Accessibility links

Newsline - August 1, 2007

Journalist Larisa Arap, who is in forced detention in a Murmansk psychiatric clinic, told Reuters by telephone on July 31 that she is being held because she reported that some patients at another local psychiatric clinic were beaten and raped (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 30 and 31, 2007). She added that she herself was beaten after being forcibly taken to the Murmansk clinic in early July. Yelena Vasilyeva, a fellow opposition activist who visited Arap in the hospital, said doctors forcibly injected Arap with drugs. Arap looked weak in a photo that Vasilyeva took during her visit, the news agency noted. Arap told Reuters: "I feel unwell but am trying to hold out. But my strength is dying away." Arap is a member of the opposition United Civic Front headed by former world chess champion Garry Kasparov. Opposition activists compared her detention to the Soviet practice of incarcerating dissidents in psychiatric wards and injecting them with drugs. Russian Human Rights Ombudsman Vladimir Lukin said in a statement on August 1 that he will investigate Arap's case, news agencies reported. Reuters noted on July 31 that much remains unclear about Arap's situation, including whether she suffered from mental problems, whether the charges she made in her article regarding abuse at the other clinic are true, and whether any state authority ordered her detention. Reuters quoted Yevgeny Zenin, whom the agency described as a chief doctor at the clinic where Arap is being held, as saying about her article: "This is libel. As we are representatives of a state medical institution, they are libeling Russia." PM

The chairman of the Council of Muftis of Russia, Ravil Gainutdin, told RFE/RL's Tatar-Bashkir Service by phone from Moscow on July 31 that the authorities must stop xenophobia against people in Russia who are not ethnic Russians. He spoke after meeting with the mother of Damir Zainullin, a 23-year-old Tatar student killed recently by Russian nationalists in St. Petersburg. The mufti told RFE/RL that "today we appealed to the president, the interior minister, the prosecutor-general, and St. Petersburg Governor [Valentina] Matviyenko. By doing this, we express our deepest concern not only about this happening in St. Petersburg, but the dangerous ideology spreading not only in St. Petersburg, but in all of Russia." "Why should we, Muslims, non-Russians, be afraid of sending our children out to schools, universities?" he added. "Why don't our president and prosecutor-general protect every citizen's right to life guaranteed by the constitution? They should protect and secure our lives." Gainutdin also asked: "Why do the children of a nation that fought against fascism and defeated it become fascists? Why is there an ideology [claiming] that non-Russians are not people, that they shouldn't live on our land, in our country? And they slaughter our children." He warned that "the sparks of worsening relations and people killing each other may erupt into a blazing inferno." In St. Petersburg on July 31, a jury found seven people, including three minors, guilty of the November 2005 slaying of Timur Kacharava, a 20-year-old campaigner against hate crimes, RFE/RL's Russian Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," December 16, 2005). PM

The European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg ruled on July 31 in favor of three Russian journalists and ordered the Russian government to pay compensation, Interfax reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 31, 2007). Russian courts previously convicted the three on different charges of allegedly slandering government officials. The German weekly "Der Spiegel" of July 30 described the Strasbourg court as a "beacon of hope" for Russians, many of whom have little confidence in their own judicial system. More Russian citizens file cases in Strasbourg than do citizens of any other country belonging to the Council of Europe. President Vladimir Putin has called many of the resulting court rulings politically motivated. PM

President Putin met on July 31 with Palestinian Authority President Mahmud Abbas, whom the Russian leader called the "legitimate leader of all Palestinians," Russian and international media reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 31, 2007). Putin stressed that "our position remains the same, and you know it very well. We consistently stand for defending the legitimate interests of the Palestinian people to the extent of creating an independent [Palestinian] state. And I want to assure you that we will support you as the legitimate leader of the Palestinian people." This is Abbas's first visit to Russia since his rivals from Hamas seized control of Gaza in June. Russia is the only member of the Middle East Quartet (the United States, the EU, the UN, and Russia) that maintains ties to Hamas, which Russia calls a legitimate political force in the region. After the Putin-Abbas meeting, First Deputy Foreign Minister Andrei Denisov told reporters that Moscow has "somewhat downgraded" its ties with Hamas. "We maintain our ties only with the practical and pragmatic goal of trying to influence [Hamas] directly or indirectly in order to help the parties restore the internal Palestinian dialogue and Palestinian unity," he added. On August 1, some international media quoted Hamas officials in Gaza as saying that a Hamas delegation will soon visit Russia, but Moscow has not confirmed the report. The Gazprom-owned daily "Izvestia" wrote on August 1 that Abbas and many others want Russia to play an increased role in the Middle East peace process. The paper noted that Russia is quick to make promises of support, but it is unclear whether it will deliver on those promises. PM

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State John Rood led talks in Washington on July 31 with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Kislyak and military and intelligence officials on the proposed U.S. missile-defense system, which will consist of 10 interceptors in Poland and a radar base in the Czech Republic, news agencies reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 12, 16, 17, and 24, 2007). They discussed concrete proposals for cooperation and explained their respective views on missile defense. Rood said later that Russian officials recently accepted an invitation to visit a missile-defense base in Alaska. Kislyak and his aides provided more details on President Putin's proposal for a joint radar base in Azerbaijan, which he first mentioned in June (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 22, 2007). Rood said, "We are trying to expand on what...Putin put forward, and to use that as an opportunity to see if we can develop some cooperation." On August 1, Interfax quoted U.S. Ambassador to Russia William Burns as saying that he is sure that the two countries will be able to work out a "common approach" to missile defense. PM

First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov said in Moscow on August 1 that Russia will not give up state control over its railways, Interfax reported. He stressed that railways constitute "a strategic field, and the state must and will always keep it under [its] control, including in the technological area." He argued that "railways in Russia have always been and will be something more than just a means of transportation. Railways are a steel brace, both literally and metaphorically, which binds together the most remote territories and makes Russia an organic whole. Nothing can substitute for their binding function." Ivanov said that the state will give domestic firms the "principal emphasis" in providing equipment for modernizing the railways. "I am sure we are capable of producing the entire range of the most advanced machinery in the required quantities," he added. PM

In a televised statement on July 31, Yury Turygin condemned as an attempt "to destabilize the situation in the republic" the attack by militants earlier that day on a bus transporting a mobile police detachment from Kalmykia between the North Ossetian towns of Vladikavkaz and Mozdok via Ingushetia, and reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 31, 2007). One policeman died in the attack and three more were seriously injured. A Kalmyk Interior Ministry delegation headed by Deputy Minister Baatr Gindeyev is en route for North Ossetia to participate in the investigation of the attack. Meanwhile, the daily "Kommersant" on August 1 quoted an unnamed North Ossetian Interior Ministry official as saying that the Kalmyks never coordinated their movements with their North Ossetian colleagues, and implying that they were foolish to have chosen the shorter, but more direct, road between the two towns, given that in Ingushetia it is "open season" for targeting police officials. LF

The trial began on July 31 in Daghestan's Supreme Court of four men accused of shooting two people dead and injuring four more in an exchange of fire on March 2 in Daghestan's Dakhadayev Raion between supporters of rival candidates in the March 11 local elections, reported. The four accused are relatives of Magomed Aliyev (Unified Russia); Aliyev's challenger Nukh Nukhov (Union of Rightist Forces) was one of those injured (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 5, 2007). LF

Samvel Hovannisian, who until 2006 headed the Justice Ministry department responsible for the administration of Armenia's prison system, was arrested on July 27 and formally charged three days later with the June 27 kidnapping in Moscow of ethnic Armenian Rubik Simonian, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported on July 31. Simonian was released on July 6 after paying a $300,000 ransom to a "representative" of Hovannisian, whose arrest was facilitated by a tip-off from Moscow-based Armenian businessman Ara Abrahamian. LF

Albanian Foreign Minister Lulzim Basha telephoned his Azerbaijani counterpart Elmar Mammadyarov on July 31 and assured him that the Albanian government intervened to prevent a shipment of weaponry to Armenia by the Albanian company MEIKO, and reported on July 31 and August 1 respectively. The Armenian Defense Ministry denied on July 27 that any contract to purchase arms from Albania ever existed (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 30, 2007). LF

Launch of the pipeline that will transport gas from Azerbaijan's Shah Deniz field from Turkey to Greece and Italy has been postponed from August 15 to September 15 because work on the Greece-Italy stretch of the pipeline has still not been completed, reported on August 1 quoting Reuters. Turkey will retain in lieu of transit fees 15 percent of the gas exported. LF

Boris Chochiyev, who is minister for special assignments of the unrecognized republic of South Ossetia, has accused the Georgian authorities of cutting off supplies of drinking water to the South Ossetian capital, Tskhinvali, Caucasus Press reported on August 1. Tbilisi and Tskhinvali exchanged mutual accusations two months ago of deliberately damaging water mains (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 1, 4, 5, 7 and 8, 2007). LF

Speaking to reporters in Astana following a meeting of the Kazakh Central Election Commission (CEC), Temirali Tashimbetov announced on July 30 that he has resigned as an opposition member of the body, Kazakhstan Today reported. Tashimbetov, a member of the opposition Social Democratic Party submitted his resignation after the CEC on July 27 ruled against his party's appeal of an earlier CEC decision to refer the party's campaign advertisements to the Prosecutor-General's Office for "examination." The party had argued that such a move "during the election campaign is simply delaying the broadcasting of those clips." The Kazakh Prosecutor-General's Office recently issued a statement noting several media outlets' violations of the provisions of the Election Law relating to media coverage of campaigns (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 25, 2007) after the Social Democratic Party complained that stations loyal to the authorities have refused to screen its campaign ads, which highlight social injustices and inequality in Kazakhstan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 24, 2007). RG

The head of the UN Tajikistan Office of Peace Building (UNTOP), Vladimir Sotirov, presided on July 31 over a flag-lowering ceremony in Dushanbe to mark the end of the UN mission in the country, according to Asia-Plus and the Avesta website. The 15-year UN mission to Tajikistan, which ended 10 years after the country's 1992-97 civil war, was hailed by Tajik Foreign Minister Khamrokhon Zarifi as a "unique example of success." Zafiri pointed to the UNTOP's role in supporting Tajik President Emomali Rahmon's proposal to create a new institution of ombudsman to monitor human rights. Sotirov praised the mission's work "to establish peace and stability in Tajikistan" and noted that "many projects had been carried out over the years," including efforts aimed at the reintegration of Tajik society. The UNTOP mission was established in June 2000, assuming the mandate of the previous UN Mission of Observers in Tajikistan (UNMOT), and was specifically tasked with a post-conflict peace-building, national-reconciliation, and conflict-prevention mission. RG

An Uzbek prisoner was recently found dead in his jail cell, reportedly "under suspicious circumstances," RFE/RL's Uzbek Service reported on July 31. The body of 39-year-old Inomjon Yoqubov was released to his family for burial on July 19 in the eastern Uzbek city of Margilon. Yoqubov's sister, Nazokat, told RFE/RL's Uzbek Service on July 31 that her brother's body bore several wounds and asserted that he had contracted tuberculosis during his imprisonment. Yoqubov was sentenced to 18 years after his conviction in 1998 for membership of the banned extremist Islamist group, Hizb ut-Tahrir. RG

Prime Minister Syarhey Sidorski said at a government conference in Minsk on July 31 that "one-third of the economy" in Belarus is actually unprofitable, Belapan reported. Sidorski said the share of unprofitable enterprises now amounts to some 17-18 percent of the total number in the country, but added that among large companies subordinated to the Ministry of Industry loss-making ones account for 31 percent. "If small economic entities, cafes, and other food services providers are not taken into account, we'll see a generally bad situation behind the aggregate figures," Sidorski noted. The same day, the Ministry of Statistics and Analysis reported that Belarus's foreign-trade deficit in the first six months of 2007 increased by 93 percent compared to the first half of 2006, reaching some $1.8 billion. Russia's share in Belarus's foreign trade increased as well, reaching 48.3 percent. Belarusian experts link the recent increase in Belarus's foreign-trade deficit to a decrease in Belarus's re-exports of refined Russian oil, following the imposition by Russia in December 2006 of a duty of $180 per ton of Russian crude exported to Belarus. JM

The Interior Ministry has assigned special police details to maintain law and order on farms during this summer's grain harvest, Belapan reported on July 31, quoting the ministry's press service. The police duties reportedly include preventing crime and maintaining discipline and order at agricultural companies, as well as conducting regular checks at grain, fertilizer, fuel, and equipment storage facilities. Traffic police will escort grain harvesters on their way to fields and back to garages and examine the machinery on a regular basis. JM

President Viktor Yushchenko on August 1 published on his official website ( a decree amending his decree of June 5 on scheduling early parliamentary elections for September 30. The decree confirms that early elections will take place on September 30 and specifies that the election campaign will start on August 2. In his current decree,Yushchenko makes a more detailed reference to the constitutional provisions on which he based his decision to call snap elections. Yushchenko also adds a clarification explaining that the Verkhovna Rada was disbanded "in connection with [its] lack of powers and the impossibility of restoring [them]." In April, Yushchenko set snap elections twice -- for May 27 and June 24 -- but subsequently canceled the decisions. A third decree scheduling early polls for September 30 was issued on June 5. The ruling coalition, particularly the Communist Party and the Party of Regions, had urged Yushchenko to issue a fourth decree on early elections, arguing that, in accordance with Ukrainian legislation, such elections should be scheduled within the 60 days after the publication of a relevant decree. JM

Kosova's parliament on July 30 gave its backing for further talks on the region's final status, local and international media reported. However, the assembly and Kosovar President Fatmir Sejdiu made clear the bilateral talks with Belgrade will be Prishtina's last attempt to win international support for independence and that Kosovar leaders will not renounce the region's claim to statehood. Sejdiu did not indicate whether Kosova will declare independence unilaterally if the talks lead nowhere. Kosovar leaders are debating when to declare independence, but they have said they will not act unilaterally (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 24, 2007). Austrian President Heinz Fischer said on July 30 that a unilateral declaration of independence by Kosova would be the "worst solution," Kosovar and international media reported on July 31. The EU, which will mediate the negotiations together with the United States and Russia, wants the negotiations to be limited to 120 days (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 30, 2007). An unnamed EU diplomatic source quoted by Reuters on July 31 said the talks are expected to start "this week, next week, very soon," while AFP quoted Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mikhail Kamynin as saying "status talks could start very soon, of course under the condition that there is careful preparation by the Contact Group." Kamynin also reiterated Russia's opposition to an "artificial time limit" on the talks. AG

Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica dismissed as "nonsensical" the possibility of Serbia forming a confederation with Kosova, the Serbian broadcaster B92 and the Italian news agency AKI reported. Kostunica's comments came after a Serbian daily, "Vecernje Novosti," wrote on July 31 that unnamed EU sources had told it the EU is considering floating the idea of a confederation between Serbia and Kosova. Kostunica reiterated Serbia's position that it is prepared to offer Kosova "the best measure of autonomy," arguing that all European states seek to accommodate their minorities' interests by offering various degrees of autonomy and that Kosova's ethnic Albanians "cannot be a special and unique minority to whom universal rules of international law do not apply." Given that ethnic Albanians are overwhelmingly the demographic majority in Kosova and strongly back independence, the creation of a confederation would in all likelihood lead eventually to a referendum on independence. EU leaders have, like U.S. leaders, stated that they believe independence is the best and "inevitable" solution for Kosova. AG

Serbian police have arrested a U.S. Steel Serbia employee, charging him with taking bribes, Serbian media reported on July 31. Serbia's Interior Ministry said that Bratislav Culafic was caught and arrested last week as he was accepting a bribe of 10,000 euros ($13,660) for promising to secure a deal worth $3.5 million for a New York-based company. Culafic reportedly also asked for a car and a computer. U.S. Steel Serbia is a subsidiary of the U.S. Steel Corporation, which bought Serbia's biggest steelmaker in 2001. Police referred to Culafic as the company's assistant general manager, but, in a subsequent statement carried by the news agency FoNet on July 31, U.S. Steel Serbia described Culafic as an interpreter and administrative assistant. Other recent cases involving bribery and corruption have included the arrests of a number of police inspectors on July 30, the arrest of former Trade Minister Boris Gaspar in April, and the arrest in March of former Transportation Minister Marija Raseta Vukosavljevic. AG

More than two-thirds of Serbs back the government's plan to take Serbia into the EU, Tanja Miscevic, head of the Serbian government's Office for EU Accession, told Serbian media on July 31. Miscevic cited the results of a government-sponsored poll by the research agency Strategic Marketing, which found that 69 percent of Serbs support accession to the EU. However, support for membership does not necessarily indicate a positive attitude toward the EU: only 46 percent of Serbs view the EU positively. Around 20 percent view it negatively. The survey indicated that over the past year more Serbs have become positive about the EU (up 6 percentage points, to 46 percent) even though the EU suspended talks with Serbia for over a year, starting in May 2006, because of Serbia's failure to cooperate adequately with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY). The poll found that the percentage of Serbs who oppose cooperation with the ICTY has fallen by three points over the past year, from 57 to 54 percent. The biggest fears that Serbs harbor about the EU are, reportedly, that farmers will be hurt by accession and that the state will be burdened with heavy costs. Serbian officials hope the EU will grant Serbia the status of a candidate state in 2008, a hope most recently expressed on July 26 by Deputy Prime Minister Bozidar Djelic. Since coming to power in May, Serbia's new government has been instrumental in the capture of two of six men wanted by the ICTY (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 18 and 19, 2007). AG

Another poll by the Strategic Marketing research agency recently found that two of every three people in Bosnia-Herzegovina's predominantly Serb-populated region, the Republika Srpska, would like to see Bosnia join the EU. The level of support in the Republika Srpska was 65 percent, substantially lower than the 82 percent polled in the country's other autonomous region, the Muslim-Croat Federation. The survey, which was conducted in mid-June and published on July 22 in the Bosnian daily "Nezavisne novine," found that respondents generally see EU membership as beneficial to the country's economy, but just around one-quarter felt there would be some personal benefit for them (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 26, 27, and 30, 2007). Bosnia's efforts to join the EU are languishing, with a dispute over the consolidation of the country's fractured policing system proving a particular obstacle on the path to the next stage, the signing of a Stabilization and Association Agreement. Bosnia's politicians are also at loggerheads over the reconfiguration of the country's political system and constitution, which EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn has called "essential" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 15, 2007). AG

Another recent poll, conducted for the UN Development Program by Oxford Research International, concluded that "overall, there is a powerful belief that [Bosnia-Herzegovina's] future is grounded in European integration" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 30, 2007). Bosnians "seem to look for a solution to structural problems by expressing their desire for [Bosnia] to join the EU," as they appear to identify "the EU as an effective vehicle for incorporating transitional societies into a family of relatively successful systems." A plurality of Bosnians (42.3 percent) believe the EU should have an influence on Bosnia's future (30.2 percent said no one should have an influence), and a large majority (70.8 percent) "nominate the EU as the focal point of visions of the future." This generally positive view of the EU contrasts with the attitude toward other international organizations, including the UN and the Office of the High Representative, which are "generally mistrusted." Bosnia is currently overseen by an international high representative appointed by 55 states and organizations from Europe, the Middle East, Asia, and North America. The mandate of the Office of the High Representative was this year extended until mid-2008. AG

The same survey by Oxford Research International found that roughly one-third of Bosnians (30.2 percent) believe there is no political system that could serve as a model for Bosnia. A large number (21.7 percent) mentioned Switzerland as a model, twice as many as see Germany (10.6 percent) or Slovenia (10.0 percent) as good examples. One other country -- Sweden (7 percent) -- was cited by over 5 percent of respondents. With the exception of Slovenia, post-communist countries that successfully transformed their systems to join the EU did not feature. Nor did the United States. "It appears plausible to argue," the report concluded, "that respondents do not necessarily perceive [Bosnia] as a member of the family of transformation countries and see its future modeled more on affluent federal democracies." Switzerland, Germany, and Sweden are also home to a large Bosnian diaspora. The survey found that the political system Bosnians would most like is a federal system but that, "in fact, very few respondents think it is unlikely to come about." "On aggregated scores, a centralized [Bosnia] with strong regions gathers most support and is opposed by hardly anyone," the report said. AG

Moldova's parliament on July 27 passed a new law on religion, incorporating amendments demanded by President Vladimir Voronin, Moldovan and Russian media reported. Voronin had specifically called for a clause that "the state recognizes the special significance and primary role of the Orthodox Christian religion and the Orthodox Church in the life, history, and culture of the people of Moldova." At Voronin's demand, parliament struck out a provision stipulating that "property rights on buildings of worship belong to the religious communities that founded them." The absence of a provision enshrining the Orthodox Church's special status had roused the anger of Orthodox leaders, but some parliamentarians opposed Voronin's intervention, arguing it would anger the Council of Europe, the continent's leading rights watchdog. When parliament passed the unamended bill in its second reading, religious minorities were critical of the suddenness with which the long-delayed bill was pushed through its final phases, of a ban on "abusive proselytism," and of the bar on religious communities with fewer than 100 members gaining legal status. The clauses regarding proselytization and small groups remain in the amended bill. The bill was first sent to parliament in October 2004. The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has twice fined Moldova for denying religious communities legal status, and one of Moldova's Orthodox churches -- the Bessarabian Orthodox Church -- only gained registration after an ECHR ruling in 2001. The newly stipulated special status for the Orthodox Church does not distinguish between the various Orthodox communities. However, Voronin, a Communist, made his allegiance clear at a gathering of bishops earlier this month, at which, according to a July 19 report by the news agency Interfax, he likened the Communist Party to the Moldovan Orthodox Church, which falls under the jurisdiction of the Russian Orthodox Church, and the opposition to the Bessarabian Orthodox Church, which answers to the Romanian Orthodox Church. Voronin also called Jesus Christ "the first communist." AG

Iranian politicians have firmly rejected U.S. accusations of Tehran's meddling in Iraq after an apparently less cordial second round of talks on Iraqi security held in Baghdad between the ambassadors of Iran and the United States on July 24.

Despite the indignant remarks, however, Iran's Foreign Ministry spokesman was cautious on July 30 and did not rule out further talks. A committee was also formed at the talks to consider security issues in Iraq and to maintain contact between Iran, the United States, and Iraq.

Alaeddin Borujerdi, the head of the Iranian parliament's National Security and Foreign Policy Committee, said on July 28 that U.S. accusations of Iranian involvement in the Iraqi insurgency are intended to justify Washington's "deplorable record of mistakes and the appalling situation" in Iraq.

He said purported U.S. evidence or documents of Iranian involvement may be "entirely forged," something he said is easy for a government or army to do. Borujerdi also urged U.S. officials to swiftly release five Iranians detained in Irbil in northern Iraq in January as proof of its "real" interest in bringing security to Iraq.

If the U.S.-Iranian talks held thus far are seen in Tehran to have made progress, he added, subsequent "favorable" conditions might allow for further talks at a higher level.

Another legislator, Tehran representative Hussein Mozaffar, said on July 28 that accusations against Iran are hardly the "key" to the "rusty door" of Iran-U.S. contacts. He blamed "American mistakes in Iraq" for "unrest in the Middle East."

Another Tehran representative, Ali Abbaspur-Tehrani, said Iran should abandon any future talks if they merely mean it has to defend itself against American accusations. "Responding to accusations is definitely not on the agenda, even if there are positive aspects to the negotiating process," he told ISNA.

One of Iran's most prominent conservative clerics, Guardians Council Secretary Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, said at Tehran's official Friday Prayers on July 27 that the Americans were informed of their mistakes at the July 24 round of talks. His comments echoed the assertions of conservative politicians after the first round of talks in May, which were depicted as Iran's envoy lecturing U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker for U.S. "mistakes" in Iraq.

Jannati said that in spite of its "forceful" positions, the United States "came to realize" its mistakes, the daily "Kayhan" reported on July 29. He blamed ongoing violence in Iraq on the U.S. presence and urged it to leave. "You have made [Iraq] into the center of corruption. Iraq has no gates, and the country has become a collection of all the region's bandits."

Without U.S. forces, he said, "the Iraqi government backed by the people has the power to suppress the terrorists."

On a more impartial note, Tehran-based academic Mehdi Mottaharnia told ISNA on July 29 that talks in themselves are positive but ultimately they cannot be assessed only by the results they did or did not bring. He added that the resolution of problems the talks are seeking to address depends to some extent on the resolution of the "ideological confrontation" between Iran and the United States.

Mottaharnia said it is natural at this stage of talks -- considering that there has been almost 30 years of hostility between Washington and Tehran -- for both sides to meet amid mutual recriminations.

But the reality, he added, is that necessity has brought them to the negotiating table. He suggested a move toward constructive results that he defined as serving "the interests of nations, not of states."

Conservative politician Hamid Reza Taraqqi told ISNA on July 29 that the formation of a three-party committee after the talks is a particular achievement and notable given the "serious friction" that was reported between negotiators. He said it shows "the Americans have at least agreed" that Iraqi security issues have to be considered in a "specialist" context.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Husseini said at a Tehran press conference on July 30 that the parties need to examine how this committee will work.

He said Iran "clearly" stated its proposals and positions during the talks and informed the United States that it needs to change its "approach" if security is to improve in Iraq. He said the talks held so far are "initial steps" and that "startling progress" could not be expected.

Husseini said talks at a higher diplomatic level are not being discussed, and "there is no evident need for raising the level of these negotiations," ISNA reported on July 30. At the same time he stressed that "Iraq's stability is our stability and security," and Iran engaged "seriously" in these talks.

The comments by the politicians repeat Iranian positions: that the United States must leave Iraq and leave the Nuri al-Maliki government to take charge of security since it is the lawfully constituted, democratic government, and that Iran is doing all it can to help but is not meddling in the insurgency.

There is also a more discreet satisfaction in the comments at the formation of the specialist committee, which can maintain private contacts -- in the manner of 19th-century diplomacy, which Iran seems to prefer -- and plan the agenda for another round of talks.

However, the statement by an unofficial observer such as Mottaharnia are, perhaps, more revealing of key issues: the necessity and benefits for both sides to cooperate on Iraq, and the ideological and systemic differences that fuel a mutual distrust.

This distrust was most recently seen in reported plans for a large-scale arms sale by the United States to Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf states. These are mainly Sunni Islamic monarchies with free-market economies. They have formal -- but hardly cordial -- relations with Iran, which is inclined toward radical groups and causes.

Husseini criticized the future sale as part of the U.S. policy of creating "fear and concern" among Mideast countries and to "create a chance" to sell its arms, Reuters reported on July 30.

Iranian Vice President Ahmad Musavi told a Tehran seminar the previous day that the United States is selling arms on the back of the "illusory" threat that Iran poses in the region, ISNA reported. He said that "everyone knows" that Iran is "no threat to any country." He urged Middle East states to consider what he called the real regional threat: the "cancerous tumor of Israel."

A Taliban spokesman on July 31 set a new deadline of 12:00 p.m. local time on August 1 for the Afghan government to meet its demands or the group will begin killing its remaining 21 South Korean hostages, AFP reported. A second hostage was killed on July 20 after a previous deadline to meet the Taliban demand to free eight rebel prisoners expired (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 31, 2007). The Afghan government has ruled out any prisoner swap, despite pleas by the South Korean government to "use flexibility" to save the remaining captives. In Seoul, presidential spokesman Chun Ho-sun protested the Taliban demands, saying that meeting them is outside his government's control. A spokesman for Afghan President Hamid Karzai said to accept the demands would only encourage further kidnappings. Meanwhile, the Arabic satellite channel Al-Jazeera on July 31 ran footage of a group of seated Asian-looking women in head scarves that it said were the female South Korean hostages. JC

The Arabic television network Al-Jazeera on July 31 aired one minute of footage of a man believed to be the missing German hostage believed to be being held captive in Afghanistan, AP reported. The video was set against a mountainous backdrop and shows a broad-built man with blonde hair surrounded by several masked and armed men. The hostage, whose voice was inaudible on the video, reportedly pleaded for his life and urged Germany and the United States to withdraw their troops from Afghanistan. Four of the five Afghans kidnapped together with the German on July 18 were also seen on the video appealing to Western governments to meet the group's demands. A second German abducted with the group died under unclear circumstances while in captivity (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 23, 2007). German Foreign Ministry spokesman Martin Jaeger denounced the video as a "document of intimidation," adding that a delegation is "intensively" pursuing the German's release. JC

Spokesmen for an Afghan human-rights group and the United Nations on July 30 expressed doubts regarding NATO's renewed efforts to minimize the number of civilian casualties from military operations in Afghanistan, the Integrated Regional Information Network reported. While Kabul welcomed NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer's announcement that the alliance will use smaller bombs in its air strikes (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 30 , 2007), the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) and the UN remain skeptical that using lighter ordinance will reduce civilian casualties. Aleem Siddique, a spokesman for the UN in Kabul, said it is unclear "whether a small or big bomb is good." AIHRC spokesperson Ahmad Nadar Nadery pointed out that smaller bombs will still harm civilians if Taliban militants continue to use them as human shields. Nadery urged international forces to increase their ground forces rather than continuing to rely on air strikes, "which mostly affect noncombatants." JC

Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki said in Tehran on July 31 that "billions of dollars" of planned U.S. arms sales in the Middle East constitute "useless" profiteering, IRNA reported, citing a statement from the ministry's press office. "Washington's aim is to prevent arms firms going bankrupt," Mottaki said, responding to reports that the United States is preparing a large-scale arms sale to regional allies, including Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf monarchies. Mottaki said "imported" policies designed to induce "tensions" could not undermine the inherent solidarity of regional states. Mottaki added that "America knows perfectly well" that the Middle East's main problem is U.S. support for Israel and Israel's "warmongering and expansionist policies," IRNA reported. VS

Iranian Judiciary spokesman Alireza Jamshidi told the press in Tehran on July 31 that, contrary to earlier press reports, Iran has not arrested any more people in connection with the allegedly subversive activities of a number of Iranian-Americans, Radio Farda reported, citing Iranian media reports. Press reports of remarks made days ago by Intelligence Minister Gholamhussein Mohseni-Ejei hinted at the arrests of more Iranians suspected of implementing what Iranian officials say is a U.S.-orchestrated plan to foment a "velvet revolution," or peaceful regime change (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 26, 2007). Press reports indicated the state had identified suspected subversive elements associated with two Iranian-Americans currently detained in Iran, Haleh Esfandiari and Kian Tajbakhsh. Jamshidi said he asked the deputy head of the Tehran Revolutionary Court for security affairs, Hasan Haddad, about new arrests, and he was told "nobody has been arrested," reported. Haddad told the Mehr news agency on July 29 that the interrogator in charge of the dossiers of Esfandiari, Tajbakhsh, and another detained Iranian, Ali Shakeri, is continuing to examine evidence related to their alleged subversive activities in Iran, and no formal charges have been filed against them. VS

Spokesman Jamshidi confirmed during his press conference that Iran has sentenced two Iranian-Kurdish journalists to death by hanging after convicting them of being the enemies of God and religion (Muhariba), Radio Farda and news agencies reported on July 31. Adnan Hasanpur and Abdulvahed Hiwa Butimar were sentenced to death on July 16 in Marivan, northwestern Iran. They previously wrote on Kurdish affairs for "Asou," a journal banned in August 2005 by the Ministry of Culture, RFE/RL reported on July 24. The press group Reporters Without Borders called the sentence "outrageous and shameful," RFE/RL added. Jamshidi said he does not know if Iran's Supreme Court has confirmed the sentences. Hasanpur was reportedly convicted of endangering national security and spying in relation to interviews given to foreign media, though reports have not clarified the charges against Botimar, AFP reported on July 31. VS

Emadeddin Baqi, the head of the Tehran-based Association in Defense of Prisoners' Rights, has been given a three-year jail sentence after being convicted on security-related charges, ISNA reported on July 31, citing Baqi's lawyer, Mahmud Alam. Baqi and three others, including his wife and daughter, were convicted on charges of conspiring to undertake "crimes against the state's security," ISNA reported, stating that the others were given suspended jail terms. Alam told the agency Baqi's charges stemmed from interviews he has given to foreign media, as well as his public comments and correspondence concerning prisoners' rights and conditions in Iran. He said Baqi's wife and daughter were charged after going to a human-rights conference in the United Arab Emirates that they thought had been organized by the United Nations. He did not say when the conference was held. VS

Iran is to publicly hang two men convicted of murder in Tehran on August 2, two years to the day after they killed a Tehran judge (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 15, 2007), "Etemad-i Melli" reported on July 31, citing the Tehran chief prosecutor Said Mortazavi. Majid Kavusifar and Hussein Kavusifar killed Judge Hasan Moqaddas on August 2, 2005, apparently after he fined them, and are to be hanged in public on the spot where they killed him. The two were sentenced to death in March for "spreading corruption on earth" and combating God and religion. VS

The Sunni-led Iraqi Accordance Front made good on August 1 on its threat to terminate its participation in the Iraqi government, international media reported. Front spokesman Rafa al-Isawi told reporters at a Baghdad press briefing that the front's six ministers will submit their resignations later today. Al-Isawi blamed Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki for the withdrawal, saying al-Maliki's refusal to meet the front's demands, including the release of Sunni detainees not charged with crimes from Iraqi jails, led to the break. "The government is continuing with its arrogance, refusing to change its position, and has slammed the door shut on any meaningful reform," al-Isawi said, adding the government's stand "does not surprise us at all." In addition to six cabinet positions, the Accordance Front holds 44 seats in the 275-member parliament. The withdrawal could have severe consequences for al-Maliki's "national-unity government." KR

Iraqi leaders held intensive talks with Sunni Arab politicians on July 31 in an effort to convince the Sunni parties in the Iraqi Accordance Front to rejoin the political process, Iraqi media reported. President Jalal Talabani held talks with Prime Minister al-Maliki after which al-Maliki agreed to meet some, but not all, of the Accordance Front's demands (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 30 2007). "We are ready to talk," AP quoted al-Maliki as saying. Al-Sharqiyah television reported on July 31 that leading figures in the Accordance Front were expected to hold late-night talks with Shi'ite representatives of the United Iraqi Alliance. Talabani reportedly told state-run Al-Iraqiyah television that the two leading Kurdish and two leading Shi'ite parties will continue with the formation of a moderate front, regardless of whether the Sunni-led Islamic Party, a party in the Accordance Front, joins them. Al-Sharqiyah reported that representatives from the four political parties will meet over the next three days in Baghdad to discuss the formation of the new front. Sunni Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi is expected to attend those meetings, according to the news channel. KR

The Council of Ministers has rejected a proposal by Prime Minister al-Maliki to merge security and intelligence bodies under a unified command, Al-Sharqiyah television reported on July 31. Al-Maliki reportedly sought to merge the intelligence services, the National Security and Interior ministries, and military intelligence into one centralized body under the command of National Security Adviser Muwaffaq al-Rubay'i. According to Al-Sharqiyah, al-Maliki asked ministers to vote on the proposal and it was rejected by a majority of attendees. KR

The Al-Qaeda-affiliated Islamic State of Iraq has begun confiscating Iranian-made goods from shop owners in Al-Miqdadiyah, Iraqi media reported on July 31. Local residents told Al-Sharqiyah television that gunmen are roaming the markets of the city confiscating and destroying any goods produced in Iran. The decision to confiscate the goods was announced by the Islamic State's so-called trade ministry. The group reportedly set a deadline for shop owners to get rid of the goods throughout the Diyala Governorate. While the Islamic State does not appear to have issued a formal statement on the decision, the order has been widely reported on Internet jihadist forums. According to the forums, the group has threatened punishment by the group's commission for promoting virtue and preventing vice. KR

Denmark officially handed over responsibilities on the ground in Iraq to the U.K. military on July 31 following a decision by Denmark to replace its ground forces in Iraq with a smaller Air Force contingent. Four Danish helicopters arrived in Al-Basrah this week to replace the 450 ground forces that pulled out. The helicopters will be operated by a 55-member unit that will be stationed in Al-Basrah until December. Seven Danish soldiers were killed in Iraq between 2003 and 2007. KR

Saudi Arabia agreed on August 1 to reopen its embassy in Baghdad, international media reported. The embassy has been closed since the U.S.-led war began in March 2003. "To support the government of Iraq...we decided to send a delegation to see how to establish our embassy in Baghdad," said Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Sa'ud al-Faisal, Reuters reported. Al-Faisal was speaking after a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates in Jeddah. Saudi Arabia has had a tense relationship with Shi'ite Iraqi Prime Minister al-Maliki (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 27, 2007). Rice and Gates have reportedly asked Arab states to increase their support for al-Maliki's Shi'ite-led government in return for U.S. military assistance to those states, which include Saudi Arabia and Egypt. K