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Iran Report: September 4, 2006


September 4, 2006, Volume 9, Number 33

NO LETUP IN ELECTION CONTROVERSY. The annual celebration of "Government Week" on August 24-30 was an opportunity for the administration to tell Iranians how much it has done for them in the past year -- and how much better off they will be in the coming year.

But as the week unfolded, the date was pushed back for upcoming elections to municipal councils and the powerful Assembly of Experts -- along with four parliamentary by-elections. And a dispute is brewing over regulations for all national and local elections.

Interior Minister Hojatoleslam Mustafa Purmohammadi recently confirmed that all the slated elections would be held on December 15 (Azar 24 on the Iranian calendar). The elections were previously scheduled for November.

Elections for the Assembly -- an 86-member body of clerics tasked with supervising the Supreme Leader's performance -- take place every eight years; the last elections were in October 1998. Municipal council elections take place every four years, and the last ones took place in February 2003.

Purmohammadi said officials will be ready, and he expressed the "hope that they will be held in a healthy atmosphere [of] serious competition," Isfahan provincial television reported on August 25. He also encouraged "large-scale participation by the people."

The timing of the elections is especially relevant for the political parties as it affects campaigning. Some of the secular parties -- like the Islamic Iran Participation Front -- do not intend to field candidates for the Assembly of Experts, the 86-member group of clerics that supervises Iran's supreme leader.

But the municipal-council elections are a different matter. Party leaders recognize that the outcome of big-city contests could significantly affect national politics. Indeed, the officials who currently lead Iran gained their first electoral victories in 2003 council elections, and they followed up by dominating February 2004 parliamentary elections.

Enter The Basij

The Interior Ministry submitted a comprehensive election bill at the end of July that is likely to affect these elections if it passes the pro-government parliament. The bill would change the rules for vetting candidates and is in many aspects controversial -- not least in its aim of involving a reserve-like arm of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) in key steps in the electoral process.

Under current regulations, information on prospective candidates has been provided by the election registrar, the Ministry of Intelligence and Security, the police, and the judiciary. The new bill proposes that the IRGC's paramilitary force, the Basij, evaluate the information before sending it on to the committees that supervise and run elections.

Official involvement of the Basij in elections is controversial. There were accusations after the 2005 presidential elections that the Basij had acted on behalf of current President Mahmud Ahmadinejad. Critics suggested that because the Basij was acting like a political party, it should change its official status accordingly. The mobilization of the IRGC on behalf of certain candidates also upset some observers.

When asked about the proposed role of the Basij in upcoming elections, former Interior Minister Abdolvahed Musavi-Lari compared it to "handing over elections to the armed forces" and filtering out would-be candidates "who are not approved by certain political groups," "Etemad" reported on July 29. The ex-minister noted that military involvement in elections is illegal and contradicts the wishes of revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, "Kargozaran" reported on July 30.

A member of the Executive of Construction party, Hussein Marashi, warned that involving the Basij in elections was unlikely to increase voter turnout, "Kargozaran" reported on July 30. Instead, he advocated a greater role for political parties.

Morteza Moballeq, who was deputy interior minister for political affairs in the reformist administration of President Mohammad Khatami, said recently that the law makes no mention of any Basij investigation of candidates for elected office, "Mardom Salari" reported on August 23.

Guardians Council Supervision

Article 99 of Iran's constitution prescribes that the Guardians Council supervises all but municipal-council elections. In that capacity, it vets candidates and can even overturn election results. In the past, the duty of supervising municipal-council elections has fallen to parliament, and candidates have been vetted locally. But under the proposed legislation, the Guardians Council would supervise all elections -- handing it unprecedented power to vet even municipal candidates.

A lawmaker from Bojnurd in the northeast, Ismail Gerami-Moghaddam, has noted that significant problem with the existing rules. He calls the fact that "members of the Guardians Council are both candidates [for the Assembly of Experts] and supervisors...contrary to democratic logic and to people's rule of an Islamic kind," "Etemad" reported on August 13. Gerami-Moghaddam recommends the involvement of religious scholars in judging the suitability of candidates for the Assembly of Experts.

Gerami-Moghaddam adds that a former parliamentary speaker, Hojatoleslam Mehdi Karrubi, has written a letter to the Assembly of Experts chairman, Ayatollah Ali Meshkini, on the same topic. The former speaker argues that handing that vetting process to religious scholars would comply with the constitution and fulfill the wishes of the late Ayatollah Khomeini.

The ex-speaker's letter was discussed in a number of national newspapers on August 27. He reportedly urged the Assembly of Experts to create a committee of its own members to supervise the election, rather than allowing the Guardians Council to do it. He argues that the change would eliminate fears that the Guardians Council is limiting people's rights or violating the constitution.

New Qualifications For President

The proposed election bill would also introduce new qualifications for presidential aspirants. Those requirements would be educational and formal, but would also include litmus tests on contentious and potentially vague issues like support for religion, morality, and Iranian independence. They would also impose endorsement requirements from senior politicians, civil servants, and academics.

The proposed qualifications represent a considerable expansion on current constitutional restrictions.

New requirements include at least a master's degree, familiarity with national and international issues and Iran's defense policies, and support of the constitution. Candidates would also have to support the propagation of religion, morality, and justice, and believe in Iran's independence. Other qualifications would include the ability to administer national affairs and to coordinate different agencies, as well as having a program for national political, economic, and cultural affairs.

Prospective presidential candidates must be endorsed by 50 parliamentarians from 20 different provinces and 20 Assembly of Experts members from 10 different provinces. Moreover, endorsements are required from ten judges, 50 people who have served as deputy ministers or in equivalent administrative posts, and 100 members of academic faculties.

Article 115 of the constitution already identifies qualifications for presidential candidates. One must be of Iranian origin and have Iranian nationality, must be a resourceful administrator, must have a good record, must be trustworthy and pious, and must believe in the Islamic republic system and its fundamental principles. The president must be a religious-political individual (rejal-i mazhabi-siasi).

Many observers criticized this aspect of the election bill. A senior member of the centrist Executives of Construction Party, Hedayat Aqai, says future elections would be "meaningless" because the bill ensures that the group already in power continues to get elected, "Kargozaran" reported on July 30. Hedayat Aqai says "the blueprint for conditions for candidates is to make presidential elections, and even council elections, more like Assembly of Experts elections." He warns that the changes would mean "a specific group of people enters a circle and the same circle keeps getting elected."

Legislator Ismail Gerami-Moghaddam argues there is no need to restate candidate qualifications, since they are already outlined in the constitution, "Etemad-i Melli" reported on July 30. He says the proposal would restrict the public's right to choose and increase government influence over the outcome of elections, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on July 30.

A leader of the reformist Islamic Iran Participation Party, Jalal Jalalizadeh, says the bill is backed by the same faction that currently backs the executive branch, and this faction seeks political homogeneity, "Mardom Salari" reported on August 1. He cautions that passage of the bill would eliminate many competitors "and says that, in the long term, the president [would] be appointed instead of being elected."

An unattributed report on August 3 in the reformist "Etemad" daily summarizes the reformists' objection to the bill. They reportedly think it would prove impossible for the reformist minority to gain the approval of the required 50 legislators or 20 members of the Assembly of Experts. They also express concern that a president who has sought and gained the endorsement of so many people might be indebted to those same elements.

One aspect of the proposed election bill that appears to have won grudging approval is council and parliamentary candidates' obligation to put down a deposit. The deposit would be returned to parliamentary candidates who garner 5 percent of the vote and council candidates who receive 2 percent. The proceeds from failed candidates would go toward defraying election costs. Most observers agree that this would limit the number of people who register on a whim, thereby reducing government expenses.

The bill also proposes a minimum voting age of 18 years. The current voting age is 15. It also proposes an end to extensions of polling hours, noting that people flood the polling places shortly before the scheduled closure because they know extensions will be forthcoming.

The Bill's Defenders

Not everyone opposes the proposed election bill, particularly the officials most closely involved with its creation. Deputy Interior Minister for Political Affairs Ali Jannati insists that every aspect of the bill is based on the constitution, "Sharq" reported on August 15. He adds that requiring endorsements for candidates would be unnecessary if Iran had a strong party system. But under the current circumstances, he says it is "more necessary to have the confirmation and approval of the members of the elite."

Jannati also emphasizes that the Basij's function in vetting candidates would not be the same as that of the other institutions involved in the process. He points out that the Guardians Council already gets its information from multiple sources, and it is authorized to supervise elections in any way it sees fit. His argument is that the Basij can ensure that reports about candidates get to the authorities. Jannati claims that the Basij's "huge and pervasive popular base in society, and its members'... [presence] in all social groups and strata in the country" make it the right group for this "important task."

Jannati also makes the point that the election bill is not yet finalized, "Etemad" reported on August 20. He cites "comments of parties and elites and experts" that highlight "13 problems with the bill, many of which have an answer." Jannati vows to "resolve acceptable flaws at the next stage" in the legislation process.

Former parliamentary speaker Hojatoleslam Ali-Akbar Nateq-Nuri says the bill is correct in forcing candidates to earn endorsements to avoid frivolous candidacies, "Etemad-i Melli" reported on August 23. Nateq-Nuri argues that "any proposal that can lead to a set of conditions which will prevent just about everyone from standing as election candidates and wasting time and money is a useful proposal."

The election proposal has been the topic of considerable commentary since its introduction in July. And while influential cleric Hojatoleslam Ahmad Khatami avoided the topic during an August 25 sermon in Tehran, he stressed that Iran's unnamed "enemy" was trying to create a gap between the people and the government, state radio reported. "They have continuously failed," Khatami said, adding that "our dear people believe that the government belongs to them."

The proposed election bill's limitations on public participation in elections -- as voters and as candidates -- threaten to reduce that sense of ownership. Voter turnout will signal the extent to which Iranians truly feel like stakeholders in their government. (Bill Samii)

CLERICAL BODY HOLDS FINAL MEETING BEFORE ELECTION. The Assembly of Experts began a two-day meeting in Tehran on August 29, the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) reported. It was to be the assembly's last meeting before the December 15 elections; the last elections took place in October 1998. All members of the 86-member assembly are male clerics, and the body is tasked with monitoring the performance of the country's supreme leader. It also selects his successor. In his opening speech to the assembly, Chairman Ayatollah Ali Meshkini hailed Lebanese Hizballah's performance against the Israeli military in their July-August conflict.

The assembly concluded its semi-annual meeting on August 30; the communique it issued afterward urged Iranians to refrain from acts that would disturb the country's unity, IRNA reported. The communique also emphasized the perceived right to use nuclear technology, and it addressed the recent conflict in Lebanon. "The victory of the Lebanese nation and the champion Hezbollah in their combat against the armed-to-teeth Zionists and their arrogant supporters, led by the expansionist, warmonger U.S. regime, once more proved the righteousness of the great late Leader of the Islamic Revolution, Imam Khomeini (PBUH [peace be upon Him])," it said.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei met on August 31 in Tehran with members of the Assembly of Experts, IRNA reported. Khamenei praised the knowledge and insight of the members, and, noting the upcoming elections for the Assembly of Experts, urged qualified people to sign up as candidates. Khamenei said it is a "religious obligation" for "learned figures" to enter the contest. (Bill Samii)

SUPREME COURT CONFIRMS DEATH PENALTY FOR AHVAZ BOMBERS. Minister of Intelligence and Security Hojatoleslam Gholam Hussein Mohseni-Ejei announced on August 26 that Iran's Supreme Court has approved the death penalty for six people sentenced in connection with bombings in the southwestern city of Ahvaz, Fars News Agency reported (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," August 1, 2006). Mohseni-Ejei said the Supreme Court will consider the cases of 10 other people sentenced to death for their involvement in the Ahvaz bombings, and he added that all the people involved in these incidents have been arrested and sentenced. "We intend to raise the level of our intelligence gathering with better efficiency and vigilance," he said before advising people who "cooperate with foreign agents and are trying to cause insecurity in Iran" to cease their activities and seek pardons. (Bill Samii)

SCORE OF SUSPECTS ARRESTED IN ISFAHAN ANTICORRUPTION DRIVE. Isfahan security personnel have arrested more than 20 people who were allegedly behind a pyramid scheme, provincial television reported on August 26. A local security official identified as Major Husseinzadeh said that 140,000 provincial residents have lost money to such schemes. "Such companies use psychological and scientific tactics and produce misleading advertisements which cause enormous economic problems for families," he said. (Bill Samii)

LEGISLATOR CRITICIZES SUPPRESSION OF STRIKING WORKERS. Sanandaj parliamentary representative Amin Shabani criticized local police on August 27 for their violent suppression of a protest by striking workers at the Par-Ris textile factory, the Iranian Labor News Agency (ILNA) reported. Shabani said workers at textile plants and other factories in Kurdistan Province endure difficult conditions, and thousands of them face joblessness. Unemployment in the province is 25 percent, short-term job-creation programs have not begun, and banks are not lending money to those who want to start businesses, Shabani added. He called the government's privatization program haphazard. Shabani said workers at two factories (Divandareh Lime Plant and Kurdistan Textiles) that belong to the parastatal Oppressed and Disabled Foundation also are facing difficulties.

Earlier in the day, ILNA reported that 57 Par-Ris workers went on strike on August 19. Labor representative Behzad Sohrabi said management has been unable to fulfill state-imposed wage hikes and has chosen to sack workers, and it also has hired temporary workers. Sohrabi said the workers demand salaries of 60,000 rials ($6.80) a day. (Bill Samii)

EDITOR RECEIVES PRISON SENTENCE, WHILE MANAGER IS ACQUITTED. Issa Saharkhiz, managing editor of "Aftab" monthly, was sentenced to four years in jail by the Tehran Public Court on August 28 and barred from press-related activities for five years, the Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA) reported. The licenses of "Aftab" and "Akhbar-i Eqtesadi" were also revoked. Saharkhiz was found guilty of publishing articles against the constitution and of propagandizing against the Islamic republic's political system. He also was found guilty of libel and publishing lies against the state broadcasting agency. Saharkhiz told Reuters he will not appeal the sentence because he does not think the judiciary is independent.

Also on August 28, the managing director of "Iran" was found not guilty of insulting the country's Azeri minority, Reuters reported. "Iran" belongs to the official Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA), and its late-May publication of a cartoon of an Azeri-speaking cockroach led to riots. "I accept that we were not careful enough in publishing that cartoon, but undoubtedly we did not mean to insult our Azeri-speaking compatriots," Gholam Hussein Islamifard said. The cartoonist -- Mana Neyestani -- is awaiting trial. (Bill Samii)

AUTHORITIES CLAMP DOWN ON STUDENTS. Judiciary spokesman Jamal Karimirad said on August 29 that student activist Ahmad Batebi was arrested again on July 29 so he can complete a sentence at Evin prison relating to his actions during July 1999 student unrest in Tehran, the Aftab website reported. Karimirad said Batebi's prison leave has ended.

In a letter to the "sources of emulation" and other leading clerics, Batebi's father has asked for help in securing his son's freedom, Radio Farda reported. Baqer Batebi told Radio Farda on August 29: "We are Muslims and we have a source of emulation; I should be able to live at peace in a Muslim nation and I have asked these senior figures for help." He continued: "I am an Iranian and I have a right to breathe in this country." Batebi wrote in his letter that if he does not get help in this way his only choice will be to turn to foreign human rights organizations.

Radio Farda reported that two former student activists from Kermanshah -- Omran Parandakht and Alireza Moradi -- were imprisoned during the previous week. Three other student activists -- Jamal Zaherpur, Abolfazl Jahandar, and Kheirollah Derakhshandi -- were arrested in the last few days, Advarnews website reported on August 29. (Bill Samii)

FREED INTELLECTUAL CONFESSES. The Iranian prison organization confirmed on August 30 that intellectual Ramin Jahanbegloo has been released, Radio Farda reported. He was arrested in late April on espionage charges and was later accused of trying to bring about a nonviolent, Velvet-type revolution in Iran.

Human rights activist Abdul Karim Lahiji told Radio Farda that the regime's new strategy focuses on discouraging young people's pursuit of their civil rights. The arrest of Jahanbegloo, as well as of Mansur Osanlu of the bus drivers' syndicate and attorney Abdolfattah Soltani, should be seen in this context, he said. Lahiji said the security forces do not recognize any limits when they build cases against the Iranian people.

One day after his release from prison, Jahanbegloo voluntarily turned up at the Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA) and gave an interview on his confinement, Radio Farda reported on August 31. Jahanbegloo said that he was not subjected to physical or mental pressure during the four months he was held in the Ministry of Intelligence and Security section of Evin prison.

Radio Farda quoted ISNA, which cited Jahanbegloo as saing that when he had a fellowship at the National Endowment for Democracy in Washington, he became acquainted with a former official in the administration of U.S. President Bill Clinton who was associated with the German Marshall Fund. This person allegedly encouraged Jahanbegloo to conduct a study of East European intellectuals' role in strengthening civil-society organizations and overthrowing the communist regimes, and then examining how Iranian intellectuals and nongovernmental groups could empower themselves. He said it was in connection with this research and the alleged promotion of a Czechoslovak-style "velvet revolution" that he was arrested.

Jahanbegloo -- who speaks five languages and earned a doctorate at the Sorbonne -- also questioned his opportunities in Iran, noting that the head of philosophy department at Shahid Beheshti University does not even have a doctorate. Jahanbegloo said this is why he pursues overseas fellowships and conducts research in other countries. (Bill Samii)

SIGNATURE DRIVE TARGETS GENDER DISCRIMINATION. Activists in Iran have started a petition drive calling for changes to laws that discriminate against women. Organizers hope to attract the signature of 1 million Iranians -- a challenge that they say public officials could not ignore. Authorities blocked the gathering at which the launch was supposed to take place on August 27 on a technicality. But women's rights defenders are collecting signatures and vowing to broaden their campaign nevertheless.

This campaign is just the latest move by women's rights activists who argue that Iran can be Islamic and nondiscriminatory at the same time.

Police violently dispersed a public protest two months ago aimed at raising awareness of gender discrimination. One of the demonstrators involved in that event -- former reformist lawmaker and student rights activist, Ali-Akbar Musavi Khoeni -- remains in custody.

This new initiative is aimed at pressuring lawmakers. Organizers want to demonstrate that many Iranian citizens -- women and men �- are unhappy with laws that treat women as second-class citizens.

Islamic laws as applied in Iran deny women equal rights in divorce, child custody, inheritance, and other areas.

A woman's testimony in court is worth half that of a man, and a woman needs the permission of her father or husband to travel.

Testing Public Support

Activist Golnaz Maleki told Radio Farda that the demand that discriminatory laws be amended has broader support than just women's rights defenders.

"One million signatures can at least demonstrate that our demands are not only the demands of 4,000 or 5,000 people who go to various gatherings, are beaten up, and then go home," Maleki said. "There is wide support for these demands."

Campaigners also argue that Iranian legislation lags behind cultural norms and women's status in society. In Iran, more than 60 percent of university entrants are women. Iranian women actively participate in many spheres, including in the education and NGO sectors.

Activists believe the legal discrimination against women negatively affects the lives of men. They say it has led to what they describe as an unbalanced and unhealthy relationship between men and women.

Maleki said she and other organizers hope to raise public awareness about women's rights and create dialogue and cooperation among different groups.

"Our main goal is to create a dialogue among citizens and educate them about their rights," Maleki said. "And we also want women to become sensitive to their status under the law and in society. We also want to create a collective morale among women and encourage collaboration."

Multi-Pronged Effort

Another campaign member, Farnaz Sayfi, told Radio Farda that the campaign will employ a number of methods to achieve its goals.

"The main method is based on the face-to-face method -- signatures will be gathered through door-to-door contact and conversations with women," Sayfi said. "Another method is identifying places where women gather -- for example, in hair salons, sport clubs, parks, on public transportation. Campaign members will go to these places and talk to women. Another method is organizing seminars and meetings that promote dialogue; in these places, signatures will be collected from participants."

Activists insist that collecting signatures against discriminatory laws is only "the first phase" of the campaign. They say the next phase includes proposing new laws.

Maleki said the current campaign is modeled on a similar effort that was launched in Morocco in 1992 and led to changes in the law.

But she said she suspects that campaigners in Iran have a more difficult task ahead of them than their colleagues in Morocco.

"[Collecting] 1 million signatures is in fact one of the goals -- we've set June 19, 2007, as the deadline," Maleki said. "But I'm personally not very hopeful that, by that day, 1 million signatures will have been collected. From what I know from Morocco, [Moroccan activists] collected 1 million signatures in three years. [But] they had different conditions -- their king [supported them], and they had a volunteer force of 9,000."

Authorities prevented the event on August 27 at which the campaign was supposed to kick off -- a seminar on "the Impact of laws on women's rights." But organizers began collecting signatures from those who turned up nevertheless.

Campaigners have also launched a website to further their cause, called we-change.org.

Several prominent intellectuals, lawyers, and literary figures have publicly backed the campaign, including Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi, poet Simin Behbehani, and film director Jafar Panahi. (By RFE/RL correspondent Golnaz Esfandiari; Radio Farda broadcaster Parnaz Azima contributed to this report.)

NUCLEAR CRISIS LIKELY TO DOMINATE ANNAN VISIT. United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan is scheduled to visit Iran during his current Middle East tour to promote peace. Iran is currently involved in several issues of considerable international significance, including the war in Lebanon and Iranian weapons reaching Hizballah. The other outstanding international issue that involves Iran at the moment is its nuclear program, which is likely to be the focus of Annan's talks in Tehran.

Tehran made it abundantly clear before the UN Security Council's August 31 deadline that it had no intention of complying with the demand for a nuclear suspension. Supreme National Security Council Secretary Ali Larijani responded last week to an international proposal meant to resolve the current crisis with a counterproposal that included a willingness to have further talks but a refusal to suspend enrichment-related activities.

If Iranian officials' remarks were not clear enough, President Mahmud Ahmadinejad inaugurated a heavy-water production facility in Arak on August 26. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) governing board had urged Iran to reconsider building a heavy-water reactor in early February, and a later report from the IAEA called on Iran to halt plans to build a heavy-water reactor. The facility engenders concern because it is easier to extract bomb-grade plutonium from fuel rods used in a heavy-water reactor than from a light-water reactor.

IAEA Director-General Muhammad el-Baradei delivered his confidential report on August 31 on the Iranian nuclear program to members of the nuclear watchdog's governing board, the IAEA website reported. The report notes that Iran has provided the IAEA with access to nuclear materials and facilities but denied access to its Pilot Fuel Enrichment Plant at Natanz, according to leaked copies obtained by Reuters and dpa.

El-Baradei reportedly says Iran has been insufficiently transparent or cooperative on some subjects -- for example, inspectors were allowed to take notes on a document about uranium metal but Iranian officials then confiscated the notes. The report adds that Iran will begin operating another 164-centrifuge cascade for enriching uranium in September. Cameras are in place to monitor the cascade, but Tehran reportedly has not granted permission for their operation. "Iran has not suspended its enrichment related activities; nor has Iran acted in accordance with the provisions of the Additional Protocol," the report adds.

Tehran's Position

Amid concerns that Iran's nuclear program has military applications, UN Security Council Resolution 1696 demands that Iran cease the enrichment and reprocessing of uranium. Iranian officials have consistently denied that their nuclear program has military applications. Larijani said during an August 29 briefing in Tehran that Iran is willing to provide guarantees that its nuclear program is purely civilian in nature. He claimed that these guarantees will demonstrate that no aspect of the program is being diverted for military use. Larijani also complained that some countries simply do not want Iran to have access to nuclear power.

Iranian Atomic Energy Organization official Mohammad Saidi said when the Arak facility was inaugurated that heavy-water reactors are used for electricity production and for agricultural, medical, and other forms of research.

President Mahmud Ahmadinejad said during an August 30 meeting in Tehran with Felipe Gonzales, the former prime minister of Spain, that some Western countries are discriminating against Iran's possession of a nuclear program, state television reported.

Ahmadinejad went on to dismiss the possible imposition of sanctions, saying, "Sanctions cannot dissuade the Iranian nation from its decision to pursue the heights of honor and progress; therefore, it is better for the European countries to be independent in their decisions and to settle issues through negotiations."

Tehran reacted similarly after U.S. Ambassador to the UN John Bolton mentioned the possibility of unilaterally imposed sanctions on August 26. Iranian government spokesman Gholam Hussein Elham countered that "[these] remarks show that such officials are not competent to be members of the UN and the Security Council," IRNA reported.

The Atomic Energy Organization's Saidi suggested on August 31 that the latest IAEA report on Iran shows that the country is cooperating fully, IRNA reported. He also said Resolution 1696's demand that the country cease aspects of the nuclear fuel cycle contravene the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). "There is no justification in terms of international law and NPT regulations to stop the fuel cycle when all Iranian nuclear sites are under supervision of the IAEA," Saidi said.

Disagreements Persist

Under such circumstances, it would seem that there is little room left for diplomacy or for Secretary-General Annan's calming influence. But there is disunity in the UN, as Security Council members disagree on how to proceed. Moscow and Beijing are likely to oppose the imposition of sanctions against Iran, in part because they fear the damage to their financial and economic interests. Geopolitically, too, they see themselves as Washington's competitors for global influence.

U.S. officials have suggested the White House wants economic sanctions to be imposed following the expiration of the Security Council deadline. They have also suggested that they might be willing to act unilaterally -- in the form of sanctions -- other if other countries are unwilling to act. U.S. Ambassador to the UN John Bolton reminded reporters on August 30 of the approaching deadline for Iran to suspend its nuclear activities, RFE/RL reported. "We've said repeatedly that we expect that no later than August 31, pursuant to Security Council Resolution 1696, that the Iranians will suspend all uranium enrichment-related activity," he said. Bolton added that the five permanent members of the Security Council, plus Germany, will seek the imposition of sanctions if Tehran does not meet the deadline.

Bolton told reporters in New York on August 31 that Iran's behavior as described on the public record shows that the country seeks nuclear weapons, RFE/RL reported. "There is simply no explanation for the range of Iranian behavior, which we've seen over the years, other than that they are pursuing a weapons capability," Bolton said. As for the meaning of the IAEA report, Bolton said, "The report makes clear that not only has Iran not suspended uranium enrichment activities as required by Resolution 1696, it is accelerating them."

Speaking on August 31 to the Veterans of Foreign Wars in Salt Lake City, Utah, President George W. Bush also addressed the nuclear issue, whitehouse.gov reported. "It is time for Iran to make a choice," Bush said. "There must be consequences for Iran's defiance, and we must not allow Iran to develop a nuclear weapon."

But a well-connected "Washington Times" reporter and analyst, Bill Getz, has claimed there is disunity within the U.S. government, too. He wrote that the State Department, White House, and Pentagon disagree on how much leeway to give Iran.

Gertz wrote that there is pressure on Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice from within her State Department -- the report names Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns -- to concur with a British, French, and German plan to send EU foreign-policy representative Javier Solana to make another pitch to Iranian officials. "The Washington Times" report also says officials within Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's office and the office of Vice President Dick Cheney oppose further concessions to Iran.

If this is the case, UN Secretary-General Annan may try to persuade Tehran to go along with Solana's pitch before it is too late. (Bill Samii)

AHMADINEJAD CHALLENGES U.S. COUNTERPART TO DEBATE. President Mahmud Ahmadinejad on August 29challenged U.S. President George Bush to debate him, state television reported. "I propose holding a live, televised debate with Mr. Bush, the U.S. president, so that we talk about world's issues and ways to solve the world's problems," Ahmadinejad said at a press conference in Tehran. "We will announce our views and they would do the same, but under the condition that it will not be censored, especially for the American people."

This appears to be Ahmadinejad's second attempt to communicate directly with the American people; the first was his mid-August interview with CBS television's "60 Minutes." Ahmadinejad tried to communicate directly with Bush in May, when he sent him a lengthy letter that addressed issues ranging from theology to Iraq and Israel.

In the more recent case, however, Ahmadinejad made it clear that he is not calling for bilateral talks. "We will negotiate with those who scowl upon our nation every day under different conditions," he said according to state television. "If the conditions are met, then why not [hold talks with the U.S.]?"

Ahmadinejad said at the August 29 press conference that Israel is the cause of violence in the region, state television reported. "The Zionist regime has deprived the Palestinian and other nations in the region of the chance of living in peace," he said. He added, "During 60 years, the Zionist regime has imposed tens of wars on neighboring countries, the last one of which was the savage invasion of Lebanon." (Bill Samii)

IRAN TESTS SUBMERGED-LAUNCH MISSILE DURING WAR GAMES. A Saqeb missile was fired from a submerged Iranian submarine on August 27, state television reported. The test took place during the Zarbat-i Zolfaqar war games that began one week ago. The missile reportedly can be fired from surface units as well. Iranian navy Admiral Sajjad Kuchaki described the missile's characteristics: "It is a long-range missile. It is smart. It makes a very small impact on radar and can avoid radar detection. It has a very high degree of precision and is very fast, taking the enemy by surprise. The missile has a massive destructive power." The missile is reportedly manufactured domestically. Other aspects of the exercises involved maneuvers by marines (tofangdaran-i daryai) and submarine raids in the Gulf and Sea of Oman. (Bill Samii)

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