The government continues to defy international efforts to halt Iran's nuclear fuel program. Iraq now says it will enrich uranium to 20 percent, and build twenty enrichment plants, each capable of producing 30 tons of enriched uranium a year. A 1,000 MegaWatt nuclear fuel plant requires 25 tons of enriched uranium (in the form of pellets, inside fuel rods) each year. That 25 tons is the end result of processing 200 tons of uranium ore from a mine. A nuclear weapon requires about 20 kg (44 pounds) of highly enriched (eight times the level of fuel for power plants) material.
Currently, Iran has enriched its nuclear material to about five percent. For weapons, you need to increase the content of Uranium 235 in uranium ore to at least 54 percent (producing uranium that contains that percentage of the more volatile U-235 form of the nuclear material). This is far above the 5-10 percent minimum needed for nuclear power plants. Normally, Uranium ore is only about .7 percent U-235. Anything over 20 percent enriched can be used for a nuclear bomb. But the most effective and reliable nuclear weapons use 80 percent enriched nuclear material. Iran appears to believe that the UN will not be able to implement more severe sanctions (because China is an Iranian ally).
In the last year, much detail, on Iranian arms smuggling activity has been uncovered, and this has revealed that there has been a large (thousands of tons a year) trade in North Korean weapons being sold and shipped to Iran. This activity has been largely secret, but new sanctions on Iran and North Korea have enabled more aggressive investigation of Iranian and North Korean exports. Thus many deceptions have been revealed. Iran has been a large source of hard currency for North Korea.
Painfully aware that the monarchy was overthrown three decades ago by student led demonstrations, Iran's leaders (many of whom were rioting students in the late 1970s) are coming down hard on the current crop of reform minded students. University administrators have been ordered to freely expel students identified as troublemakers. The secret police are putting more operatives into universities, trying to spot troublemakers, and intimidate or imprison them before they become a problem. Internet use was restricted the day before, and day of, the demonstrations. The government has promised more death sentences and long prison terms for those arrested during the December 7 demonstrations.
The clerics are determined to avoid the fate of the Shah and his monarchy. But since the clerics have been more brutal and corrupt than the Shah, success in avoiding the fate of the Shah may be difficult. The clerics believe otherwise. Unlike the Shah, the clerics believe they are on a mission from God (to remain in control of the government) and that any means necessary can be employed to make it so.
December 8, 2009: The "Student's Day" protests carried on over another day.
The government accused the United States of kidnapping their nuclear scientist, Shahram Amiri, while he was on the pilgrimage to Mecca (in Saudi Arabia) last June. The Saudis deny any such thing, and suggest that Shahram Amiri defected. The disappearance of Shahram Amiri would explain the subsequent revelations, by the U.S. government, of secret Iranian nuclear weapons development plants.
December 7, 2009: As the government feared, anti-government students hijacked most of the "Student's Day" rallies and turned them into angry demonstrations in favor of reform. At least 20,000 anti-government demonstrators were in the streets of Tehran. Over 200 students were arrested, mainly in the capital. The day commemorates the death of three students during a 1953 anti-U.S. rally.
December 5, 2009: Foreign media have been banned from the "Student's Day" rallies held on the 7th, especially the main one held in the capital.
December 4, 2009: Three Iranians were killed in Syria, when a bomb went off in the tourist bus they were traveling in (to a Shia shrine). The Syrian government denied that a bomb had gone off, and blamed the damage (blown out windows in the bus and nearby buildings and body parts scattered about) to an exploding tire on the bus (which was at a service station getting more air.)
December 3, 2009: The editor of a newspaper (since shut down) that criticized the government, was sentenced to nine years in prison. The harsh sentenced was in part because the man (Saeed Layla) was accused of aiding in organizing protests last Summer. Meanwhile, the government has decreed that women can no longer wear makeup when they appear on TV. This was in response to a senior cleric deciding that this was God's Will.
December 2, 2009: The government released the five man British crew of a racing sail boat. The British sailors were moving the boat from Bahrain to Dubai, but the wind died, they had engine trouble and they drifted into Iranian waters on November 25th. The government decided not to hold these sailors for ransom (some diplomatic favor, usually.)
December 1, 2009: The U.S. revealed that it had arrested a high level Iranian arms smuggler two years ago, and kept it a secret while the exploited the treasure trove of information they extracted from him. One item was that, at the highest level of the Iranian government, it's accepted as a sure thing that there will eventually be a war with the United States.