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Iran Report: December 4, 2006

December 4, 2006, Volume 9, Number 45

REFORMIST, FUNDAMENTALIST CANDIDATES RULED OUT OF ASSEMBLY ELECTION. Iran's Assembly of Experts is one of the country's most powerful institutions, as the 86-member body has the power to select and dismiss the country's supreme leader. But candidates for the upcoming assembly elections have to be approved by Iran's conservative Council of Guardians.

The council has decided that only one-third of the hopefuls for the December 15 election meet the criteria to be candidates. Most importantly, it appears that reformists and fundamentalists are being kept out of the race in favor of traditionalists.

The vetting of assembly candidates by the Council of Guardians represents a significant effort by traditionalists -- the generation that has ruled the Islamic Republic of Iran since 1979 -- to fight back against a younger generation of fundamentalists that is symbolized by President Mahmud Ahmadinejad and his purported religious guide, Ayatollah Mohammad Taqi Mesbah-Yazdi.

Abbas Ali Kadkhodai, a spokesman for the Guardians Council, announced on November 28 that 163 candidates are eligible for the upcoming election, Fars News Agency reported.

When registration ended in October, 492 people were officially listed as potential candidates, meaning that only one-third of those who applied to be candidates were accepted by the Council of Guardians. Some races were left uncontested as a result.

The Interior Ministry published the lists of approved candidates on November 29 and, on the same day, several political parties issued lists of the candidates they will support.

Trends In The Rejections

There were complaints about those who were disqualified, but Interior Minister Hojatoleslam Mustafa Pur-Mohammadi denied that the reformists were singled out, "Hemayat" reported on November 29.

In the days preceding the announcement of eligible candidates, several trends became apparent. The first trend -- which is not unexpected -- was the Guardians Council's rejection of pro-reform candidates, even if they were incumbents.

The second noticeable trend was the Guardians Council's rejection of candidates associated with Ayatollah Mesbah-Yazdi, the fundamentalist cleric that Ahmadinejad allegedly follows.

Qassem Ravanbakhsh, the editor of Mesbah-Yazdi's weekly "Parto Sokhan," said that members of Mesbah-Yazdi's Imam Khomeini Institute failed the eligibility exams, "Siyasat-i Ruz" reported on November 20. They passed the written exam, he added, but failed the oral tests.

"Right now, we are looking for independent candidates in other provinces whose qualifications have been approved," Ravanbakhsh said. "Of course, I must say that our list might have names in common with the Qom Theological Lecturers Association." That statement can only muddy the waters because it suggests that the fundamentalist candidates might not be part of any known faction or they might be backed by a mainstream theological association.

Mohsen Gharavian, one of Mesbah-Yazdi's students, announced that although he registered as a candidate in Qom he would instead run as a candidate in Northern Khorasan Province because there is only one candidate there, "Ayandeh-yi No" reported on November 16. Gharavian also claimed that he no longer cares to associate himself with Mesbah-Yazdi supporters. The final Interior Ministry list showed that Gharavian remained a candidate in Qom.

And the candidacy of Mesbah-Yazdi -- in Tehran -- was approved.

Traditional Conservative Advance As the Guardians Council eliminated reformists and fundamentalists, it approved the qualifications of the traditional conservatives. Then it moved these candidates to constituencies where they would not face any competition, according to "Ayandeh-yi No" on November 16.

Moving candidates around is a new development, but the vetting of candidates for elected office has been used often to shape the course of politics in Iran. It is for this reason that the requirements to serve in the Assembly of Experts have grown more restrictive since it was first created in 1979. Of the 72 members elected then, only 55 were clerics. This first assembly existed for just a few months, and its function was to draft the Islamic Republic's new constitution.

At the next assembly election in 1982 it was determined that only those trained in and capable of interpreting Islamic law (ijtihad), and therefore capable of recognizing religious sources of emulation, were eligible.

Only the testimony of three well-known, high-level seminary professors or Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini himself -- attesting to possession of the required skills -- was enough for someone to qualify as a candidate.

By 1990, the regulations for candidacy were made even more restrictive, and prospective candidates had to show proof that they had acquired the rank of mujtahid (one who can interpret religious law).

They would have to undergo oral and written exams unless they were given an exemption from the new supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The number of selectors was reduced, furthermore, with only the highly conservative Guardians Council examining eligibility. These new requirements eliminated nearly every leftist cleric. A reported 62 of 178 applicants failed, and seven withdrew.

New standards were added again for the 1998 assembly elections. All potential candidates had to demonstrate the "proper political inclination." Fewer than half of the 396 applicants were accepted by the Guardians Council, but some incumbents were allowed to run even though they failed the ijtihad examination, with the Guardians Council arguing that Khomeini had previously approved their credentials.

All of these restrictions and the limited number of candidates for the Assembly of Experts indicate that these will not be the most competitive of races, nor will campaigning for these important elections be dramatic. If the traditionalists retain their hold on the assembly they will have made a dent in the armor of the political machine of Ahmadinejad and his followers. This will undermine the illusion of fundamentalist inevitability, and it could motivate other political factions to participate in the upcoming parliamentary and presidential elections. (Bill Samii)

REFORMISTS REPORTEDLY DISQUALIFIED FROM LOCAL ELECTIONS. The names of vetted candidates for upcoming municipal council elections in Iran will be announced in the final days of November, some two weeks before the actual voting takes place. Preliminary reports from around the country suggest mass disqualifications of reformists in the provinces, in contrast with official reports of inclusiveness.

Behind the scenes, factional disputes and competition are preventing the formation of election coalitions, a development that will hinder the reformist challengers.

Heshmatollah Falahat-Pisheh, a parliamentarian and spokesman for Iran's Central Committee for Monitoring Council Elections, said on November 25 that a final figure on the number of qualified candidates is not available yet, the Iranian Labor News Agency (ILNA) reported. He added that 700 candidates who were previously disqualified were reinstated.

Reformers Approved In Tehran...

Six days earlier, Falahat-Pisheh said, "According to the figures we received from some 28 provinces, the average disqualification rate in executive committees was 11 percent in cities and 5 percent in villages; and supervisory committee reviews have reduced these numbers by 50 percent."

Tehran is considered the bellwether of national politics, even though Iran is an enormous country of roughly 70 million people. Falahat-Pisheh claimed on November 19 that all the reformists in Tehran were approved as candidates.

According to Ahmad Karimi-Isfahani, a member of the executive committee for council elections in Tehran Province, "All the inquisitions and qualification assessments for the candidates of Tehran have been finalized and it must be mentioned that 1,243 people were qualified, 191 disqualified, and seven resigned from running."

Although reformists may have won approval in Tehran, there are reports of widespread disqualifications of them in other parts of the country. Referring to Shiraz, the capital of Fars Province, the Islamic Labor Party's Abdullah Amiri said all the reformists were rejected. Approving reformists in Tehran, he continued, is meant to hide the disqualifications elsewhere. Moreover, Amiri said, the reformists are unlikely to win in Tehran.

...Rejected In Provinces?

Also referring to the provincial disqualifications, Hussein Kashefi, deputy secretary-general of the reformist Islamic Iran Participation Front, charged that there is opposition to the holding of legitimate elections. "They only wish to have some show elections," he added.

Ayatollah Jalaledin Taheri-Isfahani, a member of the Assembly of Experts, said on November 25 that all the prospective reformist candidates in Isfahan were rejected.

In late October and early November the focus was more on coalitions and rivalries than it was on individual candidates. With the conservatives, there was talk of a competition between the allies of President Mahmud Ahmadinejad and Tehran Mayor Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, who had run against Ahmadinejad in the 2005 presidential race.

Qalibaf allegedly annoyed Ahmadinejad, his predecessor as Tehran mayor, when he appointed Mohsen Hashemi as head of the Tehran subway system. Hashemi is the son of Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, the former president and Ahmadinejad rival who, for the fundamentalists, symbolizes corruption and a retreat on Islamist ideology. The president reacted by not allowing Qalibaf to attend cabinet meetings and by showing reluctance in releasing funds for the subway's budget.

Linking The Conservatives

Around this time, there was talk of pro-Ahmadinejad and pro-Qalibaf factions, and also of a more traditional conservative faction associated with the Islamic Coalition Party. The entities carried names such as the Council of Elders, the Council of Trustees, Front for Followers of the Line of the Imam and the Leader, and the Association of the Loyal Supporters of the Islamic Revolution. Despite the different names, their memberships were sometimes identical, "Farhang-i Ashti" reported on November 11.

The Islamic Coalition Party tried to put itself above these conflicts and rivalries. Secretary-General Mohammad Nabi Habibi said the party wants to serve as a link between the fundamentalist groups.

By late November, it appeared that the quest for a unified list of conservative candidates remained unfulfilled. Hassan Ghafurifard, former secretary-general of the Society of the Loyalists of the Islamic Revolution, said, "with only three weeks to go to the elections, there are still no clear prospects of attaining a single list for the [fundamentalists]." He said the Qalibaf and Ahmadinejad backers have their own lists.

Like the conservatives, the reformists are finding it difficult to achieve unity. Fatemeh Karrubi of the Islamic Association of Women said that her group shares many of the reformists' views, but it will have its own list. She added that there is no complete reformist list yet, but said one will be announced at the end of the week.

The December 15 elections for municipal councils may seem unimportant in terms of national politics. Although called for in the constitution, council elections did not take place until 1999. Former President Mohammad Khatami and other reformists promoted the councils as an important step in the development of civil society institutions in Iran, and voter participation in the 1999 elections was noteworthy.

Disappointed In The Councils The councils did not live up to practical expectations, however, not least because they do not have any significant powers or responsibilities. They deal with construction permits, fire departments, garbage collection, parks, public transportation, roads, and street cleaning. The central government is responsible for everything else, such as education, electricity, and the provision of water.

A recent commentary in a reformist daily -- "Mardom Salari" on November 22 -- claimed that an Interior Ministry poll found that less than 20 percent of residents of the country's medium and large cities are satisfied with the councils. The councils were criticized for their failure to consult with experts on urban management and, on those rare occasions when they did, only individuals who confirmed pre-existing views were chosen. The councils' lack of long-term planning was criticized, too.

There also are accusations of corruption. Friday Prayer leader Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati referred to this problem in his November 3 sermon in Tehran. Some of the councils, he said, "are governed by bribery," state television reported. "If you bribe them your business will be sorted out immediately and if you do not give in to bribery you will be running [around] for a year [trying] to sort out a trivial business," he said. "If you do not want to pay bribes you will be left behind doors for four to five years."

Despite these criticisms of the councils, there is stiff competition for a place on them. Reformist parties see victory in the council elections as an important step in regaining the elected offices lost to fundamentalists in the parliamentary race of 2004 and presidential race of 2005. The fundamentalists see the elections as an important stage in continuing their winning streak and cementing their hold on power. (Bill Samii)

PARLIAMENT SPEAKER WARNS OF RELIGIOUS DISCORD. Gholam-Ali Haddad-Adel on November 26 blamed strife on Iran's periphery to the country's enemies, Fars News Agency reported. "Enemies of Islam intend to exercise the same policy and sow discord between the Shi'a and Sunnis in a number of border provinces, such as Sistan va Baluchistan, Khuzestan, Kurdistan, etc., in a bid to hinder materialization of the goals of the Islamic Revolution and prevent our revolution from setting a paradigm for other countries," he said.

Nasser Bani Assad, spokesman for the British Ahwazi Friendship Society, said the same day that Haddad-Adel is misrepresenting the situation in southwestern Khuzestan where, according to him, 70 percent of the population is Arab and 80 percent of the Arabs practice Shi'a Islam, according to the society's website. Locals' protests are not, he continued, "against Shi'ism but against the regime's anti-Arab racism."

The province has seen fatal bombings and demonstrations over the last 18 months; provincial television has broadcast the heavily edited confessions of some bombers, and in March two were executed.

The UN General Assembly on November 22 voted in favor of a resolution that criticized Iran's human rights record and its treatment of minorities; the European Parliament had adopted a similar resolution on November 16. (Bill Samii)

LEGAL, MILITARY AUTHORITIES PROBE IRGC PLANE CRASH. An Antonov-74 airplane being used by the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) crashed shortly after takeoff from Tehran's Mehrabad Airport on November 27, killing 36 people, news agencies reported. There are two survivors.

Eleven people lost their lives when a military aircraft crashed in January in northwestern Iran, and in December an Iranian C-130 hit a building in Tehran, killing its 94 passengers and more than 20 people on the ground.

Mir-Ali Akbari, deputy commander of the IRGC's Qadr air base, told state television the aircraft was flying to Bandar Abbas via Shiraz, and the cause of the crash is under investigation. The commander of the IRGC, General Yahya Rahim-Safavi, discounted the possibility of sabotage and said one engine fell off after takeoff, Fars News Agency reported. This caused the plane to lose its balance and a wing hit the ground.

Justice Minister Jamal Karimi-Rad said on November 28 that a lawsuit relating to the crash will be filed soon, the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) reported. Filing a lawsuit, he explained, is necessary for an investigation to take place.

Mohammad-Kazem Bahrami, head of the armed-forces judicial organization, said on November 28 that there will be no ruling on whether the crash was the result of criminal activity until a technical report is ready, IRNA reported. Bahrami called for patience while the matter is being investigated.

Meanwhile, four members of parliament issued a written notice to the minister of defense and armed-forces logistics and to the minister of roads and transport on November 28 reminding them that they must investigate the previous day's airplane crash, IRNA reported. Legislators Mohammad-Reza Mir-Tajedini, Eshrat Shayeq, Reza Talai-Nik, and Jalal Yahya-Zadeh also advised Defense Minister Mustafa Mohammad Najjar and Transport Minister Mohammad Rahmati that they are obliged to keep the public informed about the case.

Alaedin Borujerdi, the head of the parliamentary National Security and Foreign Policy Committee, said on November 28 that his committee will investigate the crash thoroughly, IRNA reported. (Bill Samii)

'FORGOTTEN VICTIMS' OF SADDAM HUSSEIN ERA AWAIT JUSTICE. The head of a center for Iran's disabled war veterans announced on November 26 that Iraq's former Baathist regime used chemical weapons against civilians and soldiers some 300 times in the 1980s. Two decades later, still suffering the long-term effects of chemical agents, many of the 100,000 Iranian survivors of Iraqi gas attacks continue to seek justice as they follow the trial of former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

They are described by many as forgotten victims of Saddam Hussein. In many cases, they are soldiers who fought in the bloody Iran-Iraq war in 1980-88. But many others were noncombatants.

Iranian authorities have registered more than 50,000 victims of chemical weapons requiring special medical care. But it is thought that about 1 million Iranians were exposed to mustard or nerve gas during the war.

Hussein Mohammadian, a resident of Sardasht in Iran's Kurdistan, is among those victims.

'A Special Smell'

Sardasht came under chemical attack months before the March 1988 attack on the Iraqi Kurdish town of Halabja, which became a symbol of Saddam Hussein's brutality. But Sardasht received scant media coverage, and was soon forgotten by many.

But Mohammadian has vivid memories of that hot afternoon in late-June 1987.

"It was not the first time Sardasht was being attacked, but the difference was -- and it became clear later -- that it was a chemical attack," he says. "Some of the bombs fell only a few meters from me. I thought our house was destroyed and my parents were under the rubble. I started running toward the house, when I realized there was thick smoke in the air and a special smell."

Several mustard bombs were dropped on the city, contaminating some 4,500 people. More than 100 people died in the first month after exposure.

Mohammadian says neighbors began coughing and suffering from blisters. Some vomited, while others could barely open their burning eyes.

Eleven members of his family were seriously contaminated. Mohammadian was in such a critical state that he was transferred to a hospital in Tehran, and then Madrid, for treatment. He learned of his father's death only two months after the attack.

Lifetime Of Pain

Mohammadian, now 46, is a senior member of a nongovernmental group that tries to help Sardasht's victims of chemical weapons. He tells RFE/RL that the city still bears the scars of that attack nearly 20 years ago.

"Many people have problems, including respiratory difficulties and weak nerves -- their immune systems have become weak," Mohammadian says. "The reality is that [scientists] have not yet found a guaranteed cure for these victims."

Many have died of collapsed lungs over the years, and others remain disabled.

Dr. Shahryar Khateri is a physician who has spent time researching the effects of chemical agents on Iranians. He says many survivors suffer from psychological symptoms, including depression and anxiety.

Khateri was 14 years old when he joined the war to repel the Iraqi invasion, and spent three years on the front lines. There, he witnessed several chemical attacks.

"In one of them, nerve gas was used -- but we had atropine cyanide injections and, fortunately, because of that our contamination was not very serious," Khateri says. "In another mustard-gas attack, we were some distance from where the bombs fell and we used masks."

No Forgetting

After the war, Khateri finished his medical studies and got involved in drawing attention to the plight of victims of chemical warfare.

He says many survivors have developed chronic lung, eye, or skin diseases.

"This is one reason why we believe [chemical weapons] are much more destructive than conventional weapons -- because even 20 years later, those who at the time of the attack were not seriously injured are slowly developing health problems," Khateri says.

Khateri is now the director of international relations at Iran's Society for Chemical Weapons Victims Support (SCWVS). His nonprofit group helps victims and is also active in peace exchanges and efforts to eliminate unconventional weapons.

Khateri tells RFE/RL that Iran's victims of chemical weapons feel the world has forgotten about them.

"There is talk of [Saddam Hussein's] crimes everywhere, but there is not a word about the crimes he committed against Iranians," Khateri says. "Sardasht is the first city in the world to have been attacked with chemical weapons. When it comes to Iran, this issue has been affected -- maybe because [Tehran] does not have good political relations with some countries."

Khateri says many victims are glad to see Iraq's former leader finally facing justice, but there is also disappointment.

"I -- and also many other survivors of the war whom I've talked to -- are happy that [Saddam Hussein] is facing trial," he says. "But we are disappointed that the attack against Iran and the use of chemical weapons [against Iranians] have been ignored. I feel this trial is not fair."

Unanswered Question

In Sardasht, Hussein Mohammadian holds out hope that Saddam Hussein -- who has already been sentenced to death for the mass killing of Iraqi civilians -- will also face prosecution for the use of chemical weapons against Iranians:

Khateri wants to know as well: "Before his [death] sentence is carried out, I would like him to answer a question: Why did he order the use of chemical weapons, especially against the defenseless people of Sardasht?"

In the minds of the tens or hundreds of thousands of Iranians whose lives have been wracked by pain and suffering since those chemical attacks, that question deserves an answer. (Golnaz Esfandiari)

PILGRIMS TO MECCA URGED TO AVOID STRIFE. Speaking to worshippers before the November 24 Friday Prayers in Tehran, Hojatoleslam Mohammad Mohammadi-Reyshahri discussed the upcoming Hajj, or pilgrimage to Mecca, the Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA) reported. The hajj is obligatory for all Muslims and is one of the five pillars of Islam.

Reyshahri warned that there are efforts to create differences between Shiite and Sunni Muslims, and he encouraged friendliness. Turning to the Iranian-organized "Disavowal of infidels" event which takes place every year at the pilgrimage, he said, "The slogans of 'Death to America' and 'Death to Israel' are the same as those used for the disavowal of infidels and rejection of polytheism in the world of Islam which are, with the grace of God, being realized, and we hope to see the disintegration of America and Israel in the near future."

Reyshahri has been the supreme leader's representative at the Hajj and Pilgrimage Organization since 1991 and leads the pilgrimage delegation. In June 1993, Reyshahri was prevented from returning to Medina from Mecca by Saudi authorities after Iranian pilgrims held illegal demonstrations. Iran boycotted the pilgrimage from 1988-91 because a 1987 Iranian rally resulted in clashes with Saudi security forces in which more than 400 people died. (Bill Samii)

AHMADINEJAD APPEALS TO AMERICAN PEOPLE. A translation of President Mahmud Ahmadinejad's November 29 open letter to the American people has been provided by IRNA and received coverage in Iranian newspapers, state television and radio, and on Radio Farda.

Ahmadinejad discusses Palestine and refers to alleged "persistent aggressions by the Zionists" there. "For 60 years, the Zionist regime has driven millions of the inhabitants of Palestine out of their homes," Ahmadinejad says, complaining that the White House has given Israel "blind and blanket support."

Ahmadinejad then discusses Iraq, advocating a U.S. withdrawal, before turning to the U.S. detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. He also notes U.S. expenditures in Iraq and refers to the problems faced by victims of Hurricane Katrina, as well as poverty and homelessness.

Ahmadinejad claims that judicial due process in the United States is "trampled upon," and he adds, "Private phones are tapped, suspects are arbitrarily arrested, sometimes beaten in the streets, or even shot to death."

Ahmadinejad addressed a letter to U.S. President George W. Bush in May that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said at the time contained "nothing new...that would suggest that we're on any different course than we were before we got the letter."

The more recent epistle received a similar reception from Washington. U.S. State Department spokesman Tom Casey responded on November 29 to President Ahmadinejad's open letter to the American people by suggesting that "there's really not a lot new here, and certainly it is something of a public-affairs or public-relations effort on the part of the Iranian government," RFE/RL reported.

Casey dismissed Ahmadinejad's observations on Iraq, saying, "If you look at Iranian actions towards Iraq, it's a bit hard to take some of these things seriously when Iran continues to actively work in a negative way in Iraq, including through its support for violence, its support for militias, as we've previously discussed."

An Iranian university lecturer identified only as Dr. Moslehzadeh by state radio said on November 30 that global media have falsely portrayed Ahmadinejad as a "hard-line and extreme person who does not respect international regulations." Moslehzadeh argued that the portrayal has only increased the president's popularity.

In the eastern city of Mashhad, legislator Musa Qorbani said on November 30 that Ahmadinejad's letter shows Americans that lies are being told about Iran, IRNA reported. "The letter will pave the ground for a more objective public opinion on U.S. policies and their impact on countries," Qorbani said. (Bill Samii)

U.S. OFFICIAL SUGGESTS SOONEST IRAN 'COULD PRODUCE' NUCLEAR WEAPON IS 2010. Gregory Schulte, the U.S. ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), told the audience at a November 27 event sponsored by the Austrian Institute for International Affairs that Iran could build a nuclear bomb by 2010, AP reported. "Our assessment...the assessment from our intelligence community, is that the soonest they could produce a nuclear weapon would be the beginning of next decade, 2010 to 2015," he said.

The next day, November 28, French Foreign Ministry spokesman Jean-Baptiste Mattei said in Paris that France, Germany, and the United Kingdom have transmitted a draft UN resolution regarding Iran to China, Russia, and the United States, AFP reported. The draft reportedly outlines sanctions against Iran for its nuclear activities. "The general rationale of the text remains the same, that is, to target Iran's nuclear and missile programs as well as the institutions running them and the individuals in charge of them," Mattei explained.

In Vienna on November 28, IAEA director-general Muhammad el-Baradei said that Iran needs to go beyond its legal obligations and must "take the initiative" to prove that it has a purely civilian nuclear program, Reuters reported. El-Baradei said Iran must explain why it did not report some nuclear activities for a 20-year period. "Much of that goes beyond [its legal nonproliferation commitments], so the solution is not going to be found in relying on one legal clause or another," Reuters quoted him as saying.

In Tehran the same day, Hojatoleslam Hassan Rohani, who is Supreme Leader Khamenei's representative to the Supreme National Security Council and who was the council's secretary for 16 years, said that referring the Iranian nuclear case to the UN Security Council was a mistake, and furthermore, "has no logical or legal basis," ISNA reported. Rohani said the IAEA is the proper entity to deal with the issue.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Husseini on November 29 rejected el-Baradei's calls for Iran to do more to clarify the nature of its nuclear program, ISNA reported. Husseini said the statements and reports of nuclear inspectors so far have been "so transparent" that their "reconstruction" has given the IAEA "clear perspectives" on Iran's program, ISNA reported. He said Iran "had and has no hidden nuclear activity, and has...said all that was necessary regarding its nuclear activities and installations," ISNA reported. (Bill Samii, Vahid Sepehri)

IRAQI PRESIDENT VISITS TEHRAN. Jalal Talabani, whose trip to Iran was delayed a few days due to the closure of the Baghdad airport, arrived in Tehran on November 27, Radio Farda reported. At a press conference in the Iranian capital, Talabani said the main topic of his discussions will be security and counterterrorism in Iraq. President Mahmud Ahmadinejad pledged Iran's assistance in this effort, saying that the violence in Iraq upsets all Iranians.

In a meeting with Singaporean Ambassador to Iran Gopinath Pillai on the same day, Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki said Iraq's occupiers need other countries' help to extract them from the "Iraqi quagmire," IRNA reported. He also criticized Israel and advised Arab states to sever their diplomatic ties with it.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei pledged his country's assistance in Iraq to Talabani at a meeting on November 28 that was also attended by President Ahmadinejad, Iranian state radio reported. "If the Iraqi government calls for our help, Iran will spare no efforts in helping Iraq restore its stability and security," Khamenei said.

He added that U.S. policies, which he described as being executed by its intermediaries, are behind insecurity in Iraq. Khamenei also dismissed suggestions of a Shi'a-Sunni conflict. Khamenei said Washington has bitten off more than it can chew in Iraq. The key to resolving insecurity, Khamenei continued, is the occupiers' departure.

Talabani concluded his visit to Tehran on November 29, and the two countries issued a joint statement wherein they each pledged not to interfere in the other's internal affairs, to abide by bilateral agreements made and registered with the UN, and to step up cooperation, ISNA reported. The statement stressed the importance of Iraqi territorial integrity, and Tehran committed itself to supporting the consolidation of "democratic institutions chosen by the Iraqi people" and of full popular sovereignty, also stating its support for Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's efforts to bring about national reconciliation and include diverse Iraqi groups in the political process.

The statement also stated, according to ISNA, that Iraq should implement its decision to expel opposition Iranian militants of the Mujahedin Khalq Organization, currently based in a camp in Iraq; that both sides condemned "the continued criminal and destructive acts of terrorist groups in Iraq"; that Iraq should allow direct air links with Iran and help with the opening of Iranian consulates in Irbil and Al-Sulaymaniyah; and that Iran should, in turn, help Iraq open a consulate in Mashhad, while Iranian firms should be allowed to participate in construction projects in Iraq. (Bill Samii, Vahid Sepehri)

LAWMAKERS STRESS IRAN'S REGIONAL ROLE. Mohammad Nabi Rudaki, a member of the parliamentary National Security and Foreign Policy Committee, on November 29 urged Iran to play a more active diplomatic and stabilizing regional role, ISNA reported. He said the Foreign Ministry and the Supreme National Security Council must be more active in helping "create stability and security" in Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon, and Palestine. Rudaki said President Mahmud Ahmadinejad should travel to states like Yemen, Turkey, Afghanistan, and Jordan for talks, which "will to lead to more cooperation and coordination in creating stability and security in the region," ISNA reported.

Another legislator, Elham Aminzadeh, told ISNA the same day that any international resolution to resolve the crisis in Iraq will be "condemned to failure" if it neglects to "take Iran and Syria's role into account." He said Iran and Syria would benefit from stability in Iraq, so "Iraq's two neighbors are ready to provide any assistance to that country."

Another committee member, Dariush Qanbari, told ISNA that visits to Iran by the Syrian and Iraqi presidents are useful to the United States and "serve to assure security in Iraq." He said Iran could also use them to reduce U.S. pressure on it over its nuclear dossier. (Vahid Sepehri)

RUSSIA DEFENDS ARMS SALES TO IRAN. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Lavrov said in a November 27 interview in the German magazine "Der Spiegel" that his country's delivery of the Tor-M1 air-defense system to Iran is under way, Radio Farda reported. He described this as a defensive weapons system that will not adversely affect the regional balance of power, Radio Farda reported. Lavrov added, according to Radio Farda, that he is certain Iran does not want to build a nuclear weapon. Russia is building the nuclear power plant in Bushehr, and Lavrov said this facility cannot be used for a weapons program. Lavrov explained that Russia is providing the enriched uranium for use there, and the depleted fuel will be returned to Russia. Lavrov also advised against the imposition of stringent sanctions by the UN Security Council, warning that this could push Iran to leave the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. (Bill Samii)

IRAN LODGES COMPLAINT AGAINST INTERNATIONAL SOCCER BODY. The Iranian soccer federation lodged on November 25 an official complaint against Federation International de Football Association (FIFA) after it suspended Iranian participation in international competition, Fars News Agency reported. The Iranian federation attributed FIFA's action to international politics. FIFA issued its ruling on November 22 due to what it called government interference in running the sport, Reuters reported. FIFA and the Asian Football Confederation had given Iran a November 15 deadline for reinstating the elected president of the country's soccer federation, Mohammad Dadkan, who along with his board was forced out by the government. (Bill Samii)

WEIGHTLIFTERS MAY RESUME COMPETING. International Weightlifting Federation (IWF) President Tamas Ajan said on November 27 that Iran has agreed to pay a $400,000 fine incurred for its athletes' abuse of performance-enhancing drugs, dpa reported (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," October 9, 2006). Ajan said Iran will pay $100,000 up front and the rest in installments. The Iranian squad was not allowed to participate in the September world championships, when nine of 11 athletes tested positive, and the IWF statement means Iran can participate in the Asian Games in Doha, which begin on December 1. (Bill Samii)