Declan Butler, reporter This is the personal blog of Declan Butler, a senior reporter at Nature. All views expressed here are mine, and not those of Nature. Contact me at

July 8, 2009

Iran 2005 presidential candidate says protests mark ‘turning point’ — change ‘inevitable’

Filed under: Iran,Justice — admin @ 5:21 pm

Mostafa Moin, a candidate in Iran’s 2005 presidential elections speaks out on the current situation
Photo credit

I’ve an interview in this week’s Nature with Mostafa Moinpdf here — who was the reformist candidate in Iran’s 2005 presidential elections, following which Mahmoud Ahmadinejad became president. Moin, a medical researcher, and former minister for higher education and for science, has long argued – see my 2006 interview here — that building a stronger civil and democratic society in Iran is key to the country’s scientific development and it becoming a knowledge-based society. He says that events since the disputed 12 June election mark a turning point in the relationship between the people of Iran and its government.

Young Iranians and women are increasingly attached to such principles, he says. They have become the driving force in the grassroots post-election movement in Iran that has moved beyond allegations of vote-rigging, he says, to become a broader civil rights movement, echoing the initial aspirations of the 1979 Islamic Revolution — for civil rights, including greater justice, freedom, democracy, and equality.

In the article, Moin also slams Ahmadinejad’s track record on science, academic freedom and social reforms. He calls on the international community, and academics and scientists in particular, to denounce abuses of academic freedom and human rights, such as the Iranian government forces’ crackdown on students, academics, scientists and other protesters since the contested election, and its violations of the people’s constitutional rights, for example the right to demonstrate peacefully.

“I would like to say to my scientific colleagues, wherever they are, that while Iran, an ancient civilization, has its own cultural background and national interests, the nation and its academics wish to be productive and constructive members of the international community. They reject government adventurism and the creation of a climate of tension internationally,” says Moin.

To read the full print version of the Q&A click here. I’ve also three answers which we didn’t have space for in the print version. I’ve appended some excerpts at end of post.

On 2 July, Nature also published a strong editorial, “We are all Iranians” Mir Hossein Mousavi, the reformist candidate, has cited the Editorial on his Facebook page, here.

Nature also published a news article 24 June, “Iran diaspora responds to protests

Some excerpts from tonight’s article

In our last interview, you said that support by Iranian young people and women for the principles of a civil and democratic society were what would “shape Iran’s future”. Has that shaping moment come?

Yes. The recent growth in Iranian women’s and young people’s political and social awareness has set the stage for their current demands for greater civil liberties, and structural and democratic reforms. The outcome of the 2005 presidential election, combined with the subsequent mismanagement of the government, has catalysed this process — and explains the 85% voter turnout in last month’s presidential election, and the demand for change. The youth, and in particular the supporters of the reformist candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi, played a major role in creating the extraordinary enthusiasm and motivation surrounding the elections. I remain optimistic as to the role, and the movement, of Iran’s youth.

What is your assessment of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s track record on science, and on academic freedom and social reform?

Scientific activity has stagnated. Students and young scientists have been discouraged. Pressure has been exerted on scientific forums and centres, and academic freedom restricted. The brain drain of elites has worsened. Administrations have been massively populated with people from the military and the security forces. We have an economic recession; destruction of ethical norms and public culture; and the scientific, political and cultural isolation of Iran in the international community. These are among the achievements of Ahmadinejad.

Reformists have in the past criticized US funding and support for regime change as being counterproductive, and playing into the hands of opponents of reform. What do you think of US President Barack Obama’s handling of the current crisis, and his overtures towards Iran?

During its long history, the Iranian nation’s self-esteem and generosity means it has not needed or sought outside help. Moreover, history has taught the Iranian people to be suspicious of foreign interference — by the major powers in particular — in its internal affairs. So far, the positions and approach taken by Obama, a politician and academic, have been much more realistic and sober than those of his predecessor, and can be considered as a start towards bigger practical steps.

The demands of the people now seem to have moved beyond allegations of vote-rigging to now echo the initial aspirations of the 1979 Islamic Revolution — for civil rights, including greater justice, freedom, democracy and equality. Is that the case?

Exactly. The typical slogans chanted by the protesters were calls for a return to the freedom-loving, justice seeking and ethical and spiritual ideals of the 1979 revolution. The manner in which the recent elections were held, and its serious social and political consequences, mark a turning point in the relationship between the people of Iran and its government. People, and the young generation in particular, feel that their intelligence and personality have been insulted, and that their votes have been subject to treason by means of lies and deceit. The consequences of this will become apparent in the relatively near future.

Progressives, including academics, were purged in the aftermath of the 1979 revolution, and to a lesser extent again under Ahmadinejad. Have they reasserted themselves during the current crisis, and played any significant role?

Students, young academics and the educated strata of Iranian society have played a major role. Alongside their protests against political constraints and election violations, students also protested against this purge of their professors. All Ahmadinejad’s rivals in the presidential elections have also denounced the massive and illogical purge of the country’s scientific and managerial elites.

February 22, 2008

Iran’s nuclear programme

Filed under: Iran,Non-proliferation,NPT,Nuclear — admin @ 7:43 pm

On 12 February, I wrote a detailed and neutral analysis of Iran’s nuclear programme and its potential capacity to produce weapons. The article was in anticipation of the report by IAEA on Iran sent to its board today, that was intended to wrap up the IAEA’s investigation of Iran’s past and present nuclear activities. The report is classified until 3 March, but has been leaked, and I append a full copy below fyi — as with WHO, other intergovernmental, and government, reports you need to understand diplomatic speak fluently to understand the nuances.

My earlier article also included 2 short boxes — one on the main outstanding issues that IAEA still had to obtain satisfactory answers to, and another on potential weapons break-out scenarios.

Today’s report by the IAEA reveals a disappointing lack of progress, far short of the agency’s expectations. But there is nonetheless reason to believe that reason may yet prevail in this charged dossier, where excessive belligerence on all sides has stalled an acceptable resolution.

I’ve appended below some excerpts from my earlier articles, which may help interpret the new IAEA report. For more detailed analyses of the technical issues in the Iran case, I’d recommend the site of the Institute for Science and International Security, and a January article in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientist by Richard Garwin, a former nuclear weapons designer who is now a major force for disarmament. Another good source of information is the Nuclear Threat Initiative. The IAEA page on Iran is here.

Abridged excerpts from my earlier articles, and the full text of the new IAEA report appended below:

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