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Iran Report: November 7, 2006

November 7, 2006, Volume 9, Number 41

TERRORIST CHIEFS MEET IRANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER IN DAMASCUS. During a brief visit to Damascus on October 28-29, Iranian Foreign Minister Mottaki met in the Iranian Embassy with Hamas Political Bureau chief Khalid Mishaal and deputy chief Musa Abu-Marzuk, as well as Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) Secretary-General Ramadan Abdallah Shallah and his deputy Ziad Nikhalah, London's Arabic-language "Al-Hayah" newspaper reported on October 30. Also present was Iranian Ambassador to Syria Hassan Akhtari. Unnamed "Iranian diplomatic sources" also said Mottaki met with the Hamas and PIJ leaders, London's Arabic-language "Al-Qods al-Arabi" reported on October 30.

The U.S. considers Hamas and the PIJ to be terrorist organizations.

Anonymous "Palestinian sources" quoted Mottaki as saying, "Al-Hayah" reported, "the Islamic and national forces [need to] strengthen their alliance to foil the American project." Mottaki reportedly said, "There is an American onslaught against the region.... The Americans are trying to create problems. We are trying our best to foil the American project, because the aim of this project is to destroy the region. This is an Israeli project. If disagreements intensify in the region, this would serve Israel." Mottaki also pledged continuing Iranian support for Hamas and the PIJ.

In related news, the United States has expressed concern about Iranian and Syrian intentions towards Lebanon. John Bolton, the U.S. ambassador to the UN, charged on October 30 that Syria and Iran are violating the arms embargo in order to undermine the Lebanese government, AP reported. "We continue to be concerned that Syria and Iran are actively trying to destabilize the democratically elected government of Lebanon," Bolton was quoted as saying. "We call on Syria and Iran to abide by their obligations to respect Lebanon's sovereignty, territorial integrity, unity and political independence."

UN special rapporteur Terje Roed-Larsen said Lebanese officials told him and also said in public statements that arms are entering their country across the border, AP reported. However, he cautioned that the UN has been unable to confirm those claims. Bolton quoted Roed-Larsen as saying the Lebanese government does not provide details because it fears retaliation.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Husseini denied on October 31 that his country has violated an arms embargo on Lebanon, the Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA) and the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) reported. He said such comments are a diversion from Israeli violations of Lebanese airspace, and added that Bolton is trying to undermine Lebanese solidarity.

Then, Hizballah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah's said on November 1 that the political alliance he leads should have 30 percent of Lebanon's cabinet seats, "The Washington Post" reported. This would mean eight seats, rather than the current five. Nasrallah threatened to organize protests if his demands are rejected

The White House said in a November 1 announcement that it is "concerned by mounting evidence that the Syrian and Iranian governments, Hizballah, and their Lebanese allies are preparing plans to topple Lebanon's democratically elected government led by Prime Minister [Fuad] Siniora," according to (Bill Samii)

TEHRAN AND DAMASCUS AGREE TO SUPPORT BAGHDAD. Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari met with Iranian Ambassador to Iraq Hassan Kazemi-Qomi in Baghdad on October 31, according to a ministry press release. The diplomats discussed the political and security situation in Iraq and the need to strengthen bilateral relations, as well as the prospects for a normalization of Syrian-Iraqi relations. Syria's foreign minister, Walid al-Mu'allim, is expected to visit Baghdad in November, according to the press release.

Unnamed "Iranian diplomatic sources" said Tehran and Damascus have agreed to support the government in Iraq, London's Arabic-language "Al-Qods al-Arabi" reported on October 30. Tehran and Damascus are motivated by the hope that the existence of a stable government will hasten the departure of foreign forces from Iraq.

At the end of his trip to Syria, Foreign Minister Mottaki said on October 29 that Tehran-Damascus ties benefit the region, IRNA reported. Mottaki arrived in Damascus on October 28, and that evening he submitted a letter from Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Syrian Arab Television TV1 reported. Ahmadinejad's letter focused on Iraqi and Palestinian developments.

During a visit to the United Kingdom, former Iranian President (1997-2005) Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami said the "ground is prepared" for his country and the United States to hold direct talks about Iraq, AFP reported on October 31, citing the U.K.'s Channel 4. Khatami said such talks could take place under the auspices of the United Nations.

Washington called for direct talks on Iraqi affairs with Iran in October 2005, and Tehran initially agreed to this in March before Iranian officials subsequently said there is no need to hold the talks. Khatami went on to say that he doubts Iran is militarily active in Iraq. "The security of Iraq is quite important to us, because anything that would contribute to security in Iraq or add to the violence among the Shi'a and Sunnis and instability, the first one that would lose would be Iran, of course," he added.

Iranian and Syrian officials discussed security affairs in Damascus on November 2, when the chief of the Iranian national police, General Ismail Ahmadi-Moqaddam, met with Syrian Interior Minister General Bassam Abd al-Majid. The two men discussed shared efforts in counternarcotics and the extradition of prisoners, among other areas, SANA reported. IRNA reported that all Iranians imprisoned in Syria will be extradited soon. Other topics of discussion, according to the Syrian news agency, were the establishment of joint companies for the production of glass, trucks, and milk products. (Kathleen Ridolfo, Bill Samii)

MISSILE LAUNCHES INAUGURATE WAR GAMES IN IRAN. Some 25 other countries, including the U.S., are engaged in naval maneuvers in the Persian Gulf. The exercises were planned in January as part of the Proliferation Security Initiative, which is developing methods for intercepting unconventional weapon smugglers, but they are perceived as a message to Iran.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Muhammad Ali Husseini said on 29 October, "We do not consider this exercise appropriate," "The New York Times" reported. He said U.S. activities "go in the direction of more adventurism, not of stability and security."

A few days later, on November 1, Iran announced that it would hold wargames in the Persian Gulf and Sea of Oman. too. General Yahya Rahim-Safavi, commander of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC), added that the exercises will take place in 15 of the country's provinces, state radio reported. He said IRGC air, ground, and naval forces will participate, as will personnel from the Basij, and "new advanced and modern weapons and equipment, which we have been able to make -- in terms of ground-to-ground ballistic missiles, shore-to-sea missiles, and surface-to-surface missiles -- will be used in these big exercises."

The IRGC's 10-day, Great Prophet war games began near the city of Qom on November 2, Radio Farda and Iranian news agencies reported, with the launching of Shihab-3 and other types of missiles. Mohammad Reza Djalili, a professor at the Graduate Institute of International Studies in Geneva, told Radio Farda that this development has a symbolic meaning, because Iran is demonstrating that it is a regional power with military potential. Djalili went on to say that much of the equipment Iran is using is antiquated, but some newer pieces have been purchased from Russia, China, and North Korea.

An IRGC spokesman said on November 2 on Iranian state television that the launching of so many missiles sent several messages. These messages included national unity and a willingness to defend the country, and the launches also demonstrated the country's limitless missile capabilities. He added that a large number of missiles are produced on a daily basis, and the new and improved warheads include ones that carry 100 bomblets. He mentioned new fueling capabilities that results in improved transportability.

In Paris on November 2, French Defense Minister Michele Alliot-Marie described the Shihab-3 test as "worrying," AFP reported.

General Yury Baluyevsky, who heads the Russian armed forces General Staff, told reporters in Moscow on November 2 that "according to our information, today Iran has no technological or technical capabilities to develop an intercontinental ballistic missile [ICBM]," Russian news agencies reported. (Bill Samii, Patrick Moore)

RUSSIANS MINIMIZE NEW IRANIAN NUCLEAR ACTIVITIES. Mohammad Qanad, deputy head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, announced on October 27 that Iran has started its second 164-centrifuge cascade at the Natanz nuclear facility, the Persian-language daily "Iran" reported the next day. Gas was injected into the centrifuge, he said, and the enriched uranium is being stored. He said the uranium is enriched to a level of 3-5 percent.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov sought to minimize worries about this development, Radio Farda reported. He said on October 27, "I do not share concerns about this because I know what I am talking about. Iran has started a second network of centrifuges that are, and I draw your attention to this, are under the total control of the IAEA." Seeming to contradict Iranian claims, Ivanov said, "These are empty centrifuges, they are at the moment not processing anything with them so to speak about enriching uranium is premature."

Security Council Secretary Igor Ivanov said in Moscow on October 31 that he considers Iran's nuclear program to be peaceful and that Russia continues to oppose any sanctions on Iran, news agencies reported. He stressed that "we do not have information that would suggest Iran is carrying out a non-peaceful [nuclear] program" and added, "We believe that the possibilities for continuing political discussion around this [Iranian nuclear] problem have not been exhausted." Ivanov warned that "sanctions should not be adopted for their own sake." Russia opposes serious sanctions on Iran and North Korea while maintaining tough sanctions, including a blockade, on Georgia.

In related news, President Vladimir Putin and his Iranian counterpart Mahmud Ahmadinejad spoke by telephone on October 30, reported. Putin repeated "the principled position of Russia in favor of continuing the negotiating process."

On November 1, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov said in Oslo, Norway, that "we don't want another nuclear state on our southern borders," ITAR-TASS reported. He stressed that "any Iranian nuclear program should be implemented under strict and tough international control." He defended Russian arms sales to Iran, saying that they are for defensive purposes and that Iran is not one of Russia's major arms customers.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in Moscow on November 1 that his country cannot support the EU-backed UN draft resolution imposing sanctions on Iran, Russian media reported. He argued that "we cannot support those measures which in fact aim to isolate Iran from the outside world, including the isolation of the people who are charged with leading negotiations on the nuclear program. We already have set forth strong conditions, and it's negotiations that we want. There's no need to make a new resolution on the Iranian nuclear issue."

Russia opposes serious sanctions on Iran and North Korea while maintaining tough sanctions, including a blockade, on Georgia. (Bill Samii, Patrick Moore)

NUCLEAR WATCHDOG CRITICIZES IRAN OVER NUCLEAR PROGRAM. International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director-General Muhammad el-Baradei said in Vienna on October 30 that the agency cannot confirm that the Iranian nuclear program is solely peaceful, Reuters reported, and he noted Iran's failure to suspend uranium-enrichment activities or to act transparently. In the agency's annual report, el-Baradei said: "The IAEA continues, therefore, to be unable to confirm the peaceful nature of Iran's nuclear program, which is a matter of serious concern," he said.

On the same day in Tehran, Hojatoleslam Hassan Rohani, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's representative to the Supreme National Security Council, told visiting German legislators that el-Baradei has said repeatedly that there is nothing "wayward" about the program, ISNA reported. Rohani said the current controversy over the nuclear program should be resolved through diplomacy, and he denounced perceived U.S. efforts to interfere with Iran-EU contacts. Rohani said a UN Security Council resolution on the Iranian nuclear program would have no legal standing.

As the UN Security Council considers a draft resolution on the Iranian nuclear program, commentators in the country are looking on with interest. One such person, identified only as "Mr. Enadi," said on state television on October 30 that ratification of the resolution is likely, but Security Council members differ over the severity of sanctions. Enadi said Iranian compliance with international demands would lead to an immediate halt in the sanctions. By inaugurating its heavy-water project in August and starting a second cascade of centrifuges more recently, Enadi continued, Iran is sending a message that it has "reached the point of no return as far as the nuclear issue is concerned."

An editorial in the hard-line "Jomhuri-yi Islami" daily on October 30 also examined the possibility of sanctions. It said the activation of the second cascade sends a message that Iran "makes use of such opportunities to advance its nuclear knowledge and has no fear of threats and intimidation." An additional 30-day extension of the deadline to halt its activities, the editorial added, gives Iran "a chance to take a few more steps ahead and get closer to the nuclear knowledge stipulated and provided by the IAEA regulations." (Bill Samii)

IRAN WANTS MORE URANIUM CENTRIFUGE CASCADES. Kazem Jalali, rapporteur for the National Security and Foreign Policy Committee, said in Tehran on November 1 that Iran is preparing another cascade of uranium centrifuges and it will continue to do so until it is self-sufficient in nuclear fuel production, ISNA reported. Regardless of the number of cascades Iran has, he continued, "they will only be used for research and development."

Jalali said the parliament is waiting to approve a bill that would end cooperation with International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors. "The presence of inspectors in Iran was to prove to the West that we are [conducting] our nuclear activities under international regulations, but if their presence does nothing but the exit of nuclear and nonnuclear information from the country, we see no reason for their presence," he said.

In London the previous day, Foreign Office official Kim Howells described Iran as "a country that is hell bent, as far as I can read it, on developing a nuclear bomb," dpa reported. Howells' responsibilities include the Middle East, Afghanistan, and South Asia, and he described President Mahmud Ahmadinejad's election as "cooked up." (Bill Samii)

ECONOMIC COOPERATION ORGANIZATION MEETS IN TEHRAN. On the first day of the Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO) meeting in Tehran on October 30, Iranian Interior Minister Mustafa Pur-Mohammadi called for cooperation among the members' provinces, IRNA reported. The meeting is for the interior ministers from ECO member states Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. Working together in the political and security fields will contribute to economic development, he added. Organized crime, terrorism, and trafficking of arms, drugs, and humans are among the problems the region faces, Pur-Mohammadi said.

Also on October 30, Iranian Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki told the ECO meeting that member states should have greater interaction with major regional institutions, IRNA reported. Mottaki called for equal economic growth throughout the region. He added that one of the member states should host a strategic studies center, and that Iran could help in the planning of such an entity. Mottaki added, "One of Iran's main foreign-policy strategies is based on cooperation with regional states to solve a major part of the problems facing the region and promote security, welfare, development, and the economic situation of the regional nations." (Bill Samii)

HEAD OF DIPLOMA MILL ACQUITTED. Attorney Morteza Beheshti announced on October 28 that his client, Ardeshir Qassemlu, has been exonerated of fraud charges, Fars News Agency reported. Qassemlu was the chancellor of the Iranian branch of the American University of Hawaii, which is headquartered in the United States. Iranian legal officials began investigating this insitution in 2004 on the grounds that it was a diploma mill issuing degrees that the government did not recognize in exchange for the payment of fees and without attendance requirements (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 27 September 2004 and 27 September 2005).

Earlier in 2006, Qassemlu received a three-year prison sentence, "Kayhan" reported on March 6. Firuz Aslani, general director for legal affairs at the Ministry of Science, Research, and Technology, said at the time that his organization will appeal this verdict as being too lenient because it "does not mention anything about revoking the degrees that this university issued to different individuals, some of whom are now using their degrees in various positions." Aslani was referring to several government officials that were discovered to have been awarded diplomas by the bogus university. (Bill Samii)

GUARDS CORPS ENCOURAGES MILITARY INVOLVEMENT IN ELECTIONS. Hojatoleslam Saidi, identified as the Iranian supreme leader's representative in the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC), told Basij officials recently that they and their families, as well as IRGC personnel and their families, are duty-bound to vote in December's Assembly of Experts and municipal-council elections, "Kayhan" reported on October 31. Saidi encouraged the officials to familiarize themselves with the candidates and the issues. He added that the IRGC and Basij have a duty to advise people on election-related issues, but "disparaging candidates or supporting individuals or organizations and presenting lists, in the sense of specifying who to vote for, are not permitted at all."

The supreme leader's representative at the East Azerbaijan Province Basij unit, identified as Hojatoleslam Jalilzadeh, said on October 30 that "the IRGC and Basij forces must do their utmost to facilitate the participation of the majority of the population in the Assembly of Experts and municipal-council elections," the Iranian Labor News Agency (ILNA) reported. Jalilzadeh said military personnel should inform voters but not be involved with political movements themselves. (Bill Samii)

GUARDS CORPS ACTIVE IN NORTHWEST. At an October 31 ceremony at the Imam Ali Center in Maku, Hojatoleslam Arsalan Bordfar was introduced as the supreme leader's new representative in the IRGC's Hazrat-i Abolfazl Al-Abbas First Brigade, Urumiyeh television reported. Bordfar succeeds Hojatoleslam Akbar Mohammadi.

The IRGC's Payqambar-i Azam (Great Prophet) war games got under way the same day in Urumiyeh, provincial television reported. The four-day exercises will focus on maneuver warfare. Colonel Rahim Aqa-Mohammadpur, the chief commander of the IRGC's Shahid Amini Tactical Military Base, said the exercises will evaluate the effectiveness of training, determine the Ashura Battalions' abilities, and improve existing war-fighting capabilities. Some 2,500 members of Ashura and al-Zahra Battalions are participating, Urumiyeh television added. (Bill Samii)

GOVERNMENT SEIZES FOUNDATION'S FARMLANDS. The Agriculture Jihad Ministry has taken possession of more than 400,000 hectares of farmland in Sarakhs, in northeastern Iran, Mashhad television reported on October 27. An unnamed farmers' representative said the land belonged to the wealthy Imam Reza Shrine Foundation (Astan-i Qods Razavi), and the deed now belongs to the ministry.

The Imam Reza Shrine Foundation is run by Ayatollah Abbas Vaez-Tabasi, who is appointed by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. No explanation for the seizure was reported, but it may reflect efforts by the new presidential administration to reduce the power of the country's clerical elite. This also could reflect the central government's efforts to extend its provincial reach. (Bill Samii)

LEGISLATURE APPROVES FUNDS FOR FUEL IMPORTS. The parliament on November 1 approved a draft proposal for the provision of $2.2 billion for imported gasoline, Fars News Agency reported. Fuel rationing may be necessary, and it could impose political costs on the government, something it has tried to avoid. It had requested $3.5 billion, which would have ruled out rationing.

Legislator Kamal Daneshyar said the choice is between rationing and increasing the price per liter of gasoline, which currently costs about $0.09/liter due to government subsidies.

Reza Talai-Nik, a legislator from Bahar and Kabudarahang, said the subsidy is unfair because it benefits wealthy city-dwellers who own several cars, whereas villagers cannot use subsidized gasoline because so many of them do not own cars. Legislators advocated spending money on improving public transportation and national infrastructure, which would reduce fuel consumption. (Bill Samii)

SUFIS GET PRISON SENTENCES. Some nine months after the authorities in Qom arrested some 1,000 members of the Nematollahi Gonabadi order of Sufism (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 22 February 2006), the court has sentenced three of the detainees, Radio Farda reported on November 1. Seyyed Ahmad Shariati-Qomi, the sheikh and leader of the Qomi Husseinieh, received the heaviest sentence. Dr. Mustafa Azmayesh, a Paris-based scholar who specializes in Sufism, told Radio Farda that Shariati-Qomi received a mandatory one-year prison sentence, must pay a 30 million-rial (about $3,400) fine in place of a flogging, and is exiled from Qom for 10 years. Dr. Gholamreza Harsini, Shariati's lawyer, must pay 3 million rials, another 30 million rials in place of a flogging, and may not practice law for five years. Mohsen Bahrami, Shariati's assistant, received a suspended 100-day jail sentence. (Bill Samii)

STATE DAILY RESUMES PUBLICATION, AS ANOTHER DAILY CLOSED. The daily "Iran" resumed publication on October 28. The newspaper was suspended in late May after it published a cartoon of an Azeri-speaking cockroach that led to unrest and protests among the Azeri minority in Iran. The newspaper's leadership changed in late September and the former news director at the conservative Mehr News Agency, Kaveh Eshtehardi, is the new chief.

IRNA, which publishes "Iran," also has new leadership. Seyyed Jalal Fayazi took over on the same day that Eshtehardi was named as caretaker at "Iran." Fayazi previously served as editor in chief of the daily "Qods" and was a leading member of the fundamentalist Islamic Revolution Devotees' Society, of which President Ahmadinejad is a founder. Fayazi is now associated with the Young Developers (Abadgaran-i Javan), another hard-line political organization created earlier this year.

Islamic Culture and Guidance Minister Hussein Safar-Harandi wrote in the inaugural issue of "Iran" that the closure came at a bad time, and it "aggravated the overall scarcity of media organs which are affiliated to the government."

Law lecturer and press law specialist Kambiz Noruzi has criticized the most recent high-profile press closure in Iran, "Etemad" reported on October 28. "Ruzegar," the daily newspaper that succeeded the banned reformist "Sharq," began publication on October 16, and Deputy Culture Minister for Press Affairs Alireza Mokhtarpur said on October 23 that the Press Supervisory Board has decided to ban it because the new daily resembled a banned one, Fars News Agency reported.

Lecturer Noruzi, however, said he sees no physical similarities between "Sharq" and "Ruzegar." Journalists Club Secretary Badrossadat Mofidi added that the closure shows a reduced level of official tolerance on the part of the government, "Etemad" reported. (Bill Samii)

WRITERS, PUBLISHERS WARN OF INDUSTRY CLAMPDOWN. Writers and publishers in Iran complain that new guidelines on censorship are preventing them from issuing new books. They say Iran's Islamic Culture and Guidance Ministry is dragging its feet or blocking new titles, and even demanding that previously published books be resubmitted for approval.

Fierce critics of the authorities' campaign to rein in authors and publishers warn that the moves could destroy Iran's book industry. Dozens of authors and publishers say they have been waiting months for their new books, novels, or political essays to be published.

Farkhondeh Hajizadeh, an Iranian writer and an award-winning publisher, said that the licensing process for new titles has become "a monster." Over the past year, she claims, many of her books have gone unpublished.

"It would be better for you to ask how many of my books have been given a license these days," Hajizadeh says when asked about the number of books she has seen held up by censors. "In the past, none of our books were granted permission without modifications. It seems the publishing industry is being devastated, or independent publishers cannot exist anymore. We specialize in art and literature -- that's exactly the area that's problematic for [officials], not physics and chemistry. Our books have been either banned, or they have faced censorship after a year, or they remain suspended."

The publication and distribution of books in the Islamic republic have always required permits from the Islamic Culture and Guidance Ministry. Such permits were granted following scrutiny by officials who might also demand the removal of materials deemed anti-Islamic, immoral, or politically unacceptable.

Restrictions were eased under President (1997-2005) Mohammad Khatami -- particularly under his first culture minister, Ataollah Mohajerani. Mohajerani was eventually forced out following heavy criticism from conservatives.

When President Mahmud Ahmadinejad took office in 2005, he appointed a former editor of the hard-line daily "Kayhan" as his minister of culture. Minister Hussein Safar-Harandi, a former member of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps, has vowed to purge the country's cultural scene of "unhealthy products" and revive the values of Islamic revolution.

Safar-Harandi dismisses the notion that Iran's publishing industry faces a crisis and notes that new titles increased by 10,000 in the Iranian year ending on March 20, 2005. Ahmadinejad too has said that his government supports books and reading.

But critics say independent authors and writers whose views are not in line with the government's are facing de facto bans. Author Hajizadeh says that publishers previously could foresee which books were likely to face official obstacles. But she says that is no longer the case.

"There was a time when one could predict that [a certain] book would not get a permit or that they would ask for some parts of it to be removed," Hajizadeh says. "But now, you see that even books by professors, or books related to religion, or books that do not oppose anyone or don't include anything erotic or political -- even very ordinary books -- cannot obtain a permit."

A Tehran-based publisher who asks not to be named told RFE/RL that those who are now in charge of censoring books lack general knowledge and expertise.

"We have always faced censorship, but before one could go and discuss it logically," Hajizadeh says. "The situation is such that one sometimes becomes desperate. For example, they have sent a book by Samad Behrangi to the Culture Ministry, [and] in one of the copies it says that 'two years ago the situation was better than now.' [Officials] have said that [such a passage] should be removed. And there is no way to explain to them that the meaning of 'two years ago' is 'two years ago, 40 years ago,' when Behrangi was still alive."

Censors are reportedly blocking the publication of a book by a giant of Iranian literature, novelist Sadegh Hedayat.

Renowned Iranian novelist Mahmud Dolatabadi said in late October that publishers should respond to the pressure by asking to be excused from publishing. He said writers should withhold their works, rather than seek publication.

Fellow novelist Ali Ashraf Darvishian says that he and many others have decided not to submit their books to the Islamic Culture and Guidance Ministry for review. "I can name the titles of 4,000 books that are currently awaiting permits," he says. "Some of the writers and poets publish their books outside Iran or on websites. This has put a lot of pressure on the publishing industry; some [publishers] are facing bankruptcy or have gone bankrupt. Many booksellers have changed jobs."

Journalist Emadedin Baghi recently complained in an open letter to Islamic Culture and Guidance Minister Safar-Harandi that about six of his books have been banned. Most of them deal with human rights issues, such as the situation inside Iranian prisons or the death penalty.

Baghi told Radio Farda that he thinks the ban is retaliation for his investigation into dissident killings in the 1990s, or his association with dissident Ayatollah Hussein Ali Montazeri. "They have prepared a list of writers whose books should not be published -- some because they are laical and [officials] believe their books could lead to the propagation of secularism, some because of their antiestablishment stances," he says. "The truth is that I'm neither known as being laical nor have I taken antiestablishment stances. The main cause of sensitivity could be over the issue of chain killings of intellectuals, which was covered in the press; I wrote the first article about it. Another reason could be my old ties with Ayatollah Montazeri."

The publishing restrictions have coincided with what writers charge is a government crackdown on freedom of speech in Iran. Iran's writers association said earlier this week that censorship has reached a new peak in Iran. The association warned that that Iran's cultural community will not remain silent.

Darvishian says intellectuals should protest the restrictions. "I think that if the protests become more widespread in the form of a gathering or letters with many signatures, then I think there would be some results," he says. "Because a country cannot continue its life without art, without writers and poets and poetry." (By Golnaz Esfandiari; Radio Farda correspondents Bahman Bastani and Mossadegh Katouzian contributed to this report.)