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Iran’s Supreme Investor

One of the ways to look at the role of the supreme leader in the upcoming elections is to see him as the Iranian regime’s answer to Warren Buffett. My latest piece for Bloomberg explains why and how:


What are the likely results of Iran’s upcoming elections?


Podcast interview on Iran Elections and Iran in Israeli Foreign Policy


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Posted on : Jun 12 2013
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Posted under Middle East |

Could Ahmadinejad End Up Under House Arrest?

The scenario that Iran’s president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad could end up under house arrest can not be dismissed.


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Iranian Presidential Candidates Preaching Change, Too

By: Meir Javedanfar

Judging by the platforms of the three candidates presently approved to challenge Ahmadinejad in the June 12 presidential elections, they all wish to improve Iran’s relations with the West.

Why? Three reasons demonstrate their motivations.

First is Barack Obama. His Nowruz (Iranian new year) message to the people of Iran and his popularity in the international arena has impacted domestic Iranian politics, without Obama making an overt statement such as a candidate endorsement. The majority of candidates see this as an opportunity, including Mohsen Rezai.

The former head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corp (IRGC), Rezai is currently sought by INTERPOL for his involvement in the 1994 AMIA bombing in Argentina. Despite his murky past, Rezai — who sees himself as a pragmatic — is standing for election. In a recent interview with the German newspaper Frankfurter Rundschau, Rezai stated that “current changes in American foreign policy must be taken seriously.” The change he sees includes “America’s lack of interest to send its armies around the world.”

In other words, unlike Bush, Obama is not interested in the invasion of other countries — including Iran. Rezai is interested in cooperating with the U.S. on issues such as illicit drugs, peace and stability in the Near and Middle East, and the global economic crisis.

When it comes to Israel, Rezai — who referred to Imad Mughniya, the assassinated head of Hezbollah’s armed forces, as his friend — believes that the best way to prevent an Israeli attack is to build an international nuclear fuel consortium on Iranian soil. Such a group would include the U.S. itself, as well as Russia and the E.U. He believes that with such countries as stakeholders, Israel would be unlikely to attack.

Rezai also states that “the people of Palestine should determine their own destiny.”

Domestic politics also fuel the drive for improved relations with the West, according to reformists Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi. These politicians have witnessed how U.S. relations and Holocaust issues have been hijacked by Ahmadinejad and his supporters. What worries them is that he has been using such issues to his advantage by isolating Iran. They know that Ahmadinejad and his radical partners thrive in isolation, using it to stifle domestic opposition. Isolation and confrontation with the international community also give Ahmadinejad an opportunity to implement policy with little concern for other voices. Over the last four years, the opposition has suffered under isolation and now wishes to put an end to it. They want to reclaim their stature within Iranian politics, and bringing Iran out of isolation is a means towards that end.

The opposition candidates are also worried about the future, even if they are not elected. Rezai said Ahemadinejad’s reelection could “throw the country into the abyss.” This could be interpreted as meaning that the regime itself could be endangered.

Ahmadinejad’s foreign policy is not the only cause of concern. His economic policies have caused huge damage, increasing Iran’s need to open up to the West. Iran needs investment and expertise, more so now than before. Mehdi Karoubi, the former speaker of the Majles, said: “The 200,000 letters which Ahmadinejad receives on provincial trips are not love letters. They show the sheer number of problems which people have.”

The reformists have backed such statements, with Mousavi asking a number of questions regarding the oil income. As Iran’s prime minister from 1981-1989, Mousavi ran the country with $7 billion in yearly income. But Iran took in $60 billion last year, and Mousavi, along with his supporters, wants to know where the money went.

The reformists are also enraged by Ahmadinejad’s populist overtures — such as holding potato giveaways in order to garner votes. “Death to the government of potatoes!” has become a standard chant among anti-Ahmadinejad reformists.

So far, Ahmadinejad has focused on Iran’s achievements with its nuclear program and within its defense industry, which was able to successfully place a satellite in orbit. He has also focused his ire on the Khatami administration for suspending uranium enrichment in 2005, an agreement and rapprochement which Ahamadinejad found humiliating.

In a recent interview, Ahmadinejad additionally defended his Holocaust remarks: “The west uses the Holocaust as a tool to oppress others. We targeted the Holocaust and they can’t believe that we did this, because we targeted their weak spot. They can now see that Iran carries the same weight as the U.S. in international dealings.” To Ahmadinejad, breaking bonds and accords with the West is the best way to secure Iran’s future.

Although Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei determines the general direction of Iranian foreign policy, the U.S. would be forgiven for interpreting an Ahmadinejad loss as a sign that Khamenei is after a change in direction of Iran’s policies. If Ahmadinejad wins, we should expect the status quo or worse. Ahmadinejad could interpret a victory as a sign of stronger backing from Khamenei. Worse still, as Iranian law dictates that Ahmadinejad cannot stand for three consecutive elections, he will have little incentive to act in a less radical manner.

This article was published in PJM Media.

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Posted on : Jun 09 2009
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Posted under Iran- Elections |

Ayatollah Khamenei’s Obama dilemma

With Iranian presidential elections approaching, one of the key questions being asked is: what impact could the choice for next president have on relations between Iran and the US?

The article below explores (for email recipients, if you can’t see the link please click on blue title above)


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Posted on : Jun 07 2009
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Ahmadinejad’s Radioactive Election Campaign

By: Meir Javedanfar


On the occasion of Iran’s celebration of Nuclear Day on April 9, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Gholamreza Aghazadeh, the head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, had big news for the people of Iran; they announced major breakthroughs for Iran’s nuclear program. The Nuclear Day declaration was accompanied by much pomp and ceremony.

The first piece of news involved the production of nuclear fuel. The Iranian president stated: “Iran’s nuclear authorities have announced that the various cycles of nuclear fuel management are in our grasp in a comprehensive and domestically produced way.” The central point of his declaration was an assertion regarding Iran’s capability to produce uranium pellets. Once the low-enriched uranium is taken out of the centrifuges, they are placed into these pellets, which are then placed in bundles. They are then placed inside a heavily insulated pressurized chamber in the reactor, as part of the process to create heat to turn the turbines in order to produce energy.

According to Aghazadeh, “Seven thousand centrifuges had been installed in an underground nuclear facility in Natanz.” Ahmadinejad declared that Iran had tested two new types of centrifuges with “a capacity a few times higher than the existing centrifuges” currently in use.

The international community, especially Israel and France, were openly concerned by Ahmadinejad’s statement, which they interpreted as a sign of defiance.  The most interesting reaction came from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who said, “We don’t know what to believe about the Iranian program.” Clinton’s statement was a diplomatic way of saying, “We don’t believe the bombastic nuclear claims made by the Iranian president.” She would be absolutely right. The statements made in such a grandiose manner by Ahmadinejad and Aghazadeh may have been new to the people of Iran. But to the outside world, they were old recycled news. The goal was to slap some cosmetic sheen on President Ahmadinejad’s election campaign.

Iran’s capability to produce uranium pellets is nothing new to the international community, which was made aware of this development back in February by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The Iranian press, probably on the orders of the president and the supreme leader, did not print it at the time, so that it could be used to boost Ahmadinejad’s stature on Nuclear Day.

Furthermore, Ahmadinejad’s claim that Iran had tested two types of new centrifuges was a fact declared by the IAEA as long ago as September 2008; there was certainly nothing new about this announcement.

Meanwhile, in a desperate bid to strengthen Iran’s position before negotiations with the U.S. and to make Ahmadinejad look good, other Iranian lawmakers decided to jump on the bandwagon by making even more bombastic Nuclear Day statements.

A notable example was a declaration made by Alaeddin Borujerdi, the head of Iran’s parliamentary commission of national security and foreign policy, who stated that “the nuclear fuel cycle has been practically completed.”

To the Iranian public and to the international community, it may sound like Iran now has the capability to start running nuclear power stations. However, what Bourojerdi does not purposely mention is that while Iran may have the knowledge, it by no means has the capacity to do so. In order to make nuclear fuel for a power station, 30,000 to 40,000 centrifuges are needed to work in cascades in order to make sufficient low-enriched uranium. According to its own estimates, Iran only has 7000 centrifuges installed. This is by no means sufficient.

What Iran’s leaders also don’t say is how many of these are spinning and enriching uranium.

The IAEA does. According to its September 2008 report, Iran had 6,000 centrifuges, but “only 3,964 centrifuges were actively enriching uranium.” The rest were either empty or undergoing vacuum or dry run tests. So not only is the number of centrifuges disputable, so is Iran’s ability to make the required low-enriched uranium to power up nuclear stations.

This doesn’t mean that there is no grounds for worry. What should concern the international community is that although the current number of centrifuges are not sufficient to produce fuel for power stations, they are sufficient to enable Iran to make a bomb.

This will not be easy. The centrifuges in Natanz are under the supervision of the IAEA and under the 24-hour surveillance of its cameras. Nevertheless, the knowledge Iran has acquired in the enrichment of uranium can be used in secret facilities.

The nuclear program is the main leverage Tehran has in negotiations with the U.S. It is extremely unlikely that Iran will turn the clock back on its nuclear program. Although issues such as Iranian influence in Lebanon, Afghanistan, and Gaza may be up for grabs, nukes are not expected to be part of any compromises offered by Tehran.

President Ahmadinejad has essentially ruined the Iranian economy, a fact which has greatly damaged his popularity. He continues to try to use the nuclear program as a tool to improve his position. The statements about Iran’s nuclear achievements increase proportionally with allegations of corruption and mismanagement against him. Ahmadinejad literally has nothing else positive to show about his four year term as president.

President Obama should use these statements, and any intransigence shown by Tehran in negotiations, as justification to impose tougher sanctions. For real results, sanctions will focus on the wealth of Iran’s leadership. By naming and shaming companies owned by Iran’s leadership and Revolutionary Guards in places such as Dubai, he would strike hard at the supreme leader and his cronies who make millions from illicit deals. Although they don’t care about the suffering of the people of Iran, Iranian politicians do care about their own pocketbooks. These businesses and their profits are important to them, and they are far more likely to compromise over the nuclear program in a shorter space of time.

Striking at corrupt politicians in Iran and their business interests abroad would put America firmly on the side of the Iranian people. There is nothing that disgusts them more than government corruption, against which they are defenseless. Punishing their crooked politicians would mean much more to the hearts and minds of the people of Iran than any new year’s message.

This article originally appeared in PJM Media.

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