Senior Iranian aide defects during nuclear talks in Lausanne

Amir Hossein MotaghiBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
A media advisor to the Iranian president, who was in Switzerland to cover the ongoing international negotiations on the country’s nuclear program, has defected. Amir Hossein Motaghi is credited with having helped secure the impressive ascent of Hassan Rouhani to Iran’s presidency in 2013. Rouhani, who swept to power with over 50 percent of the vote, over 30 percentage points ahead of his nearest rival, owes much of his victory to his popularity among the youth. Motaghi led the media team that promoted Rouhani’s image among younger voters by cleverly employing online platforms such as Facebook and Twitter.

Following Rouhani’s victory, however, Motaghi repeatedly voiced impatience with the slow pace of social and political reforms in Iran. Recently he spoke in favor of the release of Jason Rezaian, the Iranian-American Tehran bureau chief for The Washington Post, who has been denounced as a spy and imprisoned by the Iranian government. There have been rumors in the Iranian media that Motaghi had been ordered to report once a week to Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence; some say he had been privately warned that he faced arrest upon his return to Iran.

Motaghi had reportedly been sent to the Swiss city of Lausanne by the Iran Student Correspondents Association (ISCA). His task was to cover the ongoing talks that aim to bring an end to the dispute between the Islamic Republic and a group of nations that have come to be known as P5+1, representing the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany. However, according to Iranian opposition sources, the media aide resigned from his ISCA post before filing an application for political asylum in Switzerland.

Soon afterwards, Motaghi gave an interview to Irane Farda, a pro-reform Iranian television station based in London, in which he explained the reasons for his defection. He accused the Iranian government of controlling Iranian media reports about the talks, by staffing its reporter entourage in Lausanne with undercover intelligence officers. He also said he could no longer pursue his profession conscientiously because he was only allowed to report approved news items. Furthermore, he accused the American delegation to the talks as “mainly speak[ing] on Iran’s behalf with […] the 5+1 countries [so as to] convince them to consent to an agreement”.

Late on Sunday, ISCA, the press agency believed to have sent Motaghi to Switzerland, released a statement claiming it did not employ the journalist and that his job had been terminated prior to the nuclear talks in Lausanne.

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Medical tests suggest Yasser Arafat may have been poisoned

Yasser ArafatBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
A nine-month forensic toxicological investigation into the death of Yasser Arafat has raised the possibility that the Palestinian leader may have been poisoned with a radioactive substance. The Institut de Radiophysique (IRA) in Lausanne, Switzerland, has announced the discovery of significant traces of polonium-210 on the personal artifacts that Arafat used during his final days. Speaking at a press conference in Switzerland on Monday, IRA Director Dr. Francois Bochud said that the Institute could “confirm that we measured an unexplained, elevated amount of unsupported polonium-210 in the belongings of Mr. Arafat that contained stains of biological fluids”. According to the IRA, some of the Fatah founder’s personal belongings, including his underwear and his toothbrush, contained levels of polonium that were as many as ten times higher than those in random samples used as control subjects in the study. The findings of the investigation, which was sponsored by the Qatari news channel Al-Jazeera, may eventually shed light into the cause of Arafat’s death, which remains a medical mystery. Doctors in the West Bank and France have confirmed that the Palestinian leader was in sound health until he suddenly fell ill in mid-October 2004, and that his body showed no symptoms of any known disease. Polonium-210 made news headlines in a major way in November 2006, when it was identified as the poison used to kill Alexander Litvinenko. Read more of this post