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Iran Report: April 28, 2006


28 April 2006, Volume 9, Number 15

PERIOD SET FOR NEXT ELECTIONS. Deputy Interior Minister for Political Affairs Ali Jannati announced in Tehran on April 17 that the next Assembly of Experts and municipal-council elections will take place simultaneously, the Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA) reported. He said the elections will be held in the month beginning on October 23, although a precise date has not been selected. Jannati went on to say that the Interior Ministry wanted to delay the Assembly of Experts election until February 2007, but because the assembly rejected the delay the Interior Ministry decided to move up the date of the council elections. (Bill Samii)

CONSEVATIVE RIVALRIES HEAT UP. An intense rivalry between conservative parties in Iran is being overshadowed by the nuclear issue, as well as global concern over the country's support for terrorism and its interference in other countries' affairs. This rivalry will become more intense as autumn elections for an 86-member clerical body -- the Assembly of Experts -- and for municipal councils approach, and these elections will affect the issues that interest the international community. RFE/RL discusses the current status of party politics in Iran, with a focus on the conservatives.

The Islamic Revolution Devotees Society (Jamiyat-i Isargaran-i Inqilab-i Islami) -- which President Mahmud Ahmadinejad helped create and of which he is a central council member -- is emerging as the vanguard of the new conservative movement in Iran. The society's central council will hold its first session of the new (Iranian) year soon, "Sharq" reported on April 4, and Central council member Mujtaba Shakeri said that after electing a secretary-general and other leaders, subsequent sessions will be devoted to determining the party's program for the coming year.

The Devotees Society held its third congress in early March, but Ahmadinejad was not in attendance. The president was in Malaysia at that time, but "Sharq" suggested on March 4 that his absence could be traced to the society's failure to support him in the first round of the June 2005 election (the Isargaran backed Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf; http://www.rferl.org/featuresarticle/2005/11/a4f01612-219e-4f62-9c8b-5854e9f883ba.html).

Most of the standing members of the society's central council were reinstated, according to "Sharq." The newspaper names President Ahmadinejad, legislator Fatemeh Alia, Ali Darabi, Abbas Darvish-Tavangar, Economy and Finance Minister Davud Danesh-Jafari, legislator Hussein Fadai, legislator Nafiseh Fayazbakhsh, Lutfollah Foruzandeh, Hadi Imani, Ahmad Moqimi, Elias Naderan, Ahmad Nejabat, Abdul-Hussein Ruholamini-Najafabadi, Reza Rusta-Azad, Mahmud Saber-Hamishegi, Alireza Sarbakhsh, Mujtaba Shakeri, Sediqeh Shakeri, Masud Sultanpur, Mustafa Tavakolian, and director of the hard-line daily "Siyasat-i Ruz" Ali Yusefpur.

The Devotees Society split away from the older and more traditional Coordination Council of Islamic Revolution Forces shortly before the June 2005 presidential election. Such conservative disputes were perhaps most apparent when the legislature rejected four of President Ahmadinejad's prospective cabinet nominees. Mujtaba Shakeri, a member of the Devotees central council, noted in the October 4 "Etemad" that the new fundamentalists (commonly referred to as "osulgarayan") do not have a firm grip on power yet. "[They] are only present at the lower and middle-ranking posts of the government and the parliament," he said. Shakeri said some two weeks later that the Devotees Society has yet to reach consensus on its relationship with the Coordination Council, ISNA reported on October 17.

Intrafactional disputes persisted, and Tehran Mayor Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf referred to this problem when speaking to the Devotees Society late in the year. Qalibaf warned that challenging the president will have the long-term effect of undermining him and the fundamentalists, "Kayhan" reported on December 3. Differences of opinion are natural, he continued, but are acceptable only up to a point.

Mohsen Rezai, secretary of the Expediency Council, also referred to the harmful impact of the conservatives' disputes. In a speech to the Devotees Society, he noted that the two conservative wings have grown closer, "but a disagreement and a gap are still evident among them," "Farhang-i Ashti" reported on January 3. "This is extraordinarily threatening." Rezai chastised the older generation of conservatives -- whom he called the "revolutionary forces" -- for their failure to respond to public demands when they were in power.

When the new generation of fundamentalists seized the political initiative by dominating the municipal council elections in 2003, the entity that grabbed headlines was the Islamic Iran Developers Coalition (Etelaf-i Abadgaran-i Iran-i Islami). A Developers-dominated Tehran council, in turn, selected Mahmud Ahmadinejad as the capital's mayor. The Developers Coalition continued its success in the 2004 parliamentary elections, and then Ahmadinejad became president. The Developers Coalition was not a hierarchical organization, and this became apparent shortly before the June 2005 presidential election.

In late January 2006 the Young Developers (Abadgaran-i Javan) submitted an organization application. This entity is distinct from the Developers in the legislature -- two of its founders are members of the Tehran municipal council, "Iran" reported on January 23, and council chairman Mehdi Chamran said the new entity could leave the current political elite behind. An editorial in "Sharq" on January 23 said creation of this entity changes the nature of fundamentalism. Iranian fundamentalists, the editorial explained, reject modernity and its symbols and defy progress, but by submitting to the rules of party activity they are joining the modern world.

The Young Developers held its first congress in early March in Tehran. Tehran council member Hassan Bayadi -- spokesman of the Young Developers -- denied that this group is connected with the Devotees Society, "Sharq" reported on March 4, but said it seeks good relations with all the fundamentalists. Bayadi went on to say that the Young Developers backs the president's administration, "Farhang-i Ashti" reported on March 5.

The existence of the Young Developers and the fact that its congress was held at the same time as that of the Devotees Society underlines the conservatives' disputes, according to a March 4 analysis in "Etemad-i Melli." An editorial in "Sharq" on March 6 described a "new scene of conflict where one Developer stands against the other," and it described three factions -- in the legislature, in the municipal councils, and the president. As for the Devotees Society, according to the "Sharq" editorial, Secretary-General Fadai sees himself as the creator of the Developers Coalition.

Representatives of the Islamic Coalition Party, which is one of the oldest conservative organizations and is a member of the Coordination Council, dismissed reports of the council's demise in February and March. Asadollah Badamchian, a member of the Islamic Coalition Party's central council, went so far as to say that the reformist movement is dead, and he hopes "our movement would never experience the same fate," "Etemad" reported on February 28.

It is notable, therefore, that some six weeks later leaders of the Islamic Coalition Party met with counterparts from the leading non-clerical reformist organization, the Islamic Iran Participation Front. Two years had passed since their last meeting, "Farhang-i Ashti" reported on April 9. The newspaper ascribed this development to the fact that the reformists are marginalized and the conservatives resent what they see as an inadequate share of the spoils. Discussing the same meeting, "Etemad" reported on April 9 that the more radical aspects of the right and left wings seem irreconcilable from a distance. The parties agree on factors such as the constitution and the Islamic Republic system, and their differences turn into healthy competition at the negotiating table.

This meeting may be more representative of the reformists' attempt to get back in power. "Siyasat-i Ruz" -- the mouthpiece of the Devotees Society -- reported on April 9 that the emphasis on the fundamentalists' divisions is just one of the reformists' tactics. The reformist front sees the upcoming council elections as an opportunity for it to begin its revival, just as they were a beginning for the fundamentalists in 2003. Domestically, reformists also intend to adopt a more populist approach, strengthen their relations with the clergy, and pay greater attention to traditional values in an effort to attract public trust. And on the foreign front, the reformists will show themselves as supporters of peace, democracy, human rights, and international dialogue. (Bill Samii)

HAMAS-LED GOVERNMENT GETS FINANCIAL COMMITMENT. Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki announced on April 16 -- the third day of a conference hosted by Tehran on support for the Palestinian Intifada -- that Iran will provide the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority with $50 million in aid, state television reported. Mottaki added that Iran will encourage other Islamic countries to contribute.

Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniya praised the financial pledge, the Hamas-affiliated Palestine Information Center reported on April 16, and spokesman Ghazi Hamad noted Iran's "courage" and challenge of "American hegemony." "I think Arab states ought to learn from Iran and stop being at America's beck and call," Hamad added. The Palestine Information Center noted that Minister Mottaki did not say "how and when" the payment will be made. Confronted by inflation and unemployment, Iranians quoted by Reuters said they would prefer that their government spend the money at home. (Bill Samii)

IRAN CELEBRATES 'ARMY DAY.' Iran marked Army Day on April 18 with parades in different cities of infantry, air force personnel, Basij members, and commandos, as well as armored and naval units, state media reported. Missiles and tanks were also on display. The parade in Tehran was attended by President Mahmud Ahmadinejad, Islamic Revolution Guards Corps commander Yahya Rahim-Safavi, Defense Minister Brigadier General Mustafa Mohammad Najjar, and other officials. During the parade in Khuzestan Province, a provincial television correspondent reported, marines, commandos, engineer units, military police, and national police also participated. Speakers at that parade included Ayatollah Mohammad Ali Musavi-Jazayeri, the provincial representative of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, as well as Amir Beyzavi, the senior armed forces commander in the south.

Speaking at the Army Day parade in Tehran, President Mahmud Ahmadinejad said the Islamic Republic is not a threat to any country, state television reported, and it seeks "peace, security, and progress for all other nations." Ahmadinejad said Iran's enemies are aware of the "courage, faith, devotion, and commitment to Islam" of the armed forces. The armed forces, he continued, can defend the country and "cut off the hand of any aggressor and brand their forehead with the stain of regret."

Basij units staged military exercises in the Isfahan Province localities of Khomeinishahr and Nain on April 19, provincial television reported. The report said the aim of the exercises -- named Sepahian-i Muhammad (Muhammad's Guards) -- is to defend the "values and sovereignty of the auspicious system of the Islamic Republic of Iran." Early April exercises in the Persian Gulf elicited international concern. (Bill Samii)

IRANIAN SUBS TO BE EQUIPPED WITH RUSSIAN CRUISE MISSILES. A delegation of Russian shipyard officials is visiting Bandar Abbas, on the Persian Gulf, to discuss the overhaul of diesel submarines, Interfax reported on August 20. Iran purchased three Kilo-class submarines from Russia in the 1990s. The Russians are from the Severodvinsk-based Zvezdochka shipyard, and the repair and modernization mentioned by their representative entails equipping the subs with Club-S missiles that have a 200-kilometer range. The Club-S is a naval cruise missile that comes in antiship and land attack versions, and it reportedly is resistant to electronic countermeasures.

General Yury Baluyevsky, who heads the General Staff, said in Moscow on April 19 after talks with U.S. General James Jones, who is NATO's supreme allied commander in Europe, that Russia will carry out its agreements to sell arms to Iran, RIA Novosti reported. Baluyevsky added: "I do not think that [the crisis regarding the Iranian nuclear program] will turn into a war. Russia will not propose the use of its armed forces in a [possible] military conflict on either side." (Bill Samii, Patrick Moore)

RUSSIA DEFENDS IRANIAN NUCLEAR PLANT PROJECT. Sergei Kiriyenko, who heads the Federal Atomic Energy Agency (Rosatom), said on April 20 in Bishkek that "every country in the world, including Iran, has the right to develop nuclear energy peacefully," news agencies reported. He added that "the international community has the right to demand unconditional guarantees of compliance with the nonproliferation regime so that nuclear weapons are not built again. The goal is to combine these two principles." Kiriyenko defended Russia's role in construction of the Bushehr nuclear plant, saying that "all [spent nuclear] fuel will be returned to Russia, so this cooperation presents no problems for or threats to the [nuclear] nonproliferation regime. This cooperation is exclusively for peaceful purposes. Since it meets fully all international norms, we are continuing our work in accordance with rules, norms, and signed agreements."

In Moscow, Foreign Ministry spokesman Mikhail Kamynin wrote on the ministry's website (http://www.mid.ru) that "every country has the right to decide for itself with whom and in what way it cooperates with other states." He added that the Bushehr project complies fully with international rules and norms.

In response to a recent U.S. appeal to Russia to cease nuclear cooperation with Iran, Foreign Ministry spokesman Kamynin said on April 20 that "only the UN Security Council is authorized to make binding decisions on suspending cooperation with a state in any sphere," RIA Novosti reported. He added that "the Security Council has made no decisions on suspending nuclear cooperation with Iran." Kamynin said on April 21 that Moscow will consider approving sanctions against Tehran only if there is firm proof that its nuclear program is not entirely peaceful, ITAR-TASS reported. (Patrick Moore)

MOSCOW TALKS ON IRAN DEADLOCKED. On April 17, Andrei Denisov, who is Russia's outgoing ambassador to the United Nations, said in New York that his country backs a diplomatic solution to the Iranian nuclear crisis, and he called on Tehran to observe a moratorium on uranium enrichment until April 28, when the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is slated to make a report to the Security Council, RIA Novosti reported.

Political representatives of the foreign ministries of China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States discussed the Iranian nuclear issue in Moscow on April 18 but failed to reach agreement, international media reported. U.S. Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns said afterward that the participants recognized the "need for a stiff response to Iran's flagrant violation of its international responsibilities." The Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement that "it is impossible to address the international community's concerns about Iran [by] using force or sanctions," Interfax reported.

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov confirmed on April 19 that the meeting produced no breakthrough. He repeated Russia's earlier call for Iran to observe a moratorium on uranium enrichment until April 28, when the IAEA is slated to make a report to the Security Council. He noted that all participants in the April 18 talks called on Iran to make "urgent and constructive moves" aimed at complying with IAEA decisions, starting with stopping the enrichment work. (Patrick Moore)

STUDENT GROUP WANTS CHANGES IN NUCLEAR POLICY. The Office for Strengthening Unity (Daftar-i Tahkim-i Vahdat), Iran's largest pro-reform student organization, has issued a statement calling for a "temporary suspension of all nuclear activities" in the country, RFE/RL reported on April 18. The statement criticized negotiations that would locate the country's uranium enrichment and spent fuel storage in Russia. It said in the statement that the hard-line by Iranian officials on the nuclear issue has put the country in a dangerous situation. In a further slap at the confrontational diplomacy of the Ahmadinejad administration, it called for the restoration of international confidence and renewal of support for Tehran from international organizations. (Bill Samii)

AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT WELCOMES IRANIAN DEFENSE MINISTER. Ilham Aliyev welcomed a visiting Iranian delegation led by Defense Minister Mustafa Mohammad Najjar on April 20, the Azertac news agency reported. In a meeting with the Iranian defense minister at the presidential palace, Aliyev discussed the recent expansion of bilateral economic, energy, and political agreements and reviewed plans for defense cooperation between Azerbaijan and Iran, ITAR-TASS reported. In turn, the Iranian defense minister announced that Iran stands "ready to provide" any assistance necessary to "develop Azerbaijan's military," ANS-TV reported. Aliyev is also due to meet with his Iranian counterpart during an upcoming Economic Cooperation Organization summit next month. A new, significant level of military relations between Azerbaijan and Iran was initiated in 2004 with the visit to Baku of then Iranian Defense Minister Ali Shamkhani, and a reciprocal visit to Tehran by Azerbaijani Defense Minister Safar Abiev last year that resulted in the signing of an intergovernmental agreement on defense cooperation. (Richard Giragosian)

TEHRAN DIGS IN AS LATEST NUCLEAR CLAIM ELICITS 'CONCERN,' SKEPTICISM. White House spokesman Scott McClellan said in Washington on April 17 that, if true, Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad's announcement of research on the use of advanced P-2 centrifuges to enrich uranium would be "a very serious concern," Reuters reported. Some analysts are skeptical about such Iranian claims, "The Washington Post" reported on April 17, while others suspect the P-2 centrifuges are part of a secret military nuclear program. In past dealings with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Tehran has claimed that experimental work on the advanced centrifuges ended in 2003.

Meanwhile, the U.S.-based Institute for Science and International Security's comparison of satellite imagery from September 2002 through March 2006 indicates that Iran is expanding and also burying some of its nuclear facilities, according to the ISIS website (http://www.isis-online.org) on April 14. Halls at the Natanz site's Pilot Fuel Enrichment Plant and its Fuel Enrichment Plant were buried under concrete and dirt and could be 17 meters underground, the ISIS claimed, and there is evidence of a new tunnel entrance at the Isfahan uranium-conversion facility. (Bill Samii)

U.S. MEDIA REPORT MULTI-PRONGED OFFICIAL APPROACH TO IRAN. Iran's strong support for "rejectionist" Palestinian groups and the news that it will provide the Palestinian Authority's Hamas government with $50 million came on the heels of Iran's announcement that it has successfully enriched uranium. Such developments concern the United States and other countries over what they see as a growing Iranian threat. Washington insists it will pursue diplomacy to resolve the problems, but RFE/RL notes that the military option and "democracy promotion" are also being considered.

An April 15 report in "The New York Times" discusses the "newly created office of Iranian affairs in the State Department" and notes the ongoing review of grant applications from groups seeking to change the Iranian political process. This project would expand if Congress approves the State Department's mid-February request for $85 million to fund scholarships and increase Persian-language broadcasting. An anonymous "State Department official" added that groups applying for grants are "squabbling" over who would most effectively promote reform in Iran, "The Washington Post" adds.

Also, the website of "The New Republic" on April 10 talks about the creation of the Iran-Syria Operations Group (ISOG), which reportedly will form policy and bypass the Iran desk at the State Department, a significant development.

These institutional divisions are reflected in an April 13 report in "The New York Sun," which asserts that "the State Department has quietly explored funding for an Iranian student radio station." It appears from this report that some in the State Department have approached Congress to divert some of the funding to private broadcasters, while the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the House of Representatives' appropriations team that deals with foreign aid want the funding to go to Radio Farda -- which is jointly run by RFE/RL and the Voice of America (VOA) -- and the VOA's television broadcasts.

There are suggestions, furthermore, that the Defense Department should be involved with broadcasting to Iran.

The military approach to the Iranian problem has received substantial attention lately. William M. Arkin, who specializes in National and Homeland Security for "The Washington Post," writes on April 13 that U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) has been planning for the possibility of a full-scale war with Iran since at least May 2003. An analysis referred to as TIRANNT (Theater Iran Near Term) and an invasion scenario called Karona are just two related efforts, as is the Hotspur 2004 wargames of July 2004. The TOY Study (TIRANNT Out-Year) is based on a war between Iran and the U.S. in 2011, and it looks at the outcome of a conflict between U.S. Army division-sized formations and Iranian ground units. The Army Concepts Analysis Agency's BMD-I study, (Ballistic Missile Defense--Iran) studies the number of Iranian missiles that could penetrate a coalition missile defense.

The possibility of using military might to counter the danger of Iran's nuclear efforts caused a major news splash roughly one week ago. Reports in "The Forward" (April 7), the "New Yorker" (April 17), and "The Washington Post" (April 9) asserted that the United States is making preparations for a possible military attack on Iran in order to eliminate the potential nuclear threat. "The Washington Post" put the military plans in the context of "a broader strategy of coercive diplomacy," adding that options range from limited air strikes on nuclear facilities to bombs and cruise missiles that also target Intelligence and Security Ministry, Islamic Revolution Guards Corps, and other government facilities. The ultimate objective is "regime change," the "New Yorker" added, and U.S. special-operations forces are in contact with Iranian ethnic minorities that oppose the regime, it reported.

U.S. President George W. Bush on April 10 rejected the media reports. "I read the articles [about Iran] in the newspapers this weekend," Bush told an audience at the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University in Washington, D.C., according to Radio Farda. "It was just wild speculation, by the way. What you are reading is wild speculation, which...happens quite frequently here in the nation's capital." Bush stressed that the United States does not want Iran to be armed with nuclear weapons, Radio Farda reported, but he also insisted that this does not mean going to war. "The doctrine of prevention is to work together to prevent the Iranians from having a nuclear weapon.... I know we hear in Washington [that], you know, prevention means force. It doesn't mean force necessarily. In this case, it means diplomacy."

Ali Larijani, secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, said in an April 10 interview with the Al-Jazeera TV network that news reports of U.S. contingency plans for attacking Iran with nuclear weapons represent "psychological warfare," Fars News Agency reported. "These [kinds of] threats are only expressed by parties who are totally incapable of acting on their promises," Larijani said.

Iranian state radio carried a commentary on April 10 that attributed the media reports -- particularly that in the "New Yorker" -- to psychological warfare. The commentary added that just a few of author Seymour Hersh's reports and analyses come true, and this specific one has been described as "idiotic" by British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw. Such articles, the commentary continued, are meant to undermine calm in Iran. They also are meant to undermine the impressive accomplishments displayed at the previous week's naval exercises in the south, the broadcaster concluded.

It is not just Tehran that is talking about mind games. "The Forward" quotes former intelligence officers such as Graham Fuller of the CIA, who note that this could be disinformation and psychological warfare. (Bill Samii)

DRUG CONTROL ISSUE EMPHASIZED AS NEW 'CRACK' GAINS POPULARITY. As the neighbor of Afghanistan, the world's biggest producer of opium, Iran for years has had to contend with high levels of drug smuggling and drug abuse. Tehran has applied different strategies to contend with drug-related problems, and in recent months it has tried new ones. Yet the drug-abuse problem continues, and the drug of choice is increasingly compressed heroin (crack), rather than opium or normal heroin. Meanwhile, Tehran is very active in multilateral drug control initiatives, and it also engages Afghanistan on a bilateral level in its effort to confront narcotics.

Iran emphasized supply reduction and interdiction for many years as it tried to contend with the flood of narcotics coming from Afghanistan in the 1990s and the first half of this decade. This approach was matched with an emphasis on the punishment of people involved with drugs, from addicts to smugglers. Imprisonment was common, and individuals holding more than 30 grams of heroin or 5 kilograms of opium could be executed. To this day, the bulk of the Iranian prison population comprises individuals arrested for drug offenses. For example, 31 percent of the 46,930 people imprisoned in the December-January period were addicts, Justice Minister Jamal Karimirad said in "Farhang-i Ashti" on February 22, and another 40 percent were imprisoned for drug-related offenses.

Not everybody is convinced of the wisdom of this approach. Ayatollah Hassan Marashi, who previously served on the High Council for Judicial Development and in the judiciary, said many people who become drug dealers do so out of economic necessity, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on January 28. Arresting and imprisoning such people is counterproductive because their families only sink deeper into poverty and sometimes turn to prostitution. "Punishment does not correct people's behavior," he said. "We pay no attention to the causes and we merely pursue the effects."

Nonetheless, arresting addicts continues to be government policy. Fada-Hussein Maleki, secretary-general of the Drug Control Headquarters, announced a nationwide plan to round up addicts that would begin in the new Iranian year (after March 21). Maleki explained that some 3,000 of the addicts on Tehran's streets are sick, and the overall plan is to detain and treat up to 550,000 of the most dangerous intravenous drug users, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on January 26.

Meanwhile, consumption habits are changing. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime's (UNODC) 2005-07 "Strategic Program Framework" for Iran that was released in June notes that opium (smoked, injected, or consumed in tea), opium residue, and cannabis are the commonly abused drugs. Abuse of heroin is on the rise, according to the UNODC, and it is sniffed, smoked, or injected.

Six months later, Abdullah Roshan, Tehran's deputy governor for political and security affairs, said the price for compressed heroin (crack) has fallen and it is supplanting regular heroin as the drug of choice for addicts, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 27 December. Roshan added that 700,000 tablets of the drug ecstasy had been confiscated in Tehran in the previous nine months.

Iranian officials routinely say there are 1.2 million drug addicts in the country, and an estimated 800,000 people abuse drugs occasionally. The UNODC says roughly 2 percent of the country's 68 million residents abuse drugs. The State Department's Bureau for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs says in its "International Narcotics Control Strategy Report -- 2006," which was released on March 1, that an estimated 3 million Iranians abuse opiates, with 60 percent of them addicted and the remaining 40 percent being casual users. "The latest opiate seizure statistics from Iran suggest Iran is experiencing an epidemic of drug abuse, especially among its youth," the report says.

As it has tried to come to terms with the scale of the drug-control problem it faces, Tehran has become increasingly active in multilateral drug-control bodies -- such as the Dublin Group and the Paris Pact -- and it works closely with the UNODC. The Dublin Group was established in 1990 as an informal coordination body that meets to exchange views on international drug affairs (production, trafficking, and abuse), make recommendations on ways to contend with these problems, and coordinate members' approaches to these problems. Dublin Group members are the European Union, Australia, Canada, Japan, Norway, and the United States, and the UNODC participates in its meetings.

The Mini-Dublin Group for Southwest Asia includes Dublin Group members' diplomatic representatives in Iran, and its meetings are attended by Iranian officials. The Mini-Dublin Group works on the drug situation in Iran and related policy initiatives. In addition to serving as a venue for analyzing priorities, coordinating cooperation, and making recommendations, these meetings serve as a venue for interacting with Iranian drug-control authorities.

Lesley Pallett, chief of the Drugs and International Crime Department at the British Foreign Commonwealth Office, described the Mini-Dublin Group as a "key point of contact" between the Iranian authorities and the international community when she was in Tehran in September.

At a December 5 Mini-Dublin Group meeting in Tehran, Iranian officials stressed the importance of creating a "security belt" around Afghanistan, the Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA) reported. Iranian drug-control chief Fada-Hussein Maleki said the United Kingdom should be able to secure Afghanistan's borders, with cooperation from the country's neighbors, because British troops are present in Afghanistan. Maleki also praised the activities of the UNODC in Iran and said the cooperation of France, Germany, Italy, Iran, and the United Kingdom is increasing.

The Paris Pact is another multilateral drug-control group with which Iran is involved, and Tehran hosted a Paris Pact roundtable on September 13-14. The Paris Pact started with a meeting of 55 countries in the French capital in May 2003, when they agreed on the need for strong and coordinated border-control activities and law enforcement along the main drug-trafficking routes. UNODC subsequently launched the Paris Pact Initiative, with support from France, Italy, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

Counternarcotics enforcement experts, as well as delegations from 20 countries, the EU, the Economic Cooperation Organization, Interpol, and UNODC participated in the September meeting in Tehran. Opiates trafficking and drug-control activities in Iran were discussed, as were the need to strengthen regional and international cooperation on drug control in Iran. One of the newer initiatives mentioned at this event was the Nomak Project, which collects and analyses information on Southwest Asia heroin trafficking.

The UNODC has been working with Iran for approximately one decade and has had an office in Tehran since the late-1990s. According to its "Strategic Program Framework" for 2005-07, its objectives are to assist Tehran in reducing narcotics trafficking, contribute to prevention, treatment, and rehabilitation in connection with drug abuse and HIV/AIDS, and to promote the rule of law. UNODC has established quantifiable indicators for measuring the success of its efforts. Roberto Arbitrio, head of the UNODC office in Tehran, told the September Paris Pact meeting that the strategy for Iran was developed in collaboration with the Mini-Dublin Group and with Iranian authorities.

Brigadier General Hamid Maleki, a counternarcotics official from the Iranian police, told the Paris Pact meeting that his country has spent more than $900 million to secure the frontier with Afghanistan and Pakistan by building border posts, watch towers, barbed-wire fences, and trenches. Iran also trains Afghan border guards and counternarcotics personnel, equips border posts in Afghanistan, and provides motorcycles.

In mid-March, furthermore, the Iranian parliament authorized the government to lend $20 million to other countries for demand reduction and counternarcotics activities.

Iranian officials insist that the international community do more to defray the associated costs, because Iranian efforts prevent drugs from reaching Europe. For example, Mohammad Mehdi Akhundzadeh, the Iranian ambassador in Vienna, said in a December 10 meeting with UNODC chief Antonio Maria Costa that international aid to Iran is "insufficient and trivial," the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) reported.

Absent more assistance, Iran works directly with countries that are fighting drugs, particularly Afghanistan. Drug-control personnel from Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan met in Rawalpindi on December 6 to exchange information, Associated Press of Afghanistan reported. Afghan Counternarcotics Minister Habibullah Qaderi visited Iran on January 3 to meet with his Iranian counterpart, discuss cooperation, and inspect the border, Mashhad radio reported. Ezzatollah Wasafi, the governor of Farah Province in Afghanistan, visited Iran on January 14 and said he secured Tehran's pledge to help his administration's poppy eradication efforts, Mashhad radio reported. On February 28, Afghanistan signed an agreement with Iran, China, and Pakistan on border security in an effort to control smuggling, AFP reported. Qaderi and Maleki met again in Vienna on March 18, during the meeting of the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND), IRNA reported.

While some officials are critical of what they see as inadequate international assistance, others believe something more sinister is behind the drug-abuse problem in Iran. Ayatollah Mohammad Emami-Kashani said in his February 24 Friday prayers sermon in Tehran, "Another instance of their conspiracy is narcotics," state radio reported. He did not identify the alleged conspirators but continued: "They plot methods of importing drugs into our country and promoting such ugly deeds among our youth so as to destroy the backing of Islam and Islamic ideology.... They hatch plots to ruin our young people." (Bill Samii)

RATE OF AIDS REPORTEDLY FALLING IN IRAN. Mohammad Mehdi Guya, who heads the Health, Treatment, and Medical Education Ministry's infectious disease department, said (on an unreported date) that as of March 21 there were some 13,040 Iranians with AIDS, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on April 17. The figure was at 12,557 as of November, he added. This marks an overall increase, he continued, but the infection rate actually has fallen compared to the previous year. Guya said being infected with AIDS can be attributed to individual behavior, so education and media outreach are important in combating the disease. (Bill Samii)

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