Inside Iran: Of missiles and lapdogs

Oil sanctions, nuclear talks, Egypt, war games dominated headlines from Tehran this week in Iranian press.

Iran's Sajil 2 missile 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Iran's Sajil 2 missile 370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Iran’s print and Internet media focused heavily this week on the European Union’s latest sanctions, Iran’s nuclear program, the Revolutionary Guard’s latest war games, and whether Egypt’s new Islamist president will renew ties with Tehran.
As world powers and Iran agreed in Istanbul on Wednesday to continue with technical talks on Iran’s nuclear program, Iran’s state press continued to emphasize that its atomic energy work was peaceful.
On Wednesday, Iran’s Consultative Assembly news site reported comments made by Hossein Sheikholeslam, senior adviser to Iran’s parliament president on foreign policy issues and former ambassador to Syria, who said the commitment of both sides to carry on with the talks was “positive.”
He added that the P5+1 powers must “respect the outcome of the Istanbul meeting.”
Sheikholeslam said the West was accusing Iran of failing to reveal the full technical details of its nuclear program as a pretext for their own political goals. He added that in recent years, Iran had “responded to all the West’s allegations, and the IAEA even wrote that it no longer had doubts about Iran’s peaceful nuclear program.”
Iran was prepared to answer the 5+1 group’s questions “within the framework of the nuclear nonproliferation treaty,” Sheikholeslam said.
Conservative Tehran-based daily Jomhouriye Eslami reported on Wednesday an interview with Iran’s foreign minister, Ali Akbar Salehi, who said that Iran did not seek confrontation with the West regarding its nuclear program but was defending its rights.
“I have always repeated that Iran’s nuclear program will conclude to the Islamic Republic’s advantage,” Salehi said, adding that he believed there was no other option but to seek a “diplomatic and political solution to Iran’s nuclear issue.” He said, “If not, the next option would be confrontation.”
Meanwhile on Wednesday, hardline daily Kayhan, which is supervised directly by the office of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and which openly supports president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, headlined with the EU oil sanctions, reporting that world oil prices had jumped to an all time-high Tuesday.
Oil prices dropped back down on Wednesday after spiking when Iran’s Revolutionary Guard acting commander Hossein Salami said Iran had test-fired medium and long-range ballistic weapons in response to threats by the US and Israel.
Kayhan said the world’s media was buzzing with reports of fears that Iran would close the Strait of Hormuz, and cited several international news outlets, including Fox News and The New York Times.
Kayhan also reported remarks by the head of Iran’s parliamentary economic commission, senior lawmaker Arsalan Fathipour, that Iran should “not allow a drop of oil to pass through the Strait of Hormuz,” as well as comments by Tehran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman that the oil sanctions were “illegitimate and violated international law.”
Tehran-based reformist newspaper, Shargh, also reported on a draft bill to close the Strait of Hormuz, and noted that Iran’s petroleum minister had said Iran would not have problems selling its oil.
The draft bill, by Iran’s National Security and Foreign Policy Committee, “emphasizes blocking oil tanker traffic to countries that have sanctioned Iran,” according to MP Ibrahim Agha-Mohammadi.
The conservative daily Jaam-e Jam, which is published by Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB), reported comments by Ahmedinejad that Iran should “move past sanctions with power.”
Iran’s Great Prophet 7 war-games, in which the Revolutionary Guards fired short, medium and longrange ballistic missiles at mock targets in the Semnan Province, dominated Iranian headlines, with most news agencies featuring color photographs of missile launches.
On Wednesday, the missile testing dominated Shargh’s front page, with the headline “military exercises a response to threats against Iran.” Kayhan on Tuesday headlined with the war games, noting that they were Iran’s response to “threats and sanctions.”
An IRIB TV news broadcast on Tuesday showed footage of an IRIB reporter flying over the missile exercise site and viewing launches of missiles, jets and unmanned aerial vehicles.
Jaam-e Jam reported that “all missiles hit their targets.”
Thursday was a public holiday in Iran, as Iranians celebrated the birthday of Muhammad al-Mahdi, the “hidden Imam” who Twelver Shi’as – the majority faith in Iran – believe will save humanity.
According to them, the Mahdi, born in 869 CE, never died but was hidden by God in 941 and will reveal himself – along with Jesus – to bring world peace. Many newspapers reported on the upcoming celebrations, including conservative daily Jomhouriye Eslami, which devoted its Wednesday lead to the holiday.
Meanwhile, Egypt and its new Islamist president, Mohamed Mursi, also dominated Iran’s press, as speculation over whether Mursi will visit Iran ran rife after Lebanese newspaper as-Safir commented Tuesday that the Egyptian leader may attend the Non-Aligned Movement summit in Tehran in August.
Iran officially cut ties with Cairo in 1979, after Camp David.
Mursi, who is currently the secretary-general of the Non-Aligned Movement, could personally assign the position to Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad during the summit, as-Safir said.
Ultra-conservative Fars News, which has links to the Revolutionary Guard, immediately picked up on the Lebanese report, and quoted Iran’s foreign minister, Ali Akbar Salehi, as saying Iran was “looking forward to hosting Morsi.”
In a move that irritated the Egyptian press, Fars quoted from a controversial interview in which it claimed the Islamist told its reporters he planned to rekindle relations with Tehran. Mursi has dismissed the interview as fabricated.
Though Mursi’s spokesman, Yasser Ali, said Tuesday that the Egyptian president has no plans to visit Tehran, Iran’s Mehr news agency reported Salehi said Teheran was ready for “ambassadorial-level” links with Cairo.
In an earlier interview with Salehi, the ISNA news agency quoted the foreign minister as saying the Non-Aligned Movement summit had “no relation to bilateral issues.” Regarding Syria, Salehi told ISNA that Iran was opposed to foreign intervention in the crisis.
Iran is the closest regional ally of Syrian president Bashar Assad, and has supported his regime’s position that violence in Syria is not perpetrated by the government but by “terrorists and armed groups.”
Salehi said that he planned to meet soon with Kofi Annan, the UN- Arab League’s special envoy to Syria, for further discussion.
The widely read Mashregh News website, which is operated by the Revolutionary Guard, focused on Egypt and – as usual – Israel. On Tuesday, under the headline “Morsi’s government, which has no hands,” Mashregh examined the challenges facing the Islamist president and said he must decide about the Camp David peace accords, about oil and gas exports and Israel’s border with Sinai.
Mashregh, which frequently runs heavily anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic articles, ran the first part of what it said is a trilogy investigating “six decades of crimes” perpetrated by “the sinister Zionist regime.”
The story features graphic photographs of dead children, which Mashregh said were from 1948, and says Palestinians were passive victims attacked apparently randomly by “Jewish terror groups.” Also mentioned is Baruch Goldstein, the perpetrator of the 1994 Cave of the Patriarchs massacre in Hebron, in which 29 Palestinians died.
Mashregh said Israel has made Goldstein’s grave into a shrine.
In lighter news, Jomhouriye Eslami reported on Monday a new fatwa by Grand Ayatollah Lotfollah Safi Golpaygani against buying, selling or owning decorative dogs.
According to Golpaygani, the pedigree lapdogs are being brought into Iran by Westerners in a plot to erode Iran’s Islamic culture.
Meanwhile, the football-obsessed Iranian media – soccer is Iran’s favorite sport, and though women are banned from stadiums there are many stories of girls as young as 11 dressing as boys to sneak inside to cheer for their teams – gave its usual prominence to the ongoing trials and tribulations of top Tehran team Persepolis FC, which on Tuesday hired Portuguese manager Manuel Jose de Jesus Silva. Presumably, Manuel Jose won’t be bringing any lapdogs with him when he comes to Tehran.