Iran dissident group removed from U.S. terrorist list

Khalq supporters
WASHINGTON -- The State Department formally removed the Iranian dissident group Mujahedin Khalq from its list of terrorist groups, even while pointing out its lingering concerns about the organization.

In a statement issued Friday under Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton's name, the department said it knew of no confirmed acts of terrorism committed by the group in more than a decade and cited its cooperation in removing some of its members from a paramilitary camp in Iraq formerly under U.S. protection.

Even so, the department said it remained concerned about allegations that the group, also known by the initials MEK,  had abused some of its own members.

"The Department does not overlook or forget the MEK's past acts of terrorism, including its involvement in the killing of U.S. citizens in Iran in the 1970s and an attack on U.S. soil in 1992," the statement said.

MEK members follow an ideology that combines elements of Marxism and Islamism. Some critics and former members have described it as a cult.

It has been a staunch opponent of the Iranian regime and is viewed by Tehran as a mortal enemy. Its leadership, based in Paris, has campaigned for years in Washington to have it removed from the stigmatizing terrorist list.

It has paid a list of prominent former U.S. officials and journalists to lobby for it or speak publicly on its behalf. Although group members dream of a day when the group could run a new Iran, many analysts are skeptical that it has much popular support or influence. 

Maryam Rajavi, the group's Paris-based leader, hailed Clinton for her decision, saying it "was difficult and required political courage."

The Iranian government condemned the decision and blamed the group for an incident in which  a senior Iranian diplomat in New York for the U.N. General Assembly was assaulted on the street.

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Photo: Supporters of the Iranian opposition group Mujahedin Khalq celebrate the group's removal from the U.S. terrorism  list in Washington. Credit: Antonov Mladen / Agence France-Presse

 


Iran calls Netanyahu's warnings on nuclear program 'baseless'

TEHRAN -- Iranian officials fired back against the dire warnings of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu before the United Nations, calling them “baseless and absurd allegations" against its "exclusively peaceful" nuclear program.

In a written statement, the Iranian delegation to the United Nations General Assembly complained that “an unfounded and imaginary graph was used to justify a threat” against Iran, an apparent reference to the drawing of a bomb that Netanyahu held up during his speech.

Netanyahu has called for world powers to draw a “red line” to prompt military action against Iran if it continues to move forward with its nuclear development  program. During his Thursday speech, he argued that Iran could be poised to create an atomic weapon next year.

Iran's deputy ambassador to the U.N., Eshagh Habib, nonetheless warned in the statement that his country was strong enough to defend itself and would retaliate with full force if attacked. Habib asserted that Israel had a “totally dark record” of violence and criticized it for not signing an international nuclear disarmament treaty.

The Iranian statement went on to say that Israel had admitted to having atomic weapons. Israel has never publicly acknowledged having such weapons, though it is widely believed that it does.

Iranian newspapers are not printed on Fridays, but Iranian media quoted foreign news coverage of the Netanyahu speech on their websites, focusing on remarks that ridiculed and criticized his bomb diagram as confusing. Revolutionary Guards deputy commander Hamid Moqaddamfar said the "Zionist regime" would not dare to attack Iran and called rumors of such an attack "empty balloons," state media reported.

While leading Friday prayers in Tehran, Ayatollah Imam Kashani did not mention the speech but called for unity of all Iranian political factions against enemies.

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'Bibi's Bomb': Netanyahu uses a picture to make his point

Netanyahubomb

For weeks, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has urged the United States to draw a clear “red line” to stop Iran from getting a nuclear weapon. Today, Netanyahu showed them how.

Literally.

Warning the United Nations General Assembly that the world must act quickly to halt Iran, Netanyahu brandished a red marker and drew his own clear red line atop a drawing of a bomb.

By the middle of next year, Netanyahu argued, Iran could have enough enriched uranium to make a weapon within “a few months, possibly a few weeks.” His red line landed just below the “final stage” on the diagram.

The gambit grabbed as much attention as his dire message: The image of Netanyahu drawing that “red line” was irresistible to the media after photo after dull photo of suited diplomats at the U.N. If cartoonish, it was unforgettable. If simplistic, it was easily grasped. Some saw it as a brilliant stroke of political stagecraft.

“Bibi's use of that chart was one of the most effective, gripping uses of a chart I've ever seen. Is the world listening??” former Bush White House press secretary Ari Fleischer tweeted.

In a rarity for the sober world of international diplomacy, “Bibi’s bomb” went viral, as Internet users competed to get in the best quips.

But illustrating the tense and serious issue with a cartoon fell flat with others watching the speech. Some said that the act made Netanyahu himself look cartoonish, an image that didn’t spell out the threat so much as conjure up animated villains.

“It is precisely because Iran's nuclear program is such a threat to Israel that turning to cartoon bombs to explain the issue is a lousy idea,” tweeted Jeffrey Goldberg, a correspondent with the Atlantic.

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Israel leader demands 'red line' to stop Iran nuclear program

Bomb

UNITED NATIONS -– Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned the United Nations that Iran’s progress toward a nuclear bomb will be irreversible by next spring or summer, a more specific time frame than he has publicly argued before, and demanded that world powers draw a “red line” to trigger military action if Tehran refuses to stop before then.

Holding up a crude cartoon drawing of a bomb with a burning fuse, Netanyahu told the General Assembly that at its current rate, he believes Iran will have produced enough sufficiently enriched uranium by mid-2013 that it could turn its attention to building an actual weapon within “a few months, possibly a few weeks.”

He did not threaten to attack Iran, however, and said he was still working with the Obama administration to find a way to curb Iran’s nuclear development without war. He emphasized Israel’s close ties to the United States in what appeared to be an attempt to ease public concern of a rift between the two allies over the immediacy of the nuclear threat.

In his 30-minute address, Netanyahu drew a bright red line through the cartoon bomb to make his point that unless the world stops Iran, it will become an existential threat to Israel and a terrorist threat to the entire world, comparing a nuclear-armed Iran to a nuclear-armed Al Qaeda.

“The relevant question is not when Iran will get the bomb,” he said. “It is at what stage we can stop Iran from getting the bomb.”

Iran insists it is enriching uranium for civilian purposes, such as power generation, as is its right under international agreements, and that it is not seeking to build a nuclear weapon.

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U.S.-led sanctions having impact in Iran, Israeli report says

Israel says sanctions having impact in Iran

JERUSALEM -- While Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has pushed for the United States to take a harder line to stop Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, an Israeli government report says existing measures have had an impact inside Iran, a less pessimistic take on the results of U.S.-led sanctions.

An internal review by Israel’s Foreign Ministry, reported Thursday by Haaretz newspaper, found that resentment and frustration is building among the Iranian public.

The review found that Iranians are blaming their government for rising prices on bread, meat and electricity, caused by Western sanctions against Iran’s oil industry and central bank.

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said this week the rising pressure was threatening to destabilize the Iranian regime. “There is more and more domestic resentment there," he said. “The Iranian leadership is also feeling this and is therefore escalating its rhetoric.”

Others inside Netanyahu's Likud Party agree the international pressure and U.S. threats to take military action against Iran are working to intimidate the regime.

“The good news is that they haven’t broken out to build a weapon yet," said Intelligence Minister Dan Meridor, adding that he did not believe the Iranian government would do so because “they understand what it means.”

Meanwhile, Israeli citizens remain anxious about a possible regional war that some fear could result from an Israeli military strike against Iran’s nuclear program. A Tel Aviv University survey this week found that half of Israelis fear for their nation's existence if war with Iran were to break out.

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Photo: A visitor looks at portraits of Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, left, and Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during the exhibition "Faces of Power" by Greek photographer Platon Antoniou in Cologne, Germany. Credit: Martin Meissner / Associated Press


Aide to Iran's Ahmadinejad arrested as boss gives U.N. speech

TEHRAN -- Iranian authorities arrested and jailed a top press advisor to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Wednesday, the culmination of a legal saga that began last year when the aide was convicted of publishing an "offensive" magazine article on how Iranian women should dress.

Ali Akbar Javanfekr, who also headed IRAN Magazine, was banned last year from working in journalism for three years after his publication ran an article exploring the history of Islamic dress, which was critical of women being compelled to wear a head scarf. The piece was deemed contrary to "Islamic principles," leading to charges against Javanfekr for publishing material "offensive to Islamic codes and public morality."

Javanfekr also served as managing editor of the official Islamic Republic News Agency. His conviction last year was seen as an escalation of the feud between Ahmadinejad and other Iranian conservatives, who accuse the president of undermining Islamic values and trying to marginalize clerics.

The arrest was carried out Wednesday while Ahmadinejad was delivering a speech before the United Nations General Assembly in New York, the official news agency reported. Javanfekr was taken to Evin Prison in Tehran to serve his sentence, it said.

His attorney, Ghahreman Shojaeiat, said Javanfekr was given a six-month sentence for the magazine article and a second sentence of one year on a charge of insulting Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei's website, which meant he would serve the longer sentence.

Though Javanfekr was convicted and sentenced last year, he had appealed his case. An appeals court upheld the charges against him in February. It was not immediately clear Wednesday why he wasn't jailed at the time that his appeal was denied.

Iranian authorities also shut down a reformist daily newspaper over a caricature of soldiers blindfolding one another, seen by war veterans as an insult. Fars News Agency reported that 120 Iranian lawmakers called for a  ban of the Shargh daily after the caricature ran Tuesday.

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Iranian president says 'uncivilized Zionists' threaten his country

UNITED NATIONS -- Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told the United Nations General Assembly on Wednesday that "uncivilized Zionists" are threatening to attack his country, but he otherwise was silent on the continuing clash between Iran and world powers over the Tehran's disputed nuclear program.

Ahmadinejad, in an address that climaxed days of public and media appearances in New York, focused his remarks on what he described as an unjust international system, built around the United Nations, that oppresses the world in the interests of the West's wealthy minority.

He said his country has "suffered from the agonies of forced aggressions" from countries he didn’t identify. He said that an "arms race and intimidation by nuclear weapons and weapons of mass destruction by hegemonic powers have become prevalent" and that a "continued threat by the uncivilized Zionists to resort to military action against our great nation is a clear example of this bitter reality."

He complained that the United Nations has no legitimacy, while praising the Non-Aligned Movement, which met weeks ago in Tehran with the Iranian regime presiding. Ahmadinejad said he spoke for the group.

"A state of mistrust has cast its shadow on the international relations, whilst there is no trusted or just authority to help resolve world conflicts," he said.

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Google, Gmail blocked as Iran pushes 'national Internet'

TEHRAN -- Iran has shut off access to Google and Gmail inside the country, a step eyed by Web activists with concern as the nation's leaders seek to wall off a corner of cyberspace separate from the global Internet.

As of Monday, Iranians received an announcement via text message that quoted Abdolsamad Khoramabadi, secretary of an official group that scours the Web for banned content.

"Due to the repeated demands of the people, Google and Gmail will be filtered nationwide," the message said. "They will remain filtered until further notice."

The "demands" appear to be tied to an online video mocking the prophet Muhammad, which Google has restricted in some countries but declined to completely scrub from YouTube.

Google has been targeted in Iran before: The search engine has been denounced by a top police official as an "espionage tool" and excoriated by Iranian officials for not labeling the body of water between Iran and the Arabian Peninsula as the "Persian Gulf" on Google Maps. Internet access on the whole has been disrupted in Iran in the past, often during times of unrest before or after elections.

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Iran president: Israel short-lived in region, will be eliminated

Iran's Ahmadinejad at the U.N.

UNITED NATIONS -- Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Monday that Israel is only a short lived presence among the ancient civilizations of the Middle East and would eventually be “eliminated.”

Speaking to a group of journalists in New York ahead of this week’s United Nations General Assembly session, Ahmadinejad said Israel has existed “during a historical phase” to create “minimal disturbances that come into the picture and then are eliminated.”

Israel has been in the Middle East for only 60 to 70 years “with the support and force of the Westerners,” and Iran has existed for 10,000 years, he said.

He also dismissed Israel’s warnings that it was close to unleashing an air attack on Iran to destroy the nuclear complex that Israel and many other countries believe is seeking to develop nuclear bomb-making capability.

“Fundamentally, we do not take seriously the threats of the Israelis,” Ahmadinejad said, according to the Reuters news agency. “We have at our disposal all the means to defend ourselves.”

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World of woe, little hope of relief, await U.N. General Assembly

General Assembly session on Syria in August
When 120 world leaders and their entourages gather at the United Nations this week, the woes of the world will be onstage in all their tragic detail: a civil war in Syria, the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran, reignited ethnic conflicts in Africa and uphill battles against poverty and global warming.

GlobalFocusWhat is likely to be in short supply at the General Assembly are fresh ideas for resolving the kaleidoscope of crises afflicting the planet. The U.N. Security Council has been hamstrung by internal conflicts among its permanent members in devising effective intervention in the Syrian bloodletting, and a colossal conference on sustainable development hosted by the world body three months ago was widely viewed as unproductive.

The Middle East and its myriad security challenges are expected to dominate the marathon of speeches beginning Tuesday, especially against the backdrop of worldwide Muslim outrage over an amateur video made by U.S.-based Christian zealots depicting the Prophet Muhammad as vile and sadistic.

Violent protests over the 14-minute film clip flared earlier this month after a version of "The Innocence of Muslims" was dubbed into Arabic and posted on YouTube. Conservative Islamists, some backed by Al Qaeda-aligned holy warriors, have attacked U.S. and other Western embassies and businesses across the Islamic crescent spanning the Middle East, Africa and South Asia. In the worst of the violence on Sept. 11, the U.S. ambassador to Libya, J. Christopher Stevens, was killed along with three other Americans at the consulate in Benghazi. On Friday, the Muslim sabbath, enraged demonstrators clashed with police in Pakistan, killing at least 18 people.

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