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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Apology Darkens Aboutalebi Shadows

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Aboutalebi’s appointment to ambassador seemed shady to begin with.

If he had been involved beyond his role as translator, it would be ironic and even demeaning for him to act as ambassador to the UN while actively curtailing the freedom of diplomats in his own country. Perhaps his involvement in the hostage crisis did not warrant being denied a visa but something about Tehran’s insistence never felt quite right.

That’s probably because Tehran still does not view storming the American embassy and holding the 52 American diplomats hostage for 444 days a crime of any kind.

Hardliners would argue that Khomeini, at the time, had deemed all of the hostages American spies and, as such, they were not viewed as innocent victims and definitely not diplomats.

The controversy over the legitimacy of Aboutalebi’s appointment and of storming the embassy was fuelled last week by an apology to the families of the hostages by Ebrahim Asgharzadeh, one of the former leaders of the people who stormed the embassy. Asgharzadeh, a reformist politician with aspirations for the presidency, expressed his apologies to the hostages and their families during a speech to the Iranian Students’ union on April 14th.

Reactions were swift and vicious. The semi-official Fars news named him one of the “regrets of the week” alongside Hillary Clinton and Shimon Peres and accused his apology of being a clear contradiction to Khomeini’s ideals. Asgharzadeh was counseled to apologize instead to the Iranian nation for having suffered for 30 years under America and the Shah and then apologize to the Iraqi women and children who had died under American hands.

For his part, Asgharzadeh believes that his apologies were legitimate, echoing the expressions of sympathy by then president Khatami 15 years ago. He also believes that issues between Iran and the US have to be resolved  because if they aren’t, they “will cast a persistent shadow” in the future. Furthermore, he contends that Khomeini had intended normalization with the US even at the time, having opposed to the idea of appropriating the embassy as offices by asking “are relations with America to be cut forever?”.

Asgharzadeh’s spotlight of humanity shone through all the way from Tehran to New York and made the shadows around Aboutalebi and Tehran’s denial that much darker.

Aboutelabi in the Eye of the Storm

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Should Hamid Aboutalebi be viewed as a diplomat or as a suspected participant in terrorism?

The Iranians say that he is to be viewed as a diplomat because they say so and because UN laws bar the US from not issuing visas to UN diplomats.

They aren’t open to discussions on Aboutelabi’s involvement in the American embassy hostage crisis affair in 1979. Neither are they open to discuss his suspected involvement in a political assassination in Italy in 1993 nor do they accept the US’s version of “terrorism”.

Is Aboutelabi innocent of these accusations? We’ll probably never find out because he isn’t available for questioning and the Americans feel that Aboutelabi would have to prove his innocence or at least be willing to go to court in order to get a visa.

Either that or he will have to convince President Obama to rescind the bill he signed that effectively bars him from legally gaining entry to the US.

The Iranians are sticking to their guns and are making a big deal of the question of legality since Aboutelabi is a diplomat who is supposed to work in the UN and is therefore under diplomatic immunity. The UN has agreed to look into the legality of this issue but they are now accused by Iran of “dragging their feet” and not doing so fast enough. It seems that denying Aboutelabi his visa is both legal in accordance to the laws of the US and illegal according to the laws of the UN.

Perhaps the US should let Aboutelabi into the country but simply limit his presence to the airport, the UN and travel in between. It would be a more elegant solution that would probably satisfy both sides.

In any case, his status as an ambassador to the UN vis-à-vis relations with the US is weak under these circumstances.

The Case of Thailand: Iran’s Diplomatic Underworld

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A look at the state of diplomacy between Iran and Thailand reflects just how complicated relations with Tehran can be. Instead of straightforward activity to solidify bilateral ties, the observant will findlayer upon layer ofinfrastructure serving terrorism and subversion. Diplomats, spies,forgers, tourists, terrorists and drug dealers alllive in harmony in this underworld– and sometimes even complement each other.

Iranian Terrorist Wave: A Reminder

As this blog previously detailed back on February 14 2012 three Iranian nationals who intended to assassinate Israeli diplomats in Thailand were apprehended after their C-4 bombs accidently exploded in Bangkok (a few weeks earlier an operative for the Iranian-supported Hezbollah was also arrestedin the Thai capital for bomb-making activities). In August 2013 aThai court sentenced the two convicted terrorists to life imprisonment and 15 years in jail, respectively.

The planned attacks in Bangkok were part of a year-longIranian terrorist wave against American, Saudi and Israeli diplomatic targets which also included Azerbaijan, Pakistan, India, Georgia and Washington DC.

Role of Iranian Embassy

Despite the prominent involvement of Iranian nationals, Tehran denied any connectionto the Thai incident. Furthermore, its embassy in Bangkok also refused to assist the localpolice concerning the suspects, as if they were from another country. This refusal to cooperate included with regard to the whereabouts of a fourth suspect, Leila Rohani, who had rented the house for the terrorists and their bombs and managed to flee to Tehran.

But all this doesn’t mean the Iranian Embassy was inactive. Even before they presumably worked overtime to secure release of the suspects, behind the scenes Iranian diplomats laid the groundwork for a bilateral prisoner extradition agreement. Such an agreement would guarantee that tough-luck Iranian terror operatives, caught in the act, could serve most of their sentences among the comforts of home.

We understand that the extradition agreement eventually reached (translation from Thai attached) was finally ratified by Tehran only in April 2012 – two months after the botched terrorist attack (even though it was originally signed a year before, in February 2011).So while efforts to hammer out the agreement were most probably also connected with the abundance of Iranian drug dealers serving life terms in Thai jails (approximately 160 Iranian nationals are imprisoned in Thailand), the urgency with which it was ratified is much more incriminating.

At least that’s how this development is viewed by the convicted terrorists’ Bangkok lawyer, who’s betting on extradition for his clients as well:

 “They will initially serve their sentences in Thailand, but Thailand and Iran have a prisoner exchange treaty so they could seek to serve their remaining terms in their homeland after a period of time.”

Thanks to Iranian diplomacy, that is.

click here to view thai iran extradition treaty

Iranian Diplomatic Abuse Increases Visa Restrictions

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Following President Rouhani’s election and promotion of his agenda to lead meaningful change in Tehran’s foreign policy, a quick thaw in its international relations might have been expected.

Iran’s not there yet.

During the past three months five countries have hardened their visa regulations with Iran, making it more difficult to visit that country. According to this recent article in Farsi, Georgia http://shadow-diplomacy.com/2013/08/12/georgia-stops-irans-revolving-diplomatic-door/, Oman http://shadow-diplomacy.com/2013/09/30/with-friends-like-these-iranian-diplomacy-in-the-middle-east-part-1/, Indonesia, Egypt http://shadow-diplomacy.com/2013/10/08/with-friends-like-these-iranian-diplomacy-in-the-middle-east-part-2/ and now Malaysia seem unconvinced by Rouhani’s moderate rhetoric; instead of opening doors with Iran, they’re slamming them shut.

A few of the mentioned (and other) countries have enforced more stringent visa rules because of diplomatic and other abuses by Iranians on their soil. Some want to pressure Iran to alter its behavior, while others want to stop the flow of refugees from that country.

Of course, the Iranians are trying to put a brave face on the continuing deterioration in relations with countries from their core group, the Non-Aligned Movement (Tehran is group chair, a position it will hold for the next two years). Indeed, Tehran recently announced http://www.tasnimnews.com/English/Home/Single/159110 it is considering lifting visa requirements for certain states. Doesn’t seem like this plan will wash for the time being.

(We wonder whether the Iranians have an ulterior motive behind the move – in addition to boosting tourism – such as bringing in more foreign nationals to promote its darker activities http://shadow-diplomacy.com/2013/09/02/iranian-embassies-recruit-latin-american-students/.)

These developments might seem inconsequential at a time when Tehran is focusing on nuclear negotiations with the . But think again: since his election, Rouhani has been quite vocal about reintegrating Iran into the international community and improving relations with Iran’s neighbors – especially Saudi Arabia.P5+1

The Iranian president clearly has his work cut out for him. He definitely won’t attain his goal as long as the Revolutionary Guards, Ministry of Intelligence and Ministry of Foreign Affairs continue abusing the tools of diplomacy and fueling world suspicions.

With friends like these – Iranian Diplomacy in the Middle East (part 2)

 suleimani salehi

Diplomats, Passports & Spies in Egypt

When it comes to Iran’s shadowy diplomatic efforts in the Middle East, it’s not easy to get a precise handle on its modus operandi. Unlike in the west, open-source information is sparse (no Library of Congress report here!), and what does trickle out is quite stingy (and occasionally convoluted).

Nevertheless, after noticing a certain pattern I decided to focus my previous post on Iran’s activities in the Gulf States. Scanning the region further, the case of Egypt caught my eye: not only because of similarities to the Gulf, but also to Asia. The common denominator: Diplomats, spies and passports.

The Case of Qassem Hosseini

Iranian diplomat Qassem Hosseini was arrested in Cairo back in 2011, and subsequently deported, for organizing spy rings to gather classified information about Egypt and the Persian Gulf states – including information about the economy, politics, and military – in return for money. He reportedly passed the information to Iranian intelligence.

Egyptian prosecutor Taher El Khouli accused Hosseini of trying to organize spy rings in the country while working in the Iranian Embassy in Cairo as an undercover operative ( spying equipment banned in Egypt was found in his home). Luckily for Hosseini, he was saved by diplomatic protocols he had violated himself and used his diplomatic immunity to escape.

Interestingly enough, right around the time of Hosseini’s arrest his foreign minister, Ali Akhbar Salehi, held an important meeting with his Egyptian counterpart on the sidelines of an international conference. In view of Salehi’s well-documented efforts to promote Iran’s strategic interests, we wouldn’t be surprised if they discussed the diplomat’s release.

More Arrests, Rapprochement, Silence

This wasn’t to mark the end of Tehran’s strange doings in Egypt. A year later, three Iranians carrying fake Turkish passports were arrested and interrogated by the security services after trying to enter the country from Iraq. While a significant incident, perhaps it was brushed aside because Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood had just risen to power.

Indeed, by the end of 2012 there were signs of a Cairo-Tehran rapprochement: a meeting between intelligence heads, a visit  by Qods force commander Qassem Suleimani and a meeting between Morsi and Salehi.

These developments were short-lived, particularly in view of further political changes in Egypt (the recent arrest of an Egyptian returning from Iran – with policemen’s uniforms well concealed  in his suitcase –  after he allegedly failed to find work is probably an indication of this). But one thing has surely not changed: Iran’s continued exploitation of diplomatic privilege in countries of the region. For Tehran, there’s no difference between Cairo and Riyadh.

Bosnia Shows Iranian Diplomacy the Door

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Iranian Diplomats in Bosnia, Jadidi Sohrab & Hamzeh Doolab,  Declared Persona Non Grata

Despite all the fanfare surrounding new Iran President Hassan Rouhani, for the moment it looks as if the West’s closed diplomatic doors to Iran will remain basically shut – at least until the new team delivers on its promises. And so Tehran can be expected to continue searching desperately for windows of opportunity in countries it views as especially vulnerable.

In this context, it should not come as a surprise that Iran often tries its luck in areas boasting local Moslem populations whether they are Shiite or Sunni, in the Balkans or the Caucasus.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that Tehran’s potential “victims” are naïve as to its intentions. Consider Bosnia-Herzegovina, for instance. The historical ties between Iran and Bosnia grew significantly thanks to former Bosnian President (and Islamic fundamentalist) Alija Izetbegovic, reportedly on Tehran’s payroll. It was widely believed that Iran’s influence since then was increasing.

That is, up until a few months ago. In May 2013, two Iranian diplomats, Jadidi Sohrab and Hamzeh Dolab Ahmad, were expelled from Sarajevo  and declared persona non grata for activities “in violation of their diplomatic protocol“. In fact, Sohrab and Ahmad were employed by Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and National Security (MOIS) and were intelligence officers suspected of involvement in subversion activities. A third diplomat, Muhsin Bayat Giashi, was expelled in June 2013 for violating immigration laws. As if to admit its wrongdoing, Tehran apparently has not taken reciprocal measures against Sarajevo.

Bosnia, like other states formed after the breakup of Yugoslavia, seeks to join the EU in the future and has aligned itself with EU policy in a host of areas (despite some lingering difficulties). For some reason, the expelled Iranian diplomats did not understand they were operating in hostile territory. Now they – and their superiors – know better.