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An Iranian nuclear scientist was killed in Tehran today after a motorcyclist attached a magnetic bomb to his car. Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan was a chemistry expert and director of the Natanz uranium enrichment facility in central Iran. Varying opinions are quickly emerging over who is to blame for the attack. Iran blames the US and Israel for the attack. "Does anyone doubt that some combination of the two nations completely obsessed with Iran's nuclear program...are responsible?" asks Glenn Greenwald of Salon.com. Micah Zenko of the Council on Foreign Relations, however, is of a different opinion. He asks, "But is it in US national interest to bomb Iran to defend the principle of full cooperation with the IAEA? I would say no."
Roshan's death comes amid mounting tension between the US and Iran over the Islamic Republic's nuclear program. Earlier this week, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) confirmed that Iran had begun enriching uranium at 20 percent at the Fordow plant near the city of Qom. The plant is buried deep underground a military site and is said to be far more resistant to military strikes than existing plants. US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton responded to the news with a harsh tone."This step once again demonstrates the Iranian regime's blatant disregard for its responsibilities and that the country's growing isolation is self-inflicted," she said in a statement.
Since November 2011, the US and EU have taken significant steps to cut Iran out of the international financial network after IAEA published a report stating that Iran was involved in activities relevant to the development of nuclear weapons. Iran immediately slammed the report as politically motivated and a fabrication by the US. Tehran claims its uranium enrichment program is for nuclear research and peaceful energy purposes. "No one has a full sense of the Iranian production plan there," said one diplomat who has studied the few details released by Iran about the Fordow plant. "And I think that’s the point." Meanwhile, former US ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolten, says the Iranians are "testing Western powers' resolve to stop their advance towards developing a bomb."
Iran's releationship with the West has steadily declined in recent weeks as the US enacted sanctions on Iran's central bank on January 1, and the EU is expected to impose an embargo on Iranian oil by the end of the month. Western sanctions seek to undercut the Iranian government by halting the country's largest source of revenue: oil sales. The Iranian Economic Minister, Shamseddin Hosseini, likened the sanctions to "an economic war." On December 27, Iranian Vice President Mohammad Reza Rahimi warned that if the West followed through with its threats, Tehran would shut down the Strait of Hormuz, a 30-mile strategic waterway through which nearly one fourth of the world's oil passes every day. In the back-and-forth war of words, US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta responded to the threat by saying that closing the strategic waterway would be a "red line" for the US.
Meanwhile, while Iran concluded a massive ten-day naval exercise last week stretching from the Persian Gulf to the Gulf of Aden, some observers remain skeptical that US-Iran relations will escalate into a full-blown conflict. Iran analyst Michael Connel says the most likely outcome is "more bluster." Afshon Ostovar of Foreign Policy Magazine says that initiating a conflict with the US would be "a last-ditch, kamikaze act by the Iranians." However, he added, "as opportunities for compromise evaporate, and as relations continue to sour, the likelihood of war is steadily increasing."
"Ever since the Arab Spring, many people here have been pining for an American Autumn," says Charles Blow in the New York Times. "The closest we've gotten so far is Occupy Wall Street." For almost four weeks, Occupy Wall Street activists have gathered in Manhattan's financial district to protest corporate greed, corruption, and social and economic inequality, among other things. The movement's website states, "We Are the 99% that will no longer tolerate the greed and corruption of the 1%. We are using the revolutionary Arab Spring tactic to achieve our ends."
Is Occupy Wall Street the beginning of America's own "Arab Spring"? According to Micah Sifry at techPresident, "America is about to experience the same youth-driven, hyper-networked wave of grassroots protests against economic inequality and political oligarchy" that swept the Arab world. After travelling throughout the Middle East to cover the "Arab Spring" protests, New York Times columnist Nick Kristof said "the protest reminded me a bit of Tahrir Square in Cairo."
Many disagree. Blow describes the protests as "a festival of frustrations, a collective venting session with little edge or urgency, highlighting just how far away downtown Manhattan is from Damascus." James Joyner at Outside the Beltwaystates, "What these movements have in common: frustrated youth loosely organized using social media …It's simply insulting to compare the two."
What can the American protestors learn from the more experienced "Arab Spring" protestors? In a Foreign Policy Magazine article entitled "From Tahrir Square to Wall Street," veteran Egyptian protestor Mosa'ab Elshamy offers his advice to the Occupy Wall Street activists on what makes a successful protest movement. Most importantly, Elshamy says, is that protestors have a unified platform. They must first agree on a set of simple and broad demands in order to attract a wide base of support, which is exactly what Occupy Wall Street lacks, according to most critics.
Almost one month after the start of protests in New York City, the Occupy Wall Street movement has shown surprising staying power. The movement has spread to over 70 US cities and has been endorsed by several labor unions, celebrities, and politicians. But will it succeed in bringing accountability and equity to the US financial system, or will it fizzle as protestors are dispersed by a cold New York winter?
(Photo: Occupy Wall Street protestor marches up Broadway in New York. Mike Segar / Reuters)
American hikers Josh Fattal and Shane Bauer were released yesterday after over two years in Iranian prison on allegations of trespassing and spying for the US. Fattal and Bauer were arrested, along with travelling companion Sarah Shroud, while hiking in Iraqi Kurdistan in July 2011. On August 20, 2011, Fattal and Bauer were sentenced to eight years in prison. The American hikers were released yesterday on $500,000 bail and taken to Oman where they were reunited with their families.
Some analysts believe that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad strategically announced the release of Fattal and Bauer just weeks before his visit to New York for the annual UN General Assembly in order to receive a warmer welcome by the US and project a noble and gracious image among fellow world leaders at the UN. Others believe it was a tactical move in the ongoing political feud between Ahmadinejad and Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Ahamenei. Only a day after his announcement, the Iranian judiciary denied the president's statement and said the hikers' release was 'not imminent.'
Democracy Now's Amy Goodman interviews Shon Meckfessel, who was also travelling with the trio in 2009, but who stayed at the hotel the morning of their hike because of a cold.
Syria: Over 4,000 gathered in front of the US and French embassies in Damascus to condemn both countries' interference in Syrian affairs. The protestors threw tomatoes and eggs at the buildings, broke windows, wrote angry messages on the walls of both embassies, and held banners condemning the French and Americans ambassadors' violation of diplomatic norms. Security at the French embassy fired at the demonstrators, leading to the injury of two people.
Libya: French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said that while efforts to reach a political solution are being exerted, it is necessary to maintain military pressure on the Colonel Muammar al-Gaddafi. Juppe proposed a solution involving four phases: immediate ceasefire by Gaddafi's forces, Gaddafi relinquishing power, beginning a dialogue hosted by the Transitional National Council, and drawing a roadmap for establishing a democratic system with free elections.
Bahrain: The February 14 Youth Coalition has called for demonstrations on Sitra Island this Friday, named "Self Determination III." The coalition considered the dialogue called for by the king a failure, describing it as a "farce" because it was conducted amid the continuous crackdown on protests by Saudi-backed Bahraini forces. The people saw the dialogue as a maneuver to buy time as the authorities continue to arrest opposition figures and take arbitrary measures against peaceful protestors.
Tunisia: Six months after the Tunisian revolution toppled President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, the country is witnessing a new wave of angry demonstrations. In January, the Tunisian revolution inspired other Arab countries to rise up against their corrupt dictators, but today, Tunisia remains unstable and is demonstrating that removing a corrupt leader won’t solve all the country’s problems. Elections have been postponed to October and the country faces severe unemployment.