So, Who Murdered Nisman?

It’s been nearly three months but nobody has an answer to this question. Based on the fact that Nisman was murdered for his relentless investigation into the AMIA bombing that remains unsolved since 1994, there is a good chance that Nisman’s murder might remain unsolved as well.

Too much evidence points to Tehran’s involvement in this murder as in the AMIA bombing. And yet, the Iranian suspects which include top officials such as former presidents, wannabe presidents, IRGC commanders, cabinet ministers etc…are all far from even being investigated.

The Argentinian government has bungled it up once again: instead of demanding that Tehran comes clean and allows the Iranian suspects to be investigated, the government first dismissed Nisman’s murder as suicide and then accused political opposition of murdering him just to make de Kirchner look bad.

This is the cost of maintaining diplomatic ties with Iran: innocent people die while government officials are forced to cover up.

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Iranian Diplomacy Seeks to Gag Critics in West

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There are all kinds of diplomatic abuse. While this blog usually follows Iran’s diplomatic subterfuge, this time I’d like to focus on how Iranian diplomacy threatens western groups that criticize the regime in Tehran.

What originally caught my eye in this context was a seemingly innocuous comment made in August by Foreign Minister Zarif, before he and President Rouhani took NYC by storm. In an interview in Persian, Zarif noted that “the biggest active lobby against Iran is ‘United Against Nuclear Iran” – a US group promoting anti-Tehran sanctions. A strange choice, but harmless enough.

Or was it? Perhaps, if that’s all there was to it. But unfortunately for Zarif, there is context to this story that cannot be ignored.

Turns out that a mere week after Rouhani’s election victory, Alireza Miryousefi Aval – past and present third counsellor and spokesperson for Iran’s UN mission in NYC – was quoted in the New York Times as saying that UANI’s founders had “worked within or were close to the U.S. government” and that Iran considered it “counterproductive and contrary to the policy announced by the new administration in early 2009, which purportedly sought to diplomatically interact with Iran.

According to the paper, Miryousefi added in his statement that: “the formation of the group, taken in the context of other hostile American actions including cyberattacks on Iran’s nuclear facilities and unilateral sanctions, “convinced Iran that the U.S. does not mean what it says.”

Anybody ever hear of a foreign diplomat criticizing the host country’s constituencies? Only Tehran has the audacity – and the good fortune to get away with it.  But the Iranian diplomat’s point is clear: there’s no difference between cyber attacks and legitimate, democracy-style criticism. Opposition groups in the west should be gagged, as they still are in Iran.

This sort of intimidation through diplomatic means didn’t start with Rouhani. Indeed, Zarif’s predecessor Ali Akbar Salehi, current head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, made that obvious when his said in an interview with the Wiener Zeitung earlier this year: You see, every group has a right to have its own beliefs and positions. However, I want to emphasize that in one’s decisions, caution and wisdom should prevail. Otherwise one gets into trouble. Those who are looking for conflicts won’t achieve a positive result.  My advice for these groups is this: You might have your differences with us, you might have your own beliefs, but at the same time we advise you to be more rational and more careful.”

Salehi was actually referring at the time not to UANI but rather to the European anti-Iran group STOP THE BOMB (STB), which like UANI also supports sanctions. And here lies the link connecting the Ahmadinejad administration and its Rouhani successor:  STB has recently come under attack by official Iranian and proxy media organs such as Tehran’s Hispan TV  and Hezbollah’s  Al Manar. They exploited a visit by Austria’s vice minister of foreign affairs Reinhold Lopatka to do so, putting words in his mouth against the organization. The identical wording in the reports is unmistakable.

(For the unaware: Hispan TV is subordinate to the EU-sanctioned Iranian Broadcasting Authority – IRIB – the heads of which are appointed by Rouhani’s cabinet.)

Bottom line, Iranian diplomacy is not only providing cover for acts of subversion and the persecution of dissidents.  It also thinks it can impose on the west its distorted view of what constitutes freedom of speech. Lucky for Iran’s critics that Tehran’s oppressive tactics will never take hold out side Iran.

With friends like these – Iranian Diplomacy in the Middle East (part 1)

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Updated from November 4th: “A Bahraini court sentenced four Shi’ite Muslims to life and six others to 15 years in jail on charges of setting up a militant cell linked to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard that aimed at assassinating public figures in the Gulf Arab kingdom”.

Iran and the Gulf States

It’s no secret that Iran is not only reaching out to the West (a la the recent NYC visit by Hassan Rouhani); it wants to revive and cement friendships closer to home. The big difference between Iran’s efforts in Middle East countries is that they are usually home to large populations of Iranians, Shia worshippers, Iranian investors and/or Iranian diplomats.

The Gulf States are a definite focal point for Tehran.

Two states are currently on particularly good terms with Iran. Oman, which has supported Tehran since the Islamic revolution, is especially key these days: Muscat reportedly served as intermediator in thawing relations between Washington-Tehran, which so far has led to a Rouhani-Obama telephone conversation and a brief bilateral between Zarif-Kerry)). In addition, Qatar has renewed its support since the ascent of Crown Prince Hamad Al Thani – an avid supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood and of Assad.

In comparison, relations with the UAE have traditionally been tense. This state of affairs stems both from Abu Dhabi’s strong opposition to Iran’s nuclear program, as well as territorial disputes which keep on flaring up keeping diplomatic relations between Tehran and Abu Dhabi on edge. That leaves Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Bahrain – states which all suffer from different levels of shadowy diplomacy and subversion by Iran.

Iranian Spy Ring in Saudi Arabia

In March 2013, Saudi Arabia uncovered an intricate Iranian spy ring working in the country. At first 18 people were arrested and by May, that number had risen to 28 – mostly Saudis but including Iranians and Lebanese nationals.

This spy ring’s mission was to pass on vital information about Saudi Arabia’s strategic military installations as well as information of US installations in the region.

But that isn’t all: Rhiyad further accused Iran of trying to create unrest within the Shiite population in Saudi Arabia as part of an “undeclared war” between the two countries.

Tehran, of course, denied any involvement and called the accusations baseless and blasted back accusations at Saudi Arabia. Iranian diplomats have yet to be connected with this spy ring but Saudi officials are not ruling this possibility out.

An Earlier Spy Ring in Kuwait

Back in 2010, an Iranian spy ring managed by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) in Kuwait was busted. The spy ring (four Iranians, one Kuwaiti, one Syrian – and one Dominican!) and linked to Iranian diplomats – was charged with photographing military bases and planning to carry out terrorist activities, such as blowing up pipelines.

Iran, again, denied the allegations which the foreign minister at the time, Ali Akbar Salehi dismissed as a “conspiracy against Muslim countries” blaming “malevolent (forces) who do not desire good relations between the two countries“.

Kuwait expelled three Iranian diplomats and an embassy employee and the spy ring members were sentenced by a Kuwaiti court to death – later reduced to life sentences.

Bahrain later expelled two top Iranian diplomats for their involvement in the Iranian spy ring in Kuwait, which caused another round of accusations and denials.

It appears, then, that Iran’s exploitation of diplomacy to advance strategic objectives is not relegated to Asia  , Latin America, Europe , Africa  and the Caucasus. Surprise,  surprise

And while Iranian President Rouhani has wasted no time reaching out  to Saudi Arabia, particularly, it remains to be seen whether Tehran’s shadow apparatus will follow suit vis-a-vis Riyadh and the Gulf states in general.

Salehi, Epitome of Iran’s Uranium (& Plutonium) Diplomacy

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Update from October 25th: It seems that Salehi’s investments are paying off in Ghana as well – Iran is ready to “share its experience in mineral exploration” with Ghana. It’s worthy to note that the article by pressTV mentions gold, diamonds, bauxite and manganese but fails to mention uranium that Ghana has been mining uranium since 2010.

Hear the one about the nuclear expert who moves seamlessly between his country’s diplomatic corps and atomic energy community?

It’s not a joke. We’re talking about Iran’s Ali Akbar Salehi, recently appointed by President Hassan Rouhani to head the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) for the second time after previously serving as its head until 2010, when he became foreign minister.

Salehi’s personal biography provides an insightful look into the connection between Iran’s nuclear program and the diplomacy that helps advance it. He was appointed by President Khatami as his country’s ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) back in 1997, and was still there when Rouhani headed the crucial nuclear negotiations in 2003-2005.

Not unlike Javad Zarif, his successor as foreign minister, Salehi is considered a pleasant individual but hawkish on nuclear policy –- as evidenced by his 2005 resignation in protest over Tehran’s decision to sign the Additional Protocol (which it never ratified). This, apparently, is the secret to his resilience – how he’s managed to survive Khatami, Ahmadinejad and now Rouhani as presidents while remaining at the top of the regime’s nuclear hierarchy.

Indeed, his value to Iran’s nuclear program went beyond this during his stint as foreign minister – when he not only defended the hardheaded approach of Saeed Jalili, but also played an active role in placing Iranian diplomacy at the disposal of his country’s strategic goals.

A believer in leading by example, Salehi served as a role model to his own diplomatic corps by working hard to close a deal with Zimbabwe to secure uranium deposits.

Salehi’s been in the nuclear business for a very long time. Judging by his record thus far, he will probably continue to move comfortably between the atomic and the diplomatic. Never mind the EU sanctions against him.

Iran’s Uranium Diplomacy in Africa

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Update from October 25th: It seems that Salehi’s investments are paying off in Ghana as well – Iran is ready to “share its experience in mineral exploration” with Ghana. It’s worthy to note that the article by pressTV mentions gold, diamonds, bauxite and manganese but fails to mention uranium that Ghana has been mining uranium since 2010.

It’s customary to regard a country’s foreign minister as its top diplomat. He’s the one who’s supposed to lead efforts to promote international standing, create trade opportunities, advance cultural ties. But since Iran views the role of its diplomacy differently than the rest, same goes for the role of its foreign minister.

Led by Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi, over the past six months Iran’s diplomats have been racking up thousands of air miles over the skies of African countries, including: Mali, Central Africa, Zimbabwe, Somalia, Cameroon, Sudan, Namibia, Sudan, Comoros, Ghana, Benin, Ethiopia, Burundi, Burkina Faso, Niger, and Senegal.

Quite a list. What have those diplomats been searching for?

We’ve already expanded on the involvement of Iranian diplomacy in Tehran’s subversion activities in Africa. It is also clear that Iranian diplomacy plays a supporting role in Tehran’s ongoing efforts to bolster its strategic capabilities  from African soil. But to fully understand the issue, we need to go back to the beginning of Salehi’s stint as foreign minister in early 2011 (after he made the move from the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran).

His first trip abroad at that time was to Zimbabwe, of all places. Why Zimbabwe? This AP report  provides the answer: “uranium procurement.”

It is therefore no surprise that Salehi recently paid another visit to Harare. It is also not surprising that Iran recently opened an embassy in Namibia, where it already has a “15% stake in Rössing Uranium, the world’s longest-running open pit uranium mine and the third largest producer of uranium oxide globally.”

Salehi himself did not mince words during his visit there: “Namibia, an important country in Africa, is the continent’s fourth exporter of mineral resources while Iran has invested in that country’s mining sector.”

For those who missed it: “mineral resources” is the code word for “uranium.” That’s Salehi, Iran’s top diplomat.