01 February 2013

Iran tells U.N. it plans to speed up uranium enrichment

 Natanz uranium enrichment plant
In a letter to the International Atomic Energy Agency on January 23, Iran set out a plan to upgrade uranium enrichment centrifuges at its Natanz plant. Iran plans to upgrade from the IR1 centrifuge models developed in the 1970s into the IR2m which could accelerate enrichment by two to five times at Iran's main facility.

The number of new machines to be used is unclear, but it could be over 3,000, and the letter did not give a time frame. Iran's nuclear development program has long been contested -- the United States and other western countries have been concerned Iran is seeking nuclear weapons capabilities.

Iran maintains its program is for civilian and peaceful purposes. The IAEA has asked Iran for more technical and other information about the plans. The announcement came as nuclear talks have been delayed because Iran and six world powers (the United States, France, Germany, Britain, Russia, and China) have been unable to agree to a location.

 Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (C) visits the Natanz nuclear enrichment facility, 350 km (217 miles) south of Tehran, April 8, 2008. REUTERS/Presidential official website/Handout

Egyptian Cleric Warns Christian Women: If You Don’t Wear a Veil You’ll Be Raped

A Salafi preacher in Egypt is promoting the idea of an anti-vice religious police force like in Saudi Arabia and says even Christian women should be veiled when they are outdoors, unless they “want to get raped on the streets.”

Reuters profiled the Muslim cleric, Hisham el-Ashry, who - while obscure - is finding sympathy for his opinions under Egypt’s new Muslim Brotherhood-led regime. Reuters reports:
"I was once asked: If I came to power, would I let Christian women remain unveiled? And I said: If they want to get raped on the streets, then they can," Ashry told Nahar TV last week.
Introducing a Saudi-style anti-vice police force to enforce Islamic law was "not a bad thing";, he said, and added: "In order for Egypt to become fully Islamic, alcohol must be banned and all women must be covered."
Reuters explains that Al Azhar, Sunni Islam’s top authority, and Dar al Ifta, the central authority on religious rulings, say religious practices should not be policed.

Even Egypt's Grand Mufti Ali Gomaa rejects Hisham el-Ashry’s position. In a statement, he said: "This sort of idiotic thinking is one that seeks to further destabilize what is already a tense situation…Egypt’s religious scholars have long guided the people to act in ways that conform to their religious commitments, but have never thought this required any type of invasive policing."

While the Muslim Brotherhood rejects individuals getting involved in imposing sharia rules, it won’t rule out the government taking on that task. Muslim Brotherhood Spokesman Mahmoud Ghozlan told Reuters: "The case of promotion of virtue and prevention of vice is within the jurisdiction of the authorities and not individuals or groups…It is not anyone's right to intervene."

Like Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, the radical preacher warning Christian women to veil themselves lived for years in the United States, an experience that clearly did not moderate his views. El-Ashry moved to New York in the 1990s where he dedicated his spare time to converting Christians to Islam. Reuters explains:
“I went there with a dream to get a blonde girl and a big car,” he said in one of his televised interviews. “(But) I was advised on the plane to cherish my religion and not get taken by the USA or risk being spoiled and losing my faith.”
His religious convictions grew stronger over the next 15 years in the United States, he said.
“I had, thanks to God, guided many Christians to Islam. I can’t tell how many as I stopped counting when their number exceeded 100,” he said.
It was when he was working at a men’s clothing factory in New York that he became convinced that Egypt needed a Saudi-style anti-vice force.
“(My goal was) to make all Egyptians love it,” he said.
Now, el-Ashry is back in Egypt and continues his quest to convert new Muslims. In the fall, writer Graeme Wood described a series of meetings he held with el-Ashry over the course of a year in which the cleric instructed Wood on Salafism.

Wood wrote in The New Republic:
I NEVER ASKED MUCH of Hesham El Ashry, and Hesham never asked much of me. All I wanted was some conversation about religion and Egyptian politics with someone who had strong views on both. All Hesham wanted was one more chance to describe in grotesque detail the fate that awaited me and everybody I loved: Our skin would thicken, not with callouses but with soft, thin, tender layers, each more sensitive than the last. Eventually the accumulated layers would be miles deep. And then God—not my god, or the god of the vast majority of so-called Muslims, but the one true Allah, worshiped by Hesham’s fellow Salafis—would burn off those layers individually, savoring the pain until he reached flesh. Then Allah would restore them again, like Prometheus’s liver, so he could blister and rip them away for eternity.
“I hate you,” Wood quoted el-Ashry as saying. “I hate all Jews and Christians, anyone who is not a Muslim.”
Wood was introduced to el-Ashry by the son of the “Blind Sheikh” Omar Abdel-Rahman, now serving a life sentence in the U.S. for his role in bombing the World Trade Center in 1993. Wood writes that el-Ashry considers Abdel-Rahman to be his religious guide. Earlier this week, President Morsi told CNN he would like President Barack Obama to free Abdel-Rahman from U.S. custody.

El-Ashry moved back to Egypt and joined the Blind Sheikh’s movement. As a result, Egyptian authorities under deposed President Hosni Mubarak jailed and tortured him in 2000 and – according to Wood – told him he had to choose between exile or the death penalty.

Back in Brooklyn, el-Ashry worked as a tailor and continued searching for converts. In 2009, U.S. authorities expelled him for immigration violations. While waiting for his deportation back to Egypt, he claims he converted six detainees and one guard in a New York holding center.

Iranian Students Hit by Sanctions on Schools, Banks

By: Brett Cox, National Iranian American Council (NIAC)

Washington, DC - Iranian students are facing new obstacles to pay for college tuition and even to enroll in universities in the U.S. and Europe due to increasingly broad sanctions.
A university in the Czech Republic recently notified an Iranian applicant that, due to EU sanctions, the school would not be accepting any Iranian students, in a letter publicized last week.

Another notice, obtained by NIAC, was issued by an American university stating U.S. schools operating programs abroad received specific guidance that they were no longer allowed to enroll Iranian students in math, science, or engineering classes above introductory levels and could not admit any Iranian graduate students or faculty without explicit U.S. government permission. The notice said the restrictions were the result of sanctions passed by Congress last year-purportedly aimed at Iran’s nuclear program and improving the human rights situation. The notice warned that these restrictions may also come into force within the U.S. as the law is implemented. This is in addition to new visa restrictions against Iranian students included in the sanctions bill.

Additionally, it was revealed this past week that TCF Bank, which in December notified at least 22 Iranians students at the University of Minnesota that their accounts were being closed, has been under investigation by the Treasury Department and fined $10 million for incomplete monitoring and reporting of cash transactions.

Graduate student Alireza Asary was one of several Iranian University of Minnesota students notified in December 2012 by TCF Bank that their accounts would be closed. The University is currently working to help resolve eight cases.
(Photo by Jaak Jensen)

The revelation may provide clues as to why the bank moved to close dozens of accounts belonging to Iranian students in a potential act of discrimination.

Those closures, in conjunction with the Treasury investigation and penalty, may suggest the latest instance in which broad sanctions have raised significant risks and burdens on banks and companies engaging in legitimate transactions related to Iran. The pressures to enforce the broadening array of sanctions on Iran has created a “chilling effect” in which many banks and businesses have opted to end these legal transactions, including the sale of medicine and humanitarian goods, the provision of Internet communication software, and now the operation of bank accounts to enable Iranian students to pay for their tuition and study in the U.S.
In addition to paying the fine, TCF announced they had beefed up their “compliance program aimed at monitoring, detecting and reporting suspicious activities, as well as its other legal and regulatory requirements.” However, according to the Treasury Department, the Iranian Transactions and Sanctions Regulations (ITSR) includes several exemptions to enable Iranian students to study in the U.S.

TCF Bank holds an exclusive contract with the University of Minnesota to sell checking accounts to students linked to their student ID cards and donated a $300 million football stadium, TCF Bank Stadium, to the school. But faculty members at the university notified the school administration that they would begin closing their TCF accounts and moving their mortgages to other banks in protest.

“We no longer feel comfortable having TCF be the responsible institution for our deposits,” wrote the faculty members in a letter to the university.

The apparent over-enforcement of sanctions in spite of legal exemptions aimed to protect against “unintended consequences” has so far led companies like Google and Go Daddy to deny their services to Iranians for fear of violating sanctions. The “chilling effect” has also led to alleged discrimination in the past, including reports that Apple employees refused to sell products to Iranians and Iranian Americans in a misplaced effort to enforce sanctions. Additionally, Canada’s TD Bank began canceling accounts last July, providing little explanation and no opportunity for customers to defend themselves. TD Bank eventually relented and reopened the accounts after significant public pressure.

No comments:

Post a Comment