- Iran's Parliamentary Elections
- UN Security Council imposed a third round of sanctions on Iran
- IAEA releases report on Iran's nuclear past
- IAEA Board presented with intelligence on alleged Iranian weaponisation studies - Iran claims evidence is forged
- Israel will not strike Iran without an ally.
On March 14th, Iran held parliamentary elections for the 290-seat, Majles-e-Shura-ye-Eslami, the Islamic Consultative Assembly. Iranian government sources gave varying reports of voter turnout, which was somewhere between 52% and 60% of the 44 million eligible voters. More than 90% of independent and reformist candidates who wished to participate were banned from doing so by Iran's most powerful body, the Guardian Council. Six of the Council's members are theologians appointed by the Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, and six nominated by the judiciary and approved by Parliament. As a result of the veto, the EU condemned the vote as neither free nor fair, and the only significant challenge to the President from this election was from other conservatives who hope to change his economic policies. But this challenge in itself could prove to be an important one to the future of the President, who stands for reelection next year. Many within the Conservative parties have themselves moved towards a reformist position.
Ali Larijani, who resigned as Iran's nuclear negotiator last October in a disagreement over tactics, received a boost to his political career when he won a seat representing the religious capital of Qom with 76% of the votes against important allies of Ahmadinejad. If elected as speaker of the Majlis he could present a powerful force of balance to the President.
Iran's electoral system requires a seat to be won outright or a second round of voting to occur. To date, over 70% of the seats decided have been called in favour of the Conservatives, with the second round of voting to occur on April 25th. The Coalition of Reformist Groups had requested a recount of Tehran's votes, but this has been denied by the Guardian Council.
The UN Security Council imposed a third round of sanctions on Iran for its defiance of previous instructions to suspend uranium enrichment. UNSC resolution 1803 was passed on March 3rd, with 14 of 15 countries currently sitting on the Security Council in favour, Indonesia abstained. It did not feature measures against Iran's Revolutionary Guard and Quds force, as the US had originally hoped, and some measures against Iran's banks were also toned down. It built upon the two previous UN Security council resolutions 1696 and 1747, and its key provisions were:
- a travel ban on five Iranian officials accused of involvement in nuclear proliferation activities;
- an instruction to states to "exercise vigilance" about new export credits and transactions with the Iranian banks Bank Melli and Bank Saderat.
- new items have been placed on a list of banned dual-use technologies that can be subverted for weapons development.
- States were urged to inspect cargo on aircraft and ships traveling to and from Iran if they are suspected of transporting goods prohibited by the United Nations
The resolution included no enforcement mechanisms, and gave Iran 90 days to suspend all enrichment activity before these new measures come into effect.
Iran's ambassador to the UN, Mohammad Khazaee, in reaction, said: "No amount of pressure, intimidation and threat will be able to coerce our nation to give up its basic and legal rights".
In the wake of the resolution the P5+1 are negotiating an updated package of incentives based upon the package offered in June 2006 that will be more precise on the timing and content of offers being made to Iran. This could be in response to criticisms leveled at the package at the time. There has been some frustration amongst European diplomats that the offer was not perceived by Iran to be serious.
The IAEA's latest report credited Iran for granting its inspectors access to sites previously off-limits, and judged that some of the issues were no longer outstanding. However, the report went on to say that Iranian officials had evaded a proper response to claims it had made secret efforts to coordinate uranium processing, missile warhead design work, and high-explosives tests, a file known as "weaponization studies". On this matter Mohammad Elbaradei said: "the issue is still critical for us to be able to come to a determination as to the nature of Iran's nuclear program". The report also talked of Iran's development of a new variety of centrifuge (IR2) as an improvement on its inefficient and unreliable P1 versions.
At another meeting of the IAEA's Board of Governors days later, evidence including: drawings, plans and video footage was presented which were said to show Iran has tried to build a nuclear bomb in the past. However, Iranian officials claim that these were forgeries, presented ahead of the UN Security Council meeting to vote upon resolution 1803. The Board did not vote on any additional resolution as it became clear that many of its members thought the UNSC 1803 to be sufficient for the time being.
In an interview with a French newspaper Israel's President, Simon Peres, said that Israel would not strike Iran unilaterally: "under no circumstance, we are not so imprudent as to concentrate the Iranian danger on Israel". However, Peres did not rule out the use of force in conjunction with others to stop Iran getting a nuclear weapon.
George Bush, in his new year's address to the Iranian people, repeated and deepened the confusion over Ahmadinejad's original 2005 statement by claiming that the Iranian government had announced "they want to destroy countries with a nuclear weapon". This is a well-rehearsed debate, but because Ahmadinejad's words have been so frequently misrepresented to support a hawkish stance towards Iran, bears some inspection.
Stories and links
Military action in Iran would be disaster: Annan, Reuters, 20th March
Europeans plan incentives as Iran says sanctions won't work, NY Times, Feb 26th
IAEA board drops Iran sanctions resolution: diplomats, AFP, March 4th
UN alleges nuclear work by Iran's civilian scientists, Washington Past, March 11th
Comments, editorials and analysis
Iran's election signals, Open Democracy, Nasrin Alavi, March 17th
A solution to Iran's nuclear stand-off, RBF.org, March 20th
Iran's elections splendid isolation, Economist, 14th March
How to end US Iran standoff, IHT, March 3rd
ISIS Brief on IAEA report, ISIS, Feb 22nd
Adolescent tantrum, Foreign Policy in Focus, March 3rd
Take two: Iran's plan for nuclear compliance: Carnegie Endowment, Feb 08
Energy Department links to Iranian nukes salacious... but untrue, the Stimpson Centre, February 25th