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13 February 2012 Last updated at 18:41

Car bombs 'target Israel envoys' in India and Georgia

The BBC's Sanjoy Majumder at the scene in Delhi: "The entire area has been cordoned off"

Bombers have targeted staff at Israeli embassies in India and Georgia, officials say, with Israel accusing Iran of masterminding the attacks.

Witnesses said a motorcyclist placed a device on an embassy car in Delhi, causing a blast that hurt four people - one seriously. A bomb underneath a diplomat's car in Tbilisi was defused.

Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu said Iran was behind both incidents.

But Iranian officials denied the claims as "sheer lies".

One of the victims of the Delhi bombing, the wife of a defence ministry official, was in a "critical but stable" condition, according to AFP news agency. It quoted a doctor as saying she had undergone spinal surgery.

Who is behind Israel's embassy attacks?

Mr Netanyahu told a meeting of his Likud party MPs that there had been "two attempts of terrorism against innocent civilians".

"Iran is behind these attacks and it is the largest terror exporter in the world," he said.

He also blamed Iran for recent plots to attack Israeli targets in Thailand and Azerbaijan that were prevented.

And he suggested that the militant Islamist Hezbollah movement was also involved.

Israel's foreign ministry said the country had the ability to track down those who carried out the attacks.

But Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast rejected Mr Netanyahu's accusation, calling it "psychological warfare against Iran".

"We condemn any terrorist action and the world knows that Iran is the biggest victim of terrorism," he was quoted as saying by the official Irna news agency.

International condemnation

Earlier, the state's ambassador to India Mehdi Nabizadeh had told Irna: "These accusations are untrue and sheer lies, like previous times."

In a statement, India's Foreign Minister SM Krishna pledged a full investigation, adding: "The culprits will be brought to justice at the earliest."


The attack took place in a high security zone in the Indian capital, a kilometre from the heavily fortified Israeli embassy, and just down the road from the Indian prime minister's official residence.

Eyewitnesses say a man on a motorcycle drove up to the Israeli embassy minivan, sporting distinct blue diplomatic plates, and appeared to attach something to the back. Minutes later it exploded. The vehicle itself has been badly damaged - the back of it blown out. Police and emergency services cordoned off the site almost immediately. Forensic experts in white jackets and members of the bomb disposal squad examined the debris - trying to find traces of the explosive. They were joined by Israeli embassy staff.

Tonight Delhi has been placed on high alert with extra security outside Western embassies including that of the United States. India has not experienced this kind of an attack before and it's going to be a while before they make sense of what happened here.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton condemned the attacks, saying the US "stands ready to assist with any investigations of these cowardly actions". UK Foreign Secretary William Hague said he was "shocked and appalled" by the bombings.

The BBC's Rupert Wingfield-Hayes, in Jerusalem, says security at Israeli embassies has been tightened in recent months following warnings of potential attacks, after Iran accused Israel of a series of attacks on its nuclear scientists.

BBC security correspondent Gordon Corera said one of them, Mostafa Ahmadi-Roshan, died last month when motorcyclists placed a "sticky bomb" on his car - a technique similar to that used in previous attacks attributed to the work of Israel's Mossad.

Similarities seen in the Delhi blast could be an indication of the aggressors sending a message that attacks in Tehran will be repaid in kind, he added.

After the explosion in Delhi, Indian TV showed pictures of a burning car near the embassy.

The area around the vehicle was later cordoned off and forensic experts and the bomb squad were examining the burnt out remains.

The embassy is guarded by several layers of security and is in a well-defended area of central Delhi, close to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's official residence.

'Noticed device'

David Goldfarb, the spokesman for Israel's Delhi embassy, said the diplomat's car was close to the building on Aurangzeb Road when the explosion went off.

He said they had no details as to who was behind the attack.

Officials in Georgia said an explosive device was attached to the bottom of a diplomat's car in the capital, Tbilisi, but was found and defused before it detonated.

Israeli embassy driver Roman Khachaturyan said he had just driven his child to school when he spotted the bomb.

"When I was driving I heard a noise. I got out of the car and saw something stuck to it."

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-india-17013987
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13 February 2012 Last updated at 13:49


Azerbaijan in row with Iran over 'Israeli spies'
Map - Azerbaijan

Azerbaijan has angrily denied an Iranian claim that it has been helping Israeli spies plotting against Iran.

Iran says agents of the Israeli secret service Mossad were behind recent killings of Iranian nuclear scientists.

The latest victim was Mostafa Ahmadi-Roshan, killed by a car bomb in north Tehran on 11 January.

Azerbaijan's foreign ministry called Iran's claim "slander". On Sunday Iran had summoned the Azeri ambassador and given him a protest note.

An Azeri foreign ministry spokesman, Elman Abdullayev, said the Iranian protest was an "absurd reaction" to Azerbaijan's protest last month over an alleged plot by Iranian agents to kill Israelis in Azerbaijan.

Energy-rich Azerbaijan, a mainly Muslim country, has a secular government and borders on Iran. Azerbaijan has friendly ties with Israel and the US, who accuse Tehran of trying to develop nuclear weapons.

Azeri-Iranian relations have long been strained over the large ethnic Azeri minority in northern Iran.
'External interference'

The Iranian protest note to Azerbaijan on Sunday asked the Azeri government to "stop the activities of the Mossad intelligence services in that country against Iran", Iran's Irna news agency said.

Azeri ambassador Cavansir Akhundov was told that "some of the terrorists linked with the terror of Iranian scientists" had travelled to Azerbaijan and then on to Israel "for co-operation with the spying network of the Zionist regime", Irna reported.

The Azeri spokesman insisted on Monday that Azerbaijan "will not permit any external interference or any terrorist activity on its territory".

Iran refuses to negotiate over its uranium enrichment programme, which it says is purely civilian in nature.

Western countries have tightened sanctions against Iran, amid widespread suspicions that Tehran is trying to build nuclear weapons.

In November, the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency said it had information suggesting Iran had carried out tests "relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device".

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-17015238
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14 February 2012 Last updated at 06:37


'Useless' Iranian sanctions blight UK business: Lamont
By David Lewis File on 4, BBC Radio 4

Former Chancellor of the Exchequer Lord Lamont says imposing economic sanctions on Iran will not work.

"I can only say we are banging our heads against a wall with this approach... Iran will not buckle under these sanctions," he says.

Lord Lamont - chancellor in John Major's government in the early 1990s - says British companies are also being hit and losing out to rivals in Asia.

Foreign Office minister Alistair Burt insisted UK security was the priority.

Figures compiled by companies exporting to Iran show that direct trade dropped from just under £500m in 2008 - to an estimated £170m in 2011.
'Nasty' regime

There are also restrictions on British banks doing business with Iranian banks and a ban on businesses trading with Iranian transport and energy companies.

Sanctions against Iran have been tightening since 2005 as concerns have mounted that Iran is secretly engaged in developing a nuclear weapon.

The most recent round of sanctions came in January, with European Union ministers placing a ban on the importation of Iranian crude oil into Europe.

Lord Lamont is chairman of the British-Iranian Chamber of Commerce, a UK-based trade group.

The former chancellor says he deplores the "nasty" regime that exists in Tehran, but argues sanctions are counter-productive.

"The effect of sanctions is to hit the private sector in Iran, drive companies bankrupt and drive them into the arms of the government, or into the hands of the Revolutionary Guards and into alliances with people in the government smuggling the goods they desperately need," he says.

"I'm not sure this will have the right effect.

"Could this produce regime change? It's possible but in my view it's just as likely that it will bolster the strength of the regime."

An investigation by File on 4 shows the sanctions are also hitting companies in the UK, many of whom can still trade legitimately because the goods and services they provide fall outside the controls.

But the practicalities of doing business make trade almost impossible.

The BBC has spoken to the owner of a chemical company in the North West of England which manufactures a component for indigestion medicines.

'Innocent product'

The firm has been exporting the chemical to Iran for the past 25 years but he has now decided to suspend trade.

The owner, who does not want his company to be identified, says the restrictions placed on the banks make it difficult for him to get payment for his goods.

"It's a great shame because this is a completely innocent product," he says.

"I received information yesterday from commercial contacts in Iran that Indian and Chinese manufacturers are now preparing to replace us and that is a great pity after 25 years of selling these products into that country."

Lord Lamont says sanctions are not a one-way policy - they affect businesses in the UK.

"The problem with sanctions is that we think we're imposing a cost on them [Iran] but we're also imposing a cost on ourselves in terms of lost jobs, lost output and in some cases bankruptcy of the firms involved," he explains.

Lord Lamont says as trade between Britain and Iran has declined, the trade between businesses in Asia and Iran has grown.

Foreign Office minister Alistair Burt admits sanctions may have an impact on the UK but they had to be seen in the light of what they are trying to achieve.

"If stopping nuclear proliferation is the prime importance - which it is - it is disappointing there are problems for others along the way, but that must be the most important task we're engaged on," he says.

"We try and look very carefully to make sure that we get it right.

"We would ask everyone to understand that what we're engaged in here is a matter of national security, it's designed to make us safer, it's designed to bring the Iranians to the negotiation table and make them pause.

"It's not the easiest of processes but thinking of the alternatives - it's a lot better than that."

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-16954636
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14 February 2012 Last updated at 18:11

Thailand blasts: 'Iranian' bomber injured in Bangkok

BBC security correspondent Gordon Corera: "What the specific evidence for a link to Iran is has not been made clear yet"

A man thought to be Iranian has had both legs blown off after attempting to throw a bomb at police in the Thai capital, Bangkok, officials say.

Two other explosions were reported in the same busy commercial district of the city, injuring four other people.

Police said one blast took place at the house the injured man rented with other Iranians. One of those men also threw a bomb at a taxi in the capital.

Last month, the US embassy warned of possible attacks in Bangkok.

Israel has pointed the finger at Iran for the events in Bangkok as well as Georgia and India on Monday, suggesting they are part of a wider campaign including attempted attacks in Azerbaijan. It has also promised "it will settle the score". Israel may not have produced hard evidence that all these incidents are linked, but certainly many analysts believe they might be.

But if so, they are in turn part of a wider semi-clandestine and semi-overt conflict relating in particular to Iran's nuclear programme.

These recent incidents may well be in part a response to Israel's perceived role in the killing of a Hezbollah commander, Imad Mugniyah, four years ago, but also more recently the killing of Iranian scientists on the streets of Tehran, including one just last month. This is a conflict which may be escalating.

The warning over possible attacks last month was of attacks perhaps against Israeli and American interests, and a man has been arrested in connection with those and some materials were found.

The Bangkok blasts come just a day after two bomb attacks targeted Israeli diplomats in India and Georgia.

Israel has accused Iran and Lebanon's Hezbollah of orchestrating the attacks. Iran denied the allegations.

There is no sign of who the attackers in Bangkok might have been targeting, but the timing and the link to Iran will raise suspicions that this might be part of a co-ordinated campaign, says BBC security correspondent Gordon Corera.

'Further attacks feared'

Israel's press says the attacks on embassy staff in India and Georgia raised fears they were the start of a wave of attacks on Israeli targets.

On Tuesday, Israeli defence minister Ehud Barak accused Iran of being behind the Bangkok blast, the AP news agency reports.

The explosion "proves once again that Iran and its proxies continue to perpetrate terror'', he is quoted as saying.

He said Iran and its Lebanese ally Hezbollah were "unrelenting terror elements endangering the stability of the region and endangering the stability of the world".

Mr Barak is on an official visit in Singapore. A statement issued by the Israeli defence ministry noted that Barak was in Bangkok on Sunday, AP reports.

Identity card

Police told the BBC the first explosion happened around 14:20 (07:20 GMT) at a house in the Ekamai area in central Bangkok, which the three Iranians were believed to have rented for a month.

Two men managed to escape the explosion that severely damaged the house, according to police, but a third man who suffered minor injuries tried to hail a taxi. When the taxi refused to stop for him, he threw at least one bomb at it.

There was a third explosion when the same man then attempted to throw another bomb at police, but missed. The man lost his legs when the device blew up.

He is said to be receiving emergency treatment in hospital. Thai media said that an identity card found nearby indicated the man could be of Iranian origin.

A police forensics team was examining the house and reports said that police used a high pressure water cannon to defuse another explosive found there.

The Thai authorities say they have detained an Iranian man at Bangkok's Airport for questioning, but it was not immediately clear if he was one of the two other suspects.

Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra urged the public to remain calm.

On Monday, an Israeli diplomat was injured in a car bomb attack in the Indian capital, Delhi. It seems a motorcycle rider came from behind and attached an explosive device to the back door of the diplomat's car.

At almost the same time, a bomb beneath an Israeli diplomat's car in Tbilisi, Georgia, was found and defused.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-17026007
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14 February 2012 Last updated at 17:42

Iran protesters mark arrest of opposition leaders

Iranian opposition supporters have held protests in several parts of Tehran, on the anniversary of the arrest of two of the movement's main leaders.

Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karoubi were put under house arrest last year after backing a major protest.

Security forces were deployed throughout the capital after opposition groups called for people to take to the streets to mark the anniversary.

A number of people were detained in one of the city's main squares.

Elsewhere security forces staged random searches for mobile phones, BBC Persian understands.

Mr Mousavi, a former prime minister, and Mr Karoubi, a former speaker of Parliament, were the figureheads of the opposition Green Movement, which was trying to show support for "Arab Spring" protests.

Since their detention, their whereabouts are not known.

The Iranian authorities had warned they would stop any public move to mark the anniversary.

Human rights groups say that in recent days Iran's authorities have carried out a series of arrests of journalists and bloggers.

They also held anyone with links to the foreign media, as part of a strategy to restrict debate and prevent any kind of protest.

Internet users in Iran have been unable to access foreign email services.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-17028007
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15 February 2012 Last updated at 14:55


Iran oil ministry denies ending exports to EU states


Iran's oil ministry has denied state media reports saying it had stopped oil exports to six European countries in retaliation for the EU's oil embargo.

English-language Press TV had said the Netherlands, Greece, France, Portugal, Spain and Italy would be affected.

But an oil ministry spokesman told the Reuters news agency that any such decision would be announced by Iran's Supreme National Security Council.

EU member states have agreed to stop importing Iranian crude from 1 July.

The move is intended to pressure Tehran to stop enriching uranium, which can be used for civilian nuclear purposes but also to build warheads.

Iran insists its nuclear programme is peaceful, but the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency says it has information suggesting Iran has carried out tests "relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device".

The EU oil embargo, which was agreed last month, was phased so member states that were relatively dependent on Iranian crude - notably Greece, Spain and Italy - had enough time to find alternative sources.
Graphic image showing Iran's top oil export destinations

The bloc currently buys about 20% of Iran's oil exports, which account for a majority of government revenue. However, Iran's Oil Minister Rostam Qasemi said that a cut in exports to Europe would not hurt Tehran.

Brent crude oil prices were up $1 a barrel after Press TV's announcement on Wednesday, but the European Commission said such a move would make little difference as member states were already switching suppliers.

"Oil is something you can get on the international markets, and Saudi Arabia said they would increase their production," a spokeswoman for EU Energy Commissioner Guenther Oettinger, told the AFP news agency.

The reports about the halt of Iranian oil exports to the six EU states came shortly before President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was expected to unveil a new generation of domestically made uranium enrichment centrifuges.

State TV also said Mr Ahmadinejad would announce Iran had produced its own 20% uranium-enriched fuel rods for a research reactor in Tehran.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-17042855
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15 February 2012 Last updated at 23:06


Iran's president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad criticises foreign attempts to stop
Iran has staged an elaborate ceremony to unveil new developments in its nuclear programme.

Tehran says it has used domestically-made nuclear fuel in a reactor for the first time, and also unveiled more efficient enrichment centrifuges.

State TV showed President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad inspecting the rods as they were loaded into a reactor.

Western countries fear Iran wants to make nuclear weapons; Tehran says it only wants to produce its own energy.

The government unveiled the "new generation" of faster, more efficient uranium enrichment centrifuges at its Natanz facility in the centre of the country.


Nadav Eyal Maariv

World press unimpressed by Iran's nuclear achievements

The head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organisation, Fereydoon Abbasi Davani, said they were three times more efficient than their existing capacity.

President Ahmadinejad was wearing a white coat at the research reactor in Tehran, and was also shown attending the ceremony to mark what he has called the great achievements in the nuclear sphere.

He said last week that his country would never halt its programme to enrich uranium.
Home-grown industry

In January, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) confirmed that Iran had started the production of uranium enriched up to 20% at its Qom plant.

A deal to provide fuel for the reactor from abroad collapsed two years ago - at which point Iran decided to make the fuel itself.

One central point links these developments, says the BBC's Iran correspondent James Reynolds: Iran is determined to show that it can master nuclear technology on its own, and that international sanctions against its nuclear programme will make no difference.

The US and the European Union have recently imposed new sanctions targeting Iranian oil sales as part of a drive to increase international pressure on Tehran over its nuclear programme.

Meanwhile, Iran has written to EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton to offer to re-open talks with world powers on its nuclear programme.

"We voice our readiness for dialogue on a spectrum of various issues which can provide ground for constructive and forward-looking cooperation," the letter from chief Iranian nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili said, according to AP news agency.

The Obama administration dismissed the move as erratic behaviour resulting from the squeeze caused by sanctions. EU officials have not yet commented.

Talks between Iran and six world powers - the US, UK, France, Germany, Russia and China - on Tehran's nuclear programme collapsed a year ago.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-17041135
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15 February 2012 Last updated at 16:31


Three Iranian suspects arrested over Thai blasts


Four people, all believed to be Iranian, are suspected of being connected to explosions in Bangkok on Tuesday, Thai police say.

Two are held in the Thai capital while a third man was arrested in Malaysia.

The fourth suspect, a woman, is still at large. Police say she left the country earlier this month.

Thailand's National Security Council (NSC) chief said possible links to blasts targeting Israeli diplomats in India and Georgia were being examined.

Officials believe that the suspects arrested in Bangkok were planning to attack individuals.

Israel's envoy to Thailand said the explosives found in Bangkok were similar to those used in the attacks.

One suspect was injured when one of the devices went off and another was arrested at Bangkok's international airport.
Police inspect the wrecked Israeli embassy vehicle, 13 Feb Monday's attack in Delhi injured an Israeli diplomat

The third suspect managed to board a flight for Kuala Lumpur on Tuesday night, immigration official Lt Gen Wiboon Bangthamai said.

The Thai deputy prime minister has said that the blasts were not an act of terrorism but rather a "minor symbolic act".
'Destruction capacity'

Police say the evidence collected so far suggests "similarities" with attacks against Israeli diplomats in India and Georgia earlier this week, but their investigations are continuing.

"From the investigation, we found the type of explosives indicated that the prepared targets were individuals,'' NSC chief Wichean Potephosree told a news conference.

"Based on the equipment and materials we found, they were aimed at individuals and the destruction capacity was not intended for large crowds or big buildings.''

Police also said magnets were found at the rented house. The devices used in Delhi and Georgia were attached to vehicles using magnets.

The two attacks took place on Monday. An Israeli diplomat was injured in the Delhi attack, after a motorcycle rider attached an explosive device to the back door of the car.

Around the same time a bomb beneath an Israeli diplomat's car in Tbilisi, Georgia, was found and defused.

Israel has blamed Iran for the attacks - Tehran has denied any role. A foreign ministry spokesman also denied any role in the Bangkok blasts, AFP reported.

The three small blasts took place in the Ekamai area in central Bangkok on Tuesday afternoon.

Police told the BBC the first explosion happened at a house which the three suspects were believed to have rented for a month.

Two men managed to escape the explosion that severely damaged the house, but a third man who suffered minor injuries tried to hail a taxi. When the taxi refused to stop for him, he threw at least one bomb at it.

There was a third explosion when the same man then attempted to throw another bomb at police, but missed. The man lost his legs when the device blew up.

Four other people were injured in the incident. The US and UK have issued new travel advisories for Thailand in the wake of the blasts.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-17037386
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16 February 2012 Last updated at 12:31


Bangkok blast suspects 'targeting Israeli diplomats'


A group of Iranians detained after explosions in Thailand's capital Bangkok were intending to target two Israeli diplomats, Thai police say.

There were no further details of the individual targets, but planning was said to be at an advanced stage.

Officials have linked Tuesday's Bangkok blasts to attacks on Israeli diplomats in Georgia and India on Monday.

Israel has accused Tehran of being behind all three attacks. Tehran has denied any involvement.

Two men are in custody in Bangkok over Tuesday's explosions, a third man was arrested in Malaysia trying to board a flight to Iran, and a fourth suspect is still at large, believed by immigration officials to be back in Iran.

"Their targets were individuals, Israeli diplomats, not the Thai people," said national police chief Priewpan Damapong.

There had been widespread speculation of a plot aiming at Israelis, but Mr Priewpan is the first Thai official elaborate on the target.

He said the suspects are likely to be charged with possession of explosive devices and attempted murder.



Analysis
Gordon Corera Security correspondent, BBC News

The comments by a Thai Police Chief that the target in Bangkok was Israeli diplomats seems to back up Israel's claim that it is facing a co-ordinated campaign.

Such targeted killings of people conscious of their security are not always easy, but still the events in Bangkok show more ambition than capability. What will worry Israel though is the question of how many teams might have been sent out with the chance one might be successful, or that those responsible might redouble their efforts to make up for failures.

Iran has denied it is involved saying allegations are a smear to try and undermine its relationships with others. Of course Iran believes Israel has carried out almost identical acts in Tehran killing scientists linked to the nuclear programme.

Saeid Moradi, 28, who lost both legs after being caught in accidental explosions
Mohammad Khazaei, 42, who was paraded before journalists in Bangkok on Thursday
Masoud Sedaghatzadeh, 31, who fled to Malaysia and is now facing extradition back to Thailand
Leila Rohani, who rented the Bangkok house where the suspects lived; immigration officials say she has fled to Tehran.

The alarm was raised when an explosion ripped the roof of their house, in central Bangkok.

Mr Sedaghatzadeh and Mr Khazaei managed to flee the house after the explosion, but Mr Moradi was injured and tried to catch a taxi.

When the taxi refused to stop for him, he threw at least one bomb at it, according to police.

He was later cornered by police and attempted to throw a bomb at them. However, he seriously injured himself with the device, and lost both of his legs.

Four other people were injured in the incident.

The Bangkok blasts came a day after two attacks targeting Israeli diplomats in India and Georgia.

An Israeli diplomat was injured in the Delhi attack, after a motorcycle rider attached an explosive device to her car.

Around the same time a bomb beneath an Israeli diplomat's car in Tbilisi, Georgia, was found and defused.

Thai police said the devices they found were similar to the ones used in Delhi and Georgia.

And Israeli officials have repeatedly stated that the Iranian regime was behind all three attacks, in league with Lebanon's Islamist militant group Hezbollah.

Several suspected members of Hezbollah were arrested last month in Bangkok, though police have not publicly linked them to the detained Iranians.

Tehran officials have accused Israel of staging the attacks as part of a "psychological war" aimed at deflecting attention from what they say are Israeli killings of nuclear scientists in Iran.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-17055367
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14 February 2012 Last updated at 15:01


Iran's opposition struggles without detained leaders


It has been a year since the leaders of Iran's opposition Green Movement were placed under house arrest. BBC's Persian's Mehrzad Kohanrouz looks at how their absence has affected opposition supporters and gauges their mood.

It was February 2011, and the Arab world was in turmoil.

As the regimes first in Tunisia and then Egypt fell, Iranian opposition leaders saw a chance to revive their own short-lived "Tehran spring".

Two years earlier, Iranian security forces had crushed protests which erupted after the disputed presidential election.

The two candidates who lost out to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in the controversial poll decided it was time to make a move.

Mir Hossein Mousavi, a former prime minister, and Mehdi Karroubi, a former speaker of parliament and senior cleric, applied for official permission to hold a rally in support of the Arab protesters.

Their request was refused, but on 14 February thousands of people across Iran defied the authorities and took to the streets.

Dariush in Tehran was one of them.

"The security forces managed to block all the streets leading to Azadi (Liberation) Square," he recalled in a post on the popular opposition website Balatarin. "But the protesters scattered across the city and the security forces weren't able to contain them."
House arrest

The security forces also turned their attention to Mr Mousavi and Mr Karroubi.
Mehdi Karroubi and Mir Hossein Mousavi (file) Mehdi Karroubi and Mir Hossein Mousavi are still being held under house arrest in Tehran

Both men had been under intense pressure from the authorities since 2009, when they and millions of Iranians demanded another presidential election at mass protests that drew the largest crowds since the Islamic Revolution in 1979.

After security forces crushed the Green Movement - named after its signature colour - they rarely appeared in public although both kept in regular contact with their supporters via their websites.

But just before the 14 February protest, the authorities moved to silence them completely, and confined them to house arrest in Tehran.

They are still being held one year on.

They have not been able to speak to anyone outside their immediate families, their precise whereabouts are unclear, and nothing is known about the conditions in which they are being held.

'Failures'

Last month, the deputy speaker of parliament, Mohammad Reza Bahonar, revealed that it was actually the country's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who had sanctioned their detention.


His comments provoked outrage on Iranian opposition websites.

"What kind of a dictatorship is this?" a web user called Arnazin wrote in one online chatroom. "This means that the [Supreme] Leader himself ordered their incarceration. How could the judiciary give in to such an order? It's ridiculous!"

But what difference has the removal of its two main leaders had to Iran's opposition movement?

Judging by the people who have contacted the BBC's Persian service recently, opinions are divided.

"Why should I call them leaders?" Pouria from Tehran asked in a telephone call to the interactive programme, Nowbat-e Shoma (Your Turn).

"They should have kept the protest momentum as Aung San Suu Kyi, the pro-democracy movement leader, did in Burma."

"Mousavi and Karroubi... failed to keep up with people's demands," Seyyed from Khomein, in central Iran, wrote in an email.


"They put protesters off by calling on them to return to the political ideals of the Islamic revolution and the 'golden era' of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini."

Leila Behzad agreed, saying: "Leaders should be ahead of the crowd."

"As the protesters were shouting 'Independence, Freedom, Iranian Republic', Mousavi and Karroubi were still urging us to return to the values enshrined by Ayatollah Khomeini."

But Nima Saeedi from the northern city of Karaj emailed BBC Persian to say that the unrest of 2009 and the subsequent crackdown had shown people that they did have the power to challenge the authorities.

"The more hardship we go through, the more we realise just how much pressure we managed to inflict on the establishment," he wrote.

"The Green Movement is alive and successful because it moved beyond the Islamic Republic's ideology," wrote Kaveh. "Mousavi and Karroubi helped spark the movement. Now it's up to us to carry on their legacy and take on the regime."

'One goal'

Mojtaba Vahedi, a senior aide to Mr Karroubi who now lives in the US, defended the two leaders' record and said their biggest achievement had been to unite the opposition.

A demonstrator in Tehran expresses his support for the uprisings in the Arab world (4 February 2011) Events in neighbouring Middle Eastern and North African states have had a great impact on Iran

'Without [the Green] Movement it would have been impossible to rally opposition groups behind one set of principles," he said. "Now they are all now sharing one goal."

Mr Karroubi's wife, Fatemeh, who had been detained with him, was released last May for medical treatment. She has been allowed to visit her husband occasionally since then, and sometimes conveys messages from him to his supporters.

In an interview with an opposition website on Saturday, Mrs Karroubi said her husband was "more determined than ever".

She quoted him as saying: "The road ahead will be long and dangerous. But the people have legitimate and deep-rooted demands and as society reaches political maturity the future is looking bright."

It is not clear how many ordinary opposition supporters share Mr Karroubi's optimism.

On 2 March, Iranians will be electing a new parliament. Some opposition figures have called on people to boycott the poll. All eyes will be on the turnout.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-17028794
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19 February 2012 Last updated at 12:29


Iran 'may boost nuclear programme', diplomat warns

Iran may be poised to expand its nuclear programme at an underground site near the city of Qom, a Vienna-based diplomat has told the BBC.

It appears to be ready to install thousands of new-generation centrifuges at the fortified underground plant, the diplomat said.

They could speed up the production of enriched uranium - required for both power generation and nuclear weapons.

The United Nations nuclear watchdog, the IAEA, has not commented.

Its inspectors are due to visit Tehran this week for another round of talks on Iran's nuclear activities, after they were denied access to certain nuclear sites and scientists on a visit last month.

Iran says its nuclear work is for purely peaceful purposes, but Western countries express fears that Iran is secretly trying to develop a nuclear bomb.
Tensions rise

This is another warning that Iran may be stepping up its controversial nuclear work, despite increasing international sanctions, says the BBC's Bethany Bell in Vienna.

Qom enrichment plant

Sept 2009: Existence of facility revealed
Iran initially says the plant is designed to enrich uranium up to 5%, commonly used in nuclear power production
Apr 2011: No enriched uranium found in IAEA samples from the site
Jan 2012: Iran says it has begun enrichment up to 20% at the site

Iran's key nuclear sites
Q&A: Iran nuclear issue

According to other accounts by diplomats requesting anonymity, the Qom facility now contains the electrical circuitry, piping and supporting equipment required for the new centrifuges - though they add that the centrifuges have not yet been fitted and there is no certainty about if and when they will be.

Three days ago, Iran itself said it had advanced its nuclear know-how, including developing centrifuges able to enrich uranium faster.

The developments come against the backdrop of rising tensions over the issue, following an IAEA report in November which claimed that Iran had "carried out activities relevant to the development of a nuclear device", including:

On Saturday, UK Foreign Secretary William Hague warned Iran's nuclear ambitions could trigger a nuclear arms race in the region - where at present the only country believed to possess such weapons is Israel

Speaking in Tokyo, Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak called for sanctions on Iran to be tightened still further, saying only "crippling" measures would force it to give up its nuclear programme. But he reportedly added that Israeli military action against Iran was not on the table for the time being

Iranian warships entered the Mediterranean Sea for only the second time since the 1979 revolution, in what navy chief Admiral Habibollah Sayari told Irna agency was a show of might and a "message of peace"
Israel earlier accused Iran of masterminding attacks on its embassies in India, Thailand and Georgia - an accusation denied by Iran.

Several rounds of increasingly punitive UN and Western sanctions - the latest targeting Iran's oil and financial sectors - have failed to force Iran to give up its nuclear ambitions.

Instead, there is increasingly feverish media speculation that Israel is planning a military strike on Iran's nuclear facilities.

On Saturday, Israel's military chief of staff, Lt Gen Benny Gantz told a state TV station the country would ultimately make any decision to strike on its own, reported AFP news agency, saying it was "the central guarantor of its own security".

US national security adviser Tom Donilon has arrived in Israel for talks with officials on a range of issues including Iran.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-17087695
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18 February 2012 Last updated at 10:35

Iran warships enter Mediterranean via Suez Canal


Iranian warships have entered the Mediterranean Sea for only the second time since the 1979 revolution.

The destroyer Shahid Qandi and its supply vessel Kharg have passed through the Suez Canal but their destination remains unclear.

Navy chief Admiral Habibollah Sayari told the Irna agency the mission was a show of might and a "message of peace".

Two Iranian navy vessels entered the Mediterranean in February last year. Israel called it a "provocation".

Admiral Sayari was quoted by Irna as saying: "The strategic navy of the Islamic Republic of Iran has passed through the Suez Canal for the second time since the Islamic Revolution."

The mission conveyed "the might" of Iran to regional countries and Tehran's "message of peace and friendship".

The ships were reported to have docked earlier at Jeddah in Saudi Arabia.

Reuters quoted a source at the Suez Canal authority as saying the vessels might be en route to Syria.

The mission comes amid heightened tension between Iran and Israel.

Iran has recently announced developments in its nuclear programme, prompting some speculation Israel may launch an attack on Iranian nuclear facilities.

Israel has also blamed Iran for recent attacks on Israeli targets in Georgia and India, an accusation Tehran denies.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-17083791
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18 February 2012 Last updated at 23:35


First Iran exiles leave Ashraf camp in Iraq


About 400 Iranian exiles have been transferred from their long-held camp in north-western Iraq.

They are members of the People's Mujahideen Organisation of Iran (PMOI), based at Camp Ashraf since the 1980s.

It is the first step of a process that aims to see the entire 3,400-strong community expelled from Iraq.

But members of this advance party are complaining bitterly that their treatment has fallen far short of that promised by the UN and US.

The exiles, who are opposed to Iran's Shia clerical rulers, were welcomed by former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein but have fallen out of favour with Iraq's new Shia-dominated leadership.

Relations with the Iraqi government deteriorated still further last April, when an Iraqi army raid on the camp left 34 residents dead, according to the UN.

At first, they refused to countenance leaving Camp Ashraf, but the UN has been trying to broker a compromise. In December the group's Paris-based head Maryam Rajavi agreed that a first contingent of 400 would move in what she called a "goodwill gesture".

The Iraqi government has extended a deadline for the camp to be shut down to the end of April.


On Saturday, the first group arrived at Camp Liberty near Baghdad, but complained that they had been searched for almost an entire day before they were allowed to leave Ashraf, and had been searched again on arrival at Camp Liberty.

They also complained that they had not been allowed to bring many of their vehicles, household items and personal possessions with them.

"This process is a humiliating and degrading treatment,'' Bahzad Saffari, 50, told AP news agency.

"We are very frustrated and have been going through this harassment for more than 24 hours now. The camp looks horrible - it is totally different from the photos that were provided to us.''

In a statement, the National Council of Resistance of Iran - a umbrella group which includes the PMOI, which the US designates a terrorist organisation - complained that the new camp failed to meet "the most basic international humanitarian standards and human rights standards" and was in essence "nothing but a prison".

It said no additional transfer would take place until certain minimum assurances were made - in particular the removal of Iraqi armed forces from the camp.

But the UN envoy to Iraq, Martin Kobler - who was present when the exiles arrived - welcomed their move.

"It is clear that for Camp Ashraf residents, there is no future inside Iraq,'' Mr Kobler told reporters. "It is better for them if they find a relocation outside the country in a third country.''

Despite a UN appeal, only a handful of exiles have been offered asylum in UN member states, they say.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-17087687
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19 February 2012 Last updated at 12:11


William Hague warns of Iran threat to peace of the world

Foreign Secretary William Hague: "Clearly Iran has been involved in potentially terrorist activity in other parts of the world."


UK Foreign Secretary William Hague has warned in a BBC interview about Iran's "increasing willingness to contemplate" terrorism around the world.

He cited an attempt to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the US, plus alleged involvement in recent attacks in New Delhi, Georgia and Bangkok.

Mr Hague said it showed "the danger Iran is currently presenting to the peace of the world".

Iran denies any involvement in the recent attacks.

It also says its nuclear programme is for purely peaceful purposes.

The West has expressed fears that Iran is secretly trying to develop a nuclear bomb.

Mr Hague said that if Iran did develop nuclear weapons it would either lead to an attack on it and war, or there would be an arms race in the region and a Cold War with long-term sanctions on the country.

He told BBC One's The Andrew Marr Show that it would be more dangerous than the Cold War between the West and the Soviet Union because there would not be safeguards to avoid "accidents or misunderstandings" triggering nuclear conflict.

Mr Hague's interview came amid heightened tensions in the Middle East, with Israel accusing Iran of masterminding attacks on its embassies in New Delhi in India, Bangkok in Thailand and in Georgia. Iran denies the allegations.

Iran, in turn, blames Israel and the US for the assassination of several Iranian nuclear scientists in recent years, allegations both countries deny.

Speaking earlier this month, US President Barack Obama emphasised that Israel and the US were working in "unison" to counter Iran.

London Olympics

However, some commentators have suggested that behind the scenes Washington is deeply alarmed by reports that Israel may strike Iran as early as April.

US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta reportedly said there was a strong likelihood of such an offensive.

Mr Hague told Saturday's Daily Telegraph that Britain had urged Israel not to strike: "All options must remain on the table" but a military attack would have "enormous downsides."

The foreign secretary told the BBC that the UK had not been shown any plans by Israel for an attack on Iran and had not been asked to be involved in any such attack.

He said that the UK was 100% focused on using diplomacy and economically targeted sanctions "bringing Iran back to the table".

Fresh reports that Iran plans to expand its nuclear programme did not necessarily mean that the strategy was failing, he said.

There had been recent signs of a willingness to negotiate and he said that Iran's desire to make "bold statements" might be because they were "not confident about the future".

Mr Hague said there was "no specific information" about a threat to the London Olympics but "clearly Iran has been involved increasingly in illegal and potentially terrorist activity in other parts of the world".

"We saw the Iranian plot recently to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to Washington on US soil. It's alleged that they have been involved in what happened in the last week in New Delhi, Georgia and Bangkok.

"I think Iran has increased in its willingness to contemplate utterly illegal activities in other parts of the world - this is part of the dangers that Iran is currently presenting to the peace of the world."

Elaborate ceremony

Shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander said in response to an interview with Mr Hague in the Daily Telegraph: "Instead of raising the rhetoric, the government should be focused on redoubling their efforts to increase the diplomatic pressure on Iran and find a peaceful solution to the issue."

Talks between Iran and six world powers - the US, UK, France, Germany, Russia and China - on Tehran's nuclear programme collapsed a year ago.

In recent months, Western countries have stepped up pressure on Iran over the nuclear issue, with the EU and US both introducing wide-ranging sanctions on the country.

On Wednesday, Iran staged an elaborate ceremony to unveil new developments in its nuclear programme.

It said it had used domestically made nuclear fuel in a reactor for the first time.

On Friday, the US and European Union expressed optimism at the possibility of a resumption of talks with Iran.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-17089081
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19 February 2012 Last updated at 15:08


Iran 'halts oil sales to France and Britain'

Iran has halted oil sales to British and French companies, the nation's oil ministry has said.

A spokesman was reported as saying on the ministry's website that Iran would "sell our oil to new customers".

European Union member states had earlier agreed to stop importing Iranian crude from 1 July.

The move is intended to pressure Tehran to stop enriching uranium, which can be used for civilian nuclear purposes but also to build warheads.

Iran insists its nuclear programme is peaceful, but the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency says it has information suggesting Iran has carried out tests "relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device".

Sunday's statement on the oil ministry website was attributed to spokesman Ali Reza Nikzad Rahbar.

BBC world affairs correspondent Peter Biles says it appears to be another act of retaliation in the showdown between Iran and the West.

The French news agency AFP says the decision is not expected to have a big impact. Last year France bought only 3% of its oil - 58,000 barrels per day (b/d) - from Iran and the UK imported even less Iranian oil. A UK government official told the BBC there would be "no impact on UK energy security".

Some Iranian media had announced on Wednesday that Iran had stopped oil exports to the Netherlands, Greece, France, Portugal, Spain and Italy in retaliation for the EU's oil embargo, but this was later denied by the oil ministry.

The EU oil embargo, agreed last month, was phased so member states that were relatively dependent on Iranian crude - notably Greece, Spain and Italy - had enough time to find alternative sources.

The bloc currently buys about 20% of Iran's oil exports, which account for a majority of government revenue.

However, Iran's Oil Minister Rostam Qasemi said that a cut in exports to Europe would not hurt Tehran.

Oil industry sources quoted by Reuters news agency say Iran's top oil buyers in Europe have already started reducing purchases of Iranian crude.

Last year Iran supplied more than 700,000 barrels per day (b/d) to the EU and Turkey, but by the start of this year that had dropped to about 650,000 b/d, Reuters reported on Thursday.

France's energy giant Total has stopped buying Iranian crude and Royal Dutch Shell, one of the biggest purchasers of Iranian oil, has cut back sharply, market sources told Reuters.

According to Reuters estimates, Tupras of Turkey was the biggest European customer for Iranian oil in 2011, taking about 200,000 b/d, followed by Total (100,000 b/d), Shell (100,000 b/d), Hellenic of Greece (80,000 b/d) and Cepsa of Spain (70,000 b/d).

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-17089953
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20 February 2012 Last updated at 15:16

Iran to hold military drills 'to protect nuclear sites'


Iran has announced it will hold military exercises to boost protection of its nuclear sites.

A military statement said drills would be held in southern Iran to counter "all possible threats, especially to public, important and nuclear centres".

Speculation has been increasing that Israel may launch a military strike on Iran's nuclear facilities.

The latest move comes as UN nuclear experts begin a two-day visit to Iran, the second such trip in a month.

"The exercises aim to reinforce the integrated abilities of the country's anti-air defences," said a statement from the Katem-ol-Anbia military air base, quoted by the official Irna news agency.

It said the exercises would begin on Monday evening.

Late last year Iran conducted 10 days of military exercises near the Strait of Hormuz at the entrance to the Gulf, test-firing several missiles.

Iran has threatened to block the strait, through which 20% of the world's oil exports pass, in retaliation for Western sanctions over its controversial nuclear programme.

Iran insists it is enriching uranium to use for power generation, but the US and its allies believe the programme is geared towards making weapons, with Israel as a possible target.
IAEA chief inspector Herman Nackaerts The IAEA's Herman Nackaerts said Iran's military intentions were his team's highest priority

Meanwhile, the chief inspector with the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said his team's "highest priority" while visiting Iran was to clarify the "possible military dimensions" of the nuclear programme.

"Importantly we hope for some concrete results from the trip," said Herman Nackaerts.

"This is of course a very complex issue that may take a while. But we hope it can be constructive".

The IAEA described its last visit, in January, as positive, and said Iran was "committed" to "resolving all outstanding issues".

The inspectors' evaluation of their visits may form part of the next written report on Iran's nuclear programme, expected later in February.

Last November the IAEA said it had information suggesting Iran had carried out tests "relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device".

That information led to a decision by the US and the EU to tighten sanctions against Iran, including measures targeting the country's lucrative oil industry.

Iran said on Sunday it had halted oil sales to British and French companies ahead of an EU oil embargo set to begin on 1 July. Analysts say the gesture of retaliation is largely symbolic.

On Monday, the head of Iran's national oil company said the ban might be extended to other EU members that continued "hostile acts" against Iran.

Ahmad Qalehbani said exports to Spain, Greece, Italy, Portugal, Germany and the Netherlands could be stopped, semi-official Mehr news agency reported.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-17101740
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22 February 2012 Last updated at 22:09


White House: IAEA visit a 'failure' for Iran

The White House has said it is disappointed that UN nuclear inspectors were barred from a site in Iran, calling the visit a "failure" for Iran.

"It's another demonstration of Iran's refusal to abide by its international obligations," said White House spokesman Jay Carney.

IAEA inspectors had sought to clarify the "possible military dimensions" of Iran's nuclear programme.

Tehran insists its nuclear intentions are purely peaceful.

US state department spokesman Mark Toner told reporters that Tehran's move was "disappointing", but the country wanted to see negotiations move forward.

"There is that diplomatic track," Mr Toner said. "But we're not going to ease up on the sanctions."

In Tehran, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei announced on Iranian state television that Iran's nuclear policies would not change in the face of international pressure.

"Pressures, sanctions and assassinations will bear no fruit," Mr Khamenei said. "No obstacles can stop Iran's nuclear work."

Inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency had hoped to inspect a site at Parchin.

The IAEA said that after two days of talks, its team was returning from Iran without a deal on a document "facilitating the clarification of unresolved issues".

The first round of discussions in January also failed to produce a result.
'Strong indications'

"It is disappointing that Iran did not accept our request to visit Parchin," IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano said in a statement. "We engaged in a constructive spirit, but no agreement was reached."
Chief IAEA inspector Herman Nackaerts The team of IAEA inspectors, led by Herman Nackaerts, has now returned from a two-day visit to Iran

In November, an IAEA report - based on what it called "credible" information - indicated that Iran had built in 2000 a large explosives containment vessel at Parchin to conduct hydrodynamic experiments.

Hydrodynamic experiments, which involve high explosives in conjunction with nuclear material or nuclear material surrogates, were "strong indicators of possible weapon development", the report said.

In addition, the use of surrogate material and the confinement provided by a chamber could be used to prevent contamination of the site with nuclear material, the report added.

Iran's ambassador to the IAEA, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, said at the time that there were no nuclear-related activities at Parchin.
Israeli strike speculation

On Tuesday, Mr Soltanieh said Tehran expected to hold further talks with the IAEA. He was quoted by Iran's Isna news agency as saying the latest discussions had been intensive and that talks would continue.

The BBC's Bethany Bell, in Vienna, says the refusal to grant access to Parchin does not come as a major surprise, as there has been little progress in the negotiations between the two sides.

The inspectors' evaluation of their visits may form part of the next report on Iran's nuclear programme, expected later in February.

But last November, the IAEA said it had information suggesting Iran had carried out tests "relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device".

This led to decisions by the US and the European Union to tighten sanctions against Tehran, including measures targeting the country's oil industry.

Tensions have risen further over speculation that Israel may carry out a military strike on Iran's nuclear facilities.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-17133879
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24 February 2012 Last updated at 22:41

Iran not co-operating on nuclear programme, says IAEA


Iran failed to co-operate with UN nuclear officials during two sets of talks in Tehran over the past month, the UN's watchdog has said in a report.

The International Atomic Energy Agency said that Tehran had not cleared up questions about possible military aspects of its nuclear programme.

The agency also said Iran had stepped up uranium enrichment in recent months.

In response, Iran insisted it was co-operating with the agency but defended its right to a civil nuclear programme.

"Iran wants to keep talking with the IAEA to prove that its nuclear activities are peaceful," said Ali Asghar Soltanieh, Iran's envoy to the IAEA.

The West suspects Iran is seeking the technology to build a nuclear bomb and has placed sanctions on the country.

'Foreign expert'

The IAEA document, which was issued to the agency's members and leaked on the website of the Isis think tank, reported the findings of UN teams who visited Iran at the end of January and in mid-February.

Analysis
Bethany Bell BBC News, Vienna

The stand-off over Iran's controversial nuclear programme shows no sign of resolution, according to the IAEA's latest report. Western powers will be alarmed at the news that Iran has sharply stepped up its sensitive uranium enrichment work, both at its main plant at Natanz, and at the underground site of Fordo. The Fordo site, which is buried deep under a mountain, is well-protected against any potential military strikes by Israel or the United States.

There will also be concern about the lack of progress in talks between Iran and the IAEA. The IAEA said there were "major differences", with Iran dismissing the agency's concerns as "unfounded".

This report comes at a time of heightened tension over Iran. Despite the tougher sanctions imposed on the country, Iran so far does not appear to be showing any signs of compromise with the West. It insists its nuclear work is purely peaceful.

"As Iran is not providing the necessary co-operation... the agency is unable to provide credible assurance about the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities in Iran," the report said.

"The agency continues to have serious concerns regarding possible military dimensions to Iran's nuclear programme."

The agency has previously expressed fears that the Iranians were developing a military capability with the help of a "foreign expert" at the Parchin site, south of the capital Tehran.

But the Iranians refused UN requests to visit the site and dismissed the agency's concerns as "based on unfounded allegations".

In the report, IAEA chief Yukiya Amano urged Iran to "address the agency's serious concerns... by responding to the agency's questions related to Parchin and the foreign expert".

The report also says Iran has increased the number of centrifuges used to enrich uranium and has stepped up production of uranium enriched to the higher level of 20%.

It says Iran is preparing to expand enrichment work at the Natanz plant and at the underground site at Fordo, near the holy city of Qom.

The White House issued a statement calling on Iran to abide by earlier UN resolutions demanding a halt to uranium enrichment.

"Iran has continued to pursue its uranium enrichment programme in violation of multiple United Nations Security Council resolutions without demonstrating any credible or legitimate purpose for doing so," said the statement.

"If it refuses to shift course, its isolation from the international community will only continue to grow."

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-17158353
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27 February 2012 Last updated at 08:15


Analysis: How Israel might strike at Iran

For all the myriad challenges facing Israel over the past decade it is the potential threat from a nuclear-armed Iran that has preoccupied the country's military planners.

It is this that in large part has guided the development of the Israeli Air Force (IAF) over recent years.

The IAF has purchased 125 advanced F-15I and F-16I warplanes, equipped with Israeli avionics and additional fuel tanks - tailor-made for long-range strike missions.

In addition, Israel has bought specialised bunker-busting munitions; developed large, long-endurance, unmanned aircraft; and much of its training has focused on long-range missions.

Israel has a track-record of pre-emptive strikes against nuclear targets in the region.
Remains of the Osirak nuclear site outside Baghdad (2002) Israel has a track-record of pre-emptive strikes against nuclear targets

In June 1981, Israeli jets bombed the Osirak reactor near the Iraqi capital, Baghdad.

More recently, in September 2007, Israeli warplanes attacked a facility in Syria that Israel, the US and many experts believed was a nuclear reactor under construction.

However, a potential strike against Iran would be nothing like the attacks in Iraq and Syria. These were both against single targets, located above ground, and came literally out of the blue.

An Israeli attempt to severely damage Iran's nuclear programme would have to cope with a variety of problems, including range, the multiplicity of targets, and the nature of those targets.

Many of these problems are daunting in themselves, but when put together, they only compound the difficulties facing Israeli military planners.

How to get there?

For a start it is a very long way from Israel to Iran. As a rough estimate many of the potential targets are some 1,500km (930 miles) to 1,800km (1,120 miles) from Israeli bases. Israeli warplanes have to get to Iran and, equally important, get back.

At least three routes are possible.

There is the northern one where Israeli jets would fly north and then east along the borders between Turkey and Syria, and then Turkey and Iraq

The central, more likely route would take Israeli warplanes over Iraq. With the US military gone, the Iraqi authorities are far less able to monitor and control their air space, effectively opening a door to an Israeli incursion

The third, southern route would take Israeli jets over Saudi air space. Would the Saudis turn a blind eye to such a move given their own concerns about Iran's nuclear programme? Could this route be used by Israeli aircraft on the return leg of their journey? We just do not know

Map showing possible routes Israeli aircraft might take to bomb Iranian nuclear sites

What we do know, given the range, is that Israeli aircraft will have to be topped up with fuel en route.

Douglas Barrie, senior fellow for military aerospace at the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) in London, says that "air-to-air refuelling will be critical".

Israeli F-15 fighter jets refuel during an air show at the graduation ceremony of Israeli pilots in the Hatzerim air force base in the Negev desert near the southern Israeli city of Beersheva on June 30, 2011

Israel is believed to have between eight and 10 large tankers based on the Boeing 707 airframe

"Israeli aircraft," he says, "need not just to get in and out of Iranian air space; they need to have enough fuel to provide time over their targets and they need sufficient fuel to cover any contingencies that might arise during the mission."

The initial tanking, Mr Barrie says, might be done over the Mediterranean or even in Israeli airspace. "One option," he notes, "would be to take off with a full bomb load and drop tanks containing additional fuel; to climb to cruising altitude and then at this point to replenish their tanks, before setting course for their targets in Iran."

Israel is believed to have between eight and 10 large tankers based on the commercial Boeing 707 airframe, but experts believe that tanking capacity will prove one of the limiting factors in the scope of any operation.

What targets to hit?

The problems of range, the nature of some of the targets, and the availability of tanker aircraft will determine the nature and scope of any Israeli operation.


Iran nuclear sites
A general view of the water facility at Arak on January 15, 2011

Natanz - Uranium enrichment plant

Fordo, near Qom - Uranium enrichment plant

Arak (pictured) - Heavy water plant

Isfahan - Uranium conversion plant

Parchin - Military site

Douglas Barrie, of the IISS, says that "Israeli planners will be looking for where they can do most damage with the limited number of platforms at their disposal".

"They'll be asking where the main choke points are in the Iranian programme. Clearly, striking enrichment facilities makes a lot of sense from a military point of view," he adds.

So the uranium enrichment facilities at Natanz, south of Tehran, and Fordo, near the holy city of Qom, would almost certainly be prominent on the target list.

The heavy-water production plant and heavy-water reactor under construction at Arak, in the west, might also figure, as would the uranium conversion facility at Isfahan.

It is unclear whether Israel would have the capacity to strike a range of other targets associated with Iran's missile programmes and explosives testing.

But this target list raises another set of problems. The enrichment facilities at Natanz are underground and the new plant at Fordo is buried deeply into the side of a mountain.
Can Israel destroy buried targets?

For an attack like this, says Douglas Barrie, you need good intelligence information. "You need to know", he says, "about the geography of the target site; its geology; the nature of the earth; and the details of the design and construction of any buried reinforced concrete chambers."

"You can assume," he asserts, "that the Americans and the Israelis have been watching these sites closely over time."


To reach buried targets you need special kinds of munitions. Deeply-buried facilities are not exclusive to the Middle East. There is a kind of race between the diggers and the weapons designers and it is one where the Americans have considerable experience.

The main weapon in Israel's arsenal is the US-supplied GBU-28. This is a 5,000lb (2,268kg) laser-guided weapon with a special penetrating warhead. For an assessment of its capabilities I turned to Robert Hewson, the editor of IHS Jane's Air-Launched Weapons.

"The GBU-28," he told me, "is the largest penetrating weapon available for a tactical aircraft and, since it was first used by the US in 1991, it has been improved with better warheads and more accurate guidance.

"However, Israel's use of this weapon would be hindered by several key operational factors. Realistically, the F-15I - the only delivery platform - can carry only one bomb, so a sizeable attack force would be required - demanding tanker and other support assets that Israel does not have in large numbers.

"The target would have to be attacked from relatively close range, meaning any attacking force will have to fight its way in and out of heavily-contested airspace."

Furthermore, he says that "very accurate targeting data is required to use a weapon like GBU-28 to best effect".

"The potential for success of a GBU-28 attack is not determined by the 'book' performance of the weapon alone."

Of course, the great unknown question is how capable these weapons would be against buried Iranian enrichment facilities at Natanz and Fordo.
Continue reading the main story
Israel's 'Bunker Buster' bomb
Israel's 'bunker buster' bomb

1. The bombs are carried by Israeli F-15Is - but only one per aircraft, which would mean a large attack force for multiple attempts on numerous targets

2. Bomb is released almost vertically over the target, and guided by lasers

3. The bombs can penetrate up to 6m of concrete or about 30.5m of earth before detonating the 4,400lb warhead

Mr Hewson says that the GBU-28 is "effective against any hardened or deeply buried target - up to a point".

"For a weapon like the GBU-28, velocity and angle of impact determine the penetrating effect, so the ideal drop is made from high altitude at maximum speed and hits the target at a near vertical angle," he explains.

"This is less easy to do against a cave or mountainside, so the weapon will be less effective - but still more effective than pretty much any other available munitions."

Indeed, as Douglas Barrie notes, one weapon might be insufficient.

"You could", he says, "attempt to 'dig your way in' using several weapons on the same impact area to try to get through the soil, rock and concrete. Or you could try to block access to the facility by destroying tunnel entrances.

"In addition," he says, "all of these facilities are power hungry, so you could attempt to destroy power supplies and any buried cabling.

"The aim would be to present the Iranians with a compound problem of blocked entrances, no power and collapsed underground chambers."
Does Israel have other military options?

So far we have discussed only the known elements of Israel's capabilities, mainly US-supplied aircraft and munitions. But Israel has a hugely advanced aerospace and electronics industry of its own and this may well have produced systems relevant for an attack against Iran.
The Eitan, the Israeli Air Force's latest generation of Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV), flies over a ceremony introducing it into the 210th UAV squadron on February 21, 2010 at the Tel Nof air base in central Israel. The Eitan, or Heron TP, weighs in at 5,000 kgs and has a 26 meter wingspan. It can carry a heavy payload, is equipped with more advanced technological systems than its predecessors and has a 20-hour high-altitude flying time. The Eitan, the Israeli Air Force's latest generation of Unmanned Aerial Vehicle

Douglas Barrie says that there is much about Israel's capabilities, especially its home-grown technology, that we do not know.

"Israel's long-range Heron or Eitan drone could be used to gather an assessment of the damage done by any strikes, but perhaps could also be put to use helping to spoof air defences," he adds.

"Indeed, this kind of deception or cyber-operation will likely be an integral part of the mission with the aim of blinding radars or generating a false picture of what was going on."
What about Iran's air defences?

Iran's air defences are largely Russian-supplied systems familiar to Israeli pilots, though Iran also deploys the US-built Hawk system dating back to the days of the Shah.

Iran's defences

Hawk surface-to-air missiles (bottom-C) are seen in Khandab near Arak, 290 kms (180 miles) southwest of the Iranian capital Tehran, during military manoeuvres on November 26, 2009.

Surface-to-air missiles - Hawk system (pictured)

For high altitude targets - SA-5 or S-200

For low level targets - Tor-M1/SA-15 Gauntlet

Long-range systems - S-300

Iranian Air Force - Russian-built Mig-29s, US-built F-14 Tomcats

Some of its most capable defences are Russian SA-5 missiles intended to target high-altitude threats, while it also deploys the mobile Tor-M1/SA-15 Gauntlet system optimised to engage targets at lower level.

Russia has consistently refused to supply Iran with the much more capable S-300 long-range system, though the Iranians claim to have procured some batteries elsewhere.

Iran's surface-to-air missile force may be old but still represents a threat. Look at how much effort Nato and the US put into taking down Libya's similar vintage air defences last year.

Israel will not have the time or the resources to embark upon this kind of protracted air campaign and thus the electronic element of any strike to suppress Iranian defences is likely to be as important as the actual dropping of weapons.

Israel's small submarine force could potentially play a role here too. Douglas Barrie says that "there must be a reasonable assumption that Israel has an operational sea-launched cruise missile capability based upon their German-built Dolphin submarines".
Escorted by navy missile ships, Israeli submarine 'Dolphin' sails along the Mediterranean Sea near the coastal city of Tel Aviv during special naval maneuvers ahead of Israel?s 60th independence anniversary on May 5, 2008. The 'Dolphin', a German-built submarine, is 56.4m long with a cruising range of 4500 nautical miles. It is armed with ten 21-inch multi-purpose tubes for torpedoes, mines, missiles and decoys. Israel's small submarine force could play a role

"These could be used to go after older but capable SA-5 air defence sites and big search and surveillance radars."

But, he notes: "Adding a naval dimension complicates the co-ordination of any attack."

Iran's air force is seen by experts as being totally outclassed by its Israeli counterpart.

It has a small number of US-built F-14 Tomcat fighters and a significant number of relatively more modern Russian-supplied MiG-29s.

But the potential threat from Iranian aircraft again complicates Israeli planning and any air-to-air combat might place additional strains on the limited fuel supplies carried by the attacking aircraft.
Would an Israeli strike succeed?

Most experts agree that Israel could hit multiple targets in Iran and do considerable damage to its nuclear programme. They would, however, do much less damage than a full-scale US attack using all of the resources at Washington's disposal.
Continue reading the main story
“Start Quote

Even if successful, it would only delay Iran's nuclear programme”

Douglas Barrie International Institute for Strategic Studies

The Israelis would be operating at the very limits of their capabilities. "If they pulled it off," says Douglas Barrie, "it would be an impressive display of power projection against a difficult and dispersed set of targets."

Only a small number of air forces in the world, he notes, could mount such an operation. But, Mr Barrie stresses: "Even if successful, it would only delay Iran's nuclear programme."

It is a point echoed by IHS Jane's Robert Hewson.

"Israel does not have the mass of forces and will not be given the operational freedom [by Iran] required to destroy Iran's nuclear complex," he says. "If you bury enough stuff deep enough, enough of it will survive. Any Israeli attack can only damage and possibly not even slow the Iranian effort.

"The consequences of such an attack would be dire and global. It is impossible to see any up-side to this venture."

That's a view shared for now by Israel's most important ally.

Only a few days ago, the Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of staff, Gen Martin Dempsey, said that an Israeli attack would not be prudent.

Such a strike, he said, "would be destabilising and would not achieve their long-term objectives".

However Israel's calculus is very different. Knowing all their operational limitations, might they launch such an operation anyway?

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-17115643
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27 February 2012 Last updated at 09:15


Guide: Iranian parliamentary elections
By Saeed Barzin BBC Monitoring
Iran's legislative chamber, the Majlis Iran's current legislative chamber, the Majlis

The elections are crucial in that they will reveal the balance of power between factions in the ruling political establishment and the strength of the incumbent president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Nearly three years after the pro-reform opposition led huge public protests, the elections should also show how much the general public is willing to support the ruling groups.

One of the most controversial aspects of these elections is the "vetting procedure". The Guardian Council, which supervises the elections, actively vets the candidates so that, in the words of one leading jurist, it "prevents corruption and deviation". Critics see this as a way of ensuring that only loyalists enter the race.

Iran is not a totalitarian state and since the Islamic Revolution in 1979 there has been some openness in which political debate and action has taken shape. Elections are free in the sense that there is some choice of candidates who are elected by universal suffrage.

But critics, including the opposition and the European Union, have expressed doubt that the elections are free and fair.


IN FACTS AND FIGURES

Population 75m. Eligible voters 48m. Minimum voting age 18 years
Number of seats: 290 seats from 30 provinces. About 60 deputies represent the 10 largest cities
207 Constituencies with 47,000 voting stations
First round 2 March, one quarter of vote is required to win, if not, vote goes to second round. Date unannounced
Number of candidates before vetting: 5,395, after vetting 3,444, ie 36% were disqualified
8 women and 44 clerics elected to the 2008 parliament
Official turnout in 2008 61%

A number of conservative right-wing factions - so called "Principle-ist" - are competing in the campaign under different coalition lists. No major reformist player is taking part, although a small number of centrist groups and individuals are running, some of them under a pro-reform banner.

1. Government Supporters Front

Right-wing, radical and under President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's flag

Supporters of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad are organised in several newly founded groups including the Islamic Government Supporters Front, the Young Advisors of the President, the Justice and Compassion Front and the Unity and Justice Front.

The focus of their rhetoric is social justice and class struggle. They present themselves as the defenders of popular justice and advocates of the poor and claim not to be affiliated to the centres of power or wealth.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad presents himself as an advocate of the poor

However, as the campaign opens, the president's supporters appear to be in a mess. They seem to be relatively disorganised and poorly led, and this is reflected in their tactics. Many of their candidates, including all 24 candidates in Tehran, are reported to have been disqualified in the vetting process.

The group has asked its supporters to register as independent candidates in order to pass the qualification process before re-grouping at a later stage.

It remains to be seen whether government supporters will be able to stage an effective comeback and gain ground.
2. The United Principle-ist Front

Conservative, traditionalist and under the establishment flag

Various conservative forces have come together under the United Principle-ist Front (UPF). They are seen as the old guard and at the moment control the Majlis most of the time. Traditionalist groups make up the main pillar of the UPF, but there are neo-conservative as well as hardliners elements among them.

The UPF is concerned about the possibility of division among conservative ranks and a possible weakening of positions in the face of reformists and foreign powers. They make repeated appeals for unity on the basis of Islam, the constitution and the supreme leader.

The front has distanced itself from government supporters, who are accused of trying to introduce nationalist sentiments, wanting to bypass rules and regulations and seeking relations with the United States.

The UPF also distances itself from the more hardline groups. The front's rhetoric is about loyalty to the supreme leader and the struggle against foreign enemies. But it also speaks of rationalism, realism and good policy.
3. Steadfastness Front (Paydari)

Far right, hardline wing supporting the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei

The most important radical force competing against Mr Ahmadinejad is the Steadfastness Front (SF). These people are mostly his former supporters who have turned against him and are now re-grouping under the spiritual leadership of Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi.
Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei The Steadfastness Front aim to defend Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei

The SF presents itself as a friend of Ahmadinejad but stands against his close colleagues. It does not attack him directly because it does not want to undermine the president while he is still in office.

Its programme is very factional and highly charged, with little stress on economic or cultural issues. Their main strategy, factional mobilisation and struggle, aims to maintain the ideological purity of the regime and to eliminate "deviant tendencies".

They say they will not tolerate diversion from radical principles of the revolution and will stand against anyone who might want to revise them. For this reason, their first objective has been to attack the president's group by presenting a "discourse similar to that of Ahmadinezhad but without him".

The SF uses and repeats the president's rhetoric on social justice almost untouched, and even support the government's economic policy, including the removal of state subsidies, the fight against poverty and the reform of the financial sector.

But at the same time they attack his lieutenants and speak of the possibility of eliminating his post altogether. These manoeuvres are carried out in the name of defending the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Khamenei and Ahmadinejad have a fraught relationship, and have clashed over the appointment of officials.

On principle, the SF opposes the secular nationalism that Ahmadinejad espouses, because it sees it as a threat to the Islamic nature of the Iranian state. Although some elements of the powerful Revolutionary Guards are seen as supporting Ahmadinejad, overall they are firmly on the side of the Supreme Leader.
4. Reformists

Boycotting the elections in protest
Pro-reform politician Mehdi Karroubi Mehdi Karroubi is a prominent reformist

Senior pro-reform politicians and organisations are refusing to participate in the elections. This is the first time since the 1979 Islamic Revolution that a major political wing from within the regime has taken this line.

The reformists had initially announced a set of conditions for participating. They had asked for, among other things, the release of political prisoners, liberalization of the political climate and the "recognition of people's rights".

This position has been supported by almost all senior pro-reform politicians, including Mehdi Karroubi (former Majlis Speaker) and Mohammad Khatami (former president). The groups supporting them are the Participation Front, the Mojahedin of the Islamic Revolution, the Clerics' Association, the Coordination Council of the Reformist Front and the Coordination Council of the Green Path of Hope. The views of former Prime Minister Hossein Mousavi are not known, but are presumed to be represented by the latter council.
5. Centre parties

Small, weak but aiming to win the dissident vote

Activists from several small centre parties, outside the reformist camp, have registered to run in the elections. Some of these individuals refer to themselves as reformists but the main pro-reform groups say they do not fit into their group.

Mardomsalari Democracy Party, led by Mostafa Kavakabian, is probably the best known centrist group. He says he wants to create a pro-reform Majlis caucus to strengthen the legislature and impose the rule of law on the government.
Majlis deputies in conversation The elections come nearly three years after the pro-reform opposition led huge protests

House of Labour and the Islamic Labour Party, are organisations associated with the trade union movement which flourished in the late 1990s. They have called on labour advocates to stand for election and for workers to vote for them.

Popular Reformist Front, some pro-reform deputies of the outgoing Majlis are also running a variety of lists or as independents.

Resistance Front list (Istadegi), a centrist group, associated with Mohsen Rezai, former commander-in-chief of the Revolutionary Guards.
6. Smaller conservative groups

Smaller players on the fringe of the establishment

A number of conservatives who have been left out of the major lists have started their own campaigns. They include:

Voice of the Nation, a moderate conservative tendency which includes dissident deputies campaigning on a more reformist platform, stressing the rights of the people and freedom of speech within the constitution.

The Great Principle-ists Coalition, led by elements who were left out of the UPF list.

The Wisdom and Awakening Front, also close to the UPF list.

BBC Monitoring selects and translates news from radio, television, press, news agencies and the internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages. It is based in Caversham, UK, and has several bureaux abroad.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-17141030
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29 February 2012 Last updated at 01:38


Iran elections to define balance of conservative power
By James Reynolds BBC Iran correspondent

This week, more than 48 million Iranians will get to vote. But not all of them will choose to do so.

Friday's parliamentary election is first national election in Iran since the disputed presidential poll of 2009, which provoked the most serious political crisis in Iran since the 1979 Islamic revolution.

Supporters of the opposition Green Movement claimed that the election was stolen from their candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi. The government sent security forces to put down the mass protests.

No-one expects the 2012 parliamentary elections to trigger a repeat of the scenes of 2009.
Turnout

Human rights organisations report increasing numbers of arrests of activists in the lead-up to the parliamentary vote, while reformists have concluded that there is no point in contesting this election and asked their supporters to stay at home on election day.

The Green Movement says more than 70 of its supporters have been killed Millions of Iranians supported the Green Movement's call for a presidential election re-run in 2009

In 2009, the strength of the opposition was measured by the size of the street demonstrations.

In 2012, it will be measured by the size of the election turnout. Unsurprisingly, the government is doing its best to encourage everyone to vote.

"There is no doubt that the higher the turnout, the stronger [the] national security," said the Defence Minister, Ahmad Vahidi, in a recent interview with the Irna news agency.

Ruling conservatives even make an appeal for patriotic support - the better the election in Iran, the more it will inspire the Arab Spring in the Middle East, they say.

"Our presence in the election is a model for countries of the Islamic awakening movement and it is the biggest threat to America," said Mehdi Chamran, the head of Tehran's Islamic Council, via the Fars news agency.

Power struggle

In the absence of the reformists, Iran's ruling conservative movement has the election to itself.
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad sits in front of a portrait of Ayatollah ali Khamenei The supreme leader has a built-in advantage in fights with the president

The poll represents a straightforward fight among conservatives.

Their conflict is easy to summarise - president versus supreme leader.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader since 1989, represents the first generation of Islamic rulers in Iran.

He controls many of the country's levers of power and draws particular strength from a close alliance with the powerful Revolutionary Guards, which are tasked with defending the country's Islamic system and providing a counterweight to the regular armed forces.

The President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, represents a second generation of Iranian politicians - those who served in the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s.

Mr Ahmadinejad and his supporters have support among the country's working class and they have sought to reduce the power of Iran's ruling clerics.

The supreme leader and the president were forced to unite in 2009 to defeat the Green Movement. But since then, their alliance has come apart.

The parliamentary election of 2012 marks the first formal chance to assess the strength of each man's support.

IN FACTS AND FIGURES

Population 75m. Eligible voters 48m. Minimum voting age 18 years
Number of seats: 290 seats from 30 provinces. About 60 deputies represent the 10 largest cities
207 Constituencies with 47,000 voting stations
First round 2 March, one quarter of vote is required to win, if not, vote goes to second round. Date unannounced
Number of candidates before vetting: 5,395, after vetting 3,444, ie 36% were disqualified
8 women and 44 clerics elected to the 2008 parliament
Official turnout in 2008 61%

Guide: Iranian parliamentary elections

Disqualifications

In Iran, the supreme leader has a built-in advantage in any fight with the president.

The constitution makes sure that any argument is pre-rigged in the Supreme Leader's favour.

In effect, Ayatollah Khamenei gets to pick which candidates are allowed to run in any election. He does so via a body called the Guardian Council, whose 12 members are appointed by him directly or indirectly.

"The Guardian Council has the responsibility of supervising the elections of the Assembly of Experts, the president of the republic, the Islamic Consultative Assembly [Parliament], and the direct recourse to popular opinion and referenda," says Article 99 of the constitution.

In practical terms, this means that any candidate wishing to run for office has to be approved by the Guardian Council.

The body has plenty of eyes and ears to help make its decisions. It has more than 384 supervisory offices across the country, operating on a budget of $25m.

The Council makes sure that anyone wishing to upend the Islamic system entirely is unable to stand.
Iranians are handed election leaflets after Friday prayers in Tehran Friday's election will be fought by a number of rival conservative groups

It is also able to disqualify candidates considered threatening to the supreme leader.

Official figures show that 5,395 candidates applied to run in the 2012 parliamentary election. The Guardian Council approved 3,444 of them. Reports suggest that it barred some candidates loyal to the president.
Conservative rivalry

Friday's election will be fought by a number of rival conservative groups.

Supporters of President Ahmadinejad are standing in a number of lists - the Islamic Government Supporters Front, the Young Advisers of the President, the Justice and Compassion Front and the Unity and Justice Front.

The United Principle-ist Front (UPF) is a powerful group which represents the Old Guard and which calls for unity on the basis of Islam and the supreme leader.

The Steadfastness Front (Paydari) represents a group of former Ahmadinejad supporters who have turned against the president.

The respective strength of these groups after the 2012 election will define the balance of power for what may be a much more important vote - the 2013 presidential election.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-17180967
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29 February 2012 Last updated at 10:17


Iran 'to accept payment in gold for oil'

Iran is to accept gold instead of dollars as payment for its oil, the country's state news agency has said.

The move comes as US and European Union sanctions against Iran have made it difficult for buyers to make dollar payments to Iranian banks.

Mahmoud Bahmani, the governor of Iran's central bank, is reported to have said that the country would accept payment in gold "without any reservation".

As part of the sanctions, the EU has passed a ban on buying Iranian oil.

The EU's move will prohibit any company, in any member state, from buying oil from Iran after 1 July. At present, the EU accounts for 20% of Iran's exports.

However China, the biggest purchaser of Iranian oil, has said it will continue imports, as will India.

The US already has a ban on Iranian oil in place.

Iran has the world's third-largest oil reserves. Crude oil is predominantly traded in US dollars, but Iran already accepts payment in other currencies.

Separately, Dubai's Noor Islamic Bank said on Wednesday that it had ended any dealings with Iranian financial institutions back in December, as a result of US sanctions against working with Iranian banks.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-17203132
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29 February 2012 Last updated at 06:10

BBC Persian TV audience doubles to six million


New research has shown that BBC Persian TV's audience in Iran almost doubled between 2009 and 2011.

The figures show the channel's audience had grown to 6m, up from 3.1m.

The BBC says the channel is subject to "persistent and repeated blocking" in Iran. Earlier this month, the BBC accused Iranian authorities of intimidating its journalists.

The research is published as the BBC World Service celebrates its 80th anniversary.

The research indicated that the number of Iranians using the BBC's international news services as a whole (including TV and radio) had risen by 85% from 3.9m in 2009 to 7.2m.

The research was carried out in February 2011 as part of the US Broadcasting Board of Governors' International Audience Research Program.

The research excludes those using the internet in Iran to access BBC Persian because those figures are difficult to measure owing to censorship.
'Appalling bullying'

"These figures are a tremendous tribute to the courage and dedication of BBC Persian journalists in the face of appalling bullying and intimidation by the Iranian authorities", the BBC's Director of Global News Peter Horrocks said.

Earlier this month, the BBC's Director General Mark Thompson wrote in a blog that the BBC had seen "disturbing new tactics" in intimidating journalists, including the targeting of family members of those working outside Iran.

Iran accused the BBC of inciting unrest after the disputed re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2009.

BBC Persian broadcast online videos and interviewed protesters, who described deaths, injuries and arbitrary arrests carried out by security forces.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-17200494
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2 March 2012 Last updated at 21:03

Iran conservatives contest poll for parliament

Ayatollah Khamenei cast his vote in Tehran

Polls have closed in Iran's parliamentary elections, after being extended by five hours due to high turnout, state media report.

It is the first poll since mass protests were sparked by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's disputed election victory in 2009.

The vote is widely viewed as a contest between his supporters and those of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

The opposition Green Movement did not take part in Friday's elections.

Its leaders have been under house arrest since February 2011.

As all of the candidates had to be pre-approved by Iran's Guardian Council, the contest is effectively between different conservative factions.

The BBC's Tehran correspondent, James Reynolds, says that Iranian authorities have made much of the claimed high turnout.

But some Iranians have posted photos and videos online which claim to show a lack of activity at a number of polling stations, he says.
'Bad-wishers'

Early on Friday, Iranian TV broadcast images of Ayatollah Khamenei casting his vote in the capital, Tehran. He said it was a "duty and a right'' for Iranians to elect members of the 290-seat parliament, the Majlis.

"Because of the controversies over Iran and increased verbal threats the more people come to the polling stations the better for the country," he said.

"The vote always carries a message for our friends and our enemies.''

Moving from one polling station to another in central Tehran, you can see marked differences in voters' behaviour. In some places there were long queues of people wanting to cast their ballots during the morning, while in others there were not.

Mohammad, a supervisor at one polling station who has overseen the last five elections, said: "The people rush to mark their ballots in the last hours, as a rule of thumb." However, he said turnout at his polling station had so far been good.

A university professor standing in the queue with his wife to vote said the elections in Iran's cities were very much different from those in the rest of the country, where he said they were more like "family competitions". "The demands of the people in townships and rural areas are more tangible than the demands of the people in big cities," he said.

Iranians urged to heed 'call of duty'

A spokesperson for the Guardian Council, which vets and approves parliamentary candidates, told Iran's state-run Arabic-language TV channel, al-Alam, that turnout in the first three hours had exceeded that achieved in previous elections.

State TV broadcast pictures from several polling stations in Tehran and the provinces, showing long queues. A commentary said the queues were a "disappointment to the bad-wishers".

Later, al-Alam reported that voting had been extended for two hours because of "high turnout", and that polling stations would close at 20:00 (16:30 GMT).

Voting was later extended again until 22:00, and polls finally closed at 23:00.

Official results are expected on Sunday or Monday.

More than 48 million people were eligible to take part in the election.

But correspondents say even some of Mr Ahmadinejad's supporters quietly called for voters to stay away.

The president has fallen out with Ayatollah Khamenei in recent months, and some of his supporters complain that their candidates have been barred from standing by the Guardian Council, which is controlled by the supreme leader.

Election facts and figures

Population: 75m. Eligible voters: 48m. Minimum voting age: 18 years
Number of seats: 290 from 30 provinces. About 60 deputies represent the 10 largest cities
207 constituencies with 47,000 voting stations
First round 2 March, one quarter of votes is required to win or election goes to second round. Date unannounced
Number of candidates before vetting: 5,395. After vetting: 3,444 ie 36% were disqualified
8 women and 44 clerics elected to the 2008 parliament
Official turnout in 2008: 61%

Guide: Iranian parliamentary elections

Last April, Mr Ahmadinejad sacked his intelligence minister, reportedly after the minister had dismissed an official with close ties to the president's chief-of-staff and close confidante, Esfandiar Rahim-Mashaei.

But Ayatollah Khamenei overruled him and ordered the minister's reinstatement. The decision is said to have so enraged Mr Ahmadinejad that he stayed away from government meetings for 11 days

The respective strength of the different conservative camps after this poll will define the balance of power for what may be a much more important vote - the 2013 presidential election, says BBC Iran correspondent James Reynolds.

However, the results of the elections are unlikely to change Iran's stance on its controversial nuclear programme, he adds.

Voters in Tehran who spoke to the BBC said they were angered both by the new sanctions imposed by the US and EU on Iran's oil and banking industries - over its continued refusal to halt its uranium enrichment programme - and also by what they see as their government's mismanagement of the economy.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad cast his ballot at a polling station in Tehran

Former President Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, a rival of Mr Ahmadinejad, said that a "good parliament" would emerge if the ballots were properly counted.

"God willing, the outcome of the elections will be what the people want,'' he told reporters when casting his vote in Tehran.

No independent observers are monitoring the voting or checking the turnout figures or results.

In a separate development, BBC Persian TV's broadcasts were jammed by the Iranian authorities for more than an hour on Friday afternoon.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-17229164
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2 March 2012 Last updated at 16:34


Obama warns against pre-emptive Iran strike

US President Barack Obama has said it would be unacceptable for Iran to have a nuclear weapon, but warned against a pre-emptive strike on the country.

He told The Atlantic magazine he was not bluffing by threatening US action if Iran built a weapon but that an early strike could win Iran sympathy.

Iran says its nuclear programme is purely peaceful, but Israel and the US suspect it of developing weapons.

There has been speculation that Israel might launch a pre-emptive strike.

Correspondents say Washington is deeply alarmed by reports that Israel might take unilateral military action as early as April.

In the interview, Mr Obama said he believed the Israeli government "recognizes that, as president of the United States, I don't bluff".
Continue reading the main story
“Start Quote

Do we want a distraction in which suddenly Iran can portray itself as a victim?”

Barack Obama US President

"I also don't, as a matter of sound policy, go around advertising exactly what our intentions are. But I think both the Iranian and the Israeli governments recognize that when the United States says it is unacceptable for Iran to have a nuclear weapon, we mean what we say."

Mr Obama re-iterated that "a military component" for dealing with Iran remained an option, as well as sanctions and diplomacy, but warned that a premature attack on Iran might be counterproductive.

"At a time when there is not a lot of sympathy for Iran and its only real ally [Syria] is on the ropes, do we want a distraction in which suddenly Iran can portray itself as a victim?"
Heckled

Mr Obama is due to meet Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Washington on Monday.

The US president described his relationship with Mr Netanyahu - often depicted as frosty - as "very functional," despite the two leaders coming from different political traditions.

He said most of their differences were "tactical and not strategic".

Mr Obama was heckled on the issue of military action against Iran at a Democratic fundraising event in New York on Thursday evening.

An audience member shouted: "Use your leadership - no war in Iran."
Continue reading the main story
Israeli F-15 fighter jets refuel during an air show at the graduation ceremony of Israeli pilots in the Hatzerim air force base in the Negev desert near the southern Israeli city of Beersheva on June 30, 2011

Analysis: How Israel might strike at Iran

Mr Obama responded, to cheers: "Nobody has announced a war young lady. You're jumping the gun a little bit there."

American officials are thought to be seeking to persuade Israel to give sanctions more time to work.

The US has recently tightened its sanctions against Iran, imposing sanctions on the country's central bank and against three oil companies that trade with Iran.

The European Union has also adopted an oil embargo against Iran.

The UN ratified four rounds of sanctions against Iran between 2006 and 2010 in reaction to its refusal to halt uranium enrichment and co-operate with the International Atomic Energy Association (IAEA).

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-17236549
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