- Gholam-Hossein Elham, Islamic Steadfastness Front co-founder, says the Supreme Leader appointed some individuals to the Expediency Council just to keep them employed. He continued: “In the Expediency Council, appointment of individuals is also based on some kind of expediency… Reappointment of Mr. Hashemi [Rafsanjani] is what the Leader found more expedient than his replacement, but it is clear that the Council has lost its effectiveness… which may be due to its vengeful and harsh behavior towards the cabinet…”
- The United Arab Emirates withdraws its ambassador from Tehran following Ahmadinejad’s visit to Abu-Musa island, which the UAE claims as its territory.
- Jomhouri-ye Eslami editorializes: “We found it necessary to recommend the Sheikhs of the Emirates know their limits… Reacting to the Iranian president’s visit to the Iranian island of Abu-Musa, the foreign minister of the Emirates did not even observe politeness in his words and used expressions outside the diplomatic norms like primitive Arabs… Statements made by the foreign minister of the Sheikhdom of the Emirates, should they not be due to his ignorance, may have a dangerous background. And one can see the hands of colonial powers and Zionist provocations behind it… We recommend the Sheikhs of the Emirates not to ignite the wood which would start the hell in the region which the Zionists and colonial Western powers desire.”
- Farzad Esmaeili, Air Defense Commander:
- “The Air Defense Force… is the first line of defense in the face of any aerial threat of the enemy. By using the entire potentials of the armed forces… and by establishing a command and control system, it safeguards Iran’s air territory… Divided into air defense zones, it is tactical and self-reliant in most areas in Iran. It reports to the Army, but has a centralized command structure utilizing the air defense units of the Army and the [Revolutionary] Guards…”
- [E] Chairman of the Iranian parliament’s National Security and Foreign Policy Commission Alaeddin Boroujerdi on Monday rejected a recent offer made by the US for the resumption of ties and direct negotiations between Tehran and Washington.
Military and Security
- Khatam al-Anbia Construction Base of the Revolutionary Guards is granted a no-bidding $17 billion Haraz Dam project. The handover takes place as a Chinese company pulls out of the project.
- [E] Lieutenant Commander of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps Brigadier General Hossein Salami announced that the IRGC plans to stage several war games in different regions of the country in the current Iranian year (started on March 20).
- Negotiations in Istanbul between Iran and the 5 1 Group:
- Said Jalili, Supreme National Security Council secretary, defends the Islamic Republic’s record of negotiations with the 5 1 Group:
- “We believe the positions of the Islamic Republic of Iran, and the behavior of the Islamic Republic of Iran provides a great opportunity for cooperation in nuclear issues. The fatwa [religious edict] of the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Revolution against nuclear arms and considering them haram [religiously impermissible] is a great opportunity to move on and to disarm…”
- “We have always cooperated with the nuclear inspectors… and it is not that the NPT demands unhindered access to all sites…”
- “You know that the IAEA general secretary has, in 25 reports, announced that Iran has not deviated from its peaceful nuclear goals. This was also announced by the United States intelligence agencies…”
A shocking rise in pirate attacks over the last decade has left many in the shipping industry scrambling for protection, leading to a new market for security forces trained to fight off the swashbuckling foes. Photographer Amnon Gutman witnessed this scramble for security first-hand as he sailed one of the most dangerous waterways in the world with a crew, their cargo — and a private security detail trained in pirate-deflecting techniques. The fear of attack, especially near Somalia, is a well-founded one. As Gutman notes, of the 439 attacks reported to the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) in 2011, 275 attacks took place off Somalia’s east coast and in the Gulf of Guinea on the west coast of Africa. However, while Somali pirates continue to account for the majority of attacks — approximately 54 percent – and while the overall number of Somali incidents increased from 219 in 2010 to 237 in 2011, the number of successful hijackings decreased from 49 to 28. The 802 crew members taken hostage in 2011 also marks a decrease from the four-year high of 1,181 in 2010.
This may be because of more aggressive policing — the European Union recently authorized its most expansive mission against pirates in Africa — but many ships aren’t taking any chances. On this journey through the Indian Ocean on a shipping vessel that wishes to remain anonymous, SeaGull security walked through the methods still being developed to combat modern piracy.
Above, crew members secure barbed wires on the side of the tanker to prevent potential pirates from climbing aboard two days before going into the high-risk zone.
Russians are known for their warm welcomes, rolling out the red carpet for honored guests and ensconcing them in bear hugs, complete with three hearty kisses on the cheeks. Perhaps the new U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul didn’t quite expect the same gracious reception given the frosty relationship between Washington and Moscow these days, but his first few months on the job have been unusual, if not downright hostile, a lot more Cold War than Russian Reset. Upon arriving in Moscow, the ambassador greeted his guests with an effervescent — even hokey — YouTube video introducing himself, a longtime student of and friend to Russia. In response, he was met with an Arctic propaganda blast reminiscent of the early 1980s, and harassment likely without precedent for U.S. ambassadors — either in the Soviet Union or in post-Soviet Russia.
The Obama administration has since complained to the Russian government about the harassment of McFaul. “Everywhere I go,” McFaul tweeted, “[the Gazprom-owned national television network] NTV is there. Wonder who gives them my calendar. They wouldn’t tell me. Wonder what laws are here for such things.” By crowding the U.S. ambassador and filming his comings and goings, NTV reporters act not unlike former KGB myrmidons, clearly seeking to intimidate not only McFaul but even more so his Russia interlocutors, whom they try to intercept and “interview.” It wouldn’t be the first time that the Kremlin has successfully snooped into the affairs of the U.S. Embassy — in fact, there’s a long tradition of mutual suspicion and spycraft between these old adversaries, but the host government sharing his open schedule with flunkies just to intimidate the ambassador seems a new low in what was hoped to have been a new period of mutual respect and good relations.
It is always sad and maddening to hear about insults to human dignity by paid propagandists and thugs of authoritarian regimes. Yet the hounding of McFaul is particularly bizarre. Not only is he a brilliant scholar, the author of hundreds of articles and several books on Russia, and one of the most popular professors at Stanford University, but McFaul is widely regarded as a man of profound intellectual and personal integrity. In at least 20 years that I’ve known and deeply admired Mike, I’ve met no one who did not hold him in highest esteem, even those who disagreed with him professionally.
A native of Montana and a Californian by professional choice, Mike epitomizes America’s democratic spirit, free inquiry, unfettered debate, and respect for the right to question authority. He is also a sparkling, often ebullient conversationalist. Anyone who spends even a few minutes in his company finds his discourse utterly infectious.
That he is a Russian speaker and, with his shock of blond hair, Hollywood-handsome, does not hurt him a bit among Russian television viewers — not to mention his legion of longtime admirers among pro-democracy experts and intelligentsia. It is all of this — but particularly the last bit — that makes McFaul such a stark and embossing contrast to the intellectual grayness of Putinism, the vulgarity of its propaganda, and the pettiness of its cat-and-mouse games with intellectuals and pro-democracy opposition.
From the start of his ambassadorship a few months ago, McFaul seemed determined to treat Russia as a normal country: he proclaimed himself willing to speak to anyone – even his detractors. “I respect press right to go anywhere & ask any questions,” he tweeted of NTV, even as he wondered whether “they have a right to read my email and listen to my phone?”
But there is more to it than that. McFaul was among the key architects of the reset in the U.S.-Russian relations. Whatever this effort has or has not achieved and whatever built-in flaws handicapped the reset from the beginning, there is little doubt about McFaul’s sincerity, good faith, and passionate commitment that the effort would make both countries more secure and prosperous. Among other things, he worked tirelessly on the New START nuclear arms treaty and helped to secure Russia’s entry in the World Trade Organization.