Saudi Arabia's king arrived Thursday in Damascus to try work with his Syrian counterpart, President Bashar Al-Assad, to defuse the potentially explosive situation over the possible implication of Hezbollah in the murder of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri.
Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah -- a Muslim group backed by Syria and Iran -- has made recent television appearances saying clearly that his organization would not accept any blame and would fight against the charges.
Nasrallah's remarks have sparked fears of a sectarian conflict between Sunnis and Shiites in Lebanon similar to one that brought the country close to civil war in 2008.
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Philip Crowley said on Wednesday that Syria should play a more constructive role to ease the tension.
"Syria should distance itself from Iran and listen attentively to what the Saudi King would tell him," Crowley told reporters.
Damascus slammed his statement on Thursday as "interference," saying no one could know better how to handle regional affairs than the countries in the region.
"The Ministry of Foreign Affairs expresses astonishment over the statement of the U.S. spokesman. It is not Washington's duty, and it has no right, to determine our relationship with the regional countries and interfere in the content of the Saudi King's talks during his visit to Damascus," said a statement from the Syrian government.
"Syria and Saudi Arabia are independent states which belong to this region and know better than any the interests of the people of this region, (and) how they should work to achieve these interests away from any external interference," the statement concluded.
Nasrallah, whose group fought a month-long war with Israel in 2006, views the possible accusations as an Israeli attempt to destabilize Lebanon.
Some witnesses have actually recanted, and four pro-Syrian Lebanese generals, jailed after Hariri's murder, were released last year for lack of evidence.
Hezbollah, whose military organization is more powerful than the Lebanese army, was not expected to hand over any suspects. Nor will the government be in a position to arrest anyone.
For years, however, Hariri's supporters maintained - and United Nations investigators indicated - that elements in the Syrian regime, which controlled Lebanon at the time, were behind the killing.
Anti-Syrian protests and international uproar over the assassination led to the establishment of a U.N. tribunal and forced Damascus to withdraw its troops after nearly 30 years boasting a huge military presence in Lebanon.
Saudi Arabia, under King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz al-Saud (pictured above, right, with Assad, was a key supporter of Hariri and holds sway with his son Saad Hariri, Lebanon's current prime minister.
Though there is no immediate confirmation from Damascus, both Abduallah and Assad are expected to visit Beirut on Friday for a summit with Lebanese President Michel Suleiman -- an urgent attempt to ease political and domestic tension and preserve stability.
Relations between Syria and Lebanon have been on the mend since 2008 when diplomatic ties were established for the first time and Prime Minister Saad Hariri has made four trips to Syria in the past eight months.
"The most immediate question concerns the possibility of another Israel-Hezbollah war, fears of which have mounted throughout this year, fueled by reports of new missile transfers to Hezbollah and intermittent threats from Israel," says Paul Salemm, a Beirut-based Mideast expert.
"Those who foresee war argue that Israel is unwilling to tolerate a heavily-armed Iranian proxy on its border while tensions with Iran over the nuclear issue remain unresolved," Salemm adds.
First there was bad hejab for women.
Now there's bad hair for men.
The new recommendations from Iran's Culture Ministry against "decadent, Western" male hairdos are supposed to impose Islamically correct appearance. They won't work.
For Iranian young people opposed to the regime, it's a badge of honor to break the rules, and this is one more rule to break.
Liberal young women have been defying dress code for years.
They wear dramatic - and very unIslamic - makeup in public. They push their scarves back to show plenty of hair, and their light overcoats - supposed to be worn loose for modesty - are skin tight.
Men are supposed to dress modestly too, and it's true none of them would wear shorts in public, even in the blazing summer heat of Tehran. But generally the rules for them have been less defined. Until now.Continue »
It's an unusual way to release a new movie, but this is an unusual movie.
It is at once the story of a murder and a victory for truth in a landscape of lies.
As the documentary's British director explained, "The Iranian security forces may be monitoring the Internet, and slowing online speeds to a crawl -- but they can't stop DVD's going viral."
Anthony Thomas hopes that computer-savvy reformers in Iran will download the documentary (in its Farsi version) for mass copying.
If, as the filmmakers hope, it spreads like wildfire, Iranians who have been left wondering what happened on June 20, 2009 will no longer be held hostage by the "official" version of the truth.
Click below to watch CBS News correspondent Elizabeth Palmer's report:
Neda Agha Soltan was the young philosophy student whose dying moments were captured on cell phone video.
After she was shot during the protests a year ago, her beautiful, bloodied face became a global symbol of the Iranian opposition, the so-called Green movement.
For a while, it looked as if the millions of Iranians who took to the streets in the wake of the disputed presidential election would force political reform.
Instead, the Iranian government fought back.
Amnesty International estimates that 5,000 people associated with the Green movement have been arrested in the past 12 months.
After grotesque show trials, there were mass imprisonments, torture, and rapes of both men and women by Iranian security forces.
One thing the Iranian government has not been able to suppress, however, are the images of Neda's death. They expose the Iranian regime, which cloaks itself in religious piety, as corrupt and ruthless.
So the government has tried to distort the story.
At public meetings, religious events and on TV, regime representatives have given an array of alternative endings to Neda's life. They include: she was killed by the CIA and "Zionist spies"; she was actually shot by fellow protestors; her killing was staged on purpose by Green activists to make a propaganda video.
Most recently, Iranian state television coerced Neda's friends to appear in an "investigative" program to cast doubt on the identity of the man who shot her.
In fact, witnesses in the crowd that day all say he was a pro-government Basij militiaman.
"For Neda" sets the record straight. In it, Neda Agha Soltan's family tells her story, first-hand, their own way.
Courageously and openly, her mother, father, sister and brother describe Neda's life, her political views, and the role the authorities played before and after her death.
A violent crackdown may have driven Iran's Green movement off the streets for now, but the information war rages on.
To its credit, HBO has handed Iran's reformers a powerful new weapon.
More on the film, and post-Neda Iran:
CBS News Foreign Affairs Analyst Pamela Falk filed this post from the United Nations Headquarters in New York.
The U.N. Security Council Wednesday voted -- although not unanimously -- for a tough new resolution to impose a fourth round of sanctions against Iran because of its defiance of international demands to freeze its nuclear program, with Brazil and Turkey voting against it and Lebanon abstaining.
With Middle East tension high and Iran at the center of the storm, the Obama administration successfully got China and Russia to back a new U.N. Security Council resolution, which increases the cost to Iran of purchasing banned weapons.
Iran is high on President Obama's agenda for good reasons: Iran's Red Crescent Society announced this week that a 3,000 ton vessel is heading soon for Gaza; International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors reported that Iran has enough nuclear fuel, if enriched, for two nuclear weapons, and U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, in London, said the U.S. has not lost the ability to stop Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, but the clock is ticking.Continue »
Iran is high on President Obama's agenda for good reasons: Iran's Red Crescent Society announced this week that a 3,000 ton vessel is heading soon for Gaza; International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors reported that Iran has enough nuclear fuel, if enriched, for two nuclear weapons, and U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, in London, said the U.S. has not lost the ability to stop Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, but the clock is ticking.
Gates accused Iran of providing Hezbollah with rockets and missiles. Iran has been setting up shell organizations to avoid sanctions, and the opposition Green movement, devastated by brutal crackdowns, is suffering on the one year anniversary of the disputed June 2009 elections.
With Middle East tension high and Iran at the center of the storm, the Obama administration successfully got China and Russia to back, with few compromises, a new U.N. Security Council Resolution -- the fourth since 2006 -- which increases the cost to Iran of purchasing banned weapons.
The proposed sanctions appear to include Russia's agreement not to ship advanced S-300 missile systems to Iran, and the resolution names names -- 41 individuals and entities in the Islamic Republic who would face much tougher scrutiny.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Tuesday called the new proposed U.N. penalties, "the most significant sanctions that Iran has ever faced."
The U.N. Security Council's Wednesday vote on the proposed resolution has been motivated, in large part, by Iran's defiance of international demands to freeze its nuclear program. Iran has threatened to withdraw the offer to export some of its uranium under a deal brokered by Brazil and Turkey because the new resolution proposes tough new enforceable sanctions, including financial restrictions on Iranian banks, businesses, individual members of the powerful military force, the Revolutionary Guard, and it bans Iran from purchasing certain missiles, combat aircraft and warships.
In spite of four years under three rounds of previously-imposed sanctions, Iran has continued to expand its nuclear facilities, and skeptics fear Iran's defiance and support for terror groups will continue to grow.
The Resolution does not target Iran's energy industry, as had earlier been discussed, and it does not impose an oil embargo. The door is not closed to negotiations for the Brazil-Turkey negotiated export of uranium, but the idea was to freeze Iran's uranium enrichment -- and that was not on the table.
Iran's U.N. Ambassador, Mohammad Khazaee, has already called the proposed resolution "a grave mistake," suggesting it actually has some teeth.
Although Iran's defiant President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (seen above) continues to claim the country's nuclear program is for electricity and medical use only, the new resolution gained momentum because of an international watchdog agency report that said Iran now has enough uranium -- if enriched -- to build two nuclear weapons and that its intentions have not been proven to be purely peaceful.
The U.N. vote on the new sanctions takes place on the same week as opposition rallies in Iran are planned to mark the first anniversary of the disputed June presidential elections last year, and supporters in the U.S. and Israel hope that the combined efforts of the internal opposition and international condemnation will curtail Iran's nuclear programs.
Lebanon's Prime Minister Saad Hariri arrived Tuesday in Damascus for talks with his counterpart there ahead of a meeting later this month with President Obama.
Hariri, an ally to the U.S., was quickly whisked away for private meetings with Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, (Hariri on left in photo, Assad on right) who has been at pains lately to deny any chill in the blossoming relations between his country and the Obama administration.
The Syrian capital is Hariri's second stop on a trip that began Monday in Saudi Arabia, where he met King Abdullah Bin Abdel-Aziz. The Lebanese Premier was set visit Cairo on Saturday, and later Amman and Ankara before heading to the United States.
Lebanon currently holds the rotating chairmanship of the United Nations Security Council, where the U.S. has been pressing for tougher sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program.
Hariri's regional tour and his five-day trip to Washington come amid mounting concerns in the region of a renewed conflict between Israel and Lebanon's Hezbollah, which fought a devastating war in 2006.
Syria denied earlier this month Israeli accusations it had furnished Hezbollah with Scud missiles, saying the Jewish state might be using the charges as a pretext for a military strike.
The missiles can carry warheads of up to one ton for hundreds of miles, putting all of Israel within the reach of anyone possessing such an arsenal.
Lebanon's prime minister has also dismissed the accusations, comparing them to claims that Iraq had unconventional weapons before the American-led invasion in 2003.
American officials have said they did not have any confirmation that Scuds were actually delivered to Hezbollah but expressed concern nonetheless.
Hezbollah, which fought a month-long war with Israel in 2006, is considered a terrorist organization by the U.S. government, but is seen across the Arab world as a resistance movement.
The group is a political party which holds two ministerial positions in Lebanon's unity government.
Assad on Monday vowed to help Lebanon on all levels, ridiculing a question on whether Damascus was uncomfortable about Hariri's visit to the U.S.
"Annoyed? Absolutely not," he told a number of intellectuals participating in the Arabism and the Future Conference held in Damascus.
"We will listen to him (Hariri) and to what his government wants and we will help and be positive. We are ready to help Lebanon in all fields, including economic development, that would reflect positively on Lebanon," he pledged.
Lebanese sources said the premier's visit to Syria reflected a common Syrian-Lebanese interest in improving the atmosphere of trust and concurrence between the two states, as well as completing what was achieved in a first visit.
Assad gave a warm welcome to Hariri during his landmark fence-mending visit to Damascus last December. The two young leaders undertook to open new prospects on bilateral relations as the visit ended nearly five years of bitterness between the two countries.
Relations between Hariri and Syria have been edgy since a massive bombing on the Beirut seafront killed his billionaire father and five-time former premier as well as 22 other people nearly five years ago.
Saad Hariri, 39, and his allies have in the past pointed an accusing finger at Syria, without evidence, and also blamed Damascus for a string of political killings in Lebanon.
Damascus has denied any involvement but, faced with mounting pressure, it withdrew its troops from Lebanon in April 2005, two months after the murder, ending 29 years of military and political presence.
Syria opened an embassy in Beirut in 2008, and a Lebanese ambassador arrived in Damascus soon after, in the first diplomatic ties between the two states since independence six decades ago.
Hariri has moved to heal the rift with Damascus at the same time that the Obama administration also has sought greater engagement with the Syrians, announcing last month plans to send its first ambassador to Damascus since 2005.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev arrives in Damascus Monday to try and renew Moscow's political influence in the Middle East. Syria's leaders, for their part, are aiming to expand Damascus' international reach after Israeli warnings of a possible new war in the region.
Accompanied by a large business delegation and his wife, Medvedev was to meet President Bashar Assad, who's just ended a tripartite summit in Istanbul with Turkish Premier Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the Emir of Qatar.
Russian diplomats said the long-stalled Mideast peace process, Iran's nuclear program and bilateral arms trade between the two countries were expected to be key topics for the two-day visit, the first ever to Syria by any Russian or Soviet head of state.
Syria has expressed readiness to reopen peace talks with Israel, with Turkey serving as a mediator, but Israel has not asked Ankara to resume that role, according to Turkish President Abdullah Gul who spoke after talks with Assad on Saturday.
Above: From left, Qatar's Emir Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani, Syrian President Bashar Assad and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan pose outside the Ottoman-era Ciragan Palace in Istanbul, Turkey, May 9, 2010.
Medvedev's visit comes a few days after Washington renewed long-standing U.S. sanctions against Syria for another year, accusing Damascus of supporting terrorist groups and pursuing missile programs and weapons of mass destruction. Continue »
The major nuclear powers are making efforts to continue the streak of nuclear deterrence. Last month, the U.S. and Russia signed a new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) that will reduce their nuclear stockpiles by about 30 percent over the next several years, and President Obama hosted a 47 nation Nuclear Security Summit in Washington. This week, representatives from 189 nations are meeting New York for Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) review conference to deal with the potential spread of nuclear weaponry in the Middle East and other parts of the world.
Unfortunately, the fact that August 9, 1945 was the last time a nuclear bomb was detonated and 189 countries are discussing how to stop the spread of nuclear weaponry doesn't mean that the likelihood of a nuclear bomb detonating and killing tens of thousands or even millions of people is anywhere near zero.
Various experts estimate the chances of a nuclear detonation in the next 10 years at somewhere between 10 and 30 percent.
Martin Hellman, professor emeritus of electrical engineering at Stanford and co-inventor of public key cryptography, estimates the odds at 1 percent per year going forward.
"If the odds are 1 percent per year, in 10 years the likelihood is almost 10 percent, and in 50 years 40 percent if there is no substantial change," he said.
Hellman, who has been focusing on nuclear deterrence for the past 25 years, said that a baby born today, with an expected lifetime of 80 years, faces a greater than 50-50 chance that a nuclear weapon attack will occur unless the number of weapons and available weapons-grade material is radically reduced.
Even if the horizon for a nuclear detonation were extended to 1,000 years, with the threat calculated at 0.1 percent per year, a child born today would have about a 10 percent chance of not living out his or her natural life, Hellman estimated. "The risk would be equivalent to having your home surrounded by a thousand nuclear power plants (each with a one million year time horizon) or the equivalent of sky diving twice a week, but with the whole world in the harness," he said. (A full explanation of Professor Hellman's modeling can be found here. )
In a 2005 survey of 85 national security experts, 60 percent of the respondents assessed the odds of a nuclear attack within 10 years at between 10 and 50 percent, with an average of 29.2 percent. Nearly 80 percent of respondents expected the attack to originate with a terrorist group.
The effects of a nuclear detonation would be catastrophic. According to Bunn, a 10-kiloton bomb (equivalent explosive power to 10,000 tons of TNT and modestly smaller than the Hiroshima bomb) detonated in midtown Manhattan in the middle of workday could kill half a million people and cause $1 trillion in direct economic damage.
The 20-kiloton nuclear bomb dropped on Nagasaki required 6 kilograms of plutonium, which could fit into a can of soda, Bunn said. Three soda cans full of highly-enriched uranium would provide enough nuclear material to produce a bomb of similar destructive power. The Department of Energy has determined that a nuclear weapon could be fashioned from just 4 kilograms of plutonium.
With an estimated 2,000 metric tons of plutonium and highly enriched uranium scattered across about 40 countries, and increasing know-how in building nuclear weapons (the technology has been evolving for more than 60 years and some instruction could be found on the Internet), the bad guys are getting better odds of succeeding in their nuclear armament dreams.
Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups, as well as despots around the world, are looking to acquire nuclear materials from enterprising nuclear smugglers.
Nuclear material insecurity
The International Atomic Energy Agency's Illicit Trafficking Database has documented more than 18 incidents of theft or unauthorized possession involving plutonium or highly enriched uranium in the last two decades.
Bunn noted that weapons-grade nuclear materials are often stored in only modestly secured environments.
In February 2006, Oleg Khinsagov, a Russian national, was arrested in Georgia in the possession of 79.5 grams of weapons-grade uranium. His intent was to sell the bomb material to Muslim buyer fronting for a "serious organization" for $1 million.
In November 2007, the South African Nuclear Energy Corp. Facility at Pelindaba was breached by intruders who appeared intent on accessing weapons-grade nuclear material. ( Watch the 60 Minutes episode on this security breach. )
More recently, the president of Georgia, Mikhail Saakashvili claimed to the Associated Press that a shipment of highly enriched uranium coming from the Caucasus region of southeast Europe was intercepted and seized in his country. He blamed Russia for giving nuclear smugglers room to operate in the region. Russian officials denied the charges.
Nearly 80 percent of the national security experts surveyed in 2005 said that a nuclear attack would be mostly likely to originate with a terrorist group.
More recently, John Brennan, White House chief counterterrorism adviser, said that nuclear terrorism is a serious threat. "Al Qaeda is especially notable for its longstanding interest in weapons of useable nuclear material and the requisite expertise that would allow it to develop a yield-producing improvised nuclear device," he said.
"A nuclear bomb is at the high end of plausibility of what a terrorist group could do," Bunn said. We know very little about what capabilities they might be able to put together. They could recruit someone from a nuclear weapons program to help or acquire the necessary knowledge in other ways."
U.S. intelligence agencies have gathered data about Al Qaeda operatives negotiating to buy objects they thought were nuclear bombs from an alleged Pakistani expert.
Crude bombs could be made without classified knowledge, but they would have a higher probability of success if they had someone who knows how to machine uranium for bomb parts, Bunn said. "They don't need an Oppenheimer," he added. J. Robert Oppenheimer was the scientific director of the Manhattan Project that developed the first nuclear weapons.
However, a dirty bomb of "mass disruption" is a more likely near-term scenario than a nuclear bomb of "mass destruction" detonation. A dirty bomb uses conventional explosives, such as dynamite, to disperse more readily available radioactive materials in the form of powder and pellets. Such a bomb would cause significant panic and economic disruption, Bunn said, but there is no danger of incinerating a city.
Similarly, a non-radioactive device, such as the failed Times Square bomb using off-the-shelf parts such as propane tanks, fireworks and fertilizer, wouldn't cause significant damage but creates an atmosphere of fear and uncertainty.
Reducing the odds of nuclear cataclysm
In a report, "The Risk of Nuclear Terrorism -- and the Next Steps to Reduce the Danger," Bunn wrote: "Building the overall system of legal infrastructure, intelligence, law enforcement, border and customs forces, and radiation detectors needed to find and recover stolen nuclear weapons or materials, or to interdict these as they cross national borders, is an extraordinarily difficult challenge."
He maintains the primary focus should be on securing and accounting for nuclear weapons and material caches, reducing the chance for theft or illicit use.
"Certainly, we should be working to make it as difficult as possible to smuggle nuclear material across borders, but it's like a football team defending on the one-yard line and the field is 1,000 miles long and most of it is unguarded," Bunn said. "We have to focus on locking the stuff down at the site. Once it leaves the facility, it could be anywhere.
"For example, a bomb using illicit nuclear material could be transported in pieces and motored up the Potomac River in a yacht. You end up with variations of looking for a needle in a haystack. We shouldn't put too much reliance on stopping things with other layers of defense," Bunn said.
Graham Allison, director, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard, believes that locking down all nuclear weapons and material as "securely as gold in Fort Knox" can reduce the chance of a "nuclear 9/11" to almost zero.
Efforts over the last 65 years haven't resulted in a Fort Knox lockdown of arms and material, however. President Obama has established a four-year window to secure all stocks of nuclear weapons and materials. Work is underway by the U.S. and partners to remove or eliminate highly-enriched uranium from facilities around the world. Bunn contends that cost should not be an issue. He figured that the cost to secure nuclear weapons and material worldwide over the next four years would be less than $10 billion.
Hellman recommends a drastic reduction in the store of nuclear warheads, from the estimated 20,000 today to less than 500 as the way to increase the odds that a baby born today will have better odds than 50-50 of living out his or her natural life.
"We need to reduce the risk by 99.9 percent," Hellman said. "If we keep progressing at this pace, we will destroy ourselves before we get to a safe state."
Syria on Thursday strongly denied Israeli charges that it was transferring Scud missiles to the Lebanese Hezbollah militant group, calling the allegation an attempt by the Jewish state to disguise their intention to launch a new war in the region.
"For some time, Israel has been running a campaign claiming that Syria has been supplying Hezbollah with Scud missiles in Lebanon," a foreign ministry statement said.
"Syria strongly denies these allegations which are an attempt by Israel to raise tensions in the region," the statement added.
"Israel is seeking to create a climate that will pave the way for an eventual Israeli aggression to avoid responding to the requirements of a just and comprehensive peace," said the statement, carried by the government-run Syrian Arab News Agency.
U.S. intelligence officials told CBS News on Wednesday that Israel's claims were legitimate, and that Syria had in fact transferred Scuds to Hezbollah, which is based in Lebanon but has the backing of Iran's ruling clerics. No further details were provided.
The Syrian embassy in Washington also vehemently denied the accusation as an Israeli attempt "to divert global attention" from settlement construction, its occupation of Arab land, its assumed nuclear arsenal and its "continuous arming" with U.S. weaponry.
The United States voiced alarm about the Israeli reports on Wednesday, warning any such deliveries to Hezbollah would put Lebanon at "significant risk."
If Syria was in fact transferring such advanced weapons to Hezbollah, "this would put pressure on Washington to move fast and bring Israel and Syria back to direct peace talks, frozen since 2000," according to an analyst who spoke to CBS News on the condition of anonymity.
If Hezbollah -- deemed a terrorist organization by the U.S. government -- actually acquired Scud missiles, the weapons' accuracy and long range would put most, if not all Israeli cities easily within the group's reach.
President Obama's nominee to become the first U.S. Ambassador to Syria in more than five years received majority backing Tuesday in a vote by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Within hours of President Obama's news conference at the close of a summit to rid the world of "loose nukes" in Washington, Iran's Ambassador to the United Nations distributed a blistering response in a letter to U.N. leaders accusing the Obama administration of "nuclear blackmail".
CBS News was sent a copy of the letter, which Ambassador Mohammad Khazaee addressed to the U.N. Security Council and the General Assembly President.
In the letter, Khazaee says statements made by Mr. Obama and other senior U.S. officials "are tantamount to nuclear blackmail."
Khazaee (seen above) specifically cites comments made by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates immediately after the administration announced sweeping changes to the U.S. nuclear engagement policy in its "Nuclear Posture Review".
Speaking at the Pentagon, Gates told reporters the new U.S. nuclear policy, "has a very strong message for Iran."
"We essentially carve out states like Iran... all options are on the table when it comes to countries in that category," said Gates. "If there is a message for Iran here, it is that... all options are on the table."
Khazaee slammed those remarks, saying they "constitute a serious violation of the United States obligations and commitment, under international law, particularly Article 2 (4) of the Charter of the United Nations and also the provisions of the Security Council resolution 984 (1995), to refrain from the threat or use of force against any State." (Full letter reprinted below)
U.S. statements about President Obama's new policy "pose a real threat to international peace and security."
Now that is the pot calling the kettle black. Iranian leaders have on numerous occasions made direct threats to Israel, and they continue to flout mounting international pressure to halt a uranium enrichment program which Mr. Obama and his Western allies fear is secretly aimed at producing nuclear weapons. Iran insists the program is meant to generate electricity, and nothing else.
Iran has for years befuddled the West with conflicting messages over their willingness to negotiate on their nuclear program. Even as Khazaee delivered the letter at U.N. headquarters, according to Reuters, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Iran would respond positively -- if the United States changed its policy towards Tehran.
Meanwhile, the five Permanent Members of the U.N. Security Council, plus Germany, (the "P5+1") met Monday night in Washington to plan a second round of negotiations to impose a fourth round of sanctions on Iran.
Below is a reprint of the letter sent by Iran's U.N. delegation Continue »
He's also the Head of Iran's Atomic Energy Agency; the man at the helm of Iran's uncompromising - and expanding - uranium enrichment, which has provoked a new international push for United Nations sanctions.
Nevertheless, "I have a lot of respect for President Obama," Salehi tells CBS News. "I have a lot of respect for the U.S."
"It's a country that has served humanity so much, in terms of technology, In terms of science."
During our interview in the leafy compound at the bureaucratic heart of Iran's nuclear establishment, Dr. Salehi was proud to tell me he'd earned his Ph.D. in nuclear physics at the prestigious MIT, in Cambridge, Massachusetts. That was back in 1977.
Above: Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, left, gestures to chief of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization, Ali Akbar Salehi, after unveiling a third generation of domestically built centrifuge, at left, during a ceremony marking Iran's National Day of Nuclear Technology in Tehran, Iran, April 9, 2010.
He is, he says, still indebted to his American professors.
So why can't this sophisticated, reasonable man find a way to end the standoff with America and Europe over Iran's nuclear program?
In our interview, he took the party line -- scoffing at the International Atomic Energy Agency's accusation that Iran wasn't cooperating to allay fears it had secret plans to build a bomb.
"What is enough cooperation?" he asked. "The Agency inspectors are residing in Iran. Okay? They have their cameras taking pictures 24 hours per day."
"They have [unannounced] inspections every now and then... What more do we have to do?"
Click below to watch Palmer's report for "The Evening News"
As Salehi knows very well, there are several things that Iran could do to defuse suspicion.
It could allow the IAEA access to sensitive documents, and key people.
It could suspend its uranium enrichment for a trial period (as it did in 2004) to clear the way for talks.
It could come clean about what new nuclear plants it's planning to build.
But Iran doesn't do any of these things because its government is deeply conflicted about rapprochement with the West. A warming of relations would threaten the power -- political and financial -- of many senior regime members.
In October, 2009, both sides came very close to an unprecedented deal that might - in the words of one U.S. adviser to the process - have been the equivalent of a Nixon-to-China moment, transforming U.S.-Iranian relations.
Under the deal, Iran would have traded most of its enriched uranium for fuel to power a research reactor in Tehran that makes medical isotopes. Crucially, in a side agreement, the U.S. would have given Iran - among other things - help with upgrading the reactor.
"It was a great deal, and many Iranians recognized it was a great deal," said a senior Obama administration official. "Salehi wanted it to work. Even President Ahmadinejad wanted it to work."
But in the end, it didn't.
Various observers, both inside and outside Iran, believe President Ahmadinejad's political opponents helped to scupper it. They didn't want him to scoop the credit for opening a new chapter in diplomatic relations with the United States.
Meanwhile, Dr. Salehi is bracing himself and his nuclear program - which by any measure is impressive, and has trained some excellent scientists - for new sanctions.
"Of course sanctions will affect us, but they will only delay our projects - not stop them."
"Will they hurt?" I asked him.
"Of course," he said, noting that he relies on imported material for his agency's work. "They will hurt... so we will have to come up with our own manufacturing systems."
Salehi is a scientist trying to do cutting edge nuclear research. The new sanctions, stemming from poisonous politics, must be deeply frustrating to him.
"I am sure..." He pauses, and then starts again. "I am optimistic that this issue will be resolved in the future because there is no other way."
"I mean it is for the benefit of both sides to resolve this issue."
Here's hoping, Dr. Salehi.
How an Iranian business with close ties to the country's nuclear program obtained restricted equipment for enriching uranium is the focus of multiple investigations being conducted by western agencies.
The Wall Street Journal reported Friday night that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and western intelligence agencies have been probing the Iranian firm's procurement of "critical valves and vacuum gauges" since Jan. 14.
The IAEA launched its investigation after receiving a tip that the equipment allegedly reached the Iranian business through a Chinese company's intermediary.
The newspaper couldn't reach the Iranian business, Javedan Mehr Toos, for comment. Iranian officials didn't immediately respond to the newspaper's request for comment.
However an investigator familiar with the IAEA's investigation told the newspaper that the rouge country has pursued the equipment for two years, making about 10 attempts to obtain the parts.
"Some deliveries got through, others didn't," the investigator told the newspaper.
Other officials told the newspaper it's not uncommon for companies' parts to end up in Iran without their manufacturers' knowing.
Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad on Thursday said his country would be always ready at "every moment" to confront any Israeli assault as Damascus seems to ignore U.S. calls to end its relationship with Iran.
"We assume that we are basically in front of an entity that may undertake an aggression at any time as long as its history is founded on aggression. Regardless of latest Israeli statements, we are always preparing ourselves for any Israeli aggression, whether large or small," Assad told a press conference with his Iranian counterpart Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
"Our answer to these Israeli statements is obvious: we have to be ready at any time, in every moment, to confront any Israeli aggression that may be launched for any reason and under any justification," Assad added in reply to a question.
Iranian sources say the two leaders, who were set to attend a religious ceremony to mark the Prophet Mohammed's birthday, would discuss regional developments and ways of boosting bilateral relations.
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Mouallem said his country was determined to help Iran and the West engage in a "constructive" dialogue over Tehran's contested nuclear program.