AP: "Iran has allowed a top U.N. atomic inspector access to a site where it is developing advanced centrifuges that can be used to make nuclear fuel and to arm warheads, diplomats told The Associated Press on Tuesday. The diplomats said that Deputy Director General Herman Nackaerts of the International Atomic Energy Agency also was allowed to tour Iran's heavy water production plant for the first time. Heavy water reactors - like the research unit being built by Iran - produce plutonium which, along with enriched uranium, can be used for the fissile core of nuclear warheads.
A senior diplomat familiar with the visit described the Iranian move as significant in demonstrating openness after years of stonewalling IAEA requests for greater access to restricted nuclear activities. Iran is under four sets of U.N. Security Council sanctions because it refuses to suspend both enrichment and its heavy water reactor program. Therefore any sign that it is ready to open a larger window is likely to blunt U.S.-led efforts to increase pressure on the Islamic Republic for defying the Security Council...
Before Nackaerts' five-day visit, which ended Saturday, the IAEA was forced to rely on satellite imagery in concluding that the heavy water production plant was in operation. One of the diplomats said Nackaerts was able to confirm this on his visit." http://t.uani.com/qEarlb
Reuters: "North Korea has intensified its cooperation with Iran this year and supplied it with a computer program that could help the Islamic Republic build nuclear weapons, a German newspaper reported on Wednesday, citing western intelligence sources. The Sueddeutsche Zeitung said North Korea had in the spring delivered software, originally developed in the United States, that could simulate neutron flows.
Such calculations, linked to identifying a chain reaction, are vital in the construction of reactors and also in the development of nuclear explosives. With the help of the program, Iran could gain important knowledge of how to construct nuclear weapons, reported the newspaper which quoted no individual source.
If confirmed, it could add to Western suspicions about Iran's disputed nuclear activities and its links with North Korea, a secretive Asian state whose pursuit of nuclear weapons worries the world. A confidential U.N. report earlier this year said North Korea and Iran appeared to have been regularly exchanging ballistic missile technology in violation of U.N. sanctions." http://t.uani.com/qLsiR7
LAT: "The European Union announced sanctions Wednesday against Iran's elite Al-Quds security force, saying it was providing Syria with materiel and other support to help Syrian President Bashar Assad crush that country's popular uprising. The sanctions represent the most direct international accusation that Iran is helping Syria to quell a 5-month campaign of opposition protests.
There was no immediate public response from Iranian authorities to the sanctions, who have remained among Assad's strongest allies. The sanctions, published Wednesday in the EU's Official Journal, accuse Iran's Al-Quds force of 'providing equipment and support to help the Syria regime suppress revolts in Syria.'
The EU sanctions will freeze assets and ban travel by certain individuals and entities. British newspapers previously have quoted unidentified Western diplomats as accusing Iran of providing riot-control and surveillance gear to Syria to help Assad's regime against dissidents." http://t.uani.com/p16JH7
Nuclear Program & Sanctions
Reuters: "A senior United Nations official visited all of Iran's main atomic sites last week, an Iranian news agency reported, as the Islamic Republic looks to restart talks with world powers about its nuclear program. Herman Nackaerts, the head of the 'safeguards' department of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), spent five days in Iran on a rare visit that coincided with a new push by Russia to re-start diplomatic talks.
The trip also happened as Iran started to move some of its uranium centrifuges to an underground bunker that would be less exposed to any strike by Israel or the United States... 'During this trip, the delegation visited Bushehr nuclear plant, enrichment facilities in Natanz and Fordow, nuclear sites in Isfahan ... and also the Arak heavy water reactor,' the semi-official Fars news agency quoted Iran's ambassador to the IAEA, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, as saying.
Nackaerts, whose department is responsible for ensuring that nuclear material is not used for weapons, met Iran's nuclear chief Fereydoun Abbasi-Davani. 'There were talks on how to expand cooperations with the Agency and how to answer some of the Agency's questions,' Soltanieh said." http://t.uani.com/r50kwH
JPost: "Iran's suicide rate has climbed 17% in two years, with 10 Iranians on average taking their lives every day, a government official announced Wednesday.
Ahmad Shaja'i, the country's chief of forensic medicine, told the Iranian Students' News Agency (ISNA) that suicides increased nearly 5% since last year, with 952 Iranians taking their lives during the first quarter of the Iranian year, which began in March, compared with 870 the same time last year. More than 70% of the suicides were men.
Mehrdad Khonsari, a former Iranian diplomat, told The Media Line that suicide rates in Iran have always been higher than in the West, but that the aggravated economic and social conditions may have contributed to the new peak, mainly among the country's youth. 'Iranians don't live a normal life,' Khonsari told The Media Line. 'There are barriers to interaction between youth, forced marriages, and many young couples must live with their parents because they can't afford housing.'" http://t.uani.com/q3xnhw
Bloomberg: "Iran expects to find four new gas fields before the end of March 2012 following exploration now being carried out, the state-run Mehr news agency said, citing National Iranian Oil Co.'s director for exploration, Mahmoud Mohaddes. Iran recently discovered the Menar natural gas field located east of the southern port town of Assaluyeh, according to the Mehr report. The field holds 17.470 trillion cubic feet or 495 billion cubic meters of gas and some three fourth of it is recoverable, the report said." http://t.uani.com/oOaIiZ
Opinion & Analysis
Michael Doran in FP: "The United States must therefore dispense entirely with grand strategies that seek to foster a conciliatory image of the United States and to solve the Arab-Israeli conflict. Instead, it should focus on the key challenge posed by the Arab uprisings: managing intra-Muslim conflict.
This requires returning to the question that Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah first posed to Obama: What is the strategy of the United States toward Iran? At stake in Syria today is nothing less than the future of the Iranian regional security system. It should not escape notice that the Saudis, though hostile to the populist wave in general, have now aligned themselves against Assad.
As much as they fear revolution, the Saudis fear the Islamic Republic of Iran even more, and they see the Syrian crisis as an opportunity to deal a severe blow to it. The United States should adopt a similar view. The contest on the ground in Syria, obviously, has profoundly local causes. Nevertheless, the regional struggle between Iran and its rivals will play a significant role in shaping it.
After Assad falls, a proxy war will erupt, with outside powers seeking to cultivate Syrian clients. Iran and Hezbollah will use the covert and brutal methods that they have honed in Lebanon and Iraq. They will preserve what they can from the remnants of Assad's security services, while simultaneously arming and training new proxies. They will kill off and intimidate those Syrians who get in their way. The United States has a vital interest in thwarting Iran. To do so effectively, however, it must develop a serious and sustained regional containment strategy.
The process of writing the new strategy begins, like before, in Riyadh and Ankara. This time, however, Obama should reverse his attitude toward the preferences of King Abdullah and Prime Minister Erdogan. The Syrian crisis offers a new opportunity to reach a strategic accommodation with the Saudis.
At the same time, it should also force Washington to re-evaluate the Turks' no-problems policy. To date, this policy has worked to the net benefit of Iran and Syria and to the detriment of the United States. There is no reason to believe that it will produce a different result in the future." http://t.uani.com/oF5Jfg
Ramin Jahanbegloo in CSM: "When future generations look back, they will remember 2011 as the year of the end of dictators in the Middle East and the Maghreb. Libya's Muammar Qaddafi appears to have now joined the Middle East parade of despots rejected by an uprising. Practically nine months after Tunisia's President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali was ousted after 23 years of authoritarian rule and the Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was thrown out of power by a few weeks of protests in Tahrir Square, Qaddafi is at the end of his reign after 42 years of dictatorship...
So far, the remaining authoritarian regimes in the region such as Iran and Syria have sought to insulate themselves from an Egypt-like scenario. They continue to practice a high degree of violence against their opposition, believing they can hold onto power as long as they succeed in terrorizing their citizens... It remains to be seen whether Mr. Assad and Iran's Revolutionary Guards can manage to continue terrorizing their fellow citizens extensively enough to win a chance of dying in their own bed.
Leaving aside wishful thinking, what is certain is that the Syrian and Iranian regimes, even though they have lost their moral and political legitimacy, are doubling their efforts to crush and fragment civic actors precisely in order not to end up like Egypt or, now, Libya. In doing so, they have created enormous obstacles to the nonviolent transition in these countries.
Nonetheless, ending the reign of terror in Syria and Iran is not totally blocked if the formerly cowed citizenry takes up their own collective responsibility, as they did in Libya, to end human rights abuses. However painful it might be to admit, the time is long past for "dictator containment" by an international community that seeks to guide leadership succession and create a space for moderate autocrats." http://t.uani.com/qOpDzH