Monday, 28 May 2012

The Latest from Iran (28 May): No More Nice Guy --- Tehran Shifts Line on Nuke Talks

0630 GMT: Audio of the Day. The website Melimazhabi posts what is a leaked audio from speeches by a Revolutionary Guards commander and the Supreme Leader's representative to Khatam al-Anbia

0620 GMT: Cartoon of the Day. In his address to the new Parliament yesterday President Ahmadinejad defiantly told MPs to respect his authority and stand with him against the "evils" which "put the Iranian nation under pressure". Nikahang Kowsar, however, sees Ahmadinejad as the one under pressure from the legislaors:

0600 GMT: Scare Story of the Day. Joby Warrick of The Washington Post, primed by unnamed American and "Western" sources, declares, "U.S. Officials Among the Targets of Iran-linked Assassination Plots" in Azerbaijan:

In November, the tide of daily cable traffic to the U.S. Embassy in Azerbaijan brought a chilling message for Ambassador Matthew Bryza, then the top U.S. diplomat to the small Central Asian country. A plot to kill Americans had been uncovered, the message read, and embassy officials were on the target list.

The details, scant at first, became clearer as intelligence agencies from both countries stepped up their probe. The plot had two strands, U.S. officials learned, one involving snipers with silencer-equipped rifles and the other a car bomb, apparently intended to kill embassy employees or members of their families.

Both strands could be traced back to the same place, the officials were told: Azerbaijan’s southern neighbor, Iran.

The threat, many details of which were never made public, appeared to recede after Azerbaijani authorities rounded up nearly two dozen people in waves of arrests early this year. Precisely who ordered the hits, and why, was never conclusively determined. But U.S. and Middle Eastern officials now see the attempts as part of a broader campaign by Iran-linked operatives to kill foreign diplomats in at least seven countries over a span of 13 months. The targets have included two Saudi officials, a half-dozen Israelis and --- in the Azerbaijan case --- several Americans, the officials say.

In recent weeks, investigators working in four countries have amassed new evidence tying the disparate assassination attempts to one another and linking all of them to either Iran-backed Hezbollah militants or operatives based inside Iran, according to U.S. and Middle Eastern security officials. An official report last month summarizing the evidence cited phone records, forensic tests, coordinated travel arrangements and even cellphone SIM cards purchased in Iran and used by several of the would-be assailants, said two officials who have seen the six-page document.

Strikingly, the officials noted, the attempts halted abruptly in early spring, at a time when Iran began to shift its tone after weeks of bellicose anti-Western rhetoric and threats to shut down vital shipping lanes. In March, Iranian officials formally accepted a proposal to resume negotiations with six world powers on proposals to curb its nuclear program.

“There appears to have been a deliberate attempt to calm things down ahead of the talks,” said a Western diplomat briefed on the assassination plots, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the intelligence. “What happens if the talks fail — that’s anyone’s guess.”

In the lengthy article, Warrick never offers any context such as the escalation of tensions between Azerbaijan and Iran in recent weeks with competing allegations of espionage and propaganda or March's investigation by Mark Perry that pointed to Azerbaijan as a base for Israel covert operations.

And far more interesting than the story, with its general "evidence" --- and recycling of poorly-supported claims such as an Iranian plan to kill the Saudi Ambassador to the US --- is this question:

Who fed Warrick the story and why now?

0520 GMT: It was notable that, in the immediate aftermath of last week's talks in Baghdad on Iran's nuclear programme, the Islamic Republic's outlets were talking up "positive" discussions. Even though all indications were that the meeting had been marked by discord, with only frantic, late-in-the-day negotiations producing agreement to meet in mid-June in Moscow, State media were highlighting statements which praised the talks.

No longer. There are still traces of the line, such as the declaration by prominent MP Alaeddin Boroujerdi that "talks have been positive". However, over the weekend, IRNA and Press TV put out a series of statements criticising the "West" for the failure to advance and setting out tough insistence on Iran's right to enrich uranium, even up to 20%.

The campaign was led by the head of the atomic energy organisation, Fereydoun Abbasi. In an interview on State TV, he said Tehran would not give up the 20% enrichment, effectively undid the progress in talks with the International Atomic Energy Agency on inspection of Iranian facilities, and blustered that Iran was building two more plants for nuclear energy --- even though the first one at Bushehr is far short of operating capacity, 20 months after it was formally launched.

This morning the media are featuring statements from the Foreign Ministry and from foreign politicians, such as Iraq's Ammar al-Hakim, calling for "recognition of Iran's nuclear rights" --- shorthand for the 20% enrichment --- while condemning the US for "policies under an Israeli spell".

from EA WorldView: EA Iran

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