On the surface, the Islamic Republic of Iran is an unsavory authoritarian state unworthy of support, much less acclaim. A regime that is deeply embedded in Syria’s civil war and has embraced terrorism as an instrument of statecraft would seemingly be at a disadvantage in presenting its case to the international community. Yet Iran has had some success imposing its narrative on the negotiations Iranian officials and Western nations are conducting about its nuclear program. The theocratic state demands that its “right to enrich” be recognized upfront and that its past nuclear infractions be forgiven. The great powers’ diplomacy will be judged not by clever formulations they devise to accommodate Iran’s “red lines” but by their ability to veer Tehran away from its maximalist positions.
President Hassan Rouhani has managed to inculcate the notion that he is under pressure from hard-liners at home and that a failure by the great powers to invest in his presidency would end Iran’s moderate interlude. The implication: Time is of the essence, and the West should not miss an opportunity to deal with pragmatists who seek a breakthrough on Iranian arms control.
But a more careful examination reveals that the Islamic Republic has reached an internal consensus. It is ruled today by a national unity government. The factionalism that has historically bedeviled the theocracy has, for now, been set aside.
For Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the most important objective is the survival of the regime and preservation of its ideological character. As an astute student of history, Khamenei senses that disunity among the elites can feed popular discontent and imperil the regime. The fraudulent presidential election of 2009 caused not only a legitimacy crisis but also a fracture among the regime’s elite. By conceding to Rouhani’s election, Khamenei has managed to restore a measure of accountability to the system and has drawn some of his disgruntled cadre back to the fold. Given such domestic calculations, Rouhani’s political fortunes are not necessarily contingent on the success of his arms-control policy. Khamenei clearly hopes that his president can ease Iran’s economic distress, but the notion that Rouhani will be displaced unless he can quickly obtain concessions from the West is spurious.
Geneva, Switzerland (CNN) -- Iran appears keen to progress swiftly toward a deal reining back its nuclear program in return for relief from international sanctions that have crippled its economy, a senior U.S. administration official said Wednesday.
She was speaking on the eve of a fresh round of talks scheduled for Thursday and Friday in Geneva between the five permanent -- and nuclear-armed -- members of the U.N. Security Council, along with Germany and Iran.
"For the first time, we believe Iran is ready to move this process forward quickly. For the first time, we're not seeing them just use this as a way of buying time," the senior U.S. administration official told journalists in a background briefing.
"I do see a potential for the outline of a first step. It can be written on a piece of paper or probably more than one. I hope this can be sooner rather than later," she added, declining to answer questions whether that outline deal may be reached before the weekend.
Iran has consistently said its nuclear program is strictly for peaceful, civilian use and power generation.
The United States accuses Iran of covertly developing a nuclear bomb. In its latest quarterly report published in August, the U.N.'s International Atomic Energy Agency suggested Iran's nuclear program had "possible military dimensions."
The United States and its negotiating partners -- Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany -- are looking to work out a two-phase deal with Iran, according to the official. So far, negotiators from all parties have declined to spell out specifics of any potential deal.
However, the senior U.S. administration official spelled out that Iran would be required to take action regarding its nuclear program first in exchange for some initial relief from the international sanctions that have targeted Iran's key oil sector and banking operations.
Once that was in place, all sides would continue talking about what she termed a "final deal."
"We're looking for a first step that stops Iran's nuclear program moving forward for the first time in decades and that rolls parts of it back," the senior U.S. administration official said.
"We're prepared to offer limited, targeted and reversible sanctions relief. We're not talking about changing the architecture of sanctions in this first step," she explained.
Sanctions have hit oil output hard
In just the past two years,...
Greenpeace activists took to the Moscow River in a motorboat on Wednesday in support of the Arctic Sunrise's multinational crew, whose detention in Russia was discussed on the same day at a maritime tribunal in Germany.
The activists sailed past the Kremlin holding yellow flags which read, "Free the Arctic 30," referring to the 30 crew members who are being held in Murmansk after being charged with hooliganism for staging a protest at the Russian-owned Prirazlomnaya oil platform in September.
"We ask all of those who care to join the movement in defense of the detainees, and together with us demand their quick release," Greenpeace said Wednesday in a statement.
The International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, based in the German city of Hamburg, on Wednesday considered the Netherland's request for the crew of the Arctic Sunrise, which sails under the Dutch flag, to be released. The Dutch Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans said that he expects a ruling to be delivered on Nov. 21, Interfax reported.
Demonstrators from a German environmental organization holding up protest posters in Hamburg on Wednesday.
The tribunal adjudicates maritime disputes under the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, to which both Russia and the Netherlands are party.
However, the Russian Foreign Ministry last month refused to recognize the tribunal's authority and said that Russia plans to press ahead with plans to prosecute the activists. As such, Russia didn't participate in Wednesday's hearing.
"This is a big problem, but we have to start the proceedings, even without the participation of Russia," tribunal chairman Shunji Yanai said.
Greenpeace International's general counsel, Jasper Teulings, said his organization is confident that the tribunal will take into account the fundamental rights of the crew and deliver a fair verdict.
The Netherlands ultimately thinks the fate of the activists, who are being held in custody in Murmansk, could be resolved outside of court. Timmermans said that the Dutch we involved in "informal negotiations"...
The Netherlands is asking a UN tribunal in Hamburg to order the release of 30 people seized by Russia after an oil drilling protest in the Arctic.
Twenty eight activists and two journalists who were aboard the Greenpeace ship Arctic Sunrise are accused of hooliganism.
Russia is not attending the hearing, as it is not party to some UN Law of the Sea dispute procedures.
In Moscow, police made arrests after a protest on the city's river.
Transport police detained four people after activists, riding in two speedboats on the River Moscow, passed the Kremlin with banners which said "Free the Arctic 30".
Moscow has opted out of UN Law of the Sea procedures that concern the "law enforcement activities in regard to the exercise of sovereign rights".
The Greenpeace activists were arrested after staging a protest against Arctic oil drilling at a Russian fixed gas platform.
They were initially charged with piracy, but the charges were later reduced to hooliganism.
Russia argues it was entitled to make the arrests because it claims the activists were breaking Russian laws.
All 30 people on the ship have been in custody since 18 September.
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They didn't have enough warm clothes with them because no-one... knew what was going to happen”
Leon VaritimosGreenpeace supporter
The Netherlands took the case of the Dutch-flagged ship and its crew to the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea in the German city of Hamburg in October.
Lawyers representing the Dutch foreign ministry are appealing to the 21 judges to force the Russian authorities to free the detainees, who come from 18 countries, until their cases are brought before a court.
Two of the crew, nicknamed the "Arctic 30", are from the Netherlands.
Watch footage of the activists trying to haul themselves on to the Gazprom oil platform in September
The BBC's Anna Holligan in The Hague says the judges' first task will be to decide whether they actually have jurisdiction over the matter, before considering the activists' fate.
Greenpeace denies any wrongdoing. Its lawyers argue that the ship was picked up in an area where free rights of transit should exist.
The detainees are currently being held in pre-trial detention until 24 November. They have complained of being held in harsh conditions at a jail in the northern port city of Murmansk.
Greenpeace said last week that the group was being moved...
NEW DELHI (AP) — India on Tuesday launched its first spacecraft bound for Mars, a complex mission that it hopes will demonstrate and advance technologies for space travel.
Hundreds of people watched the rocket carrying the Mars orbiter take off from the east-coast island of Sriharikota and streak across the sky. Many more across the country watched live TV broadcasts.
Officials at the space center described it as a "textbook launch." If the mission is successful, India will become only the fourth nation to visit the red planet after the Soviet Union, the United States and Europe.
"Capturing and igniting the young minds of India and across the globe will be the major return from this mission," mission director P. Kunhikrishnan said from the launch site.
After 44 minutes, the orbiter separated from the rocket and entered into an elliptical path around Earth. Over the next 20-25 days, it will perform a series of technical maneuvers and short burns to raise its orbit before it slingshots toward Mars.
"With teamwork and the kind of dedication we have today, any mission is not beyond our capability," said S. Ramakrishnan, head of the space center and launch authorization board.
The 3,000-pound orbiter Mangalyaan, which means "Mars craft" in Hindi, must travel 485 million miles over 300 days to reach an orbit around the red planet next September.
"The biggest challenge will be precisely navigating the spacecraft to Mars," said K. Radhakrishnan, chairman of the Indian Space and Research Organization. "We will know if we pass our examination on Sept. 24, 2014."
He congratulated the scientists for putting the mission together "in a very limited time." The project began after the space agency carried out a feasibility study in 2010 after successfully launching a lunar satellite in 2008. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh announced the planned voyage to Mars only last year during his annual address to the nation.
"It's a really big thing for India!" said 13-year-old Pratibha Maurya, who gathered with her father and about 50 others to watch the launch at the Nehru Planetarium in New Delhi.
Some have questioned the $72 million price tag for a country of 1.2 billion people still dealing with widespread hunger and poverty. But the government defended the Mars mission, and its $1 billion space program in general, by noting its importance in providing high-tech jobs for scientists and...
As India on Tuesday stole the march over China by launching a mission to Mars, Beijing called for "joint efforts" to ensure peace in outer space.
A rocket carrying the unmanned Mangalyaan orbiter lifted off this afternoon, making India the fourth country after the US, Russia and
EU to send probes to Mars. It is due to orbit the red planet in September next year.
"Outer space is shared by the entire mankind. Every country has the right to make peaceful exploration and use of outer space," Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei told a media briefing when he was asked about India's Mars probe.
At the same time, he said, the international community should make joint efforts to ensure enduring peace and sustainable development of outer space".
Asked whether China is apprehensive of India's space programme, Hong said relations between the two countries are on a path of steady growth. "Political mutual trust between our two countries has increased and mutual cooperation has expanded," he said.
However, the official Chinese media alleged that India is undertaking ambitious ventures to overtake the country's space programme.
The state-run Global Times daily criticised India's space programme, saying it sent a probe to Mars despite having millions of poor people to gain an advantage over China.
"India has an ambitious goal of leading Asia in this area, especially having an advantage over China," it said in an editorial titled "India?s space ambition offers clue to China".
"So far, only the US, Russia and EU have succeeded in Mars exploration. Other attempts to reach Mars, including China's Yinghuo-1 mission and Japan's Nozomi mission, have failed.
"As poor as India is, New Delhi managed to carry out its Mars exploration program with a budget of only USD 73 million, much less than the spending of China and Japan." India is confronted with a complicated public opinion environment on space development, similar to that which China has to face, it said.
"India is poor, so is China when compared with its Western counterparts. New Delhi has set China as its target, while China views the advanced level of the US and Russia as a reference," it said.
"China has achieved a leap forward in the development of manned space flight and space station technology. It has already been in advance of India," it added.
Besides sending probes to the Moon,...
Cairo: The first freely elected Egyptian president, Mohamed Morsi, goes on trial on Monday, the second time in just over two years that a deposed president has found himself in court in Egypt, a pivotal Arab nation some fear is sliding back into autocratic rule. The trial raises the fear of deepening instability in the Arab world's most populous country, as Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood has said it would defy a security crackdown and press on with street protests to pressure the army, which toppled Morsi on July 3, to reinstate him. A popular uprising that ousted Hosni Mubarak in 2011 raised hopes that Egypt would embrace democracy and eventually enjoy economic prosperity.
Instead, the struggle between the Brotherhood and the army-backed government has created deep uncertainty. The trial of Morsi and 14 other Brotherhood officials is likely to be the next flashpoint in their confrontation. They face charges of inciting violence relating to the deaths of about a dozen people in clashes outside the presidential palace in December after Morsi enraged his opponents with a decree expanding his powers. The Brotherhood had won every election since Mubarak's fall and eventually propelled Morsi into power after the Islamist movement endured repression under one dictator after another. But millions of Egyptians who grew disillusioned with Morsi's troubled one-year rule took to the streets this summer to demand his resignation. The army, saying it was responding to the will of the people, deposed him and announced a political roadmap it said would lead to free and fair elections. But the promises have not reassured Egypt's Western allies, who had hoped the stranglehold of Egyptian military men would be broken. Morsi is due to appear in court at the same Cairo police academy where his autocratic predecessor Mubarak also faces trial. The defendants could face a life sentence or death penalty if found guilty. On the eve of Morsi's trial, Egypt's Al Watan newspaper released a video on its website of what it said was him speaking to unidentified individuals during his incarceration. Dressed in a tracksuit, Morsi described his ouster as "a crime in every way". The newspaper did not say when the video was made. The Brotherhood has called on its supporters to stage mass protests on Monday, but the size of their demonstrations has shrunk dramatically in the face of an onslaught by security forces. Riot police crushed two-Morsi protest...