The Iran deal

November 25th, 2013 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

The Washington Post reports:

Iran and six major powers agreed early Sunday on a historic deal that freezes key parts of Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for temporary relief on some economic sanctions.

The agreement, sealed at a 3 a.m. signing ceremony in Geneva’s Palace of Nations, requires Iran to halt or scale back parts of its nuclear infrastructure, the first such pause in more than a decade.

This is a very good thing. A failure to get a deal would have probably meant that sooner or later either the US or Israel would strike against Iranian nuclear facilities, and that would cause even greater regional instability.

This isn’t a deal to solve all issues between the US and Iran, or even the nuclear issue. But it is a good step in the right direction.

It is also a victory for the sanctions. They hurt Iran enough, that they were willing to do a deal.

The deal, intended as a first step toward a more comprehensive nuclear pact to be completed in six months, freezes or reverses progress at all of Iran’s major nuclear facilities, according to Western officials familiar with the details. It halts the installation of new centrifuges used to enrich uranium and caps the amount and type of enriched uranium that Iran is allowed to produce.

Iran also agreed to halt work on key components of a heavy-water reactor that could someday provide Iran with a source of plutonium. In addition, Iran accepted a dramatic increase in oversight, including daily monitoring by international nuclear inspectors, the officials said.

The last part may be the most important.

The concessions not only halt Iran’s nuclear advances but also make it virtually impossible for Tehran to build a nuclear weapon without being detected, the officials said. In return, Iran will receive modest relief of trade sanctions and access to some of its frozen currency accounts overseas, concessions said to be valued at less than $7 billion over the six-month term of the deal. The sanctions would be reinstated if Iran violates the agreement’s terms.

Again, this is a good deal and a win-win. The new Iranian President gets sanctions relaxed and makes it harder for the hardliners to undermine him. And Obama gets a foreign policy victory when he really needs some good news.

 

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How the world has changed

September 28th, 2013 at 1:38 pm by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Breaking a third-of-a-century diplomatic freeze, President Barack Obama and new Iranian President Hassan Rouhani have spoken by telephone and agreed to work toward resolving their deep dispute over Tehran’s nuclear efforts.

Rouhani, who earlier in the day called the United States a “great” nation, reached out to arrange the 15-minute call. The last direct conversation between the leaders of the two countries was in 1979 before the Iranian Revolution toppled the pro-US shah and brought Islamic militants to power.

Obama said the long break “underscores the deep mistrust between our countries, but it also indicates the prospect of moving beyond that difficult history.”

“While there will surely be important obstacles to moving forward, and success is by no means guaranteed, I believe we can reach a comprehensive solution,” Obama told reporters at the White House. Iran’s nuclear program has been a major concern not only to the United States but to other Middle Eastern nations especially Israel and to the world at large.

Rouhani, at a news conference in New York, linked the US and Iran as “great nations,” a remarkable reversal from the anti-American rhetoric of his predecessors, and he expressed hope that at the very least the two governments could stop the escalation of tensions.

It’s only a phone call, but it is a very encouraging sign that Iran sees benefits in rejoining the mainstream.

What is remarkable is not just the phone call between the two Presidents, but the fact that news of it broke on Twitter – from the Iranian President. We do live in a very different world to 1979!

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Encouraging steps

September 20th, 2013 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Hassan Rouhani, Iran’s new President, has pledged he would “never” develop nuclear weapons as part of a series of overtures to the West ahead of his first address to the United Nations next week.

Rouhani, who was elected this year on a promise to end Iran’s international isolation, said he had the “full authority” from the country’s ruling ayatollahs to cut a deal on the nuclear issue.

In his first interview with United States television, Rouhani told NBC News that he was involved in a “positive and constructive” exchange of letters with Barack Obama, who wrote to congratulate him on his election.

He also ordered the release of Nasrin Sotoudeh, a prominent Iranian human rights lawyer, and several other political prisoners as part of a pattern of conciliatory gestures.

The White House offered no immediate public reaction to Rouhani’s comments but Western diplomats and US officials urged caution before accepting a new direction from Tehran.

Caution is correct, but I think the election of Rouhani does reflect that many in Iran want Iran to become less of a pariah state.

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A small but symbolic tweet

September 6th, 2013 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

 

This tweet was from the President of the Islamic Republic Republic of Iran.

The Washington Post reports:

The tweet called special attention to Iran’s Jews – there are thought to be perhaps 25,000 living largely in peace – but it’s the reference to “all Jews” that seems especially significant. Given the long-standing enmity between Iran and Israel, and the years of official Iranian rhetoric condemning Israel in often anti-Semitic language, this is quite a shift.

After eight years of fiercely anti-Israeli rhetoric from former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his government, which often veered well into anti-Semitism, it’s difficult to separate discussion of Jews in Iranian political discourse from discussion of Israel. That’s obviously not a particularly helpful habit. But the point is that this tweet, purportedly from Iran’s president, seemed to be offering a very small gesture of goodwill at least partially toward Israelis, who can usually expect nothing but hateful rhetoric from Iranian rulers. It’s not exactly a unilateral declaration of peace – tomorrow, Iran will probably still support Hezbollah – but it’s yet another hint of Rouhani’s efforts to dramatically soften Iranian foreign policy and rhetoric.

The former President talked often of wiping out Israel and denied the Holocaust occurred. This one sends Rosh Hashanah greetings to all Jews. It is just symbolic, but a very welcome change of tone.

A spokesperson has tried to deny the account is the President’s, and it may be run by someone on his behalf, but it is thought he approves any messages on it.

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Good news from Iran

June 16th, 2013 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

Moderate cleric Hassan Rohani won Iran’s presidential election today, the interior ministry said, scoring a surprising landslide victory over conservative hardliners without the need of a second round run-off.

Interior Minister Mostafa Mohammad-Najjar announced on state television that Rohani secured just over 50 percent of the ballot based on a 72 percent turnout of 50 million eligible voters. “Mr Hassan Rohani … got the absolute majority of votes and was elected as president,” Najjar said.

The outcome will not soon transform Iran’s long tense relations with the West, call into question its disputed pursuit of nuclear power or lessen its support of Syria’s president in the civil war there – matters of national security that remain the domain of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

This doesn’t mean a radical change of policy. The Supreme Leader remains in charge. But it does mean a President who is not as offensive as his predecessor.

Though an establishment figure, Rohani is a former chief nuclear negotiator known for his nuanced, conciliatory approach. He has pledged to promote a policy of “constructive interaction with the world” and to enact a domestic “civil rights charter”.

Rohani’s wide margin revealed a broad reservoir of pro-reform sentiment with many voters, undaunted by restrictions on candidate choice and campaign rallies, seizing the chance to repudiate the dominant hardline elite over Iran’s economic woes, international isolation and crackdowns on social freedoms.

The fact he won on the first ballot is a good sign of strength for the reform movement. Over 36 million Iranians voted and he got 50.7% of the vote, with the next two candidates getting 16.6% and 11.4% respectively.

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The idiots in charge of Iran

February 14th, 2013 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

Asher Moses reports:

Iran has been caught out in another Photoshop blunder in an effort to prove its purported stealth fighter jet is the real deal.

An Iranian state news agency released a new picture of the radar-dodging jet flying above snow-covered mountains.

But the picture was immediately suspected to be fake, with the lighting on the plane and its position similar to its appearance in pictures on the ground in Tehran at the unveiling earlier this month.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad described it as “among the most advanced fighter jets in the world”, capable of hitting ground and air targets by stealth, but experts dismissed it as a “laughable fake” which looks like a toy or mock-up model.

Now the new picture has also been laughed off, after it was revealed by The Atlantic Wire that the background image of the mountain was taken from the stock image sitePickyWallpapers.com.

It scares me that such morons can be in charge of a country. I mean seriously it just wouldn’t happen in most countries. I could just imagine what would happen in say NZ if the PM suggested we just photoshop an image of a plane into a picture and claim it is a stealth fighter. There would be hundreds of people pointing out why it is the stupidest idea ever.

In 2008, news wire Agence France-Presse had to retract an official image of an Iran missile launch following revelations it was doctored to include an extra missile. The photo had appeared on the front pages of many media outlets including NYTimes.com and the front page of The Los Angeles Times.

In November last year Iran showed off a new drone design, but it was later revealed that the photographs it released were ripped off from a Japanese university and doctored.

Iran last month claimed to have successfully sent a monkey into space in a Pishgam rocket. That announcement was also accused of being faked as photographs of the monkey before and after showed two clearly different animals. Iran is sticking to its guns.

They’ve done it so often now, it is really becoming a bad joke. The Iranian Government seems to be the equivalent of the kid with the small penis who keeps stuffing tissue paper into his underpants to make his package look bigger.

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Iran’s obsession with space

February 8th, 2013 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

Asher Moses at SMH reports:

Fresh from controversy over a suspicious space-faring monkey, Iran is now under fire over a suspect stealth fighter jet breakthrough that one Australian defence analyst said “looks like it might make a noise and vibrate if you put 20 cents in”.

Unveiling the Qaher F313 (Dominant F313) earlier this month, Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmedinejad described it as “among the most advanced fighter jets in the world” with features including the ability to evade detection by radar and hit both ground and air targets.

Aviation experts have questioned whether the jet shown can even fly as it was too small to accommodate a real pilot and the controls and wiring looked too simple.

It also lacked the bolts and rivets found on all aircraft and offered wonky aerodynamics.

“It looks like the Iranians dumped some rudimentary flight controls and an ejection seat into a shell moulded in what they thought were stealthy angles,” wrote Foreign Policy magazine.

Andrew Davies, senior defence analyst and director of research at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, said the jet was a “laughable fake”.

“It looks like it might make a noise and vibrate if you put 20 cents in,” he told Fairfax Media.

The monkey that changed appearance was laughable enough, but this takes the cake. You wonder if those in charge are morons, or just think everyone else is? Fourth formers could do better fakes!

“I can see (almost) how North Korea gets away with transparent nonsense due to isolation, but Iran has a population that’s much more switched on and connected, at least in the cities.

Hopefully it will lead to greater unrest amongst the population. People don’t like a Government that lies and turns their country into a laughing stock.

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Poor Iranian gamers

August 31st, 2012 at 11:13 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

 They’ve vanquished elves, trolls, and all manner of magical monsters. But one select group of online gamers is facing an even more formidable foe: The US sanctions regime.

Iranian players of “World of Warcraft,”; the massively popular online multiplayer franchise, have found themselves frozen out by Blizzard Activision Inc., the American company behind the game. Iranian role playing enthusiasts have spent much of the past week peppering Blizzard’s message board with complaints about how they weren’t able to log on to the service only to be told recently that US law was to blame.

“United States trade restrictions and economic sanction laws prohibit Blizzard from doing business with residents of certain nations, including Iran,” the company said in an email sent to players last week and forwarded to The Associated Press late on Tuesday.

Now that’s a step too far. I’m all for sanctions which hurt the Government, but blocking poor Iranian gamers from WoW is just unfair.

Mind you, if there are enough of them, maybe this could be the spark that lights the revolution. They role the regime, so they can carry on with WoW!

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Will Obama attack Iran?

July 30th, 2012 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

An Israeli newspaper is reporting the Obama administration’s top security official has briefed Israel on US plans for a possible attack on Iran, seeking to reassure it that Washington is prepared to act militarily should diplomacy and sanctions fail to pressure Tehran to abandon its nuclear enrichment programme.

But a senior Israeli official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss confidential talks, said the article in the Haaretz daily was incorrect.

Allowing Iran to gain nuclear weapons is unthinkable, especially as their President has vowed to destroy Israel so many times. Likewise, an attack on Iran is almost unthinkable, as it would destabilise the region, undermine the pro-democratic forces in Iran, and entrench the current leadership.

I do wonder about how it would play domestically in the US though. Would an attack by Obama in election year help in the polls by making him look willing to take the hard decisions? Romney could not attack him, if Obama does strike to remove Iran’s nuclear capability.

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What it means to be the good guys

January 12th, 2012 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

ABC reports:

For the second time in as many weeks, the U.S. military has rescued distressed Iranian sailors, despite the extremely high tensions between the two nations.

According to the Navy’s account, at about 3 a.m. local time an American Coast Guard patrol boat in the north Persian Gulf was hailed by flares and flashlights from an Iranian cargo ship whose engine room was flooding. Six Iranians were rescued from the ship, fed halal meals in accordance with Islamic law, and later taken to shore.

I suspect if the situation was reverse the rescued sailors would be accused of being spies, put in jail, given a mock trial, and sentenced to die.

Last week, the U.S. Navy rescued more than a dozen Iranian sailors who had been held hostage by pirates in the Arabian Sea for weeks. American sailors on a “visit, board, search and seizure team” were able to free the sailors and take 15 suspected pirates into custody without incident on Jan. 5, the Navy said.

Not bad for the Great Satan.

Both rescues come in the midst of an especially tense time between the U.S. and Iran. Most recently, the International Atomic Energy Agency confirmed Monday Iran has been enriching uranium in a highly-protected underground bunker as part of the nation’s nuclear program — a move the U.S. State Department said was a “further escalation of their ongoing violations with regard to their nuclear obligations.”

Over the weekend, an Iranian court handed down a death sentence to an American former Marine accused of spying for the CIA in Tehran. Both the U.S. government and the 28-year-old’s family have repeatedly called the Iranian allegations “fabrications.”

One day Iran will be free.

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Two Wings of a Nightingale

June 15th, 2011 at 8:07 pm by David Farrar

Have just returned from the Iranian Embassy, which hosted a function for Jill Worrall, the author of Two Wings of a Nightingale – a travel book about Iran.

I mentioned the function and the book on The Panel prior to the function and was amused that it seems half the people at the reception heard me mention it. Shows how strong Radio NZ is in Wellington.

Readers may recall I visited Iran in 2009, hence my invite to the launch. Like Jill, I found it a wonderful country, nothing like what one might expect. The people are wonderfully friendly and hospitable, and the sights are magnificent. If it is shame that so few New Zealanders travel to Iran (under 100 a year probably).

I’m definitely going to return one day, and recommend those curious abaout it read Jill’s book.

Next time I visit, I plan to stay for at least two weeks. There is so much to see.

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Hypocrisy alert

March 16th, 2011 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

Reuters reports:

Bahrain has declared a state of emergency following weeks of unrest on the island kingdom, state television announced on Tuesday, saying the measure would come into force immediately and last three months.

An order by the king “authorised the commander of Bahrain’s defence forces to take all necessary measures to protect the safety of the country and its citizens,” said a statement read out on television.

Meanwhile, Iran called the arrival of Saudi troops in Bahrain unacceptable and urged the kingdom to respond to pro-democracy demonstrators peacefully.

For fuck’s sake – I don’t know whether to cry or laugh.

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Campbell on Artists v Journalists & Bloggers

January 31st, 2011 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

Gordon Campbell writes at Scoop on the Government’s response to the jailing of Iranian film-maker Jafar Panahi. He quotes the letter from Chris Finlayson which says:

We also raise the human rights situation in Iran in statements at the United Nations, including cosponsoring the UNGA 3rd Committee Resolution on Iran’s Human Rights. We will continue to express our concern at restrictions on the right to freedom of opinion and expression in Iran, including the imprisonment of journalists, bloggers, and filmmakers such as Mr Panahi.

Now Gordon may be quite right to criticise the Government for relying on statements at the UN to improve human rights in Iran. But here’s what Gordon says in his critique of the Govt’s response:

Finlayson apparently believes Panahi’s case is not exceptional, nor his treatment particularly egregious. In fact, we appear to have an Arts Minister unable to tell the difference between an artist of Panahi’s stature, and journalists and bloggers.

Oh goodness – what an insight into the Wellington cultural mindset. Governments shouldn’t do anything beyond the normal statements at the UN to protest against jailing of journalists and bloggers, but when the detainee is an “artist of stature”, then they must move mountains.

Is this attitude linked to the leave Roman Polanski alone movement, because he is also an “artist”.

Personally as a blogger, I’m rather glad Chris doesn’t see bloggers and journalists as less deserving of freedom from detention, than artists of stature.

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Temporary wives

December 2nd, 2010 at 7:39 am by David Farrar

AP reports:

Contracts with “temporary wives” are a legal way for Iranian men to have mistresses outside marriage, with the agreements lasting several hours to a few years.

Hmmn, maybe there is something to this sharia law after all :-)

Does this mean the mother-in-laws are just temporary also?

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Ahmadinejad goes more bonkers

September 25th, 2010 at 10:42 am by David Farrar

AP reports:

Iran’s hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad provoked yet another controversy on Thursday saying a majority of people in the United States and around the world believe the American Government staged the September 11 terror attacks in an attempt to assure Israel’s survival.

He’s gone from holocaust denial to 9/11 conspiracy theorist.

Now he is not the only demented person in the world, who really thinks the Holocaust was faked, along with 9/11.

But he is the only one developing nuclear weapons.

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The hatred from Iran’s leaders

September 6th, 2010 at 9:43 am by David Farrar

First we have this story:

A senior Iranian cleric, Grand Ayatollah Nasser Makarem Shirazi, dismissed the Nazi Holocaust of Jews during World War II as a new “superstition” for the West, media reported on Saturday.

“The Holocaust is nothing but superstition, but Zionists say that people of the world should be forced to accept this,” he was quoted as saying by the state news agency IRNA.

“Americans and Westerners are affected by newly appeared superstitions such as the Holocaust,” he said according to ISNA news agency.

“The truth about the Holocaust is not clear, and when the researchers want to examine whether it is true or the Jews have created it to pose as victims, they jail the researchers,” said Makarem Shirazi, who is a “marja,” or among the highest authorities in Shiite Islam.

So he argues the Jews created the Holocaust. Either he is a retarded moron, or he argues this for a reason. I believe it to be the latter – to help recreate the conditions of the 1930s, so there can be another holocaust – this one with nuclear weapons on Israel.

People might say, it is just talk. Well Hitler was just talk when he started blaming it all on the Jews.

And then to remind us how nasty the Iranian regime (which is very different to the Iranian people) is, we have this story:

Iran has reportedly sentenced Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani – the 43-year-old Iranian woman who faces execution after being convicted of adultery – to 99 lashes in prison for “spreading corruption and indecency” after allowing an unveiled picture of herself to be published in a British newspaper. …

What has made the latest charges against her even more extraordinary is the fact that the unveiled photograph in question, published by the Times newspaper on August 28, was not actually of Mohammadi Ashtiani but of another woman, for which the paper has since apologised.

I am not sure what is more appalling – the fact that you can get 99 lashes for not wearing a veil, or the fact she got convicted of this “indecency” when it wasn’t her in the photo – a trivial fact to establish.

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Execution for throwing a stone

March 18th, 2010 at 5:28 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

A student who was arrested for throwing a stone during pro-democracy demonstrations is to be executed, Iran said yesterday.

Mohammad-Amin Valian, a 20-year-old Islamic studies student, was arrested on the basis of a photograph taken at a mass demonstration against the rigged presidential election last year.

He was among six convicted of moharebeh, or waging war against God.

I guess waging war against God sounds a better charge than waging war against election fraud.

Whenever the United States executes a prisoner who has been found guilty of one or more brutal murders, there are massive protests ranging from the local, to global. Even the Pope sometimes weighs in.

I hope an equal amount of energy will be spent protesting the death of this 20 year old Iranian, for throwing a stone.

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More on Radio NZ and Iran

February 24th, 2010 at 4:35 pm by David Farrar

I blogged twice previously on the Radio NZ staff going to radio workshops in Iran. My position was that the Iranian Government was effectively paying for the staff to take part in an event hosted by their in house propoganda arm.

Apart from the issue of accepting the money from the Iranian Government, there was the issue of having a “good” public broadcaster like Radio NZ having its reputation associated with a state controlled broadcaster that doesn’t speak truth to power but instead speaks lies on behalf of those in power.

In the comments section I said:

The way I read it the conference organisers are the IRIB, and they are the ones paying all the costs. I welcome clarification if that is not the case, but regardless think there is an issue about having a state sponsored enemy of the free press, paying for even part of the costs of RNZ staff

Russell Brown replied:

It’s not true, and you’ve rushed in with an endorsement of a “scoop” written by someone who didn’t even bother to check her “facts”.

The two RNZ staff members were sponsored by the Asia-Pacific Broadcasting Union. The sentence in the newsletter was hilariously wrong. End of story.

And you wonder why people say bad things about blogs.

We also had RNZ Comms say:

Two Radio New Zealand staff members have been invited to take part in an international radio festival and conference in Iran, but the invitation came not from the IRIB organisers but the Asia-Pacific Broadcasting Union, the umbrella agency for public broadcasting in our region. Our staff are not representing Radio New Zealand, but are attending on behalf of ABU, and if that organisation had not issued the invitation, they would not be attending.

All the costs of the trip will be reimbursed. No programme-making or gathering of content for air on Radio New Zealand will be done during the attendance at the event.

But nowhere in that statement did they back up the assertion by Russell on who actually is paying. I it APBU or Iran?

Well I have a copy of a statement from Radio NZ, which I believe has or will be supplied to media. In it they say:

Under a separate arrangement between the ABU and IRIB (Iran), the costs of all ABU representatives attending the event are covered by the host broadcaster.

In other words we are right – Iran is paying for two Radio NZ staff to travel to the workshop. Who ever told Russell it is not true, led him wrong.

We also have the issue where Radio NZ keeps insisting the are not representing Radio NZ, but instead the ABU. However their statement again says:

They will not be taking leave to attend

So they are being paid their normal salaries by Radio NZ while they are there, and Iran picks up the travel costs. And I have no doubt their affiliation with Radio NZ will be referenced at the workshops.

Now I have nothing against the two staffers in question. I am sure they do an excellent job. And if the ABU was holding the workshops elsewhere, there would not be an issue – even if a country with a semi-free press such as Singapore.

But Iran has pretty much no free press at all. The host broadcaster is beyond doubt an enemy of free media – their chairman accused the BBC and CNN of manfacturing tapes of the Iranian girl being killed. This is not a regime you want to accept money from, and lend credibility to.

Their global press freedom ranking is 181st= out of 195. Only 13 countries or territories rate lower.

The Chief Executive of Radio NZ has to approve the attendance under the conflicts of interest policy. Why does he not think associating with a regime which is an enemy of public broadcasters like Radio NZ, is a conflict? Just because the ABU has agreed to do workshops there does not mean Radio NZ has to agree to have its staff participate.

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Iran sponsoring Radio NZ staff

February 22nd, 2010 at 12:15 pm by David Farrar

Busted Blonde has a great scoop. She has found out two Radio NZ staff members are being sponsored by the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting agency to attend some sort of broadcasting event in Iran.

So taking money from evil capitalist businesses in New Zealand is wrong, but from the Iranian Government (a known bastion of free speech) is fine.

The head of the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting agency is the man who told the world press last July that videos of Neda Agha-Soltan’s death were fakes manufactured by the BBC and CNN.

UPDATE: In a comment below, Radio NZ says the staff are not representing Radio NZ, and that they would not attend if the IRIBA had invited them directly but somehow it is okay because it is through the Asia-Pacific Broadcasting Union. What is not yet clear is who is paying for the travel – IRIBA or the APBU, and also whether the staff are being paid to attend, or taking unpaid or annual leave]

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Editorials 12 February 2010

February 12th, 2010 at 3:08 pm by David Farrar

The NZ Herald calls for a temporary fix for Queens Wharf.

Three options released yesterday by the Minister for the Rugby World Cup, Murray McCully, provide alternatives for this. The cheapest, at $23.9 million, involves removing the ugly sheds from the wharf and creating a temporary village. The two others, at $27.2 million and $31.3 million, envisage the sheds being refurbished for the “party”. That represents no choice at all, given the sheds will remain an embarrassing eyesore no matter how much they are tarted up. They must go.

The Press is concerned about Iran. I doubt the feeling is mutual :-)

This week the bellicose Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadenijad, defied a string of United Nations sanctions resolutions and ordered the firing up of dozens of centrifuges to greatly increase his country’s output of enriched uranium. Although the product these facilities will produce is only to a level needed to run nuclear power stations and is not of sufficiently high grade to create nuclear weapons, it is a crucial technical step up in Iran’s nuclear programme. Having mastered the techniques required to produce this material, the next step to create weapons-grade material is a relatively simple one. And almost no-one believes Iran’s repeated denials that it intends eventually to take that next step. …

Iran with nuclear weapons, or military action to prevent it getting them, are highly undesirable alternatives. But if the world wants to avert them diplomacy must not be allowed to fail.

I think it pretty much already has failed.

The Dominion Post rails against pokie machines:

Gamblers pump about $1 billion a year into machines in pubs, RSAs and sports clubs. Of that, about a third finds its way back to the community via gaming trusts. (The rest is consumed by the Government, in the form of taxes, as well as by pubs and clubs and the gaming machine trusts.)

The majority of machines are concentrated in lower socio-economic areas. Newtown, for example, has 72. Khandallah, Thorndon, Kelburn and Wadestown have none. However, the proceeds are distributed evenly across communities. That means the people who frequent gaming machines in poorer neighbourhoods are subsidising the sporting and cultural pursuits of their neighbours in wealthier parts of town.

For this reason, and many others, tentative Wellington City Council proposals to gradually lower the number of machines in five “areas of concern” – Tawa, Johnsonville, Miramar, Karori and Newtown – are welcome.

I disagree. Gambling is effectively a tax on stupidity. the left always go on about how we should tax bad things more. Well stupidity is a bad thing, and if the taxpayer and community groups can make money from stupid people, then that is fine with me – so long as there is total transparency about odds – ie people know that over time they are almost certain to lose money.

The ODT looks at Sarah Palin:

Her popularity is as baffling as it is perhaps frightening to liberal intellectuals, Democrats – and, some suggest – to old-school Republicans whose most fervent wish is to retake the White House in 2012 and who fear her potentially divisive influence on the party. …

She may embody all the colourful hyperbole and grammatical integrity of a hastily penned country and western anthem, but down-home, emotive, illogical, God-fearing and at times disturbingly ignorant, she epitomises a certain cross-section of the electorate.

As such Mrs Palin is a potentially powerful influence on the future course of US politics.

Mainstream political forces will continue to dismiss her at their peril.

She may of course self-destruct at some stage. What will be interesting is how many GOP candidates ask her to appear with them in the mid-terms in November.

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The revolution continues

December 30th, 2009 at 10:35 pm by David Farrar

The Times names Neda Soltan as the 2009 Person of the Year. A superb choice.

Soltan was killed by Government forces in Iran, during a protest. However the Government has gone even further, with there being some evidence that Seyed Ali Mousavi (nephew of the presidential candidate) was not shot during a street protest, but actually hunted down at his house and killed by the Government as a warning.

Regardless the protests are growing, and the Times explains why:

Iran’s panicking regime is once again seeking to suppress the Green Movement by decapitating it.

Just as it did after June’s hotly-disputed presidential election, it is arresting high-profile reformists, academics and journalists who support the opposition.

It hesitates to detain Mir Hossein Mousavi lest millions of his supporters take to the streets, but it has locked up his brother-in-law and is widely suspected of killing his nephew. It cannot arrest Shirin Ebadi, the Nobel laureate, as she is abroad, but it has imprisoned her sister.

The tactic will prove as futile now as it did in June. Decapitation will not work because the opposition is a bottom-up movement run not by Mr Mousavi or Mehdi Karroubi, its nominal leaders, but by its grassroots members. It is a massive campaign of civil disobedience.

“Ahmadinejad, Khamenei and the Revolutionary Guards still don’t get it,” said one Iranian academic. “The Green Movement is a decentralised popular front run by local cells and local leaderships across the country. The main opposition figures do not control it. They are spiritual leaders, but do not provide any direction in regard to demonstrations or slogans.”

This is the key. You can not decapitate a grass-roots movement. You can shoot and arrest lots of people, but it will just anger more and more people.

Now I’m not saying this will result in the overthrow of the Government, as many in the Government will be happy to kill to remain in power. But their legitimacy as a Government will weaken massively. I doubt they could even go through the pretence of an election anytime soon, and if they do away with elections, then the resistance will have more reason to carry on.

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Revolution in Iran

December 28th, 2009 at 10:02 am by David Farrar

Photo from Andrew Sullivan’s blog, which also has near non stop coverage.

The resistance to dictatorship is not going to fade away.

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About Iran

November 25th, 2009 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

ira11

This is me outside the former US Embassy. It is a huge compound in the middle of Tehran. You can get arrested if you take photos of Government buildings, or police officers, and I wasn’t sure whether this could get me in trouble, so did the photo quickly. Probably didn’t help that through a timing error with the laundry the only shirt that was dry was my Martha’s Vineyard shirt, which might have people conclude I was from the US. I made sure I kept my passport with me at all times.

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The walls are covered with anti-US artwork.

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And the compulsory reference to the Great Satan.

The above is probably what most people view Iran as being about. In fact most Iranians are very warm and hospitable I found, and I enjoyed my stay here more than some of the other countries – partly because the taxi drivers do not rip you off, no touts, and the merchants are not overly aggressive (they encourage sales but not harrass you – even in the bazaars).

But there are some downsides, which now I am out of the country, I should cover:

  • The Internet is seriously filtered and almost as bad is dialup in most places. Kiwiblog is blocked for example (for politics). Amusingly Whale Oil/Gotcha is not. Cactus Kate is blocked (for sex). Many Iranians get around the filter through the use of proxies. They seem to be common knowledge and as they get blocked more new ones get circulated. They block almost anything relating to the old Shah, including some Wikipedia pages.
  • No external cellphone coverage. Local cellphones work, but not ones from outside. No phone calls or text messages.
  • No ATMs. Well they do have a few, but they only work with local cards for the bank they are located in. Combined that with almost no credit card facilities and you need a lot of cash. On the plus side you get 7,500 Rials to a NZ$ and a lot of things costs under 10,000 Rials :-)
  • The dress code is strict. Unlike every other country to date, all women must wear a hajib – including tourists. And all men must wear trousers/jeans. I was even a bit nervous about having a t-shirt as only saw one other person with short sleeves in my whole stay, but I am told they are a bit more common in summer.
  • While most locals are not at all anti-Western, they are very anti-Israel (to be fair as is most of Middle East). I got asked over dinner which countries I had already visited on this trip, and I accidentally said Israel instead of Egypt, and they looked shocked. Of course if you have been to Israel, you are not allowed entry to Iran, so it may just have been that.
  • The normal Police were quite helpful and friendly, but I am told you want to avoid the religious militia.
  • Women have to travel on the back of the bus. Seriously. Even if you are married, men sit and stand in the front half, and women in the back half.
  • Foreigners are relatively rare. I understand only around 200 Kiwis a year go into Iran, and you do feel very much the stranger at times. I was lucky Paul speaks some Farsi, which helps.
  • The traffic in Tehran is terrible and their flights are often delayed, which makes internal travel challenging.

Again though, while I was a bit nervous at times, it was a very enjoyable experience. While I never heard any criticism of the Supreme Leader (and was careful not to offer any), many locals were happy to share their thoughts on the President (and generally very uncomplimentary).

Oh one amusing story. As you can imagine Iran can be a difficult posting for a diplomat if their partner is of the same sex as them. I got told that one Commonwealth country’s Ambassador (not NZ) had his partner officially registered as his butler to avoid any issues. All the expats knew they were a couple of course, and they went to functions together. One wit said to the partner, that he was the only Butler he knew, where it was spelt with two “t”s :-)

If the Iranian Government stopped scaring people so much, I think Iran could become a great tourist destination. It’s a wonderful country, with a huge amount to see, and in many sense feels relatively “Western”. But I think it will be sometime away. If you are visiting the region though, I would advocate that you do try and get a visa and pay a visit – you will probably be pleasantly surprised by the experience. And the NZ Embassy is extremely friendly, professional and helpful.

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Persepolis

November 24th, 2009 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

Around half an hour from Shiraz, is Persepolis. It was the capital of the Persian Empire from around 550 BC to 330 BC when Alexander the Great destroyed the place.

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Around 12 km before Persepolis is Naqsh-e Rustam, which has the tombs of four of the Achaemenid Kings. Two of the tombs are in this photo. The tombs are a fair way up.

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One of the tombs closer up.

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The artwork is well preserved generally.

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They also have on the walls, seven scenes. This is celebrating the victory of Shapur I over Emperor Valerian. Valerian is the only Roman Emperor to be taken into captivity.

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This artwork is thought to be pre-historic – around 9,000 years old.

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Just a km away is Naqsh-e Rajab. Entry to both places is around NZ67c. The site has four inscriptions. In this inscription you can see a noble holding a curved finger up behind the King. This was a sign of respect. Of course today with two fingers it is taking the mickey.

Talking of signs, be aware that giving the thumbs up in Iran, is akin to giving the fingers.

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This is the main gates. The ruins are on a 125,000 square meter terrace.  Those horse like figures were actually bulls.

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Some (rare) grafitti. I’m sure the British Consul-Generals are no longer encouraged to inscribe their names on World Heritage sites.

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These were quite common on the site

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More artwork survives here, than on most Egyptian sites.

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The quality, as you look close up, is wonderful.

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They showed visitors and gifts from over a dozen different countries.

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One of the many palace ruins

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One of the palaces has been restored and turned into a museum, with various pieces on display.

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Up the mountain somewhat, are three tombs.

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Inside the tomb.

When we were up there, one family asked our guide for a photo. We thought they wanted one of the whole family, but they wanted it with Paul and I. In some areas they have obviously never seen a westerner.

Another group were noticeably filming us on their mobile phones.

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Paul, with Layla, our guide. Layla was great. Very talkative, and very knowledgeable. She has been guiding for the last five years, since she was 18.

One amusing thing, was the literal translation of some phrases. It seems in Farsi, saying “If you look closely” in English is “Pay attention”, so all day Layla was telling us to pay attention. The first time she said it I thought I was being told off, until I worked out it was just a translation issue.

If anyone ever does wish to travel there, just contact me for Layla’s contact details if you want a great guide. Very reasonable priced, and makes a big difference.

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The sun spoilt our panorama shots of the site from up by the tomb, so to give you a better idea, this one from Wikipedia gives you an idea of what you can see. You can click on it for a larger image and a second time for fullsize.

If this site was outside Iran, I would say it would have 20,000 people a day through it at least. But here there were barely 100. Now it makes it very nice to have no crowds, but it is a pity so few people get to see such magnificent ancient ruins.

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Shiraz

November 24th, 2009 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

On Sunday, we took an internal flight to Shiraz, which is in the South of Iran. Despite leaving home at 7 am, we missed the 8.30 am flight as traffic was jampacked, but they got us on a 9 am flight so no big deal.

The flight down was with Iran Aseman Airlines. I try and avoid non-international carriers, but the flight was fine. No idea what the meal was, but it tasted fine.

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Parts of Iran, currently have s snow cover, as the photo from the plane shows.

Shiraz, is over 4,000 years old and is where Shiraz wines originated from, but today they have no grapes there. It is known as the city of poets, wine and flowers – and has significant Jewish and Christian communities. It was the capital of Persia for 30 years in the 18th century.

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This is Qavam House. It was the domicile of the Governor in the late 1800s. It was also later the home of Professor Arthur Pope, an American professor who lived in Iran for 50 years and was buried there. A museum is also on the grounds. This is well worth a visit. Lots of thousands of year old artefacts.

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A typical mosaic in the House.

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The famous room of mirrors

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Victorian images on the ceiling

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The Governor’s meeting room

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This photo is taken from the local bazaar. That picture is not a painting. It is actually a carpet. Amazing artwork. Sadly they cost too much for me, but there was some incredible items on sale. I did manage to buy a fair few presents though. The bazaar merchants are not at all as pushy as in Turkey and Egypt, and it was very pleasant doing business. Hardly have to haggle too, as the prices are very reasonable.

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This is the tomb of the poet Hafez, who died in 1390. A very popular place for locals to go on dates etc. Hafex is the most beloved poet in Persian culture.

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And the actual tomb.

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This is the other very famous poet’s tomb – Saadi, who died in 1291.

Hard to see much at night, but surrounded by massive gardens, so again a popular site.

The tomb also has a natural fishpond in the grounds. You go down a flight of stairs into a chamber (which is also a café now) and a local river flows through the middle of it, with many fish to be seen in the carved out pond.

By this time it was 7.30 pm so we had dinner at a popular restaurant. Iranian cusine (a mixture of Turkish and Lebanese is how best to describe it) is quite wonderful. I had many dishes without knowing what they were!

Got to the airport to discover the 1045 pm flight back to Tehran was delayed until 1 am. Groan. But managed to get transferred onto an 11 pm flight so got back home just before 1 am. Around a 90 minute flight.

Had got up at 6 am, so it was a 19 hour day, but a very enjoyable one. The middle part of the day (which was the highlight) is a separate post.

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