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Iran Report: March 14, 2006

14 March 2006, Volume 9, Number 9

TEHRAN STANDS FIRM ON NUCLEAR AMBITIONS. Supreme National Security Council Secretary Ali Larijani said during a March 5 news conference that not even the possibility of war would change Iranian nuclear policy, state television reported. Larijani asked why Iran should suspend its research and development activities, which he defined as a right, and the pursuit of knowledge. He added that Iran does not object to flexibility in discussions, but the interlocutors should be "reasonable" and "logical." "Why should we suspend?" Larijani asked. "If we open this road, they may say a few years later that we should not teach nuclear physics at our universities because the students may learn something and one day become nuclear scientists." A war would not eliminate the Iranian knowledge base, he said, adding that war would be counterproductive because there would be reduced International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) supervision afterward.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi said on March 5 that an agreement between Iran and Russia or Europe remains possible, the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) reported. "The possibility of reaching an understanding on nuclear issues with Russia or the European states in the next few hours still exists," he said. "Everything is possible -- agreement or disagreement." Officials' shuttle diplomacy between Tehran, Moscow, and Vienna in recent weeks has failed to yield substantive results.

Larijani said in Tehran on March 7 that "friends and enemies should know" that Iran will continue its "peaceful nuclear program" and will not "falter in assuring the rights" of Iranians, Fars reported the same day. "Iran's future direction is to cooperate with the [IAEA] and maintain a stable membership of the NPT [Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty], and we will not forego our evident nuclear right," he told a session of the Assembly of Experts, a body of clerics tasked with selecting and supervising Iran's supreme leader. He said the "West's haste" in reporting Iran's dossier to the UN Security Council showed the political motivations of Western states that are concerned with Iran's "inherent philosophy" which, he said, could attract "all Muslims, both Shi'a and Sunni, and other friends of freedom," Fars reported. The U.S., he said, is waging a "soft war" against Iran, consisting of "sowing discord inside and...pressure from outside to provoke the collapse of...unity" inside Iran.

President Mahmud Ahmadinejad told a crowd in Dorud in the western Luristan Province on March 8 that Iran is determined to pursue its nuclear program and that "countries currently pressuring [Iran] cannot do a thing," IRNA and the Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA) reported. He said Iran has followed nonproliferation rules and "now we want to safeguard our rights," while adding that there is "no evidence [of] Iran's deviation from peaceful nuclear activities," ISNA reported. Western states "are telling us to submit to forceful demands" and break "international treaties," he said. Some states, Ahmadinejad added, "are not members of the [NPT] and make atomic bombs, but these supposedly international bodies pay no attention to them," ISNA reported. He was presumably referring to the IAEA, which has voted to report Iran's nuclear case to the UN Security Council. The IAEA has said it cannot confirm that Iran's program is strictly peaceful, as Tehran claims. "You may not want to be certain for another 100 years. Is the Iranian nation to fall behind 100 years?" Ahmadinejad asked.

He said the same day in Khoramabad, another Luristan town, that Iran will respect "the security and peace" of all states, "especially neighboring and regional states," but Iranians "will not be satisfied" with anything less than the "full use of peaceful nuclear-fuel-production technology," IRNA reported. (Vahid Sepehri)

U.S. OFFICIALS STATE FIRM OPPOSITION TO IRAN'S NUCLEAR PROGRAM. U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said in Washington on March 7 that uranium "enrichment and reprocessing on Iranian soil is not acceptable" to Washington, AP reported the same day. She spoke at a joint conference after meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to discuss Iran's contested nuclear program, AP reported. Lavrov stated that Russia does not have a new proposal for Iran other than an original proposal to enrich uranium for Iran in Russia. "There is no compromise new proposal," he said. Iran has rejected demands to totally abandon all enrichment-related activities, which the West fears may allow it to make nuclear bombs.

Also on March 7, U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney told a gathering that the United States and "other nations...will not allow Iran to have a nuclear bomb," AP reported. He said Iran faces "meaningful consequences" if it does not cooperate with the international community over its program, while he added that Washington is "keeping all options on the table in addressing the irresponsible conduct of the regime."

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi reiterated Iran's right to make scientific progress in Tehran on March 7 and accused the U.S. of "surreptitiously" undermining nuclear dossier talks between Iran and foreign states "every time it smells the possibility of an accord...with the [IAEA], Russia, and other states," ISNA reported the same day. He said U.S. efforts intend to severely weaken international bodies, block Iran's progress, maintain U.S. economic primacy, keep "middle positions for partners," and ensure that "southern" states are dependent on the "energy and limited poles of economic power in the world," ISNA reported. He rejected charges of Iranian interest in nuclear bombs as "entirely ridiculous and baseless." Iran, he said, "will defend its evident rights...and will under no condition forego its legitimate right."

Separately, an unnamed diplomat told AP in Vienna on March 7 that Iran may suspend full-scale uranium enrichment for two years, presumably as a compromise gesture. Iran's envoy to the IAEA, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, told AP the same day, however, that Iran would pursue small-scale enrichment for research. (Vahid Sepehri)

RUSSIA STAYS OPPOSED TO SANCTIONS AGAINST IRAN. A new study by the influential Foreign and Defense Policy Council (SVOP), a conservative Russian think tank, says that Iran could have nuclear weapons within five years, Russian media reported on March 3. The report noted that some Russian experts think Iran could have such weapons in as soon as six months. The study points out that a nuclear Iran would not be beneficial for Moscow's interests, but added that "Tehran will not use weapons of mass destruction or pass nuclear technology to other countries, and certainly not to terrorist organizations." SVOP believes that Saudi Arabia and Egypt would seek to acquire nuclear weapons if Iran succeeds in securing its own.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said at the United Nations headquarters in New York on March 8 that Moscow remains opposed to sanctions against Iran following the decision by the IAEA to forward its report on Iran's nuclear program to the Security Council, news agencies reported. He argued that the international community "should act in a way that would not risk losing the IAEA capacity and possibility to continue to work in Iran, [and] to continue to clarify those questions which relate to the past Iranian nuclear program. It is very important for the international community and for the [nuclear] nonproliferation regime to get answers to these questions." He repeated Russia's position that "that there is no military solution to this crisis," and added the same is true of the position of the United Kingdom and Germany, "as [has been] publicly stated by their ministers. I don't think sanctions, as a means to solve a crisis, have ever achieved a goal in the recent history."

Lavrov said in Algiers on March 10 that Russia has not made a secret "compromise" agreement with the Iranian authorities for them to enrich uranium on their own territory, Interfax reported. He noted that during his recent visit to Washington, "U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice thanked me for briefing her on [the latest Russian-Iranian contacts] and complained that the American press was abuzz with allegations regarding Russia's [alleged] 'compromise' proposal on Iran's research program." He added that Rice asked him to "deny these a news conference," which he did. Russia has publicly made an offer to Iran to enrich its uranium on Russian territory.

In related news, the Russian Foreign Ministry issued a statement on March 9 in which it called on Tehran to cooperate fully with the IAEA, which recently decided to forward its report on Iran's nuclear program to the UN Security Council. (Patrick Moore)

LEGISLATORS BRIEFED ON NUCLEAR DOSSIER. The head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization, Gholamreza Aqazadeh-Khoi, and Deputy-Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi attended a special session of the parliamentary National Security and Foreign Policy Committee on March 8 to brief legislators on the state of Iran's nuclear dossier, IRNA reported. They reportedly informed the committee that in the present IAEA session, "the dossier may be sent to the [UN Security] Council in the form of a statement," committee member Kazem Jalali told IRNA. The officials, Jalali said, told legislators that Iran wants to pursue nuclear research but that "some European states and America have tried to give the world the impression that [Iran] is engaged in [uranium] enrichment to make nuclear weapons, when Iran stresses nuclear research," IRNA reported. (Vahid Sepehri)

IRAN NUCLEAR REPORT TO BE CONVEYED TO UN SECURITY COUNCIL. IAEA Director-General Muhammad el-Baradei said on March 6 that a compromise on the Iranian nuclear controversy remains possible, Reuters reported. El-Baradei said Iran has offered not to enrich uranium on an "industrial scale" for two years, and it may be willing to extend that period if it is allowed to enrich uranium on a small scale for research. Indicating his optimism, el-Baradei said, "I am still very much hopeful that in the next week or so an agreement could be reached."

Anonymous "diplomats" quoted by Reuters asserted that the IAEA chief believes that reporting Iran to the United Nations Security Council could harden Tehran's stance and strengthen the country's political hard-liners. "Confrontation could be counterproductive and would not [give] us a durable solution," el-Baradei said.

El-Baradei announced at a March 8 news conference in Vienna that he will report Iran to the United Nations Security Council soon, according to the nuclear watchdog's website ( "I will convey my report, as requested by the February Board, to the Security Council today or tomorrow," he said. El-Baradei said it is up to the Security Council to decide how to proceed, and he referred to his own action as "simply a new phase of diplomacy."

Subsequent comments by Supreme National Security Council official Javad Vaidi were viewed by some observers as a threat. "The U.S. may be able to deal a blow to us, but it should also be prepared to receive a blow," Vaidi said, according to IRNA on March 8. "If the U.S. prefers this option, it is free to choose." "The New York Times" and other Western media quoted him as saying: "The United States may have the power to cause harm and pain. But it is also susceptible to harm and pain. So if the United States wants to pursue that path, let the ball roll." Vaidi also said Iran prefers "compromise and cooperation" to resolve the nuclear crisis, IRNA reported. He said Tehran is trying to determine how to proceed.

In live broadcasts from Vienna and Tehran, officials downplayed the significance of being reported to the Security Council, state television reported. "There was no resolution, no referral, and there was no consensus," Abdul-Reza Rahmani-Fazli of the Supreme National Security Council said, adding that el-Baradei's actions are "a purely administrative procedure." This state of affairs, he continued, shows the peaceful nature of Iranian activities.

Supreme National Security Council official Ali Asqar Soltanieh said in Vienna on March 9 that Iran will continue to cooperate with the IAEA, IRNA reported.

The real reason for opposition to Iran's nuclear program, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei told the Assembly of Experts in Tehran on March 9, is that the United States is trying to retard the country's scientific development, state television reported. Khamenei warned that if Iran forsakes nuclear energy, "the Americans will then start speaking about [a ban on] university research; therefore, the issue is not only about nuclear energy, it is about an enemy consistently seeking a pretext to prevent the progress, strength, and well-being of Iran."

In Poldokhtar and Kuhdasht in western Iran the same day, President Mahmud Ahmadinejad said Iran wants peace and tranquility, but it "will never surrender to bullying and unfair decisions of the arrogant powers," state radio reported.

Parliamentary speaker Gholam-Ali Haddad-Adel said on March 9 that Iran has cooperated with the IAEA, state television reported. He said Iran will not succumb to American pressure, which he said is contributing to Iranians' hatred. He also linked the nuclear issue with Iranian independence.

Hussein Shariatmadari, Supreme Leader Khamenei's representative at the Kayhan Institute, has called for Iran to withdraw from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in light of the IAEA decision to report his country to the Security Council. In his column in the March 9, "Kayhan," Shariatmadari wrote that he predicted previously that Washington and its allies are powerless versus Iran, and the Security Council cannot act on the U.S. threat. Reporting Iran to the Security Council is a violation of IAEA regulations and the NPT, he wrote, and the treaty is therefore annulled.

Shariatmadari asked whether continuing membership in the NPT is "justified," and added, "Is it not yet time for the nuclear officials of our country to leave the NPT on the basis of 'expediency,' in order to safeguard the country's 'honor,' by taking a step based on 'wisdom'?" The words in quotation marks refer to what Supreme Leader Khamenei declared are the state's guiding principles. (Bill Samii)

IRANIANS HAVE MIXED VIEWS ON NUCLEAR CRISIS. Iranian officials remain defiant after the International Atomic Energy Agency sent the country's nuclear dossier to the UN Security Council. Both Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Mahmud Ahmadinejad said a day after the March 8 referral that Tehran will resist any pressure to alter its nuclear plans. Iranian officials say they have the support of Iranians who are not willing to give up their "legitimate right" to nuclear research and development. To find out more about what Iranians think, Radio Farda asked its listeners to express their views.

Many Iranians say they are worried that the transfer of Iran's nuclear case to the UN Security Council could lead to sanctions against the Islamic Republic.

Some listeners said that sanctions would only hurt the Iranian people, not the government or politicians in general. "The politicians have problems among themselves; why should people [suffer]? [Politicians] should only think about the people," one said.

One man in Tehran had the same concern: "I would like to say that U.S. sanctions do not have any affect on the government, only people will be under pressure."

Bad For The People

President Mahmud Ahmadinejad said Iran will not be bullied into renouncing its pursuit of nuclear energy (see above). This Radio Farda listener agrees. He said that Iran should not bow to pressure. "I'm calling from Tehran regarding the UN Security Council; I think we have to resist," he said. He added that he also believes that despite increasing pressure Iran should continue its peaceful nuclear activities. "Why does the U.S. speak about the rights of the Iranian people such as the right to freedom of expression but it does not recognize a peaceful nuclear program as a right of Iran," he said. "Why should Israel have nuclear weapons but the Iranian people be deprived of having a peaceful program. We should realize that the U.S. doesn't want Muslim countries to have access to nuclear science."

Iran says its nuclear activities are solely peaceful but Washington accuses Iran of secretly developing nuclear weapons.

Iranian officials have termed the IAEA decision to forward the Iranian nuclear case to the UN Security Council as "unjust" and said it proves the West's dual attitude "towards nuclear issues in the world."

But some Iranians who contacted Radio Farda believe the referral of Iran's case to the UN Security Council is a result of the Islamic Republic's "hard-line" policies and stances.

Against The Hard-Line

This listener from Lahijan, in northern Iran, seemed to understand the international community's concerns: "Unfortunately in the last five or six months, instead of trying to gain more friends in Europe, we have added to our number of enemies. [Those countries in opposition to Iran's nuclear program] say that if a country that has for the last 27 years chanted 'death to America' and has called for the transfer of another country (eds. Israel) to other regions, gains access to an atomic bomb, then it will definitely put its slogans into action."

This man also believes the Iranian government is responsible for the new phase of the confrontation with the West. "The Iranian establishment claims that nuclear energy is the right of the Iranian nation," he said. "Aren't freedom and democracy the right of the Iranian people? The oil money is not the right of the Iranian people? Why the names of Palestine, the Lebanese Hezbollah, and Syria are included in our annual budget? Are they partners in our oil money or are they from one of Iran's provinces?"

Mehdi, from Tehran, told Radio Farda that the Iranian government is putting its people at the risk of sanctions or even of a military strike. "In my opinion, Iran's nuclear case must have been taken to the UN Security Council, because this regime has threatened the life of 70 million people with its nuclear ambitions," he said.

But officials insist that Iranians consider the country's nuclear program is a matter of a national right.

According to a February survey conducted by the state Iranian Students Polling Agency (ISPA), some 85 percent of Iranian citizens are in favor of a continuation of the country's nuclear activities.

The poll also said that about 75 percent of the citizens called for an expansion of nuclear technology, even in the case of a referral of Iran's nuclear case to the UN Security Council.

Some analysts, however, warn that if sanctions are imposed the supportive public opinion could change, as many people will not be willing to face the economic pressures. (Golnaz Esfandiari)

AS NUCLEAR CRISIS ESCALATES, ARE DIRECT U.S. CONTACTS BECOMING AN OPTION? As the Iranian nuclear issue reaches crisis proportions and the country faces international isolation, some voices in Iran are suggesting that it is time to engage directly with the United States. Such prodding is in direct contrast with leading state officials' open hostility toward the United States and hints at possible divisions. Indeed, contact with Washington has always been a sensitive issue in Iranian politics and has been used as a weapon in domestic power struggles. The United States, meanwhile, appears to have elicited a negative response with the adoption of a more active approach toward Iran. The developments reveal the difficulties the two sides will have in establishing direct relations and reaching a modus vivendi.

Tehran has long sought to portray international concern over its nuclear program as a Western effort to retard the country's development. That argument is constantly repeated to domestic audiences and employed for foreign audiences in the context of "Third Worldism" and Islamism; this represents an effort to win support from developing countries and the Islamic world, but it does not seem to have met with much success. When the International Atomic Energy Agency's 35-member governing board voted in early February to report Iran to the UN Security Council, only Cuba, Syria, and Venezuela voted against the resolution, while Algeria, Belarus, Indonesia, Libya, and South Africa abstained.

There are other forms of isolation facing Iran today, as well. Strategically speaking, it is surrounded by the United States. Recognition of such isolation was behind Iran's 1988 acceptance of UN Resolution 598, the Iran-Iraq War cease-fire. More recently, in early 2003, the Iranian Foreign Ministry reportedly proposed direct negotiations with Washington to deal with the subjects that concerned the United States: support for terrorist groups and the alleged nuclear weapons program.

Now, as Iranian shuttle diplomacy to Moscow, Peking, Brussels, and Vienna fails to resolve the nuclear crisis and the IAEA hardens its stance, voices in Tehran are again suggesting that engagement with Washington might be necessary.

Kazem Jalali, rapporteur of the legislature's National Security and Foreign Policy Committee, said in the 2 March "Aftab-i Yazd" that Iran might as well eliminate the intermediaries and negotiate directly with the United States. He explained that both the Europeans and the Russians appear to be acting in line with U.S. desires, and, furthermore, they are taking advantage of the lack of alternatives to improve their negotiating position. He said such talks would be feasible if the United States accepted the principle of Iran using nuclear technology peacefully, but he added that Washington seems to take a completely politicized stance on all issues.

Urumiyeh legislator Javad Jahangirzadeh told "Aftab-i Yazd" that Iran has already made clear the circumstance under which it would talk to the United States, but it is unrealistic to expect that Washington would change its behavior. Jahangirzadeh said he did not foresee a rift between Washington and the Europeans, and the involvement of Moscow and Peking has not helped.

Akbar Etemad, founder of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization and the agency's first chief, announced that the Russian uranium-enrichment proposal will not resolve the Iranian nuclear standoff, Mehr News Agency reported on 24 February. He recommended direct talks with the United States as a solution.

There has long been disagreement in government circles regarding relations with the United States. In 1979, there were disagreements pitting revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and his Islamist entourage against secular nationalists like Ebrahim Yazdi and Abbas Amir-Entezam. Contacts with Washington led to the downfall of the Provisional Government of Mehdi Bazargan. The Islamists and the student activists who seized the U.S. Embassy in 1979 used evidence of such contacts against their political adversaries.

U.S. contacts continue to provide political ammunition for Iranian political rivalries. Such contacts inevitably start out in secret before coming to light and feeding political vendettas, and anything but the most overt hostility toward Washington can engender a backlash. When then President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami expressed regret over the 1979-80 hostage crisis and invited Americans for cultural and educational exchanges in January 1998, the hard-line media lambasted him. Khatami is unlikely to have made such comments without Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's prior approval, but Khamenei felt compelled to iterate that he still saw the United States as "the enemy of the Islamic Republic."

But what one encounters more frequently these days is criticism of Tehran's diplomatic efforts. Reformist Ahmad Shirzad, a nuclear physics professor who represented Isfahan in the sixth parliament (2000-04), was quoted by the Iranian Labor News Agency (ILNA) on 3 March as saying that Iran must gain international confidence. "Either they should back down and let the arguments to end, or they will drag this country through a tedious conflict which will definitely bring greater harm," Shirzad said. Iranians knew what they were fighting for in the Iran-Iraq War, Shirzad continued, adding, "What is our objective now?"

While in parliament, in November 2003, Shirzad had criticized the secrecy surrounding the nuclear program, saying it contributed to doubts about its peaceful nature. His colleagues denounced him, the press excoriated him, and he was threatened at rallies in his hometown. He was accused of backing U.S. accusations against Iran.

While Iranians consider engagement with the United States, Washington is already taking a more active approach toward one of its main foreign-policy problems. U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said during 15 February testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that the administration will reach out to the Iranian people directly, according to a fact sheet from the State Department spokesman's office. The 2006 U.S. budget allocates at least $10 million to support political dissidents, labor leaders, and human rights activists, as well as nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) that are trying to establish networks in Iran.

The White House will seek an additional $75 million to create a round-the-clock Persian-language television service and to improve radio-transmission capabilities; and $5 million will go for communication with Iranians through public diplomacy and the development of independent Persian television and radio. The White House will seek an additional $15 million for work with NGOs and democracy-promotion entities, labor unions, and political groups; and $5 million for outreach through student and visitors programs. The "Financial Times" reported on 3 March that disputes over who will control funding for Persian-language television has already erupted.

The State Department also has created an Office of Iran Affairs. The office is one of several Iran-focused initiatives. The others are Persian-language designated political and economic reporting from Dubai, as well as public diplomacy outreach from there, and similar functions in Baku, Frankfurt, Istanbul, and London. This is part of an overall effort to reestablish a cadre of Persian-speaking foreign-service officers and the State Department's Iran expertise to address the Iran challenge.

Senior officials' frequent criticism of the United States suggests no plans for engagement. Iranian state radio quoted President Mahmud Ahmadinejad denouncing Washington over its support for Israel during a 3 March seminar in Malaysia titled "International Challenges and the Role of the Islamic World."

The same day in Tehran, substitute Friday Prayer leader and Expediency Council Chairman Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani also spoke out against the United States. The bombing of Shi'a mosques in Iraq is part of an effort to weaken the development of Islamic solidarity, Hashemi-Rafsanjani claimed, "because the Muslims feel that the global arrogance, America in particular, intends to create problems for the Muslim by promoting the Greater Middle East plan."

Four days earlier, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei had spoken out against the United States. He told a 27 February meeting in Tehran of provincial governors-general that "the clash between the Islamic system's criteria and the demands of hegemonic powers" means that "Iran's Islamic government has constantly been facing a predicted challenge over the past 27 years." Khamenei charged that Washington is behind political discord and factional disputes in Iran, is trying to create ethnic strife in Iraq in order to weaken the country's government, and is responsible for recent the publication in a Danish magazine of caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad.

Also in late February, legislator Mohammad Mehdi Mofatteh announced the annual passage of a budget item requesting unspecified funds to foil "American plots," "Jomhuri-yi Islami" reported. The money will be used to support Iranian cases against the United States before international tribunals and to counter a purported U.S. cultural offensive.

In light of the long-standing official hostility toward the United States and the underlying suspicion of U.S. motives, the State Department's measures have been poorly received in Iran.

Ayatollah Mohammad Ali Musavi-Jazayeri, the Friday prayer leader in the southwestern city of Ahvaz, said in a 3 March sermon that the United States, United Kingdom, and Israel are behind plots in Iran and bombings in the southwest, provincial television reported. Musavi-Jazayeri said "the allocation of more than $75 million for the so-called revival of democracy in Iran by criminal America means carrying out such terrorist actions," adding that "America must understand that our people will repel their plots through their increased vigilance."

The day after Secretary of State Rice testified, Iranian state radio responded. The broadcaster said U.S. support for Persian-language media is "aimed at airing anti-Iranian propaganda" and "reveals America's failed policies of confrontation and compromise against Iran in the last 26 years." State radio claimed Iranians trust the country's official media while it said U.S. media has failed to convince people of the Iranian government's ineffectiveness. "Although spending American dollars will attract its stooges living abroad to Washington, it will not, however, further America's arrogant policies inside Iran," Tehran radio said.

An editorial in the official state newspaper "Iran" on 19 February claimed that the U.S. budget allocation is a sign of hostility and runs counter to international law. The Iranian public shares this view, "Iran" added. The editorial argued that "all Iranian forums and associations, including political, cultural and academic personalities, almost unanimously believe that the decision about the budget of $75 million is a part of the open and blatant hostility and psychological warfare of America against Iran." As for exile media outlets, the newspaper accused them of "fighting and squabbling against one another since day one of their birth," adding that "each of them considers itself to be more deserving and worthy of the funds than others." (Bill Samii)

HAHSEMI-RAFSANJANI REGARDS U.S. DEMOCRACY PLANS AS A CULTURAL ONSLAUGHT. Expediency Council Chairman Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani said in Tehran on March 8 that the United States' stated plan to bring democracy to the Middle East seeks to undermine Islam and safeguard U.S. interests "in coming decades," ISNA reported. Hashemi-Rafsanjani told the Assembly of Experts, a body of senior clerics, that "freedom and human development, women's rights, democracy...are some of the slogans they state to attain their" regional goals. He called the U.S. plan, "by changing the culture of the peoples of Islamic countries" in conformity with "Western standards," an effort to "separate people from Islam." Fortunately, Hashemi-Rafsanjani said, "the Americans have failed in Iraq and their situation is different from what they thought...[Iraqis] want the Americans to leave that country and have shown what they want in elections." In Afghanistan, too, he said, the constitution has not turned out to be "what the Americans intended," ISNA reported. Washington, he said, is working to "encircle" Iran and "through the nuclear dossier, human rights, Palestine and terrorism to...pressure Iran." Before such pressures, he added, unity among Iranians is "not an order" but a "duty." Whatever the decision with Iran's dossier, he said, "we must do our work." (Vahid Sepehri)

KYRGYZ MINISTER SAYS U.S. BASE CANNOT BE USED FOR OPERATIONS AGAINST IRAN. Foreign Minister Alikbek Jekshenkulov told the BBC's Kyrgyz Service on March 3 that the U.S. base in Kyrgyzstan cannot be used for offensive action against Iran, reported the next day. "In accordance with existing agreements, the mandate of the Gansi air base extends only to the antiterrorist operation in Afghanistan," Jekshenkulov said. "The Gansi air base should not present a threat to the countries of the Central Asian region, including Iran. Consequently, its capabilities cannot be used for military operations against third countries." (Daniel Kimmage)

TEHRAN SAID TO HAVE EXTRADITED PKK MEMBERS TO TURKEY. Anonymous Turkish sources were quoted by the Anatolia news agency on March 6 as saying that the Iranian government has extradited seven members of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) to Turkey. The seven, one of whom is a woman, were reportedly handed over at the southeastern city of Hakkari. (Bill Samii)

SPEAKER SAYS IRAN FAVORS ISLAMIC STATES IN FOREIGN POLICY. Parliamentary speaker Gholam Ali Haddad-Adel told Jordanian legislators in Tehran on March 7 that Iranian foreign policy will prioritize better ties with Arab and Islamic states including Jordan, IRNA reported the same day. He said at a meeting of the Iran-Jordan parliamentary friendship group that Iran continues to support "the Palestine ideal," and denounced Israel as well as the presence of U.S. forces in the Middle East, which he said are to assure U.S. dominance of "the oil-producing region" and "pressure" Islamic states, IRNA reported. Haddad-Adel invited Jordan's parliamentary speaker to attend a conference in Tehran next March or April to discuss the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Jordanian delegation was led by legislator Muhammad Bani Hani, who told Haddad-Adel that unity between Islamic states is the only way to confront "the plots of the enemies of Islam," and that Jordan supports Iran's "right" to a peaceful nuclear program. (Vahid Sepehri)

RUMSFELD SAYS IRAN'S QUDS FORCE OPERATING IN IRAQ. Donald Rumsfeld told reporters at a March 7 press briefing in Washington that the Iranian government is "putting people into Iraq to do things that are harmful to the future of Iraq." He added: "They're putting Iranian Quds Force-type people into" Iraq. Asked if these forces are carrying out violence or trying to instigate political instability, Rumsfeld replied: "I don't think we could consider them religious pilgrims."

General Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that the United States has found some improvised explosive devices and weapons that it believes can be traced to Iran. Pace added that there has been an influx of "individuals" across the Iran-Iraq border but said he does not know if they are backed by the Iranian government.

Rumsfeld, however, said: "Well, of course. The Revolutionary Guard doesn't go milling around willy-nilly, one would think." Pace said multinational forces are working with Iraqi officials to enhance control of the Iran-Iraq border. Rumsfeld said the Iranian government may some day view this move as an "error of judgment." (Kathleen Ridolfo)

MORE BOMBERS ARRESTED IN SOUTHWESTERN IRAN. Khuzestan Province Deputy Governor General Mohsen Farokhinejad announced on March 4 that the persons responsible for a bombing at the Saman Bank in Ahvaz on January 24 have been arrested, Fars News Agency reported. He added that the persons responsible for explosions at governorate buildings in Abadan and Dezful have been arrested, too. "With the arrest of 15 others over the past week, all the perpetrators of the bombings in Ahvaz, Abadan and Dezful have been arrested," Farokhinejad said.

During the course of the arrests, Khuzestan Province Governor General Amir Hayat-Moqaddam added, explosives, rifles, ammunition, mines, terrorism videos, and books on the Wahhabi faith were seized. Hayat-Moqaddam said not all the bombers have been arrested, and added that the United Kingdom, United States, and Israel are behind the bombings and insecurity in Khuzestan, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on March 5. Hayat-Moqaddam criticized the execution of just two of the bombers on March 2, saying all seven should have been executed.

Ahvaz Friday Prayer leader Ayatollah Mohammad-Ali Musavi-Jazayeri said on March 3 that the United States is behind the violence in the province, provincial television reported. Referring to the mid-February U.S. State Department request for funding for Iran-related activities, he said, "The allocation of more than $75 million for the so-called revival of democracy in Iran by criminal America means carrying out such terrorist actions, but America must understand that our people will repel their plots through their increased vigilance."

Intelligence and Security Minister Hojatoleslam Gholam-Hussein Mohseni-Ejei said on March 9 that more than 50 people have been arrested in connection with bombings in southwestern Khuzestan Province over the last year, IRNA reported. Speaking prior to a cabinet session being held in the Luristan Province city of Khoramabad, Mohseni-Ejei said the detainees have ties to Iran's external enemies.

Referring to the previous week's execution of two people in connection with bombings in Ahvaz, Interior Minister Hojatoleslam Mustafa Purmohammadi said this does not bring the issue to a close, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on March 9. He added that the security situation in Khuzestan had no bearing on President Ahmadinejad's cancellation of a visit there; rather, heavy rains precluded the use of helicopters for transportation. Asked about his failure to provide evidence of British involvement that he had promised previously, Purmohammadi said. "In security and intelligence issues, evidence is discussed in intelligence parlance." He added: "That is not a legal parlance so that one would dispatch documents. If we have to establish the point by using legal parlance, they must allow us to go to the area and carry out investigations in order that we can present documents that are considered acceptable by a court." Purmohammadi's background in the intelligence and security field was a cause of concern during his parliamentary confirmation, and his comments suggest that he still thinks in those terms. (Bill Samii)

SECURITY IN EASTERN IRAN TO BE IMPROVED. Speaking at the Mersad military base in Kerman Province, Interior Minister Purmohammadi told a gathering of police commanders and governors-general from the eastern part of the country that the security situation in that part of the country will improve soon, "Iran" reported on March 4. "In order to provide and develop security, the military, law enforcement, security, and service arrangements will change in the eastern parts of the country," he said. Iran's eastern provinces have been plagued by drug smugglers, and gangs sometimes kidnap people to exchange them for imprisoned cohorts or secure ransoms. Sunni Baluchi insurgents also are active in the southeast. (Bill Samii)

KURDISH LEGISLATORS IN IRAN DEMAND INQUIRY INTO 'MASSACRE.' Nine Kurdish parliamentarians have protested to President Mahmud Ahmadinejad about the violent treatment of demonstrators in the town of Maku, ILNA reported on March 4. The legislators' letter said the Kurds were protesting peacefully against the treatment of co-ethnics in Turkey and also protesting against caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad in a Danish newspaper. Men in plainclothes -- presumably vigilantes -- attacked the demonstrators, killing or injuring 35 of them. Many others were arrested and are imprisoned. Who is responsible for "these crimes," the letter asked, and what government agency authorized such actions? "Why must some people use government resources and equipment to settle ethnic scores and to subject the Kurdish inhabitants of the town to such a merciless killing?" The letter called on the president to identify these people publicly and punish them. (Bill Samii)

IRAN MAINTAINS PRESSURE ON DISSENT. Iran is reportedly maintaining a hard line against dissent through prison sentences against students, Radio Farda reported on March 7. It reported a two-year suspended jail sentence for Mehdi Shirzad, a student activist convicted of "acting against national security" by taking part in an unauthorized demonstration. He was earlier sentenced to solitary confinement for 50 days for participating in a student protest in 2003, Radio Farda added.

Separately, Tehran student Peyman Aref is being prosecuted for charges including engaging in publicity against "the system," acting against national security, and refusing to obey police orders. He told Radio Farda that the latter is not, legally-speaking, a criminal offense in Iran.

Separately, the wife of imprisoned journalist Akbar Ganji, Masumeh Shafii, has publicly accused the deputy-chief prosecutor of Tehran, Mahmud Salarkia, of telling a "great lie" by claiming that her husband is under constant medical care and receives regulated visits and food parcels from visitors, Radio Farda reported. She said visits were allowed reluctantly, and she was so thoroughly searched on jail visits that there was no way she could take Ganji food. (Vahid Sepehri)

POLICE INTERVENE AT WOMEN'S DAY CELEBRATION. Iranian police forcibly dispersed a gathering to mark International Women's Day in Tehran on March 8, while a similar planned rally was banned in Tabriz in northwestern Iran, RFE/RL's Radio Farda reported. A crowd outside the City Theater in downtown Tehran was broken up when "police attacked and started beating the women," a participant told Radio Farda. "They dispersed everyone, and the gentlemen attending the gathering were severely beaten, and some people were arrested," the source said. One of those beaten was Simin Behbehani, an elderly female writer, the witness said. Behbehani was a prominent female writer in pre-1979 secular Iran but now enjoys little official favor. University authorities separately rejected a request by students at Tabriz's Sahand Industrial University to hold a similar rally. That event was to include film screenings and be attended by female journalists and former legislators, Radio Farda reported. Tabriz-based journalist Peyman Pakmehr told Radio Farda that the ceremony had been allowed in previous years. (Vahid Sepehri)

EXECUTIVE BRANCH DEFENDS BUDGET. Although the legislature approved the general outlines of the government budget on March 2, questions over many aspects of the budget have not disappeared. President Mahmud Ahmadinejad said on March 5 in Tehran that the new budget is anti-inflationary and will create jobs, IRNA reported. He added that the budget complies with the requirements of the fourth five-year development plan and the supreme leader's 20-year outlook.

Vice President for Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Ahmad Musavi said on March 4 that legislators' changes to the budget should be minimal because the entire thing was formulated systematically, IRNA reported. He said the amount of credit allocated for development projects is "unprecedented," and he praised the budget's focus on less developed regions, decentralization, and the granting of more power to the provinces. (Bill Samii)

IRAN REPORTEDLY AGREES TO HIGHER PRICE FOR TURKMEN GAS. In a telephone conversation with Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov on March 6, President Mahmud Ahmadinejad gave Iran's consent to pay a higher price for Turkmen gas, Turkmen official news agency TDH reported. The two sides agreed that Iran will pay $65 per 1,000 cubic meters of gas it purchases from Turkmenistan effective February 1, 2006. Previously, Iran had paid $44 per 1,000 cubic meters of gas. The two sides also agreed that Iran will increase its annual gas purchases to 14 billion cubic meters in 2007. Iran is set to import 8 billion cubic meters of gas from Turkmenistan in 2006. DK

IRANIAN, PAKISTANI, INDIAN OFFICIALS TO MEET OVER GAS PIPELINE PROJECT. Officials from Iran, Pakistan, and India are scheduled to discuss construction of a natural-gas pipeline connecting those three countries in Tehran on March 13-15, IRNA reported, citing "The News" from Islamabad. In light of the recent U.S.-India nuclear agreement, some Pakistani observers have expressed skepticism that the project will come to fruition.

U.S. President George W. Bush said on March 4 that Washington does not object to construction of the pipeline but rather to Iran's nuclear ambitions, India's "Financial Express" reported. "Our beef with Iran is the fact that they want to develop nuclear weapons," Bush reportedly said. "I believe a nuclear weapon in the hands of the Iranians would be very dangerous for all of us. It would endanger world peace." Bush stressed that he understands Pakistani natural-gas requirements.

The pipeline project was initiated in the mid-1990s but construction has not gotten under way, initially due to mistrust between Islamabad and New Delhi and later due to disputes over eventual gas prices and transfer fees. (Bill Samii)