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Outside View: Ahmadinejad's faux pas
by James Zumwalt
Herndon, Va. (UPI) Mar 19, 2013

Iran's influence 'waning' in Latin America: US general
Washington (AFP) March 19, 2013 - Iran is "struggling" to cultivate ties with Latin American countries that are wary of the United States, and Tehran's influence in the region is on the decline, a top US general said Tuesday.

"The reality on the ground is that Iran is struggling to maintain influence in the region, and that its efforts to cooperate with a small set of countries with interests that are inimical to the United States are waning," General John Kelly, head of US Southern Command, told lawmakers.

In Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador and Argentina, Iran has sought to expand diplomatic and economic links to counter international sanctions and to promote anti-US sentiment, Kelly told the Senate Armed Services Committee.

But the bid has only been "marginally successful" and the broader region "has not been receptive to Iranian efforts," the general said.

Iran's ally, the Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah, also has a presence in several Latin American states and has received support from Venezuela's government, with officials being sanctioned for assisting the militants, Kelly said.

But the US military's "limited intelligence capabilities may prevent our full awareness of all Iranian and Hezbollah activities in the region," said Kelly, in an apparent allusion to budget pressures.

President Barack Obama signed a law in December designed to counter Iran's alleged influence in Latin America, where it has opened up several new embassies in recent years.

The law calls for the State Department to shape a new diplomatic and political strategy in the region to undercut Iran's efforts.

The legislation also calls on the Department of Homeland Security to bolster surveillance at US borders with Canada and Mexico to prevent operatives from Iran or Hezbollah from entering the United States.

World powers, Iran hold fresh exchange on nuclear proposals
Brussels (AFP) March 19, 2013 - World powers gave Iran fresh details on a proposed deal aimed at ending international concern over Tehran's nuclear programme during talks in Istanbul, the European Union said Tuesday.

At the talks on Monday, experts from the five permanent UN Security Council members -- Britain, China, France, Russia and the US -- plus Germany "had technical discussions with Iran," said a brief statement from a spokesman for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton.

Monday's technical exchange will be followed by political talks in Almaty, Kazakhstan, on April 5 and 6, said Michael Mann, the spokesman for Ashton, who heads the talks between the six powers and Iran.

In Istanbul, the experts, led by Stephan Klement, "provided further details on the revised confidence building proposal" put forward by the western powers to Iran in talks in Almaty on February 26 and 27.

The six last month offered Iran a softening of non-oil or financial sector-related sanctions in exchange for concessions over Tehran's sensitive uranium enrichment operations.

The West suspects Tehran is seeking to develop nuclear weapons under the guise of what the Islamic republic insists is a purely civilian programme with peaceful ends.

The offer, reportedly involving easing sanctions on Iran's gold and precious metals trade and lifting others on some very small banking operations, in return demands a tougher nuclear inspection regime and the interruption of enrichment operations at the Fordo bunker facility where 20-percent enrichment goes on.

The EU statement said the Istanbul talks also provided an opportunity for experts from both sides "to explore each other's positions on a number of technical subjects."

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is a diehard Islamist. As such, it was surprising to observe a man who has been so full of hate toward Christians and Jews conduct himself, for a very rare moment at least, as a man of compassion.

Unsurprisingly, the Islamist mullahs in Iran were unhappy with such conduct. But Ahmadinejad's major faux pas, under Islam, provides another glimpse into the God Islamists choose to promote.

The controversy arose when a photograph was published showing Ahmadinejad, in Venezuela for the March 8 funeral of President Hugo Chavez, clutching the hands of Chavez's grieving mother, Elena Frias de Chavez, his cheek touching hers.

It was unclear if the pained expression on Ahmadinejad's face was due to his own grief over the loss of Chavez or to his sudden realization he had been caught in a very un-Islamic embrace with the mother.

When the photograph hit Iran, religious leaders there wasted no time condemning him.

Extremists say the embrace was inappropriate as it is "haram" (forbidden) -- a sinful act that is offensive to God. Even supporters of Ahmadinejad agreed, suggesting the Iranian president had "lost control." One Iranian newspaper tried to claim the photograph had been Photoshopped.

In the end, however, the photo couldn't be denied and Ahmadinejad was lambasted by Islamist clerics for demonstrating he is part of the "deviant current" (meaning he has deviated from the original ideas of the Iranian revolution) plaguing his term.

What was the nature of his sin? Islam forbids Muslim men from touching women who are unrelated to them; thus, Ahmadinejad offended Islam's God with his cheek-to-cheek and hand-clasping embrace.

A member of Iran's Society of Militant Clergy of Tehran noted, "In relation to what is allowed (halal) and what is forbidden (haram), we know that no unrelated women can be touched unless she is drowning at sea or needs (medical) treatment."

The compassion Ahmadinejad demonstrated by embracing Chavez's mother wasn't the only complaint registered by his Islamist brethren, however. He also was criticized for his eulogy, in which he seemed to ordain Chavez as a holy man. He suggested Chavez "will come again along with Jesus Christ and Al-Imam al-Mahdi (the 12th Imam destined in the near future to descend to Earth from his current state of occultation to subjugate all other religions to Islam) to redeem mankind."

Islamists perceive their God to be one intolerant of a man rendering compassion to a grieving female unrelated to them; Christians perceive their God to be just the opposite.

To the Islamist, a Muslim who has "lost control," rendering compassion by a cheeky embrace, has committed a major sin against a God who is feared; to the Christian, in showing such compassion, a believer has pleased a God Who is loving.

Sadly, Islam even frowns upon public displays of emotion between a married man and woman. After a photograph appeared in the international media of an Indonesian Muslim soldier kissing his Muslim wife goodbye before he deployed, the couple became the target of Muslim clerics' criticism.

Interestingly, it was one Muslim's ire, raised more than six decades ago after observing unrelated U.S. men and women embracing each other, that ignited the fires of Islamism we face today.

In 1948, an Islamist Egyptian educator, Sayyid Qutb, sailed to the United States to pursue a master's degree at a college in Greeley, Colo. Welcoming the introverted Qutb to Greeley, the townspeople invited him to a church social. After dinner, the lights were turned down and a popular song of the time, "Baby, It's Cold Outside," was played. Men and women began slow dancing.

Qutb was angered as he observed unmarried men and women dancing, their bodies closely entwined. Upon returning to Egypt in 1950, he wrote an article entitled "The America That I Have Seen" in which he described his observations about American women in words reading more like a cheap novel: "The American girl is well acquainted with her body's seductive capacity. She knows it lies in the face, and in expressive eyes, and thirsty lips. She knows seductiveness lies in the round breasts, the full buttocks, and in the shapely thighs, sleek legs -- and she shows all this and does not hide it."

For being so enflamed with anger, Qutb seemed to have a most observant eye!

He began writing a litany of works addressing the ills of the West and the need to impose Shariah law to cleanse Muslim society of Western influence, joining the Muslim Brotherhood, which held similar views.

However, his push for an Islamist state ran afoul of Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser's plans for the secular nationalist ideology of Nasserism -- leading to Qutb's execution in 1966.

Qutb's teachings, however, weren't lost upon two very prominent Islamist students -- Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri. The former would declare war against the United States in 1998, leading al-Qaeda until his death in 2011; the latter then replacing bin Laden as the terrorist organization's leader. Both were known to have been heavily influenced by Qutb's writings.

Ahmadinejad's emotional lapse apparently left the tune of "Embraceable You" dancing in his head. Sadly, the mullahs promote a negative image of Islam in condemning man's compassion toward another human being as a sin against God. They choose to focus blindly on a gender issue, ignoring the needs of a grieving mother who has just lost a son.

(James G. Zumwalt, a retired U.S. Marine Corps lieutenant colonel and infantry officer, served in the Vietnam war, the U.S. invasion of Panama and the first Persian Gulf war. He is the author of "Bare Feet, Iron Will--Stories from the Other Side of Vietnam's Battlefields," "Living the Juche Lie: North Korea's Kim Dynasty" and "Doomsday: Iran--The Clock is Ticking." He frequently writes on foreign policy and defense issues.)

(United Press International's "Outside View" commentaries are written by outside contributors who specialize in a variety of important issues. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of United Press International. In the interests of creating an open forum, original submissions are invited.)


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