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Tuesday, November 29, 2011

EYE ON IRAN 11/29/11

Reuters: "Iranian protesters have stormed the British Embassy compound in Tehran, smashing windows, hurling petrol bombs and burning the British flag during a rally to protest against sanctions imposed by Britain. Several dozen protesters broke away from a crowd of a few hundred protesters outside the main embassy compound in downtown Tehran, scaled the embassy gates and went inside. Iranian security forces did little to stop them. The semi-official Mehr news agency said protesters pulled down the British flag, burned it, and put up the Iranian flag. Unconfirmed reports also suggested that the protesters had taken hostages. Inside, the demonstrators threw stones and petrol bombs. One waved a framed picture of Queen Elizabeth... The attacks, carried live on Iranian state television showed, followed the rapid approval by Iran's Guardian Council of a parliamentary bill compelling the government to expel the British ambassador in retaliation for the sanctions, and warnings from a lawmaker that angry Iranians could storm the British embassy as they did to the U.S. mission in 1979. The British Foreign Office said it was outraged by the incursion into embassy."

Reuters: "The sound of an apparent explosion was heard from Iran's Isfahan city on Monday afternoon, the head of the judiciary in the province said, but the province's deputy governor denied that there had been a big blast. 'In the afternoon, there was a noise like an explosion, but we don't have any information from security forces on the source of the noise,' provincial judiciary head Gholamreza Ansari was quoted as saying by ISNA news agency. However, Mehr news agency quoted Deputy Governor Mohammad Mehdi Ismaili as saying: 'So far no report of a major explosion has been heard from any government body in Isfahan.' ... An important Iranian nuclear facility involved in processing uranium is located near Isfahan city, although Iranian media reports of the incident did not refer to it. Iranian media provided contradictory information about the incident, which came less than three weeks after a massive explosion at a military base near Tehran that killed more than a dozen members of the Revolutionary Guard including the head of its missile forces."

ISIS: "SIS has acquired commercial satellite imagery of a military compound near the town of Bid Kaneh in Iran where a large explosion occurred on November 12, 2011. Compared to an earlier picture of the site, an image taken on November 22, 2011 shows that most of the buildings on the compound appear extensively damaged (see figures 1 and 2). Some buildings appear to have been completely destroyed. Some of the destruction seen in the image may have also resulted from subsequent controlled demolition of buildings and removal of debris... ISIS learned that the blast occurred as Iran had achieved a major milestone in the development of a new missile. Iran was apparently performing a volatile procedure involving a missile engine at the site when the blast occurred."

Nuclear Program & Sanctions

Reuters: "The European Union is preparing new restrictive measures against Iran and shares U.S. concerns about Tehran's nuclear program, European Council President Herman Van Rompuy said on Monday. Van Rompuy did not offer details of the planned sanctions in remarks to reporters after a White House meeting with President Barack Obama and other top U.S. officials. In a joint statement issued after that meeting, the United States and European Union said they shared 'deep concern' about the possible military dimensions of Tehran's nuclear pursuits."

Daily Telegraph: "Mr Hague said the expulsion of Dominick Chilcott, who has been in Tehran just one month, would damage its ties with Europe and other Western states. 'If the Iranian government confirms its intention to act on this, we shall respond robustly in consultation with our international partners,' Mr Hague said. 'It will do nothing to repair Iran's international reputation. To respond in this manner to pressure from the international community to engage is entirely counterproductive and yet another sign of Iran's continued unwillingness to enter into dialogue.' The Foreign Ofice was weighing its direct response, as the bill demands relations to be reduced to charge d'affair level but Iran does not have an ambassador in London."

Reuters: "Italy's government will give diplomatic help to the country's oil companies to find alternative sources of crude if sanctions are imposed on imports from Iran, a senior industry official said on Monday, adding Saudi Arabia could make up the shortfall. 'They have taken our information about the negative impact of the possible suspension of supplies from Iran to see what they can do on the diplomatic level to help find sources to replace imports from Iran,' Pietro de Simone, director of oil industry lobby Unione Petrolifera, told Reuters after meeting government officials. Italy, which relies on Iran for about 13 percent of its total crude imports, would be able to replace an eventual shortfall of Iranian supplies with imports from Saudi Arabia, one of the world's biggest oil producers and exporters, he said."

Reuters: "A French push for a European Union embargo on Iranian oil has run into opposition in some EU capitals, diplomats said on Monday, signalling that any decision was unlikely before a Dec. 9 summit of EU leaders. Paris has argued Europe should ban Iranian oil as part of Western steps to ratchet up pressure Iran over its nuclear programme, following the release of a report by the International Atomic Energy Agency that suggested Iran had worked on designing an atom bomb... EU powerbrokers Britain and Germany support the proposal, although London is still conducting an analysis of the costs, diplomats said. But some EU states, led by crisis-stricken Greece, have expressed concerns during talks on the issue about the economic impact of an oil embargo. Discussions are being held in Brussels ahead of a meeting of EU foreign ministers on Thursday, during which EU governments are set formally to approve an extension of Iranian sanctions lists by some 180 people, companies and institutions."

Bloomberg: "The U.K. government is examining whether to ban the sale of mobile-phone surveillance software to Iran and Syria, Business Minister Judith Wilcox said. Wilcox, answering questions in Parliament today about exports to Iran of software that can be used to help track, arrest and repress opposition activists, said the coalition government is actively considering controls on such products... 'Surveillance technology at the moment is not controlled under our current export licensing system, as it has legitimate applications.' Creativity Software Ltd., a British technology company, has exported software to Iran legitimately, Wilcox said, and the questioning of companies over exports to 'difficult countries' is 'very robust' to ensure that the technology is not misused."

Foreign Affairs

AFP: "Iran has banned a popular computer game, 'Battlefield 3', depicting US armour and aircraft launching an assault on Tehran, an Iranian IT magazine reported. 'All computer stores are prohibited from selling this illegal game,' an unnamed deputy with the security and intelligence division of Iran's police said in a statement carried by Asr-e Ertebat weekly. A Tehran-based IT union warned all shops to abide by the ban. 'Battlefield 3', made by US videogame company Electronic Arts (EA), is based on a fictional near-future in which players take on the role of US Marines tackling shootem-up missions in Paris, New York and Tehran."

Bloomberg: "Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi canceled a trip to the Netherlands this week after Hungary said it wouldn't allow his plane to enter its airspace, Iran's Shargh newspaper said, citing an official in Tehran. Hungary said the refusal to give clearance to the aircraft was due to technical problems, an explanation the unidentified Foreign Ministry official described as unconvincing, the Tehran- based paper reported. The ministry has sought an explanation from the Hungarian ambassador in Tehran, it said. The Hungarian Foreign Ministry said the decision was based on European Union air-safety rules and unrelated to sanctions against Iran. 'The aircraft which the Iranian foreign minister planned to use is on a banned list, according to a European Commission directive relating to flight safety,' the ministry in Budapest said in an e-mailed response to questions."

Opinion & Analysis

Fredrik Dahl in Reuters: "Iran regards its nuclear program as a source of power and prestige and tougher sanctions look unlikely to alter Tehran's cost-benefit analysis much despite the economic pain they cause. Deep mistrust of Western intentions and security concerns in a volatile region where the United States maintains a strong military presence could help explain Iran's resolve not to back down and curb nuclear work its foes fear has weapons aims. That determination may have been further reinforced by the fall in August of Libya's Muammar Gaddafi, who agreed in 2003 to abandon efforts to acquire weapons of mass destruction only to be toppled after his people rose up and Western powers turned against him. Iran is facing a new wave of punitive measures after a United Nations nuclear watchdog report this month lent independent weight to suspicions, rejected by Tehran, that it has been developing a capability to make atomic bombs. 'Iran's nuclear program is motivated by regime survival,' said international policy analyst Alireza Nader of RAND Corporation, a U.S.-based research group. 'It appears the Islamic Republic has made the calculation that a potential nuclear weapons capability is worth the price of sanctions, as long as sanctions do not imperil the regime.' If that is the case, the latest push by the United States and its European allies may do little to force a change of course by Iran in the long-running nuclear dispute, which has the potential to trigger a wider conflict in the Middle East. 'The mere fact that Iran is ready to bear the brunt of increasingly painful sanctions demonstrates that they are entrenching themselves in a siege mentality, ready for a showdown if need be,' said Bruno Tertrais, a senior research fellow at France's Strategic Research Foundation think tank. European Union foreign ministers meet on Thursday to discuss new sanctions on Tehran, after the United States, Canada and Britain last week announced measures against Iran's energy and financial sectors. Iranian leaders are responding in a characteristically defiant manner to the latest such measures to target the major oil producer, which is already subject to four rounds of U.N. sanctions as well as separate U.S. and European steps."

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