Iran update: number 124


  • New sanctions imposed; ongoing negotiations on Iran’s nuclear program
  • Implications from conflict in Georgia; Medvedev scheduled to meet with Ahmadinejad
  • Iran announces second nuclear power plant site; Russian nuclear official to visit Tehran and Bushehr
  • Tehran tests Safir rocket, United States says it was a failed satellite launch
  • Iran claims increase in the range of its fighter jets
  • New Iranian submarine class announced
  • Khamenei shows support for second Ahmadinejad term

On August 8, the European Union levied new sanctions on Iran that go beyond those currently enforced by the United Nations. The sanctions target loan-seeking companies that conduct business with Iran and financial groups that work with Iranian banks. On August 13, the United States imposed further sanctions on Iran that bar US companies from making transactions with five Iranian companies suspected of involvement in Tehran’s nuclear program.

Despite the seeming lack of progress in negotiations, Iran’s lead nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili and EU Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) High Representative Javier Solana committed to continue their talks over the Iranian nuclear program. Olli Heinonen, Deputy Director General of the IAEA, held technical nuclear talks with Iranian officials in Tehran on August 18. The visit was Heinonen’s second visit during August to speak with Iranian officials regarding IAEA concerns that Iran might be withholding information about the objectives of the country’s nuclear program.

With the war in Georgia, Russia’s relationship with Iran has become an issue of concern. A closer relationship could lead to Russian policymakers backing away from applying any additional pressure that might slow Iran’s nuclear program. Moscow and Tehran already have a semi-close relationship, but the war in Georgia may have brought them closer. Russian Ambassador to Tehran Alexander Sadovnikov told the Tehran Times that Iran is a key ally for peace in the region and that the two states need to work together. An unnamed senior diplomat involved with the nuclear discussions of the P5+1 was expecting almost no Russian cooperation for a fourth round of U.N. Security Council-approved sanctions. It seems likely that Europe and the United States may seek alternative means to increase the pressure on Iran, through further tightening of bilateral sanctions. For the first time since he assumed the Russian presidency, Dmitry Medvedev will meet with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad when they attend the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit on August 28 in Dushanbe. There, the two leaders will further discuss bilateral relations, trade and other issues.

Meanwhile, on August 24 Iranian officials announced the development of a second nuclear power plant site. The plant would be constructed in Darkhoin, a city located in the southwestern province of Khuzestan. Iran’s first nuclear power plant site is located in Bushehr, a southern port in Iran. The Bushehr site has remained under construction with occasionally interrupted assistance from Russia. Russia’s nuclear power chief Sergei Kiriyenko was slated to visit Bushehr in early September, in addition to traveling to Tehran for meetings with Iranian Atomic Energy Organization officials. They were expected to discuss finishing the Bushehr site.

On August 17, Iran claimed to have successfully launched its first domestically-produced satellite, Omid (Hope), into space. Though the initial reports from Iranian media said that the launch had taken place, later reports said that the event was merely a test of a Safir rocket, which will carry the country’s first such satellite into space in the near future. At the Safir’s launch, Iranian Defense Minister Brigadier General Mustapha Mohammad-Najjar asserted that, “Iranian scientists are always reaching new peaks in scientific and technological progress. The successful launch of Safir shows that Iran has access to the ultra-modern technology required to manufacture, launch and track satellites as well as transmit and receive information from them.” In 2005, Russia launched Tehran’s first satellite-of Russian construction-into space. Iran has also offered to help “friendly Islamic countries” launch their own satellites and plans to carry an astronaut into space by 2018.

US officials initially expressed concerns over the launch of the Safir-a modified Shahab-3 medium-range ballistic missile (MRBM)-saying that it showed that Iran might be developing long-range ballistic missile (LRBM) technology. On August 19, Reuters reported that an unnamed US official said that the rocket test was actually a failed satellite launch. “The vehicle failed shortly after liftoff and in no way reached its intended position. It could be characterized as a dramatic failure,” stated the official. Aviation Week reports that US Navy satellite and radar data validate this theory. The official’s accusations and the technical evidence indicating a failed satellite launch raise doubts about the status of the Iranian space program and Tehran’s suspected ballistic missile development program.

Also on August 17, Brigadier General Ahmad Miqani, commander of the Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force (IRIAF), announced that Iran had made upgrades to its fighter planes. According to Iran’s semi-official Fars News Agency, Miqani stated, “We have succeeded in upgrading the capabilities of our planes and have increased the range of these planes to 3,000 kilometers (1,860 miles) without refueling.” If this is true, Iranian jets would now have the capacity to attempt airstrikes on Israeli territory. However, Miqani went on to say that, “We do not wish to attack another country… but we will defend ourselves should we be attacked.” Though Fars speculated that the increased range might come from external fuel tanks attached to the fighters, Israeli military expert Yiftah Shapir dismissed Miqani’s claim, contending that the Iranians lack the technology and logistical planning capabilities to carry out such strikes. Iran has warned that it will retaliate against Israel and US military bases if the country is attacked. In the past few months, both Israel and Iran have carried out jet exercises.

Iranian leaders also announced that they are preparing to roll out a new line of submarines. Tehran announced the submarines would help secure the Straits of Hormuz. Defense Minister Mostafa Mohammad Najjar said Iran’s armed forces, “have been the protector of the security of the strategic Strait of Hormuz and regards the security of this waterway as vital for itself and the countries of the region.” Iranian officials are calling the submarines “semi-heavy,” and said that they could carry subsurface missiles and torpedoes, as well as “special operations personnel.”

Iran’s highest authority, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, indicated that he would back President Ahmadinejad for another term. The show of support comes despite a steady decline in the President’s popularity in Iran, mostly because of criticism over his handling of the economy.


Stories and links

Ahmadinejad due to meet Russian counterpart, Fars News Agency, 25/08

Iran launches submarine production line, Reuters, 25/08,

Iran Army wraps up stealth maneuvers, Press TV, 22/08

Iran: US-Russian tension creates new diplomatic options for Tehran, Kamal Nazer Yasin, Eurasianet 22/08

N. envoy calls Iran-IAEA talks constructive, Fars News Agency, 22/08,

No sting in sanctions, Iran bank says, Financial Times, 22/08

Russia, Syria back Iran’s N. nights, Fars news Agency, 22/08

Russian envoy welcomes Iran’s cooperation for regional stability, Tehran Times, 21/08

US missiles for Russia not Iran, Press TV, 21/08

Iran picks firms to hunt for new nuclear plant sites, AFP, 19/ 08

Iran to build more nuclear power plants, Xinhuanet, 19/08

Top Iran cleric chides Ahmadinejad aide over Israeli remarks, AFP, 19/08

Iran courts German firms, offers ‘guarantees’, Deutsche Welle, 18/ 08,2144,3575405,00.html

Iran’s president says West backing down over nuclear program, RIA Novosti, 13/08

Study cautions against strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities, by Joby Warrick, Washington Post, 08/08


Comments, editorial and analysis

Iran’s Ashura mystery missile mystery, Joshua Pollack, Arms Control Wonk, 26/08

Diplomatic effort on Iran nukes jeopardized by US-Russia crisis, Haaretz. 22/08

Attack isn’t the answer, by Karim Sadjadpour, Haaretz, 22/08

Attacking Iran via South Ossetia, Stephen Kinzer, The Guardian, 20/08

Germany’s special relationship – with Iran, by Jonathan Weckerle, Jerusalem Post, 19/08

Sticks, carrots and nukes, by Patrick Clawson, The Guardian, 14/08

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