State Dept. report: “Little meaningful improvement in human rights in Iran” under Iran President Hassan Rouhani
- State Dept. report: “Little meaningful improvement in human rights in Iran” under Iran President Hassan Rouhani
- Reuters: U.N. nuclear watchdog shelved plans for report detailing Iran nuclear weapons progress
- State Dept. expresses outrage as Assad regime retaliates against families of opposition delegates
- Reports: After Palestinian President rejects U.S. peace proposals, Obama intends to up pressure on Israeli PM
- Descriptions of Iranian abuses in the State Department's annual human rights review - unveiled at a Thursday press conference alongside particularly grim evaluations from Uzra Zeya, acting assistant secretary of State for democracy, human rights and labor - risk consolidating deepening concerns that Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is either unable or unwilling to substantively improve democratic freedoms and civil rights in the Islamic Republic. Zeya described 2013 as having seen "some of the most egregious atrocities in recent memory,” and both the substance of the report and coverage of its findings revolved around outrages in Iran and Iranian client state Syria. McClatchy wrote up its coverage of the report under the straightforward headline "Iran still among world’s worst human rights abusers," picking out documentation of "Iran's record of floggings and court-ordered amputations, discrimination against ethnic and religious minorities, crackdown on press freedoms and 624 executions." Zeya had told reporters that the U.S. has "seen little meaningful improvement in human rights in Iran under the new government" amid continuing "torture, political imprisonment, [and] harassment of religious and ethnic minorities." USA Today conveyed Zeya's comments as assessing that 'abuses have continued and even worsened under the new presidency of Hassan Rouhani.' The statements echo similar ones made by Ahmed Shaheed, the UN special rapporteur on human rights in Iran, who last fall reported that Rouhani's election had not introduced any fundamental changes in Iran's approach to human rights.
- Reuters reported on Thursday that had U.N.'s nuclear watchdog last year planned and then suspended efforts to compile a report revealing "more of [Iran's] suspected atomic bomb research," with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) seemingly calculating that the evidence would complicate Western efforts to strike an agreement with Tehran over its nuclear program. The revelation, which came two days after the U.S.-based Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) released documentation showing that Iran has resumed work at a military base where it is believed to have conducted experiments linked to the development of nuclear warheads, seems set to fuel suspicions that there are pockets of diplomats seeking to downplay the extent of Iran’s clandestine atomic work in the interests of striking a deal that can be publicly sold as having substantively addressed Tehran’s weaponization drive. Meanwhile Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif reiterated on Thursday that Iran will refuse to dismantle any of its atomic facilities or centrifuges. A previous report by ISIS had calculated that any deal which meaningfully set back Tehran's nuclear program would have to require the Islamic Republic to dismantle at least 15,000 uranium enrichment centrifuges and close some of its enrichment facilities, alongside other steps relating to plutonium production and weapons research. Zarif told reporters in New Delhi on Thursday that negotiations between the P5+1 global powers and Iran are "going well."
- Syria's Bashar al-Assad regime retaliated against family members of Syrian opposition leaders who came to Geneva for recent peace talks, detaining them after having designated the delegates themselves as terrorists, according to a State Department statement issued on Wednesday by spokeswoman Jen Psaki. The accusation, which was accompanied by a call on the regime to "immediately and unconditionally release all those unfairly arrested," is likely to deepen outrage toward the regime but also risks embarrassing the Obama administration on its diplomatic approach to the nearly four year old conflict. Secretary of State John Kerry had over the course of weeks last January been at the forefront of pressuring Syrian opposition leaders to attend the so-called Geneva II talks, despite something of a consensus in the foreign policy community that the negotiations were largely hopeless. Justifications given at the time, which revolved around calculations that there was little to be lost by bringing the two sides together, may now emerge as having been overly optimistic. The State Department on Wednesday also blasted Russia for continuing to aid Damascus, with Kerry declaring that "everybody knows" that what the regime is doing "is outrageous, unconscionable, unacceptable, disgraceful, craven, it's horrendous."
- Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas reportedly "exploded with rage" at Secretary of State John Kerry over what he termed "insane" proposals from Washington designed to facilitate a comprehensive peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, according to descriptions of a meeting between the two published in the leading Palestinian daily Al Quds and conveyed by The Times of Israel. Abbas is said to have been particularly incensed by terms relating to Jerusalem and to Israeli security needs along the border with Jordan, areas in which U.S. bridging proposal have been repeatedly rejected by top Palestinian figures, including by Abbas himself. Palestinian leaders on Thursday also rejected U.S. moves to extend peace talks beyond a previously-set April deadline, a proposal aimed at providing the parties with more time to hammer out a final peace deal. Meanwhile the New York Times reported that President Barack Obama intends "to plunge back into" Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, most immediately by exerting pressure on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during an upcoming Oval Office meeting.
Washington, January 4 – The Iran-backed terror group Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, and the Palestinian faction Fatah, which politically controls Palestinian areas of the West Bank, have both rejected U.N. requests to accept some 150,000 Palestinian refugees fleeing the violence in Syria. Their refusals come as U.N. officials have raised the estimated death toll in the country’s ongoing war to more than 60,000.
The Palestinian groups cited reasons ranging from financial strain to ideological opposition, the latter revolving around Palestinian insistence that tens of thousands of refugees and their descendants must be permitted to overrun Israel. Hamas’s Gaza head Ismail Haniyeh, for example, reportedly told the United Nations Relief and Works Agency that accepting fleeing Syrians would be used by Israel to vitiate future Palestinian demands for Israeli towns and villages.
The PA, experiencing a major debt crisis, has begged regional Arab leaders for millions of dollars in loans.
A substantial number of Palestinians in Syria have already fled to Lebanon and Jordan, prompting concern that the three-way proxy war being waged in Syria – which has pitted Sunni-backed rebels against the Iran-backed regime against regional Kurdish groups – may spill over into a regional conflict.
Aerial attacks by troops loyal to the regime of Bashar al-Assad, some of which have targeted decades-old Palestinian refugee camps, have become increasingly common over the course of the past 22 months. A December attack on the Yarmouk refugee camp, which housed more than 100,000 Palestinians, utilized fixed-wing aircraft.
An aerial attack Wednesday on a gas station outside the capital left scores dead, while a car bomb at a different gas station killed nine people. Gas stations in particular have become regime targets, since shortages require motorists to line up for hours to obtain fuel.
Washington, Sept. 20 – Iran has admitted lying to U.N. inspectors and Western countries about aspects of its nuclear program to confuse those trying to figure out what the Islamic Republic is really doing.
In an astounding revelation, Iran’s Vice President Fereydoun Abbasi-Davani, who also is the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI), told the London-based Al-Hayat newspaper, “We had no choice.”
“Sometimes we pretended to be weaker than we really were, and sometimes we showed strength that was not really in our hands,” Abbasi-Davani said in the interview.
He justified this behavior by saying that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the U.N.’s nuclear watchdog, treated Iran as if it were developing nuclear weapons. In fact, the IAEA has painstakingly compiled evidence over many years that overwhelmingly demonstrates that Iran is doing exactly that.
“What is unacceptable is that the IAEA treats us as convicted felons having to prove their innocence. There are elements who accuse us and the IAEA is trying to prove these allegations,” said Abbas-Davani.
“We sometimes gave false information to protect our nuclear sites and our interests. This inevitablymisled other intelligence agencies,” he added.
IAEA chief Yukiya Amano met Abbasi-Davani on Monday. After the meeting, Amano said it was essential for Iran to cooperate with his inspectors to clarify concerns about military dimensions to its nuclear program. Iran has repeatedly refused to allow IAEA inspectors to visit key sites.
In another development, the U.S. House of Representatives has unanimously passed a bill to counter Iran’s growing presence and influence in Latin America. The bill, sponsored by South Carolina Rep. Jeff Duncan, was passed amid reports that Iran has established a Hezbollah terrorist training base in northern Nicaragua and that three suspected Hezbollah terrorists were arrested in Merida, Mexico last week.
According to a press release from Duncan, the bill among other things seeks to protect U.S. interests and assets in the Western Hemisphere such as embassies, consulates, businesses, energy pipelines and cultural organizations against possible threats and requires that energy supplies from the Western Hemisphere are free from the influence of any foreign government that would attempt to manipulate or disrupt global energy markets.
Duncan expressed hope that the Senate would pass the bill quickly so that it could be sent to President Obama to sign into law. This is the latest in a series of measures Congress has taken to tighten sanctions and increase pressure on Iran.
Despite these measures, Iran has press forward with its program and could now be just months away from having to ability to develop a nuclear weapon.
Washington, Sept. 7 — Canada on Friday suspended diplomatic ties with Iran, closing its embassy there and branding the Islamic republic as a state sponsor of terrorism.
The announcement came in a statement by Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird, who said, “Iran is among the world's worst violators of human rights which shelters and materially supports terrorist groups.
"Canada views the government of Iran as the most significant threat to global peace and security in the world today,” said Baird, in Russia for an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit.
Iranian diplomats in Canada have five days to leave.
The United States broke diplomatic relations with Iran in April 1980 after the Tehran embassy hostage crisis the previous year.
Baird, in his statement, noted that Iran supports the Syrian regime of President Bashar al-Assad which is waging a bloody war against its own people. He also cited Iran’s refusal to obey U.N. resolutions to halt its nuclear-weapons program.
Opponents of the regime in Canada had been calling on the government to close the Iranian embassy after Iran's cultural counselor in Ottawa, Hamid Mohammadi, suggested that Iranian expatriates could be recruited to work for the regime. The implication was that those who still have family in Iran might be susceptible to pressure.
Baird issued a warning on July 13, saying the Iranian government has no right to interfere with Canadians who left Iran to build a better life.
"Obviously we're concerned by some of the reports that we've heard," Baird said.
"It is completely inconsistent with any diplomatic mission for the Iranian mission in Ottawa to interfere in the liberties that [Iranian-Canadians] enjoy in Canada.
Baird also noted Iran’s threats against Israel; Iran repeatedly has called for the annihilation of the Jewish state, denies the Holocaust and frequently speaks of attacking Western countries. The Islamic republic also provides training, arms and money to proxies such as Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon and has vowed to share its nuclear technology with like-minded countries.
Iran has ignored demands by the international community to halt or make transparent its nuclear program. The United Nations, United States and the European Union have passed several rounds of sanctions on Iran to pressure it to stop developing nuclear weapons.
But the Iranians remain defiant and have even stepped up their efforts.
Jerusalem, Aug. 19 – The United Nations watchdog group issued its annual report for 2011, which focuses on the continued Iranian refusal to comply with international agreements and warns there is no evidence to show that Iran has stopped its work on nuclear weapons.
The International Atomic Energy Agency said while it tried to verify Iran’s compliance, it “was unable to conclude that all nuclear material in Iran was in peaceful activities.” The report repeated the damning conclusion that “analysis indicates that Iran has carried out activities relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device” and that “some activities may still be ongoing.”
The release of the IAEA report coincided with the annual Quds (Jerusalem) Day, the creation of Iranian Islamic revolution leader Ayatollah Khomeni in 1979, who called on the world’s Muslims to“destroy Israel” and “be freed from the bondage of the Big Satan (Great Devil, USA) and other superpowers.”
In a Quds Day speech Friday Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called Israel an “insult to all humanity,” as demonstrators in Tehran burned U.S. and Israeli flags and chanted “Death to the U.S.” and “Death to Israel”.
World leaders were quick to condemn Iran. Catherine Ashton, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, issued a sharp response saying she "strongly condemns the outrageous and hateful remarks threatening Israel’s existence by the Supreme Leader and the President of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Israel’s right to exist must not be called into question.”
Ashton called on Iran “to play a constructive role in the region and expects its leaders to contribute to de-escalate tension and not to fuel it.”
United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said he “condemns these offensive and inflammatory statements,” accusing Iran of escalating tensions and warning Iranian leaders they were violating the U.N. Charter that “all members must refrain from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any State.”
Washington, Aug. 17 — Following months of speculation, top Israeli officials are speaking out about the benefits of an attack on Iran's nuclear program even if it only leads to a temporary setback.
"One, two, three, four years are a long time in the Middle East," Israeli Ambassador to the United States Michael Oren said in a speech Wednesday. “Look what's happened in the last year,” said Oren, referring to the upheaval in the Arab world. “In the past, we have operated on the assumption that we can only gain a delay.” That was the assumption when Israel knocked out Iraq’s nuclear reactor in 1981, said Oren, adding, “To this day, Iraq does not have a nuclear weapon.”
Oren reportedly was echoing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s comments when speaking about attacking Iran’s nuclear program, which may have enough material for at least five nuclear weapons, according to one recent report. Iran insists its nuclear program is intended only for peaceful, civilian purposes.
Netanyahu reportedly said in recent meetings that delaying the Iranian nuclear program could provide time for a regime change and pave the way for other changes, The Jerusalem Post reported.
The Islamic republic refuses to allow International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors access to its nuclear facilities and has been pursuing a nuclear program despite international sanctions. Iran is the only country in the United Nations that has called for the destruction of another member-country. Iran also has denied the Holocaust and trains, funds and arms proxies such as Hezbollah and Hamas.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak, addressing the Knesset Thursday, appeared to back Netanyahu when he said a nuclear Iran would be far more dangerous than a strike and that a decision must be made now.
Meanwhile, Israeli President Shimon Peres said in an interview on Israeli TV Thursday that Israel could not pull off a strike against Iran without U.S. assistance and didn’t believe it would carry out an operation before the U.S. presidential election in November.
Ultimately, Israel’s decision on a strike is up to Netanyahu and his cabinet; if both the prime minister and defense minister support it, the rest of the cabinet would be likely to follow.
Iranian officials have been ramping up their anti-Israel rhetoric recently in anticipation of al-Quds Day today, the last Friday during the month of Ramadan. The event was created by Iran in 1979 and calls for the destruction of Israel.
Today in Iran, millions of people demonstrated in the streets, shouting “Death to Israel.” Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad once again called for Israel’s destruction and said al-Quds Day is a time for unity among all human beings to remove the “Zionist black stain.”
Israel’s existence, the Iranian president said, is an “insult to all humanity” and a crime against humanity. Confronting Israel, he said, is an effort to “protect the dignity of all human beings.”
Said Ahmadinejad: “The Zionist regime is a tool to dominate the Middle East,” and the world powers are “thirsty for Iranian blood.”
On Wednesday, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said "the fake Zionist (regime) will disappear from the landscape of geography,” according to The Jerusalem Post.
Washington, Aug. 16 — Iranian leaders have been ratcheting up their anti-Israel rhetoric this week, with the Islamic republic’s top Supreme Leader calling for Israel’s annihilation.
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said Wednesday, "the fake Zionist (regime) will disappear from the landscape of geography,” according to The Jerusalem Post. "The light of hope will shine on the Palestinian issue, and this Islamic land will certainly be returned to the Palestinian nation," Khamenei said.
The genocidal statements come just ahead of al-Quds Day, an event Iran created in 1979 that calls for the destruction of Israel. Al-Quds Day falls on the last Friday of Ramadan; this year it takes place tomorrow (Friday). The Shiite event has spread to Bahrain, south Lebanon and Pakistan.
Also this week, Brig.-Gen. Gholamreza Jalali, a former Revolutionary Guards commander, said Palestine could only be liberated by destroying Israel. Al-Quds Day, he said, “is an expression of the fact that there is no other way but to stand firm and resist until Israel is destroyed.".
An Israeli government official said Jalali’s statements were “not an aberration,” but instead a "reaffirmation of what we continually hear from the Iranian leadership."
Israel, the official said, takes such comments seriously, as should others. "The Iranians use unequivocal language, and their words speak for themselves.”
Members of the Iranian regime have for years publicly espoused statements saying Israel should be “wiped off the map.”
Iran is the only country in the United Nations that has called for the destruction of another member-country. Iran has denied the Holocaust and trains, funds and arms proxies such as Hezbollah and Hamas.
Iran is actively pursuing a nuclear weapon, refuses to allow International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors access to its nuclear facilities and may have enough material for at least five nuclear weapons, according to a recent report.
Iranian Defense Minister General Ahmad Vahidi said this week that Iran would annihilate the Israel Defense Forces were Israel to launch an attack on Iran’s nuclear sites.
Jerusalem, June 26 – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said instability in the Middle East demands that the international community work for peace.
Referring to the Arab Spring and the ongoing violence in Syria that has claimed more than 10,000 lives, most of them civilians, Netanyahu said ”a way to end the killing and the terrible suffering of the citizens of Syria must be found.”
“Peace, security and regional stability must be pursued as far as is possible during these turbulent times,” Netanyahu said at a ceremony welcoming visiting Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Netanyahu also said he looked forward to working with the Egyptian government under its newly elected president, Mohamed Morsi.
“I believe that peace is important to Israel; I believe that peace is important to the Egyptians; I believe that peace is a vital interest for both countries; and I believe that peace is the foundation for stability in our region.”
The Israeli leader said Iran’s quest for nuclear weapons in defiance of the United Nations had to be met be continued international resolve.
"We agree that Iran’s continued pursuit of nuclear weapons is a grave threat first and foremost to Israel, but also to the region and to the world," he told Putin. “Israel believes the international community must now do two things: ratchet up the sanctions against Iran; and also ratchet up the demands that are being made of Iran” to cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency.
Washington May 24 - International talks on Iran’s nuclear program ended today with no evident progress, although a new meeting is scheduled for next month in Moscow.
EU Foreign Policy Chief Catherine Ashton said that “significant differences remain” in negotiations between Iran and the six major powers that constitute the P5+1: Russia, China, France, Germany, the U.K. and U.S.
“The E3+3 remain firm, clear and united in seeking a swift diplomatic resolution of the international community's concerns on the exclusively peaceful nature of Iran's nuclear program,” she said after talks concluded. “We expect Iran to take concrete and practical steps to urgently meet the concerns of the international community, to build confidence and to meet its international obligations.”
Top Israeli officials have argued that Iran is merely continuing a pattern of stalling as it continues the enrichment process.
"Iran is trying to gain time through talks with the West, and has no intention of halting its nuclear program," Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on May 9, while Defense Minister Ehud Barak has said that Iran’s strategy could allow a nuclear weapon to built in as little as 60 days.
The main issue at the negotiations was Iran’s enrichment of uranium to the 20 percent purity level, which signifies a technical ability to enrich to the military-ready 90 percent level. Yet the two-day meeting in Baghdad began with Iran’s insistence that rounds of punishing international sanctions be lifted as a pre-condition to any halt in enriching uranium that could be used for a nuclear weapon.
“Iran underlined that the talks with the six world powers in Baghdad should result in a removal of the western sanctions, stressing that the West's embargos have no legal basis,” the Iranian FARS news agency reported.
While details of the talks remain secret, CNN reported that Iran rejected the idea of completely stopping its uranium enrichment as demanded by the United Nations. Highly enriched uranium is used to make nuclear bombs.
The meeting in Moscow will take place on June 18 and 19, 2012.
Jerusalem, April 17 ‒ Palestinian Authority (PA) Prime Minister Salam Fayyad was a no-show Tuesday as a Palestinian delegation presented Fayyad's Israeli counterpart with a letter outlining preconditions to peace talks.
A draft version of the letter from PA President Mahmoud Abbas wasleaked earlier this week, giving a list of Palestinian complaints and accusations against Israel. Among the demands was a call for Israel to stop all construction in disputed territories and release Palestinian prisoners including all those convicted of terrorist bombings.
The AFP reported that despite Fayyad's previous commitment to attend, Fayyad had serious "reservations" beforehand about meeting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and various news reports on Tuesday blamed a dispute over tax revenue and the beginning of a major Palestinian prisoner-led hunger strike were to blame for his absence.
Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said despite the difficulties with the Palestinians, Israel wanted to push forward with direct peace talks towards a two-state solution.
“Our position is known. We want negotiations without preconditions. We are aiming for the solution of two states for two peoples,” Barak said in an Army Radio interview. “You need two to tango and until now it was difficult to get the Palestinians to discussions without them raising pre-conditions.”
Israel’s position was backed by major powers including Russia, the United Nations, the European Union and the United States. Those entities issued a statement last week reiterating their call from last September to “resume direct bilateral Israeli -Palestinian negotiations without delay or preconditions.”
“It is very difficult to decipher the behavior of the Palestinians, which does not look totally consistent. We have the problem of Hamas in the background, which is a not a simple issue,” Barak said.
The Palestinians have been split since 2007 between the West Bank, controlled by Abbas’ Fatah Party, and the Gaza Strip, run by the Iran-backed Hamas terrorist organization. A recent attempt failed to reconcile long-simmering hatred between the two sides and form a unity government. Israeli leaders had said that a Fatah-Hamas government would likely kill the peace process, because Hamas rejects peace with Israel, won’t give up armed attacks and refuses to negotiate.
A spokesman for Netanyahu said the Israelis would study the Palestinian letter before issuing a response.