Friday, November 23, 2012


Top Stories

"A Chinese firm has stopped verifying safety and environmental standards for Iranian ships, becoming the last top certification provider to end marine work there as the trade noose on Tehran tightens. The China Classification Society (CCS) is the last of the world's top 13 such companies, all members of the International Association of Classification Societies (IACS), to confirm it has ended Iran-related certification work, key to insurance and ports access for ships... A letter seen by Reuters dated November 15 showed Beijing-headquartered CCS had not provided certification services to Iranian ships since June 28. It had been urged to pull out by U.S. pressure group United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI) and clarify its position. 'Currently there is not any ship flying an Iranian flag or owned by an Iranian ship owner in our fleet, and we have not conducted any statutory survey for any Iranian ship,' CCS chairman and president Sun Licheng said in the letter to UANI dated November 15... A targeted campaign by UANI, which includes former U.S. ambassadors as well as former CIA and British intelligence chiefs on its board and is funded by private donations, has already led to other top classification societies exiting Iran. Without certification from classification societies, vessels are unable to secure insurance cover or call at most international ports. UANI's Wallace on Wednesday welcomed the move by CCS, but sought harsher measures being imposed on Iran's fleet. 'All of the world's major shipping certifiers have now ended their certification of Iranian vessels,' said Wallace, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. 'We call for even tougher sanctions: any vessel that docks in Iran or transports Iranian cargo should be barred from accessing ports in the U.S., EU, or elsewhere.'"

Reuters: "Hong Kong has deregistered five Iranian cargo ships and a further 14 are likely to follow after their classification society quit Iran due to sanctions imposed by the European Union and the United States over its nuclear programme... Hong Kong's marine department has asked the owners of 19 dry bulk carriers, managed by an Iranian firm, to register their ships elsewhere after the Korean Register of Shipping said earlier this year it would not provide the ships safety auditing... Hong Kong had been urged by U.S. pressure group United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI) to deflag the 19 dry bulk ships, which the group said were owned, managed or operated by the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Line (IRISL) and its associated companies. In a reply to UANI dated November 9 Wong said it was of paramount importance to Hong Kong's marine department in safeguarding the quality of Hong Kong ships."

Reuters: "Six world powers agreed on Wednesday to seek renewed talks with Iran as fast as possible, reflecting a heightened sense of urgency to resolve a long rift over Tehran's disputed nuclear activity and avert the threat of war. Their call coincided with growing evidence of Iran expanding nuclear capacity in an underground bunker virtually impervious to attack and follows the November 6 re-election of U.S. President Barack Obama, which has cleared the way for new contacts. Senior diplomats from the six countries - the United States, Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany - met in Brussels on Wednesday to consider new negotiating tactics despite abiding skepticism that a deal with Tehran can be reached. It was not clear after the meeting what options, if any, were agreed. But the six said 'necessary contact' with the Iranians would be made 'in the coming days'. 'The (six powers) are committed to having another round of talks with Iran as soon as possible,' said a spokesman for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who represents the six countries in dealings with Iran."

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Nuclear Program

Reuters: "Iran has been hauling dirt to a military site U.N. nuclear inspectors want to visit, Western diplomats said on Wednesday, saying the findings were based on satellite images and they reinforced suspicions of a clean-up. They said the pictures, presented during a closed-door briefing for member states of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), suggested Iran was continuing to try to hide incriminating traces of any illicit nuclear-related activity. The allegations come a few days after the IAEA said in a report on Iran that 'extensive activities' undertaken at the Parchin site since early this year would seriously undermine its inquiry, if and when inspectors were allowed access. Iran has so far denied the agency's request for a visit. The U.N. agency believes Iran may have conducted explosives tests that could help develop nuclear weapons at Parchin and wants immediate access to investigate the facility. Iran denies this, saying Parchin is a conventional military complex."

NYT: "The conflict that ended, for now, in a cease-fire between Hamas and Israel seemed like the latest episode in a periodic showdown. But there was a second, strategic agenda unfolding, according to American and Israeli officials: The exchange was something of a practice run for any future armed confrontation with Iran, featuring improved rockets that can reach Jerusalem and new antimissile systems to counter them. It is Iran, of course, that most preoccupies Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Obama. While disagreeing on tactics, both have made it clear that time is short, probably measured in months, to resolve the standoff over Iran's nuclear program. And one key to their war-gaming has been cutting off Iran's ability to slip next-generation missiles into the Gaza Strip or Lebanon, where they could be launched by Iran's surrogates, Hamas, Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad, during any crisis over sanctions or an Israeli strike on Iran's nuclear facilities. Michael B. Oren, the Israeli ambassador to the United States and a military historian, likened the insertion of Iranian missiles into Gaza to the Cuban missile crisis. 'In the Cuban missile crisis, the U.S. was not confronting Cuba, but rather the Soviet Union,' Mr. Oren said Wednesday, as the cease-fire was declared. 'In Operation Pillar of Defense,' the name the Israel Defense Force gave the Gaza operation, 'Israel was not confronting Gaza, but Iran.'"

Reuters: "Israel has a 'childish' desire to attack Iran and Tehran is capable of defending itself, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said on Thursday. 'They wish to hurt the Iranian nation. They are waiting for the chance. They known that Iran does not attack anybody and they know that Iran knows how to defend itself,' he told a news conference in the Pakistani capital Islamabad. 'We don't accept the hegemony of Israel. They wish to attack Iran but it is like a childish desire.' He was speaking after attending a summit of developing nations."


In Auto News:
"After giant international automaker left Iran due to the sanctions on the nuclear programme, the country now relies on Peugeot to revive the auto industry here. Iran currently has to deal with increasing production costs and lack of technology on how to manufacture vehicles, after the world's most important automakers, such as Toyota, GM, Fiat, Hyundai and PSA Peugeot Citroen, were forced to leave the country due to the disputed nuclear programme. In September auto production in Iran dropped 66% from September 2011, and during the first half of the Iranian solar year, which began on March 19th, auto production fell 42%... On November 18th, the Iranian Industry Committee announced that Peugeot might return to the Iranian market, which would mean an increase in the country's car input. Although Peugeot has not yet officially confirmed this plan, its situation in Europe might force the automaker to make this step, also taking into consideration that Iran was its second major market."

Platts: "China's imports of crude oil from Iran in October fell 23.2% year on year to 1.94 million mt (458,716 b/d), but were up 23.3% on month, according to data from the General Administration of Customs received by Platts late Thursday. Iran remained China's fifth largest supplier of crude in October, similar to September. That is down from being the third largest supplier in August. In the first 10 months of the year, total Iranian crude imports were 17.73 million mt, down 22.2% from the same period a year ago. On June 28, China received a US exemption from sanctions levied against countries who trade with Iran for 180 days, with Washington saying China had significantly reduced its crude purchases from Iran. A renewal of the waiver is due December 25 and the US State Department said previously it would be dependent on further significant reductions of crude imports from Iran. China's total crude oil imports in October rose 13.8% year on year to 23.68 million mt (5.6 million b/d), the third highest level this year on a b/d basis, following the record 6.02 million b/d seen in May and 5.98 million b/d in February."

WashPost: "Iran is facing a possible crisis in its health-care system as a result of economic sanctions and alleged government mismanagement of diminishing state funds, according to officials here. The lack of money is already being felt in hospitals throughout Iran, where medical staffs have been told that they are working in 'war-time conditions' and should prescribe drugs sparingly - or in many cases, not all - in an effort to save resources... The scarcity derives from a complicated set of circumstances that includes both a heavy dose of Western sanctions, which are aimed at forcing Iran's leaders to halt their uranium-enrichment program, as well as what critics here say are missteps by the government. While some of the anger over the shortages has been directed at the United States and other global powers, there has also been an internal backlash. Hosseinali Shahriari, the head of parliament's health committee, said this month that 'the government is playing with our people's health and is not assigning the approved finances.'"

AFP: "Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad Thursday vowed to complete a mutli-billion dollar gas pipeline to Pakistan on time, downplaying financial woes and US pressure on Islamabad to scrap the project. Pakistan and Iran signed a deal in 2010 under which Tehran would supply gas to its eastern neighbour from 2014, with sales to reach up to one billion cubic feet (28 million cubic metres) per day by mid-2015. The project envisaged a pipeline, 900 kilometres (560 miles) in length built from Assaluyeh in southern Iran to the border with Pakistan. Another 800 kilometres pipeline was also needed inside Pakistan to receive gas from Iran's South Pars field in the Gulf. 'We want to complete this project by 2014,' Ahmadinejad told a press conference in Islamabad."

The Nation (Pakistan): "Pakistan Credit Rating Agency (PACRA) and the Securities and Exchange Organization (SEO) - Iran entered into MoU in Tehran on Thursday wherein PACRA will provide technical assistance in establishing a credit rating regime in Iran. Under the MoU, PACRA shall prepare regulatory framework for regulating the credit rating business in Iran and in establishing rating agencies in Iran. PACRA is one of the two Pakistani CRAs that provides credit rating services in various countries. In order to enhance cooperation and assistance to each other in the areas of interest, SECP and SEO-Iran had constituted a Liaison Committee that is entrusted with the task of exploring areas of assistance to each other. During a meeting in October 2011, SECP arranged a meeting of both the domestic CRAs with an Iranian delegation visiting Pakistan and the Iranian delegation desired to seek assistance of SECP for the development of regulatory framework for regulating the credit rating business in Iran."


NYT: "Above the bustling Niayesh highway in the western part of the Iranian capital, a huge billboard hangs on an overpass to remind drivers of Iran's missile abilities. Cars zip underneath the image of a green missile on a launcher and text in Persian saying 'Destination Tel Aviv.' Few here take note of the sign, as average Iranians are too busy trying to cope with rising prices and occasional shortages brought about by a faltering economy. But Iran's missiles and weapons technology are getting plenty of attention hundreds of miles away in Gaza, giving the country's ruling clerics a rare bit of good news in what has otherwise been a long, dismal year... Throughout the battle, Iranian-designed missiles, the Fajr-3 and the Fajr-5 that allowed Hamas and another Gaza-based movement, Islamic Jihad, to hit Israel's heartland, sent Israelis fleeing to bomb shelters. While political support and money helps, Palestinian leaders said, Iran's weapons technology is a far greater help."

AFP: "Hamas chief Khaled Meshaal said on Wednesday that Israel had 'failed in all its goals' after a Gaza truce deal came into effect, while thanking Egypt and Iran for their support during the conflict. 'After eight days, God stayed their hand from the people of Gaza, and they were compelled to submit to the conditions of the resistance,' Meshaal said. 'Israel has failed in all its goals,' he told reporters in a Cairo hotel. Meshaal also thanked ceasefire mediator Egypt, as well as Iran, which he said 'had a role in arming' his Islamist movement during the conflict."

AFP: "Israel and the United States have agreed to work together to prevent the smuggling of weapons from Iran to militant groups in the Gaza Strip, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Wednesday. 'Israel cannot sit idly by as its enemies strengthen themselves with weapons of terror so I agreed with President (Barack) Obama that we will work together -- Israel and the United States -- against the smuggling of weapons to terror organisations, most of which comes from Iran,' he said in a televised address."

LAT: "Iran for years has supplied Hamas with weapons as part of its own struggle against Israel, but the conflict in the Gaza Strip reveals a shift in regional dynamics that may diminish Tehran's influence with Palestinian militant groups and strengthen the hand of Egypt. The longer-range missiles fired by Hamas over the last week - believed to be modifications of Iran's Fajr 5 missiles - startled Israel by landing near Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. A front-page story in Iran's conservative daily, Kayhan, boasted: 'The missiles of resistance worked.' Tehran would not confirm the weapons' origin, except to say it sent rocket 'technology' to Hamas... But the Gaza fighting erupted during a new era in the Middle East brought about by the rise of Islamist governments, notably in Egypt, that have replaced pro-Western autocrats. The political catharsis has spurred anti-Americanism, which Iran relishes, but it also has upset Tehran's regional designs."

Reuters: "Iran reacted angrily to assertions by French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius and accused him of not understanding the realities in the region after the diplomat accused Tehran of being responsible for the Gaza conflict. On Wednesday Fabius accused Iran of negative intentions in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Gaza and that it bore a 'heavy responsibility' for the fighting for providing long-range weapons."

NYT: "Eighteen years have passed since a suicide bomber drove a Renault van loaded with explosives into the headquarters of the Jewish community center here, killing 85 people. Since then, investigations have meandered. Interpol arrest warrants have led nowhere. Aging suspects connected to the attack have begun to die. But in the elusive quest for justice in the bombing, which ranks among the deadliest anti-Semitic attacks anywhere since World War II, few developments have riled Argentina's Jewish leaders as much as the government's move in recent weeks to improve relations with Iran, the nation shielding in the high echelons of its political establishment various people accused by Argentine prosecutors of having authorized the attack... 'We cannot comprehend this,' said Guillermo Borger, the president of the Argentine Mutual Aid Association, the center that was bombed in 1994. 'The world is shutting its doors to Iran, and we're giving Iran a chance to say that Argentina is somehow now its friend. The Iranians have not budged in their assertion that their people are innocent, so why should Argentina be in dialogue with them?'"

Human Rights

Guardian: "The mother of an Iranian blogger who died in custody has accused the authorities of killing her son and launching an intimidation campaign against her family. Sattar Beheshti was a 35-year-old blogger from the city of Robat-Karim who lost his life while being interrogated by Iran's cyberpolice, accused of acting against the national security because of what he had posted on Facebook. Iran's opposition activists have accused the regime of torturing Beheshti to death. In jail, Beheshti had no access to his family nor to a lawyer. Beheshti's mother, who has not been named but is pictured with him in one of the only images available of him online, has for the first time spoken out against the state pressure on her family not to speak to the press. 'I have no fears. I can't accept that my son has died by natural causes,' she told Sahamnews, a news website close to an Iranian opposition leader, Mehdi Karroubi, who is under house arrest. 'My son has been killed. He went to jail standing on his own legs and they gave us his dead body.'"

Reuters: "Iran said on Thursday a blogger who died while in police custody may have lost his life as a result of a form of shock, the official IRNA news agency reported, adding that investigations were not yet concluded. In a case that has sparked international outrage, 35-year-old Sattar Beheshti who wrote a blog critical of the government was arrested on October 30 after receiving death threats and died some days later, having complained of being tortured. Under increasing pressure at home and abroad for an investigation, Iran's parliament said it had formed a committee to examine the case and the judiciary said it would deal 'quickly and decisively' with those responsible. 'In its latest report, the seven-member medical committee says ... it is not possible to determine the exact cause of death,' IRNA quoted Tehran prosecutor's office as saying in a statement. 'But the most likely cause leading to death may be shock,' the statement said, adding that excessive psychological stress could have caused the shock."

AP: "In his last blog entry, activist Sattar Beheshti wrote that Iranian authorities had given him an ultimatum: Either stop posting his 'big mouth' attacks against the ruling system or tell his mother that she will soon be in mourning. 'We will tear down your cruel cage,' Beheshti typed on Oct. 29 before signing off... But while the specific circumstances of Beheshti's death may be given a public reckoning, the more far-reaching aspect of the case - Iran's rapidly growing corps of Web watchers - may remain in the shadows, as well as their motives in targeting an obscure blogger whose site was actively followed by more than a few dozen viewers. The 35-year-old Beheshti apparently fell under the custody of Iran's cyber police, created last year with a wide mandate to crush Web dissent. The powers displayed in the case - including questioning Beheshti outside the regular justice system - suggests a level of autonomy and authority that could bring far more aggressive measures against Web activists."

Opinion & Analysis

Kristen McTighe in IHT: "Houshang Asadi was a Communist journalist thrown into the cold confines of Moshtarek prison in Iran when he found an unlikely friend in the tall, slender Muslim cleric who greeted him with a smile. Imprisoned together in 1974, under the rule of Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, they found common ground in their passion for literature. They shared jokes, spoke of where they came from, their families and falling in love. Mr. Asadi, who did not smoke, would give cigarettes to his cellmate who, uncharacteristic of a cleric, did. On days when Mr. Asadi felt broken, he said, the cleric would invite him to take a walk in their cell to brighten his spirits. So, when his release came six months later and the cleric stood cold and trembling, Mr. Asadi gave him his jacket. 'At first he refused it, but I told him I was going to be released,' Mr. Asadi recalled. 'Then we hugged each other and he had tears coming down his face. He whispered in my ear, Houshang, when Islam comes to power, not a single tear will be shed from an innocent person.' What Mr. Asadi found unimaginable was that the cleric would become president of the Islamic Republic that later imprisoned him again, sentenced him to death and brutally tortured him for six years in the same prison. Today that same cleric is the supreme leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Mr. Asadi's account of torture and imprisonment has offered a rare glimpse into what activists say was a decade of grave human rights violations in Iran. And at a time when international attention has shifted to the nuclear issue and sanctions, they say a campaign to bring justice and accountability through a symbolic tribunal has helped unite a once fractured opposition. 'I never expected he would get power, never,' said Mr. Asadi in an interview in Paris, where he lives in exile. Mr. Asadi, a 63-year-old writer, journalist and former member of the Tudeh party, was routinely arrested and tortured under the shah. He had supported the revolution, so when he was arrested again in 1982 and accused of being a spy for the Russians and the British, he was convinced that it was a mistake. In a plea for help, his wife wrote to Mr. Khamenei, who had risen to power as president after the Islamic revolution, but two weeks later the letter was returned with a note in the margin saying only that he had been aware of the journalist's political beliefs. Mr. Asadi's death sentence was reduced to 15 years in prison. During his time in prison, he again developed a relationship with the only person he had contact with - as he had done with Mr. Khamenei. This time it was with his torturer, a man he knew only as 'Brother Hamid.' 'He is your torturer and he thinks he is your god, he thinks he is religious, he is pure, and you are evil, you are the enemy,' Mr. Asadi said. 'So he can do anything to you.' Mr. Asadi said he was called a 'useless wimp' and hung by a chain attached to his arms twisted behind his back while the soles of his feet were whipped until he was unable to walk. Brother Hamid forced him to bark like a dog to speak or when the pain was too much and he was ready to make confessions. His ears were hit and his teeth were broken. Mr. Asadi said he had even been forced to eat his own excrement and the excrement of fellow prisoners. Beyond physical pain, he endured psychological torture. He was shown coffins and told his comrades had been killed. He would hear screams and was made to believe his wife was being tortured in the cell next to him... The torture continued daily for six years, until he was abruptly pulled out of his cell in 1988 when the supreme leader at the time, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, ordered the mass killing of thousands of political prisoners. Prisoners were asked three questions concerning their religious faith and loyalty to the regime. 'If you answered no to any question, they killed you,' Mr. Asadi said. 'I lied to save my life.'"

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