INSS Insight – Asculai, Ephraim: The Istanbul-Baghdad-Moscow talks on Iran’s nuclear program are over. As expected, they did not achieve anything of significance, besides deciding on further, lower level talks. Indeed, the P5 1 and the Iranian delegations shared one objective: they did not want the process to end, thereby necessitating a decision on different tracks. The Iranians are successfully playing for time, as they have done for so many years, and the members of the P5 1 group are also trying to delay any inconvenient decisions, each group member for its own reasons. Most noticeably, the US delegation would like to postpone any major decision until after the November 2012 presidential elections. For their part, the Iranians need time to advance their nuclear program and produce as much enriched uranium as possible. Although according to many reports the sanctions are hurting Iran, they are still not hurting Iran badly enough, and the Iranians are able to bear them.
The ultimate aims of both sides are, of course, diametrically opposite. The Iranians want to retain the capability to enrich uranium to military-grade levels and to gain the ability to produce several nuclear weapons in short order, should the Islamic Republic’s authorities so decide. The Iranian strategy is very simple: they want the world to recognize the legitimacy of the Iranian uranium enrichment program. Even under limited conditions, such recognition would enable Iran to retain its technical capabilities, to perfect the enrichment process, and to leave them a potential for a breakout (defined as the start of the process to produce military-grade enriched uranium), whenever they decide to do so. In addition, the Iranians could well construct concealed facilities and secretly produce enriched uranium to whatever levels they choose to achieve.
The P5 1 want to prevent this possibility, but their remaining options are few. It is nearly impossible to envision the Security Council taking any further action against Iran, because Russia and China would likely vote against it. The first and most probable option for the West (the P5 1 minus Russia and China) is to impose the July sanctions on oil and hope for the best. The next option is to increase the sanctions considerably and wait for the Iranians to blink. The third option is military action against Iran’s nuclear facilities.
What would the Iranians do? Although the present sanctions have hurt Iran considerably, there are those who think that Iran can shoulder them indefinitely and will therefore continue with its present tactics of preventing a showdown while enriching uranium. Continue reading
(E) = Article in English
- Ceremonies held to commemorate the 23rd anniversary of Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s death end in disorder:
- Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei indirectly attacks Ahmadinejad:
- “If we stop, we will be pushed back. And if we are arrogant, we will be thrown into the ground. If the authorities of the country become preys to egocentrism, arrogance… we will be dealt blows into the mouth. The path of progress is one of ‘no stop.’ We are still on the mountain slopes and there is a distance to the peak. The day when the Iranian nation reaches the peak, the enmities and evils will end…”
- Ahmadinejad’s speech on the occasion of Khomeini’s death anniversary ends in tumult as the protesters chant slogans against Esfandiar Rahim-Mashaei. According to Entekhab, the protesters chanted: “Death to Mashaei,” “Shame on you Mashaei, leave Ahmadi[nejad] alone,” “This entire army has come for the sake of the Leader [who addressed the crowds before the president."
- As Hojjat al-Eslam Hassan Khomeini, grandson of the founder of the Islamic Republic, tried to deliver his speech, the crowds chanted slogans against him: "Death to the opponent of the Guardianship of the Jurist," "The blood in our veins is a gift to our Leader," "We are not citizens of Kufa so that the Imam would be alone," "This entire army has come for the sake of the Leader."
- Rafsanjani, addressing a group of students from Azad University, attacks Ayatollah Mohammad-Taqi Mesbah Yazdi:
- "Relying on the people and irreplaceable role of the people in historical events is extremely important. Extremism, on the other hand, is one of the pests dealing blows to the goals of the Islamic revolution. The path of moderation and renunciation of extremism have led to the progress of the revolution. But unfortunately we on some occasions witness some people who did not believe in the struggle against the Shah, or considered that futile or unnecessary, today directly or indirectly lead extremist and radical groups and present solutions [for the problems] of the country.”
- Mesbah Yazdi responds to Rafsanjani’s attack while addressing a group of Revolutionary Guards members from the Imam Ali Center of the Guards based in Isfahan: “At the time of the revolution, there were people who did not consider the Imam [Khomeini] as the ideologue of the revolution and solely considered him an instrument to overthrow the Shah… After the revolution, some of these people gained access to important positions in the regime and are now bidding their time as well… There are today some who are trying to monopolize the revolution to the benefit of their own interests…”
- Mehr News releases the list of provinces in which Afghan citizens are barred from residing, and university courses Afghan citizens are not allowed to attend.
- Iran executes three Afghan citizens and transfers their bodies to families in Afghanistan.
- [E] Ahmadinejad will meet his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit in Beijing next week just days before another round of talks between Tehran and the world powers in Moscow.
Military and Security
- Khamenei: “The noise and threats that authorities of the usurping Zionist regime make against Iran are because of their fear, terror and powerlessness… The heads of the Zionist regime know that today they are more vulnerable than ever. Any incorrect move of theirs will strike their own heads like lightening…”
The Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) presented the satellite images above on Thursday as evidence that Iran is continuing its efforts to destroy evidence of the existence of nuclear weapons development activity at its Parchin military base.
The UN nuclear watchdog stated that “based on satellite imagery, at this location, where virtually no activity had been observed for a number of years, the buildings of interest to the Agency are now subject to extensive activities that could hamper the Agency’s ability to undertake effective verification.”
Western envoys who attended Wednesday’s briefing said that two small side buildings at the Parchin military facility had been removed and ISIS said that they “have been completely razed.”
The disclosure followed inconclusive talks between Iran and six world powers in Baghdad last week to address concerns about the nature of its nuclear activities, which Iran says are aimed at generating electricity. Continue reading
Dr. A.Q. Khan’s designed the centrifuges loosely based on Zippe-type gas centrifuges. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
A selection of the latest news stories and editorials published in Iranian news outlets, compiled by Ali Alfoneh, Ahmad Majidyar and Michael Rubin.
(E) = Article in English
- Ahmadinejad addresses newly elected parliamentarians:
- “The cabinet never intervenes in the work of the legislature… Tomorrow you will enter the parliament and you will appoint the committees. The chairman, deputy and other positions are all within your capability. We believe in this. We do not have an egoistic, politicizing view attempting to recruit and mobilize or to engage in factionalism… There is a division of labor… Why did the revolution take place? Was the purpose to elect some executives from the southern [poorer] parts of town, the villages and distant places to come to live in northern Tehran? When these people came to office, they did not have any money for their daily needs, but they have become billionaires, factory owners and merchants. Was this the purpose of the revolution…? The head of the chief inspectorate does nothing but shouting insults against the cabinet. And when it comes to the parliament, it is not answerable to anyone but God Almighty. This is also apparent in our constitution, which may be a fault… God forbid the day when people say about elected officials: ‘Such a pity; what we wanted and what we get.’”
- Hojjat al-Eslam Hassan Khomeini, grandson of the founder of the Islamic Republic, says he will not run for president in 2013. He said this while participating at the funeral of brother of Mohammad Mousavi Khoeinihain Tehran
- Fars News releases the names of some prominent individuals who participated in the commemoration ceremony.
Military and Security
- In an interview with France 24, Ahmadinejad http://www.farsnews.com/newstext.php?nn=13910311000367 “>dismisses claims that the Islamic Republic delivers arms to the regime in Syria.
- Ahmadinejad in an interview with France 24:
- “There is lack of trust on both sides and in order to achieve the desired result, both parties need to cooperate within the framework of justice and law. We have good suggestions which we will present when the time is ripe… Production of 20% enriched uranium is our legal right. We were not inclined to use this right. We told the agency about our needs, according to the regulations. States engaged in production of 20% enriched uranium are obliged to give us the uranium without any conditions, but they did not do so and they made political conditions prior to delivering it to us. We had no choice but investing in it and produce the 20% enriched uranium ourselves.
BRENDAN TREMBATH:An United States intelligence and security expert says it’s unlikely the US was involved in this week’s assassination of an Iranian nuclear scientist. Iran has blamed both the US and Israel.
Iranian news reports say Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan was killed on his way to work in Tehran. A motorcyclist attached a bomb to his car.
Dr Joseph Fitsanakis is an Iran watcher, and coordinator of the Security and Intelligence Studies programme at King College in Tennessee. He’s told Suzanne Hill that the assassination is probably the work of Israel’s spy service.
JOSEPH FITSANAKIS: The assassination fits the character of the Mossad, going back all the way to 1960s with Operation Damocles when the Israelis actually went so far as assassinating German scientists working with Egypt in Egypt’s nuclear program.
Some people mention that there are other agencies that have similar operational character like the Russians, for instance, the Russian secret services but the Russians are allies of Iran.
The Chinese have been mentioned as well but, again, even though they’re pretty capable, they don’t have that type of operational character.
SUZANNE HILL: When we talk about operational character, are you referring only to Mossad’s predisposition to assassinate as we assume they have or are you referring to other things to do with the assassination itself in which we can see hallmarks of Mossad?
JOSEPH FITSANAKIS: I think both. In particular, assassination operations are very, very risky. They’re very complex, involve a large number of individuals, they’re very carefully planned.
The two leaders met in Caracas on the first leg of a four-nation tour that will also take Ahmadinejad to Nicaragua, Cuba and Ecuador. Their conversation reportedly often focused on anti-U.S. rhetoric, which according to the Daily Mail included Mr Chavez saying that:
“he was hiding a bomb under a grassy knoll before the steps of the presidential palace, saying: ‘That hill will open up and a big atomic bomb will come out. The imperialist spokesmen say Ahmadinejad and I are going into the basement now to set our sights on Washington and launch cannons and missiles… It’s laughable.”
The leaders were apparently serious, however, when discussing the threat they believe the U.S. poses.
“We are very worried,” Chavez said of the pressures being put on Iran by the United States and its allies, which he accused of being a threat to peace.
“They present us as aggressors,” Chavez said as he received Ahmadinejad at the presidential palace.
“Iran hasn’t invaded anyone,” he added. “Who has dropped thousands and thousands of bombs … including atomic bombs?”
Ahmadinejad’s visit comes after the U.S. imposed tougher sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program, which Washington believes Tehran is using to develop atomic weapons. Chavez and his allies back Iran in arguing the nuclear program is purely for peaceful purposes.
Both leaders joked that their relationship shouldn’t cause any concern.
Ahmadinejad said if they were together building anything like a bomb, “the fuel of that bomb is love.” Continue reading
In the January/February issue of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Siegfried S. Hecker and Robert Carlin assessed North Korea‘s nuclear developments in 2011. That assessment preceded the death of Kim Jong-il on December 17. This article supplements the Hecker/Carlin piece with detailed overhead imagery, additional analysis of Pyongyang’s march toward a more threatening nuclear weapons capability, and brief commentary on how the accession of Kim Jong-un to leadership may influence North Korea’s nuclear trajectory.
The first publicly available overhead imagery that suggested North Korea was constructing a new nuclear reactor at its Yongbyon complex appeared on November 4, 2010. Charles L. Pritchard, a former special envoy for negotiations with North Korea and the president of the Korea Economic Institute, along with a delegation from the institute provided the first confirmation of this construction after a visit to Yongbyon that week. The following week, Yongbyon officials told PDF Stanford University’s John W. Lewis and two authors of this article (Hecker and Carlin) that the reactor was designed to be an experimental pressurized light water reactor (100 megawatts thermal, or 25-30 megawatts electric) to be fueled with low-enriched uranium fuel produced in a newly constructed centrifuge plant at the nearby Yongbyon fuel fabrication plant. The new reactor is being constructed on the former site of a cooling tower for a now-disabled, 5-megawatt electric, gas-cooled, graphite-moderated reactor that had been used to produce plutonium; the tower was demolished in 2008 as a step toward an eventual denuclearization agreement.
The Yongbyon construction site that Pritchard, Hecker, Carlin, and Lewis saw was essentially at the stage of development captured in the overhead image in Figure 1. The foundation slab had been poured, and the steel-reinforced concrete containment structure was about one meter high, on its way to a final height of 40 meters. Additional excavation was visible along with the construction of several new buildings that looked like storage sheds.
Overhead image that provided the first evidence of the construction
of a new reactor at the Yongbyon nuclear complex.
Overhead imagery tracks construction progress during the past year — from September 26, 2010, to November 3, 2011 — as shown in Figure 2. Early images indicated that the construction of this new light water reactor began in late September 2010, near the site of the destroyed cooling tower.
A time sequence of overhead images of the light water reactor
site tracking its development from September 2010 to November 2011.
The images show the rapid rate of construction of the reactor’s exterior, including the development of the reactor containment structure and the adjacent turbine generator hall. As the photos indicate, not much progress was made between December 2010 and April 2011, likely because of the harsh North Korean winter.
The September 23, 2011, annotated image shown in Figure 3 demonstrates that much has been done since May. The dashed lines represent underground cooling pipes running from a newly constructed pump house to the Kuryong River (as seen in a May 22 overhead not shown here). The reactor building containment dome is partially complete, and construction has begun on the turbine generator hall. Construction trucks can be seen in the right-hand corner of the image. On the north side of the reactor is the skeleton of a structure for transferring equipment into the reactor hall during annual maintenance outages.
Annotated diagram of the new reactor site, shown in a photo indicating
significant progress in construction.
The latest available close-up overhead image, taken on November 14, 2011 (Figure 4), shows that many of the reactor’s external components are almost complete. Much progress has been made on the turbine generator hall; a traveling crane rail is already visible. The structure of the turbine pedestal inside the turbine building is already apparent. This is significant; it indicates that North Korea has a turbine design and possibly the ability to manufacture a turbine generator set that will fit within the dimensions of the turbine pedestal now under construction. The reactor building containment dome on the east side of the reactor’s containment structure is complete and will be placed on top of the containment structure once the large internal components of the reactor’s core have been inserted. For the first time, we see the appearance of small cylindrical components near the dome; these are likely parts of the pressure vessel that will go inside the containment structure.
Close-up overhead image of the new reactor site. This is the most
up-to-date image publicly available.
Using overhead images from Figure 4, we constructed a 3-D model (Figure 5) of the light water reactor using the open-source program Google Sketchup. Based on the model, it is obvious that the reactor’s exterior is almost complete. The model also provides perspective on the size of the reactor, which will be 40 meters tall when completed and stretch 20 meters in diameter.
Three-dimensional model of the light water reactor based on the
latest satellite images.
Our analysis confirms Pyongyang’s plan to use this experimental reactor for electricity production. The rapid progress of construction also demonstrates that North Korea still has impressive manufacturing capabilities, in spite of the last two decades of economic downturn. However, we view this progress with alarm. Was the seismic analysis of the reactor site sufficiently rigorous? Did the regulatory authorities have the skills and independence required to license this reactor in such a short time period? And do Yongbyon specialists have sufficient experience with the very demanding materials requirements for the internal reactor components, including the pressure vessel, steam generator, piping, and fuel-cladding materials? Continue reading
Los AngelesA serious split is developing within Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guard, with one faction favoring the overthrow of the dictatorial regime. This presents a window of opportunity for the West to support regime change before the Islamic Republic successfully tests nuclear weapons. Once the regime has those nuclear bombs, that opening will be much narrower.
Iran has tried hard to show strength in the face of sanctions aimed at pressuring Tehran to quit its suspected nuclear-bomb and missile development programs. Iranian leaders are now flexing their military muscles in the strategic waterway, the Strait of Hormuz, threatening to shut it down and choking off a major part of the world’s oil supply.
The regime has long tried to scare the West from taking any action against it, by threatening the world’s security and stability. However, behind its mask of strength and unity, big cracks are beginning to show. Continue reading
Ten conflicts to watch in 2012.
BY LOUISE ARBOUR DECEMBER 27, 2011
What conflict situations are most at risk of deteriorating further in 2012? When Foreign Policy asked the International Crisis Group to evaluate which manmade disasters could explode in the coming year, we put our heads together and came up with 10 crisis areas that warrant particular concern.
Admittedly, there is always a certain arbitrariness to lists. This one is no different. But, in part, that serves a purpose: It will, hopefully, get people talking. Why no room for Sudan — surely a crisis of terrifying proportions? Or for Europe’s forgotten conflicts — in the North Caucasus, for example, or in Nagorno-Karabakh? You’ll see also that we have not included some that are deeply troubling yet strangely under-reported, like Mexico or northern Nigeria. No room, too, for the hardy perennial standoff on the Korean Peninsula, despite the uncertainty surrounding the death of Kim Jong Il.
No reader should interpret their omission as meaning those situations are improving. They are not. But we did feel it is useful to highlight a few places that, to our mind, deserve no less attention. What follows is our top 10. At the end — and just to remind ourselves that progress is possible — we’ve included two countries for which we, cautiously, feel 2012 could augur well.
Many in Syria and abroad are now banking on the regime’s imminent collapse and assuming everything will get better from that point on. The reality could turn out to be quite different. As dynamics in both Syria and the broader international arena turn squarely against the regime, many hope that the bloody stalemate finally might end. But however much it now seems inevitable that President Bashar al-Assad will leave the stage after his regime’s terrifying brutality over recent months, the initial post-Assad stages carry enormous risks.
On the one hand, the emotionally charged communal polarization, particularly around the Alawite community, has made regime supporters dig in their heels, believing it is “kill or be killed,” and their fears of large-scale retribution when Assad falls are very real. On the other, the rising strategic stakes have heightened the regional and wider international competition among all players, who now view the crisis as an historic opportunity to decisively tilt the regional balance of power. In that explosive mix, the first cross-border concern is surely Lebanon: The more Assad’s ouster appears imminent, the more Hezbollah — and its backers in Tehran — will view the Syrian crisis as an existential struggle designed to deal them a decisive blow, and the greater the risk that they would choose to go for broke and draw to launch attacks against Israel in an attempt to radically alter the focus of attention. “Powder keg” doesn’t begin to describe it. The danger is real that any one of these issues could derail or even foreclose the possibility of a successful transition.
Even if Iran and Israel somehow manage to sail safely past the rocks of the Syrian crisis, the enmity between them over the nuclear issue could blow them very dangerously off course. Though sanctions against Iran and saber-rattling all around intensified at the end of 2011, some may see this as merely the continuation of a long-term trend in the epically poor relations between Iran and Israel. Continue reading
By Richard Solash
The most intriguing breakthrough in the world of science this past year may have taken place in a 27-kilometer-long tunnel deep below the border of Switzerland and France.
That’s where researchers at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) say they moved one possible step closer to solving one of the universe’s greatest mysteries.
Their groundbreaking experiments in particle physics were the highlight of 2011′s notable scientific and technological advances.
The group’s director-general, Rolf-Dieter Heuer, revealed on December 13 that he and his team had found “intriguing hints” that an elusive subatomic particle, theorized to be a basic building block of the universe, actually exists. Continue reading