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Newsline - January 9, 2003


HEAT'S OFF JUST WHEN IT'S NEEDED MOST...
At a time when unusually cold weather has struck most of Russia, more than 25,000 people are without heat in their homes in the Northwest, Far East, Central, Volga, and Urals federal districts, ITAR-TASS reported on 8 January. Most of them are in Karelia, Komi, Leningrad Oblast, and Novgorod Oblast, the Emergency Situations Ministry reported, according to RIA-Novosti on 9 January. In the far northern region of Murmansk Oblast, temperatures dipped to minus 48 degrees Celsius (minus 54 degrees Fahrenheit). In the Northwest Federal District, the weather is expected to range from 25 to 30 degrees Celsius below zero until the end of the week, Interfax-Northwest reported. Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov ordered troops in the Leningrad and Far East military districts to help local leaders cope with the severe cold by supplying fuel and clearing snow, ITAR-TASS reported. Seven people were killed by severe weather in Sakhalin Oblast that cut off Sakhalin Island from the mainland for three days, RIA-Novosti reported on 9 January. JAC/RC

...AS LOCAL LEADERS TOLD COLD WEATHER SHOULDN'T COME AS SURPRISE EVERY YEAR
President Vladimir Putin spoke by telephone with a number of leaders of regions affected by heating outages, RTR reported on 8 January. According to the station, his tone with one leader, Karelia Republic President Sergei Katanandov, was "at times severe." "Your region should be prepared for these kinds of temperatures. It's a northern region, after all," Putin reportedly said. According to ITAR-TASS, Katanandov has appealed to Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov for 50 million rubles ($1.6 million) to repair damage to the heating infrastructure caused by the severe frosts. JAC

GENERAL SAYS RELEASING CASUALTY FIGURES IS 'INHUMANE'...
First Deputy Chief of the General Staff Colonel General Yurii Baluevskii said in a 9 January interview in "Moskovskii komsomolets" that he opposes publication of information about losses sustained by federal forces fighting in Chechnya. Baluevskii revealed that, like his predecessor Colonel General Valerii Manilov, he is the key person overseeing military operations in Chechnya. Baluevskii ended Manilov's practice of releasing data on federal casualties in the fighting each week. "I believe that such a practice is inhumane. During every engagement, people are dying," he said. "We are obligated to name everyone and to honor them after peace is achieved. But the question 'how many died' is not one to be asked during times of tragedy." VY

...AND COMMENTS ON INTERNATIONAL ISSUES
In the same interview, Colonel General Baluevskii said that as the person responsible for the Defense Ministry's foreign contacts, he has told his U.S. counterparts that a military operation against Iraqi President Saddam Hussein is not the optimal solution of the Iraq problem. He added, however, that he does not doubt the capability of the United States to defeat Iraq decisively. Baluevskii also said Russia's military cooperation with China is not intended as a counterweight to NATO, but is an effort to support President Putin's balanced political line. VY

LUKOIL SEEKS STAKE IN BALKANS' LARGEST OIL COMPANY
Russian oil giant LUKoil is the leading contender in a tender to privatize Greek oil major Hellenic Petroleum, which is the largest oil company in the Balkans, gazeta.ru reported on 9 January. According to the report, LUKoil is prepared to pay $454 million for a 23.17 percent stake in the company. The Greek government has referred to LUKoil as "the exclusive contender" for the stake, the report added. Even after the sale, the Greek government will retain 58.2 percent of the company and control of its management. However, the minority stake would give LUKoil access to Hellenic Petroleum's infrastructure of more than 1,500 retail gasoline outlets throughout the Balkans and open up new opportunities for expansion in the region, gazeta.ru commented. VY

JUSTICE MINISTRY WARNS PARTY OVER EXTREMIST STATEMENTS
The Justice Ministry has sent a warning to the National Power Party of Russia (NDPR) regarding an interview one of its leaders, Boris Mironov, gave to "Moskovskie novosti," in which he expressed "extremist" points of view, Interfax reported on 8 January. Mironov called for stripping certain ethnic groups, including Jews, of their voting rights. According to the agency, the party is required by federal law to express its disagreement with Mironov's stance within 15 days of the interview. Mironov advocated depriving "nonnative peoples" of the right to vote, even if they were born in Russia and their ancestors lived in Russia for centuries, on the grounds that they are "genetically disloyal" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 December 2002). Justice Minister Yurii Chaika announced in October that his agency would investigate the NDPR, just weeks after the party was formally registered in September (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 October 2002). JAC

INTERIOR MINISTRY PLANNING CRACKDOWN ON ILLEGAL ALIENS
The Federal Migration Service is planning to inspect migration documents in several regions on an experimental basis during the first quarter of this year, ITAR-TASS reported on 8 January, citing Vladimir Volokh, head of the Department of Immigration Control and Asylum of the Interior Ministry's Federation Migration Service. According to Volokh, regions with the highest levels of illegal migration will be targeted, such as Moscow, Moscow Oblast, and Altai Krai. Meanwhile, the All-Russia Center for the Study of Public Opinion (VTsIOM) conducted a survey in late December that found that 59 percent of those surveyed would welcome banning residents of the South Caucasus from migrating to Russia, according to a center press release on 5 January. The survey polled 1,600 respondents in 33 regions. JAC

LAWYER, INDEPENDENT NEWSPAPER CALL FOR INVESTIGATION OF BASHKIR OFFICIALDOM
The opposition monthly newspaper "Otechestvo" published in its December issue a letter by lawyer Monir Rafiqov calling for the establishment of a public tribunal to investigate crimes allegedly committed by Bashkortostan officials, RFE/RL's Tatar-Bashkir Service reported on 8 January. Rafiqov suggested the tribunal comprise leading businesspeople, lawyers, economists, and scholars in the republic who are not linked to the authorities. Rafiqov also said those who have been forced to leave the republic by the "totalitarian" regime in Bashkortostan could also sit on the tribunal. "Otechestvo" also published an editorial backing Rafiqov's proposal and suggested that interested citizens contact the paper's office. JAC

SOLZHENITSYN RECUPERATING IN HOSPITAL
Nobel Prize laureate Alexander Solzhenitsyn has been undergoing treatment in a Moscow hospital since late last month, newsru.com and other Russian news agencies reported on 8 January. According to most reports, the 84-year-old author of "The Gulag Archipelago" and "One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich" is being treated for high blood pressure. Ekho Moskvy reported on 4 January that Solzhenitsyn had suffered a stroke and has lost the use of his left leg. A spokesman for the writer told Interfax that Solzhenitsyn is in good condition and is working on his latest book in the hospital. RC

U.S. LABOR ACTIVIST EXPELLED
Irene Stevenson, executive director of the American Center for Labor Solidarity and the Russian representative of the AFL-CIO, was denied reentry into Russia on 30 December following a trip to Paris, and her visa was confiscated, "The Moscow Times" reported on 9 January. For more than a decade, Stevenson's organization has provided consultations and legal aid to workers involved in labor disputes. Most recently, her organization supported striking air-traffic controllers in December (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 and 27 December 2002). Also in December, "Izvestiya" published a long interview with Stevenson in which she described her work in Russia. The Federal Border Guard Service declined to comment on Stevenson's case, "The Moscow Times" reported, except to say that it was based on Article 27 of the law on entering Russia, which refuses entry to anyone deemed to be a "security threat." RC

ECO-JOURNALIST TO HAVE ANOTHER DAY IN COURT
Later this month, a city court in Ussuriisk in Primorskii Krai will take up the issue of early release from prison of former military journalist Grigorii Pasko, who was sentenced last year to four years in prison for illegally passing state secrets to Japanese journalists, grani.ru reported on 8 January (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 June 2002). According to one of his attorneys, Ivan Pavlov, Pasko has already served two years and eight months of his sentence, including his time spent in pretrial detention. JAC

NEW AMBASSADOR TO KUWAIT NAMED
President Putin has named Azamat Kulmukhametov as Russia's ambassador to Kuwait, replacing Vladimir Shishov, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 9 January. Kulmukhametov previously served as deputy director of the Middle East and North Africa Department of the Foreign Ministry. JAC

MOBILE PHONES SPREAD FURTHER BEYOND THE URALS
Uralsvyazinform, the Perm-based fixed-line and mobile-phone telecommunications operator in the Urals Federal District, increased its fixed-line capacity by 339,500 to 3.3 million phone numbers in 2002, Prime-TASS reported. In addition, some 265,000 cellular-phone numbers were added. The population of the Urals Federal District as of 1 January 2001 was 12.6 million, with 80.1 percent of the population living in urban areas. JAC

RUSSIA TO CONTINUE COOPERATION WITH OSCE IN CHECHNYA
Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov assured his visiting French counterpart Dominique de Villepin in Moscow on 8 January that despite the expiry of the mandate of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) mission in Chechnya, Moscow intends to continue its cooperation with the OSCE in Chechnya on "issues relating to a political settlement," Interfax reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 January 2003). LF

MURDERED WOMAN'S FAMILY TO SEEK NEW TRIAL FOR KILLER
The family of Elza Kungaeva will request a new trial for Colonel Yurii Budanov, whom a Rostov-na-Donu court acquitted of Kungaeva's murder as, the court ruled, he was insane at the time of the killing, Interfax reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 January 2003). Budanov murdered Kungaeva in the village of Tangi-Chu in March 2000 and has claimed he believed she was an enemy sniper. Lawyer Abdulla Khamzaev told Interfax that a complaint against the verdict and the request for a retrial will be submitted to the Rostov-na-Donu Military Court on 10 January. LF

NEW SWEEP OPERATION REPORTED IN CHECHNYA
Russian troops blockaded the villages of Mesker-Yurt and Tsotsin-Yurt in Kurchaloi Raion early on 6 January, chechenpress.com reported on 8 January. Dozens of residents of the two villages have reportedly been detained, and some homes have been plundered. LF

ARMENIAN PRESIDENTIAL AIDE NAMED TO HEAD PUBLIC TV AND RADIO
The five-member governing board of Armenian Public Television and Radio on 8 January named presidential aide Aleksan Harutiunian to head that body, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. He succeeds Tigran Naghdalian, who was murdered by an unidentified gunman in Yerevan on 28 December (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 December 2002). On 7 January, President Robert Kocharian had named Harutiunian and presidential staff state and legal department staffer Vartan Kopian as members of the governing board. Kopian replaces Ashot Manukian, who resigned his post earlier that day. LF

ARMENIAN OPPOSITION ANTICIPATES 'WITCH-HUNT'
In a statement issued on 9 January, the 16 opposition parties that aligned last fall to coordinate tactics in the run-up to this year's presidential and parliamentary elections expressed condolences to Tigran Naghdalian's family, Noyan Tapan reported. They said the series of still-unsolved killings of senior officials and politicians reflects the "atmosphere of impunity" reigning in Armenia. They also expressed concern that the arrests of several opposition figures on suspicion of involvement in Naghdalian's murder might herald "a witch-hunt [against] and repression of the political opposition." LF

ARMENIANS TAKE AZERBAIJANI SOLDIER PRISONER
One Azerbaijani serviceman was injured and a second taken prisoner on 8 January following an exchange of fire with Armenian troops on the front line in Agdam Raion in northwestern Azerbaijan, according to Turan and ANS TV, as cited by Groong. Noyan Tapan reported on 7 January that there have been repeated exchanges of fire since 30 December on the Baghanis section of the Armenian-Azerbaijani border. LF

TURKISH LEADER PROPOSES TRIPARTITE TALKS ON KARABAKH
During talks in Baku on 8 January with Azerbaijani parliament speaker Murtuz Alesqerov, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, leader of Turkey's ruling Justice and Development Party, suggested that tripartite talks involving Turkey, Armenia, and Azerbaijan could help reach a solution to the Karabakh conflict, according to Trend news agency, as cited by Groong. Also on 8 January, Turkish Foreign Minister Yasar Yakis told journalists in Baku that Ankara does not intend to open its borders with Armenia, according to ANS Radio, as cited by Groong. Yakis said Armenia should drop its territorial claims on Turkey and its demand that Turkey acknowledge the 1915 genocide. LF

AZERBAIJAN RULES OUT PKK INFILTRATION
During his talks with Alesqerov on 8 January, Erdogan expressed concern that members of the banned Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) are operating in Azerbaijan under the guise of cultural programs, Turan reported. Azerbaijani opposition newspapers last year repeatedly accused unnamed senior officials of turning a blind eye to a PKK presence in Azerbaijan. The National Security Ministry denied those allegations, but admitted that 33 PKK members were arrested in Azerbaijan in the previous few years (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 7 June 2002). But Mamed Aliev, Azerbaijan's ambassador to Turkey, denied later on 8 January that the PKK operates on Azerbaijani territory, Turan reported. LF

AZERBAIJANI VILLAGERS' TRIAL BEGINS
The trial began on 8 January in Baku's Court for Serious Crimes of 18 residents of the village of Nardaran on charges connected with the clashes in early June 2002 between villagers and police, Turan and ITAR-TASS reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3, 4, 5, and 6 June 2002). The villagers are accused of resisting the authorities, hooliganism, and participating in public disturbances, charges that carry a prison sentence of seven to 10 years. A staffer from the OSCE Baku Mission is attending the trial. LF

GEORGIAN PARLIAMENT SPEAKER REJECTS PRESIDENT'S CRITICISM
President Eduard Shevardnadze on 8 January again criticized the Georgian legislature for ignoring dozens of his communications, Caucasus Press and Interfax reported. He said he knows of no other country where parliament fails to respond to the president's messages. But after a 90-minute meeting with Shevardnadze the same day, parliament speaker Nino Burdjanadze rejected Shevardnadze's criticism and said she will submit a report shortly on the legislature's work. Burdjanadze told journalists she also discussed with Shevardnadze the circumstances that led to parliament's failure to begin debating the draft budget for 2003 (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 3 January 2003) and assured him that deputies will pass the amended budget in its first reading by 20 January. LF

GEORGIAN OFFICIAL PROPOSES LAYING RAILWAY ALONGSIDE OIL-EXPORT PIPELINE
Georgian parliament deputy speaker and Socialist Party Chairman Vakhtang Rcheulishvili has written to Transport and Communications Minister Merab Adeishvili proposing that a railway be laid alongside the planned Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan export pipeline for Caspian oil, Caucasus Press reported on 8 January. He reasoned that doing so would not involve large expenditures and would be strategically advantageous from the economic and military point of view. He added that Azerbaijan has expressed support for his proposal. LF

GEORGIAN OPPOSITION FIGURE MURDERED
Union of Patriots co-Chairman Badri Zarandia was shot dead by an unidentified gunman in a cafe in Zugdidi on 8 January, Caucasus Press and Interfax reported. The union was founded last fall on the basis of a merger of the former Mkhedrioni paramilitary formation with Zarandia and his supporters. Zarandia was a close associate of deceased former President Zviad Gamsakhurdia. LF

TAX POLICE TARGET KAZAKH OPPOSITION FIGURE
Amirzhan Qosanov, chairman of the executive committee of the opposition Republican People's Party of Kazakhstan (RNPK), was summoned on 7 January by the Almaty tax police, who informed him that charges of tax evasion have been brought against the Center for Support to Democratic Reforms that Qosanov heads, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service quoted Qosanov as telling journalists in the former capital on 8 January. The RNPK is headed by former Prime Minister Akezhan Kazhegeldin, who left Kazakhstan in 1999. LF

KAZAKH OPPOSITION POLITICIAN NAMED PRESIDENTIAL AIDE
Uraz Djandosov, one of the cofounders in November 2001 of the opposition party Democratic Choice for Kazakhstan (DVK), has been appointed an aide to President Nursultan Nazarbaev, Interfax and dpkakzhol.kz reported. Djandosov, 41, served as first deputy economy minister, chairman of the National Bank, and deputy premier before resigning in November 2001. In January 2002, he split from the DVK to found the Aq-Zhol (Bright Path) party, which some observers suspect of covertly supporting the current leadership (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 November 2001 and 30 January and 1 February 2002). LF

KAZAKHSTAN MOVES TO BAN TOBACCO, ALCOHOL ADVERTISING
The lower chamber of Kazakhstan's parliament on 8 January adopted a new law banning television and radio advertisements for tobacco products and alcoholic beverages, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. The law also stipulates that all media advertising must be run in two languages, Kazakh and Russian. LF

KYRGYZSTAN EXTENDS MORATORIUM ON DEATH PENALTY
President Askar Akaev signed a decree on 8 January extending for another year the moratorium on the death penalty first introduced for two years in December 1998, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. The moratorium has since twice been extended for 12 months. Tursunbai Bakir-uulu, who was named Kyrgyzstan's first ombudsman late last year, announced in December that he will propose to Akaev abolishing capital punishment altogether in line with Kyrgyzstan's adoption of human rights as a key tenet of its national ideology (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 December 2002). LF

TAJIKISTAN RECORDS RECORD DRUG HAUL IN 2002
Russian and Tajik border guards confiscated a record 6.5 tons of narcotics in 2002, 4.9 tons of which was heroin, Reuters reported on 8 January. The Russian border-guard contingent intercepted some 5 tons of drugs, killing 50 alleged smugglers in the process. LF

TURKMEN MEDIA CLAIM U.S. AMBASSADOR APPROVED OF ATTEMPT TO SHIELD FUGITIVE FORMER MINISTER
Turkmenistan's state-controlled newspapers on 8 January published an open letter claiming that U.S. Ambassador Laura Kennedy spoke three times by telephone to former Foreign Minister Boris Shikhmuradov while the latter was allegedly hiding in the Uzbek Embassy in Ashgabat following the failed 25 November attempt to assassinate President Saparmurat Niyazov, Reuters and Turan reported. They implied that Kennedy expressed approval of Uzbek Ambassador to Turkmenistan Abdurashid Kadyrov's alleged efforts to help Shikhmuradov flee Turkmenistan. The Turkmen government declared Kadyrov persona non grata late last month (see "RFE/RL Newsline" 23 December 2002). The open letter also accused U.S. State Department spokesman Philip Reeker of bias in his comments on events in Turkmenistan. Reeker has expressed concern over reports that suspects in the assassination case were being tortured. LF

BELARUSIAN MINISTER PREDICTS ROSY PROSPECTS FOR TRADE WITH EU
Foreign Minister Mikhail Khvastou on 8 January expressed hope that the EU will put a provisional trade agreement with Belarus into effect in 2003, Belapan reported. "2003 opens up bright prospects for Belarus and the EU in this area," Khvastou said. He pointed out that, along with benefits, EU expansion will create barriers for non-EU countries. In particular, Poland on joining the EU will have to adopt antidumping measures against Belarusian goods, but at the same time Poland will be interested in selling its goods to Belarus and other CIS countries, Khvastou noted. He added that Deputy Foreign Minister Alyaksandr Mikhnevich has already begun negotiations with Poland to simplify trade procedures. AM

BELARUSIAN JUDGE REJECTS RUSSIAN LAWMAKER'S SUIT AGAINST KGB
A district court judge in Minsk, Pyotr Kirkouski, on 8 January rejected a suit brought by Russian Duma Deputy Boris Nemtsov against the Committee for State Security (KGB) following his expulsion from Belarus in October (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 October 2002), Belapan reported. Verifying the KGB's charges against Nemtsov is the prerogative of the Prosecutor-General's Office, not the court, Kirkouski said. Nemtsov's lawyer, Yauhen Labanovich of Belarus's United Civic Party, said he intends to take the suit to the Minsk City Court. AM

UKRAINIAN OPPOSITION LEADER CONTINUES TO OPPOSE APPOINTMENT OF CENTRAL-BANK CHIEF...
Yuliya Tymoshenko, the leader of the eponymous opposition bloc, told journalists on 8 December that her group wants parliament to reconsider the appointment of Serhiy Tyhypko as head of the Ukrainian National Bank, UNIAN reported. According to the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc, Tyhypko's appointment by only a portion of the Verkhovna Rada on 17 December was illegal (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 December 2002). Opposition lawmakers subsequently tried to contest Tyhypko's appointment in court, but their suit was rejected. AM

...APPEALS SENTENCES ON ANTI-KUCHMA PROTESTERS
Tymoshenko also said her bloc has appealed to a Kyiv appellate court over sentences handed down against members of the Ukrainian National Assembly-Ukrainian National Self-Defense, UNIAN reported. The 14 people were given prison terms of between two and five years for participating in antipresidential riots in Kyiv in March 2001 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 December 2002). Tymoshenko said the sentences were politically motivated. AM

UKRAINE REPORTEDLY REQUESTS POLISH HELP TO IMPROVE RELATIONS WITH U.S.
Ukraine has turned to Poland for help soothing tense relations with the United States, PAP reported on 8 January, quoting an anonymous source "close to the Foreign Ministry." Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski will reportedly take up the task during his visit to the United States on 12-14 January, the source said. "I think it will be possible to resolve this matter, and the Americans will shortly forget about the Kolchugas [radar systems that Washington alleges Ukraine sold to Iraq despite an international ban]. This does not mean, of course, that we will arrange [Ukrainian President Leonid] Kuchma's visit to the U.S. or [George W.] Bush's visit to Kyiv," a senior Polish diplomat told PAP. AM

MASSIVE LAYOFFS EXPECTED IN ESTONIAN FISHING INDUSTRY
Nearly 3,000 Estonian fishermen have been sent on forced leave due to icy conditions and might be laid off once the fish reserve is exhausted, the daily "Eesti Paevaleht" reported on 9 January. The fisheries industry in Estonia comprises 113 companies with 9,000 employees, 85 percent of whose production is exported. Estonian Fisheries Union Managing Director Valdur Noormagi said that only two fish canneries, Maseko and Hiiu Klaur, are still operating, but they have raw materials to last just 10 days. He added that next week the union will officially ask the state to support the fishing industry with 15 million kroons ($1 million), but the state has insisted that private companies must cope on their own. SG

LATVIAN CABINET TRIPLES MINISTERIAL SALARIES
The cabinet adopted regulations on 7 January that increase ministers' salaries more than threefold, LETA reported. The monthly wages of the prime minister and deputy prime minister were increased from 650 lats ($1,100) to 2,200 and 2,100 lats, respectively. The salaries of ministers were raised from 615 lats to 2,000 lats; those of state ministers from 540 lats to 1,500 lats; and of parliamentary secretaries from 450 lats to 550 lats. Noting that cabinet salaries have not been raised since 1997, Prime Minister Einars Repse said the old pay levels were inadequate and incompatible with the duties and responsibilities of ministers. The previous prime minister, Andris Berzins, called the salary hikes "immoral" and noted that his cabinet rejected proposals to increase their salaries, believing that pensions and teachers' wages should be raised first. SG

LITHUANIA'S CENTER AND LIBERAL UNIONS DISCUSS MERGER
Center Union and Liberal Union Chairmen Kestutis Glaveckas and Eugenijus Gentvilas informed President Valdas Adamkus on 8 January of the planned merger of their parties, "Kauno diena" reported the following day. Gentvilas said he is also inviting Vytautas Bogusis's Modern Christian Democratic Party to join the new grouping. Adamkus praised the effort, saying, "I am sure that Lithuania today really needs a unified, strong, right-of-center political force." Glaveckas noted that the merger should be completed in two to three months or after the completion of Adamkus's term as president. The two party leaders expressed the hope that Adamkus will become a member of the new party. "Kauno diena" speculated that while the topic has not been discussed, Adamkus might chair the new party. SG

POLISH, UKRAINIAN PREMIERS CONFIRM STRATEGIC PARTNERSHIP
The prime ministers of Poland and Ukraine, Leszek Miller and Viktor Yanukovych, confirmed in Warsaw on 8 January that relations between the two countries signify a strategic partnership, PAP reported. During a one-day visit to Poland, Yanukovych also met with President Kwasniewski and the speakers of the Sejm and Senate. The premiers discussed the visa regime that Poland will introduce on 1 July for its eastern neighbors. Miller said visas will be inexpensive, multiple-use, and easily available. Miller told Yanukovych that Poland is still interested in building the Odesa-Brody-Gdansk oil pipeline on a commercial basis. AM

U.S. REQUESTS CZECH HELP IN POSSIBLE MILITARY ACTION AGAINST IRAQ
Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla said on 8 January that the United States has asked the Czech government for assistance if military operations are launched against Iraq, CTK and dpa reported. Spidla said the cabinet will discuss the request early next week but that parliament must make the final decision on whether to allow the use of Czech airspace or the stationing or transport of troops on Czech territory for a limited time, as requested by Washington. Following a three-hour meeting of the National Security Council, Spidla also said the United States is asking the Czech Army to keep its antichemical-, antibacterological-, and antinuclear-warfare unit in Kuwait and that the unit receive permission to operate outside Kuwait. CTK cited Chamber of Deputies Defense Committee Chairman Jan Vidim as saying the unit might be deployed either in Iraq itself or in a neighboring country. A change in its mandate would also require approval of the parliament. Deputy Premier Pavel Rychetsky said on Radio Frekvence 1 that the United States is also requesting that Czech troops be sent to Afghanistan to take over from U.S. troops there who might be needed for action against Iraq, CTK reported. MS

CZECH AMBASSADOR TO LATVIA DISMISSED AFTER FAILING SECURITY CLEARANCE
Government sources cited by CTK confirmed on 8 January that Czech Ambassador to Latvia Jiri Kubicek was dismissed after failing to pass security checks required for access to classified information. Foreign Ministry spokesman Karel Boruvka declined to comment. Security clearance is conducted by the National Security Office (NBU). Kubicek was appointed ambassador to Latvia in mid-2002, having previously served as director of diplomatic protocol at the Foreign Ministry. MS

SLOVAK PARLIAMENTARY LEADERS AGREE ON EU REFERENDUM DATE...
Slovak parliamentary-group leaders on 8 January agreed at a meeting with parliament speaker Pavol Hrusovsky and Deputy Premier Pal Csaky to hold the country's referendum on EU accession on 16-17 May, TASR and international news agencies reported. Parliament should vote on the proposal on 21 January. The plebiscite must be called by President Rudolf Schuster, who, Hrusovsky said, agrees with the proposed date. MS

...AS CABINET REJECTS NATO REFERENDUM
The government on 8 January rejected a proposal by the Communist Party of Slovakia (KSS) to hold a referendum on Slovakia's accession to NATO, TASR and AP reported. The cabinet said that with the exception of the KSS, which garnered just 6.23 percent of votes in the September parliamentary elections, all political parties back NATO membership. Ministers argued that NATO accession has been a priority of every government in Slovakia since the country gained its independence in 1993. The cabinet said calling a plebiscite on NATO accession would cast doubt on the country's readiness to fulfill its obligations as a NATO member, adding there is no alternative to NATO membership for safeguarding Slovakia's security. A NATO official who requested anonymity told CTK and TASR in Brussels on 8 January that the organization has no opinion on whether Slovakia should hold a plebiscite on accession and added that such matters are entirely within the competence of sovereign states. MS

HUNGARY TIGHTENS SECURITY AROUND AIR BASE AHEAD OF POSSIBLE IRAQ CONFLICT
Istvan Gyenesei, chairman of the Somogy County Defense Commission, told "Nepszabadsag" of 8 January that special measures have been taken to ensure security at Taszar military air base, where Iraqi opposition personnel are to be trained by the U.S. military. National Police Director-General for Public Security Jozsef Hatala said border guards have been ordered to patrol Taszar and nearby villages around the clock, adding that security will begin with checks and controls at the country's borders. He also announced that an antiterrorism team has been put on alert in Budapest. Gyenesei said the Defense Ministry and the County Defense Commission will keep local residents informed of news related to the air base through an information center in nearby Kaposvar. Gyenesei has criticized the U.S. command, which still has not committed to taking part in the work of the information center, saying he finds it difficult to understand why the United States does not comprehend Hungary's domestic political need to provide accurate information. MSZ

SENIOR EUROPEAN CONVENTION MEMBER SOWS CONTROVERSY IN BUDAPEST
Jean-Luc Dehaene, vice chairman of the European Convention on the future of the EU, on 8 January told reporters in Budapest that he disagrees with the idea that future EU members, including Hungary, should each have their own commissioner on the European Commission (EC), Hungarian media reported. After criticism from opposition FIDESZ deputy Jozsef Szajer and Foreign Ministry integration State Secretary Peter Balazs, Dehaene countered that the EC should serve pan-European interests rather than national ones. He added that a 25-member group is unlikely to prove efficient. His position runs counter to that of EC Vice President Neil Kinnock, who suggested during a 2002 visit to Hungary that new member states will have their own EC commissioners. MSZ

HUNGARIAN FINANCE MINISTER CALLS 2003 BUDGET DEFICIT TARGET 'REALISTIC'
Regardless of what analysts believe, the government's 4.5 percent deficit-to-GDP target for 2003 is realistic, the MTI news agency quoted Finance Minister Csaba Laszlo as telling Reuters on 8 January. Laszlo said the 9.2 percent figure in 2002 was mainly due to one-off budgetary outlays that will not be repeated, as well as to the ineffective use of budgetary funds. Meanwhile, the opposition FIDESZ party's parliamentary caucus will submit an amendment to the budget proposing that more state funds be allocated to local governments, deputies Andras Tallai and Mihaly Babak told reporters on 8 January. The two politicians said "a year of crisis" awaits local authorities in 2003, as the budget does not guarantee funds for salary increases for public servants, Hungarian television reported. MSZ

HUNGARIAN BLOOD AND HONOR EXECUTIVE DENIES ORGANIZATION IS NEO-NAZI
The Metropolitan Prosecutor's Office on 8 January questioned 28-year-old Janos Endre Domokos, a leader of the Blood and Honor Cultural Society, after the National Security Office called on prosecutors to initiate legal proceedings to ban the society (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3, 6, and 7 January 2003), "Magyar Hirlap" reported. The security office claimed that Blood and Honor is the Hungarian arm of a German neo-Nazi group unlawfully registered under false pretenses. Domokos in the same paper denied the society has any international links and claimed it does not concern itself with politics, as its goal is to support local culture and overlooked young artists. MSZ

GREEK FOREIGN MINISTER REVIVES AN OLD IDEA...
Greek Foreign Minister George Papandreou told Munich's "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" of 31 December that all the Balkan countries must have a future in the EU, of which Greece holds the presidency for the first six months of this year (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 6 December 2002). He added: "Even just a glance at the map shows that a black hole is being created in the middle of a region, most of which will become part of the EU very soon. The countries of the Balkans must have a future in Europe, and we should speed up this process during our presidency. In Greece, there have repeatedly been discussions about a federation of Balkan states. The EU gives us the possibility of using the vision of the past for future stability in the region." The concept of a Balkan federation has surfaced from time to time since the late 19th century. Some proponents presented it as an idealistic vision to enable the region's peoples to manage their own affairs without outside interference. But some variants of the proposal were widely seen as attempts by one country or another to dominate their neighbors. PM

...AND MACEDONIAN PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESMAN PROTESTS GREEK REMARK ABOUT BALKAN FEDERATION
President Boris Trajkovski's spokesman, Borjan Jovanovski, has objected to Papandreou's remarks about a Balkan federation, "Dnevnik" reported on 9 January. Jovanovski said Trajkovski agrees that closer cooperation among the Balkan countries is necessary to speed up their integration into the EU but opposes any plans for a Balkan federation. A spokesman for the Greek EU Presidency told "Dnevnik" in Brussels that nobody wants a Balkan federation, and that Papandreou's remarks were simply a call for closer regional cooperation. UB

KOSOVARS MOURN MURDER VICTIMS
Tens of thousands of Kosovars on 8 January attended the funeral in Strellc of slain former guerrilla leader Tahir Zemaj and two of his relatives, Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 January 2003). A local official of the Democratic League of Kosova, to which Zemaj belonged, said: "The Zemajs' killing was a political assassination committed by bandits and criminals who don't want the best for Kosova." A former guerrilla leader called on the UN civilian administration to find and arrest the killers, warning that Zemaj's supporters might take the law into their own hands if the murderers remain free. PM

KOSOVAR SERB LEADER CALLS FOR SERBIAN OFFICIAL'S OUSTER
Rada Trajkovic, who recently resigned as head of the Povratak (Return) coalition of ethnic Serbian deputies in the Kosovar parliament, said on 8 January that she will ask Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica to sack Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Nebojsa Covic as head of the government's Coordination Center for Kosovo and Metohija, "Vesti" reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 January 2003). She charged that Covic has appropriated large sums of money for his own use rather than channel it to the Serbs of Kosova. Trajkovic told a Serbian radio station in Gracanica that Covic is responsible for the sale of hunting ammunition in Kosova and that "recently all killings of Serbs have been carried out with hunting ammunition," RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Leading Kosovar Serb politicians are in Belgrade for several days of talks with top Yugoslav and Serbian officials. On 9 January, the OSCE appealed to the Kosovar Serb legislators to end their boycott of the parliament. PM

IS THE SERBIAN GOVERNMENT LINKING STATUS OF BOSNIA TO THAT OF KOSOVA?
The Serbian government said in a statement on 8 January that it respects the 1995 Dayton peace agreement that establishes the sovereignty of Bosnia, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 January 2003). The statement added, however, that Serbia seeks similar guarantees for the status of Kosova as part of Serbia. PM

FORMER SERBIAN PRESIDENT PREPARING TO GO TO THE HAGUE
Former Serbian President Milan Milutinovic will go to The Hague soon but is negotiating terms so that he can do so with dignity and "without handcuffs," "Vesti" reported from Belgrade on 9 January, citing officials of the Serbian Justice Ministry (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 and 7 January 2003). PM

MONTENEGRO GETS A NEW GOVERNMENT
Parliament approved the new cabinet of Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic on 8 January, local and international media reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 December 2002). Djukanovic said his government will work to solve social problems, create a state based on the rule of law, and establish institutions compatible with European standards. The vote, which was boycotted by opposition deputies, followed several weeks of arguments between Djukanovic's Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS) and its coalition partner, the Social Democrats (SDP) (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 December 2002). In the compromise settlement, the SDP secured the appointment of lawyer Milan Filipovic as interior minister, while Djukanovic obtained approval for his nominee as finance minister, Miroslav Ivanisevic, whom the SDP considers opposed to reform, dpa reported. The new minister of minority affairs is Gzim Hajdinaga. PM

PREMIER SAYS ROMANIA 'MUST FULFILL DUTY AS FUTURE NATO MEMBER' IN EVENT OF IRAQ WAR...
In an interview with Mediafax on 8 January, Prime Minister Adrian Nastase said that in the event of a military showdown with Iraq, Romania "must fulfill its duty as a future NATO member, as it has done in the past." Nastase said Romania "has signed a contract stipulating rights and obligations and there are times when assumed obligations must be implemented." He also said he does not believe the cabinet's popularity would suffer if Romania becomes engaged militarily in operations against Iraq. "I did not note any such reaction as a result of the help extended [to NATO allies] by the Romanian Army in Afghanistan," Nastase said. MS

...WHILE FOREIGN MINISTER SAYS 'NO OFFICIAL DECISION' HAS BEEN MADE ON MILITARY PARTICIPATION
Also on 8 January, Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana said in an interview with RFE/RL that "no official decision" has yet been made over Romania's involvement in the event of a military conflict in Iraq. Geoana said the Supreme Council of National Defense will discuss the risks involved in such action at a meeting scheduled for the end of January. Thus far, he said, only "logistic problems" have been discussed in connection with the conflict with NATO partners. However, Geoana told journalists in Bucharest later that day that Romania wants to "give diplomacy a chance," but if a military conflict breaks out it will be "its moral obligation to act in line with its new international status," Mediafax reported. Romania, he added, will display solidarity with its "natural partners." Geoana also said Romania has made no offer concerning its participation in the conflict, but NATO and U.S. experts are currently evaluating Romania's military capabilities for such participation. MS

ROMANIAN PREMIER CLAIMS EARLY ELECTIONS, GOVERNMENT RESHUFFLE ARE 'ARTIFICIAL TOPICS'
Prime Minister Nastase said in his interview with Mediafax on 8 January that media reports "artificially inflated" the dispute between his Social Democratic Party (PSD) and President Ion Iliescu over possible early elections or a reshuffle of the government, Mediafax reported. Nastase said that neither early elections nor a reshuffle are "aims in themselves, but only possible means" destined to facilitate the EU integration process and to raise living standards. Nastase said that with these aims in mind, a "reorganization of the cabinet's activity in the first half of 2003" is imminent. He said the PSD by no means wishes to become involved in a dispute with Iliescu, who is linked to the party by "special ties," having led it himself and having run for the presidency on the PSD ticket. MS

ROMANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER SEES 'ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT' IN RELATIONS WITH MOLDOVA
Foreign Minister Geoana said at his 8 January press conference that there is "room for improvement" in his country's relations with neighboring Moldova, Mediafax reported. He said he hopes political dialogue between Chisinau and Bucharest will be "more dynamic" in 2003. Geoana also said that after its integration into NATO and the EU, Romania will become the "eastern border" of the two organizations and will have to apply the Schengen visa system at its border with Moldova. He said he hopes ways will be found to avoid a negative impact on economic and cultural relations with Moldova as a result of the introduction of the Schengen system, and he added that Bucharest wants the EU to agree to introduce that system even before the country's expected 2007 EU accession. "We cannot afford to have the EU border move to the Hungarian-Romanian border" after the 2004 accession of 10 new EU members, Geoana said. MS

ROMANIA'S 2002 INFLATION RATE BELOW FORECAST
Romania recorded 17.8 percent inflation for 2002, Mediafax reported on 9 January. The rate was thus lower than the 18 percent forecast. MS

BULGARIAN PROSECUTOR-GENERAL WANTS OPPOSITION LAWMAKER'S IMMUNITY LIFTED
The Prosecutor-General's Office officially asked parliament on 8 January to lift the immunity of Nikola Nikolov of the conservative opposition United Democratic Forces (ODS), BTA reported. Nikolov was chairman of the parliamentary Committee on Economy from 1997-2001. He is accused of abuse of office and embezzlement. UB

BULGARIAN SUPREME COURT REJECTS PROTESTS AGAINST TELECOM PRIVATIZATION
The Supreme Administrative Court ruled on 8 January that the objection raised by the Prosecutor's Office at the Supreme Court of Appeals against the privatization of the Bulgarian Telecommunications Company (BTK) is unfounded, BTA reported. The deal was halted in early December after the conservative opposition Union of Democratic Forces submitted documents to prosecutors alleging that the state Privatization Agency violated laws regulating privatization (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3, 4, and 11 December 2002). UB

FORMER DEPUTY NATO SUPREME ALLIED COMMANDER RECOMMENDS STRATEGIC REVIEW OF BULGARIAN ARMY
Former Deputy Supreme Allied Commander Europe General Sir Jeremy McKenzie recommended in Sofia on 8 January that a strategic review of the Bulgarian defense system be carried out, mediapool.bg reported. According to McKenzie, the review should address the legal framework, budgeting, structure, and specialization of the armed forces. He said a new plan for the army's reform should be drafted based on the results of the review. After meeting with Deputy Defense Minister Lyubomir Ivanov, McKenzie said he does not expect any problems with the ratification of the country's NATO membership on the part of current member states. UB

NATO EXPANSION: CHANGING THE DEBATE
The second round of NATO expansion codified at the November Prague summit has sparked a much-needed debate about the alliance's fundamental principles. Historically, NATO has derived its strength from the common "value-based" purpose that united its members' militaries in the strongest international coalition of the 20th century. Rarely during the Cold War was there a conflict between the alliance's strategic interests and its core values. In effect, the Cold War rendered such a debate irrelevant. NATO was a military alliance with finite political objectives, and a confluence of values and interests was -- for the most part, rightly -- assumed.

With the Cold War over and the second round of NATO expansion going forward full steam, the interests-versus-values debate has newfound relevance. NATO's absolute certainty in its mission has been shaken. Is it primarily a military alliance whose sole purpose should be securing the trans-Atlantic security zone? Or is it a political organization that promotes Western values such as democracy, human rights, and the rule of law? Many analysts argue that the answer to both questions should be affirmative and that NATO can and must be both a political and a military organization, as it has been throughout its history.

But in the aftermath of expansion, NATO faces an identity crisis, due in large part to the increasingly polarized debate about the alliance's mission. Compare the discussions about the Baltic states' inclusion in NATO with the parallel discussion about Romania. In the cases of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, expansion proponents pointed to successful democratic governments and burgeoning civil societies. These countries, they argue, pass the values litmus test for NATO expansion with flying colors. According to Lithuanian Prime Minister Algirdas Brazauskas, this alone should be enough to gain admittance to NATO: "We see NATO as an alliance of democratic countries, not as a relic of the Cold War. For this reason, NATO expansion means an expansion of the zone of stability."

Expansion critics, though, tended to argue that the Baltic states have little or nothing to contribute to the alliance's military capacities and could, in fact, weaken them. In short, those who favored the admission of the Baltic states see NATO primarily as a value-based alliance. Those who were bearish on expansion view the emphasis on values as leading to the inevitable weakening of the alliance.

The debate over Romanian admission to NATO made precisely the same point in the opposite way. In the post-communist era, Romanian politics have rarely risen above clan rivalry. Socioeconomic progress in Romania has been painfully slow, lagging noticeably behind that of the Baltic states.

However, Romania's military is strong -- stronger, in fact, than that of any other NATO aspirant country. Clearly, if military capability is the determiner of admission, NATO's red carpet should be rolled out for Romania. But what kind of message would the alliance be sending if Romania had been welcomed to NATO and the militarily weak Baltics were turned away?

Now more than ever it has become clear that the terms for discussing NATO and for debating expansion must change. The end of the Cold War has indubitably complicated the alliance's mission. In fact, expanding the scope of its mission in the contemporary world might well be the only way of ensuring the continued fulfillment of its primary mission of maintaining trans-Atlantic security. In and of itself, expansion -- both geographic expansion and expansion of purpose -- does not present a threat to NATO's future. However, in order to maintain its effectiveness, the alliance must continue to nurture the confluence of core values and strategic interests that differentiates NATO -- a military alliance of democratic states -- from other international organizations.

In other words, the expansion debate so far has not taken into account the ways in which the alliance's values and interests overlap. Mere military prowess can only contribute to an overly narrow understanding of NATO's "interests" -- an understanding that would inevitably be transitory and unstable. A sharp distinction between NATO's values and its interests is a dangerous fiction that can only undermine the alliance's historic strength. Moreover, maintaining this polarized fiction can only make the question of Russia's possible accession to NATO -- a question that will likely be much discussed in the coming years, despite repeated statements from Moscow that Russia will not seek membership -- increasingly difficult. A nuanced understanding of the interconnection of NATO's strategic concerns and its democratic values is necessary in order to expand the alliance in a consistent way -- consistent both with its history and with the realities of post-Cold War Europe.

Samuel Charap is a Moscow-based Fulbright Scholar studying Russian foreign policy.

NEW BODY ESTABLISHED TO DEFEND PRESS FREEDOMS IN AFGHANISTAN...
A new independent body to safeguard freedom of the press in Afghanistan was launched in Kabul on 7 January, Radio Afghanistan reported. The Free Press Defense Foundation was established by a number of Afghan journalists, headed by Abdul Qahar Sarwari, in order to safeguard the freedom of the press in Afghanistan and to increase the number of journalists there. Information and Culture Minister Sayyed Makhdum Rahin said at the inauguration of the new foundation that, although Afghanistan enjoys free media, the number of journalists in the country remains limited, the radio reported. While Kabul and some parts of Afghanistan enjoy relatively free media, cities such as Herat and Mazar-e Sharif remain largely unaffected by the new openness. AT

...WHILE KABUL WEEKLY CRITICIZES PRESS RESTRICTIONS
In an interview broadcast on Afghanistan state television, Jawayd Farhad, the editor in chief of the Kabul weekly "Panjara," claimed that the media in Afghanistan are "by no means being run in a free or independent manner," the Kabul weekly "Farda" reported in 5 January. Farhad said Afghan media are "supported by some associations and international organizations, and this limits the freedom of the press," "Farda" reported. Farhad did not name these organizations or say how they restrict press freedoms in Afghanistan. However, he did acknowledge that "steps are being taken toward freedom of the press." "Farda" criticized Farhad's comments as a "sort of sabotage" against free media in Afghanistan, and he questioned the origins and objectives of "Panjara." Furthermore, it suggested that Afghans not view progress regarding press freedoms in the country from the perspective Farhad has presented. "Farda" did not indicate when the interview with Farhad aired. AT

U.S. TO ASSIST AFGHAN WOMEN'S PROGRAMS
Women's Affairs Minister Habiba Sorabi said on 8 January that the United States has pledged to provide $2.5 million to the ministry and an additional $1 million to promote literacy and educational programs for women in Afghan provinces, Radio Afghanistan reported the same day. The donations were promised by U.S. Undersecretary of State for Global Affairs Paula Dobriansky, who along with Sorabi inaugurated the first meeting in Kabul of the U.S.-Afghan Women's Council on 8 January, the radio reported. The council is cochaired by Afghan and U.S. officials and is dedicated to creating public-private partnerships to boost Afghan women's involvement in the reconstruction of Afghanistan, according to a 7 January U.S. State Department report. For more on the council see http://usawc.state.gov. AT

KANDAHAR GOVERNOR BANS THE USE OF FOREIGN CURRENCY
Gul Agha Sherzai told an audience at the Kandahar Municipality on 7 January that, as old afghani banknotes are no longer legal tender and new afghanis have been distributed to replace them, there is no need for people to rely on foreign currency, "Arman-e Melli" reported the same day. Sherzai said it is illegal to "buy or sell things using foreign currency" and that violators will be questioned by security forces, the Kabul daily reported. Prior to the introduction of the new afghani banknotes (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 December 2002), foreign currencies -- especially the Pakistani rupee and U.S. dollar -- were used in Afghanistan along with various types of afghani banknotes, most of which were printed by warlords during the 1992-2001 Afghan civil war. AT

ANTIGOVERNMENT RADIO STATION DEBUTS IN PAKTIYA
A radio station has begun antipresidential broadcasts from Afghanistan's southeastern Paktiya Province, the Kabul daily "Anis" reported on 8 January. The international antiterrorism forces operating in the area have not been able to pinpoint the exact origin of the broadcasts of the station, which refers to itself as the Voice of Afghan Resistance, the paper added. The radio station does not broadcast on fixed frequencies or established times and randomly airs fatwas (Islamic legal opinions) against President Hamid Karzai's administration and urges people to resist it, according to "Anis." Paktiya Province has been a center for activities against the U.S.-led antiterrorism coalition in recent months. Coalition forces are implementing new plans in the province intended to provide security and facilitate the reconstruction of Afghanistan (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 12 December 2002). AT

AFGHAN FOREIGN MINISTER VISITS TEHRAN
An anonymous "informed source in the Embassy of the Islamic Republic of Iran in Kabul" said on 8 January that Afghan Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah would arrive in Tehran on 9 January for a three-day visit, the Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran's Mashhad-based Dari service reported. The Afghan foreign minister was expected to meet with President Mohammad Khatami, Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi, and other officials to discuss bilateral relations and assistance for the reconstruction of Afghanistan. Other topics of discussion include the continuing presence in Afghanistan of U.S. military personnel, the Hirmand River (which flows from Afghanistan into Iran), and the aftermath of the Iraq crisis, IRNA reported on 9 January. BS

IRAN MAKES MEDIA CONTRIBUTIONS TO AFGHANISTAN...
Ismail Fallah, who heads the Kabul office of Iranian state broadcasting, presented some radio and television programs to Afghan Information and Culture Minister Rahim Makhdoom on 7 January, Bakhtar News Agency reported. Fallah also described his organization's donation of two VCRs to Herat television and its training of two Herat Province journalists. The Voice and Vision of the Islamic Republic and Afghanistan Radio and Television on 25 December signed a memorandum of understanding on bilateral cooperation, the Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran's Mashhad-based Dari service reported the next day. BS

...AND ITS PROGRAMS ARE VERY POPULAR
Kandahar Province businessman Abdol Qodus Barikzai on 7 January explained the popularity of Iranian programs in the Afghan province, the Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran's Mashhad-based Dari service reported. "Other countries' TV programs are not in keeping with the Afghan people's culture," Barikzai said. "Therefore, the programs of Iranian televisions are very suitable and instructive." BS

TEHRAN HINTS FOREIGNERS BEHIND ZAHEDAN BOMBING
Iranian government spokesman Abdullah Ramezanzadeh on 8 January hinted that foreigners were behind the recent explosions in the eastern city of Zahedan, ISNA reported. "We think the threats made by certain foreign groups in the past several months against the Islamic Republic are not irrelevant [to the case], but investigations are not yet complete," he said. Local and national security officials previously attributed the 5 January explosions to hooligans setting off homemade fireworks (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 and 7 January 2003). BS

RUMORS OF IRANIAN CABINET SHUFFLE DENIED
President Khatami said after the 8 January cabinet meeting that he decides who will serve in his cabinet and he has not developed any views on this matter, ISNA reported. Later in the day, government spokesman Abdullah Ramezanzadeh confirmed that Khatami has not made any decision on changing his cabinet, ISNA reported. The executive branch officials were reacting to statements the previous day by Tehran parliamentary representative Hojatoleslam Ali Akbar Mohtashami-Pur, who said in the legislature's open session that a reshuffle is necessary in the cabinet's economic team to overcome the country's current slump, the "Tehran Times" reported on 8 January. BS

IRAN'S GUARDIANS COUNCIL REJECTS ANTI-TORTURE BILL
Unidentified parliamentarians said on 8 January that the 12-member Guardians Council, which must approve the constitutional and religious compatibility of all legislative proposals, the same day rejected a bill that would ban torture, Reuters reported. The Guardians Council rejected the bill in June, so the legislature made revisions and approved the bill in its current form in December (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 4 November and 23 December 2002). The legislation will be referred to the Expediency Council if the impasse continues. BS

MAIN IRANIAN STUDENT ORGANIZATION OUTSIDE RULING COALITION
Leaders of both wings of Iran's largest student organization, the Office for Strengthening Unity (OSU), have said they are not represented in the 18-member pro-presidential 2nd of Khordad Front (named after the Iranian date of President Khatami's 23 May 1997 election), the daily "Bahar" reported on 8 January. Jamal Zaherpur spoke on behalf of the majority Allameh wing and Ahmad Alamshahi spoke on behalf of the minority Shiraz wing of the OSU, and they both indicated a general disillusionment with the 2nd of Khordad Front's inability to achieve promised reforms. BS

CIA DOCUMENTS WMD PROLIFERATION IN IRAN
In the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency's "Unclassified Report to Congress on the Acquisition of Technology Relating to Weapons of Mass Destruction and Advanced Conventional Munitions," which was sent to Congress on 7 January, it reports that "Iran is vigorously pursuing programs to produce indigenous WMD [weapons of mass destruction] -- nuclear, chemical, and biological -- and their delivery systems, as well as ACW [advanced conventional weapons]." Foreign materials, training, equipment, and know-how from Russia, China, North Korea, and Europe are contributing to Iran's WMD pursuits, according to the report. BS

IRANIAN PRESIDENT DESCRIBES STANCE ON IRAQI OPPOSITION
President Khatami met with Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) leader Jalal Talabani on 7 January to discuss future developments in Iraq and last December's Iraqi opposition conference in London, Suleimanieh's "Kurdistani Nuwe" reported on 8 January. Khatami described Iran's relationship with the Iraqi opposition, saying, "Iran's policy is to support and strengthen the Iraqi opposition, and it is prepared to provide every form of cooperation in this matter in order to bring about a democratic and united Iraq in which people can rule themselves." Khatami thanked the PUK for preserving security on Iran's border with Iraqi Kurdistan, and he urged the Iraqi opposition to develop a unified plan for change in Iraq. Talabani met on 8 January with British Ambassador to Tehran Richard Dalton to discuss regional developments, IRNA reported. BS

EXPEDIENCY COUNCIL CHAIRMAN WARNS PUK LEADER ABOUT U.S.
PUK leader Talabani met with Expediency Council Chairman Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani on 9 January, Iranian state radio reported. Rafsanjani warned Talabani about what he sees as U.S. motives in the region. "America is not looking for peace, stability, tranquility, and the establishment of a free Iraq, since a free and independent Iraq is one which supports the Palestinian people, and it will not serve and ensure American interests," he said. BS

UNMOVIC, IAEA TO BRIEF SECURITY COUNCIL ON INSPECTIONS IN IRAQ
UNMOVIC Executive Chairman Hans Blix and IAEA Director-General Muhammad el-Baradei are scheduled to brief the UN Security Council on 9 January on the progress of weapons inspectors, according to an 8 January announcement posted on the IAEA's website (http://www.iaea.org). The briefing will be the second since weapons inspections resumed in Iraq in late November. The two men briefed Security Council members on 19 December. "We will report where we are today, what we will do in the next few weeks, [the] progress we have made in verifying information, as well as our analysis of the (Iraqi) declaration," el-Baradei said. It is expected that Blix and el-Baradei will also tell the Security Council that while they have not uncovered evidence that Iraq possesses weapons of mass destruction, they have found gaps in the Iraqi declaration, specifically that it has failed to account for 6,000 poison-gas bombs, Reuters reported on 9 January. Iraq News Agency reported on 31 December that Iraqi presidential adviser Amir al-Sadi has invited Blix to meet with Iraqi officials in mid-January to review the aspects of cooperation between Iraq and UNMOVIC. Blix and el-Baradei are scheduled to give a major status report to the Security Council on 27 January. KR

RED CROSS-SPONSORED TALKS 'CONSTRUCTIVE'
The POWs Technical Committee meeting among Iraq, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia that was held in the Jordanian capital of Amman on 7 January (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 January 2003) was deemed "constructive and positive" by Mueen Qassis, information officer for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Jordan, KUNA reported on 8 January. "The meeting was the start of a dialogue and all three parties met, listened to each other, and dialogued in a constructive and good manner," Qassis said. Participants agreed to meet again in Amman on 22 January. The ICRC welcomed the resumption of dialogue. Meanwhile, the United Arab Emirates' Red Crescent Society (RCS) announced on 8 January that it has ordered the delivery of humanitarian relief aid to Iraq, Emirates News Agency (WAM) reported on its website (http://www.wam.org.ae). The agency reported that "an RCS delegation led by Dr. Saleh Moussa arrived in Baghdad [on 8 January] to procure relief items from the local market and also oversee their distribution in various Iraqi cities. The distribution process will be conducted in coordination with the Iraqi RCS." KR

IRAQI DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER SAYS CALLS FOR DIALOGUE IGNORED BY WASHINGTON
In an interview published on 8 January, Tariq Aziz told Istanbul's "Cumhuriyet" that Washington has ignored Iraq's and his own personal calls for dialogue over the last 12 years. "We are always ready for dialogue. We have always said this. I said this to President [George] Bush, Sr.," Aziz said. "[Iraq] could not receive a response." He added: "We also said this during the Clinton period. I said that we want dialogue, but we could not receive a response. In the 1990s I went to the United States many times. I could not talk with a single official, a single senator, even with those who were my friends in the past. Yes, dialogue. We are always ready for dialogue. But the United States and England are not in favor of dialogue." KR

IRAQI VICE PRESIDENT INAUGURATES FACTORY
Taha Yassin Ramadan has inaugurated the Al-Qaed Factory located at the Al-Yarmuk State Company, which belongs to the Military Industrialization Organization, Iraq Satellite TV reported on 8 January. The vice president told the factory's workers: "We bless your efforts. The progress you have made will have a great role in terms of enhancing Iraq's constant drive to build a national industrial foundation that is based on the capabilities and creative work of our great people." KR

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