Rafsanjani’s party dismisses vote results

A day after commanders of the Revolutionary Guard warned there was no middle ground in the dispute over the reelection of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the political party of one of Iran’s most powerful clerics Monday defiantly issued a statement dismissing the vote.

The statement by the Kargozaran party all but cleared away weeks of ambiguity about the stance of the cleric, Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani.

Rafsanjani, who heads two government councils that oversee the supreme leader and mediate disputes between branches, openly backed presidential candidate Mir-Hossein Mousavi. [continued…]

Obama must be firm on foreign policy

Just a few months into his presidency, Mr Obama’s policy of engagement with Iran has also been all but wrecked by the violent crackdown in that country. His advisers once day-dreamed about a dramatic presidential trip to Tehran, a speech before cheering students, a disarming smile for Mr Ahmadi-Nejad. All of that is unthinkable now. Instead, Mr Obama is left having to cope with a wounded and aggressive Iranian government, intent on pressing ahead with its nuclear programme. The US president will now have to fend off the “bomb Iran” lobby – but without being able to point to a plausible diplomatic alternative.

The policy of American engagement with Russia is going only a little better. Agreements on arms control and transit routes to Afghanistan cannot extinguish the still smouldering antagonisms created by last year’s Georgia war.

Above all Mr Obama is getting nothing on the issue he placed at the centre of his drive for a rapprochement with Russia: Iran.

Mr Obama’s problems with Iran and Russia are merging into a single, nasty mess. The president had seen an improved relationship with Russia as the key to solving Iran. The idea was that the newly friendly Russians would help to talk their Iranian neighbours into a nuclear deal. If that did not work, Russia would help to tighten sanctions on Iran. Without the Kremlin there can be no new United Nations sanctions on Iran (that pesky Russian veto). A package of western sanctions that does not include Russia would be too full of holes to put real pressure on Iran. [continued…]

Obama: No green light for Israel to attack Iran

The United States is “absolutely not” giving Israel a green light to attack Iran, U.S. President Barack Obama told CNN Tuesday.

“We have said directly to the Israelis that it is important to try and resolve this in an international setting in a way that does not create major conflict in the Middle East,” Obama said, referring to Iran’s nuclear ambitions. [continued…]

Israel declines to ask U.S. to OK Iran attack

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his top deputies have not formally asked for U.S. aid or permission for possible military strikes on Iran’s nuclear program, fearing the White House would not approve, two Israeli officials said.

One senior Israeli official, who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject, told The Washington Times that Mr. Netanyahu determined that “it made no sense” to press the matter after the negative response President Bush gave Mr. Netanyahu’s predecessor, Ehud Olmert, when he asked early last year for U.S. aid for possible military strikes on Iran. [continued…]

No change in Iran policy, White House insists

As White House and Office of the Vice President aides formed a united front against widespread media speculation about a change in policy signaled by Vice President Joseph Biden’s statement on a Sunday news show that Israel is a “sovereign nation” that could “determine for itself” how to deal with threats from Iran, analysts said that Israel may be wary of any such green light in any case.

In e-mails and phone calls today, administration officials insisted that Biden’s comments were neither a signal of any change in policy, nor any sort of freelancing. Asked if Biden’s remarks might have been part of an intentional messaging campaign to step up pressure on Iran to negotiate over its nuclear program, officials gave an emphatic “no.” But for all that, the remarks were widely seen both in Washington and abroad as a message intended less for Jerusalem than for Tehran.

Israel’s “biggest nightmare” is that one day the U.S. government “‘would call it and say ‘OK guys, take care of it,'” said Tel Aviv University Iran expert David Menashri in a call Monday arranged by the Israeli Policy Forum, a U.S. nonprofit organization that supports a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. [continued…]

Minister calls for Jewish takeover of Palestinian areas in Israel

Israel’s housing minister called for strict segregation between the country’s Jewish and Arab populations last week as he unveiled plans to move large numbers of fundamentalist religious Jews to Israel’s north to prevent what he described as an “Arab takeover” of the region.

Ariel Atias said he considered it a “national mission” to bring ultra-Orthodox Jews — or Haredim, distinctive for their formal black and white clothing — into Arab areas, and announced that he would also create the north’s first exclusively Haredi town.

The new settlement drive, according to Atias, is intended to revive previous failed efforts by the state to “Judaize,” or create a Jewish majority in, the country’s heavily Arab north.

Analysts say the announcement is a disturbing indication that the Haredim, who have traditionally been hostile to Zionism because of their strict reading of the Bible, are rapidly being recruited to the Judaization project in both Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT). [continued…]

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