Posts Tagged ‘Ahmadinejad’

Iran election campaign kicks off after Ahmadinejad excluded by supreme leader

April 21, 2017

AFP

© AFP/File / by Eric RANDOLPH and Ali NOORANI | Iranian President Hassan Rouhani gestures to the camera after registering to run for re-election in Tehran on April 14, 2017

TEHRAN (AFP) –  Campaigning began on Friday for Iran’s presidential election with incumbent Hassan Rouhani facing a tough battle against hardliners, though not from former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who was barred from standing.

Ahmadinejad’s disqualification by the conservative-run Guardian Council was no surprise — he had been advised not to run by supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei who said it would “polarise” the nation.

Ahmadinejad’s populist economics and defiant attitude to the establishment had alienated even his hardline backers during his tenure between 2005 and 2013.

“Once the supreme leader had told him not to stand, it became impossible for him to be cleared by the Guardian Council,” said Clement Therme, research fellow for Iran at the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

“By his second term, (Ahmadinejad) was even challenging the clerics. He was not useful anymore for the system.”

The mood in Tehran has been subdued — many are disillusioned with Rouhani’s failure to kick-start the economy despite broad support for his efforts to rebuild ties with the West, notably through a nuclear deal with world powers that ended many sanctions.

The election commission ruled on Thursday that live TV debates would be banned, without giving a reason — a decision criticised by Rouhani and other candidates.

Campaigning, which the Guardian Council announced could begin immediately, had not been supposed to start for another week, so little activity was expected on Friday.

But experts say the authorities are keen to excite interest in the vote.

“They need that for legitimacy — the turnout is even more important than the result,” said Therme.

Iran’s elections are tightly controlled, with the Guardian Council allowing just six people — and no women — to stand for the May 19 vote out of 1,636 hopefuls that registered last week.

If no candidate wins more than 50 percent, a run-off between the top two is held a week later.

Rouhani, a politically moderate cleric, squeaked to victory last time with 51 percent in the first round, helped by a divided conservative camp.

The Guardian Council has resisted efforts by Iran’s parliament, the Majles, to clarify the criteria by which they choose candidates.

The constitution adopted after the 1979 revolution offers only vague guidelines that candidates should possess “administrative capacity and resourcefulness… trustworthiness and piety”.

– Hardline competition –

The build-up to the vote has injected more interest than many predicted just a couple of months ago, when Rouhani was seen as a shoo-in for a second term if only because the conservative opposition seemed unable to offer a strong candidate.

Since then, the 56-year-old former judge and cleric Ebrahim Raisi has emerged as a front-runner for the conservatives.

Little-known on the political scene, Raisi runs a powerful religious foundation and business empire in the holy city of Mashhad and is seen as a close ally of — and possible successor to — supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

But despite emphasising his care for the poor, many say Raisi’s hardline judicial background and entourage will turn off voters.

“He seems like a good and calm person himself, but the people around him are scary,” said a tour operator in Yazd, echoing a widely heard sentiment.

Some think he may drop out at the last minute in favour of Tehran mayor Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, who came second to Rouhani in 2013.

Ghalibaf is a war veteran, former Revolutionary Guards commander and police chief — and could be the preferred choice of powerful backroom hardliners.

The other three candidates have been less prominent so far.

They include two moderate reformists, Mostafa Hashemitaba and vice-president Eshaq Jahangiri, and a veteran hardliner Mostafa Mirsalim — a selection that appears designed to give an even balance to moderates and hardliners in the upcoming debates.

– ‘Took risks’ –

There were mixed reactions to Ahmadinejad’s disqualification.

Despite controversial rhetoric against Israel that worsened ties with the West, and somewhat reckless financial management, he retained considerable popularity, particularly among the poor.

“I think Ahmadinejad should not have been disqualified,” said Mohammad Barkhordar, 20, doing his military service.

“He was the kind of president that took risks, like distributing money among people and giving houses to the poor, and he had big ambitions for Iran’s nuclear programme. Rouhani doesn’t take any risks.”

But many were glad to see the back of him.

“It was right for Ahmadinejad to be disqualified but it happened 12 years too late,” said one Twitter user.

by Eric RANDOLPH and Ali NOORANI

Iran’s Ahmadinejad registers to run for president

April 12, 2017

AFP

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© AFP / by Ali NOORANI | Former Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad flashes the victory sign at the interior ministry’s election headquarters on April 12, 2017, as candidates sign up for the upcoming presidential elections

TEHRAN (AFP) – Iran’s former hardline president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad took the shock move on Wednesday of registering for next month’s presidential election, going against the advice of the supreme leader.Ahmadinejad had previously insisted he would not stand after Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said last year that his candidacy would have a “polarising” effect on the nation, and instead backed his ex-deputy Hamid Baghaie.

But the former president — whose tenure between 2005 and 2013 saw mass protests at home, plummeting relations with the West and a shattered economy — surprised everyone when he registered along with Baghaie on Wednesday.

He told reporters at the interior ministry, where registration was taking place, that he remained committed to his “moral promise” to Khamenei of not running for the May 19 election.

But he said Khamenei’s “advice was not a ban,” he said.

“I repeat that I am committed to my moral promise and my presence and registration is only to support Mr Baghaie,” he added without explanation.

Only last week, flanked by his former deputy at his first press conference in four years, Ahmadinejad said he had “no plans to present myself. I support Mr Baghaie as the best candidate.”

The formal registration period for presidential hopefuls began Tuesday and will continue until Saturday evening, after which candidates are vetted by the conservative-dominated Guardian Council, with a final list announced on April 27.

So far, 197 people have registered to run in the May 19 vote, eight of them women. No woman has ever been allowed to stand for the presidency in the Islamic republic.

– End for Ahmadinejad? –

Ahmadinejad lost the support of many mainstream conservatives during his contentious presidency, and some said Wednesday that violating the supreme leader’s advice was a final straw.

“With today’s move — registering for the presidential election, my belief in you was broken,” ex-lawmaker and Ahmadinejad loyalist Mehdi Koochakzadeh wrote on social media.

“End of Ahmadinejad,” tweeted Elyas Naderan, another conservative former MP.

The conservatives have been struggling to unite around a single candidate to rival President Hassan Rouhani, who is expected to register in the coming days.

Conservatives held a mass meeting last week at which they shortlisted five candidates, who will be narrowed down to one before the vote.

Ebrahim Raisi, a judge who currently runs the powerful Imam Reza charitable foundation in the holy city of Mashhad, won the most votes.

Tehran mayor Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf was also on the list, but it remains unclear if he will make his third bid for the presidency.

Rouhani has stabilised the economy and ended some sanctions through a 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.

But many Iranians are frustrated by the continued lack of investment in the economy and a jobless rate that remains at 12 percent.

Rouhani’s administration argues it inherited a devastated economic landscape — the result of Ahmadinejad’s populist economic policies that included monthly cash handouts and ill-fated housing projects.

But these policies have also ensured Ahmadinejad, 60, retains considerable popularity, particularly among the poor, potentially undermining attempts by conservatives to unite their base around a mainstream candidate.

by Ali NOORANI

Iran’s Ahmadinejad writes open letter to Trump — Iran plans to buy uranium, get Russian know-how for nuclear fuel

February 26, 2017

AFP

© AFP/File | Iran’s ex-president Mahmud Ahmadinejad published an open letter to Donald Trump, welcoming his criticism of the US political system but taking issue with his visa ban and attitude to women

TEHRAN (AFP) – Iran’s ex-president Mahmud Ahmadinejad published Sunday an open letter to Donald Trump, welcoming his criticism of the US political system but taking issue with his visa ban and attitude to women.Many Iranians see the new US president as cut from the same cloth as Ahmadinejad, who shocked the establishment with his sudden rise to power in 2005, combining hardline rhetoric and populist economic policies to win a powerful following among Iran’s lower classes.

Image may contain: 3 people, people standing

Many consider Ahmadinejad the father of Iran’s nuclear weapon program

At times in the long and rambling letter, published in English and Farsi on his website, he appears to find a kindred spirit in Trump.

“Your Excellency (Trump) has truthfully described the US political system and electoral structure as corrupt and anti-public,” he writes.

But much of the letter is spent exhorting Trump to end interventions in the Middle East and ditch the “arrogance” of past US administrations.

Ahmadinejad also takes issue with Trump’s visa ban on seven Muslim-majority countries, including Iran.

“The presence and constructive effort of the elite and scientists of different nations, including the million-plus population of my Iranian compatriots has had a major role in the development of the US… the contemporary US belongs to all nations.”

He also finishes with a short lecture on respecting women — a possible reference to Trump’s recorded claims that he has sexually assaulted some.

“The great men of history have paid the highest level of respect to women and recognised their God-given capabilities,” Ahmadinejad writes.

Ahmadinejad has a fondness for writing to world leaders, having sent letters to former US president Barack Obama, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the pope — as well as an 18-page missive to previous US leader George W. Bush.

When Trump was elected in November, many Iranians joked about the similarities to their former president, whose tenure ended in 2013.

“When Ahmadinejad said that he intended to export his method of managing the world, we didn’t take him seriously…” wrote one bemused commenter on social media.

Related:

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Iran plans to buy Kazakh uranium ore, seek Russia help to make nuclear fuel

Reyters

Iran plans to buy 950 tonnes of uranium ore from Kazakhstan over three years and expects to get Russian help in producing nuclear fuel, its top nuclear official said in remarks published on Saturday.

The acquisition would not violate Iran’s landmark 2015 deal with world powers over its disputed nuclear program as the deal did not set limits on the Islamic Republic’s supplies of uranium ore.

The report by the Iranian Students’ News Agency ISNA comes a day after the U.N. atomic watchdog said Iran’s official stock of enriched uranium had fallen by half after large amounts stuck in pipes was recategorised as unrecoverable under a process agreed with the major powers.

“About 650 tonnes is to be delivered in two shipments over two years and 300 tonnes during the third year and this shipment is to be returned to Kazakhstan (after enrichment),” Ali Akbar Salehi, head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, told ISNA in an interview.

Iran has asked a body overseeing its 2015 nuclear accord with world powers to approve the purchase of uranium ore and was still awaiting Britain’s agreement, Salehi said.

“Five of the members of the committee overseeing the (nuclear deal) have given their written approval, but Britain changed its mind at the last moment, considering the U.S. elections and Middle East problems,” Salehi said, without elaborating.

There was no immediate reaction from Britain to the report.

“In nuclear talks … we reached a final agreement on jointly producing nuclear fuel with Russia,” Salehi said. “We asked for their help in this regard… and it was agreed for the Russians to give us advisory help.”

The nuclear agreement brokered by Britain, France, Germany, China, Russia and the United States lifted sanctions against Iran in return for curbs on Tehran’s nuclear program.

(Reporting by Dubai newsroom; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

Notorious Iranian tycoon Babak Zanjani Sentenced to Death for Corruption — “Too Slick” Profits from Oil

March 6, 2016

AFP

© AFP/File | Iranian tycoon Babak Zanjani was convicted of fraud and economic crimes over oil sales during the long period of economic sanctions against Tehran

TEHRAN (AFP) – Iran’s billionaire tycoon Babak Zanjani has been sentenced to death for corruption, a judicial official said Sunday, after a long trial in which he was accused of fraudulently pocketing $2.8 billion.

Zanjani became notorious during the era of president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, finding ways to channel hard currency from oil sales to Tehran despite financial sanctions imposed on the Islamic republic’s banks as punishment for its nuclear programme.

Babak Zanjani, a well-known Iranian businessman, poses for a picture, Sept. 21, 2015. (photo by FACEBOOK/Babak Zanjani)

Read more: http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2015/09/zanjani-letter-corruption-sanctions.html#ixzz427r3VkXX

The 41-year-old was convicted of fraud and economic crimes and as well as facing the death penalty he must repay money to the state, judiciary spokesman Gholam Hossein Mohseni-Ejeie said at his weekly press conference.

The trial was held in public, a rarity for such a major case in Iran, and two other accused were also convicted of “corruption on earth”, the most serious offence under the country’s criminal code, meaning they too will face the death penalty.

“The preliminary court has sentenced these three defendants to be executed, as well as paying restitution to the plaintiff,” Mohseni-Ejeie said, adding that that was the oil ministry.

They must also pay a “fine equal to one fourth of the money that was laundered”, the spokesman said, without specifying the sum.

Zanjani, who can appeal, had denied any wrongdoing, insisting that the only reason the money had not been paid to the oil ministry was that sanctions had prevented a planned transfer from taking place.

However, the case follows repeated declarations from the current government of President Hassan Rouhani that corruption and the payment of illegal commissions thrived under Ahmadinejad’s rule. Other trials are ongoing.

In this April 8, 2008 file photo provided by the Iranian President’s Office, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, center, visits the Natanz Uranium Enrichment Facility some 200 miles (322 kilometers) south of the capital Tehran. Iran has begun uranium enrichment at a new underground site well protected from possible airstrikes, a leading hardline newspaper reported Sunday, Jan. 8, 2011. (AP Photo/Iranian President’s Office, File)

Zanjani had repeatedly said in media interviews that in return for commissions paid by Ahmadinejad’s government he was tasked with circumventing sanctions to get money back to Iran.

In October last year, however, Rouhani’s oil minister Bijan Zanganeh signalled the shifting political balance in Iran, hitting out at the use of middlemen such as Zanjani, who before being arrested had boasted of his personal wealth.

Iranian media have put it as high as $13.5 billion.

Speaking after Iran concluded a nuclear deal with world powers, paving the way for increased foreign activity in Iran’s oil sector, Zanganeh urged investors to deal directly with his ministry and avoid third parties.

“We despise the corrupt parasites that want to suck the nation?s blood even in this situation,” Zanganeh said, to loud applause at an oil and energy industry event in the capital while Zanjani’s trial was under way.

“I recommend foreign companies stay away from these corrupt individuals,? who know nothing but “deceitfulness”.

“They will tell you that until you give us our commission you can?t get your work done. Don?t believe them,” Zanganeh said.

Zanjani was among Iranian individuals blacklisted under US and European sanctions.

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BBC News

Iranian billionaire Babak Zanjani sentenced to death

BBC Persian's Fardad Fahrazad meets Babak Zanjani in a car park in Dushanbe

Mr Zanjani has denied withholding oil revenue

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Iranian billionaire businessman Babak Zanjani has been sentenced to death for corruption, justice officials say.

He was arrested in December 2013 after accusations that he withheld billions in oil revenue channelled through his companies. He denies the allegations.

Zanjani was convicted of fraud and economic crimes, a judiciary spokesperson said at a press briefing.

Two others were also sentenced to death and all were ordered to repay embezzled funds.

The ruling can be appealed.

One of Iran’s richest men, Zanjani had been blacklisted by the US and EU for helping Iran evade oil sanctions in place at the time.

He had acknowledged using a web of companies in the UAE, Turkey, and Malaysia to sell millions of barrels of Iranian oil on behalf of the government since 2010.

Before his arrest, Zanjani had claimed international sanctions were preventing him from handing over $1.2bn still owed to the government.

But at his recent trial, prosecutors claimed he still owed the government more than $2.7bn in oil revenue.

He was taken into custody a day after President Hassan Rouhani ordered his government to fight “financial corruption”, particularly “privileged figures” who had “taken advantage of economic sanctions”.

In a 2013 interview with the BBC, Zanjani played down his political connections in Iran, saying: “I don’t do anything political, I just do business.”

Zanjani has said he is worth about some $13.5bn (£9.5bn).

International sanctions on Iran were lifted in January after a watchdog confirmed it had complied with a deal designed to prevent it developing nuclear weapons.

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-35739377

“Iran will not give access to its nuclear scientists” Supreme Leader says

May 21, 2015

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A handout picture made available by the official website of the Iranian Supreme Leader shows Ayatollah Ali Khamenei greeting crowds during a ceremony in Tehran, Iran, on April 9, 2015. EPA photo

By Parisa Hafezi

ANKARA (Reuters) – Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said on Wednesday Tehran would not accept “unreasonable demands” by world powers over its disputed nuclear program and ruled out letting inspectors interview its atomic scientists.

The comments, broadcast live on state TV, were the latest in a series of forthright statements on inspections in the countdown to a June 30 deadline to resolve a decade-old standoff over Iran’s nuclear work. Responding to Khamenei, the United States made clear that failure to resolve questions about Iran’s past nuclear work would be a problem in the negotiations.

“We will never yield to pressure … We will not accept unreasonable demands … Iran will not give access to its (nuclear) scientists,” Khamenei said.

“We will not allow the privacy of our nuclear scientists or any other important issue to be violated.”

Khamenei, who has the final say for Iran on any deal, last month ruled out any “extraordinary supervision measures” over nuclear activities and said military sites could not be inspected.

The U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has been trying to investigate Western allegations that Iran has worked on designing a nuclear warhead. Iran says its nuclear program is peaceful and that it is working with the IAEA to clear up any suspicions.

U.N. inspectors regularly monitor Iran’s declared nuclear facilities, but the IAEA has complained for years of a lack of access to sites, equipment, documents and people relevant to its probe.

Western officials say Iran must step up cooperation with the IAEA if it wants to reach a broader diplomatic deal with world powers that would gradually end crippling financial and other sanctions on the oil producer.

Iran’s then-president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in a nuclear facility, in 2007

“They say we should let them interview our nuclear scientists. This means interrogation,” Khamenei said.

“I will not let foreigners talk to our scientists and to interrogate our dear children … who brought us this extensive (nuclear) knowledge.”

Iran has yet to answer questions about two areas of the investigation into alleged research activities that could be applicable to any attempt to make nuclear bombs – explosives testing and neutron calculations.

Iran reached a tentative deal with the powers on April 2 to allow U.N. inspectors to carry out more intrusive, short-notice inspections under an “Additional Protocol” to the Non-Proliferation Treaty. But there have been sharply differing interpretations from both sides on the details of that access.

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Iran's Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, foreground left, met with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, background right, in Vienna in July.
Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, foreground left, met with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, background right, in Vienna in July. Jim Bourg

“If we don’t get the assurances we need on the access to possible military dimension-related sites or activities, that’s going to be a problem for us,” U.S. State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf told reporters in Washington.

“We and Iran have agreed that we will undertake a process to address possible military dimensions (of past nuclear work), and part of that includes access,” she said. “Under the Additional Protocol, … which Iran will implement and has said they will implement as part of this deal, the IAEA does get access.”

When asked whether there had been some progress since April, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, who has been perceived as the most demanding in the talks, said the negotiations now had to discuss the deal’s annexes, which was not the case yet.

He said Iran also had to offer real transparency in its military activities as part of the deal, including rapid access to IAEA inspectors to all sites.

“What happens if Iran doesn’t comply. How much time will we have to check? In the current text, it’s 24 days, but in 24 days a lot of things can disappear,” Fabius said.

Negotiators from Iran and the powers met in Vienna on Wednesday to try to iron out remaining differences, including the timing of sanctions relief and the future of Iran’s atomic research and development program.

“There has to be concrete commitments on the enrichment activities allowed for length of the accord, including a phased reduction in the number of centrifuges at the underground site of Fordow and an efficient mechanism to restore sanctions if Iran does not respect its commitments,” Fabius said.

Talks between EU political director Helga Schmid and Iranian negotiators Abbas Araqchi and Majid Takht-Ravanchi will run until Friday, with technical experts meeting in parallel, the EU said in a statement.

(Writing by Parisa Hafezi; Additional reporting by Adrian Croft in Brussels and Louis Charbonneau in New York; Editing by Andrew Heavens and Tom Heneghan)

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Iran’s Supreme Leader Rules Out Broad Nuclear Inspections

TEHRAN — Iran’s supreme leader on Wednesday ruled out allowing international inspectors to interview Iranian nuclear scientists as part of any potential deal on its nuclear program, and reiterated that the country would not allow the inspection of military sites.

In a graduation speech at the Imam Hussein Military University in Tehran, the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, widely believed to have the final say on whether Iran accepts a deal if one is reached next month, denounced what he said were escalating demands by the United States and five other world powers as they accelerate the pace of the negotiations with Iran.

“They say new things in the negotiations,” Ayatollah Khamenei told the military graduates. “Regarding inspections, we have said that we will not let foreigners inspect any military center.”

Read the rest:

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/21/world/middleeast/iran-nuclear-talks-inspections.html?ref=world&_r=0

Gulf leaders gather amid growing concern over Yemen

May 5, 2015

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A Yemeni woman in Taez on May 4, 2015, as she reportedly presents herself to join the Popular Resistance Committees loyal to President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi. Photo credit: AFP / by Ian Timberlake
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RIYADH (AFP) – Gulf monarchs gather on Tuesday for an extraordinary summit amid growing international concern over the Saudi-led air war against Shiite rebels in Yemen and a deepening regional threat fromjihadists.French President Francois Hollande will become the first Western leader to sit in on the Sunni-dominated Gulf Cooperation Council meeting, which is also expected to air concerns over a potential final nuclear deal with Shiite Iran.

The Riyadh summit brings together leaders from Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

All but Oman are in the Saudi-led coalition that launched air strikes in Yemen in late March against Iran-backed Huthi rebels and their allies who seized control of large parts of the country including the capital Sanaa.

Yemeni President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi fled a rebel advance on his southern refuge of Aden, and is now in Riyadh.

Anti-government forces have refused to concede territory or lay down their weapons despite international pressure.

The United Nations says at least 1,200 people have been killed in Yemen since March 19, and has repeatedly warned that the already impoverished Arabian Peninsula state faces a major humanitarian crisis.

French aid group Action Against Hunger on Monday urged Hollande to push for a ceasefire, while Saudi Arabia said it is considering temporary halts in coalition air strikes to allow aid deliveries.

The French president’s trip comes as Paris strengthens its political and economic relations with the oil and gas-rich Gulf monarchies.

Hollande arrived in Riyadh from fellow GCC member Qatar, where on Monday he attended the signing of a 6.3-billion-euro ($7-billion) deal between French aerospace firm Dassault and Qatari defence officials.

The agreement includes an order for 24 Rafale fighter jets, with an option on a further 12.

On Tuesday, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said Paris and Riyadh are also discussing 20 economic projects worth “tens of billions of euros”.

Hollande’s presence as “guest of honour” at the Gulf summit comes just over a week before the GCC heads of state travel to their traditional ally Washington.

President Barack Obama called that meeting to brainstorm on reducing regional conflicts and in an attempt to allay Gulf fears over any US rapprochement with Iran.

– ‘Major partner’ –

Gulf leaders wanted Hollande to visit ahead of the Washington summit to demonstrate that they have a faithful ally in France, “and they ask the same thing from Obama”, a senior French official said.

“We are now a major partner of the region,” said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Most GCC countries are also part of a US-led coalition waging a campaign of air strikes against the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria.

Both Paris and Washington have sought to reassure the Gulf states about an international accord being finalised over Iran’s nuclear programme.

The Gulf is worried that Shiite Iran might still be able to develop an atomic bomb under the deal that would limit its nuclear capabilities in return for a lifting of crippling international sanctions.

Tehran denies trying to develop a nuclear weapon.

Before Hollande, the only other foreign leader invited to a summit of the 34-year-old GCC was Iran’s then-president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, in 2007.

Iran’s then-president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, in 2007

US Secretary of State John Kerry is to visit Saudi Arabia this week before continuing to France for talks on regional security, the White House has said.

A joint French-Saudi declaration was signed on Monday after Hollande met Saudi King Salman.

The two sides “stressed the need to achieve by June 30, a robust (nuclear) agreement that is lasting, verifiable, indisputable and binding for Iran” which must “ensure” that it would not develop an atomic bomb.

On Yemen, the joint declaration stressed the importance of implementing UN Security Council Resolution 2216 calling on the rebels to withdraw from all areas they have seized since July 2014.

by Ian Timberlake

As nuclear talks near deadline, Khamenei aide warns of West’s ‘deceptive tactics’

March 30, 2015

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Ayatollah Khamenei meets with environmental activists. (photo credit:AYATOLLAH KHAMENEI TWITTER)

Diplomat quoted by Chinese news agency Xinhua as saying the atmosphere on Monday has turned from “optimism” to “gloom” among negotiators.

An adviser to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei lashed out at world powers amid negotiations to reach a preliminary nuclear accord in Switzerland Monday.

“Our negotiating team are trustworthy and compassionate officials that are working hard, but they should be careful with the enemies’ deceptive and skillful tactics,” the adviser, Ali Akbar Velayati, told Fars news agency.

For days Iran, the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China have been trying to break an impasse in negotiations aimed at stopping Tehran from having the capacity to develop a nuclear bomb, in exchange for an easing of United Nations sanctions that are crippling its economy.

But officials at the talks in the Swiss city of Lausanne said attempts to reach a framework accord, which is intended as a prelude to a comprehensive agreement by the end of June, could yet fall apart.

Negotiators from all parties appeared increasingly pessimistic. “If we don’t have some type of framework agreement now, it will be difficult to explain why we would be able to have one by June 30,” said a Western diplomat.

He said three major sticking points must be resolved if Iran and the six powers are to secure the deal before March 31, and it is unclear whether those gaps could be filled.

The diplomat said the most difficult issues related to the duration of any limits on Iranian uranium enrichment and research and development activities after an initial 10 years, the lifting of the sanctions and the restoring of them in case of non-compliance by Iran.

“It seems that we have an accord for the first 10 years, but with regard to the Iranians the question of what happens after is complicated,” the official said on condition of anonymity, adding: “I can’t say what the final result will be.”

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said there had been “some progress and some setbacks in the last hours”.

Highlighting the general mood, a diplomat quoted by Chinese news agency Xinhua said the atmosphere on Monday had turned from “optimism” to “gloom” among negotiators.

In addition to US Secretary of State John Kerry, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, Steinmeier, British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, China’s Wang Yi and Russia’s Sergei Lavrov gathered at a 19th-century hotel overlooking Lake Geneva.

After the first meeting since November of all the ministers, Lavrov returned to Moscow for an engagement, though officials said he would return if there was something to announce.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has campaigned against the negotiations, said in Jerusalem that the agreement being put together in Lausanne sends the message “that Iran stands to gain by its aggression.”

COLD FEET?

Western officials said the two sides had previously been closing in on a preliminary deal that could be summarized in a brief document which may or may not be released.

Officials said the talks were now likely to run until the deadline of midnight on Tuesday or beyond.

The six powers want more than a 10-year suspension of Iran’s most sensitive nuclear work. Tehran, which denies it is trying to develop a nuclear weapons capability, demands a swift end to sanctions in exchange for limits on its atomic activities.

Both Iran and the six have floated compromise proposals but agreement has remained elusive.

One sticking point concerns Iran’s demand to continue with research into newer generations of advanced centrifuges. These can purify uranium faster and in greater quantities than those it currently operates for use in nuclear power plants or – if very highly enriched – in weapons.

Another question involves the speed of removing the sanctions on Iran.

Even if a framework deal is reached by the deadline, officials say it could still fall apart when the two sides attempt to agree on all the technical details for the comprehensive accord by the end of June.

There were several examples of progress and setbacks. Western officials said Iran suggested it would could keep fewer than 6,000 centrifuges in operation, down from its current figure of nearly 10,000, and ship most of its enriched uranium to Russia.

But Iranian negotiator Abbas Araqchi said dispatching stockpiles abroad “was not on Iran’s agenda”.

A senior US State Department official said there had been no decisions on stockpiles, though several officials made clear that the Iranians had given preliminary consent to the idea before reversing their position. Still, negotiators said stockpiles were not a dealbreaker.

It was not clear if the Iranian backtracking on certain proposals was a sign that Tehran might be getting cold feet.

On the issue of UN sanctions, officials expressed concerns that the five permanent veto-wielding members of the UN Security Council could object to plans to strip away some of the UN measures in place since 2006, albeit for different reasons.

Britain, France and the United States want any removal of UN sanctions to be automatically reversible, but the Russians dislike this because it would weaken their veto power, a Western official said.

Related:

Iran seeks nuclear deal but not normal ties with ‘Great Satan’

March 30, 2015

U.S. Under Secretary for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman (L), U.S. Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz (2nd L) and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (3rd L) wait to start a meeting with P5+1, European Union and Iranian officials as part of talks on Iran's nuclear program at the Beau Rivage Palace Hotel in Lausanne March 30, 2015 . REUTERS/Brendan Smialowski/Pool

The Appalling Talk of Boycotting Netanyahu

February 24, 2015

Congress has every right, and even an obligation, to hear the Israeli leader speak about the Iranian threat.

 Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu  
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Photo: Associated Press
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By Alan M. Dershowitz
The Wall Street Journal
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As a liberal Democrat who twice campaigned for President Barack Obama , I am appalled that some Democratic members of Congress are planning to boycott the speech of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on March 3 to a joint session of Congress. At bottom, this controversy is not mainly about protocol and politics—it is about the constitutional system of checks and balances and the separation of powers.

Under the Constitution, the executive and legislative branches share responsibility for making and implementing important foreign-policy decisions. Congress has a critical role to play in scrutinizing the decisions of the president when these decisions involve national security, relationships with allies and the threat of nuclear proliferation.

Congress has every right to invite, even over the president’s strong objection, any world leader or international expert who can assist its members in formulating appropriate responses to the current deal being considered with Iran regarding its nuclear-weapons program. Indeed, it is the responsibility of every member of Congress to listen to Prime Minister Netanyahu, who probably knows more about this issue than any world leader, because it threatens the very existence of the nation state of the Jewish people.

Congress has the right to disagree with the prime minister, but the idea that some members of Congress will not give him the courtesy of listening violates protocol and basic decency to a far greater extent than anything Mr. Netanyahu is accused of doing for having accepted an invitation from Congress.

Recall that President Obama sent British Prime Minister David Cameron to lobby Congress with phone calls last month against conditionally imposing new sanctions on Iran if the deal were to fail. What the president objects to is not that Mr. Netanyahu will speak to Congress, but the content of what he intends to say. This constitutes a direct intrusion on the power of Congress and on the constitutional separation of powers.

Not only should all members of Congress attend Mr. Netanyahu’s speech, but President Obama—as a constitutional scholar—should urge members of Congress to do their constitutional duty of listening to opposing views in order to check and balance the policies of the administration.

Whether one agrees or disagrees with Speaker John Boehner ’s decision to invite Mr. Netanyahu or Mr. Netanyahu’s decision to accept, no legal scholar can dispute that Congress has the power to act independently of the president in matters of foreign policy. Whether any deal with Iran would technically constitute a treaty requiring Senate confirmation, it is certainly treaty-like in its impact. Moreover, the president can’t implement the deal without some action or inaction by Congress.

Congress also has a role in implementing the president’s promise—made on behalf of our nation as a whole—that Iran will never be allowed to develop nuclear weapons. That promise seems to be in the process of being broken, as reports in the media and Congress circulate that the deal on the table contains a sunset provision that would allow Iran to develop nuclear weapons after a certain number of years.

Once it became clear that Iran will eventually be permitted to become a nuclear-weapon power, it has already become such a power for practical purposes. The Saudis and the Arab emirates will not wait until Iran turns the last screw on its nuclear bomb. As soon as this deal is struck, with its sunset provision, these countries would begin to develop their own nuclear-weapon programs, as would other countries in the region. If Congress thinks this is a bad deal, it has the responsibility to act.

Another reason members of Congress should not boycott Mr. Netanyahu’s speech is that support for Israel has always been a bipartisan issue. The decision by some members to boycott Israel’s prime minister endangers this bipartisan support. This will not only hurt Israel but will also endanger support for Democrats among pro-Israel voters. I certainly would never vote for or support a member of Congress who walked out on Israel’s prime minister.

One should walk out on tyrants, bigots and radical extremists, as the United States did when Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad denied the Holocaust and called for Israel’s destruction at the United Nations. To use such an extreme tactic against our closest ally, and the Middle East’s only vibrant democracy, is not only to insult Israel’s prime minister but to put Israel in a category in which it does not belong.

So let members of Congress who disagree with the prime minister’s decision to accept Speaker Boehner’s invitation express that disagreement privately and even publicly, but let them not walk out on a speech from which they may learn a great deal and which may help them prevent the president from making a disastrous foreign-policy mistake. Inviting a prime minister of an ally to educate Congress about a pressing foreign-policy decision is in the highest tradition of our democratic system of separation of powers and checks and balances.

Mr. Dershowitz is a professor of law emeritus at Harvard Law School and the author of “Terror Tunnels: The Case for Israel’s Just War Against Hamas” (Rosetta Books, 2014).

Obama Wrote Secret Letter To Iran’s Top Ayatollah Seeking Cooperation on Islamic State, Complicating Nuclear Talks

November 7, 2014

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Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. (photo credit:REUTERS)

By Jay Solomon and Carol E. Lee
The Wall Street Journal

WASHINGTON—President Barack Obama secretly wrote to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in the middle of last month and described a shared interest in fighting Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria, according to people briefed on the correspondence.

The letter appeared aimed both at buttressing the campaign against Islamic State and nudging Iran’s religious leader closer to a nuclear deal.

Mr. Obama stressed to Mr. Khamenei that any cooperation on Islamic State was largely contingent on Iran reaching a comprehensive agreement with global powers on the future of Tehran’s nuclear program by a Nov. 24 diplomatic deadline, the same people say.

The October letter marked at least the fourth time Mr. Obama has written Iran’s most powerful political and religious leader since taking office in 2009 and pledging to engage with Tehran’s Islamist government.

The correspondence underscores that Mr. Obama views Iran as important—whether in a potentially constructive or negative role—to his emerging military and diplomatic campaign to push Islamic State from the territories it has gained over the past six months.

Mr. Obama’s letter also sought to assuage Iran’s concerns about the future of its close ally, President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, according to another person briefed on the letter. It states that the U.S.’s military operations inside Syria aren’t targeted at Mr. Assad or his security forces.

Mr. Obama and senior administration officials in recent days have placed the chances for a deal with Iran at only 50-50. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is set to begin intensive direct negotiations on the nuclear issue with his Iranian counterpart, Javad Zarif, on Sunday in the Persian Gulf country of Oman.

Iran's Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, foreground left, met with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, background right, in Vienna in July.  
Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, foreground left, met with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, background right, in Vienna in July. Jim Bourg

“There’s a sizable portion of the political elite that cut their teeth on anti-Americanism,” Mr. Obama said at a White House news conference on Wednesday about Iran’s leadership, without commenting on his personal overture. “Whether they can manage to say ‘Yes’…is an open question.”

For the first time this week, a senior administration official said negotiations could be extended beyond the Nov. 24 deadline, adding that the White House will know after Mr. Kerry’s trip to Oman whether a deal with Iran is possible by late November.

“We’ll know a lot more after that meeting as to whether or not we have a shot at an agreement by the deadline,” the senior official said. “If there’s an extension, there’re questions like: What are the terms?”

Mr. Obama’s push for a deal faces renewed resistance after Tuesday’s elections gave Republicans control of the Senate and added power to thwart an agreement and to impose new sanctions on Iran. Sens. Mark Kirk (R., Ill.) and Robert Menendez (D., N.J.) have introduced legislation to intensify sanctions.

“The best way to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon is to quickly pass the bipartisan Menendez-Kirk legislation—not to give the Iranians more time to build a bomb,” Mr. Kirk said Wednesday.

House Speaker John Boehner (R., Ohio) expressed concern when asked about the letter sent by Mr. Obama.

“I don’t trust the Iranians, I don’t think we need to bring them into this,” Mr. Boehner said. Referring to the continuing nuclear talks between Iran and world powers, Mr. Boehner said he “would hope that the negotiations that are under way are serious negotiations, but I have my doubts.”

In a sign of the sensitivity of the Iran diplomacy, the White House didn’t tell its Middle East allies—including Israel, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates—about Mr. Obama’s October letter to Mr. Khamenei, according to people briefed on the correspondence and representatives of allied countries.

Leaders from these countries have voiced growing concern in recent weeks that the U.S. is preparing to significantly soften its demands in the nuclear talks with Tehran. They said they worry the deal could allow Iran to gain the capacity to produce nuclear weapons in the future.

Arab leaders also fear Washington’s emerging rapprochement with Tehran could come at the expense of their security and economic interests across the Middle East. These leaders have accused the U.S. of keeping them in the dark about its diplomatic engagements with Tehran.

The Obama administration launched secret talks with Iran in the Omani capital of Muscat in mid-2012, but didn’t notify Washington’s Mideast allies of the covert diplomatic channel until late 2013.

Senior U.S. officials declined to discuss Mr. Obama’s letter to Mr. Khamenei after questions from The Wall Street Journal.

White House press secretary Josh Earnest on Thursday declined to comment on what he called “private correspondence” between the president and world leaders, but acknowledged U.S. officials in the past have discussed the Islamic State campaign with Iranian officials on the sidelines of international nuclear talks. He added the negotiations remain centered on Iran’s nuclear program and reiterated that the U.S. isn’t cooperating militarily with Iran on the Islamic State fight.

Administration officials didn’t deny the letter’s existence when questioned by foreign diplomats in recent days.

Mr. Khamenei has proved a fickle diplomatic interlocutor for Mr. Obama in the past six years.

Mr. Obama sent two letters to Iran’s 75-year-old supreme leader during the first half of 2009, calling for improvements in U.S.-Iran ties, which had been frozen since the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Tehran.

Mr. Khamenei never directly responded to the overtures, according to U.S. officials. And Iran’s security forces cracked down hard that year on nationwide protests that challenged the re-election of then-President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad .

U.S.-Iran relations have thawed considerably since the election of President Hasan Rouhani in June 2013. He and Mr. Obama shared a 15-minute phone call in September 2013, and Messrs. Kerry and Zarif have regularly held direct talks on the nuclear diplomacy and regional issues.

Still, Mr. Khamenei has often cast doubt on the prospects for better relations with Washington. He has criticized the U.S. military campaign against Islamic State, which is also known as ISIS or ISIL, claiming it is another attempt by Washington and the West to weaken the Islamic world.

“America, Zionism, and especially the veteran expert of spreading divisions—the wicked government of Britain—have sharply increased their efforts of creating divisions between the Sunnis and Shiites,” Mr. Khamenei said in a speech last month, according to a copy of it on his website. “They created al Qaeda and [Islamic State] in order to create divisions and to fight against the Islamic Republic, but today, they have turned on them.”

Current and former U.S. officials have said Mr. Obama has focused on communicating with Mr. Khamenei specifically because they believe the cleric will make all the final decisions on Iran’s nuclear program and the fight against Islamic State.

Mr. Rouhani is seen as navigating a difficult balance of gaining Mr. Khamenei’s approval for his foreign policy decisions while trying to satisfy Iranian voters who elected him in the hope of seeing Iran re-engage with the Western world.

The emergence of Islamic State has drastically changed both Washington’s and Tehran’s policies in the Middle East.

Mr. Obama was elected on the pledge of ending Washington’s war in Iraq. But over the past three months, he has resumed a U.S. air war in the Arab country, focused on weakening Islamic State’s hold of territory in western and northern Iraq.

Iran has had to mobilize its own military resources to fight against Islamic State, according to senior Iranian and U.S. officials.

Tehran’s elite military unit, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, has sent military advisers into Iraq to help the government of Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, a close Iranian ally. The IRGC has also worked with Syrian President Assad’s government, and Shiite militias from across the Mideast, to conduct military operations inside Syria.

U.S. officials have stressed that they are not coordinating with Tehran on the fight against Islamic State.

But the State Department has confirmed that senior U.S. officials have discussed Iraq with Mr. Zarif on the sidelines of nuclear negotiations in Vienna. U.S. diplomats have also passed on messages to Tehran via Mr. Abadi’s government in Baghdad and through the offices of Iraq’s Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, among the most powerful religious leaders in the Shiite world.

Among the messages conveyed to Tehran, according to U.S. officials, is that U.S. military operations in Iraq and Syria aren’t aimed at weakening Tehran or its allies.

“We’ve passed on messages to the Iranians through the Iraqi government and Sistani saying our objective is against ISIL,” said a senior U.S. official briefed on these communications. “We’re not using this as a platform to reoccupy Iraq or to undermine Iran.”

—Michael R. Crittenden contributed to this article.

Write to Jay Solomon at jay.solomon@wsj.com and Carol E. Lee at carol.lee@wsj.com

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