Defense Secretary Panetta: Iran seeking nuclear latency, not nuclear weapon
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta appeared on Face the Nation and said of Iran, “Are they trying to develop a nuclear weapon? No. But we know that they’re trying to develop a nuclear capability. And that’s what concerns us. And our red line to Iran is do not develop a nuclear weapon.” (Transcript: CBS Face the Nation 01/08) (Think Progress 01/08).
Iran announces future enrichment at underground site as talks loom
On Friday, diplomats in Vienna said Iran has taken steps in preparation for uranium enrichment at the Fordo site. According to one diplomat, Iran began feeding uranium gas into centrifuges as part of preparations for enrichment (Reuters 01/06).
Meanwhile, Turkey’s Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu said that Iran and international powers have in principle agreed to resume talks on Iran’s nuclear program in Turkey. Additionally, Feireidoun Abbasi, the head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, said that Tehran has shown a new generation of centrifuges to the IAEA (Fars News Agency 01/08).
EU countries seek delay in oil embargo; threats over Strait of Hormuz
Diplomats said on Friday that, although EU states agreed in principle to an embargo on Iranian oil, some European Union capitols have proposed “grace periods” of between one to 12 months because of economic considerations as Europe faces a debt-crisis (Huffington Post 01/07). Meanwhile, Iran’s National Iranian Oil Company said that it does not owe around $2 billion in oil shipments as claimed by Italy (Khaleej Times 01/07).
Ali Ashraf Nouri, a senior commander in Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, has been quoted as saying that Tehran’s leadership has decided to order the closure of the strategic Strait of Hormuz if Iran’s oil exports are blocked (Washington Post 01/08). U.S. Defense Secretary Panetta warned that the U.S. would respond if Iran tries to close the strategic Strait of Hormuz (AFP 01/08).
Central bank resignation denied
An Iranian official has denied rumors that the current governor of Iran’s central bank, Mahmoud Bahmani, has resigned amidst rising inflation and devaluation of the rial. Bahmani has been at odds with President Ahmadinejad over the appropriate response to Iran’s currency crisis (Reuters 01/07).
Meanwhile, Iran’s parliament passed a measure imposing legal penalties on unofficial money traders who sell foreign currencies outside official exchange offices (Reuters 01/08). The Central Bank has raised interest on deposits while the state is filtering the word “dollar” from text messages (Enduring America 01/09)
U.S. national accused of spying sentenced to death
Iranian American Amir Mirzaei Hekmati, accused of spying for the CIA in Iran, has been sentenced to death in a preliminary verdict by Iran’s Revolutionary Court (Christian Science Monitor 01/09). His family has issued a statement denying the allegations and the State Department condemned the verdict, saying the accusations were untrue (The Envoy 01/09).
Parliamentary elections pose a challenge to Iranian authorities
An article in the The Guardian notes that the Parliamentary elections in March are being viewed by senior Iranian officials and analysts as the most sensitive in the history of the Islamic Republic, amid economic discontent, political dissent, and fears of an impending war (The Guardian 01/08).
Iran’s intelligence minister claims Iran has arrested several people on charges of spying for the United States and seeking to undermine the upcoming parliamentary elections in Iran. He said the suspects were in touch with their contacts through the Internet, but provided no further details (Washington Post 01/08).
Iran responds to rescue of Iranian fisherman
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast welcomed the rescue of 13 Iranian fishermen held by pirates by American forces, calling it a positive humanitarian gesture. But Iranian news outlets linked to the Revolutionary Guard called the rescue a dramatization of a routine event (Christian Science Monitor 01/07).
In an op-ed for The Independent, National Iranian American Council president Trita Parsi argues that escalation and reckless discourse by both sides have made a confrontation between the U.S. and Iran probable:
If a new round of talks take place, there should be little doubt that negotiations will be tough. The divide between the two sides has grown as a result of the mutual escalation. And political space for the kind of sustained diplomacy needed to produce a breakthrough is in short supply in the US, Iran and the EU. Rather than a negotiation, we are likely to see yet another exchange of ultimatums. But if the EU repeats the mistake of 2010 and lets its mistrust overtake its judgement and imposes an oil embargo prior to the next meeting, then diplomacy will likely be dead on arrival.
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Additional Notable News:
Kurdish blogger and activist Rojin Mohemedi was released from Evin prison.
Iranian Civil society activist Sohrab Razzaghi has been tried in absentia and sentenced to twenty years in prison and €550,000 in fines.
Iran began a military maneuver near its border with Afghanistan days after naval exercises in the Persian Gulf, reports Reuters.