“SHADOW WAR”: IRANIAN NUCLEAR SCIENTIST ASSASSINATED
-IN COLD BLOOD…It’s hard to imagine a more dangerous occupation right now than scientist for Iran’s nuclear program. And it’s hard not to think “Bourne Identity” when you consider what happened in the Iranian capital today. As Martha RADDATZ and Alex MARQUARDT have been reporting, in an incident right out of a spy movie, 32-year-old Iranian nuclear scientist, Mostafa Ahmadi-Roshan, was killed and two others wounded when a bomb exploded in his car in North Tehran. Two assailants on a motorcyce placed the bomb on the side of the car, says Iran’s semi-official Fars news agency. At least a half dozen Iranian nuclear scientists have been targeted for assassination in recent years – three or four have been killed. “The bomb was a magnetic one and the same as the ones previously used for the assassination of the scientists,” deputy Tehran governor Safarali Baratloo said. The BBC’s Mohsen Asgari, in Tehran, says that the explosion was caused by a targeted, focused device intended to to kill one or two people and small enough not to be heard from far away.
-WHO WAS HE?…Roshan was a university lecturer, a chemistry expert and a director of the Natanz uranium enrichment facility in central Iran, the semiofficial Fars news agency reported.
-WHO DID IT?…Tehran’s Deputy Governor Safarali Baratloo blamed the attack on Israel – an accusation that Marquardt says is not far-fetched. Previously Tehran has blamed the killings on Israel and the US. Both countries deny the accusations. There’s certainly a widely-held suspicion that Israel is ordering the attacks — using local operatives. “There are countries who impose economic sanctions and there are countries who act in other ways.” Israel’s Minister of Intelligence and Atomic Energy Dan Meridor said late last year.
-BIG PICTURE…Whoever is responsible, Roshan’s death is just the latest in a string of international efforts aimed at deterring Iran’s nuclear program, including the killing of other scientists, the Stuxnet virus, explosions linked to Iran’s nuclear and missile programs, and of course a range of economic sanctions. And it comes in the midst of extreme tension between the U.S. and Iran – in the wake of Tehran’s declarations about uranium enrichment, its threats to close the vital Strait of Hormuz, and the death sentence handed down to an American marine. Iran’s Vice-President Mohammad Reza Rahimi told state television that the attack against Mr Ahmadi-Roshan would not stop “progress” in the country’s nuclear program. But as Marquardt puts it, “Everyone’s talking about possible war with Iran but it’s clearly already underway. Murdered scientists, viruses, bombings at facilities, the attempt on the Saudi ambassador…”
-OIL PRICES SPIKE…As Lara SETRAKIAN reports, oil prices spiked slightly on today’s news, fearing Iran would respond to the assassination. Markets are especially sensitive right now to any news from Iran.
-GEITHNER PRESSES SANCTIONS…U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner is involved in the Iran story as well – today he appealed for Chinese cooperation on nuclear non-proliferation in Beijing, as he sought Chinese help on the White House’s efforts to toughen sanctions on Iran.
-MEANWHILE, AHMADINEJAD LOOKS FOR FRIENDS…Iranian President Mahmoud Admadinejad will be in Cuba today as part of a regional tour that has taken him to Venezuela and Nicaragua thus far. After Cuba, he’ll wrap the tour with a stop in Ecuador.
PAKISTAN (1): FEARS OF A COUP
From Habibullah KHAN: tensions have reached “boiling point” in Pakistan today. Habi and Jean FIEVET report: There’s been a serious escalation in tensions between Pakistan’s civilian government and military leaders today. Prime Minister Gilani has sacked the country’s defense secretary for “misconduct” over the so-called “memogate” scandal, while the military has publicly rebuked Gilani by releasing a statement warning of “serious ramifications with potentially grievous consequences” after the PM criticized military leaders. Earlier this week Gilani accused the army chief and head of intelligence for acting unconstitutionally by making submissions to a Supreme Court inquiry into the anonymous memo which sought US help to avert a possible military coup in Pakistan. The statements to the court in suggested the memo was part of a conspiracy against the army. The firing of the defense secretary raises the possibility that the prime minister will also dismiss the Chief of the Army and the Head of the ISI.
PAKISTAN (2): FIRST DRONE STRIKE IN TWO MONTHS
As Luis MARTINEZ and Habibullah KHAN report, a suspected U.S. drone aircraft fired missiles at a house on the outskirts of the town of Miranshah in the North Warzistan tribal region today, killing at least three militants. This is the first drone strike since mid-November shortly after the cross-border attack by US forces that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers.
SYRIA (1): MONITOR ABANDONS MISSION
Reuters reports one of the Arab League monitors has abandoned the League’s much-maligned mission to Syria, saying he witnessed “scenes of horror” that he was powerless to prevent and that the monitoring team sent to the country was not acting independently. It’s a signicant defection – he’s the first monitor to leave.
SYRIA (2): ASSAD ADDRESSES HUGE RALLY
Syria’s president turned up at a boisterous pro-government rally in Damascus Wednesday, exhorting his followers and again underscoring his view that the months of popular unrest in his nation are the result of a “conspiracy.” “We will triumph over this conspiracy,” President Bashar al-Assad told a cheering, clapping and flag-waving throng. Alex MARQUARDT again: If this isn’t the first time Assad has appeared in public since the uprising began last March, it’s one of very few. He just showed up at a pro-Assad rally in Damascus attended by thousands of flag-waving Syrians. He’s only given four speeches March so to see him out like this, the day after a big speech, is very surprising. He spoke briefly from a stage, wearing a blazer and open shirt. In his comments he thanked the crowd, his supporters, the military. He concluded by saying, “We will triumph over this conspiracy. Now the conspiracy is dying and it is the end of the conspiracy, the end of the plot.”
TEN-YEAR ANNIVERSARY OF GUANTANAMO BAY PRISON
It’s been ten years since the first detainees arrived at the military prison and interrogation center housed within the U.S. Naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. An op-ed in the New York Times today argues why we should “Give Guantanamo Back to Cuba.”
EUROCRISIS: MERKEL & MONTI MEET; GREECE’S AUSTERITY NIGHTMARE
Germany’s Angela Merkel and Italy’s Mario Monti meet this morning, just as the Wall Street Journal reports Fitch Ratings will announce Italy is the biggest risk to the Euro. Meanwhile, the Washington Post looks at what’s been done to try to solve the debt crisis in Greece and finds how devastating austerity has been. Because of the measures taken, the country’s been forced to cut spending and raise taxes in the middle of a severe downturn.
STRONG HEADWINDS FORCE TRANS-ATLANTIC FLIGHTS TO REFUEL
The Wall Street Journal reports dozens of Continental Airlines flights to the East Coast from Europe have been forced to make unexpected stop in Canada and elsewhere in recent weeks because of unusually strong headwinds over the Atlantic Ocean. Last month, the airline’s 757s had to stop 43 time to refuel out of nearly 1,100 flights head to the U.S. A year earlier, there were only 12 unscheduled stops. The stops are partly the result of a decision by the airline to use smaller jets on its trans-Atlantic routes. The strategy works when winds are clam and it allows the airline to save money by operating less-expensive aircraft, but it leaves little room for error.
RUSSIAN PROBE FALLING TO EARTH
Alexandra NADEZHDINA reports: The Russian space agency Roscosmos has put out a map showing the spot where it now expects that doomed Mars probe to fall. Latest guess: January 15, somewhere in the Indian Ocean. http://www.roscosmos.ru/img_popup.php?img_url=/img/news/2012_01_11_fobos.jpg
JORAN VAN DER SLOOT PLEADS GUILTY
Joran van der Sloot has entered a guilty pleas in the murder of 21-year-old Peruvian Stephany Flores.
YAO MING & THE PANDAS
China released six pandas into a newly designed “enclosed forest” on Tuesday as part of a major program to introduce captive bred animals into a more natural environment. Celebrities including retired basketball star Yao Ming were on hand for the ceremony in Dujiangyan, Sichuan Province, to mark the release of the pandas.
U.K. WORLD WAR II MYSTERY SOLVED — THANKS TO FLORIDA COMPANY?
Whitney LLOYD flags this cool story from The Miami Herald. A Key Largo-based ocean exploration company solved a British WWII mystery of where a British submarine sank in the Mediterranean as it attempted to leave a Malta harbor blockaded by the Germans and Italians. For nearly 70 years, nobody knew exactly where the 283-foot sub’s final resting spot was in the Mediterranean Sea. Only nine of the 98 men aboard survived, swimming about seven miles in cold water and without lights to guide them due to the wartime blackout. The team from Florida discovered the sub a year ago and have just managed to positively identify it. http://www.miamiherald.com/2012/01/10/v-print/2582591/key-largo-divers-discover-sub.html#storylink=cpy
OLIVE OIL WARS
From Phoebe NATANSON in Rome — flagging this interesting piece from the Times of London. An olive oil war has broken out in southern Europe amid accusations that Italians are buying a cheaper Spanish product and reselling it while claiming that it had been “Made in Italy”. An Italian police inquiry has found that four out of five bottles of olive oil on sale in Italy contain mixtures of oil from other countries, usually Spain, Tunisia, Greece or Morocco. According to a new book, “Extra Virginity: The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil” by Tom Mueller, Italy produces 300,000 tons of olive oil a year. Italy’s domestic demand is 600,000 tons and it exports another 400,000 tons, leaving 700,000 tons of “Italian” oil that does not come from the country. Italian extra virgin oil is prized by consumers for its high quality, which comes at a price: the cost of production varies from about €3 (£2.50) per kg in the heel of Italy to as much as €7 per kg in Tuscany and the north. In the Andalusia region of Spain it costs about 50 cents per kg, while in Tunisia the price drops to 23 cents.