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Iran Report: February 1, 2005

1 February 2005, Volume 8, Number 5

SABRE-RATTLING FORETELLS REVOLUTION'S ANNIVERSARY. Iranian officials, particularly those in the military, are maintaining the belligerent tone they adopted last week when faced with negative statements from the White House and a news report alleging that U.S. military units are infiltrating Iranian territory (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 24 January 2005). Contributing to the Iranians' hostile stance is the fast-approaching anniversary of the 1979 revolution.

"We will use the same language if anyone chooses to use a language of force and threats against us," Iranian government spokesman Abdullah Ramezanzadeh said on 24 January, according to the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA). "But if they opt to engage in dialogue without any precondition on an equal footing, we will consider that," he added. Ramezanzadeh said U.S. policy towards Iran continues unchanged: "However, given that the American government has started its new term with threats, it is clear that no major change has occurred in the Americans' policy."

Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) ground forces commander Brigadier General Mohammad Ali Jafari said on 25 January that Iran will respond decisively to an attack by the U.S. or Israel, the Iranian Labor News Agency (ILNA) reported. Iran is militarily powerful and highly motivated, he said, and it will apply the lessons of the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq War and God's help to defeat the enemy in less than a month-and-a-half. According to Jafari, "In addition to our defensive capacity within the country, we have a powerful defensive capability outside the country."

IRGC commander Major General Yahya Rahim-Safavi said on 26 January in Tehran that Iran's importance in the region cannot be ignored by the U.S., Radio Farda and IRNA reported. He added, "The IRGC will strongly stand up to the U.S. greed in case of any conspiracy to that effect."

Deputy IRGC commander Mohammad Baqer Zolqadr told a gathering of clerics in Isfahan Province on 26 January that the U.S. recognizes that Iran is neither Afghanistan, which had no government or army, nor Iraq, which had no legitimacy or popular support, Fars News Agency reported. He said Iran has the most powerful military in the region. "We don't welcome war or bloodshed but if Americans do something wrong they will get such a response that they will never walk straight again," Zolqadr said. He added that Iran will retaliate outside its own borders and recognizes no limits when it comes to self-defense.

Major General Hassan Firuzabadi, commander of the regular armed forces, said on 26 January that the U.S. does not see the realities of Middle East events, because its officials are "preoccupied with the desire of gaining access to the Middle East energy resources and combating the rising support for Islam in the world, the Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA) reported. He went on to say that American threats only unite the Iranian people and increase the readiness of the armed forces.

Major General Gholam-Ali Rashidi, deputy chief of staff of Iran's regular armed forces, said at a 27 January wreath-laying ceremony at the Imam Khomeini Mausoleum in Tehran that the U.S. presence in Iraq, Saddam Hussein's fate, and the Iraqis' current plight are a lesson and a warning, ISNA reported. If the Iraqi military had depended on the people, Rashidi said, Iraq would not be occupied right now. Independence has a price, Rashidi said. Rashidi concluded by saying that Iran can depend on its experience from the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War. He added that the enemy should be prevented from initiating aggressive measures and, if it does attack, "we must...turn this land into the killing ground of aggressors."

Timing indicates that these officials' comments are linked to the recent statements from Washington and allegations of U.S. special operations against Iran. In fact, such statements from the military, and particularly the IRGC, are not a recent development. Brigadier General Qasem Suleimani, commander of the IRGC's special operations Qods Force, said on 20 January that Iran is rich because of the sacrifices made in the Iran-Iraq War, Fars News Agency reported. "It is for this reason that America cannot do a damned thing," he concluded (for an example of earlier statements, see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 26 May 2003).

Moreover, this is a sensitive time for Iran. The anniversary of the revolution and Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's arrival in Iran is fast approaching. Called the Ten Days of Dawn, the annual anniversary celebrations begin on 31 January. Speaking about this event on 25 January, judiciary chief Ayatollah Mahmud Hashemi-Shahrudi said, "Campaigning against world arrogance and the American occupation is a blessing of the Ten Days of Dawn," IRNA reported. He went on to ascribe alleged U.S. hostility to the impact of the revolution on Iranians' and other Muslims' awareness. He concluded: "I hope that with their presence on the scene during the Ten Days of Dawn, the people can give a deserving answer to America's idle talk and, as we know, the slogan of 'death to America,' which we chanted during the Islamic revolution, has become a common slogan in the world and during this year's hajj ceremony."

"Let me say one more thing to the residents of the White House," Ayatollah Mohammad Emami-Kashani said in his sermon at the Tehran Friday prayers on 28 January, according to state radio. "This Iranian nation will answer all your baseless, insolent and disgusting remarks on 22 Bahman [10 February] when they pour into the streets." (Bill Samii)

FOREIGN FIRMS RECONSIDER ACTIVITIES IN IRAN. Just weeks after U.S. oil-services company Halliburton won a tender to drill in an Iranian gas field, the company's chief executive officer, Dave Lesar, announced that it would not pursue any new contracts there, the "Financial Times" reported on 28 January (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 17 January 2005). Lesar described the company's contracts in Iran as comparatively "miniscule," while they attracted a disproportionate amount of bad publicity. Halliburton's work in Iran is conducted through a subsidiary, and Lesar's announcement comes as congressional representatives prepare legislation that would eliminate the loophole that allows U.S. firms' foreign subsidiaries to work in Iran, the "Financial Times" reported.

Halliburton is the most recent company to announce that it will forego future business ventures in Iran. As more and more foreign firms reassess their activities in Iran, Tehran could be inspired to reconsider its behavior.

BP Chief Executive Lord John Browne said on 20 January that BP will avoid Iran because of U.S. economic sanctions, Bloomberg reported on 21 January. "To do business with Iran at the moment would be offensive to the United States, and therefore against BP's interests," Browne said. "We're very heavily influenced by our American position." According to Bloomberg, BP gets half its revenue from the U.S. Browne added that buyback deals, in which foreign companies run a project in Iran to cover their costs and earn a profit, preclude long-term planning.

Iran's Petroleum Minister Bijan Namdar-Zanganeh on 24 January indicated his displeasure at BP's decision, Radio Farda reported. Namdar-Zanganeh said BP has not been active in Iran during the last eight years, Radio Farda reported. He said Iran never counted on BP, Radio Farda reported, calling BP's decision an unfriendly action taken on America's behalf that Iran will not forget.

The move by BP was preceded by Thyssen-Krupp's decision in December to repurchase a sufficient number of its shares from Iran so that it could remove the Iranian representative from its supervisory board. Iran acquired 25 percent of Krupp's shares in 1976, IRNA reported on 11 December, and after Krupp and Thyssen merged in 1999 the Iranian holding was reduced to 7.8 percent. According to IRNA, Washington forced Thyssen-Krupp to reduce Iran's holdings from 7.8 percent to 4.5 percent in 2003. Tehran vowed to hold on to the seat, and complained that it had been with the German firm for 30 years through good times and bad, IRNA reported.

Thyssen-Krupp Chairman Gerhard Cromme said on 21 January that the possibility of "considerable financial disadvantages" forced the company to remove the Iranian representative, Deputy Industry and Mines Minister Mohammad-Mehdi Navab-Motlagh, IRNA reported the next day.

About 15 percent of Thyssen-Krupp's revenues -- $8 billion -- are generated in the U.S., and the company fears a failure to act would lead to its being blacklisted by the U.S. government, Radio Farda reported, citing the 28 January issue of "The Wall Street Journal." European firms that work in Iran risk facing U.S. sanctions. The 1996 Iran-Libya Sanctions Act states that companies that invest more than $20 million in those countries' energy sectors could be punished.

The recent exchange of rhetoric between Washington and Tehran has undermined the investment climate as well. The German Chamber of Industry and Commerce's Jochen Clausnitzer said in "The Wall Street Journal" that the verbal sparring has not caused major investors to pull out yet, but it could make prospective investors reluctant. (Bill Samii)

STRAW SAYS U.S. COMMITTED TO DIPLOMATIC APPROACH TOWARD IRAN. U.S. Secretary of State-designate Condoleezza Rice met in Washington with British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw on 24 January. After the meeting, Straw said Washington supports the use of diplomacy over military action in dealings with Iran and that country's suspected nuclear-weapons program.

Straw told the BBC that the issue of military action was not even mentioned during the talks. "The issue of [the] military option simply wasn't raised today during the course of a very long discussion. Let's make that clear," Straw said. "Vice President [Dick] Cheney said that he backs the diplomatic approach to Iran. It's a difficult issue for everybody because you have a country there which has been in unquestioned breach of its international obligations under the Non-Proliferation Treaty. There is an issue of how you bring it back into line with those obligations."

There's been growing speculation about possible U.S. military action against Iran, following comments made by top U.S. officials as well as an article by investigative journalist Seymour Hersh. The article -- in the 24 January issue of "The New Yorker" magazine ( -- quoted unnamed U.S. officials as saying Iran is the next target in the war on terrorism and that the Bush administration is making advance preparations for targeting nuclear sites inside the Islamic Republic.

President Bush reiterated long-standing policy last week that "all options" remain open regarding how to deal with Iran's suspected nuclear activities. His comments were followed by Vice President Cheney's observation that Iran is at the top of the U.S. list of world "trouble spots." But Cheney said the U.S. government will continue to try to use diplomacy to address what he said are concerns about Iran's nuclear-weapons program and its ties to terrorism. Cheney also expressed concern that Israel "might well decide to act first" to eliminate any nuclear threat from Tehran.

Iran has said repeatedly its nuclear activities are for peaceful purposes only.

Ahead of Straw's talks with Rice, British newspapers reported that the Foreign Office had produced a 200-page dossier that rules out military action against Tehran and makes the case for a "negotiated solution" to curbing its alleged nuclear ambitions.

Britain, France, and Germany -- the so-called "EU Three" -- have been engaged in talks with Iran in a bid to dissuade the country from pursuing nuclear weapons. Straw said Washington backs those talks. Rice was due to meet on 25 January in Washington with German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer.

Gary Samore, director of studies at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London, said that while Washington would prefer a diplomatic solution to the crisis, U.S. officials remain skeptical of the European Union's diplomatic efforts. "The other options are very unattractive and in particular a military strike is not seen as a good option because it is unlikely to solve the problem," Samore said. "And the United States already has its hands full in the Middle East fighting in Iraq. At the same time, I think the United States is very skeptical that a diplomatic solution can be achieved. So the U.S. is waiting to see what the Europeans can produce."

Iranian officials have dismissed the recent comments from Washington as "psychological warfare," while also emphasizing they are ready to defend themselves from possible attack.

Samore said the United States is using the threat of military action against Iran as leverage. "The United States believes that the threat of military action will help to persuade Iran to reach a diplomatic solution with the 'EU Three,' Samore said. "At the same time, I think if the diplomacy fails, if the talks collapse, and Iran proceeds ahead with its nuclear program, I think that Washington will take a serious look at the possibilities of a military attack on Iran's nuclear facilities -- even though there are many down sides."

The United States and Israel accuse Iran of pursuing a clandestine nuclear-weapons program. Cheney has in the past described Iran's nuclear program as "fairly robust." (Golnaz Esfandiari)

SUPREME LEADER BANS INTERPELLATIONS. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei announced in a 25 January letter to Speaker of Parliament Gholam-Ali Haddad-Adel that the legislature should not interpellate any cabinet members in the months before the June presidential election, Radio Farda reported. In the letter, which was read out by Deputy Speaker Mohammad Reza Bahonar, Khamenei referred to the possibility of a no-confidence motion in Education and Training Minister Morteza Haji-Qaem and added that not only would this not help the country, but it might be harmful. The 234 legislators who were present thanked Khamenei for his letter, Radio Farda reported, and said that cooperation with the executive branch is their priority.

Before the supreme leader interceded, Haji-Qaem had spent many days appearing in the legislature to answer questions about his ministry, "Hambastegi" reported on 26 January. Vice President for Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Hojatoleslam Majid Ansari said the legislators wanted Haji-Qaem to remove six of his top provincial officials and change about half of the ministry's directors. They threatened to interpellate him if he did not take these actions. (Bill Samii)

KHATAMI PROPOSES NEW ROADS AND TRANSPORT MINISTER. President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami proposed Mohammad Rahmati as the next roads and transport minister on 25 January, IRNA reported. The legislature approved a vote of no-confidence in Roads and Transport Minister Ahmad Khoram in October, and rejected the nomination of Ahmad Sadeq Bonab, who Khatami proposed in January (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 11 October 2004 and 17 January 2005). Rahmati succeeded Bonab as acting minister. (Bill Samii)

FORMER OFFICIAL FACES TRAVEL BAN. The Revolutionary Court in Tehran confirmed on 25 January that Former Deputy Minister for Islamic Culture and Guidance Issa Saharkhiz is banned from foreign travel, ILNA reported. Saharkhiz also heads a press freedom association, and faces a complaint from the State Inspectorate that he gave interviews to foreign media, spread propaganda against the Islamic Republic, and waged psychological warfare. Other charges against Saharkhiz, according to ILNA, are exploiting his position, misusing government property, and earning money illegally.

Saharkhiz learned of the travel ban when he tried to go to a conference in the Netherlands late last year. "I was told about the ban order, which was issued by the Revolutionary Court, at the airport," he told ISNA on 28 November. Saharkhiz said that it is embarrassing that an Iranian journalist cannot speak at an international conference because of a travel ban and that it makes the human rights situation look bad. (Bill Samii)

CONTRADICTORY REPORTS ABOUT POTENTIAL PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE. Supreme National Security Council Secretary Hojatoleslam Hassan Rohani said on 26 January in Rasht, Gilan Province, that he will make up his mind on whether to be a presidential candidate within a fortnight, Mehr News Agency reported. Two days earlier, "Iran" newspaper reported that Rohani had announced that he is ready to be a candidate. He allegedly met with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei beforehand to discuss the issue. (Bill Samii)

GUARDIANS COUNCIL'S ROLE IN ELECTIONS CONTROVERSIAL. The most influential institution in Iranian elections is the Guardians Council, a body consisting of six clerics appointed by the supreme leader and six laymen chosen by the judiciary chief and approved by the legislature. According to Article 99 of the Iranian Constitution, the Guardians Council supervises presidential, parliamentary, and Assembly of Experts elections. Controversy over the meaning and extent of "supervision" has been a feature of most elections since the mid-1980s. In the run up to the June 2005 presidential election, the controversy has resurfaced.

An editorial in the 19 January "Mardom Salari" notes that conflicts between the Guardians Council and the Interior Ministry, which runs elections, date back to the country's second parliament (1984-88). The controversy centers on the meaning of "supervision." Does this mean "approbatory supervision" (nizarat-i estisvabi), which would be legally binding, or is it "advisory," which suggests that its recommendations could still be ignored? The editorial suggested that the Guardians Council has abused this power to reject many worthwhile candidates. Looking back at the February 2004 parliamentary elections, when the council disqualified many incumbents, the editorial suggested that the council should prove a candidate is not qualified. The prospective candidate should not have to prove his or her own innocence.

Citing Guardians Council Spokesman Gholam Hussein Elham's statement that the rejection of candidates is not the main consideration in the upcoming presidential election, "Sharq" reported on 16 January that the council does not intend to reject any of the candidates. Elham explained his statement by saying that this will be a free election in which public desires are respected. "Sharq" interpreted this as an effort to ensure high public participation in the election, which is a strategy announced by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei. Nevertheless, "Sharq" reported, Elham said that instead of investigating individuals' negative traits, the council would concentrate on determining their positive qualities. Elham said prospective candidates would have to submit evidence that they are eligible and competent.

According to Article 115 of the Iranian Constitution, a presidential candidate must be of Iranian origin and have Iranian nationality, must be a resourceful administrator, must have a good record, must be trustworthy and pious, and must believe in the Islamic republic system and its fundamental principles. A more controversial aspect of the article on presidential qualifications is its assertion that the president must be a religious-political individual (rejal-i mazhabi-siasi). This vague sentence leads to questions of whether or not the president should be a clergyman and also leaves it unclear as to whether or not a woman can be president.

Spokesman Elham on 22 January rejected statements attributed to him that, for the first time, women will be allowed to run for president, IRNA reported. The Front for Consolidating Democracy had announced on 22 January that according to Elham, "Women who have the necessary qualifications have the right to run in the presidential elections," IRNA reported. A letter from the front thanked the Guardians Council for this decision. (Bill Samii)

MKO SUSPECT HELD IN SOLITARY CONFINEMENT. The father of former Mujahedin Khalq Organization (MKO) member Said Masuri told Radio Farda that his son has been held at Evin prison in Tehran for about four years, and in solitary confinement for the last three months ( The unnamed father added that his son's first 14 months were in solitary confinement, Radio Farda reported, and the jailers will not give a reason for the most recent solitary confinement. He asked that his son be amnestied.

The MKO is an Iranian opposition group, based in Iraq since the early 1980s, that is classified as a terrorist organization by the U.S. State Department and the EU. After the conclusion of Operation Iraqi Freedom, most members of the organization were confined to Camp Ashraf. Tehran has demanded the extradition of the group's leaders and offered an amnesty to lower ranking members (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 4 October 2004).

Thirteen former members of the MKO rejoined their families on 19 January, Mehr News Agency and ILNA reported. Another 28 rejoined their families on 28 December, Iranian state radio reported. Former MKO member Ebrahim Khodabandeh said about 1,000 people have left the MKO but they are afraid to return to Iran because of bad publicity, state radio reported. (Bill Samii)

AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT VISITS IRAN. Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and several of his cabinet members arrived in Tehran on 24 January for a three-day working visit, Iranian and Azerbaijani news agencies reported. Iranian President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami had visited Azerbaijan in August 2004 (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 17 August 2004).

Aliyev met first with Khatami, who said at their joint press conference that Iran hopes to see Azerbaijan and Armenia settle the Nagorno-Karabakh crisis peacefully, IRNA reported. Responding to a reporter's question, Khatami said the situations in Palestine and in Nagorno-Karabakh are not comparable. "I believe Israel has occupied the entire Palestine and has established illegitimate existence, but Armenia is a country itself and at the same time occupation and seizure of an inch of the other's territory is condemned and the international community should help end the occupation," Khatami said, implying that Israel is not a legitimate state.

Aliyev met with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on 25 January, IRNA reported. Khamenei told his guest that Americans are "not reliable," whereas good Tehran-Baku relations are in both sides' interest. Khamenei said the two countries' relationship should not be "influenced by foreigners' policies." Potential disputes between Iran and Azerbaijan should be settled amicably, Khamenei said.

Aliyev met with Expediency Council Chairman Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani in Tehran on 25 January, IRNA reported. They discussed the value of close bilateral relations that are based on religious and cultural ties, and Hashemi-Rafsanjani said economic and trade cooperation should increase. Aliyev had a similar conversation with Speaker of Parliament Gholam-Ali Haddad-Adel on 25 January, according to IRNA.

According to a report from Azad Azarbaycan TV, Aliyev told Rafsanjani that 10 years of negotiations with Yerevan have been fruitless. He reportedly asked Tehran to exert economic pressure on Armenia.

In a 25 January meeting with Minister of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics Ali Shamkhani, Aliyev discussed the expansion of military cooperation as a way of restoring peace and security in the Caucasus, IRNA reported. Shamkhani said the presence of foreign forces is causing problems.

Aliyev also visited the tomb of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, founder of the Islamic Republic, on 25 January, IRNA reported.

Aliyev concluded his visit on 26 January. Prior to leaving Tehran, he signed documents that dealt with facilitation of cross-border transit for people and with Iran's allocation of an unspecified amount of interest-free aid to Azerbaijan, ANS radio and IRNA reported. Other agreements and memoranda were signed by the two countries' education ministries, finance ministries, and health ministries. There was also an agreement signed on hydroelectric power, and another one on the exchange of artworks by the two countries' national railways.

Afterwards, Aliyev headed for the city of Tabriz in northwestern Iran.

Not surprisingly, the two sides also discussed the Caspian Sea legal regime, although the wire service reports did not provide any details of this discussion. Iran insists that each state bordering the Caspian Sea -- Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Russia, and Turkmenistan -- is entitled to 20 percent of its resources. Only about 13-14 percent of the sea borders Iran. Iran does not recognize the bilateral agreements signed by other littoral states. According to "Yeni Musavat" on 26 January, Iran's unbending stand on the issue seriously undermined Aliyev's visit.

Aliyev's visit to Iran could affect Iran-U.S. relations, Baku State University Professor Musa Qasimli said in "Ekspress" on 25 January. He said Azerbaijan wants to integrate into the Euro-Atlantic space and that the U.S. is Azerbaijan's strategic partner. "The president's visit to Iran may lead to a thaw in U.S. Iranian relations," he said, although he did not explain how this might happen. (Bill Samii)

IRANIANS ACCUSED OF AIDING PAKISTANI REBELS. Unnamed Pakistani officials have accused Iran of aiding a tribal insurgency in Baluchistan -- a province that borders Iran -- against Pakistan's government, "The Sunday Telegraph" reported on 23 January. Iran has its own Baluchi tribesmen, which a Pakistani official said it has sent into Pakistan's Baluchi areas to support rebels. The boldness of the rebels, he said, shows that they enjoy the "backing of a foreign hand," reported.

Last year, Pakistan's intelligence agency set up an office in Quetta, near the Iranian border, to monitor Iranian activities, while unnamed officials have stated that Iranian state radio broadcasts "between 90 and 100 minutes" of daily programs including "propaganda against Pakistan's government," reported. It added that Iran's alleged aid to the rebels is a response to Pakistan's support for the U.S.-led war on terrorism and the construction of a deep-water port in Gwadar, near Iran's border, which it fears the U.S. may use to watch Iran.

"Dawn," an English-language Pakistani daily, reported on 25 January that Foreign Office spokesman Masood Khan rejected the British newspaper's report of Iranian support to Baluchi insurgents. If there are any problems, he said, Islamabad and Tehran could have direct discussions.

Multiethnic Pakistan's problems with its Baluchi minority are homegrown, the "Christian Science Monitor" noted on 26 January. About 6 million people live in the 135,000 square miles of Baluchistan, and Islamabad's Islamization of the country's politics means militant clerics have marginalized local leaders. Baluchi militants have launched a number of attacks against government personnel and facilities -- in 2004 some 30 security personnel lost their lives. The Baluchi nationalists want to benefit more from the exploitation of local resources and they want local jobs to go to local people. According to the "Christian Science Monitor," Baluchistan is the least-developed province of Pakistan.

Meanwhile, Pakistani Ambassador to Tehran Iqbal Ahmad Khan said on 25 January that his country has not given basing rights to the U.S. military, Fars News Agency reported. He added, "The territory of Pakistan will never be used against the interests of Iran." Investigative journalist Seymour Hersh wrote in "The New Yorker" that U.S. military personnel have infiltrated Iran from Pakistani territory to conduct reconnaissance missions (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 24 January 2005). (Vahid Sepehri, Bill Samii)

AFGHAN PRESIDENT VISITS IRAN. Hamid Karzai and other Afghan officials arrived in Tehran on 26 January, Radio Farda reported. On the first day of their visit, they met with President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The two sides are scheduled to inaugurate the 122-kilometer long road between Dogharun and Herat, as well as a 132-kilowatt electrical power station that will supply Herat, Radio Farda reported.

Khamenei told Karzai that Iran would like to see an end to the "occupation of Afghanistan," IRNA reported. He added that stability in Afghanistan will have a regional impact.

Rangin Dadfar, an expert on Afghanistan from the University of Aachen, told Radio Farda that three issues are important to the two countries: economics and trade, Iran's promise of $500 million for Afghanistan's reconstruction, and the repatriation of Afghan refugees. He said the outposts Iran built along the Afghan border are important in the context of counternarcotics activities. Dadfar added that Iran will seek reassurances from Karzai that U.S. military forces will not use bases in Afghanistan in any attack against it.

Kabul has provided such reassurances already. Afghan Defense Ministry spokesman General Mohammad Zaher Azimi said in a recent interview with RFE/RL's Afghan Service: "No forces have entered Iran from Afghanistan. Afghanistan's policy and strategy is to have good relations with its neighbors. We want to be sure about their noninterference, and they also should be sure about Afghanistan's noninterference."

On the second day of the visit, Karzai and Khatami traveled to Iran's eastern Khorasan Province, international news agencies reported. While there, they inaugurated the new highway linking Herat and Dogharun. Karzai said at the ceremony, "Today, with the inauguration of the Herat-Dogharun road, not only do we facilitate travel and transit for the people of Afghanistan and Iran but also for our neighboring countries," Radio Farda reported. "Peace and stability in Afghanistan and the reconstruction of Afghanistan are in the interests of Afghanistan, its neighboring countries, and the region."

Officials from the two countries signed cooperation documents relating to the highway's inauguration, Iran's provision of electricity to Herat Province, and the construction of checkpoints along the border. The handover of seven such checkpoints along the shared border of Iran's South Khorasan Province and Afghanistan's Farah Province also took place on 26 January, IRNA reported. Farah Governor Asadollah Falah expressed his gratitude for the help. (Bill Samii)

KHATAMI RETURNS FROM AFRICAN TOUR. President Mohammad Khatami said at the Tehran airport on 20 January upon returning from a tour of seven African states that he should have made the trip three years ago to benefit Iran's economic and international situation, IRNA reported on 21 January. Khatami signed agreements with unspecified countries on technology transfers, agriculture, as well as setting up car manufacturing plants and power stations, IRNA reported. Khatami said Africans favor relations with countries like Iran because of distrust of "colonial" countries, and he praised their stand against U.S. "greed" at past International Atomic Energy Agency board meetings. Khatami visited Benin, Mali, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Uganda, and Zimbabwe, IRNA reported on 21 January. (Vahid Sepehri)

INTELLIGENCE MINISTER REJECTS IRAQI CHARGES. Intelligence and Security Minister Hojatoleslam Ali Yunesi rejected in Tehran on 23 January charges of Iranian interference in Iraq, IRNA reported. The accusations were recently made by Iraqi Defense Minister Hazim al-Sha'lan. Al-Sha'lan's intermittent charges against Iran have been criticized by some Iraqi officials (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 17 and 24 January 2005, and "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 24 January 2005). "Iraq's Defense Ministry and [Iraqi] security officials are not in a situation to threaten us. They need help and the things they say are to attract American support," Yunesi said.

Separately, Judiciary Chief Ayatollah Mahmud Hashemi-Shahrudi said in a 23 January meeting in Tehran with Spanish Ambassador Antonio Perez Hernandez Tora that Spain's decision to withdraw its troops from Iraq was "courageous," IRNA reported. Spain withdrew its forces after the March 2004 election win by the Socialist Party, which opposed the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. (Vahid Sepehri)

IRAQIS VOTE IN IRAN. Iraqi expatriates registered to vote in their country's upcoming elections for a national assembly from 17-25 January. Almost 1.3 million Iraqis live outside the country, according to Iran's Al-Alam television on 22 January, and some 600,000 Iraqis live outside the country as refugees, according to the U.S. Committee for Refugees' World Refugee Survey 2004 (

One need not be a refugee to vote in the election, however. According to Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) Order number 96 (15 June 2004), a voter must be deemed an Iraqi citizen, be entitled to reclaim Iraqi citizenship, or be eligible for Iraqi citizenship (be born to an Iraqi father). Furthermore, a voter must be born before 31 December 1986. One can prove nationality with the following Iraqi documents: a personal identity card, a retirement identity card, an Iraqi nationality book from 1957, a nationality certificate, an Iraqi passport, or a military service book. Eligibility can also be proved by showing a marriage contract, an official study certificate issued by an official Iraqi university, or a deed of property. Only people who bring two official documents (or three of the latter type of documents) will be allowed to register.

The International Organization for Migration's Out-of-Country Voting (OCV) Program website ( noted that there are 75 voter registration centers in 14 countries -- Australia, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Iran, Jordan, the Netherlands, Sweden, Syria, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, U.K., and the U.S. Voting will take place at the same locations. In all, 280,303 people registered.

There were two registration places in Tehran, two in Qom, one in Urumiyeh (West Azerbaijan Province), one in Kermanshah, two in Ahvaz (Khuzestan Province), one in Shush (Khuzestan Province), and two in the northeastern city of Mashhad. A total of 60,908 people registered in Iran, according to IOM. This is a relatively low turnout, given that some 200,000 Iraqis live in Iran.

The head of the IOM's Out-of-Country Voting program in Iran, Kate Pryce, said on 26 January that she is "extremely pleased" with the number of registrants, AFP reported. IOM estimates that there are 100,000 to 120,000 eligible Iraqi voters in Iran.

Seyyed Mohsen al-Hakim, an official with the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, complained on 11 January that there are an insufficient number of registration facilities in Iran, IRNA reported. He also complained about excessively restrictive eligibility requirements for Iraqis wanting to vote in Iran.

Iranian state radio and television encouraged Iraqis to register to vote. One of these Iraqis told Radio Farda that he and his compatriots are registering not only because of their interest in the election, but because they want to help their country. Another Iraqi living in Iran told Radio Farda that he will vote in order to guarantee the independence and freedom of his country. He added that he wants Iraqis to live with the same tranquility and comfort that exists in other countries.

A young man who was not even born in Iraq told Radio Farda that he will vote so he might have a stake in Iraq's future. Another explained he would vote because Iraq is his country.

A third Iraqi, who works as a trader in the Tehran bazaar, told Radio Farda: "The best thing I can do is participate in the elections, because the future of an independent Iraq is in our hands. If we do not go and vote then it is finished and gone."

Voter registration numbers in Iran compare well with those in other states neighboring Iraq (also provided on the IOM website). In Jordan 20,166 people registered at 11 locations to vote in the election. The "Al-Ra'y" newspaper reported on 22 January that there are about 200,000 Iraqis living in Jordan. In Syria 16,581 registered to vote at 10 locations, all of which were in Damascus. "Al-Hayat" reported on 15 January that the Syrian government refused to permit the distribution of Kurdish-language literature encouraging participation in the election. In Turkey, 4,187 registered at two locations in Istanbul and one in Ankara. In the United Arab Emirates, with one location in Dubai and another in Abu Dhabi, 12,581 people registered to vote.

In Australia, 11,806 people registered; 10,957 in Canada; 12,983 in Denmark; 1,041 in France; and 26,416 in Germany. In the Netherlands 14,725 people registered to vote; 31,045 in Sweden; 30,961 in the U.K.; and 25,946 in the U.S.

An Al-Da'wah al-Islamiyah official and Iraqi immigration officials in Iran and Denmark discussed some of the possible reasons for low turnout during a talk show on Al-Alam television on 22 January. Among the possible reasons were the Id al-Adha holiday, the long distances between where people lived and the registration offices, the failure of political parties to explain their election programs, and the expense of transportation. (Bill Samii)