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Iran Report: August 22, 2006

August 22, 2006, Volume 9, Number 31

HAILING HIZBALLAH 'VICTORY,' IRANIAN OFFICIALS CONDEMN U.S., U.K., ISRAEL, AND UN. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei wrote to the Hizballah chief Hassan Nasrallah on August 17 to congratulate him on what he termed a "victory for Islam" over Israeli forces in Lebanon, Hizballah's Al-Manar television and the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) reported the same day. Hizballah faced off Israeli attacks in Lebanon from July 12 to August 14.

"You imposed your military superiority over" Israel and "ridiculed the myth of invincibility and false aura of the Zionist army," IRNA quoted Khamenei as saying in the letter. He added that the war showed "the real face of American rulers and some European countries" who he described as standing by "the disgusting and hated face" of Israel. Khamenei claimed the Israeli operations "showed what disasters can befall human societies when the rulers of countries are detached from mercy...and reason and sincerity."

Khamenei also said Hizballah resistance has thwarted the United States' and Israel's "illusory plan for the Middle East." But in a presumed reference to postwar plans to extend Lebanese government control to Hizballah-controlled areas and disarm the group, Khamenei warned that the "enemy is now trying to cut this potent...arm, sow discord among statesmen, and sow the virus of impatience and doubt."

Supreme National Security Council Secretary Ali Larijani told reporters in Tehran on August 16 that the United States and United Kingdom are responsible for all the Lebanese who died in the recent conflict with Israel and for all the damage to Lebanese infrastructure, IRNA reported. Larijani praised what he described as Hizballah's victory, and he added that "Hizballah is a matter of honor for all Arab states." Larijani said UN Security Council Resolution 1701, which halted the conflict, should have come much sooner. He also criticized aspects of it for interfering with internal Lebanese politics.

President Mahmud Ahmadinejad said during his tour of Ardabil Province on August 16 that the United States and United Kingdom should be expelled from the Security Council, IRNA reported. "Those intending to block global peace and tranquility from taking hold are not qualified to be in the [Security Council]," he said, adding that the United States and United Kingdom should face a war crimes trial.

Earlier in the day, Ahmadinejad said the United Nations is a tool of the United States and Israel, IRNA reported.

Also on August 16, the legislature's national security and foreign policy committee issued a statement calling for Israel to be punished for "crimes against humanity" and for it to pay compensation to Lebanon, IRNA reported.

Ahmadinejad told a crowd in the northwestern city of Ardabil on August 15 that "we can see that God's pledges came true in Lebanon" as he hailed a Hizballah "victory" in the recent Israeli-Lebanese conflict, state television reported. Israel once saw itself as "invincible," Ahmadinejad continued, but Hizballah defeated "these idolatrous powers within 33 days with the help of God, and [now they] fly the flag of victory in the proud Lebanon."

The parliament's speaker, Gholam-Ali Haddad-Adel, said on August 15 that Hizballah emerged as the victor in its recent conflict with Israel, IRNA reported. "The army of the Zionist regime showed itself powerless for the first time after failing to break the determination of the Lebanese people and the Islamic resistance movement [Hizballah] 33 days after the start of the war in Lebanon," Haddad-Adel said. He went on to congratulate the Lebanese people -- nearly 1 million of whom were displaced by the fighting -- and government, as well as Hizballah Secretary-General Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah. Haddad-Adel also spoke out against Arab states that were silent, and he criticized UN Security Council Resolution 1701, which ushered in a cease-fire.

Hojatoleslam Ahmad Khatami, a substitute Tehran Friday Prayer leader and member of the Assembly of Experts, said on August 15 that the conflict in Lebanon should serve as a lesson to Israel and the United States if they are considering an attack on Iran, state television reported. "The Lebanese Hizballah's 70-kilometer-range missiles transformed Israel into a country of ghosts," Khatami said. "So if one day they decide to carry out even a minor aggression against Iran, they must fear the day that our 2,000-kilometer-range missiles strike the heart of Tel Aviv." Israel and the United States should forsake "their aggression and expansionist policies," Khatami said. (Vahid Sepehri, Bill Samii)

IRAN'S AMBITIONS WORRY LEBANESE LEGISLATOR. Lebanese parliamentarian Walid Jumblatt, who is the leader of the Druze sect and the Progressive Socialist Party, has spoken out against the Iranian and Syrian roles played in his country's affairs, "Le Monde" reported on August 15. Jumblatt conceded that Hizballah has destroyed the image of Israeli invincibility but put it in the context of "the Syrian-Iranian game." "Iran is negotiating on the scorched earth of Lebanon the terms of the continuation of its nuclear program," Jumblatt said. "As for Syria, it wants to avenge itself in Lebanon, from which its troops were chased out [in April 2005], and it is now sidelined by Iran." Jumblatt added, "The Syrians and Iranians wasted no time saying that the UN resolution [1701] is not in Lebanon's interest." (Bill Samii)

UN NUCLEAR RESOLUTION DISMISSED BY IRANIANS. President Mahmud Ahmadinejad said in the Ardabil Province city of Kosar on August 17 that Western states are in no position to denounce others as threats to international peace when "they are the only group that violates the independence of states," IRNA reported. "These are the people" who bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, he said, "and are now taking on a peace-loving countenance and depriving the Iranian nation of its right to use peaceful nuclear energy." He said Iran has repeatedly stated the peaceful aims of its nuclear program, and "in spite of [its] clarifications, they say Iran may [deviate] toward making a nuclear bomb," IRNA reported.

"The governments that make this charge against Iran must themselves be disarmed," he said. Ahmadinejad added that when "a group appears and tries to stand up" to these states "and reveals their dirty face to the world, they label them terrorists." He said unspecified efforts to sow discontent in Iran would fail. "They think that by provoking certain people...and with their public postures, they can create divisions between the people of Iran," when "Iran is a large, close-knit family," he said.

Speaking in Tehran on August 16, Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki said after a meeting with Malian Foreign Minister Moctar Ouane that Iran is willing to discuss the suspension of uranium enrichment with Europe, Radio Farda and IRNA reported. There is no rationale for a suspension, he added, but Tehran is willing to talk about that or any other subject.

Supreme National Security Council Secretary Larijani said during an August 16 meeting in Tehran with Chinese Deputy Foreign Minister Cui Tiankai that UN Security Council Resolution 1696, which calls on Iran to suspend nuclear enrichment activities by August 31, will not affect the country's nuclear policy, state television reported. Larijani said the issue can be resolved through dialogue and added that Tehran will respond on August 22 to the international package of incentives it received in early June. Larijani said Iran intends to begin industrial-scale uranium enrichment and that it is entitled to do so.

Kermanshah parliamentary representative Jahanbakhsh Amini noted that 14 of 15 Security Council members voted in favor of the resolution (Qatar opposed it), "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on August 15, and said Tehran must take serious diplomatic measures if it wants to dissuade other countries from joining this group. Tabriz representative Eshrat Shayeq described the resolution as "unacceptable" and added that "neither we nor any other country consider ourselves as obligated to pay for the political reconstruction of superpowers." She accused Washington of trying to impose its will, and she added that the UN and the Security Council are not impartial.

In an August 14 speech to the nation on the state of the economy, President Ahmadinejad discussed the nuclear situation, saying that those who have harnessed the use of nuclear power are trying to prevent Iran from doing so, state television reported. He accused other countries of trying to undermine Iranians' unity, and Ahmadinejad said it is bad for Iranians to speak with multiple voices. "They lie when they claim that they have given up trying to create discord among us," he charged. Ahmadinejad also detailed his administration's accomplishments and described the steps he has taken to deal with unemployment and waste. (Vahid Sepehri, Bill Samii)

U.S. TREATMENT OF WOULD-BE IRANIAN VISITORS CAUSES WORRY. Iran is protesting the detention and fingerprinting of a group of Iranian academics and engineers when they tried to enter the United States to attend a scientific gathering. They all had valid entry visas and were bound for a northern Californian reunion organized by alumni of Tehran's prestigious Sharif University of Technology on August 4-6. Iranians living in the United States have expressed fear that the travelers were victims of rising tensions between Washington and Tehran.

Behnam Kamrani was among the Iranian engineers, scientists, and company executives who traveled to the United States to attend a forum on disaster management and entrepreneurship in Santa Clara, California.

Kamrani is a Sharif University alumni who currently lives in Sweden and works for a U.S. company. He told Radio Farda that upon his arrival at Minneapolis airport, he was simply told his visa has been revoked.

"We had requested a visa, [and] the U.S. Embassy did a background check on us and gave a positive answer," Kamrani said. "They issued the visa, [and] we bought a ticket and informed them as to the date on which we would enter the U.S. Then, when we got to the U.S., everything collapsed. They temporarily detained and interrogated us and asked us strange questions."

Despite the nine hours that Kamrani spent at the airport before being sent back, he considers himself among the lucky ones.

Academics who had entered the United States at other ports of entry -- including Los Angeles and San Francisco -- appear to have faced tougher conditions. Some have described their experience as a "nightmare," and said that they had to spend the night in a jail alongside criminals.

Kamrani recalls meeting a few of them: "They had handcuffed them and taken them to a prison. One lady who had two daughters said they had separated them during the night. The ladies said that a man who was in charge had told them the next day -- when they were about to be sent back -- that the visas were canceled because it was thought likely that those who come from Iran might exchange information about the nuclear issue."

Some of the Iranians claim to have been told that their visas were revoked due to U.S. national security concerns. They were reportedly given the choice of withdrawing their applications or being deported.

Some said they were told that they could not apply for U.S. visas for up to 10 years.

Several of the detainees have said they were insulted and humiliated, and subjected to what they have described as harsh treatment.

Conference organizers have said that more than 50 Iranians in all were refused entry and sent back to Iran.

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Janelle Hieronymus declined to explain the refusals, saying only that "all visa applications are adjudicated in accordance with the U.S. Immigration And Nationality Act. Each application for a visa is adjudicated on a case-by-case basis."

State Department official Laura Tischler would not comment on specific cases to RFE/RL, but she noted that U.S. officials are obliged to turn away anyone whose visa has been revoked.

Tischler suggested that the Iranians' visas might have been revoked "when they arrived, or when they were in transit."

Some observers speculate that the travelers are victims of growing U.S.-Iranian tensions over the current conflict in Lebanon and Iran's refusal to abandon sensitive nuclear activities.

Najmedin Meshkati, a graduate and professor at the University of Southern California's Viterbi School of Engineering and an alumni of Sharif University, told RFE/RL that the treatment the academics received at U.S. hands has outraged Iranian-Americans.

Meshkati said the U.S.-based Sharif University of Technology Association is taking steps to protest the incidents and encourage some investigation.

"One [step we'd like to take] concerns the legal aspect -- we want to find out what the rights of the people who were returned are and what can be done legally. The other [step] is public relations," Meshkati said. "The third step is to contact U.S. authorities -- including senators from California -- so the issue is investigated in the U.S. Congress. If they treat Iranians who visit this country legally in this heinous manner, then [there is a risk that] there is no difference for Iranians who live in this country legally. I really think that enough is enough -- we are really hurt about this disrespect. We should really stand up to it."

Meshkati said Iranians should not be punished for the policies of their government.

"I don't know why Iranians who travel to the U.S. must pay the price for the Iranian government's actions," he said. "Are Saudi citizens paying the price for the actions of [Saudi-born Al-Qaeda leader Osama] bin Laden? No. I don't understand why everything goes wrong when it comes to us Iranians."

The United States cut diplomatic ties with Iran following that country's Islamic Revolution and the abduction of U.S. diplomats at its embassy in Tehran in 1979.

But limited cultural, scientific, and sports exchanges have continued between the two countries. (By Golnaz Esfandiari; Radio Farda correspondent Elaheh Ravanshad contributed to this report from Sweden; RFE/RL correspondent Heather Maher contributed from Washington, DC.)

CHINA GETS NEW IRANIAN ENVOY. Iran has appointed Javad Mansuri, a former ambassador in Pakistan and former deputy foreign minister, as its next ambassador in China, Mehr reported on August 9, adding that he will be taking up his post "in the coming days." Mansuri was proposed by Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki and approved by President Mahmud Ahmadinejad, the agency stated. Mansuri was a deputy foreign minister for cultural and consular affairs, then Asia-Pacific affairs, between 1981 and 1990, Iran's envoy in Pakistan until 1993-94, after which he has been an adviser to the foreign minister, Mehr stated.

Separately, Iran's ambassador in Turkey, Firuz Dolatabadi, said Iran will continue its support for Lebanon's Hizballah, RFE/RL's Radio Farda reported on August 9, citing an interview with the Turkish daily "Radikal." Dolatabadi reportedly accused Great Britain and the United States of trying to dismember Lebanon and Iraq, using the Kurdistan Workers Party to do that in Iraq. (Vahid Sepehri)

PRESIDENTIAL CABINET COMES IN FOR CRITICISM. Hojatoleslam Hussein Ebrahimi, a member of the conservative Tehran Militant Clergy Association (Jameh-yi Ruhaniyat-i Mobarez-i Tehran), said on August 16 that President Mahmud Ahmadinejad's trips to the provinces and his legislative measures are well-intended but that some cabinet members seem unable to execute the relevant tasks, ISNA reported. Ebrahimi advised the president to ensure that the cabinet's level of commitment equals his own. Ebrahimi also recommended warning or replacing unnamed government managers who he said do not implement presidential policies for political reasons.

Reformist former legislator Davud Suleimani criticized the cabinet for its failure to fulfill campaign pledges to improve people's economic well-being, "Etemad" reported on August 15. He called for a report on the government's performance that would be publicly available so people can judge for themselves, and he recommended a complete change in the cabinet.

Ilam parliamentary representative Dariush Qanbari said in "Etemad" that the cabinet has been unsuccessful, adding that Ahmadinejad intends to change his commerce, roads and transportation, and welfare and social security ministers. Qanbari added that many of his colleagues would like to see the agricultural jihad, education, and health ministers replaced as well. (Bill Samii)

PUBLICATIONS ENCOUNTER LEGAL DIFFICULTIES. "Karnameh" had its license revoked and Managing Editor Negar Eskandarfar received a suspended one-year prison sentence on August 14 for articles offending morality and chastity, ILNA reported. The Tehran Penal Court's decision follows a ban on the same publication by the Press Supervisory Board. Eskandarfar has appealed the decision.

Also on August 14, "Cheshmandaz" Managing Editor Lutfollah Meysami was found guilty of publishing materials that damage the system and the country, insulting and libeling the police, and propagandizing against the system, ISNA reported. The Tehran Penal Court acquitted Meysami on charges of publishing false reports, publishing anticonstitutional reports, publishing materials that are offensive to Islam, and insulting the country's judiciary.

On August 7, the Press Supervisory Board instructed "Sharq" newspaper to replace its managing director, ISNA reported on August 12, because the paper has received 70 warnings to date. These warnings relate to the alleged publication of atheistic materials, divisive materials, and materials that violate Supreme National Security Council directives.

President Mahmud Ahmadinejad recently offered congratulations on the eve of Journalists Day (August 8), IRNA reported. (Bill Samii)

POLICE CONFISCATE SATELLITE DISHES. Police raided Tehran's Behjatabad residential district on August 14 and confiscated residents' satellite dishes, Radio Farda and ILNA reported. Tehran police chief Morteza Talai described it as a "routine task." "The police are duty-bound to enforce the law," he explained, "and as long as the use of satellite dishes is illegal, we have to perform our duty to that end." Residents complained that they did not receive advance notice of the raid.

Tehran prosecutor Said Mortazavi said in early August that the headquarters for the promotion of virtue and prohibition of vice recently discussed satellite dishes, "Etemad" reported on August 7. Some people set up the dishes where they are visible, he said, and the action is necessary because this is a violation of social norms. Special teams will be trained to deal with satellite dishes, he added. If people turn their dishes in, he continued, the police will not take action against them. (Bill Samii)

AHMADINEJAD MAKES PROVINCIAL VISIT. Ardabil Province's governor-general, Ali Nikzad, announced on August 13 that President Ahmadinejad would visit on August 15, provincial television reported. Nikzad said the president and his cabinet will visit nine cities.

Also on August 13, commanders of the Ashura and Al-Zahra battalions of the Basij met in Asadabad's Jameh Mosque for a briefing on upcoming war games, provincial television reported.

One week earlier, the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps' new Imam Hussein base was inaugurated in the province's Aslanduz district, provincial television reported, and the Ashura battalions began a three-day exercise at the IRGC's Qods garrison in Meshkinshahr. (Bill Samii)

POLICE AMBUSH BACKFIRES. Eight policemen were killed and three others were wounded in an August 12 gunfight with bandits along the Bam-Zahedan road in southeastern Iran, state radio reported. "The incident took place during an ambush laid by the [police] to capture the bandits in that region," Interior Minister Purmohammadi said on August 13, according to ISNA. Eastern Iran has been plagued by violence for many years in what appears to be a low-level insurgency and also in incidents relating to smuggling, and Purmohammadi said more military bases will be established in the region. (Bill Samii)

KURDS SHELLED BY IRAN AND TURKEY. As operations against the Kurdish Pejak group continue, Iranian and Turkish artillery fired on areas predominantly inhabited by Kurds along their shared border on August 13, Iraq's Al-Sharqiyah Television reported (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," July 7, 2006). Pejak is affiliated with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). The Iranian artillery reportedly shelled Khumyrah, Lulan, and Nazdaridakh, and Turkish artillery shelled Qabir Zahir, Khwakurk, and Gurghan. (Bill Samii)

IRANIAN-AMERICAN SENTENCED FOR TRYING TO SEND DUAL-USE GOODS TO IRAN. Mohammad Fazeli, a computer technician from California, was sentenced by a U.S. federal court on August 7 to one year in prison for his effort to ship dual-use products to Iran, "The San Jose Mercury News Reported" on August 8. The 103 Honeywell pressure sensors that Fazeli tried to send to Iran via the United Arab Emirates detect pressure in liquids or in gases and can be used as components in detonators for explosives. (Bill Samii)

IRAN REPORTEDLY ACTING AGAINST BIRD FLU, CHOLERA. Hussein Behbudi, the head of the Gilan Medical Science University in northern Iran, told Fars News Agency on August 9 that "about a month ago," local authorities detected bird flu among poultry on a farm near the town of Imamzadeh Hashem in the northern Gilan province, prompting officials to kill all domestic poultry within a 2-kilometer radius as a precautionary measure. He said the symptoms have not been seen among wild birds, but "there is still bird flu in Gilan." He added there are no cases so far in Iran of bird flu spreading to people.

Police and local authorities have also killed 1,800 chickens, turkeys, and ducks suspected of having bird flu at an unspecified date in "villages around the town of Masal" in Gilan, the daily "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on August 10.

Separately, Health Minister Kamran Baqeri-Lankarani said on August 9 that Iran is taking precautionary measures to prevent cholera entering into the country from neighboring states, IRNA reported. "Neighboring states are denying there is endemic cholera in their countries, but preventive measures are being carried Iran," he said. Baqeri-Lankarani added that Health Ministry officials are trying to obtain "clear information from these countries" on the disease. Preventive moves may include "quarantine" in frontier zones, especially on the eastern frontier, he said. (Vahid Sepehri)

CRACKDOWN ON ILLEGAL FOREIGN WORKERS. Police in the eastern Iranian city of Mashhad have arrested more than 1,000 foreigners recently who did not possess valid documents, ISNA reported on August 15. In the month beginning October 22, new measures will be implemented in an effort to curtail the employment of foreigners working illegally in Iran, "Kayhan" reported on August 13.

Mohammad Hussein Salehi-Maram, director-general of foreigners' affairs at the Labor Ministry, said 1 million foreigners -- mostly Afghans -- are working illegally in Iran and they take jobs from Iranians. Many foreigners work in construction, tailoring, or textiles, he added.

Salehi-Maram said foreigners are used because they are cheap, because some employers are ignorant of the law, and because the foreigners themselves are unfamiliar with the relevant legislation. He added that some contractors in the state sector and the parastatal sector also use illegal foreigners, and this sets a bad example. Under the new plan, those who employ illegal foreigners will be fined five times the daily minimum wage, 300,000 rials ($34). (Bill Samii)

IRAN WILL IMPORT FUEL TO MEET DEMAND. Iran will not curb domestic gasoline consumption despite expected shortages but rather import more to meet demand, Reuters and RFE/RL's Radio Farda reported on August 17. Iranian officials are expecting shortages in the second half of the Persian year running to March 20, 2007. Iran recently bought several cargoes of gasoline for delivery in September, indicating a decision to renew imports after a month-long suspension of such purchases, Reuters reported on August 15.

On August 16, Farhad Rahbar the head of the Management and Planning Organization, said "gasoline rationing is off the government agenda until further notice," Mehr reported. "There will be no rationing...while the state of not organized," he told a Tehran seminar. Rahbar said people's "living and welfare situation" will suffer if they have to buy expensive gasoline above a fixed weekly or monthly amount charged at current, subsidized prices. He added that the government is working on expanding public transportation and removing old, fuel-inefficient cars.

Petroleum Minister Kazem Vaziri-Hamaneh said in Tehran on August 8 that gasoline consumption in Iran is equivalent to a liter per day for every Iranian, "and this is unprecedented in the world," "Aftab-i Yazd" daily reported on August 9. He said fuel wastage has become "ordinary for the people and government" and Iran's government has "not been prepared to put pressure on the people to reduce their consumption."

Vaziri-Hamaneh said the government is planning to introduce an unspecified number of minibuses to increase the public-transport fleet.

He said separately that President Mahmud Ahmadinejad has instructed the petroleum and finance ministers to "examine the executive procedures" of a plan -- apparently proposed by Ahmadinejad -- to sell crude oil cheaper to poorer countries. "This is the president's own viewpoint," Vaziri said. He said Iranian officials have not yet discussed the use of oil as a "political instrument" -- for example, in response to UN sanctions over Iran's nuclear activities -- but "we shall use any factor in the system's interests, even oil," "Aftab-i Yazd" reported. (Vahid Sepehri)