to rise, and the region does not coordinate its water management because of different interpretations of international laws.
According to the researchers, the countries directly impacted by this trend are Turkey, Syria, Iraq, and Iran -- not exactly the world's most politically stable states.
So how will this play out? While "water wars" are often forebodingly cast as the next big source of global conflict, water security researcher Peter H. Brooks, writing in Foreign Policy, has dismissed some of the hype as alarmist and not all that new, citing Mark Twain's own observation that "Whiskey is for drinking. Water is for fightin over." But, he adds that the Tigris and Euphrates basins -- which are ripe with border disputes, conflict over Kurdish minorities, and now major conflicts in Syria and Iraq -- might be more prone to the insidious effects of water instability than other places around the globe.
In 2009, responding to severe water shortages, Iraqi parliament demanded an increase in the share of Turkish river waters. Despite this and continued droughts, Turkey has continued building dams. As broader regional instability permeates into Syria and Iraq, expect water to play an increasingly important role in future local and international disputes between these three countries.
Already, there have been pitched battles over dams in the Syrian civil war, and regional dynamics could shift as Iran seeks water from Afghanistan. As if countries in the Middle East need something new to fight about.
BULENT KILIC/AFP/Getty Images
Reddit was once a site by, for, and about the concerns of "internet people." But in the past year, it has seen its popular AMA (ask me anything) sub-forum has become a popular way for celebrities, scientists, politicians and others to gain legitimacy with the online masses. Even President Obama did one.
The latest aspiring leader to allow Reddit users to ask him anything is Dr. Hooshang Amirahmadi, a long-shot candidate for the Iranian presidency. Amirahmadi is a professor at Rutgers who left Iran for the United States in 1975 because of the political situation. He registered as a candidate for the 2005 presidential election but allegedly was disqualified by the Guardian Council for his joint U.S. citizenship.
Here are some of the highlights from yesterday's session:
In 2005, I put my name down as a candidate, but it was not really serious. I entered the race about one month before the election day and my purpose was not really to stay the course, but rather to make a statement. Much of Iran's intelligentsia was boycotting that election and I was afraid that by boycotting, we are going to get someone elected that will not be hospitable to democracy and human rights. History proven me right.
In my administration there will be no restriction on any type of media. I believe in free speech.
The biggest problem for Iran is a lack of trust between the US Iran. I have lived 40 years in the US, I understand both cultures and laungages. I can easily build trust between the two countries. particularly because I have never been part of the problem between the US and Iran. I have tried to be part of the solution for 25 years.
Why is he doing this? Well according to Amirahmadi:
At this point, no candidate (not me, not Messrs. Ghalibaf, Velayati, etc.) is allowed to publicly campaign in Iran. In that sense, all candidates are in the same boat. No candidate can publicly campaign until he gets the approval of the Guardian Council, which will be delivered in late-May. So far, my campaign has been very active campaigning in the United States, Dubai, and the United Kingdom. We will be travelling to Iran in March, but not for public campaigns. With your help, we want to take our message of peace around the world.
Several Iran watchers, expatriates and Iranians (using proxies to gain access to Reddit) came out claiming that many of Amrahmadi's proposals aren't even within the scope of presidential power, even if he manages to obtain permission from the Guardian Council to run. They're still waiting for a response.
Amirahmadi has promised another AMA on February 12 starting at 6 PM EST. Iran's election is scheduled for June 14, 2013. I suppose an Ahmadinejad AMA might be too much to hope for.
Forget nuclear ducks. This morning Iran revealed its latest science and technology development: a space monkey. According to Iran's Al-Alam TV, a monkey, launched in a Kavoshgar rocket, successfully reached a height of 120 kilometers, before returning safely to earth.
This launch comes on the heels of a tragic failed attempt to send a monkey into space in October of 2011. After having successfully launched a turtle, a mouse, worms, and even a monkey doll into space, Iran's first actual monkey did not return alive.
These forays into space travel have prompted Western concerns that this is all really part of Iran's growing nuclear program:
Western countries are concerned the long-range ballistic technology used to propel Iranian satellites into orbit could be used to launch atomic warheads. Tehran denies such suggestions and says its nuclear work is purely peaceful.
Iran joins a long list of countries who have employed monkeys and other mammals to bravely go where no man has gone before, including the US, China, France, and Russia. Unlike these other countries, Iran doesn't seem to name their animals. Maybe it's better not to get too attached.
If Sen. John Kerry is confirmed as secretary of state, one of the first issues to cross his desk will be Iran's nuclear program. Kerry has discussed the issue before. We've poured over the WikiLeaks cables, which paint a broad portrait of Kerry's diplomatic style. In those classified documents, he discussed how he might approach the issue.
The first reference comes from a conversation in February 2005 with French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier. Kerry told Barnier that "his conversations in the region had convinced him that Iran remains committed to a nuclear weapons program, but agreed that there were no good alternatives to negotiating." Though he did not rule out a military option, he did point out it "would be difficult," and pointed to U.N. sanctions, which have since been put in place and periodically ratcheted up, as an alternative. Still smarting from his defeat in the presidential election in 2004, Kerry remarked that "his own intention, had he been elected president, was to pursue front channel and back channel contacts with the Iranian regime."
Five years later, Kerry got the opportunity to open some of those back channel contacts. In a February 2010 meeting with Qatari Emir Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, Kerry commented that Washington's behind-the-scenes signals to Tehran had gone unanswered. He "observed that the Iranians are scared to talk...Our instinct is that we need to find a way to talk to him." Al-Thani then reportedly offered to be an intermediary. "What if I talk to the Iranian President. What would you have me say?" he asked.
Senator Kerry responded, "The U.S. seeks serious discussion and sought to create a new foundation for a relationship based on Iran's non-confrontational compliance with IAEA requirements and other mutual interests." Those interests include dealing with drug-running, the Taliban, and illicit trade. The Chairman told the Amir he feared that Iran still thinks it is dealing with the 1953 America that tried to overthrow the Iranian government.
The United States recognizes Iran's ambitions to be a regional player, Kerry told al-Thani, and wants a dialogue about what sort of power it will be.
Of course, that conversation took place nearly three years ago. A lot has changed -- or, maybe very little has changed, and as a result patience in Washington is running low. Kerry's views may have shifted since then, but he'd probably still agree with the comment he made then to al-Thani: "It is crazy to continue on this collision course."
KARIM JAAFAR/AFP/Getty Images
Iran's Mehr News on Sunday published the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs' "six-point plan" to supposedly solve the crisis in Syria.
The plan goes much further than Iran has publicly in the past, though it resembles Kofi Annan's much-maligned plan from the spring. It also doesn't mention one key point: What happens to Bashar al-Assad?
Here's where it gets more interesting. Apparently, Syrian vice president Farouk al-Sharaa has given an interview to Lebanon's al-Akhbar newspaper, which has generally taken a neutral line or one sympathetic to Assad. “We must be in the position of defending Syria’s existence. We are not in a battle for the survival of an individual or a regime," Sharaa reportedly said. Now which individual could he be talking about?
Sharaa, oft mooted as a transitional figure, has been the subject of an impressive number of rumors on Syrian opposition websites over the last year or so -- sometimes these have him defecting from the regime, sometimes he and his family members are killed, and so on.
But apparently he's still alive, and now seems to be positioning himself as some kind of transitional leader, or at least as a broker between the regime and the rebels.
“The opposition with its different factions, civilian, armed, or ones with external ties, cannot claim to be the sole legitimate representative of the Syrian People, just as the current rule with its ideological army and its confrontation parties lead by the Baath, cannot achieve change without new partners,” al-Akhbar quotes him as saying.
He continues: “The solution has to be Syrian, but through a historic settlement, which would include the main regional countries, and the member of UN Security Council. This settlement must include stopping all shapes of violence, and the creation of a national unity government with wide powers." The full interview will be posted Monday, the paper says.
Maybe it's just a coincidence that these two stories both came out today. The al-Akhbar interview could be a fake. And it's important to remember that the Iranian Foreign Ministry doesn't always speak for the supreme leader. But it sure does look like Iran isn't ready to make a last stand with Bashar, eh?
Speaking at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington D.C. this afternoon, President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi of Yemen expressed unwavering support for the controversial CIA drone program in his country.
Hadi praised the "high precision that's been provided by the drones," adding that they leave "zero margin of error if you know exactly what target you're aiming at." He further acknowledged that drone strikes form an essential component of the campaign against Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) because of the Yemeni Air Force's inability to carry out night operations with its aging fleet of Soviet-made MiG-21s. "It's highly unlikely," he said, that these aircraft "would be successful."
Hadi's public endorsement of the U.S. drone program, which has expanded exponentially under President Obama, represents a shift from his predecessor's policy of denying U.S. involvement. According to a 2010 U.S. diplomatic cable, for instance, President Ali Abdullah Saleh told Gen. David Petraeus, "We'll continue saying the bombs are ours, not yours."
Hadi also accused Iran of seeking a foothold in his country by creating a "climate of chaos and violence."
Yemen, which is in the midst of a delicate GCC-led transition following the ouster of longtime dictator Ali Abdullah Saleh, faces a conflict with Houthi militants in the north, a stubborn separatist movement in the south, and a growing Al Qaeda presence in the country's tribal hinterlands. Much of the country's infrastructure -- including schools, roads, and hospitals -- has been destroyed in the fighting and thousands of citizens have been displaced.
At the same time, Yemen is grappling with critical water and energy shortages, a burgeoning youth population, and the second highest unemployment rate in the Arab world.
In the mist of this crisis, Hadi charged, Iran is trying to "thwart the political solution in Yemen" as a hedge against its waning influence in Syria. Iranian spy networks, he said, are "backing military action" in the south and "buying political opposition figures and media figures."
Hadi sought to portray the security situation in Yemen as a regional and international threat as part of his bid to drum up assistance from international donors. AQAP, he said, is a "common enemy" that poses a "serious and real threat" to the West as well as the Arab world. Moreover, if Yemen descends into civil war, he warned, the situation will likely be "way worse than Somalia or Afghanistan to the area, to the region, and to the world."
Following Hadi's address at the U.N. General Assembly yesterday in which he called for "more logistical and technical support" in the fight against Al Qaeda, the Friends of Yemen -- composed of the P-5 and the GCC -- promised an additional $1.46 billion in financial assistance to Yemen, bringing the total to nearly $8 billion pledged by international donors.
When questioned by the Atlantic Council's Frederick Kempe about his country's most pressing needs, however, Hadi hinted at still more economic assistance: "Seventy five percent of the solution" to Yemen's crisis, he said, "is an economic solution."
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