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Iran Report: November 21, 2006

November 21, 2006, Volume 9, Number 43

LESS THAN ONE-THIRD OF PROSPECTIVE CANDIDATES ELIGIBLE FOR ELECTION. In less than one month Iranians will vote in elections for one of the country's most powerful bodies, the Assembly of Experts, but it is already clear that this will be a pointless exercise. The agency that vets candidates for elected office has winnowed the field drastically -- less than one-third of the people who signed up survived the vetting process -- and in some constituencies only one person will be running for office. While the election may be meaningless, it is nevertheless relevant for several reasons. The Assembly has the power to dismiss the country's Supreme Leader and appoint a new one. Symbolically, furthermore, victory in this race will either cement the fundamentalists' hold on the country's elected institutions, or it will initiate the reformists' return to political relevance. Political parties, therefore, have been building coalitions.

The Assembly of Experts has 86 members, and the number of candidates for the election on December 15 has fallen sharply over the last month. Guardians Council spokesman Abbas Ali Kadkhodai announced on November 14 that there are 144 eligible candidates. This is less than 30 percent of the 492 prospective candidates Kadkhodai mentioned in mid-October.

Kadkhodai said 100 people withdrew their applications. All the female applicants failed the written exam on religious interpretation (ijtihad), he said, and the candidacy of nine more people is being reviewed. The son of prominent hardline cleric Ayatollah Mohammad Taqi Mesbah-Yazdi, Ali Mesbah-Yazdi, reportedly flunked the written exam, the Aftab new website reported. The final results will be conveyed to the Interior Ministry by November 21, and rejected individuals will have three days to appeal.

Three incumbents were rejected, according to Kadkhodai, but he did not name them. According to "Kayhan" on November 15, they are Majid Ansari, Ali Urumian, and Mohammad Reza Abbasi-Fard. However, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on October 21 that Urumian withdrew, citing insufficient financial resources.

This announcement has already elicited protests. Former speaker of parliament Hojatoleslam Mehdi Karrubi wrote to Assembly of Experts speaker Ayatollah Ali Meshkini to ask that he resolve the situation. Karrubi noted the inconsistency of disqualifying Abbasi-Fard, who is not only an incumbent but a former member of the Guardians Council, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on November 15.

The candidate disqualifications are likely to dominate headlines in Tehran for some time. But a prominent issue in the weeks before Kadkhodai's announcement was the creation of election coalitions. Much of the discussion centered on who would appear on the candidate lists backed by the reformists, the conservatives, and the fundamentalists.

Hojatoleslam Mohammad Reza Yusefi, a member of the central council of the pro-reform Militant Clerics Association (Majma-yi Ruhaniyun-i Mobarez) in Gilan Province, said there must be consensus between his group, the National Trust Party (Hezb-i Etemad-i Melli), and the Qom Theological Lecturers Association (Jameh-yi Mudarissin-i Hozeh-yi Elmieh-yi Qom), "Gilan-i Imruz" reported on October 8.

Other reformist parties, such as the Mujahedin of the Islamic Revolution Organization, the Islamic Iran Participation Front, and the Executives of Construction Party are awaiting the Militant Clerics Association list before announcing their position, "Etemad-i Melli" reported on October 10.

The center-right Moderation and Development Party (Hezb-i Etedal va Toseh) announced that it wll not participate in a coalition, "Ruzegar" reported on October 16, although it supports any group that backs the assembly's deputy speaker, Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, and Hojatoleslam Hassan Rohani. This demonstrates, the short-lived successor to the reformist "Sharq" daily continued, that the Moderation and Development Party cannot decide who to join and it seeks to sustain itself by siding with the ultimate winners.

The long-standing differences between older and more traditional conservatives and younger and more radical fundamentalists affected coalition formation, too. In late-October it was reported that a group called the Elite of Seminaries and Universities was created to back Ayatollah Mesbah-Yazdi. This was described as a "third movement" by "Etemad-i Melli" on October 30, which noted reformist concerns that this new group could come to dominate the assembly.

The group allegedly rejects the list of traditional seminarian candidates, "Kargozaran" added on November 1. Qassem Ravanbakhsh, editor of Mesbah-Yazdi's "Parto Sokhan" weekly, explained, "some of the independent candidates are more qualified than those names that have appeared on the lists."

Ultimately, coalition formation may not have much impact when there are so few candidates, and realistically, it does not seem that the Assembly of Experts race will be very competitive. The lack of choice, furthermore, is likely to reduce voter enthusiasm. Competition for the municipal councils, one the other hand, appears to be more intense, and there is a possibility of greater flexibility in candidate vetting. Participation in the council elections, which are taking place on the same day as the Assembly elections, could inflate the turnout figures. The regime, therefore, will perceive this as a sign of support for the system. (Bill Samii)

CONVICTED IRANIAN-ARAB BOMBERS 'CONFESSIONS' TELEVISED. The heavily-edited "confessions" of ten men sentenced to death for their parts in fatal bombings that occurred in Ahvaz last year were televised on November 13 by Khuzestan Province television. The program was produced by the public affairs office of the Ministry of Intelligence and Security.

Bombings occurred in the province in June and October 2005, and in January and February 2006. Previous "confessions" were televised on March 1, one day before two of the purported bombers were hanged (see �RFE/RL Iran Report,� 25 April 2005, 3 March 2006, and 8 March 2006).

The November 13 program -- called "Expressions of Illusion" � began by describing alleged plots against Iran and showed pictures of U.S. President George W. Bush, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, and former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. This was followed with video footage of Western radio and television stations and their personnel, with a spoken discussion about �false propaganda.�

The program also showed damage from the bombings in Ahvaz, the related funerals, and interviews with survivors and relatives of the deceased, including a small boy. The public was thanked for providing information on the arrested individuals, and it urged the bombers� cohorts to turn themselves in.

Ten people on the program confessed to being involved with the bombings and said they were members of the �Al-i Nasser� group. They added that they were involved with bombings of oil pipelines, as well as bombings in Abadan, Ahvaz, and Dezful. Although the alleged bombers said they had foreign contacts, they did not name a specific country.

The Khuzestan Province justice department's director general, Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi, said on November 9 that 10 people will be executed soon and another nine will receive sentences of varying severity, provincial television reported.

Human Rights Watch on November 11 said the "10 Iranians of Arab origin" were sentenced to death in secret trials, and it added that at least 13 ethnic Arabs have been sentenced to death for armed activities against the state in the last year. HRW added that one of those facing capital punishment was actually in jail at the time of his alleged crime. (Bill Samii)

TWO BOMBINGS IN SOUTHWESTERN IRAN. Two explosions occurred in different parts of the southwestern city of Ahvaz on November 10, Fars News Agency and Mehr News Agency reported. The authorities described percussion grenades filled with TNT, and although windows were broken, nobody was injured. (Bill Samii)

STUDENTS GATHER TO PROTEST INJURIES TO POLITICAL PRISONERS. Several political prisoners were reportedly injured in Evin prison in Tehran on November 15 after a scuffle with other prisoners described as dangerous, RFE/RL's Radio Farda reported. The scuffle reportedly broke out when the dissidents objected to having "dangerous criminals and louts" transferred to their wing. One of the injured was Nasser Zarafshan, a prominent lawyer involved in human rights cases, Radio Farda reported. Separately, in the northeastern city of Tabriz, students, lecturers, and members of the Basij militia gathered outside the Azerbaijani Consulate to protest against a cartoon allegedly insulting the Prophet Muhammad that was published in the Baku newspaper "Sanaat" (Industry), Radio Farda reported. The protesters demanded that Azerbaijan formally apologize and that the Iranian Foreign Ministry summon its ambassador for an explanation, Radio Farda reported. (Vahid Sepehri)

UN HELPS COMBAT DRUGPROBLEM, BUT BUREAUCRACY COULD HINDER EFFORT. Antonio Maria Costa, executive director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), announced a $22 million contribution to Iran during his November 7-9 visit to that country.

Iran is a global leader in drug seizures, and senior officials frequently decry what they see as insufficient international support and a lack of recognition of their counternarcotics efforts.

Iran's president has called for greater attention to the treatment of addicts, but bureaucratic competition among Iran's numerous drug-control agencies could hinder that country's fight against drugs.

Iranian officials reportedly used Costa's visit to urge UN action to counter increased cultivation of opium poppies in neighboring Afghanistan, according to official Iranian Mashhad radio's November 9 Dari-language newscast.

A number of them complained that Iran's drug-fighting effort gets too little help from the rest of the world.

The leader of Iran's judiciary, Mahmud Hashemi-Shahrudi, called his country "the main path for drug transit from Afghanistan to Europe," Mehr News Agency reported, citing their meeting on November 7. He said international bodies fail to appreciate Iran's role in stopping the drugs and warned that if international assistance is not forthcoming, Tehran will have to reconsider its interdiction efforts.

The same day, a deputy speaker of parliament, Mohammad Reza Bahonar, told Costa that UN financial assistance to Iran's antidrug program is negligible, IRNA reported.

President Mahmud Ahmadinejad claimed in his discussion with Costa on November 9 that "[certain] arrogant powers are supporting the drugs trafficking and distribution gangs with the intention of harming independent states and nations," IRNA reported.

Costa arrived in the southeastern Sistan va Baluchistan Province that borders Pakistan on November 8. After meeting with the Iranian Drug Control Headquarters secretary-general, Fada Hussein Maleki, Costa announced the UN's $22 million contribution to help Iran combat drugs, IRNA reported. He said the funds are intended to strengthen the eastern border against drug traffickers and for intelligence activities by police in that part of the country.

Costa's choice of venues for his announcement was significant. Sistan va Baluchistan Province is bedeviled by smugglers and insurgents. Costa met with Maleki at the Rasul-i Akram base in Zahedan, which was created in April to coordinate the efforts of police, military, and other security agencies.

The base's deputy commander, Islamic Revolution Guards Corps' Brigadier Qassem Rezai, said in early August that stopping drug smugglers is one of the facility's main activities.

Rezai noted that the base tracks developments in eastern parts of Hormozgan Province, in Kerman Province, in South Khorasan Province, and in Sistan va Baluchistan Province, according to Kerman's "Rudbar Zamin" weekly on August 9. Rezai said steps related to the drug-interdiction effort include blocking a 70-kilometer stretch of the border with Pakistan with a trench that is five meters wide and four meters deep, with electronic monitoring, and with armed patrols. Rezai said forward operating bases have been established in the region, paramilitary (Basij) camps are being set up, and friendly tribes will be used. He stressed that authorities "have strengthened the intelligence system of the region."

Iran's southeast was not always the destination of choice for smugglers. But trafficking routes for drugs originating in Afghanistan have changed. The traditional route was from southern Khorasan to Isfahan, Kerman, Tabas, or Yazd, then up to West Azerbaijan Province into Turkey. This pattern changed with the creation of the Mohammad Rasulallah Central Headquarters in eastern Iran in the early 1990s and affiliated operations by the IRGC. Creation of a national police force in 1993-1994 and establishment of the Mersad military base in the southeastern Kerman Province effectively ended use of the traditional route.

The alternatives for traffickers moving drugs from Afghanistan are a northern route through Central Asia to Russia and then the Balkans, or a southern route from Pakistan to Sistan va Baluchistan Province and then to the Sea of Oman and the Persian Gulf.

Despite Iranian officials' dissatisfaction with the international community's support, the country participates in a number of multilateral counternarcotics programs. During his visit to Iran, UNODC head Costa met with envoys from the mostly Western Mini-Dublin Group.

The Dublin Group comprises the European Union, Australia, Canada, Japan, Norway, and the United States. It is an informal entity that meets to exchange views on counternarcotics, make recommendations on dealing with the problem, and coordinate cooperation between members and partner countries.

Drug control was also discussed at a late-October meeting in Tehran of interior ministers from Economic Cooperation Organization member states (Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan).

Bilateral initiatives are important to Iran as well. In Damascus on November 3, the Iranian police chief offered advice to a Syrian deputy interior minister on using sniffer dogs and computer systems to combat drugs, IRNA reported. The same day in Tehran, the head of Iran's Drug Control Headquarters told Azerbaijan's visiting interior minister, Ramil Yusbov, that Iran is ready to share its experience, according to IRNA.

Interdiction is the cornerstone of Iranian activities. But there appears to be a new emphasis on treatment of addicts. Drug-control chief Maleki has announced on October 26 the government's allocation of roughly $14 million to treat addiction, ILNA reported. He noted the creation of drug-information centers and treatment centers in the provinces, calling it the first time that provinces have dealt individually with those issues.

A total of 17 camps are being established to cure the addicts and methadone programs will be employed, according to the head of the Prisons Organization's health department, Parviz Afshar, quoted by "Hemayat" on August 17.

Addiction is illegal in Iran, and thousands of addicts are imprisoned. The head of prisons in Gilan Province says that one in three of the 4,500 prisoners there is guilty of addiction, trafficking, or related crimes, according to a quote in "Gilan-i Imruz" on August 7. He acknowledged that addicts are resourceful and can get drugs in prison.

A recent government report states that 56 percent of Iranians infected with HIV acquired it from sharing needles when using drugs in prison. The report goes on to say that nearly two-thirds of all HIV cases are drug addicts, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on October 4.

The authorities in Iran must also contend with new forms of drugs entering the country. Lately, there is much focus on a highly concentrated -- and addictive -- form of heroin referred to as "crystal."

Counternarcotics experts believe the substance is smoked, and it is highly addictive because it is so concentrated -- 15 to 20 kilograms of opium are required for 1 kilogram of crystal, while the normal opium-to-heroin ratio tends to be 10:1.

Police in the northern Semnan Province said in early October that they had seized 132 kilograms of crystal in the first six months of the Iranian year, Fars News Agency reported. Seizures of crystal were reported in northeastern Khorasan Province in October, in Tehran in September, and in Kerman Province in August.

Other substances are abused as well, including methamphetamine and club drugs like ecstasy. Major Shahnam Rezai, a public affairs official with the West Azerbaijan Province police, said on October 22 that 400,000 hallucinogenic tablets were seized in the last month, Urumiyeh television reported.

For more than two decades, the Iranian government concentrated on interdiction as the preferred way to deal with drug abuse. Tehran insisted it was a supply-driven problem. Despite mounting anecdotal evidence, it dismissed suggestions that unemployment and a lack of constructive social outlets might be behind the demand for drugs.

It was only in the final years of President Mohammad Khatami's administration (1997-2005) that a greater proportion of the drug-fighting budget was earmarked for demand reduction.

The creation of new addiction-treatment camps suggests that the Ahmadinejad administration -- after some deliberation -- has decided to continue on that path.

This emphasis on the demand side could help curb Iran's drug problem, as might the United Nations' recently announced financial contribution.

But competition within the Iranian counternarcotics community could hinder success. A deputy national police chief, Colonel Seyyed Hassan Batouli, said recently that 13 organizations are involved in the drug fight, "Mardom Salari" reported on October 5. The state prosecutor-general, Qorban Ali Dori-Najafabadi, noted that each province is conducting its own campaign, Hemayat" reported on October 2.

Resolving those bureaucratic issues could be as important as any funding from the United Nations. But it is unclear whether UNODC chief Costa addressed these problems during his recent trip to Iran. (Bill Samii)

ALLEGED VIDEO OF TV STAR UNDERLINES SOCIETAL CHANGES. An alleged homemade pornographic movie of an Iranian state television star has appeared on the Internet, forcing the young woman to defend herself publicly, Radio Farda reported on November 12. Zahra Amir Ebrahimi, star of a soap opera called "Narges," has denied that she is the person in the allegedly poor-quality video, and the man who distributed the tape has fled the country.

Appearance of this kind of video is not a recent development, Radio Farda reports. The authorities acknowledge the existence of a significant black market in Iran for information about celebrities, and pictures of cinema and sports stars' weddings and parties are available just hours after the events take place.

An anonymous commentator told Radio Farda that societal values have changed significantly since the 1979 Islamic revolution: respect for privacy has deteriorated, and neighbors can inform on each other to the security forces. (Bill Samii)

NEW PLANNING CHIEF APPOINTED. Mahmud Ahmadinejad has appointed Amir Mansur Borqei as the new head of the Management and Planning Organization, the state economic planning and budgeting body, ISNA reported on November 15. Borqei has the rank of a vice president and replaces Farhad Rahbar, who recently protested the merging of provincial planning and budgeting offices under his authority with provincial governorates (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," October 23, 2006).

Borqei is 49 years old, a graduate of the Science and Industry (Elm va Sanaat) University in Tehran, and previously was deputy energy minister for planning and economic affairs. He oversaw large projects like dam and airport constructions from 1991 to 2006, ISNA reported, though it was not clear if Borqei was a deputy minister at the time. (Vahid Sepehri)

DOES RUSSIA HAVE NEW IDEAS ABOUT RESTARTING SIX-PARTY TALKS WITH IRAN? Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in Moscow on November 11 after a meeting between President Putin and Iran's top nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, that Russia wants to restart talks between Iran and the five permanent UN Security Council members, plus Germany, news agencies reported. Lavrov added that "there is an agreement that our contacts will be continued and, of course, we will work on achieving our common goal, the resumption of six-party talks. In the near future we will continue having contacts with the members of the six-party talks, who have offered Iran some ideas as the basis for resumption of the talks and Iran has responded to it."

Meanwhile, in Tehran, Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki said Iran is ready to consider a proposal to enrich uranium in Russia but will not stop similar work in Iran. On November 13, the countries belonging to the six-party group are slated to continue discussions about an EU-sponsored draft UN resolution on Iran. Russia has offered amendments that would reduce the scope of the sanctions proposed by the EU countries, which include travel bans and financial restrictions on Iranian scientists working on the nuclear and missile programs. (Patrick Moore)

IRAN RESPONDS TO UN INSPECTORS' REPORT. Iran's Atomic Energy Agency argued on November 15 that there is nothing new about traces of sensitive nuclear material UN inspectors found at a facility in Iran, news agencies reported. International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors found traces of plutonium and enriched uranium, which can be used in nuclear weapons, and the finding reported on November 14 is in a report that will be considered at an IAEA meeting next week, AP reported. The report also notes that Iran has not been fully cooperative with inspectors, AP added.

However, AP quoted an unnamed UN official as saying on November 14 that Iran has already provided explanations, and the traces could plausibly come from peaceful nuclear activities. He added that while the uranium traces had been enriched more than necessary for electricity-generation purposes, the enrichment remains below the level needed for bomb-making activities. Iran maintains its nuclear activities are strictly for generating electricity or for scientific research.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Husseini said in Tehran on November 15 that Iran has "repeatedly responded" to the issues in the new report, and undertaken "all cooperation" with the IAEA pursuant to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, ISNA reported. He said Iran has "in a constructive and comprehensive manner" opened its facilities to IAEA inspections, and "the spirit" of IAEA reports confirms the "transparency" of its program, ISNA reported.

President Mahmud Ahmadinejad said in Tehran on November 14 that Iranians will be informed of "two important and very advanced achievements in technology" by the Ten Days of Dawn, the 10-day period each February commemorating the 1979 revolution, IRNA reported. "In one of these two technologies, no country has so far been successful," he said. "The Ten Days of Dawn this year will be 10 days of magnificent the nuclear and technological fields." Ahmadinejad gave no details of the breakthroughs but said that by February, "these two achievements will be at the people's disposal and will formally enter the Iranian market."

Former President Mohammad Khatami told Turkish television's Channel D in Istanbul on November 13 that Turkey need not worry about Iran's nuclear program as Iran has "not attacked any country." He added, according to Radio Farda, that he is "upset [that] you fear Iran." Khatami was attending a conference of the Alliance of Civilizations initiative, sponsored by Turkey and Spain, according to the Turkish website "We have to fear those countries that use their power negatively," Khatami reportedly said before going on to claim that Israel "is the main source of concern," Radio Farda reported.

In Paris on November 12, French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin called for the swift adoption of a new UN resolution against Iran in response to what the West sees as disconcerting nuclear activities. He said the resolution "must anticipate progressive, targeted, and reversible sanctions" against Tehran, AP reported. De Villepin told the general assembly of the World Jewish Congress that the West merely intends to bring Iran back to respecting its "international commitments" on nonproliferation and said an Iran "armed with nuclear weapons capabilities" is "unacceptable," AP reported. (Vahid Sepehri)

LAWMAKER CALLS DEMOCRATIC GAINS IN U.S. 'A VICTORY' FOR IRAN. Alaedin Borujerdi, the head of the parliamentary National Security and Foreign Policy Committee, said on November 13 that the Democratic Party's victory in U.S. Congressional elections in November "shows that Iran's point of view on [the administration of George W. Bush's] policies are correct and [those policies] are mistaken in various political and military areas," ISNA reported. Borujerdi said Iran has repeated that the current administration's policies in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Middle East are "unacceptable" and have led to the "violation of the right of nations and the deaths of innocent people." He said the decision by American voters to give Democrats a majority in Congress corroborates Iran's views, and is "really a victory for Iran." He argued that the Democrats must now make good on electoral criticisms of Bush's policies in Iraq, and have a year to do so as attention will turn the following year to the presidential election in 2008. Borujerdi said Iran should wait and see "without any pre-judgment" the positions the Democrats intend to adopt vis-a-vis Iran, ISNA reported. (Vahid Sepehri)

WHITE HOUSE CONTINUES STATE OF EMERGENCY ON IRAN. Iran and Hizballah make up a "global nexus of terrorism," according to a November 11 statement from White House spokesman Tony Snow, Reuters reported. The statement praised an Argentinean court's warrant for the arrest of Iranian officials in connection with a 1994 bombing in Argentina (see below). The state of emergency with respect to Iran will continue for a year as of November 14, because relations between Iran and the United States "have not yet returned to normal," according to a November 9 announcement from the White House.

The Iran emergency was declared on November 14, 1979, "to deal with the unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security, foreign policy, and economy of the United States constituted by the situation in Iran." This is distinct from the "national emergency with respect to Iran" signed by President George W. Bush in March 2005 because of Iran's support for terrorism, its active opposition to the Middle East peace process, and its pursuit of weapons of mass destruction (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 15 March 2004 and 23 March 2005). (Bill Samii)

TEHRAN DENOUNCES ARGENTINIAN COURT VERDICT. Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Seyyed Mohammad Ali Husseini said in a statement on November 11 that a recent Argentinean arrest warrant for several Iranian officials -- including former President Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani and former Intelligence and Security Minister Ali-Akbar Fallahian-Khuzestani -- is not legal and the charges lack evidence, state television and Fars News Agency reported. Husseini said the case has been dismissed by a British court, that Interpol released 12 Iranians in a related case, and the previous Argentinean judge was corrupt.

Husseini added, "Using the statements of a group of antirevolutionary Iranians who are agents of the CIA and Mossad, the newly assigned judge has rephrased the 800-page case compiled by the former judge of the case and issued his verdict very hastily under the influence of the Zionist lobbies and without presentation of any proof for the allegations."

On November 12, Husseini said in Tehran that the Iranian government will provide Interpol with documents proving the innocence of the accused, IRNA reported.

In Istanbul on November 13, former President Mohammad Khatami also dismissed the arrest warrants, saying they constitute "the most ridiculous plot presented against Iran" and one "orchestrated by the Zionists," Turkish television's Channel D reported.

As a result of the arrest warrants, Iran-Argentina tensions have heightened and there is discord within Argentina's own government, Radio Farda and Reuters reported on November 13 and 14. Argentina accused Iran on November 13 of meddling in its internal affairs by complaining about investigations into the bombing case, and its foreign ministry summoned Iranian charge d'affaires Mohsen Baharvand to explain why an Iranian prosecutor reportedly asked for arrest warrants to be issued for Argentinean judges working on the case. Baharvand was handed a letter at the ministry refuting Iranian criticisms of Argentina's investigations, Reuters reported on November 13.

Argentinean President Nestor Kirchner has also asked for the resignation of left-wing senior civil servant Luis D'Elia, who recently went to the Iranian mission in Buenos Aires to deposit documents critical of Argentinean judges handling the dossier, Reuters reported. (Bill Samii, Vahid Sepehri)

LEBANESE, PALESTINIAN OFFICIALS MEET WITH IRANIANS. Iranian officials met with counterparts from Palestine, Lebanon, and other Arab governments during the Seventh Public Forum of Asian Parliaments for Peace in Tehran.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei received Lebanese parliamentary speaker Nabih Berri on November 14 and congratulated him on the Lebanese people's "victory" over Israel in July, IRNA reported. Berri was heading a delegation of members of Hizballah and Amal, Lebanon's Shi'a parties. Khamenei said the Lebanese fight against "America and the Zionist regime" was "unprecedented" and he called Hizballah chief Hassan Nasrallah "an exceptional figure." Khamenei attributed the perceived success in part to "unity and solidarity" between Amal and Hizballah "brothers." U.S. policies "in the world and the region are heading for defeat," Khamenei said, and "one must...make the most use of these opportunities."

Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki met separately with his Palestinian counterpart, Mahmud al-Zahar, in Tehran on November 14, reiterating Iran's support for Palestinian aspirations. He said the United States and Israel are "currently faced with various failures in international and regional arenas in Lebanon, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Palestine," and "American officials are now seeing the results of their mistaken approaches in various areas." These, Mottaki said, have led to electoral defeat for the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's removal, "and other electoral aftershocks."

President Mahmud Ahmadinejad told Palestinian diplomat Faruq Qaddumi that Tehran still believes in the "Palestine ideal" and will support Palestinians "in various areas," IRNA reported following a meeting in Tehran on November 13. Qaddumi is the foreign policy chief of the Palestinian Liberation Organization and secretary-general of Fatah, the party of Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas. Ahmadinejad claimed that in response to increasing weakness and daily defeats, the "Zionists" are "trying to exert political, psychological, and military pressures to force [Palestinians] and other retreat." Israel's supporters are today "doubtful" over the "advantages of its continued existence," Ahmadinejad contended. Qaddumi said Iran's supportive stance "has strengthened the determination of the Palestinian people and militants in fighting" Israel, IRNA reported.

Ahmadinejad also met with Kuwaiti parliament speaker Jasim Muhammad al-Khurafi and called for enhanced bilateral cooperation in business, shipping, and security affairs, IRNA reported. He and Ahmadinejad agreed that "enemies" are trying to divide Muslim and regional states, and that Iran has a "fitting role" in promoting regional cooperation, IRNA reported.

In a meeting on November 13 with Syrian parliamentary speaker Mahmud al-Barash, Ahmadinejad said Damascus and Tehran must work together "as two vanguard counter the plots of the system of domination and to establish justice and spirituality in the world," IRNA reported. "The system of domination is trying to strike at independent and free countries, and regional nations must prevent with vigilance...the presence of forceful states that wish to loot the resources of Middle East states." (Vahid Sepehri)

FORMER OFFICIALS LOOK AT IRAQ. Former President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami said in Ankara on November 15 that Iran is not fomenting disorder in Iraq, ISNA reported. He told a group of Iranians in Ankara that Tehran, "contrary to, wants the present crisis in Iraq to be resolved, because the crisis in Iraq is against Iran's national interests." He said it is the "intervention of foreign powers that has made the region's situation more critical." The presence of "foreign occupying forces in Iraq gives the agents of insecurity a pretext, and the target of these insecurities is Iran and Iran's friends in Iraq, including the Shi'a, who naturally feel an affinity with Iran." He said he knows nothing of the "expectations of governments from one another," referring to reports that the United States expects Turkey to participate in possible sanctions against Iran, but any such expectation is "irrational and illegitimate." The United States' "discriminatory" conduct and "double standards" have promoted "extremism, violence and insecurity, especially in the...Middle East," ISNA quoted him as saying.

Former Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi said in Tehran on November 14 that the United Kingdom and the United States are "late" in asking Iran to help them resolve the problems of Iraq, ISNA reported. He said he told British Prime Minister Tony Blair a month before Iraq's 2003 invasion by Anglo-American forces not to "dirty yourself" with the war and to advise the United States not to enter "the Iraqi quagmire," recalling Britain's own historical experience in Iraq. Britain, as one of the powers that dismembered the Ottoman Empire, oversaw Iraq's transition to full independence in the 1920s and 1930s.

Kharrazi said that at another meeting one year after the invasion he advised Blair to leave Iraq. "They are stuck in Iraq today," Kharrazi said. "They can neither stay in the Iraqi government, nor can they leave Iraq. And we have no choice but to think of our best interests and those of the people and government of Iraq." What reason is there, he asked, "for us to help people who are against us and who seek to disrupt the state of the entire Middle East?" (Vahid Sepehri)

KAZAKHSTAN TO DELIVER MORE OIL TO IRAN WITH SWAPS. Iranian Ambassador to Kazakhstan Ramin Mehmanparast said on November 15 in Almaty that oil swaps from Kazakhstan to his country will rise to 3 million tons by the end of 2006, a 50 percent increase on 2005 figures, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. The two countries are also finalizing technical issues related to grain deliveries from Kazakhstan to Iran, with an initial amount of 1 million tons of Kazakh grain to be transported to Iran at the end of 2008, Mehmanparast added.