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Iranians urged to heed election 'call of duty'
By Mohsen Asgari & James Reynolds BBC News, Tehran and London

"It is the logical, ethical and religious duty of the entire nation to support the system and participate in the elections," announced a religious leader in Iran's holy city of Qom.

The country's ruling conservative movement has instructed the country to go ahead and vote - regardless of whether or not they like the candidates on offer.

Officials suggest that a high turnout will deter a military strike by the United States or Israel.

In Tehran, some polling stations have reported long queues of voters. But photos posted online also show little activity at other voting stations.

"As a rule of thumb, people rush to cast their ballots in the last hours," says Mohammed, a supervisor at a voting station in central Tehran.

In this parliamentary election, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei holds all the cards.

Voters in Iran have only been able to cast their ballots for candidates approved by the Guardian Council, a body controlled by the ayatollah.

The opposition Green Movement has not been able to stand. Even candidates favoured by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad have been disqualified - as part of an increasingly public fight between the leader and the president.
'Epic attack'

On Friday morning in Tehran, Ayatollah Khamenei decided to set the tone early. He cast his ballot and was then approached by reporters from Iran's state media.
Women voters in Tehran, 2 March 2012 For many it has been a struggle to understand the candidate lists

"Respected Leader of the Revolution my warm wishes to you," one reporter said delicately. "Your eminence has been among the front runners who cast their ballots in the early hours of voting. At this sensitive juncture what message do you have for [the people]?"

The ayatollah replied: "Today, the more the people come to the ballot boxes, the more profitable it will be for the country.

"The more the enthusiasm and vibrancy of people, the more it will be profitable for the future, better for the reputation and for safeguarding the security and safety of the country."

The ayatollah's message was soon loyally echoed by the government.

"An epic popular attack on the ballot boxes has started," Interior Minister Mostafa Mohammad Najjar told reporters. "Young people have turned out in large numbers."

International human rights organisations say that this election is profoundly unfair.

In recent months, they say that Iran's security forces have carried out a wave of arrests of lawyers, journalists, film-makers, and political activists - silencing any dissenting voices. The government insists that this has nothing to do with the election.
Continue reading the main story
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

"My perception is that if you look at the previous parliamentary elections in Iran, this is one of the best from the perspective of the presence of different groups and existence of different political factions and taste among the candidates running for the parliamentary elections," says Tehran's governor, Morteza Tamaddon.

It is a view likely to be strongly contested by an opposition that cannot even find a place on the ballot.

At one polling station in central Tehran, a university professor stood in line with his wife.

"The competition in big cities in Iran differs from the contest in towns and rural areas," he said.

"In smaller places the election is like a family argument. People in towns know their candidates very well and they know what they want - the roads mended, high schools built, water pipe networks developed - but in big cities like Tehran the people are not deeply familiar with their candidates and they do not know exactly what they want."

Mahboubeh, a journalist, said: "In my home village, people are simple farmers and they haven't got the foggiest idea what arguments are about. They vote for the candidate they know - the one who promises to solve their problems better."

Some Iranians say privately that they will not bother to vote.

"Turnout looked really low," wrote Shayan Kaviani on the Facebook page of the BBC Persian service. "Of course [the government] will artificially boost the participation statistics."

The final results are not expected to be declared until Monday. But no-one expects the result to bring any great surprises.

Ayatollah Khamenei and his allies in the Revolutionary Guard rule Iran today. And they will continue to do so after this election is over.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-17237104
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2 March 2012 Last updated at 15:17

Iranians urged to heed election 'call of duty'

By Mohsen Asgari & James Reynolds BBC News, Tehran and London

"It is the logical, ethical and religious duty of the entire nation to support the system and participate in the elections," announced a religious leader in Iran's holy city of Qom.

The country's ruling conservative movement has instructed the country to go ahead and vote - regardless of whether or not they like the candidates on offer.

Officials suggest that a high turnout will deter a military strike by the United States or Israel.

In Tehran, some polling stations have reported long queues of voters. But photos posted online also show little activity at other voting stations.

"As a rule of thumb, people rush to cast their ballots in the last hours," says Mohammed, a supervisor at a voting station in central Tehran.

In this parliamentary election, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei holds all the cards.

Voters in Iran have only been able to cast their ballots for candidates approved by the Guardian Council, a body controlled by the ayatollah.

The opposition Green Movement has not been able to stand. Even candidates favoured by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad have been disqualified - as part of an increasingly public fight between the leader and the president.
'Epic attack'

On Friday morning in Tehran, Ayatollah Khamenei decided to set the tone early. He cast his ballot and was then approached by reporters from Iran's state media.
Women voters in Tehran, 2 March 2012 For many it has been a struggle to understand the candidate lists

"Respected Leader of the Revolution my warm wishes to you," one reporter said delicately. "Your eminence has been among the front runners who cast their ballots in the early hours of voting. At this sensitive juncture what message do you have for [the people]?"

The ayatollah replied: "Today, the more the people come to the ballot boxes, the more profitable it will be for the country.

"The more the enthusiasm and vibrancy of people, the more it will be profitable for the future, better for the reputation and for safeguarding the security and safety of the country."

The ayatollah's message was soon loyally echoed by the government.

"An epic popular attack on the ballot boxes has started," Interior Minister Mostafa Mohammad Najjar told reporters. "Young people have turned out in large numbers."

International human rights organisations say that this election is profoundly unfair.

In recent months, they say that Iran's security forces have carried out a wave of arrests of lawyers, journalists, film-makers, and political activists - silencing any dissenting voices. The government insists that this has nothing to do with the election.
Continue reading the main story
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

"My perception is that if you look at the previous parliamentary elections in Iran, this is one of the best from the perspective of the presence of different groups and existence of different political factions and taste among the candidates running for the parliamentary elections," says Tehran's governor, Morteza Tamaddon.

It is a view likely to be strongly contested by an opposition that cannot even find a place on the ballot.

At one polling station in central Tehran, a university professor stood in line with his wife.

"The competition in big cities in Iran differs from the contest in towns and rural areas," he said.

"In smaller places the election is like a family argument. People in towns know their candidates very well and they know what they want - the roads mended, high schools built, water pipe networks developed - but in big cities like Tehran the people are not deeply familiar with their candidates and they do not know exactly what they want."

Mahboubeh, a journalist, said: "In my home village, people are simple farmers and they haven't got the foggiest idea what arguments are about. They vote for the candidate they know - the one who promises to solve their problems better."

Some Iranians say privately that they will not bother to vote.

"Turnout looked really low," wrote Shayan Kaviani on the Facebook page of the BBC Persian service. "Of course [the government] will artificially boost the participation statistics."

The final results are not expected to be declared until Monday. But no-one expects the result to bring any great surprises.

Ayatollah Khamenei and his allies in the Revolutionary Guard rule Iran today. And they will continue to do so after this election is over.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-17237104
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Sat Apr 07, 2012 8:39 am
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Iran minister: Turnout in parliamentary elections 64%

Friday's elections to the Iranian parliament are the first nationally since the 2009 protests


Mr Najjar told state TV the high turnout meant "the great Iranian nation slapped the enemies in the face".

The preliminary figure came despite a boycott by the reformist opposition.

The elections are the first nationally since mass protests were sparked by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's disputed election victory in 2009.

Final figures for the make-up of the new parliament are expected on Monday.

Speaking on state TV, Mr Najjar said: "The Americans, the Zionists, and the enemies of the system made some claims. People slapped them by this action."

On Friday 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".


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%

All of the candidates had to be pre-approved by Iran's Guardian Council, which meant that the contest was effectively between different conservative factions: largely, those who support President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, and supporters of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

The leaders of the opposition Green Movement have been under house arrest for over a year and were barred from taking part in the elections.

As part of an increasingly public fight between the leader and the president, even candidates favoured by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad were disqualified from standing by the Guardian Council.

The Green Movement claimed that the 2009 presidential election was stolen from their candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi. The government sent security forces to put down the mass protests.

This time, reformists asked their supporters to stay at home on election day.

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.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-17246342
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5 March 2012 Last updated at 14:41 Share this pageEmailPrint

Iran overturns death sentence for 'CIA spy' Hekmati

Amir Mirzai Hekmati has an American passport and is a former US marine


Judges had found the verdict against Amir Mirzai Hekmati was "not complete" and referred his case to an affiliate court, a judiciary spokesman said.

In January, Mr Hekmati was convicted of "co-operating with a hostile nation, membership of the CIA and trying to implicate Iran in terrorism".

The US has urged Iran to release him.

It has repeatedly insisted the allegations that Mr Hekmati either worked for, or was sent to Iran by the CIA, are "simply untrue".

Mr Hekmati's family, who live in Arizona, have also said the charges are fabricated and that he was in Iran last year to visit his grandmothers.

'Confession'

Iranian prosecutors said last year that, as a former US marine, Mr Hekmati had received training at US bases in neighbouring Afghanistan and Iraq before being sent to Iran for his alleged intelligence-gathering mission.


Dual-nationality arrests in Iran

May 2007: Four Iranian-American academics - including Haleh Esfandiari -detained for some three to four months on suspicion of spying
June 2009: Iranian-Canadian journalist Maziar Bahari detained for four months for being a spy after covering post-election unrest
Jailed 2009: Iranian-American journalist Roxana Saberi detained for four months on spying charges
They claimed his cover was blown even before he had arrived in the country, because he had been spotted by Iranian agents at the US-run Bagram military air base, north of the Afghan capital, Kabul.

In December, the 28 year old was shown on Iranian television allegedly confessing to being part of a plot to infiltrate Iran's intelligence services.

State media also said he had admitted at his trial to having had links to the CIA, but also that he had stated he never intended to harm Iran.

But on Monday, judiciary spokesman Gholamhossein Mohseni-Ejei told a news conference in Tehran that the Supreme Court had dismissed the death sentence handed down by a Revolutionary Court in the capital.

"There were objections to the verdict by the Supreme Court," he was quoted as saying by the Isna news agency. "The Supreme Court found shortcomings in the case and sent it for review by an affiliate court."

Mr Mohseni-Ejei did not give any further details.

Last month, Mr Hekmati's mother visited him in prison and met Iranian officials. Some saw it as a sign Iran might show leniency in his case.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-17261257
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6 March 2012 Last updated at 19:03
Fresh Iran nuclear talks agreed with world powers - EU

Iran insists its nuclear programme is for purely peaceful purposes

Six major world powers and Iran are to hold fresh talks on Tehran's nuclear programme, the EU has said.

EU foreign policy head Catherine Ashton said she had replied to a letter from Iran on behalf of the five permanent UN Security Council members plus Germany.

Iranian negotiator Saeed Jalili sent the letter last month proposing talks. No date or venue has been set.

The move comes amid fresh speculation of a pre-emptive military strike against Iran's nuclear facilities.

Iran insists there is no military element to its programme but Western powers fear it is constructing nuclear weapons.

US President Barack Obama told a news conference in Washington DC that he believed there was still a "window of opportunity" to use diplomacy to resolve the standoff with Tehran.

He said there was no need to make a choice in the next fews weeks or months on whether to use military means to stop Iran building nuclear weapons.

Parchin access

The statement from Baroness Ashton said the EU hoped that Iran would "now enter into a sustained process of constructive dialogue which will deliver real progress in resolving the international community's long-standing concerns on its nuclear programme."

It added: "Our overall goal remains a comprehensive negotiated, long-term solution which restores international confidence in the exclusively peaceful nature of Iran's nuclear programme."


Analysis


James Reynolds

BBC Iran correspondent

Since 2003, Iran has held intermittent talks about its nuclear programme with foreign powers. To begin with, France, Germany, and the UK (or the E3) negotiated on their own. In June 2006 the remaining permanent members of the UN Security Council - the US, China and Russia - joined the group (now known as either the E3+3 or P5+1.)

Previous rounds of talks achieved tentative breakthroughs which collapsed soon afterwards. In October 2009, Iran agreed to export more than a tonne of low-enriched uranium in exchange for reactor fuel - a deal that was never implemented.

The most recent rounds of talks - in Geneva in December 2010, and Istanbul in January 2011 - can barely be described as negotiations. They were essentially parallel monologues. Diplomats suggested there was little actual engagement, merely an exchange of prepared speeches. They say that Iran consistently refused to discuss the details of its nuclear programme. The talks broke off.

Over the next year Baroness Ashton exchanged several letters with Saeed Jalili, Iran's chief negotiator. On 14 February, Dr Jalili wrote that Iran was ready for dialogue on what he called a spectrum of issues. Western diplomats say his one, brief reference to the nuclear issue might be a signal Iran is finally willing to engage on the subject.


UK Foreign Secretary William Hague said in a statement that Iran had to "convince the international community that its nuclear programme is exclusively peaceful".

"Until those actions are taken we will not ease the international pressure on Iran."

Iran had earlier said it was prepared under certain conditions to grant inspectors from the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) access to the key military site of Parchin.

The complex, south of Tehran, is dedicated to the research, and the development and production of ammunition, rockets and explosives.

IAEA inspectors wanted to visit last month to clarify the "possible military dimensions" of Iran's nuclear programme, but were denied entry.

But on Monday, Iran's mission to the IAEA said if the UN agency "combined all related issues" then "once more, access would be granted".

Talks between the EU and Iran on the nuclear issue have been off and on for a number of years, with the last round ending in failure in January last year.

Baroness Ashton had written to Mr Jalili last October with an offer of new talks.

In February, Mr Jalili wrote back that Iran was ready for dialogue on what he called a spectrum of issues. He said he welcomed the P5+1's affirmation that it would respect Iran's right to the peaceful use of nuclear energy.

"No doubt that by committing to this approach, our talks for cooperation based on step-by-step principles and reciprocity on Iran's nuclear issues could be commenced," he wrote.

On Monday, Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu, on a visit to the US, said time was running out to put a stop to Iran's nuclear programme, warning Israel would "not live in the shadow of annihilation".

He stressed that all options were on the table, but that containment - leaving Iran to develop its programme under monitoring - was "not an option".

On Tuesday, US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta said: "Military action is the last alternative when all else fails. But make no mistake, we will act if we have to."

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-17274364
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6 March 2012 Last updated at 11:19 Share this pageEmailPrint

Iran crisis: IAEA offered conditional access to Parchin

The IAEA believes a large explosives containment vessel has been built at the Parchin military site


IAEA inspectors wanted to visit Parchin last month to clarify the "possible military dimensions" of Iran's nuclear programme, but they were denied entry.

But on Tuesday, Iran's mission to the IAEA said it had asked the agency to "combine all related issues" and then "once more, access would be granted".

The West suspects Iran wants to build a nuclear bomb - an accusation it denies.

'Serious concerns'

The complex at Parchin, south of Tehran, is dedicated to the research, development and production of ammunition, rockets and explosives.

Concerns about its possible role in Iran's nuclear programme emerged in 2004, when reports surfaced that a large explosives containment vessel had been built there to conduct hydrodynamic experiments.



Start Quote

Considering the fact that it is a military site, granting access is a time consuming process and cannot be permitted repeatedly”

Iranian mission to the IAEA in Vienna

The IAEA has warned that hydrodynamic experiments, which involve high explosives in conjunction with nuclear material or nuclear material surrogates, are "strong indicators of possible weapon development".

In 2005, IAEA inspectors were twice given access to parts of Parchin and were able to take several environmental samples.

A report issued in 2006 noted that they "did not observe any unusual activities in the buildings visited, and the results of the analysis of environmental samples did not indicate the presence of nuclear material".

But suspicions about Parchin persisted and the IAEA has repeatedly sought to visit the facility again. The latest attempt came in February, when inspectors were turned away despite "intensive efforts".

The IAEA subsequently complained it had been unable to "provide credible assurance about the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities in Iran" and that it continued to have "serious concerns regarding possible military dimensions to Iran's nuclear programme".

On Monday, Iran's mission in Vienna issued a statement suggesting that IAEA inspectors would once again be permitted to visit Parchin.

"Considering the fact that it is a military site, granting access is a time consuming process and cannot be permitted repeatedly," it said.

"In the light of this background and principle the Agency was requested to combine all related issues such as hydrodynamic experiments, and then once more, access would be granted."

The statement said the visit required an agreement on "modality".

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-17269341
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6 March 2012 Last updated at 08:02
Extradited Briton Chris Tappin denied bail in US

Warren Gutierrez, El Paso tv reporter: "Christopher Tappin was visibly distraught"


Chris Tappin, of Orpington, south-east London, was extradited on 24 February after claims he conspired to sell batteries for use in Iranian missiles.

A spokesman for federal prosecutors said bail was refused because Mr Tappin, 65, "posed a flight risk".

Mr Tappin's wife Elaine described the decision to keep him in custody as "heartbreaking" and an "outrage".

His lawyer, Kent Schaffer, told the BBC that an appeal would be launched against the decision not to grant bail.

'Shocked and disappointed'
Mr Tappin was escorted into the court by US marshals. He wore an orange jumpsuit and had his feet and one hand shackled - the other was left free so that he could use a cane.

Continue reading the main story

Start Quote

He's a man of his word and is certainly not at risk of fleeing - where would he go?”

Elaine Tappin
Chris Tappin's wife
Mr Schaffer said Mr Tappin would have complied with any restrictions and that his family was ready to post $50,000 bail (£31,600).

Associated Press news agency reported Judge Robert Castaneda had agreed that Mr Tappin could be monitored if released but decided not to grant bail because of a discrepancy in Mr Tappin's financial statement.

An official of the US Attorney's office said Mr Tappin's trial would take place before US District Judge David Briones in El Paso but that no date had been set.

Mrs Tappin said she was "shocked and deeply disappointed".

"He's a man of his word and is certainly not at risk of fleeing - where would he go? He doesn't have his passport or access to money," she said

Mrs Tappin questioned why Prime Minister David Cameron had not helped her husband.

"He's not a danger to anyone - he's a 65-year-old granddad. How is he supposed to prepare a proper defence when he's only been allowed to communicate with his lawyers from behind a plastic screen?"

A family spokeswoman said that Mr Tappin had told his wife that he had been shackled and confined in a cage for five hours before his bail hearing.

'Loss to understand'
Mr Schaffer said he expected the appeal to be filed this week.

"We will then get a hearing date to go back before a different judge," he said.

Judge Castaneda ruled that the financial discrepancy meant there was a risk of flight.

But Mr Schaffer said: "The financial statement is as plain as it can be. There's no discrepancy on it, there's no evidence to controvert anything.

"So we're still at a loss to understand what happened. In order to have a discrepancy there would have to be two competing documents, or some testimony to dispute what is on the document.

"There was no testimony that he failed to disclose anything. So we have no idea what the judge is thinking about. In 30 years of doing this kind of work, it just amazes me that this man is locked up."

The Home Office said it had no comment to make on the bail decision.

A spokesman said Mr Tappin was able to get help from the Foreign Office as needed but that the case was "now entirely a matter for the US courts".

Mr Tappin, a retired businessman, denies trying to sell batteries for use by Iran in Hawk missiles and says he has been the victim of an FBI sting.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-17266000
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6 March 2012 Last updated at 10:56

Israel warns time short to stop Iranian nuclear plans

Benjamin Netanyahu: "A nuclear armed Iran must be stopped"Continue reading the main story


Speaking to a pro-Israel conference in the US, Mr Netanyahu said he could not allow his people to "live in the shadow of annihilation".

Israel fears Iran is seeking to develop nuclear weapons, and speculation of a pre-emptive strike has recently grown.

US President Barack Obama has said there is still time for diplomacy, but that all options remain open.

Tehran insists its nuclear plans are peaceful.

Speaking to some 13,000 delegates at the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (Aipac) on Monday night, Mr Netanyahu reiterated that Israel was "determined to prevent Iran having nuclear weapons".

"Unfortunately, Iran's nuclear programme has continued to march forward," he said.


Analysis

Jonathan Marcus
BBC diplomatic correspondent

There were two speeches and two vital sets of messages, one directed squarely at Tehran - that both Israel and the United States will do everything they can to prevent Iran having a nuclear weapon.

But just as important were the messages between Israel and its main ally, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu insisting that Israel cannot give up its own freedom of action, while from President Barack Obama, there was the clearest assertion yet that Washington does not believe in containment. Iran will not get nuclear arms on this president's watch.

For Mr Obama there is still time for diplomacy and sanctions to take effect. But the fundamental problem remains: as Iran's nuclear facilities go underground, Israel's window of opportunity to act militarily runs out long before that of the Americans.

And that leaves one central question unanswered: is Israel ready to forego a strike against Iran trusting that the Americans will act at some point in the future?


"Israel has waited for diplomacy to work, we've waited for sanctions to work. None of us can afford to wait much longer.

"As prime minister of Israel I will never let my people live in the shadow of annihilation."

He stressed that all options were on the table, but that containment - leaving Iran to develop its programme under monitoring - was "not an option".

"The Jewish state will not allow those who seek our destruction the means to achieve that goal. A nuclear armed Iran must be stopped," Mr Netanyahu told Aipac.

He waved a copy of a 1944 letter in which the US War Department refused Jewish leaders' requests to bomb the Auschwitz Nazi death camp on the grounds that it "might provoke even more vindictive action by the Germans".

"Today, we have a state of our own," he said. "And the purpose of the Jewish state is to defend Jewish lives and to secure the Jewish future."

'Diplomatic window'

In his meeting with Mr Netanyahu at the White House on Monday, Mr Obama said the bond between their countries was "unbreakable".

He said the US believed there was "still a window that allows for a diplomatic resolution", on Iran, but added that the US would consider "all options".

Both Israel and the US understand the "costs of any military action", he said.


Both men know that a lack of unity can only benefit a common enemy. But the disagreement between them is profound”


Mark Mardell
BBC North America editor
Obama and Netanyahu play down differences
Mr Netanyahu replied that Israel "must reserve the right to defend itself" and must remain "the master of its fate".

The two leaders are said to have a cool relationship. In May 2011, during a visit to Washington, correspondents noted the frosty body language between the two leaders.

In his own address to Aipac on Sunday, Mr Obama said there had been too much "loose talk" of war with Iran, which was benefiting Tehran as it was driving up the price of oil, which funds the nuclear programme.

He said Iran was isolated and there was an opportunity "for diplomacy - backed by pressure - to succeed".

"Iran's leaders should know that I do not have a policy of containment - I have a policy to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon," he said.

"And as I've made clear time and again during the course of my presidency, I will not hesitate to use force when it is necessary to defend the United States and its interests."

'Serious concerns'


If President Obama sticks to his current position... Prime Minister Netanyahu might decide to take a shot at Iran sooner”


PJ Crowley
Former US Assistant Secretary of State
Crowley: Obama, Netanyahu and Iran
After years of international pressure and the repeated failure of negotiations and offers of talks with Tehran, talk has grown in recent months of a pre-emptive strike against Iranian nuclear facilities.

The US has pushed for the imposition of ever-stricter sanctions against Iran, including recent curbs on its central bank and its ability to export oil to the West.

Yet despite the ratcheting up of sanctions, speculation has been mounting that Israel might choose to attack Iran sometime during 2012.

Hours before the US-Israeli meetings Yukiya Amano, head of the UN's nuclear agency, reiterated that his organisation had "serious concerns" that Iran could be hiding secret work on developing atomic weapons.

Citing a recent agency report, he said International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) was unable "to conclude that all nuclear material in Iran is in peaceful activities".

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-17268478
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14 March 2012

Azerbaijan arrests 22 suspects in alleged Iran spy plot

The Revolutionary Guards are an elite force in Iran

The authorities in Azerbaijan have arrested 22 people on suspicion of spying for Iran, accusing them of links to the Iranian Revolutionary Guards.

The undated arrests were confirmed in a brief statement by the Azerbaijani national security ministry.

Azerbaijani TV reported last month that a plot to attack the Israeli embassy and a Jewish centre had been foiled.

At the time, Iran was also suspected of attacking Israeli targets in Thailand, India and Georgia.

It was not immediately clear on Wednesday if these were new arrests, or official confirmation of those made in February.

However, according to Contact, a non-government Azerbaijani news website supported by the US National Endowment for Democracy, the arrests took place between late January and 20 February.

Contact said the detainees were being charged with treason and illegal possession of weapons.

It added that they were "not the first group of individuals... arrested recently in Azerbaijan on charges of working for the Iranian secret services".

Covert war?

"Firearms, cartridges, explosives and espionage equipment were found during the arrest," the Azerbaijani national security ministry said.

The 22 detainees are said to have received orders from the Revolutionary Guards to "commit terrorist acts against the US, Israeli and other Western states' embassies and the embassies' employees".

Recruited as far back as 1999, they were allegedly trained in the use of weapons and spy techniques at military camps in Iran.

Iran and Israel appear to be engaged in a covert war of threats, bomb attacks and assassination plots in the Caucasus, the BBC's Damien McGuinness reported recently.

Recent tensions suggest that Iranian spies and agents of Israel's secret service Mossad are active in the southern Caucasus, made up of Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia, our Tbilisi correspondent adds.

Iran says Azerbaijanis have been helping Israeli assassinations in Iran.

The development of Azerbajiani oil and gas in the Caspian Sea, with major export pipelines pumping energy to Western markets, heightens the region's strategic importance.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-17368576
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15 March 2012 Last updated at 17:55 Share this pageEmailPrint
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Iran's banks to be blocked from global banking system

Iran has the world's third-largest oil reserves
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Fresh Iran nuclear talks agreed
Iran 'to accept gold for its oil'
Iran halts UK and French oil sales
Swift, the body that handles global banking transactions, says it will cut Iran's banks out of the system on Saturday to enforce sanctions.

The move will isolate Iran financially by making it almost impossible for money to flow in and out of the country via official banking channels.

It will hit its oil industry, but may also have a heavy impact on Iranians who live abroad and send money home.

The move follows EU sanctions against Iran over its nuclear programme.

The US and its allies accuse Iran of trying to develop nuclear weapons - a charge it denies.


Sanctions expert Mehrdad Emadi: "Losing Swift facilities is equivalent to not having travel documents for a business person"
Iran last week agreed to hold talks with six major world powers over its nuclear programme, although no date or venue has been set.

Almost all banking transactions pass through Belgium-based Swift, the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication, which is sometimes called the "glue" that holds the financial system together.

Swift will pull the plug at 1600 GMT on Saturday, in what is all but the final blow to Iranian business dealings.

Oil
Its announcement coincides with news that major money exchange houses in the nearby United Arab Emirates have stopped handling Iranian rials over the last few weeks, something that has further reduced Iran's ability to trade and acquire hard currency.

Iran's business activities had already been restricted by US anti-money laundering legislation which made it risky for banks around the world to do business with Iran, including trade financing.

It is heavily reliant on its oil industry.

China and India have said they will still take Iranian oil, but the only obvious way for Iran to be paid for it is now in gold.

One Iranian businessman said Swift's move would make it now impossible to conduct business with Iran.

Morteza Masoumzadeh, a member of the executive committee of the Iranian Business Council in Dubai and managing director of the Jumbo Line Shipping Agency, told the Reuters news agency: "If Iranian banks cannot exchange payments with banks around the world then this will cause the collapse of many banking relations and many businesses."

Lazaro Campos, chief executive of Swift, said: "Disconnecting banks is an extraordinary and unprecedented step for Swift. It is a direct result of international and multilateral action to intensify financial sanctions against Iran."

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-17390456
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29 February 2012 Last updated at 10:17 Share this pageEmailPrint
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Iran 'to accept payment in gold for oil'

Iran has the world's third-largest oil reserves
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Inflation fear as oil price rises
Iran halts UK and French oil sales
Oil price hits eight-month high
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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16 March 2012
India seeks three Iranians over Delhi attack

The attack took place near the Israeli embassy in Delhi

The three Iranians were helped by Syed Mohammed Ahmad Kazmi, 50, an Indian already under arrest, police said.

Israel blames the attack on Iran, which describes the claim as "sheer lies".

Witnesses said a motorcyclist stuck a bomb to the car, causing a blast that injured four people, including the diplomat.

At the same time, there was an attempted attack in the Georgian capital, Tbilisi, but the device planted under an Israeli diplomat's car was discovered before it detonated.

Police in Delhi said arrest warrants had been issued for Houshang Afshar Irani, Seyed Ali Mahdiansadr and Mohammadreza Abolghasemi.

They were "suspected to be involved in the terror attack on the Israeli diplomat," a police official said.

Cash, a car and a bike used to scout out the Israeli embassy have been recovered from Mr Kazmi, police said.

Delhi Police Commissioner Brijesh Gupta linked the Delhi bombing to a botched one in Bangkok, Thailand, on 14 February, one day after the Delhi attack.

An Iranian lost his legs when explosives he was carrying went off as he fled a rented house with two other men after an apparently accidental explosion there.

The following day, another Iranian, Sedaghatzadeh Masoud, was arrested in Kuala Lumpur and is now fighting extradition to Thailand.

This man has been linked to one one of the three suspects Delhi police are seeking, police said.

"Houshang Afshar Irani, who had come twice to Delhi, was in touch with Sedaghatzadeh Masoud, thus establishing his links with the terror module [cell] that executed the terror acts in Bangkok," said Police Commissioner Gupta.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-india-17401930
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18 March 2012
Hague condemns Tehran for blocking Foreign Office website

Mr Hague said UK for Iranians had been established to explain UK policy and engage with Iranians

Tehran has blocked a UK Foreign Office website in Iran as part of its "ever-tightening stranglehold of censorship", the foreign secretary has said.

William Hague said UK for Iranians was launched on March 14 to "reach out" to its citizens but access from the country was blocked on March 17.

In December, Mr Hague said Iran had blocked access to the British embassy website for people in Iran.

Britain last year closed its embassy in Tehran and expelled Iran's diplomats.

It followed an attack on the embassy building, which Iran described "unacceptable behaviour by a small number of protesters". However, British diplomats said they believed it was likely the attack had state backing.

'No quarrel' with Iranians
In a statement on Sunday, Mr Hague said the UK for Iranians website had been established to explain UK policy and engage with Iranians and that the blocking of the site was "only a very small part of what Iranians endure daily".

He said Iran's government had jammed international television channels, closed film and theatre productions, rewritten traditional Persian literature and banned the publication of some books and newspapers.

"We have no quarrel with the Iranian people and regret that the Iranian authorities fear their own citizens' interaction and involvement with the outside world," Mr Hague said.

"We will continue to look for opportunities to engage with the Iranian people, confident that Iranians are outward looking and deserve the same freedoms that others enjoy around the world."

The UK, US and EU have imposed sanctions on Iran, accusing it of trying to develop nuclear weapons. Iran says its nuclear programme is peaceful.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-17420534
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21 March 2012 Last updated at 05:55
US exempts Japan and EU nations from Iran oil sanctions

Iran earns more than half of its government revenue from selling oil

The US government will not impose sanctions on Japan and 10 European Union nations that have reduced their oil imports from Iran.

Ordered by Congress in December, the sanctions aim to punish countries that continue to buy oil from Iran.

China, India and South Korea, major buyers of Iranian oil, were not exempt.

Iran faces international pressure to address concerns over its nuclear enrichment programme.

'Not easy'
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who announced the exemptions in a statement, said Japan and the EU nations had taken actions that were "not easy".

"They had to rethink their energy needs at a critical time for the world economy and quickly begin to find alternatives to Iranian oil which many had been reliant on for their energy needs."

The European countries that have been exempt are France, Germany, Belgium, Greece, Italy, Czech Republic, the Netherlands, Poland, Spain and the UK.

Under a US law that came into effect in 31 December, countries have until 28 June to show they have significantly reduced the amount of crude oil they purchase from Iran or face being cut off from the US financial system.

The European Union has also increased its sanctions on Iran, banning new oil contracts and phasing out existing ones from 1 July.

Shrinking markets
The move by the US administration means Japan, which is the second biggest importer or Iranian oil after China, may continue buying some oil from Iran without exposing its banks to penalties.

The law says the United States must cut off the US bank account of any foreign financial institution that completes petroleum-related transactions with Iran's central bank, unless its country is exempt.

Japan is estimated to have cut down its purchases from Iran by 15%-22% in the second half of last year, and is promising to do more.

"We have told the US side that the trend of decrease would accelerate and Iranian crude imports will be reduced substantially from now on," Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura said.

Analysts said this could put pressure on South Korea, India, China, Turkey and South Africa and other major buyers of Iranian oil to also reduce their imports in line with the US law.

Ms Clinton said the US was making progress in "shrinking Iran's oil export markets and isolating its central bank from the world financial system".

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-17454814
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7 March 2012
Analysis: How would Iran respond to an Israeli attack?

By Jonathan Marcus
BBC Diplomatic Correspondent

Iran has the largest and most diverse ballistic missile arsenal in the Middle East

Iran has made it clear that if it is attacked either by Israel or the United States it will respond in kind. But just what could Iran do to strike back?

What would be the consequences, both in the region and inside Iran itself?

Indeed, could the potential consequences of an Israeli strike be so serious as to make military action the least preferable option in terms of constraining Iran's nuclear programme?

Long-distance missiles

"Iran's ability to strike back directly against Israel is limited," says Mark Fitzpatrick, director of the Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Programme at the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS).

"Its antiquated air force is totally outclassed by the Israelis and it has only a limited number of ballistic missiles that could reach Israel."


Iran's air force, which includes Mig-29s, is not seen as a match for its Israeli or US counterparts

Mr Fitzpatrick says Iran's missile arsenal includes "a modified version of the Shahab-3, the Ghadr-1, which has a range of 1,600km (995 miles), but Iran only has about six transporter-erector launchers for the missile".

"Iran's new solid-fuelled missile, the Sajjil-2, can also reach Israel, but it is not yet fully operational," he adds.

But, Mr Fitzpatrick argues that "both of these missiles are too inaccurate to have any effect against military targets when armed with conventional weapons".

"Nor are they a very effective way to deliver chemical or biological weapons, and Iran does not have nuclear weapons."

In summary, he believes that "an Iranian missile strike would be only a symbolic gesture".

Enlisting allies

Hezbollah is said to have thousands of rocket launchers in Lebanon
Mr Fitzpatrick believes Iran is more likely to respond against Israel "asymmetrically, and through proxies". Its ally, the Shia Islamist group Hezbollah, has more than 10,000 rocket launchers in southern Lebanon, many of them supplied by Iran.

"These are mostly 25km-range (16-mile) Katyushas, but also Fahr-3 (45km; 28 miles), Fajr-5 (75km; 47 miles), Zelzal-2 (200km; 124 miles) and potentially Fateh-110 (200km) plus about 10 Scud-D missiles that can pack a 750kg (1,653lb) payload and hit all of Israel."

He says that the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, could also attack Israel with shorter-range rockets.

The great danger here is of a more extensive conflict breaking out either between Israel and Hezbollah, or Israel and Hamas.

With so much instability in the Middle East - not least because of the Syria crisis - there is a very real risk of an Israeli strike sparking a much broader regional conflagration.

Naval action in the Gulf

The Iranian Navy, and especially the naval arm of its Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC), are well-equipped with small, fast craft capable of laying mines or swarming attacks against larger vessels.

Iran also deploys capable land-based anti-shipping missiles.


These could all be used to close off the vital oil artery - the Strait of Hormuz.

The US Navy is confident that it could re-open the Strait. But this risks an extended naval conflict between the US and Iran, and in the short term, there could be a significant impact upon oil prices.

Covert action

Daniel Byman, a counter-terrorism expert at the Brookings Institution in Washington, says there is also "considerable concern that Iran and groups like the Lebanese Hezbollah might engage in terror attacks in the wake of an Israeli air strike".

"Iran has at times used such attacks to strike out at enemies, particularly those it cannot hit by other means," he adds.

There is already, he points out, a kind of clandestine war under way.

"Israel and Iran are already striking at each other (Israel with more success and doing so in a way that is more targeted)," Mr Byman explains, referring to the assassination of Iranian nuclear scientists.

"I'm not sure Israel would increase attacks in the wake of a strike," he notes, "but Iran would."

Continue reading the main story
Iran's ballistic missile arsenal

Shahab-1 - Based on the Scud-B. Has a range of about 300km (185 miles) and uses liquid fuel, which involves a time-consuming launch

Shahab-2 - Based on the Scud-C. Has a range of about 500km (310 miles)

Shahab-3 - Based on the North Korean Nodong missile. Has a range of about 900km (560 miles) and a nominal payload of 1,000kg (2,205lb)

Ghadr-1 - Modified version of the Shahab-3, with a range of about 1,600km (1,000 miles). Carries a smaller, 750kg (1,654lb) warhead

Sajjil-2 - Surface-to-surface missile with a range of 2,200km (1,375 miles). Uses solid fuel, which offers strategic advantages, and carries a 750kg warhead

Mr Byman is uncertain about how effective such Iranian operations might be.

"Iran's reported attempted attacks in India and Thailand show it remains determined to strike at Israel, presumably in retaliation for Israeli killings of Hezbollah figures like Imad Mughniyeh and the suspected attacks on Iranian nuclear scientists."

"However, these recent attacks were not well executed, suggesting that Iran's services' professionalism is uneven," he argues.

Overall, experts believe that the Iranian government is going to have to calibrate its response to any attack carefully.

Karim Sadjadpour, an Iran expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, told me: "If they respond too little, they could lose face, and if they respond too much, they could lose their heads."

"Iran will want to respond enough to inflame the regional security environment and negatively impact the global economy - in order to bring down international condemnation of the US or Israel - but stop short of doing anything that could invite massive reprisals from the United States."

"Frankly," Mr Sadjadpour says, "I'm not sure how they do that. If Iran tries to destabilise world energy supplies - whether launching missiles into Saudi Arabia's oil-rich eastern province or attempting to close the Strait of Hormuz - the US isn't going to stand aside idly."

In the wake of any attack on its facilities, Iran might well, of course, go to the UN to seek some kind of diplomatic redress. This highlights a crucial set of legal questions relating to any military operation.

International law

For all the uncertainties as to whether Israel would attack Iran and indeed how Iran might respond, one thing is clear - in terms of international law, such a strike would be illegal.


The US-led invasion of Iraq resulted in a conflict that cost thousands of lives and cost billions of dollars
Professor Mary Ellen O'Connell, professor of international law at the University of Notre Dame, says for it to be considered legal, "the UN Security Council would need to authorise such a strike, because Iran has not launched an armed attack on either Israel or the United States".

"The UN Charter," she says, "makes clear that the use of force is generally prohibited unless a state is acting in self-defence to an armed attack occurring, or has Security Council authorisation."

Israel, of course, would probably claim to be acting in some pre-emptive sense to forestall a future nuclear attack from Iran (though nobody yet believes Iran has a nuclear bomb). But Professor O'Connell says that an Israeli strike would still not be legitimate.

"There is a lively debate among international lawyers as to the point at which a state may respond to an armed attack: must it be under way or merely imminent?"

Continue reading the main story

Start Quote

As some senior American military officials have said, bombing Iran is the fastest way to ensure an Iranian bomb”

Trita Parsi
President, National Iranian American Council
"There is virtually no support among experts for attacking to 'pre-empt' a hypothetical future attack."

But surely countries do what they believe they have to do when vital interests are seen to be at stake?

For example, Nato attacked Serbia and Serbian forces in Kosovo, and the US and its allies invaded Iraq - both examples lacked UN Security Council approval.

Professor O'Connell says that in both cases, the illegal use of force came with costly penalties.

"Compare those two conflicts," she notes, "to the lawful use of force to liberate Kuwait after Iraq's invasion. The United States came out of that conflict with a financial and moral gain."

Casualties
Many will also raise the question of the potential casualties that any Israeli strike might cause, especially since the operation would not be sanctioned by international law.


There is widespread support inside Iran for the country's controversial nuclear programme
Without knowing the targets to be hit, the timing of any strikes, and the likelihood of them being hit again, it is hard to determine potential casualty figures.

Experts say that the functioning nuclear reactor at Bushehr is unlikely to be a target due to the fact that it has nothing to do with a potential military programme and radiation leakage could cause widespread civilian casualties. But, of course, aircraft can be downed and bombs and other air-launched weapons can go astray.

There are, in addition, another set of Iranian reactions to any strike that matter.

How would Iranians themselves respond to any attack? What would be the impact upon Iran's nuclear programme? And what would be the implications for the Islamic regime in Iran itself?

For now, it seems unclear that Iran has actually yet taken any decision to press ahead with a nuclear weapons programme.

Domestic factor
But Trita Parsi, author of the recently published, A Single Roll of the Dice - Obama's Diplomacy With Iran, says that if Israel attacks, Iran's position will change considerably.

"I have not come across any observer who does not believe that the Iranian government's determination and desire for a nuclear deterrent would increase several-fold if Iran is attacked."


A military strike might rally Iranians around Ayatollah Ali Khamenei
The US assessment, he says, is that in the wake of an Israeli attack "the Iranians will push their program further underground, exit (or threaten to exit) the Non-Proliferation Treaty, kick out the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors and dash for a bomb".

"As some senior American military officials have said, bombing Iran is the fastest way to ensure an Iranian bomb," he adds.

Mr Parsi, who is president of the National Iranian American Council, also says that an Israeli attack would have political implications inside Iran too.

"The Iranian regime is deeply unpopular and the wounds from their massive human rights abuses since the 2009 election are still open and bleeding."

The regime, he adds, "has thus far failed to overcome this division with the people".

"However, an attack on Iran, particularly if the bombing campaign also results in high civilian casualties, will likely unite warring factions in Iran against the external aggressor."

"This is what happened in 1980 with Saddam Hussein's invasion of Iran."

"The attack helped consolidate Ayatollah Khomeini's grip on power, fuel nationalism and revolutionary zeal, and suspend the internal power struggles. The Iranian regime didn't survive in spite of Saddam's attack, but because of it."

Continue reading the main story

Start Quote

How do you reach a rapprochement with a regime that needs you as an adversary for its own ideological legitimacy?”

Karim Sadjadpour
Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
That should be a sobering thought for Western and Israeli policy-makers, who from time to time flirt with the idea of regime change in Iran.

It all suggests a stark conclusion - even a militarily successful attack from Israel's point of view will only delay Iran's nuclear programme for a few years.

It might indeed confirm Iran in its desire to obtain a nuclear weapon. It might rally the Iranian population around the regime. And the regional consequences of any air strikes could be considerable; at worst precipitating conflict in the Gulf and on Israel's own borders.

Diplomacy
No wonder, then, that the Obama administration seems to be trying to dissuade Israel from any attack - at least for now.

Many experts believe that there is still mileage in allowing sanctions to take their course but also - even now - in reaching out diplomatically to Tehran.

"Diplomacy has certainly not been exhausted," Trita Parsi told me. "The diplomatic efforts in the past few years have been few and short-lived," he notes.

"Political space for the type of sustained talks that are needed to generate a breakthrough has not existed in Washington or in Tehran. Rather than real negotiations, we have seen an exchange of ultimatums."

Karim Sadjadpour also thinks it may be worth another diplomatic push. But he feels the potential results will inevitably be limited.

"How do you reach a rapprochement with a regime that needs you as an adversary for its own ideological legitimacy?" he asks.

"Realistically," he concludes, "I think dialogue with Tehran can at best contain our differences with Iran, but it won't resolve them."

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-17261265
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*Warning : This article and the audio that accompanies it contains quotes and soundwaves emanating from Jack Straw - caution is advised*

19 March 2012
Does America and Iran's mutual mistrust mean war is inevitable?

Link to audio (IPlayer)

http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/console/b01dhq6g

By Edward Stourton
Presenter, Radio 4's Analysis


Iran nuclear crisis


What would be the consequences of an Israeli or American military strike on Iran and could the conflict yet be avoided, asks Radio 4 Analysis presenter Edward Stourton.

In late 2004, in an atmosphere of frenzied speculation about war with Iran, Jack Straw - then Britain's Foreign Secretary - told the BBC that military action was "inconceivable."

"If I'd not done so, in my view we would have been involved in a firestorm inside the Labour government."

For the United States and Britain had recently invaded Iraq.





It could lead to a major realignment in international relations of a kind that we have not seen up to now”

Jack Straw
Former British Foreign Secretary
"It was impossible for any British government, but particularly a Labour government given what had happened in Iraq, to contemplate or have any dalliance with the idea of military action in Iran," he now recalls.

"I very consciously decided to close that issue down."

Today - with near civil war in Syria and the Middle East arguably more unstable than ever - military action is very much back on the agenda because of the belief in Washington and Jerusalem that Iran is closer to getting the bomb.

Now even Jack Straw thinks Western military action is possible - so much so, indeed, that he is issuing dire warnings against it.

"It could lead to a major realignment in international relations of a kind that we have not seen up to now," he says.

"You'd get huge divisions in the international community between the US and maybe the United Kingdom, on the one hand; other European countries somewhere in the middle; Russia and China, Brazil, India on the other."

Will Israel strike first?
So how likely is war?

In a striking series of interviews for BBC Radio 4's Analysis programme, we found that leading voices in Iranian, Israeli and American foreign affairs seem to agree on one sobering point - that a war with Iran over its nuclear programme is more likely today than it has ever been.


Suspected uranium enrichment plant near Qom, Iran
"The probability is that Israel will strike during 2012," says Ronen Bergman, an Israeli journalist who has recently completed a long series of interviews with senior Israeli leaders.

"The military in Israel is preparing for a strike, there is a huge military build-up," he says.

The crisis is coming to a head now because Israel's intelligence agencies are worried that Iran's nuclear facilities - especially at Fordow, near Qom where they have been enriching uranium - will enter a "zone of immunity" in nine months' time.

Continue reading the main story

Start Quote

Israel has more limited capabilities, would do less damage to Iran's nuclear programme, so I argue that if military action is going to be taken, it should be the United States and not Israel”

Matthew Kroenig
Former Pentagon adviser on Iran
After that, they believe, Iran's nuclear sites will be buried so deep underground and dispersed so widely that they will be immune to an Israeli attack.

Iran points out that its uranium enrichment is allowed for civil purposes under the terms of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) which it has signed.

But because Iran has repeatedly violated the safeguards required by the International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN Security Council has ruled that it should accept additional obligations.

Israel's leaders cannot countenance even the risk that a regime like that led by Mahmoud Ahmedinajad will go nuclear, says Bergman.

"Once you face or you think you face a danger of another Holocaust, a threat of annihilation, then you need to do everything that you can in order to prevent this threat," he says.

For its part, the United States shares Israel's mistrust of Iran's nuclear programme. Despite condemning "loose talk of war", President Obama has emphasised the US could also act militarily if Iran does not negotiate in good faith.

A role for Hezbollah?
Some of President Obama's advisers go further.

"Israel has more limited capabilities, would do less damage to Iran's nuclear programme," points out Matthew Kroenig, who worked as a special adviser on Iran in the Pentagon until last year.


US President Barack Obama recently met Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for talks
"So I argue that if military action is going to be taken, it should be the United States and not Israel."

Mr Kroenig thinks Iran's military response to a strike could be "managed" in a way that avoided escalation.

"Iran is most likely going to aim for some kind of calibrated response - to retaliate in some way but not to go too far," says Kroenig "because Iran knows that if they strike back too hard, they could lose their heads."

Continue reading the main story

Start Quote

I cannot imagine US infrastructure, diplomats or personnel would be safe anywhere in the world”

Syed Hossein Mousavian
Former Iranian nuclear negotiator
Despite agreeing to negotiations for now, Iran, too, seems to be preparing for conflict.

"If the US or Israel start, they would retaliate; they would not sit at home," says ambassador Syed Hossein Mousavian, a former lead Iranian nuclear negotiator, now based in America.

One obvious way Iran might retaliate is through its ally Hezbollah - the Lebanese militia movement has thousands of rockets targeted at Israel.

But ambassador Mousavian argues Iran's response would go far beyond that. Iran would be "confronting Israel directly and punishing all those countries which advocated war against Iran," he says.

"I cannot imagine US infrastructure, diplomats or personnel would be safe anywhere in the world. And you can imagine how a military strike would encourage all Muslims in the region to participate in a retaliation."

'Nuclear hedge'
Jack Straw, who did once manage to persuade Iran to suspend enrichment - in 2003, during his time as foreign secretary - thinks there is another way:

Continue reading the main story
Find out more


Analysis is on BBC Radio 4 on Monday 19th March at 20:30 GMT and Sunday 25th March at 21:30 GMT

Download the Analysis podcast
Listen via the Radio 4 website
Explore the Analysis archive
"In terms of how we handle this, it may be better to work on a policy of containment and isolation than it is to go in for a straight military attack," he says. "There are non-military means of putting pressure on a regime."

But why would Iran negotiate with the West if its true intention is to develop weapons?

"I think Iran would agree to some tactical limitations on their programme," says Mark Fitzpatrick of the International Institute for Security Studies, but "they would not give up the capabilities that they have to have a nuclear hedge."

By a 'nuclear hedge' he means a position where Iran has enough enriched uranium to make a bomb without actually doing so - and accepting that would mean compromise on both sides. Jack Straw argues that compromise and diplomacy will at least buy time.

Continue reading the main story

Start Quote


It is our responsibility to defend the Jewish state and to take care of the future, the fate of the Jewish people”

Ehud Barak
Israeli Defence Minister
"If the economic and social pressure on Iran is kept up meanwhile, then it will be in Iranians' interests, without any military action against them, to come in from the cold," he says.

"I have a sufficient faith in the idea of freedom and democracy to think that you will in time see a very different kind of government in Iran."

For the moment at least, diplomacy remains the preferred avenue in both Washington and London. But the rhetoric becomes tougher all the time.

"Nothing is off the table," said Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron last week at his meeting with President Barack Obama.

And what many western diplomats might call compromise is likely to be regarded as muddling through in Jerusalem.

The journalist Ronen Bergman recalls a conversation with the Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak: "All options are on the table," Barak said "but there's one option that is not on the table. This is the 'c' option: containment."

"It is our responsibility to defend the Jewish state and to take care of the future, the fate of the Jewish people," Ehud Barak continued, "and we take this very, very seriously."

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-17387029
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31 March 2012
Iran crisis: US to apply fresh oil sanctions

Oil exports are a crucial part of the Iranian economy

US President Barack Obama has approved the introduction of fresh sanctions on buyers of Iranian oil.

In a statement, Mr Obama said US allies boycotting Iranian oil would not suffer negative consequences because there was enough oil in the world market.

The move would allow the US to take measures against foreign banks that still deal with Iranian oil.

Iran is facing international pressure to address concerns over its nuclear enrichment programme.

Western countries suspect Iran of attempting to develop a nuclear weapon. Iran insists the programme is purely peaceful.

Mr Obama said in a statement that he would continue to monitor the global market closely to ensure it could handle a reduction of oil purchases from Iran.

The US president was required by a law he signed in December to determine by 31 March whether the market allowed countries to "significantly" cut their purchases from Iran.

'On notice'
A statement from the White House acknowledged that "a series of production disruptions in South Sudan, Syria, Yemen, Nigeria and the North Sea have removed oil from the market" in the first months of 2012.

"Nonetheless, there currently appears to be sufficient supply of non-Iranian oil to permit foreign countries to significantly reduce their import of Iranian oil," the statement says.

"In fact, many purchasers of Iranian crude oil have already reduced their purchases or announced they are in productive discussions with alternative suppliers."

Under the law signed in December, countries have until 28 June to show they have significantly reduced the amount of crude oil they purchase from Iran or face being cut off from the US financial system.


Earlier this month, the US gave exemptions from the sanctions to Japan and 10 EU countries which have reduced their imports of Iranian oil.

The new measures will put pressure on other heavy importers of Iranian oil such as South Korea, India, China, Turkey and South Africa.

"Today, we put on notice all nations that continue to import petroleum or petroleum products from Iran that they have three months to significantly reduce those purchases or risk the imposition of severe sanctions on their financial institutions," Senator Bob Menendez, who co-authored the sanctions legislation, told the Associated Press.

This is the latest in a series of gradual moves designed to put pressure on Iran over its nuclear programme.

An EU oil embargo also comes into effect in June.

Turkey announced on Friday that it would be cutting oil imports from Iran by 20%.

US officials have refused to speculate on the likely impact on global oil prices of the latest move.

Correspondents say mounting pressure on Iran to make concessions over its nuclear programme has already been cited as one of the factors behind recent oil price rises, including a sharp rise in the price of petrol in the US.

The BBC's Mark Mardell in Washington says Friday's move is a significant tightening of the screw because it means, in theory, that if a company or country tries to buy oil from the Iranian central bank then it could face being cut off from the US banking system.

But, he says, the US has had to make exceptions to countries like Japan, who have already made moves to cut back, reflecting the reliance of countries on Iranian oil.

And other big consumers, he says, like China and India, get round the sanctions by bartering wheat and soybeans for oil.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-17569326
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2 April 2012
Iran gives Reuters news agency chop over 'ninjas' story

Reuters says it acknowledged its error and quickly changed the offending headline

Iran has banned the Reuters news agency after it described a group of female martial arts practitioners as "assassins" in a report, officials say.

The video showed a group of Iranian women in the city of Karaj training in ninjutsu, a martial art derived from Japan's 15th-century ninja mercenaries.

The initial headline spoke of "Iran's assassins", but was quickly corrected.

Some of the women reportedly threatened to sue Reuters for libel.

Iran's culture ministry said it had indefinitely suspended the news agency's permit to operate in Iran, state news agency Irna reported on Monday.

"The decision was taken following the production of a video clip by this news agency's video department branding some Iranian female athletes who practice ninjutsu as terrorists," ministry official Mohammad Javad Aghajari said.

The 11 members of staff at Reuters' Tehran bureau have been asked to return their media cards.

Reuters said the report initially went with the headline "Thousands of female Ninjas train as Iran's assassins".

It said it changed this to "Three thousand women Ninjas train in Iran" after receiving complaints from the women and the culture ministry.

"We acknowledge this error occurred and regard it as a very serious matter. It was promptly corrected the same day it came to our attention," Reuters editor-in-chief Stephen J Adler said.

Mr Adler added that the agency was in talks with the Iranian authorities aimed at restoring its accreditation.

Many western news organisations are denied access to Iran.

The BBC's James Reynolds, who himself reports from London, says the few journalists who are still allowed to work in the country now find that a single word out of place can cost them their credentials.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-17592224
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17 April 2012
UK 'will keep up pressure on Iran'
By James Reynolds
BBC Iran correspondent

On Saturday, nuclear negotiators met again and decided to continue talking


"This is a very, very difficult problem to solve," said UK Foreign Secretary William Hague in an interview conducted on red leather chairs in the Ambassadors Room of the Foreign Office.

He spoke to the BBC two days after the end of a round of nuclear talks in Istanbul between six world powers and Iran.

On and off for almost nine years, Western diplomats have held talks with Iran about the country's nuclear programme.

In 2003, EU foreign ministers agreed a brief enrichment freeze deal with Iran. But the deal collapsed.

In 2009, negotiators reached a tentative agreement on the export of part of Iran's stockpile of low-enriched uranium. But this deal was never implemented.


Iran insists its nuclear programme is entirely peaceful and refuses to end uranium enrichment
Turkey and Brazil tried to revive the deal the next year - but they, too, failed.

At every stage, the West has made one immediate demand of Iran - freeze all uranium enrichment. At almost every stage, Iran has said no.

This standoff over uranium enrichment has blocked progress at succeeding rounds of nuclear talks.

The West fears that Iran will perfect the enrichment process and use its centrifuges to learn how to make fissile material for a nuclear bomb.

But Iran says that its aims are entirely peaceful - and that uranium enrichment is its non-negotiable right.

Second round
In Istanbul on Saturday, negotiators met again and they decided to continue talking.

One diplomat at the talks suggested that the uranium enrichment stand-off might be overcome. In the right circumstances, the diplomat suggested, a solution might allow Iran to continue enrichment.

Continue reading the main story

Start Quote

Progress was made in Istanbul precisely because of mutual concessions”

Trita Parsi
President, National Iranian American Council
"[The] reality is that progress was made in Istanbul precisely because of mutual concessions," said Trita Parsi, the president of the National Iranian American Council, and author of A Single Roll of the Dice - Obama's Diplomacy with Iran.

"The Iranians engaged on the nuclear issue without preconditions and agreed to a process to curb their enrichment, and the West in essence accepted that limited enrichment will continue on Iranian soil, under strict inspections."

A decision to offer Iran the chance to continue limited enrichment would mark a significant change in the way that the West deals with Iran.

"Will you say [to Iran]: 'You win' - you can continue to enrich low enriched uranium?'" I asked William Hague.


William Hague said it was not clear whether Iran really meant to negotiate a peaceful solution
"I don't think we can give a public commentary all through the details of negotiations," he replied. "And certainly this first round of negotiations was more about atmosphere and exchange of views and seeing whether it would be possible to countenance making progress in a second round. So it hasn't got into these kinds of issues.

"Certainly our position, in line with UN Security Council resolutions, is that enrichment must stop. That is absolutely right.

"There will be many suggestions from all directions and of all kinds. If these talks go on for a while of course people will be constantly making suggestions. But this is not something that has been discussed so far."

Sanctions
In the next few weeks, negotiators will have the chance to raise the subject - first in preparatory talks between medium-level officials, and then at the next round of main negotiations in Baghdad on 23 May.

New ideas may be tried out - partly because all of the previous ones have failed. This history of serial failure weighs on Western diplomats.

Continue reading the main story

Start Quote

It may be the imposition of sanctions, the intensification of sanctions... that has contributed to Iran's readiness to come back to the negotiating table”

William Hague
UK Foreign Secretary
"I think it is right to come at this always with a sceptical eye, a cautious eye," said the British foreign secretary. "We have no idea yet - no true idea - as to whether Iran really means to negotiate a peaceful solution to this programme. But we do know that there was a better atmosphere in these [Istanbul] talks."

Mr Hague's Iranian counterpart, Ali Akbar Salehi, has offered his own suggestion.

"If the West wants to take confidence-building measures it should start in the field of sanctions, because this action can speed up the process of negotiations reaching results," he told the Iranian Student News Agency.

"If there is goodwill, one can pass through this process very easily and we are ready to resolve all issues very quickly and simply and even in the Baghdad meeting."

From his red leather chair in the Ambassadors Room, Mr Hague gave a short smile.

"Well I doubt that's the case," he said. "When sanctions were weaker than they are now, of course, Iran was continuing with its nuclear programme, and indeed it may be the imposition of sanctions, the intensification of sanctions that is coming over the next few months that has contributed to Iran's readiness to come back to the negotiating table.

"So, it certainly won't be our approach to lift sanctions in the hope that something will emerge from Iranian negotiators. We will keep up the pressure," he added.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-17741723
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19 April 2012
Iran President Ahmadinejad's car leapt on by woman

By James Reynolds
Tehran Correspondent in London

Bodyguards initially tried to stop the woman climbing up onto the car's bonnet

Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has always made a point of his approachability.

He once gave out the private contact details of his presidential office (which caused lines to jam almost immediately). He appears to enjoy the chaos of lively crowds.

But even he may have been surprised by one woman's determination to meet him.

A video posted online shows a crowd surrounding Mr Ahmadinejad's open-topped car on recent tour of the southern city of Bandar Abbas.

"I'm hungry, I'm hungry," shouts one man, as he reaches for the president's hand. Others try to give him envelopes - often these contain appeals for help.

Continue reading the main story

Start Quote

What better way for President Ahmadinejad to show that he engages with voters”

The crowd manages to stop the motorcade. One woman standing in front of the president's car decides to take her chance.

"Wait a second, this is the moment," one woman shouts to the president's bodyguards - who appear to be twice her size.

Demonstration of frustration?

She clambers onto the bonnet of the car, shakes off one bulky officer who makes a half-hearted attempt to grab her ankle, and goes straight up to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at the open roof-top.

She gestures to the president with tremendous animation - the video doesn't pick up whether she's criticising him or asking for his help. Mr Ahmadinejad listens with calm. And the woman then climbs back down from the car.

Some believe that her actions demonstrate that Iranians are increasingly willing to demonstrate their frustration with Mr Ahmadinejad's administration.

But others may see it differently - what better way for President Ahmadinejad to show that he engages with voters than by holding spontaneous constituency meetings on the roof of his car?

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-17770997
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20 April 2012
Iranian diplomat accused of Brazil child molestation

Brazilian Foreign Minister Antonio Patriota is asking Iran to clarify the alleged incident

Brazil says it will seek an explanation from Iran after an Iranian diplomat was accused of molesting underage girls at a swimming pool in Brasilia.

The Iranian official was questioned by police following complaints from parents but released after invoking diplomatic immunity.

Iran's embassy denied the allegations, and said they were the result of a "cultural misunderstanding".

Brazilian Foreign Minister Antonio Patriota called them "very worrying".

The un-named Iranian diplomat was accused of inappropriately touching girls between 9 and 15 years old at a pool in a private club last weekend, Brazilian media reported.

The father of one of the girls told the G1 website that the diplomat was almost lynched by angry parents before security staff intervened.

"People wanted to kill him," the unnamed father said.

'Unacceptable'
The Iranian embassy said the allegations were the result of "a misunderstanding resulting from differences in cultural behaviour".

It also accused the Brazilian media of deliberately sensationalising the incident.

But Brazilian Foreign Minister Antonio Patriota said he was taking the allegations very seriously and would ask the Iranian embassy for clarification before deciding what action to take.

"Personally I would consider it unacceptable if any Brazilian diplomat conducted himself in this manner in the country in which he was accredited," Mr Patriota said.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-17780497
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22 April 2012
Iran 'building copy of captured US drone' RQ-170 Sentinel

Iranian TV showed the unmanned "stealth" aircraft apparently undamaged

Iran has begun building a copy of the US surveillance drone it captured last year, after breaking its encryption codes, Iranian officials say.

"The Americans should be aware to what extent we have infiltrated the plane," General Amir Ali Hajizadeh, military aerospace chief said.

The RQ-170 Sentinel was shown on Iranian state television last December.

Tehran says it was brought down using electronic warfare; Washington says it malfunctioned.

US Senator Joe Lieberman dismissed the claim that a copy was being made as "Iranian bluster" saying, "they're on the defensive because of our economic sanctions against them".

But Gen Hajizadeh said: "Our experts have full understanding of its components and programmes."

He said that Iran had managed to hack the controls of the drone, thus enabling the Iranians to reverse-engineer the aircraft to make its own copy.

US officials have previously asked for the drone to be returned but Iran has refused, saying that the US should instead apologise for invading Iranian air space.

Washington has long said that Iran will find it hard to exploit any data and technology aboard it because of measures taken to limit the intelligence value of drones operating over hostile territory.

Although analysts believe lessons could certainly be learnt about how the machine was put together, reverse-engineering has generally been seen by experts as beyond Iran's capability.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-17805201
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24 April 2012
Iran investigates diplomat accused of Brazil pool abuse

Iran has recalled the diplomat after the "cultural misunderstanding"

Iran says it has called home a diplomat who is accused of molesting four girls at a swimming pool in Brazil and will investigate him.

The official was arrested following the alleged incident at a sports club in the capital, Brasilia, but freed after invoking diplomatic immunity.

A spokesman for Iran's foreign ministry said the man, named as Hekmatollah Ghorbani, would be "dealt with".

He added that reporting of the story was intended to damage bilateral ties.

The diplomat, who has been in his post for two years, was accused of inappropriately touching girls aged between nine and 15 at a private swimming pool in Brasilia last week.

Brazil's Foreign Minister, Antonio Patriota, said the allegations were "very worrying" and asked Iran to investigate.

Speaking on Iranian state TV, foreign ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast defended the diplomat - who is 51 and married with children - saying the allegations were a result of a "cultural misunderstanding".

He said the Western media's reporting of the alleged incident was being used for "political gain" against Iran.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad planned to pay an official visit to Brazil in the "near future", he added.

But Mr Mehmanparast said being at a mixed-sex swimming pool was considered "a disciplinary violation" and that Mr Ghorbani had been "summoned home at once". Under Iranian law, men and women of any age are not allowed to share a swimming pool.

A number of Iranian MPs have called on the diplomat to issue an apology.

The Islamic Republic is keen to build an alliance with Brazil - a rising world power which may act as a counterweight to the influence of the West, says the BBC's Iran correspondent James Reynolds.

Because of this, it will be deeply embarrassed by the case, our correspondent adds.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-17823927
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4 May 2012
Iran holds parliamentary election run-offs

The contests are effectively between different conservative factions

Iranians are voting in a second round of parliamentary elections which are expected to see opponents of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad make further gains.

State TV said 130 candidates were competing in run-off votes for 65 seats in the 290-seat Majlis, including 25 of the 30 seats in the capital, Tehran.

Conservative opponents of the president won a majority in March's first round.

The parliament lacks executive power but will play a part in choosing his successor before next year's election.

In the past year, allies of Mr Ahmadinejad have been removed from key government posts, weakening his influence.

This followed a failed attempt by the president in April 2011 to assert his authority against Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Speaking to reporters after casting his vote on Friday, Ayatollah Khamenei called for a high turnout. Officially, it was 64% in March.

"My advice is that people take the run-off as seriously as the first round," he said. "The higher the number of votes for lawmakers... the better they can work."

All of the candidates had to be pre-approved by Iran's Guardian Council, which means the contests are effectively between different conservative factions - supporters of the Supreme Leader and Mr Ahmadinejad.

The leaders of the opposition Green Movement have been under house arrest for more than a year and were barred from taking part in the elections.

Other reformist politicians also asked their supporters to stay at home

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-17952698
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4 May 2012

Google Map's missing Gulf angers Iranians
By Sebastian Usher
BBC News

The adjoining Gulf of Oman is still clearly marked on Google Maps

Iranians have been complaining that Google Maps now has no name on the body of water they call the Persian Gulf and is also known as the Arabian Gulf.

The issue has stirred controversy in recent years between Iranians and Arabs, who each say their name is the only one that should be used.

A Google representative told the BBC it did not name every place in the world.

He said the company also did not want to take any political stance in response to the angry Iranian reaction.

He was unable to provide an example of a similar case of a missing landmark.

'No historical justification'
The fact that the blue space between Iran and Arab Gulf states is now nameless on Google Maps shows just how heated the issue has become.

Iranians say there is absolutely no historical justification for calling it anything but the Persian Gulf.


Searching for "Arabian Gulf" on Google elicits a spoof message from Iranian internet users
But there has been increasing pressure from Arab sources to call it the Arabian Gulf - or at least to use both names.

Several years ago, Iranians launched an internet offensive after National Geographic did just that.

As a result, anyone searching for the Arabian Gulf on Google found a website saying it did not exist.

Still on Google Earth
A number of Iranians have posted on twitter a link to Google Maps with the question: "Where's the Persian Gulf?"

They could look at Google Earth - another interactive world map provided by the internet giant.

It still appears there - as does the alternative, the Arabian Gulf.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-17959145
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