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US hikers freed after two years in Iran

Two US hikers, Josh Fattal and Shane Bauer, have been freed from Tehran’s Evin prison in Iran after $1 million bail was paid.

Accused of spying, the men were arrested when they apparently strayed along the unmarked Iran–Iraq border in July 2009, and were recently sentenced to eight years in prison. Arrested with them was a third US hiker, Sarah Shourd, released in 2010 on medical grounds. All three have denied the charges.

The two hikers were bailed and their sentences commuted. Their Iranian attorney, Masoud Shafiei, stated Oman provided the bail.

The two arrived in Muscat, Oman late Wednesday, where they were met by waiting family members as well as fellow hiker Sarah Shourd.

On this day July 3, 1988

United States Navy warship USS Vincennes shot down Iran Air Flight 655 over the Strait of Hormuz, toward the end of the Iran-Iraq War, killing all 290 people aboard.

Will C. Rogers III in 1988

Will C. Rogers III in 1988

The aircraft, an Airbus A300B2 operated by Iran Air, was flying from Bandar Abbas, Iran, to Dubai, UAE, when it was destroyed by the U.S. Navy’s guided missile cruiser USS Vincennes.

It was the highest death toll of any aviation incident in the Indian Ocean and the highest death toll of any incident involving an Airbus A300 anywhere in the world. Vincennes was traversing the Straits of Hormuz, inside Iranian territorial waters, at the time of the attack IR655 was within Iranian airspace.

According to the US government, the crew mistakenly identified the Iranian Airbus A300 as an attacking F-14 Tomcat fighter. Read More…

Brazil lead nuclear compromise with Iran

Iran, Turkey, and Brazil emerged with an agreement yesterday from talks regarding Iran’s nuclear program.

Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva at UN

The eighteen-hour discussion in Tehran yesterday included Brazilian president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who acted as a neutral broker in the deal.

Lula da Silva also visited Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader of Iran, although only Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was actively involved in the talks.

Prior to the meeting, many had thought the chance of an agreement slim. Iran, however, seemed to be open to new ideas. Iranian atomic director Ali Akbar Salehi said Saturday that “things are moving along positively” in regard to such proposals. Iran had originally refused to trade its uranium, but seemed to indicate last week that it had changed its mind. Read More…

Hezbollah armed with improved missiles

US Defense Secretary Robert Gates, along with Israeli defense minister Ehud Barak, warned yesterday that that the guerrilla group Hezbollah was in possession of more weapons than some governments.

Robert Michael Gates

Gates, after meeting with Barak, said that both Syria and Iran were responsible for providing weapons of “ever increasing capability” to Hezbollah, although he declined to confirm that the group had gained possession of ballistic missiles called Scuds.”

Barak said that missiles owned by Hezbollah had the potential to “disrupt the very delicate balance in Lebanon,” although he stated that a military conflict as a result of the transfer of weapons to Hezbollah was unlikely.

He said that “We [Israel] do not intend to provoke any kind of major collision in Lebanon, or vis-a-vis Syria,” though he added that “we are watching closely these developments and think that they do not contribute to stability in the region.” Read More…

Ahmadinejad applies for UN meeting in NYC

The U.S. State Department says Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has applied to visit the United States as part of an Iranian delegation to a U.N. nuclear conference in New York.

State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said Wednesday the United States has a responsibility as the host of the U.N. headquarters to accept the Iranian president’s visa request.

The Iranian delegation is due to participate in a conference aimed at reviewing the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, of which Iran is a signatory. The month-long conference begins Monday and has been held every five years since the NPT went into effect in 1970. Read More…

Biden expects new UN sanctions against Iran

The vice president of the United States, Joe Biden, said yesterday that he expects the United Nations to implement new sanctions against Iran be early next month.

Image: United States Senate

Biden said that “I believe you will see a sanction regime coming out by the end of this month, beginning of next month”.

Biden said that China, which had previously been opposed to sanctions against Iran, would take part in the latest round. UN diplomats are presently engaged in the process of developing the new sanctions, which will be the fourth resolution against Iran’s nuclear program.

According to Biden, the latest sanctions would mark the first time the world was unified in its opposition to Iran’s nuclear program.

He noted that “[t]veryone from the Israeli prime minister straight through to the British prime minister to the president of Russia, everyone agrees the next step we should take is the UN sanction route.” Read More…

Iran began air, land and sea military exercise

Iran state television says the military has begun a major exercise Thursday focused on security in the Persian Gulf and Strait of Hormuz.

Iran's Revolutionary Guard

The deputy chief of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards said Iranian forces are testing test weapon systems in the Strait of Hormuz, as well as intelligence and communication capabilities.

About 40 percent of the world’s oil shipments pass through the Strait of Hormuz.

On Wednesday, a Pentagon spokesman said U.S. strategy on Iran has not changed.  He said Washington hopes diplomacy and sanctions will halt Iran’s nuclear program but not rule out any option, including military action. Read More…