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Newsline - June 15, 2006


IRANIAN PRESIDENT WANTS TO SET GAS PRICES JOINTLY WITH RUSSIA
Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad told his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin at the meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) in that Chinese city on June 15 that the two countries should work together to set gas prices, RIA Novosti reported. "We can closely cooperate from the standpoint of setting natural-gas prices...in the interests of global stability," Ahmadinejad argued. For his part, Putin told Ahmadinejad, "You know Russia's opinion of the nuclear problem well," Interfax reported. Putin added that Russia is "the only country that openly and efficiently cooperates in the peaceful use of atomic energy and fully meets its commitments. Every country is entitled [to enjoy] its rights to high technology for the purposes of development. Yet it is necessary to [take into consideration] the international community's concerns regarding nuclear proliferation" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 30 and 31, and June 6, 2006, and "Russia/China: 'Partners' Struggle With An Unequal Relationship," rferl.org, March 22, 2006). PM

RUSSIAN DEFENSE OFFICIAL RULES OUT TALKS WITH U.S. ON TACTICAL NUCLEAR WEAPONS
An unnamed "senior official in the Russian Defense Ministry" told reporters on June 14 that Russia has no intention of discussing the future of tactical nuclear weapons with the United States because there are no international treaties covering such weapons, mosnews.com reported. He added that Russia would use such weapons only in self-defense, which he called a legitimate right of a sovereign country. PM

VENEZUELAN LEADER HAILS RUSSIAN POWER
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said in Caracas on June 14 that "the revival of Russia as a great country is very important for the fate of the world," ITAR-TASS reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 10, April 4, and June 5 and 7, 2006). He noted that Venezuela is following what he called Russia's path of using state control of natural resources to promote economic growth, financial independence, and a buildup of cash reserves. He added that Venezuela intends to buy 24 Russian-made Sukhoi fighter jets, Reuters reported. Chavez was speaking at a ceremony at which his army took delivery of 30,000 Russian-made Kalashnikov AK-103 rifles. Russia's Rosoboroneksport arms exporter will supply a total of 100,000 of the weapons, which Washington and some Latin American countries fear will be used to consolidate Chavez's rule at home and export trouble to Colombia and throughout the region. His government is also negotiating with Russia to build a factory to make Kalashnikovs under license, which would be the first such plant in the Western hemisphere. PM

RUSSIA TO KEEP 70 PERCENT OF ROSNEFT STOCK AFTER IPO
German Gref, who is minister of economic development and trade, said in St. Petersburg on June 15 that the government will retain "more than 70 percent of the shares" in the state-run oil company Rosneft when it launches its initial public offering (IPO) in Moscow and London, probably in July, RIA Novosti reported. The company is reportedly seeking to raise about $10 billion in the sale and will use most of the money to pay off its outstanding debt to Western banks of about $7.5 billion. PM

WORLD'S FIRST FLOATING POWER STATION TO BE BUILT
Officials of the state-owned Rosenergoatom consortium signed an agreement on June 14 with the Sevmash shipyard in Severodvinsk to build the world's first floating nuclear power plant to provide energy to remote areas, Western news agencies reported. It is expected to cost $336 million and be completed in 2010. Sergei Obozov, who is acting head of Rosenergoatom, said that Russia may in the future set up as many as six power stations at sea, with plans already in the works for the regions of Chukotka, Kamchatka, Krasnoyarsk, and Sakha (formerly known as Yakutia). Sergei Kiriyenko, who heads the Federal Atomic Energy Agency, stressed that the plants will be safe, saying that "there will be no floating Chernobyl.... [The plant] will be as reliable as the world-famous Kalashnikov assault rifle." Some Western experts believe, however, that a floating nuclear power plant would be inherently dangerous because it could sink or be involved in an accident when being towed from one site to another. PM

GERMAN RAILWAYS TO BRING FAST TRAVEL TO RUSSIA?
The Moscow daily "Kommersant" reported from St. Petersburg on June 14 that Russian Railways (RZD) has concluded a memorandum of understanding with Germany's engineering firm Siemens and German Rail (DB) to cooperate in promoting a high-speed railway service. Their first concrete joint project is to develop a high-speed service between St. Petersburg and Moscow. The daily suggested that the memorandum is largely a declaration of intent without specific commitments and is aimed at launching German involvement in Russian infrastructure projects. PM

OPERATION LAUNCHED AGAINST SUSPECTED MILITANTS IN INGUSHETIA
Army, Interior Ministry, and Federal Security Service (FSB) troops backed by 20 combat helicopters began combing a forested area in Nazran Raion early on June 14 where they believed a group of 20-25 militants were hiding, ingushetiya.ru and "Novye izvestia" reported. Ingushetian Interior Minister Beslan Khamkhoyev stated later on June 14 that the militants suffered casualties, but none of them has reportedly been apprehended. A search of the area revealed a permanent camp -- the second discovered in Ingushetia in the past few days -- with supplies of weapons, food, and medications, and a silver automobile identical to that used in the attack on June 9 in which Ingushetia's OMON commander Musa Nalgiyev, his brother, his driver, and three of his children were gunned down (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 12, 2006). LF

NEW VIDEO OF RADICAL CHECHEN FIELD COMMANDER RELEASED
The website Kavkaz-Center has posted a video in which radical Chechen field commander Shamil Basayev claims to have paid $50,000 to the militants responsible for the bombing two years ago that killed then Chechen administration head Akhmad-hadji Kadyrov and several other people, chechenpress.org reported on June 15 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 10 and 17, 2004). Basayev added that he is prepared to pay only a reward of $25,000 for the killing of Kadyrov's son Ramzan as "he's not worth more than that." Basayev and fellow field commander Doku Umarov are reportedly shown on the video instructing subordinates how to prepare explosive devices from such materials as old tin cans and empty plastic Pepsi Cola bottles. LF

ARMENIAN MINISTERS HOLD TALKS WITH NATO
Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian and Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian participated on June 14 in a session of the North Atlantic Council that positively assessed Armenia's progress in implementing the Individual Partnership Action Plan (IPAP) Armenia finalized with NATO in late 2004, Noyan Tapan reported. That assessment was based on the findings of a NATO delegation that visited Yerevan last month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 24, 2006). LF

AZERBAIJANI POLITICAL PARTIES LOOK AHEAD TO MUNICIPAL ELECTIONS
The ruling Yeni Azerbaycan Party (YAP) will compile a single coordinated list of candidates to contest the municipal by-elections scheduled for October 6, YAP Executive Secretary Ali Akhmedov told day.az on June 14. That approach contrasts with that taken during the November 2005 parliamentary elections, when in some constituencies YAP candidates ran independently against the candidate selected to represent the party. Akhmedov further poured scorn on the opposition Azadliq bloc, which announced on June 13 that it will boycott the municipal elections on the grounds that they are unlikely to be fair and democratic. He asked rhetorically what the rationale for Azadliq's existence is if it chooses to boycott elections. LF

AZERBAIJAN PREPARES FORMAL COMPLAINT AGAINST ARMENIA
Azerbaijan's State Committee for Work with Refugees and Displaced Persons and an NGO representing the former Azerbaijani population of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic plan to file separate complaints with international organizations, including the UN High Commission for Refugees, in connection with what they claim is a deliberate campaign of arson by Armenia, Azerbaijani media reported. Three Azerbaijani parliament deputies who on June 13 visited Azerbaijani districts of Agdam and Khodjavend east of the disputed enclave told journalists that abandoned homes in villages in both districts are being systematically destroyed by fire, as is agricultural land, echo-az.com and zerkalo.az reported on June 14. Azerbaijan's Trend news agency on June 12 quoted Nizami Bahmanov, the leader of the former Azerbaijani community of Karabakh, as saying he has written to the co-chairmen of the OSCE Minsk Group and to Andrzej Kasprcyk, personal representative of the OSCE chairman in office, to alert them to the damage caused. Agdam is one of seven Azerbaijani districts contiguous to the NKR currently occupied by Karabakh Armenian forces that are to be returned to Azerbaijani control under a formal peace settlement. LF

OSCE HOSTS DONOR CONFERENCE FOR SOUTH OSSETIA
Belgium, which currently chairs the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), hosted a donor conference in Brussels on June 14 at which participating states pledged 10 million euros ($10.26 million) in funds for postconflict infrastructure reconstruction in Georgia's breakaway Republic of South Ossetia, an RFE/RL correspondent reported. Georgian Prime Minister Zurab Noghaideli pledged that Georgia will contribute an equal amount "euro for euro." Belgium Foreign Minister and OSCE Chairman in Office Karel de Gucht said he hopes the planned reconstruction projects will create a "positive dynamic" that will help expedite a political settlement of the conflict. LF

LEADERS OF THREE UNRECOGNIZED REPUBLICS MEET IN ABKHAZIA
The presidents of the unrecognized republics of Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and Transdniester, Sergei Bagapsh, Eduard Kokoity, and Igor Smirnov, held talks in the Abkhaz capital, Sukhum (Sukhumi) on June 13, and at a summit the following day issued two joint statements, Russian agencies and apsny.ru reported. One joint statement announced their alignment in a "Community (Russian 'soobshchestvo') for Democracy and the Rights of Peoples," the aims of which include removing the legal loose ends left by the collapse of the USSR by securing the international recognition of the three regions as independent states; developing and strengthening democratic institutions; and ensuring that the will of the population and the principles of sovereignty and independence are taken into account in negotiations on a political solution to conflicts. The three leaders condemned what they termed the willingness of the leaderships of Georgia and Moldova to risk human lives to satisfy their personal ambitions, and reaffirmed their commitment to resolving conflicts peacefully. They also signed a declaration on the creation of a joint peacekeeping force to be deployed in the event of the withdrawal of the Russian peacekeepers currently deployed in the three conflict zones. LF

TRIAL OF SUSPECTED KILLERS OF OPPOSITION LEADER OPENS IN KAZAKHSTAN
The trial of a group of defendants charged with involvement in the murder of opposition leader Altynbek Sarsenbaev opened on June 14 in a Kazakh district court north of Astana, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service and Asia-Plus reported. The trial of the 10 suspects has also implicated several people from within the Kazakh security services and parliament in the February murder of Sarsenbaev, his driver, and a bodyguard. The trial was immediately adjourned for a day to grant time for defense lawyers to appear. The lead defendant is Yerzhan Utembaev, who held a senior administrative post in the upper house of the Kazakh parliament at the time of the killings. Utembaev and each of the nine other defendants have reportedly confessed to varying degrees of complicity in the killings. Prosecutors contend that the murders were carried out by the National Security Service's (KNB) elite Aristan unit, acting on the orders of Utembaev. That version is challenged by opposition leaders who question whether Utembaev held sufficient authority to order the killing. RFE/RL quoted Tolen Tokhtasynov, a leader of the opposition For a Just Kazakhstan movement, as arguing that it is more plausible that the conspiracy reaches the highest circles of government in Kazakhstan. The high-profile trial is being observed by a number of international officials, including representatives of the OSCE, foreign embassies, and the international media. RG

KAZAKHSTAN ANNOUNCES PRESIDENTIAL VISIT TO WASHINGTON
Kazakh First Deputy Foreign Minister Rahat Aliev told a news conference in Astana on June 14 that President Nursultan Nazarbaev will visit Washington in early September, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. Aliev said Nazarbaev will meet with senior U.S. officials, including President George W. Bush, during the state visit and is also expected to defend Kazakhstan's bid to assume the rotating chairmanship of the OSCE in 2009. RG

NEW KAZAKH-CHINESE AGREEMENTS SIGNED
After arriving in Shanghai to attend the summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), President Nazarbaev and Chinese President Hu Jintao met on June 14 and signed several new bilateral agreements, Interfax reported. The new agreements include a new Chinese financial-aid package extended to Kazakhstan's Moynak hydroelectric power station and a grant by the Chinese Export-Import Bank to an infrastructure-development project. RG

TAJIK PREMIER MEETS WITH VISITING UN OFFICIAL
Tajik Prime Minister Oqil Oqilov met in Dushanbe on June 14 with visiting UN Undersecretary-General for political affairs Ibrahim Agboola Gambari, RFE/RL's Tajik Service and Asia-Plus reported. Gambari's three-day visit, which coincides with the ninth anniversary of the end of the Tajik civil war, is to include a series of talks with senior Tajik leaders on political reform and democratization, as well as the need for improved efforts to combat narcotics trafficking in the region. Gambari said that the UN stands ready to assist the Tajik authorities in preparing for the upcoming presidential election in November. Gambari is also expected to meet with prominent opposition leaders, including Said Abdullo Nuri, the leader of the opposition Islamic Renaissance Party, and parliamentarian Hoji Akbar Turajonzoda. RG

TAJIK PRESIDENT MEETS WITH CHINESE COUNTERPART
In Shanghai to attend the SCO summit, Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov met on June 14 with Chinese President Hu, according to Tajik television. Hu reportedly reviewed the details of a new 70 million-yaun ($8 million) Chinese aid package and discussed "long-term cooperation between Tajikistan and China within the framework of the UN, the SCO and other regional and international organizations." RG

TAJIK BORDER-GUARD CHIEF MEETS WITH IRANIAN OFFICIALS
The head of the Tajik border guards, Colonel General Saydamir Zuhurov, returned to Dushanbe on June 14 after concluding a three-day official visit to Iran, Asia-Plus reported. Zuhurov met with Islamic Revolution Guards Corps commander Major General Yahya Rahim Safavi, in Tehran to discuss the expansion of bilateral cooperation in border security and the counterterrorism and counternarcotics efforts. RG

BELARUS REINTRODUCES CHECKPOINTS AT BORDER WITH RUSSIA
Belarus has recently reintroduced checkpoints at its border with Russia, RFE/RL's Belarus Service reported on June 14. The checkpoints are manned by officers from the Interior Ministry and the State Customs Committee. Alyaksandr Herasimau from the Interior Ministry told RFE/RL that the reestablishment of checkpoints is a temporary measure intended to regulate cargo shipments. "The point is that any shipment of goods subject to excise tax that enters Belarusian territory or goes in transit must be escorted. But escorting is a paid service," Herasimau said, explaining that his ministry charges some $500 for escorting a cargo shipment from Belarus's border with Russia to that with Poland. Belarusian economic expert Yaraslau Ramanchuk believes that the reintroduction of checkpoints on the Belarusian-Russian frontier reflects a new trend in bilateral relations. "It is a plan to gradually build customs controls on our eastern border. It is Minsk's preparation for [an anticipated] conflict with Moscow regarding oil and gas," Ramanchuk told RFE/RL. In 1995, Belarus and Russia signed a customs union that eliminated customs controls along their joint border. JM

POLAND REPORTEDLY PREPARES TO LAUNCH TV CHANNEL FOR BELARUS
Poland is planning to begin television broadcasts to Belarus in 2007, RFE/RL's Belarus Service reported on June 14, quoting Polish journalist Agnieszka Romaszewska, who is working on the project. The planned channel will reportedly focus on information programs broadcast in Belarusian and Russian. The channel will be sponsored by funds from the Polish government and the EU. "The project envisions the creation of a possible separate satellite television channel for Belarus.... At present we are busy looking for funds and partners and carrying out organizational work.... But the channel will be created for sure," Romaszewska told RFE/RL. Romaszewska, who has made numerous television reports and documentaries about Belarus for Polish Television, has been banned from entering Belarus by the Belarusian authorities. JM

WILL UKRAINE SEE CREATION OF A RULING COALITION NEXT WEEK?
Our Ukraine and the Party of Regions held consultations on June 14 regarding the creation of a "broad coalition," the "Ukrayinska pravda" website (http://www.pravda.com.ua) reported, quoting lawmaker Yevhen Kushnyarov from the Party of Regions. "We have come to the understanding that it is necessary to relegate mutual grievances to the background and formulate what unites us," Kushnyarov said. According to Kushnyarov, the Party of Regions and Our Ukraine differ on Ukraine's cooperation with NATO and participation in the Single Economic Space with Russia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan, as well as on the status of the Russian language and the issue of federalism in Ukraine. "If the talks continue in this format and with this intensity, we will sign a coalition accord by the end of Monday [June 19]," Kushnyarov predicted. Earlier this week, Our Ukraine admitted that its coalition talks with the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc (BYuT) and the Socialist Party of Ukraine (SPU) had reached an impasse, and appealed to all parliamentary forces to begin negotiations on the formation of a broader coalition (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 14, 2006). The ByuT and the SPU have formally not dropped out of the coalition talks, but they previously announced that they will not join a coalition with participation of the Party of Regions. JM

UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT ADJOURNS SESSION ONCE AGAIN
The parliamentary caucuses of Our Ukraine and the Party of Regions on June 15 voted in unison to postpone the session until June 20, by which time they expect to clarify which forces may form a ruling coalition in Ukraine, Ukrainian media reported. Earlier the same day, lawmakers unsuccessfully tried to approve a list of parliamentary committees that are to be set up in the Verkhovna Rada elected on March 26. JM

EU PUTS SERBIA ON ITS SUMMIT AGENDA
Fearing that a series of setbacks could cause Belgrade to feel increasingly isolated, the Austrian presidency of the European Union has put Serbia on Brussels' agenda for an upcoming summit, Reuters reported on June 14. "We knew this year would be difficult [for Serbia]," Austrian Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik said at a news conference in Vienna ahead of a EU foreign ministers' summit in Brussels. "Decisions about a nation's status are among the most delicate issues the international community has to discuss and resolve, and there are several such issues still outstanding in the region," she added, in an apparent reference to Kosova. In early May, the EU suspended talks on a Stabilization and Association Agreement due to Serbia's failure to arrest war crimes fugitive Ratko Mladic (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 4, 2006). And on May 21, Montenegro spurned Belgrade by voting for independence in a referendum (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 22, 2006). Many officials also expect Kosova to win its independence in UN-backed final-status talks. BW

SERBIAN PRESIDENT ASSAILS ICTY PROSECUTOR OVER MLADIC ALLEGATIONS
Serbian President Boris Tadic on June 14 criticized Carla Del Ponte, the International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia's (ICTY) chief prosecutor, over her repeated allegations that Belgrade is protecting Mladic, AP reported the same day. Tadic said he asked Del Ponte to be "more careful and cautious" when speaking about the Serbian military's role in the Mladic case. "It is very dangerous to level accusations without firm evidence," he said. "It is inadmissible to put responsibility [on the army] without sufficient information." Tadic said that "an analysis about who is responsible" for the failure to arrest Mladic must take place. Likewise, Defense Minister Zoran Stankovic said that "if we confirm someone [from the military] was responsible, they will be replaced." BW

SUPREME COURT UPHOLDS 40-YEAR SENTENCE FOR FORMER SERBIAN PRESIDENT'S KILLER
Serbia's Supreme Court has upheld a 40-year prison sentence for Milorad Lukovic-Ulemek for the August 2000 assassination of communist-era Serbian President Ivan Stambolic, Beta and B92 reported on June 14, citing the daily "Blic." Lukovic-Ulemek and seven other members of Serbia's secret police were convicted in July 2005 of killing Stambolic (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 18, 2005). The killing was allegedly carried out on the orders of former Serbian and Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. Lukovic-Ulemek (aka Legija), a former police commando and organized crime boss, is also on trial as the alleged mastermind of the 2003 assassination of Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic. BW

BOSNIA ADMITS HANDING OVER TERROR SUSPECTS TO U.S. WITHOUT EXTRADITION PROCEDURES
Bosnia-Herzegovina has admitted to the Council of Europe that it handed over six terrorist suspects to the United States without formal extradition procedures, AFP reported on June 14. The natives of Algeria, five of whom had Bosnian citizenship, "had simply been handed over to the custody of U.S. forces despite a decision by the [Bosnian] Supreme Court ordering their immediate release," the Council of Europe said in a report. All six were transferred to the Guantanamo Bay prison camp in Cuba. In reference to the January 18, 2002, transfer, Bosnian Foreign Minister Mladen Ivanic acknowledged that a "formal and legal procedure for extradition was not carried out, instead this was labeled as a 'handover.'" BW

MOLDOVAN PARLIAMENT SPEAKER ASSAILS TRANSDNIESTER'S REFERENDUM PLANS
Marian Lupu on June 14 attacked proposals by the leadership of the separatist Transdniester region to hold a referendum on independence, Interfax reported the same day. "It is unacceptable to hold such a referendum in conditions where there are no democratic institutes in the region, when the freedoms of speech and association are not guaranteed, and basic human rights and freedoms are violated," Lupu said. " The international community will not recognize the action and this will result in additional political tensions." Transdniestrian parliament speaker Yevgeny Shevchuk has cited Montenegro's May 21 referendum as a model for Transdniester (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 8 and 12, 2006). Lupu also supported calls from OSCE Chairman in Office Karel De Gucht to reform peacekeeping forces in the region into a mission holding an international mandate. "The current format of peacekeeping forces does not provide for stability in the security zone and does not provide for resolving existing problems in the region," he said. BW

THE BATTLE FOR RUSSIA'S GAS PIPELINES
Access to Russia's "unified gas-transportation system," the vast network of pipelines and compressor stations spanning 149,900 kilometers throughout the entire country, has become a crucial element in the worsening relations between the EU and Russia. As such, it might be raised during the July Group of Eight (G8) summit in St. Petersburg.

Under Russian law, only state gas monopolist Gazprom is allowed to use this pipeline system -- widely considered one of Russia's most-valued possessions outside of its mineral resources -- to export gas beyond the borders of the CIS. This, the EU says, prevents competition and allows Gazprom to charge high prices for its gas. If independent producers were allowed access to the pipeline, consumers would have a choice from whom to buy their supplies. Such an arrangement, the EU says, would lead to a lowering of prices.

But Gazprom argues that it is the market, not the company, that dictates the price of gas. It says that gas prices are high because they are linked to oil prices and that rising demand is outstripping supplies in the gas business.

Gazprom also points to the fact that despite the liberalization of the European gas market in 1998, no new producers of gas, excluding Russian oil companies, have appeared on the European market and this has also contributed to high prices.

Russian oil producers are not happy, either. They also produce large quantities of natural gas and have long demanded that they be given access to the pipeline to transport the gas they produce to foreign markets. But Gazprom has denied this request, preferring to buy their gas, transport it themselves, and sell it abroad at a substantial profit. For example, the Russian oil company LUKoil is forced to sell 1,000 cubic meters of gas to Gazprom for $22.50. Gazprom then resells this gas in the West for approximately $230.

This has vexed many in the Russian oil industry. The "Oil Of Russia" quarterly in its second issue this year interviewed Yury Storozhev, the head of LUKoil's department for the coordination of gas-energy operations. "We are certain that access must be equal, as it is in the oil industry," Storozhev said. "After all, virtually all companies, both big ones and over 100 independent operators, are able to transport their crude oil by [state-owned oil pipeline company] Transneft's pipeline. The same system should apply in relation to the unified gas-transportation system."

The issue is likely to become more pressing as Russian oil companies' gas production rises.

Russian oil companies are beginning to replace independent gas companies, which were pushed out of the market by Gazprom in the early 2000s, as future competitors. Storozhev said that LUKoil plans to increase its gas production to 33 percent of its overall production in 10 years and by 2014 gas production is expected to exceed 50 billion cubic meters (bcm) a year. In 2005, LUKoil produced 7.6 bcm of gas.

There is a political dimension that might go some way in explaining why the Russian government has been so adamant in maintaining a hard line on the pipeline debate. The Russian daily "Kommersant" reported on March 3 that influential people close to President Vladimir Putin are lobbying for the creation of a single, state-owned pipeline company, which would include both oil and gas pipelines and which would be under their control.

Analysts have suggested that the immediate goal could be the merger of Transneft with Transnefteprodukt, the state-owned oil-products pipeline company, and SG-Trans, the state-owned liquid-natural-gas transport company, along with the Russian government's 24 percent stake in the Caspian Pipeline Consortium, a private pipeline that transports oil from Kazakhstan to the Black Sea. The result would be a single state-owned pipeline company.

Regardless of pressure from the EU or the Russian oil industry, Russian Duma Deputies Valery Yazev and Yury Lipatov submitted a bill on June 7 to strengthen Gazprom's monopoly on exporting natural gas.

Signs are that the Kremlin will support the bill. Putin said on June 13 that Gazprom will not give up its monopoly on gas transport. Speaking at an international economic forum in St. Petersburg, Putin said Russia does not foresee any change in this area in the near future.

AFGHAN LEADER ARRIVES IN CHINA
President Hamid Karzai arrived in Shanghai on June 14 to participate as a guest at the summit the next day of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), the official Bakhtar News Agency reported. Karzai will remain in China for an official state visit that begins on June 18, Xinhua News Agency reported. Prior to his departure for China, Karzai said in Kabul that his country "belongs to the region where the SCO also lies. Afghanistan has no other ways, and can't be outside the region" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 14, 2006). The SCO was transformed from the Shanghai Five in 2001, ostensibly to respond to the threat posed by the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. Members are China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, and Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan, which joined later. The group has accepted India, Iran, Mongolia, and Pakistan as observers, and Afghanistan as a guest country. AT

PAKISTANI NEO-TALIBAN BEHEAD AFGHAN SUSPECTED OF SPYING
Suspected Taliban sympathizers in Pakistan's North Waziristan tribal area have beheaded an Afghan man after accusing him of spying for the United States, AFP reported on June 14. The headless body of a man, identified by the purported killers as Hasim Khan from Khost Province in eastern Afghanistan, was found near the town of Miranshah with a note stating that he was "slaughtered as a punishment" for providing intelligence to U.S. forces in Afghanistan. The note warned that the same fate awaits "anyone spying for the Americans." Hasim Khan was reportedly abducted a few days earlier from the village of Ghulam Khan near the Afghan border with Pakistan. Several Afghans, including an elderly woman, have been beheaded in Pakistan's tribal areas recently, mostly on charges of espionage for the United States (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 15, 2006). AT

TWO U.S. SOLDIERS KILLED IN AFGHANISTAN
Two U.S. soldiers have been killed in separate incidents in Afghanistan, Pajhwak Afghan News reported on June 14. One soldier was killed in an attack in the Musa Qala district of Helmand Province in southern Afghanistan on June 13. The second soldier was killed in a gunbattle in Konar Province in northeastern Afghanistan. AT

ITALIAN DEFENSE MINISTER CITES 'SHARED COMMITMENT' IN AFGHANISTAN
In a letter to Milan's "Corriere della Sera" on June 14, Italian Defense Minister Arturo Parisi compared his country's military involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq, writing that while the situation in Afghanistan is "no less demanding" than Iraq, there "is clearly" a difference between the two cases. In Afghanistan, Italy is part of a "shared commitment, conducted by NATO in compliance with a mandate" from the United Nations, he wrote. Italy feels "part" of the NATO effort and "consider[s] that this commitment [to NATO's involvement in Afghanistan should] be honored," Parisi wrote. While Italy has concerns regarding its mission in Afghanistan, the country intends to deal with these in a "shared manner" with other allies and the Afghan government, he added. AT

EU TO EXPRESS NUCLEAR 'CONCERNS' TO IAEA OVER IRANIAN ACTIVITIES
The European Union is to present the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) with a document noting that "concerns" persist over Iran's contested atomic program and urging Iran to "respond positively" to a recent package of proposals designed to encourage Tehran to curb sensitive nuclear activities (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 12, 13, and 14, 2006), AP reported, citing a draft of the document. The document threatens possible "further steps...in the UN Security Council" if Iran "remains defiant," but mentions no possible use of force, AP added. The U.S. envoy at the IAEA, Gregory Schulte, speaking in Vienna on June 14, also threatened "further steps" if Iran "chooses not to negotiate" over its program. AP noted that the language by both parties was intended to avoid provoking Iranian intransigence as it mulls over the proposal. Meanwhile, Nonaligned Movement (NAM) states are to reissue a previous statement supporting Iran's program, Reuters reported on June 14. A May 30 statement by NAM members backed Iran's fuel-making activities, Reuters reported. It quoted Iran's envoy at the IAEA, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, as saying in Vienna on June 14 that "we really appreciate it" and that "NAM support for us" in the past three years has been "very valuable." VS

IRANIAN MINISTER TALKS TO EU COUNTERPARTS
Manuchehr Mottaki said in a telephone conversation with Italian Foreign Minister Massimo D'Alema on June 14 that the EU proposals are a step forward in the dispute and that Iran is carefully considering them, IRNA and ANSA reported. D'Alema told ANSA that he thinks direct talks with Iran could help persuade it to accept the proposals. Mottaki was in Madrid, where he met with Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos, AFX News reported. He said at Madrid airport that the resolution of Iran's disagreement with the international community will require efforts to assure "a country's right to develop a certain type of energy" but also to resolve other states' possible concerns, ANSA reported. In Tehran the same day, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi said he is hopeful about the prospects of talks with the EU if "reason predominates," Fars News Agency reported. Assefi claimed that "most of the international community now supports Iran's nuclear activities." Not only has the United States failed to create a consensus against Iran, Assefi argued, but "a consensus has taken shape against America's positions toward Iran," farsnews.com reported. VS

IRANIAN JUSTICE MINISTER SAYS DETAINED PROTESTERS RELEASED
Justice Minister Jamal Karimi-Rad said in Tehran on June 14 that "most" of the people arrested at a June 12 Tehran rally in defense of women's rights "are presently free, and a limited number remain under arrest" while an "interrogator is pursuing investigations with them," ISNA reported the same day. Police used batons and other forceful methods to break up the event before it began (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 13 and 14, 2006). Karimi-Rad said student detainees have been released so they could study for coming university exams. A journalist arrested that day, Taraneh Bani-Yaqub, has also been released, RFE/RL's Radio Farda reported on June 14. She was one of four reporters arrested on June 12 while covering the protest; another, Lila Farhadpur, was released hours later, Reporters Without Borders stated on its website on June 13. It was unclear whether the two others the group reported as detained -- Bahman Ahmadi-Amui and Jila Bani-Yaqub -- have been released. VS

TRADE OFFICIAL SAYS IRANIAN PRODUCTS 'NO LONGER COMPETITIVE'
Iranian officials, traders, and businessmen met in Tehran on June 13 to discuss Iran's decision to hike tariffs on some 1,000 imported goods in the Persian year to March 20, 2007, Radio Farda reported on June 14 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 12, 2006). The tariffs are intended to protect Iranian jobs when many Iranian manufactures cannot compete with equivalent imports, Radio Farda reported. It quoted the head of the Tehran Chamber of Commerce, Alinaqi Khamushi, as telling Industries Minister Alireza Tahmasbi that "we should not be afraid of the facts...90 percent of our products are no longer competitive." Tahmasbi said in Tehran on June 13 that Iran does not consider high tariffs a long-term means of boosting or improving domestic production, ILNA reported the same day. But he said tariffs in Iran were lowered in recent years without proper study beforehand. It may take Iran up to a decade to join the World Trade Organization, he said, and meanwhile, many countries impose tariffs on imported manufactures or have protective or "antidumping" regulations, "but Iran does not have this mechanism," ILNA reported. VS

IRAQI GOVERNMENT BEGINS BAGHDAD SECURITY CLAMPDOWN
Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki on June 14 declared the start of the new government's plan to secure Baghdad, AP reported the same day. The plan involves deploying 75,000 Iraqi and coalition troops to establish additional checkpoints, secure the roads in and out of Baghdad, and impose a curfew from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. The troops will also impose a ban on weapons being carried by anyone not in uniform. Al-Maliki told reporters on June 14 that the "Baghdad plan is not only about security; it will include services, and [tackle the issue of] the prisons...and will go hand in hand with the national reconciliation process," RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq reported. Al-Maliki called on Iraqis to have patience during the operation, which, he said, targets terrorists rather than any particular sect or group. Major General Mahdi al-Gharrawi, the Interior Ministry's commander of public order forces, said that "Baghdad is divided according to geographical area, and we know the Al-Qaeda leaders in each area," AP reported on June 14. The Iraqi government did not announce how long the operation will last. BAW

U.S. PRESIDENT REFUSES TO SET TIMETABLE FOR PULLING TROOPS OUT OF IRAQ
Talking to reporters on June 14, one day after his surprise visit to Iraq, U.S. President George W. Bush pledged support for Iraq and its government, Western news agencies reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 13, 2006). Regarding Prime Minister al-Maliki, "I saw firsthand the strength of his character and his deep determination to succeed," the BBC quoted Bush as saying. Bush also affirmed his refusal to schedule a pullout of U.S. troops deployed in Iraq in spite of election pressures, AP reported. "I know it may sound good politically. It will endanger our country to pull out of Iraq before we accomplish the mission," he said, "If the United States of America leaves before this Iraqi government can defend itself and sustain itself and govern itself, it will be a major blow in the war on terror." BAW

IRAQI RECONCILIATION CONFERENCE POSTPONED, AGAIN
Arab League Secretary-General Amr Musa announced on June 14 that the Iraqi national-reconciliation conference backed by the league will be postponed until August, AP reported the same day. The conference will be held in Baghdad, as originally intended. This is the second postponement of the conference, which is meant to be a venue for representatives of Iraq's different sects and ethnicities to meet (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 12, 2006.) Prime Minister al-Maliki told reporters on June 14 that "the national-reconciliation initiative holds the possibility of having dialogues with rebels who are opposed to the political process and want to rejoin it with guarantees," AFP reported the same day. However, the dialogue will only include rebels whose "hands are not stained with blood," al-Maliki said. U.S. President Bush commended al-Maliki's idea for reconciliation on June 14, but expressed concern about terrorists being granted amnesty, AP reported. BAW

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