Storming Of U.K.’s Embassy Summons Memories Of ’79, But There Are Differences

Iranian students climb over the wall of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran on November 4, 1979.

By Golnaz Esfandiari

Fresh images of hard-line students storming a foreign embassy in Tehran can’t help but seem like déja vu. It’s even November, just like before.
Before, of course, was just after Iran’s 1979 revolution, when a group of young people calling themselves “students following of the line of Imam” (Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic republic) stormed the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and ended up holding 52 U.S. diplomats hostage for 444 days.

The incident this week in Tehran has inevitably been compared to the events of 32 years ago. But there are differences. The 1979 hostage crisis began spontaneously. What happened on November 29, 2011, seems to have been a calculated move by hard-liners in the regime.

In a statement, the young people who claimed responsibility for the attack on the British Embassy called themselves Muslim Student Followers of the Supreme Leader. They referred to the British Embassy as “another nest of spies” and said the action is just one response to Britain’s recent sanctioning of Iran’s central bank, which they say represents a declaration of war.

A follow-up statement referred to the British Embassy as a “nest of plots” and accused it of playing a key role in organizing and provoking the 2009 postelection protests, which the government brutally supressed.

“Nest of spies” was a phrase heard often in the early years of the postrevolution period — and is still used by some — to describe the U.S. Embassy, which was accused of spying on Iranians.

Deep Distrust

Whereas the 1979 students immediately took hostages in the U.S. Embassy, there is confusion over whether the latest group held six British embassy staffers hostage for several hours. The Mehr news agency first reported that they had, but then removed the report from its website.

Later, the hard-line Fars news agency said six diplomatic staff who had been under siege during the attack were released by diplomatic police. British Foreign Secretary William Hague said he would not call the six “hostages.”

The storming of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran on November 4, 1979, led to the cutting of ties between the two governments, forging a deep distrust that continues to this day.

The consequences of the storming of the British Embassy are not clear yet, but the events have no doubt dealt a serious blow to diplomatic ties between the two countries. British Prime Minister David Cameron has already warned of “further and serious consequences.”

Approval Of Senior Officials?

Tensions between London and Tehran have been rising in recent months over Iran’s refusal to halt nuclear activities deemed suspicious by the West. A recent UN report concluding that Iran has worked to acquire a nuclear weapon led to a rare joint resolution by the P5+1 negotiating group — Russia, China, the United States, France, and Britain, along with Germany — aimed at putting more pressure on Tehran.

The attack on the British Embassy appears to have been a reaction to this growing international pressure on the Islamic republic and follows a vote on November 27 in Iran’s parliament — by a large majority — to downgrade diplomatic relations with the U.K. in response to its new sanctions.

Somalia: shocking images aren’t enough

Marka, Somalia

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Marilyn McHarg, from Médecine sans Frontières, argues that aid groups don’t discuss the reasons for food shortages

Since the media renewed their interest in the decades-old crisis in and around Somalia, we’ve seen a surge of advertisements from aid groups, featuring starving children with visible ribs and staring eyes. The subtext to these ads is simple if you don’t donate, you’re abandoning these children and they’ll die.

Médecine sans Frontières (MSF) is one of the international aid agencies struggling to respond in Somalia and refugee camps in Ethiopia and Kenya. We’re also struggling to define responsible fundraising within a discourse that relies on guilt and superficial messages. Fundraising experts warn us that offering a more complex picture of the difficulties of delivering aid will lead to cynicism and donor fatigue: It’s shock value that works.

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FACTBOX – NATO supply routes into Afghanistan

NATO Regional Command South, Afghanistan insignia

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By Emma Graham-Harrison | Reuters

Fri, Nov 25, 2011

KABUL (Reuters) – NATO helicopters attacked a military checkpoint in northwest Pakistan on Saturday, killing up to 28 troops and prompting Pakistan to shut the vital supply route for NATO troops fighting in Afghanistan, Pakistani officials said.

NATO supply trucks and fuel tankers bound for Afghanistan were halted at Jamrud town in the Khyber tribal region near the city of Peshawar hours after the raid, officials said.


Following are some facts about the Pakistani supply routes for NATO forces fighting in Afghanistan and the alternatives:


There are two routes into Afghanistan from Pakistan, one across the Khyber Pass to the Afghan border town of Torkham and on to Kabul. The other goes through Pakistan’s Baluchistan province to the border town of Chaman and on to the southern Afghan city, and former Taliban stronghold, of Kandahar.

Between them these two routes account for just under one third of all cargo that the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force ships into Afghanistan.

Just over one third of all cargo goes on routes dubbed the “northern distribution network” through Central Asia, and the Caucasus or Russia. The remaining 31 percent is flown in. Continue reading

Once Upon a Time in Mogadishu

A peek into the “pleasant” colonial past of the world’s most dangerous city.


When the great Arab explorer Ibn Battuta landed on Mogadishu’s shores in 1331, he was greeted with a feast fit for a king. Hundreds of camels were slaughtered daily to feed the flourishing port city, where a man could eat for ten. The sultan, clad in silk and fine Jerusalem cloth, was followed by a procession of trumpets and colorful canopies upon which golden birds perched.

How times have changed in Somalia. Today, centuries of European colonization and political strife, coupled with interludes of devastating drought and flooding, have created a failed state that’s become a haven for lawlessness. For years, Somalia was passed between foreign powers: first the Portuguese, then the British, then the French and Italians. Upon its declaration of independence in 1960, the country’s artificially drawn borders proved incapable of anything resembling stability. Now, Somalia remains in a constant state of conflict.

Once known as the “pearl of the Indian Ocean,” tourists flocked by the plane-full until the country descended into civil unrest in the 1990s. Now the only visitors are aid workers and their heavily armed bodyguards. When a Canadian tourist landed in Mogadishu last year, immigration officials thought he was either a spy or insane.

Above, young foreigners enjoy a warm day at Lido Beach. Sydney Oats, a former Royal Air Force (RAF) electrical fitter who was stationed in Mogadishu in 1949, provided this photo, as well as several others. He told Foreign Policy that Lido Beach, with its white beaches and breathtaking view, was the best part of Mogadishu, where young soldiers spent their afternoons nearly every day. Until 1991, when President Siad Barre was overthrown by a coalition of warlords after 22 years in power, Lido Beach was a popular club scene. This week brought news that Somalis are finally returning to the warm waters of the Indian Ocean after years of deserted beaches. But this brief beach-going interlude may be short lived. With pirates patrolling the coastline and the terrorist network al Shabaab arming children with AK-47s, Mogadishu remains arguably the most dangerous city in the world. Continue reading

CIA eyed Canadian economy, mining during Cold War

 Sun Aug 07, 07:37 PM The Canadian Press


Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau gets a rousing cheer from his cabinet members after a vote in favour of passage of the constitution 246-24 in the House of Commons in Ottawa, Dec. 2, 1981. (Andy Clark / THE CANADIAN PRESS)

OTTAWA — The CIA secretly painted Pierre Trudeau as a politician torn between being a leader of the Third World and a genuine player with global industrialized nations, declassified records show.

The January 1982 assessment of the Liberal prime minister’s ambitions is among several detailed — and until now virtually unknown — analyses of the Canadian economy by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency.

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Realpolitik in a Fantasy World

How George R.R. Martin‘s A Song of Ice and Fire novels explain our foreign policy.



When George R.R. Martin began his epic fantasy saga, A Song of Ice and Fire, back in 1996, he started with a domestic story about a king who was struggling to manage the country he’d seized in rebellion and the man he chose to help him rule. Fifteen years after the publication of the first book in that series, A Game of Thrones, Martin’s series is an Emmy-nominated HBO show of the same name, the fifth New York Times-bestselling book has just been released (A Dance With Dragons, out last week), and the story has evolved from a dark domestic fairy tale of wicked queens and kings to a sweeping geopolitical mega-saga with complex and shifting rules of engagement — and a surprisingly large number of lessons for the foreign-policy-inclined reader.

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The Y Article

The Pentagon‘s secret plan to slash its own budget.


On Friday, April 8, as members of the U.S. Congress engaged in a last-minute game of chicken over the federal budget, the Pentagon quietly issued a report that received little initial attention: “A National Strategic Narrative.” The report was issued under the pseudonym of “Mr. Y,” a takeoff on George Kennan’s 1946 “Long Telegram” from Moscow (published under the name “X” the following year in Foreign Affairs) that helped set containment as the cornerstone of U.S. strategy for dealing with the Soviet Union.

The piece was written by two senior members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in a “personal” capacity, but it is clear that it would not have seen the light of day without a measure of official approval. Its findings are revelatory, and they deserve to be read and appreciated not only by every lawmaker in Congress, but by every American citizen. Continue reading

Egypt: Why it is too early to be optimistic

Friday, February 4, 2011 – A Word on the National Interest by Benjamin Ra

PARIS — February 3, 2011 – Shock waves are being felt throughout the Middle East as the troubles which began in Egypt and Tunisia have spread as far as Jordan, Yemen, and Saudi Arabia.

Are we witnessing the democratic revival of the region? The New York Times believes so. David Brooks believes it to be “a great time to be alive… the world will be far safer when more of the world is normal, meaning mostly open and democratic.”

Anti-government protestors react in Tahrir Square, Cairo, Egypt, Friday, Feb. 4, 2011. (Photo: Associated Press)

Such outright optimism from a sophisticated observer shows the extent to which the current conflagration in the Middle East has taken a hold on the imagination of Americans. Continue reading

There’s a Strange Prophet in the White House


His name is Barack Obama, and his messianic vision resembles that of Joachim of Fiore. At the Vatican, they’ve gone so far as to believe him. Here’s the story of a hoax with a kernel of truth
by Sandro Magister

ROME, August 23, 2010 – The tempest unleashed in recent days by Barack H. Obama’s statements on the plans of the Cordoba Institute in New York to build a mosque a few steps from the Twin Towers, knocked down on September 11, 2001 by Muslim terrorists, has brought back to the forefront the question of what is the overarching vision of the current president of the United States of America.
In the first instance, on August 13, to the hundred Muslim guests he had invited to the White House to celebrate the beginning of Ramadan, Obama said:
"As a citizen, and as president, I believe that Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as anyone else in this country. That includes the right to build a place of worship and a community center on private property in lower Manhattan, in accordance with local laws and ordinances. This is America, and our commitment to religious freedom must be unshakable."

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UK – Row over funding for police faith groups

Golgotha Crucifix, designed by Paul Nagel, Chu...

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The Home Office was accused of discriminating against Christian groups after it emerged a Muslim police group has received at least six times more funding than a Christian one.

By Tom Whitehead, Home Affairs Editor
Published: 8:00AM GMT 13 Mar 2010

The National Association of Muslim Police (NAMP) received £90,000 in grant aid in the last two years while the Christian Police Association (CPA) received just £15,000 in the last five, despite both groups having around 2,000 members.

And the CPA even disputed those figures insisting it has only been given £10,000 over the period.

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