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Monday, September 28, 2009

Obama to Attend Olympic Vote

WASHINGTON — President Obama will travel to Copenhagen later this week to support Chicago’s bid to play host to the 2016 Summer Games, the White House and the Chicago organizers announced on Monday. It will be the first time an American president attended an International Olympic Committee vote and lobbied in person for an American city to become host of the Games.

Mr. Obama had initially said that the pressing issue of health care reform would prevent him from making the trip to Copenhagen, where one of four cities — Chicago, Madrid, Rio de Janeiro or Tokyo — would be named the host city after Friday’s vote. Mr. Obama said he would send his wife, Michelle Obama, a lifelong Chicagoan, in his place. But there were signals last week that Mr. Obama was likely to make the trip after all, and the White House sent an advance team to Copenhagen to prepare the way. The final decision was made public early Monday morning.

“President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama symbolize the hope, opportunity and inspiration that makes Chicago great, and we are honored to have two of our city’s most accomplished residents leading our delegation in Copenhagen,” Mayor Richard M. Daley said in a statement. “Who better to share with members of the International Olympic Committee the commitment and enthusiasm Chicago has for the Olympic and Paralympic Movement than the President and First Lady.”

The Chicago bid leader, Patrick G. Ryan, said he was honored that Mr. Obama would join the bid team “for the pinnacle moment in our bid.”

The host city will be announced Friday at 12:30 p.m. Eastern time, after each city delivers a 70-minute final presentation to the 100-plus I.O.C. members. Mr. Obama is expected to be a part of that final presentation. Heads of state from Brazil and Spain are also expected to be present in Copenhagen.

The competition to become the host city for the 2016 Games is said to be the tightest in years. Rio, trying to become the first South American city to play host to the Games, is thought to have a slight lead over Chicago. The vote may be won by one or two votes, so Mr. Obama’s presence there is “very critical” because he is likely to sway votes Chicago’s way, said Robert Livingstone, the producer for the Web site, which follows the business of Olympic bids.

Mr. Obama and his wife will join a large delegation that will be in Copenhagen, including more than two dozen Olympians and Paralympians. Oprah Winfrey, Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood also will make the trip.

Other bid cities will have their own large group of supporters in Copenhagen. But in the recent past, the presence of the heads of states made the difference.

Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain set the bar high in 2005, when he and his wife, Cherie, traveled to the I.O.C. meeting in Singapore to lobby for London’s bid for the 2012 Games. London won those Games in an upset over Paris. Mr. Blair’s last-minute efforts were said to have won the day.

At the next vote to choose a host city, in 2007, Vladimir Putin, who was then president of Russia and is now prime minister, addressed the I.O.C. membership in Guatemala City in English, pushing for the resort city of Sochi, Russia, to host the 2014 Winter Games. Sochi was chosen.

For China, Iran uranium plant no game changer

By Emma Graham-Harrison - Analysis

BEIJING (Reuters) - China's distaste for sanctions and appetite for Iran's oil may hamper Western efforts to ramp up pressure on Tehran after disclosure of the country's second uranium enrichment plant.

The United States and Western European powers want greater force behind demands that Iran come clean on its nuclear plans, following last week's revelation of the new nuclear facility.

China may be persuaded to back some sanctions, especially if Russia joins U.S. and European calls for action, experts say.

But Beijing is likely to flex its power as a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council to dilute any proposed resolution that could threaten its ties with Tehran.

"On the one hand China knows that relations with the United States and Europe are very important, but on the other hand it has substantial diplomatic, strategic and energy interests in Iran," said Shi Yinhong, professor of International Relations at Renmin University in Beijing.

"China is in the middle ground so it will go some way to meet the West, but less than half way. It will make some criticism and censure of Iran, but this will be very soft."

The United States and its Western allies have made clear they will focus on Iran's nuclear program at rare talks with Iranian officials in Geneva on Thursday, which China will attend.

Iran has offered wide-ranging security talks but says it will not discuss its nuclear "rights." Adding to tensions, Iran test-fired mid-range missiles on Monday.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad says the new nuclear facility was legal and open for inspection by the International Atomic Energy Agency -- the U.N. nuclear watchdog.

U.S. officials said work began on the covert plant as an alternate site for possible weapons development as scrutiny at a first plant made it hard to conduct such activities there. Iran says its nuclear work is for peaceful power generation purposes.

The news has triggered calls from Western capitals for additional "sanctions that bite" if Tehran does not come clean on its nuclear plans and address international concerns.

Even Russia -- previously reluctant to go along with further penalties -- showed greater willingness to consider such action.

Yet for China, which has long insisted it does not interfere in other nations' affairs, there has been no change in stance beyond a hint of frustration with Tehran.

Even with neighbor North Korea, which poses a more immediate security threat because it has exploded two nuclear devices, Beijing has been consistently wary of tightening sanctions.

"A political solution to the Iranian nuclear issue is in the interests of the world," said the popular Global Times tabloid, owned by Communist Party mouthpiece the People's Daily

Iran flexes muscle ahead of talks with major powers

TEHRAN, Sept 28 (Reuters) -

Iran test-fired missiles on Monday which a commander said could reach any regional target, flexing its military muscle before crucial talks this week with major powers worried about Tehran's nuclear ambitions.

The missile drills of the elite Revolutionary Guards coincide with escalating tension in Iran's nuclear dispute with the West, after last week's disclosure by Tehran that it is building a second uranium enrichment plant.

News of the nuclear fuel facility south of Tehran added urgency to the rare meeting in Geneva on Thursday between Iranian officials and representatives of six major powers, including the United States, China and Russia.

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who says any military action against Iran would only "buy time" and stresses the need for diplomacy, mentioned possible new sanctions on banking and equipment and technology for Iran's oil and gas industry.

Iran's Foreign Ministry said there was no link between the missile manoeuvres and the nuclear activities.

"This is a military drill which is deterrent in nature," spokesman Hassan Qashqavi told a news conference broadcast by English-language Press TV. "There is no connection whatsoever with the nuclear programme."

Press TV said the Shahab 3, a surface-to-surface missile with a range of up to 2,000 km (1,250 miles), was "successfully" test-fired on the second day of an exercise that began on Sunday, when short and medium-range missiles were launched.

Such a range would put Israel and U.S. bases in the region within striking distance. Television footage of the launches showed missiles soaring into the sky in desert-like terrain, to shouts of Allahu Akbar (God is Greatest).

"All targets within the region, no matter where they are, will be within the range of these missiles," said General Hossein Salami, commander of the Guards' air force.

Salami said the exercise was over and had achieved its goals. "All the test-fired missiles managed to hit their targets without any errors and with precision," the forces website quoted him as saying.


The tests sparked swift international condemnation.

British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said the missile test was "part of an annual provocation" by Iran and should not distract from the pending Geneva talks.

"On Thursday (Iran will) need to ... show that they are serious about ensuring that their civilian nuclear power programme does not leak into a military programme," Miliband told Britain's Sky News.

European Foreign Policy Chief Javier Solana, who will head the Western delegation in the Geneva talks, said "everything that is done in that context is a concern."

He said the aim of Thursday's talks was "engagement".

When asked what sanctions Iran should face if it failed to comply with Western demands over its nuclear programme, Solana said "now is not the time to talk about that".

France called on Iran "to choose the path of cooperation and not that of confrontation by immediately ending these profoundly destabilising activities and by immediately responding to the requests of the international community in order to reach a negotiated solution on the nuclear dossier."

The United States and its Western allies have made clear they will focus on Iran's nuclear programme at the Geneva meeting. Iran has offered wide-ranging security talks but says it will not discuss its nuclear "rights".

Washington, which suspects Iran is trying to develop nuclear bomb capability, has previously expressed concern about Tehran's missile programme. Iran, a major oil producer, says its nuclear work is solely for generating peaceful electricity.


The Pentagon chief told CNN he hoped the disclosure of the second facility would force Tehran to make concessions. "The Iranians are in a very bad spot now because of this deception, in terms of all of the great powers," Gates said.

"There obviously is the opportunity for severe additional sanctions. I think we have the time to make that work."

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Iran must present "convincing evidence" at the Geneva meeting.

"We are going to put them to the test on Oct. 1," Clinton told CBS' "Face the Nation. "They can open their entire system to the kind of extensive investigation that the facts call for."

Both interviews were taped before Iran started the two-day missile exercise, designed to show it is prepared to head off military attacks by foes like Israel or the United States.

Iran's state broadcaster IRIB said "upgraded" versions of Shahab 3 and another missile, Sejil, had been tested. Officials have earlier said Sejil has a range of close to 2,000 km (1,250 miles). They were powered by solid fuel, IRIB said.

Neither the United States nor its ally Israel have ruled out military action if diplomacy fails to resolve the nuclear row.

Iran has said it would respond to any attack by targeting U.S. interests in the region and Israel, as well as closing the Strait of Hormuz, a vital route for world oil supplies.

Iran's defence minister warned Israel on Monday against launching any attack on the Islamic Republic, saying it would only speed up the Jewish state's own demise.

"If this happens, which of course we do not foresee, its ultimate result would be that it expedites the Zionist regime's last breath," Ahmad Vahidi said on state television.

U.S. President Barack Obama said on Saturday the discovery of a secret nuclear plant in Iran showed a "disturbing pattern" of evasion by Tehran. He warned Iran on Friday it would face "sanctions that bite" unless it came clean.

Iran has rejected Western accusations that the plant was meant to be secret because it did not inform the U.N. nuclear watchdog as soon as plans were drawn up, saying the facility near the holy city of Qom is legal and can be inspected.

"Nothing has been illegal. It has been absolutely based on law," said the Foreign Ministry's Qashqavi. "All activities are transparent ... we are prepared to clarify other aspects."

Ali Asghar Soltanieh, Iran's envoy to the International Atomic Energy Agency, told the BBC he had had a couple of meetings with IAEA inspectors and it was agreed they would be given access to the site "in the near future". He gave no date. (Reporting by Tehran and Washington bureaux, Avril Ormsby in London; writing by Samia Nakhoul; editing by Dominic Evans)

By Fredrik Dahl and Hossein Jaseb

Iran to test fire missile capable of hitting Israel

Iran announced plans today to test-fire a long-range missile capable of hitting Israel as it adopted a defiant stance over its nuclear capability.

It also fired several short-range missiles using a multiple rocket launching system for the first time during military exercises by the regime's Revolutionary Guards.

General Hossein Salami, head of the Revolutionary Guard Air Force, said that Iran would test medium-range Shahab-1 and Shahab-2 missiles on tonight and long-range Shahab-3 missiles on Monday, during drills set to last several days.

It is thought the Shahab-3 now has a range of up to 1,200 miles.

General Salami said that Fateh, Tondar and Zelzal missiles were test-fired today. All are short-range, surface-to-surface missiles.

The official English-language Press TV showed pictures of at least two missiles being fired simultaneously and said they were from Sunday’s drill in a central Iran desert. In the clip, men could be heard shouting “Allahu Akbar" as the missiles were launched.

“We are going to respond to any military action in a crushing manner and it doesn’t make any difference which country or regime has launched the aggression,” General Salami said.

Iran has had the solid-fuel Fateh missile, with a range of 120 miles, for several years. It also has the solid-fuel, Chinese-made CSS 8, also called the Tondar 69, which has a range of about 93 miles.

The multiple launcher used for the first time today is designed for the Zelzal missile, which has a range of up to 185 miles.

The tests came two days after the US and its allies disclosed that Iran had been secretly developing a previously unknown underground uranium enrichment facility and warned the country it must open the nuclear site to international inspection or face harsher international sanctions.

The newly revealed nuclear site in mountains near the holy city of Qom is believed to be inside a heavily guarded, underground facility belonging to the Revolutionary Guard.

After the strong condemnations from the US and its allies, Iran said yesterday that it would allow UN nuclear inspectors to examine the site.

David Miliband warned that the Middle Eastern regime must take "concrete steps" to allay fears that it is building a nuclear arsenal.

The Foreign Secretary insisted that the focus remained on a diplomatic solution but he repeatedly declined invitations to describe military intervention as "inconceivable".

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Iranian President, is under pressure over the covert site.

Mark Fitzpatrick, of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, said that Tehran could have nuclear weapons in a year's time.

He said: "If they decided today to go for a nuclear weapon and they didn't care about anybody knowing about it, it's possible they could do it in a year. Probably longer, but if all the steps went like clockwork then maybe a year.

"It's likely that they have some secret facilities and how far along they are in those facilities is a guess.

"If they were to develop a nuclear weapon they would probably do it at a clandestine facility so that they wouldn't trigger the obvious trip wire."

Iranian officials will meet representatives of the E3+3 group of Britain, France, Germany, the US, Russia and China in Geneva next Thursday.

Questioned about the likelihood of military force against Iran, Mr Miliband said: "No sane person looks at the military question of engagement with Iran with anything other than real concern.

"That's why we always say we are 100 per cent committed to the diplomatic track."

But, questioned on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, Mr Miliband declined to describe military action as "inconceivable" – the word used by Jack Straw when he was Foreign Secretary.

"I always say to people look at what I do say, not at what I don't say, and what I do say is that we are 100 per cent focused on a diplomatic resolution of this question," Mr Miliband said.

"It's vital that we remain so, it's vital that in the very short term in a meeting next Thursday that the Iranians take practical and concrete steps to address the outstanding questions."

Mr Ahmadinejad said that the new facility would not be operational for 18 months so he had not violated any requirements.

He maintained that Iran opposed nuclear weapons as "inhumane"