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Iran Report: February 7, 2005


7 February 2005, Volume 8, Number 6

IRAN REJECTS TERRORISM ALLEGATIONS AS IT PLEDGES SUPPORT FOR ANTI-ISRAEL ORGANIZATIONS. Iran continues to reject the "state sponsor of terrorism" label Washington gave it 21 years ago. Yet it has never denied that it supports militant organizations in Lebanon and Palestine -- albeit only morally and politically. With the 26th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution looming, Iran is trying to demonstrate its continuing relevance in Palestinian issues by issuing an invitation to Palestinian Authority President Mahmud Abbas to visit Tehran.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei discussed terrorism in a speech on 29 January. "They accuse other countries of supporting terrorism," Khamenei said. "The terrorists were grown under the wings of the Americans themselves. The Taliban in Afghanistan came into existence and expanded with the help of the Americans." He added: "By terrorism they mean the brave and self-sacrificing struggle of the people of Palestine. They expect the Iranian nation to share in the oppression of the Palestinian nation. This is another one of their foolish expectations."

The U.S. State Department asserts that Iran is a state sponsor of terrorism, referring specifically to its involvement with Hamas, Hizballah, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command.

Expediency Council Chairman Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani told visiting Lebanese Defense Minister Abd-al-Rahim Murad on 1 February that Iran will continue to support organizations fighting Israel, the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) reported. "The Islamic Republic of Iran will continue spiritual support for the Lebanese and Palestinian nations [in their campaign] to restore their rights and free their occupied lands," he said. The visiting Lebanese official expressed gratitude for Iran's support and condemned what he called international silence on Israeli crimes in contrast with the hue and cry that results from "the least resistance of the Lebanese nation."

Islamic Revolution Guards Corps commander Major General Yahya Rahim-Safavi also met with Murad on 1 February, IRNA reported. "Iran's support for the Lebanese people and government against expansionist policies pursued by Tel Aviv is strategic," Rahim-Safavi said. The two countries' officials, he added, emphasize "the need to keep up the resistance against Israeli occupiers and to safeguard unity and solidarity among the Iranians, Syrians, and Lebanese nations, [and this provides] proper grounds for further expansion of our bilateral ties."

"Lebanon has set a unique example of resistance against the Zionist enemy and scoring a victory over it," President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami told Murad on 1 February, the Lebanese National News Agency reported. Khatami said Iran is willing to continue its support of the Lebanese government and people.

Murad thanked Khatami for his hospitality, and said the victory of national and Islamic resistance in Lebanon is due to four factors: Iran and Syria's support; the Lebanese people's attachment to the resistance; cooperation between the Lebanese army and the resistance; and the sacrifices of martyrs and heroes in the resistance.

Iran's repeated statements about support for resistance organizations and Palestinian Authority President Abbas' 2 February decision to visit Iran are probably not coincidental. An anonymous Iranian Foreign Ministry source told Reuters that the trip demonstrates Iran's interest in friendly relations "with all Palestinian groups." But the timing of the visit, or at least the timing of the announcement, indicates that Iran is trying to demonstrate its relevance in regional affairs, 26 years after the Islamic Revolution. (Bill Samii)

STATE OF THE UNION ADDRESS PUTS BALL IN IRAN'S COURT. "To promote peace in the broader Middle East, we must confront regimes that continue to harbor terrorists and pursue weapons of mass murder," U.S. President George W. Bush said in his 3 February State of the Union address. After discussing Syrian interference in Lebanon and cooperation with terrorists, he turned to Iran.

"Today, Iran remains the world's primary state sponsor of terror, pursuing nuclear weapons while depriving its people of the freedom they seek and deserve. We are working with European allies to make clear to the Iranian regime that it must give up its uranium-enrichment program and any plutonium reprocessing and end its support for terror. And to the Iranian people, I say tonight: As you stand for your own liberty, America stands with you."

The official Iranian reaction to the State of the Union address was dismissive. Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi said, "Mr. Bush has forgotten that the great Iranian nation had by its Islamic Revolution 26 years ago put an end to the U.S. hegemonic influence and presence in Iran, and he has turned a blind eye to realities in the Islamic Republic and institutionalization of freedom and democracy in the country, speaking of a number of things that have nothing to do with the dynamic society of Iran today and more than everything bring more disgrace for the U.S. administration," IRNA reported. Assefi then spoke critically about the timing of Iraq's 30 January elections, saying that holding them sooner would have contributed to security there.

A commentary on state television asked what right the United States has to speak about human rights in other countries. It added, "Are the indiscriminate killing, shedding of blood, destruction, and making the people of Iraq homeless during the past two years Bush's gift of freedom that was supposed to be presented to the Muslim people of Iraq in the name of democracy?"

The state television commentary also claimed that Bush praised Israel's Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian Authority President Mahmud Abbas for "their efforts to stop the resistance of the Palestinians." Interestingly, Abbas has just accepted an invitation to visit Tehran (see story above).

Iranian officials, furthermore, have made many comments in the last two weeks about their country's support for so-called resistance organizations. This was particularly the case when Lebanese Defense Minister Abd al-Rahim Murad visited Tehran. Expediency Council Chairman Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani told Murad on 1 February that Iran will continue to support organizations fighting Israel, IRNA reported. "The Islamic Republic of Iran will continue spiritual support for the Lebanese and Palestinian nations [in their campaign] to restore their rights and free their occupied lands," he said.

What Tehran sees as "spiritual support" is seen differently by Washington. The U.S. State Department asserts that Iran is a state sponsor of terrorism and refers specifically to its involvement with Hamas, Hizballah, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command.

The Iranian state television commentary claimed that Bush said, "I tell all Iranians to give up their entire nuclear programs both in the enrichment of uranium and in the plutonium reprocessing." This is not quite what he said, and use of the term "all Iranians" may represent an appeal to nationalism. Nationalism is a factor that has appeared previously in official speeches and media commentaries defending Iran's nuclear program.

Bush's speech may not have struck a sufficiently aggressive note for hawks in Washington. For Tehran, on the other hand, his condemnation of terrorism and expression of concern about nuclear ambitions come at a particularly sensitive time. Indeed, reaction to the speech may be a way to measure the foreign-policy views of candidates in the June 2005 presidential elections in Iran. (Bill Samii)

U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE HAS STRONG WORDS FOR IRAN. U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice arrived in Europe on 3 February armed with strong words for Iran. Just one day after U.S. President George W. Bush vowed to continue working with European allies to persuade Tehran to end its nuclear program, Rice said Washington would not accept requests to take part in European diplomacy with Iran. Rice criticized Iran's human rights record, saying nonelected clerics in Tehran are bad for the Iranian people and the region.

Rice made the comments en route to London at the start of her first overseas trip as secretary of state. U.S. newspaper reports cited Rice overnight as saying Washington would continue to stay out of a diplomatic initiative by France, Germany, and Britain to persuade Iran to give up any ambition to develop nuclear weapons. Her comments came after Bush, in his State of the Union speech on 2 February, expressed U.S. support for the European effort.

Amid intensifying U.S. rhetoric on Iran, analysts are struggling to decipher Washington's ultimate intentions.

Bush recently refused to rule out the use of force to neutralize suspected Iranian sites for developing atomic arms. Iran denies it is pursuing such arms.

After meeting with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Rice said the U.S. is not considering a military attack at this point. "The question is simply not on the agenda at this point in time," she said. "You know, we have diplomatic means to do this. Iran is not immune to the changes that are going on in this region."

Analysts say emerging U.S. policy toward Iran remains hazy. But they agree there are senior officials in Washington who are seriously considering strategic strikes on suspected Iranian nuclear sites.

"There're a lot of people at very high levels in the administration, as of course you know, who take the surgical strike idea as really the only possible option," Turi Munthe of London's Royal United Services Institute told RFE/RL. "My understanding is that Rice is not part of that team, and Bush has been quite careful."

Munthe said he believes Washington is still far from making a decision on any strikes. He said the European initiative is still in midcourse and that there is still time, as most experts don't expect Iran to be able to build a nuclear weapon for at least another three years.

"I have the sense that if the 'EU-3' (France, Germany, Britain) is genuinely able to get some hard concessions from Iran, then [British Foreign Minister Jack] Straw, certainly, believes that he'll be able to get the Americans to play ball," Munthe said.

Presumably, for Washington, "playing ball" would mean refraining from military action and allowing diplomacy to run its course.

But others note there appears to be more to Washington's new rhetoric than stopping any perceived Iranian weapons program.

In his State of the Union speech, Bush put the spread of democracy and freedom in the Muslim world at the top of America's foreign policy agenda. And Bush made it clear that Iran looms large on that agenda: "To the Iranian people, I say tonight: As you stand for your own liberty, America stands with you."

Rice emphasized that message in her overnight remarks. Speaking on her plane, she criticized Iran's human rights record and said its religious leaders are bad for Iranians and the region.

Shahram Chubin, director of research at the Geneva Center for Security Policy in Switzerland, told RFE/RL that he believes Washington's ambitions in Iran extend beyond stopping any nascent atomic arms program. "There's no question, in the closing months of the last year, after the election, and in the early part of this year, that's very much the focus," Chubin said. "Regime change seems to be policy -- again. The only problem with it is -- I say again, because this is something that was highlighted a couple of years ago -- the problem with it is, it isn't really likely in Iran."

Chubin said Iran is probably the most mature regional candidate for democracy. But he said the opposition, as well as student activists, are now in retreat and that, while the majority of the population dislikes the regime, the citizenry is politically apathetic.

Chubin also believes excessive threats on Iran are likely to backfire. "External threats only strengthen the regime, because they can appeal to a sort of latent nationalism," Chubin said. "So you have the situation whereby appealing to Iranians' democratic instincts and by showing solidarity with the so-called reformists, what you are actually doing is quite often not only undermining them, but strengthening the regime. They turn around and say, 'Every time we want to act independently, they threaten us abroad. Every time we want to develop the full [nuclear] fuel cycle, we're put under sanctions.' You see, they play these games." (Jeffrey Donovan)

SUPREME LEADER DENOUNCES GLOBAL 'ARROGANCE.' Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said in a 29 January speech in Tehran that Iran is not afraid of the United States, Iranian state radio reported. He described the U.S. leadership as "the ugliest manifestation of world arrogance" and said that "they imagine that the Iranian nation will abandon the scene because of their threats and bullying, or that it will surrender and kneel in front of them." Khamenei said the United States is hostile to Iran, because its system and officials will not surrender to it. The United States is friendly, he said, "with any government, in any country, which is prepared to commit an act of treason against its own nation and surrender its own nation to America." Khamenei concluded: "Where there is popular will, the sword of arrogance is blunt. The arrogance cannot do a damn thing." (Bill Samii)

GENERAL ELECTRIC RENOUNCES FUTURE IRAN ORDERS. General Electric (GE), which makes machinery that can be used in the petrochemical sector as well as medical equipment, announced on 2 February that it will not accept new orders from Iran, Reuters reported. GE public affairs chief Gary Sheffer said, "Senior management and the board decided in mid-December to discontinue taking new orders, because of uncertain conditions relating to Iran." GE cited pressure from the U.S. government.

GE's decision comes on the heels of announcements from BP and Halliburton that they are pulling out of future business with Iran. Dan Katz, chief counsel to U.S. Senator Frank Lautenberg (Democrat, New Jersey), said, "We're seeing a turnaround by a number of U.S. companies operating in Iran," AP reported. Lautenberg has objected to U.S. companies exploiting legal loopholes to work in Iran. He also said, "When American companies do business with Iran they are helping the Iranians create revenue that is funneled to terrorists."

Reuters correspondent Louis Charbonneau reported on 28 January that Washington is pressuring European companies to stop doing business with Iran. Germany's Siemens and France's Areva, as well as ThyssenKrupp and BP, have told their governments that they are avoiding Iran. An anonymous source said Areva did not want to harm its sales in the United States, and the French EDF electricity group and the French Atomic Energy Commission are worried, too. (Bill Samii)

LEADER OF IRANIAN HAJJ PILGRIMS COMES HOME. Hojatoleslam Mohammad Mohammadi-Reyshahri, the supreme leader's representative to the hajj pilgrimage, returned to Iran from Saudi Arabia on 30 January, "Iran" reported. Hojatoleslam Gholam-Hussein Mohammadi-Golpayegani, head of the supreme leader's office, and Commerce Minister Mohammad Shariatmadari greeted him at the airport. Reyshahri told reporters that approximately 100,000 Iranians participated in this year's pilgrimage, of whom 3,000 were based in other countries.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei met on 3 February with Reyshahri and other officials, IRNA reported. Reyshahri said the Muslim community's knowledge about and interest in Iran's Islamic Revolution was increasingly evident at the pilgrimage. (Bill Samii)

NEW ROADS AND TRANSPORT MINISTER APPROVED. President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami on 25 January proposed Mohammad Rahmati as Iran's next roads and transport minister, and the legislature confirmed President Khatami's choice on 2 February, Radio Farda reported. Rahmati received 170 votes in favor, 29 against, and 11 legislators abstained.

Rahmati was appointed as acting minister on 11 January, after the legislature rejected the nomination of Ahmad Sadiq Bonab (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 11 October 2004 and 17 January and 1 February 2005). This suggests, according to Radio Farda, that Rahmati will be able to run the ministry free of hard-line pressure in the remaining months of the Khatami administration. This development is the result of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's letter to the legislature against interpellating cabinet members, Radio Farda reported. One hard-line legislator, Tehran parliamentary representative Manuchehr Mottaki, even praised Rahmati's revolutionary experience during his student days, Radio Farda reported. (Bill Samii)

PARLIAMENTARY DECISION COULD KILL MOBILE-PHONE DEAL. A 30 January parliamentary committee decision to deprive a Turkish firm of its majority stake in a mobile-phone operating contract in Iran could scuttle the firm's deal with the government, AFP and Iranian news agencies reported on 31 January, citing a company spokesman. The deal, signed in February 2004, gives Turkcell's Iranian affiliate Irancell a majority stake and license to operate Iran's second mobile-phone network--the first run by a private firm -- once a 300 million euro fee ($391 million) is paid, AFP reported.

But if parliament approves the decision to reduce Irancell's stake from 70 to 49 percent, "Turkcell has no choice but to drop the deal," company spokesman Hakan Toygar told IRNA.

Iran's parliament voted in September 2004 to review the Turkcell and another international deal over a Tehran airport, citing the need to examine security concerns (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 4 October 2004). Iranian conservatives believe private-sector and foreign involvement in the telecommunications and transportation industries may threaten national security.

A newspaper reporter based in Tehran, Mariam Mohammadi, discussed the Turkcell issue with Radio Farda's Farin Assemi. Mohammadi said the biggest concern of Iranian legislators and other experts is that the Iranian communications network would be controlled by foreigners. Mohammadi told Radio Farda that giving majority shares to Iranians would restore national control. The government spokesman said, Mohammadi told Radio Farda, that this development is going to impose a budgetary expense of some 500 billion tomans (some $63 million).

Speaker of Parliament Gholam Ali Haddad-Adel said on 1 February that the legislature's decision on the mobile-phone contract was not politically motivated, IRNA reported. Speaking at a ceremony to launch 5,469 telecommunications and post projects, Haddad-Adel said the legislature must be sensitive about such big deals, adding that he tried to prevent this issue from causing political tensions between the executive and legislative branches. (Vahid Sepehri, Bill Samii)

ALLEGED ISRAELI SPY SENTENCED IN IRAN. Revolutionary Court chief Ali Mobasheri said on 3 February that an Israeli spy has received a ten-year prison sentence, the Iranian Labor News Agency (ILNA) reported. Mobasheri said this case is distinct from that of the "nuclear spies."

Intelligence and Security Minister Hojatoleslam Ali Yunesi announced in December that Iran has arrested more than ten "nuclear spies" -- some employed by the Atomic Energy Organization and others were military officers -- who were working for the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency and Israel's Mossad (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 27 December 2004). (Bill Samii)

U.S., GULF STATES DISCUSS IRAN'S NUCLEAR AMBITIONS. U.S. Undersecretary of State for Arms Control John Bolton said in Bahrain on 31 January that he has explained to the leaders of Arab Persian Gulf states how the United States has responded and intends to respond in the future to the threat posed by Iran's suspected efforts to obtain a nuclear weapon, AP reported the same day. Those states are "well aware" of the threat posed by Iran, according to Bolton, adding that he has discussed in Kuwait and Bahrain possible "diplomatic pressures" that could help prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear-weapons technology. Bolton said a nuclear Iran could pose a threat as a state or by giving such weaponry to terrorists.

Iran maintains that its nuclear program is strictly for civilian purposes, and is legal. Israel and the United States suspect that Iran intends to develop nuclear weapons.

Meanwhile, Supreme National Security Council Secretary Hojatoleslam Hassan Rohani said in Tehran on 30 January that Iran might end its current suspension of uranium enrichment, which came as part of ongoing talks with European states on the status of the country's nuclear program, possibly as early as August, AFP reported on 31 January. Western states have called for a full cessation of the fuel-production cycle, which Iran rejects. (Vahid Sepehri)

NUCLEAR OFFICIAL EXPRESSES DISPLEASURE WITH URANIUM-ENRICHMENT SUSPENSION. Atomic Energy Organization head Gholamreza Aqazadeh-Khoi said in Brussels on 31 January that "the Iranian government and people are not pleased with a continued suspension of uranium enrichment," the Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA) reported the same day. "It would be a mistake to imagine that Iran will have a substitute for its nuclear [energy] program." He said after a meeting with Portuguese Foreign Minister Antonio Monteiro that Iran has taken steps over the past two years to reassure the international community over its nuclear program, but that "there is an imbalance in the existing situation here." The European Union, he added, "must make an effort so the negotiations produce clear conclusions within a short time."

Iran wants Europe to sign a trade deal and facilitate Iran's access to nuclear technology, once assured that the Iranian program is civilian.

Monteiro said that Europe wants Iran to become its trusted partner, and for doubts on its nuclear program to be resolved through talks. Aqazadeh was to meet with EU foreign policy head Javier Solana on 1 February. (Vahid Sepehri)

IRAN PLEDGES TO HELP LEBANESE DEFENSE INDUSTRY DURING DEFENSE MINISTER VISIT. Lebanese Defense Minister Abd-al-Rahim Murad arrived in Tehran on 29 January, Iranian state radio reported. He is scheduled to spend four days in Iran. He met with Minister of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics Ali Shamkhani, who announced on 30 January that Iran is ready to "renovate and strengthen" Lebanon's defense industries, IRNA reported. Shamkhani toured the region in February 2004, and during that trip he stopped in Beirut. Admiral Shamkhani and Murad signed a memorandum of understanding on defense cooperation on 2 February, IRNA reported. (Bill Samii)

IRAN STILL HOLDS BRITISH BOATS. In June 2004, Tehran seized three British patrol boats and held their crews after they were alleged to have entered Iranian territorial waters along the Shatt al-Arab. After the crew's release, London said the vessels were forcibly escorted into Iranian waters before being seized (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 28 June and 5 July 2004).

Brigadier General Mirfeisal Baqerzadeh, head of the Foundation for the Safeguard and Promotion of the Holy Defense Values, said on 31 January that the three boats may be placed in a museum, Fars News Agency reported. He explained that anything seized during a conflict or during military operations must be submitted to the war museum. He added, "The boats left behind by the intruding British troops should not be returned to them because they are considered as war booty in accordance with the law."

"I am quite certain that the boats were in Iraqi territorial waters when they were seized," First Sea Lord and Chief of the Naval Staff Admiral Sir Alan West said in the 24 January "Al-Sharq al-Awsat." He said the U.K. and Iran are not at war and asserted that "We want the boats back." He ascribed the Iranian reaction on that hot June day to the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps' involvement in the smuggling of Iraqi oil into international waters. Sir Alan said the British presence in the region has reduced smuggling "dramatically." There have been more recent confrontations between British and Iranian naval forces, Sir Alan said.

West's comments touched an Iranian nerve. Islamic Revolution Guards Corps spokesman Masud Jazayeri on 26 January accused the U.K. of spreading rumors, Mehr News Agency reported. The oil smuggling accusations are "so baseless that [they] do not deserve a response," he said. As for return of the boats, Jazayeri said, that depends on the U.K.'s fulfillment of unspecified promises.

Rear Admiral Abbas Mohtaj, commander of Iran's regular navy, touched on this issue in a 31 December 2004 interview with ISNA. He emphasized that the British vessels entered Iranian waters by mistake, and went on to say that the British really are not in a position to cause problems for Iran because they have their hands full with Iraq. (Bill Samii)

SELF-SUFFICIENCY AND ASYMMETRIC WARFARE IMPORTANT FOR NAVY. Rear Admiral Abbas Mohtaj, commander of Iran's regular navy, said at a 12 January seminar in Tehran that Iran began pursuing self-sufficiency in undersea warfare in 2001, ISNA reported. "We propounded the notion of asymmetric defense and subject of subsurface is one of the areas we can focus on," he added. Mohtaj said Iran's enemies have years of experience in undersea warfare, so the armed forces must work closely with the universities. He said the military now has 200 researchers in the universities. Seminar coordinator Rear Admiral Sajjad Kucheki said, "In the 21st century, sovereignty at sea can be protected mainly by submarines, and knowing our enemies is the main principal of defense."

Speaking on the sidelines of the 12 January seminar, Mohtaj told reporters that the presence of foreign forces in the Persian Gulf and Sea of Oman, which is "unwarranted and illegitimate," is a potential threat to Iran, ISNA reported.

Mohtaj discussed a range of issues in a 31 December 2004 interview with ISNA. Addressing the issue of self-sufficiency, he said Iran now manufactures a domestically-designed "missile boat" (navche-yi mushak-andaz) that outperforms a French counterpart, makes its own submarine batteries, and builds midget submarines.

Turning to the presence of foreign forces in the region, Mohtaj said this is an example of the British "divide and rule" policy. Mohtaj urged regional states to coordinate their activities and work with each other. As for the United States, Mohtaj said: "America has not signed any agreement with any of the governments or countries in the region and its presence is purely for the maintenance of its economic interests and the continuation of political support to Israel in order to prevent the propagation of what it calls 'Islamic fundamentalism.'" Mohtaj warned that the enemies -- mainly the United States -- are trying to "exacerbate disputes between Arabs and Iranians and among ethnic groups and religious sects in the region." (Bill Samii)

IRANIAN CLERIC OPPOSES THEOCRACY FOR IRAQ. Dissident cleric Hojatoleslam Mohsen Kadivar said in a 2 February interview that the Iraqi people should not recreate the system of Islamic government (Vilayat-i Faqih) that exists in Iran, Radio Farda reported. "I think the Iraqis can make what we wanted to create but were unsuccessful: a real Islamic Republic," Kadivar said in his interview with Reuters. "By that I mean a republic with Islamic values, democracy with Islamic values... [where] the clergy has no special rights." Kadivar continued, "If they have a good government with Islamic democracy and without any special or divine rights for the clergy, the Iranian government won't be able to justify its situation to the Iranian citizens."

Radio Farda noted that Kadivar is not alone in his views; Ayatollah Hussein Ali Montazeri-Najafabadi expressed similar views in an earlier interview with Reuters. Kadivar said adopting the Vilayat-i Faqih system after the revolution was a mistake, because "we replaced a kingdom with an Islamic kingdom." Kadivar said that Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei does not have the religious credentials of his predecessor, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, so he "relies on the judiciary, the security forces, to fill that gap." (Bill Samii)

TEHRAN ANTICIPATES END OF IRAQI OCCUPATION. Iranian officials this week touted the success of Iraq's 30 January national elections and predicted the end of the U.S. occupation, as state media warned that the United States plans to remain in Iraq.

Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati said in his 4 February Friday Prayers sermon in Tehran that 70 percent of the votes counted so far favor the United Iraqi Alliance and Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, state radio reported. Every Iraqi vote, Jannati said, is a "no" to the U.S. presence in the country. Jannati encouraged Iraqis to oust the Americans.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi said during a 2 February visit to the southern city of Bushehr that the unexpectedly high turnout in the Iraqi election demonstrates that Iraqis abhor the occupation of their country, IRNA reported.

Speaker of parliament Gholam-Ali Haddad-Adel told an open legislative session on 2 February that the high turnout is a sign that Iraqis are determined to regain control of their destinies, IRNA reported. It is also a sign that they hate despotism, he said. The election results are not known yet, he said, but the Iraqi people are the real winners.

Government spokesman Abdullah Ramezanzadeh said Iran will respect the decision of Iraqi voters and will cooperate with whatever government they choose, Islamic Republic of Iran News Network reported. He added, "We hope that these elections will pave the way for ending the occupation and bring about full security in Iraq as a result."

An Iranian state radio commentary on 1 February struck a different tone, however, claiming that Washington plans to militarily dominate Iraq. "They, in fact, want to take Iraq's political and economic affairs into their hands under the name of training Iraqi forces," it added. Occupation forces want to stay in Iraq and "intend to keep away from urban and rural areas." Such a policy would not seem to leave many options, but the commentary did not explain where the occupation forces would be based. The suburbs, perhaps?

Expediency Council Chairman Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani said on 31 January in Tehran, "The fact that the people of Iraq have gone to the ballot boxes to decide their own fate is the result of efforts by the Iraqi clergy and sources of emulation, led by Ayatollah [Ali] al-Sistani," Islamic Republic of Iran News Network reported. The most important post-election issue, he added, is the prevention of vote-rigging.

Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi said in a 31 January message to his counterpart, Hoshyar Zebari, that the Iraqi election of the previous day is an important step towards creating a democracy, ISNA reported. Kharrazi congratulated the Iraqi people and government, and he indicated optimism regarding the withdrawal of foreign forces, regional security and stability, and further bilateral cooperation. (Bill Samii)

IRANIAN AYATOLLAH DID NOT VOTE IN IRAQ. Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani said on 31 January that he did not vote in the previous day's elections in Iraq because he is Iranian by birth and not legally entitled to vote in Iraq, Iraq for All News Network (www.iraq4allnews.dk/) reported. Al-Sistani thanked the Iraqi people for voting. (Bill Samii)

IOM SAYS 93 PERCENT OF REGISTERED EXPATRIATES VOTED. Almost 93 percent of the people in Iran who registered to vote in the 30 January Iraqi elections actually did so, according to the International Organization for Migration's Out of Country Voting Program website (http://www.iraqocv.org). According to the IOM website, 56,568 people voted at polling centers in Tehran, Qom, Urumiyeh, Kermanshah, Ahvaz, and Mashhad. Expatriates could vote on 28, 29, or 30 January. The highest overall turnout was in Iran, but proportionately there were higher turnouts in Turkey, Germany, Canada, Denmark, France, the Netherlands, Sweden, the United States, and Australia.

A 31 January press release from the IOM noted that 93.6 percent of Iraqi expatriates who registered to take part in the elections cast their ballots on election day. "I have worked on many post-conflict out-of-country elections, but this is honestly the first time I have seen this level of emotion and excitement among voters," said IOM program director Peter Erben. The statement confirmed that ballot counting had begun in most of the 14 countries where expatriate voting was carried out. (Kathleen Ridolfo, Bill Samii)

IRANIAN MEDIA REACTION TO IRAQI ELECTIONS. Iraqis in Iran began voting in their country's first democratic elections for a National Assembly on 28 January and, according to Iranian state radio and television, the turnout was impressively high. Indeed, more than 60,000 people living in Iran registered to participate in the elections, more than any other Iraqi expatriate population.

Voting in Iraq itself took place on 30 January, although the results probably will not be known for up to 10 days. Voter participation, particularly in the north and south of the country, reportedly was very high. Radio Farda correspondent Ahmad Rafat reported on 31 January that more than 8 million of Iraq's 16 million eligible voters turned out the previous day.

However, despite the relevance to Iran of the elections in Iraq, domestic events are overshadowing them. On 31 January, Iran began its annual commemoration of the anniversary of the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Called the Ten Days of Dawn, this is a celebration of the achievements of 26 years of theocratic rule.

Iranian state television reported on 30 January that the elections were "welcomed overwhelmingly by the people of different Iraqi cities, especially Baghdad," and it added, "The elections have been extraordinarily welcome in northern and southern Iraq." A correspondent in the south reported that the "cities of Al-Imarah, Al-Nasiriyah, Samawa, Umm Qasr, and Al-Basrah witnessed the extensive presence of people at polling stations today." A correspondent in the north reported that "people of Irbil, Al-Sulaymaniyah, Kirkuk, and Dahuk provinces took part in the elections with particular enthusiasm."

Iranian newspapers did not appear to have correspondents in Iraq and relied instead on the Iranian Students News Agency, Fars News Agency, and Mehr News Agency for their election reports, BBC Monitoring noted on 30 January.

Newspaper commentary on the elections varied across the political spectrum. The hard-line "Jomhuri-yi Islami," for example, hinted that the United States would stay in Iraq regardless of the election results. More conservative newspapers, such as "Hamshahri," generally stuck to the facts. "Iran," which is the state news agency's daily, ran an analysis of the Iraqi candidates and voters. The reformist "Sharq" daily had eight pages of coverage about the Iraqi elections -- this included historical pieces about Iraq, analysis of the parties, and a discussion of U.S. organizations' involvement in the elections.

A postelection report in the 31 January "Iran Daily," which is IRNA's English-language daily, was factual in nature. On the same day, the English-language "Tehran Times" used a Mehr News Agency dispatch that cited Reuters. An editorial in the daily referred to the "new era in Iraq" and "massive voter turnout." "A show of strength by the people of Iraq," was the headline on the front page of "Iran" on 31 January. The story described public participation and incidents of terrorist violence.

"Hamshahri" reported on 31 January that the Iraqi people ignored the terrorists. The top item on the front page of "Khorasan" announced that 72 percent of the Iraqi people voted in the elections. "Gilan-i Imruz," from the northern part of the country, focused instead on the pending visit of the Iranian judiciary chief. (Bill Samii)

ACCORD ON CASPIAN LEGAL STATUS STILL HOSTAGE TO RIVAL CLAIMS. More than 13 years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the five countries bordering the Caspian Sea still have not reached agreement on dividing the sea and its resources among themselves. In July 2001, Iran sent gunboats into Azerbaijani territorial waters to intimidate a survey vessel chartered by an international oil company. More recently, Turkmenistan has engaged in talks with a Canadian oil company to develop an oil field to which Azerbaijan lays claim, and has suggested, not for the first time, referring the dispute over that field's ownership to the UN.

The demise of the Soviet Union in late 1991 increased the number of independent states bordering the Caspian Sea from two (the USSR and Iran) to five (Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Russia, Turkmenistan, and Iran) and thus called into question the international treaties signed between the Russian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic and Iran in 1921, and the USSR and Iran in 1940, on the use of the sea. Despite numerous rounds of talks over the past 13 years, the five littoral states have still not reached agreement on a draft convention defining the legal status of the sea and how its resources should be divided.

Some of the five have, however, forged bilateral agreements on the demarcation of their respective sectors of the sea. Russia signed such an agreement with Kazakhstan in July 1998, and Azerbaijan did likewise with Kazakhstan in November 2001 and with Russia in September 2002. And those three countries then signed a trilateral agreement in May 2003 fixing the point at which their respective sectors meet. Those agreements were based on the principle of dividing the sea bed into national sectors, while allowing all five states the use of the waters and surface of the sea, an approach that theoretically enables each country to proceed with the extraction of hydrocarbon resources beneath the sea bed.

Azerbaijan has not, however, concluded comparable bilateral agreements with either Iran or Turkmenistan. While Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, and Russia advocate dividing the sea along the so-called median line, Iran rejects this approach, arguing that the sea should be divide equitably among the five littoral states to give each an approximately 20 percent share. The proposed median line division would give Iran the smallest share, some 14 percent. Turkmenistan, for its part, disagrees with Azerbaijan's criteria for determining the median line.

The failure of Baku and Ashgabat to agree on the demarcation of the respective sectors of the Caspian has effectively prevented exploitation of the oil field known in Turkmen as Serdar and in Azeri as Kyapaz. That field is believed to contain between 150 million-200 million tons of oil. In July 1997, Baku signed a memorandum of intent with Rosneft and LUKoil to develop Serdar/Kyapaz, but the two Russian companies went back on that agreement within weeks after Ashgabat protested. Then in September 1997, Turkmenistan launched a rival tender for Serdar/Kyapaz, which then-Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliyev denounced as illegal. Mobil was named the winner of that tender in June 1998, but assured Baku that it would not begin work on the field until the ownership dispute was resolved.

Meanwhile, in late 1997 Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov appealed to the UN to intervene, and then in the summer of 1999 the U.S. government presented to both sides a plan for resolving the disagreement, which apparently went nowhere. In March 2000, then-Turkmen Foreign Minister Boris Shikhmuradov announced that Ashgabat had invited unnamed Iranian companies to participate in the development of Serdar/Kyapaz; Shikhmuradov's Azerbaijani counterpart Vilayat Guliev countered that any such development cannot begin before final agreement is reached on the status of the Caspian. And in April 2002, at a long-awaited Caspian summit that failed to resolve any outstanding issues, Niyazov again proposed to his Azerbaijani counterpart Heidar Aliyev that they should jointly ask international organizations to rule on whether development of Serdar/Kyapaz is permissible--a suggestion that Aliyev declined.

Since then, Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan have held two rounds of bilateral talks at deputy foreign minister level, in May 2001 and January 2004, in an attempt to reach agreement on the demarcation of the seabed between their respective sectors. Officials from both countries characterized the 2004 talks as having taken place in "an atmosphere of friendship and mutual understanding," adding that there "was a significant rapprochement of positions between the two sides on the principle of dividing the Caspian seabed," Turan reported on 31 January 2004. But despite that reported progress, a third round of talks scheduled for December 2004 was postponed indefinitely. In January 2005 Niyazov held talks with a Canadian oil company interested in developing Serdar/Kyapaz, after which the Turkmen Foreign Ministry resurrected Niyazov's earlier proposal to refer the ownership issue to international arbitration, possibly to the UN. Azerbaijan rejected that proposal as inappropriate.

But Azerbaijan's deputy foreign minister responsible for Caspian affairs, Khalaf Khalafov, nonetheless traveled to Ashgabat last week to attend the 16th meeting of the Caspian working group, and met separately on the sidelines of that session with senior Turkmen officials to discuss the delimitation of the two countries' sectors of the sea, ITAR-TASS reported. No details of those talks were divulged, however.

Meanwhile, it is unclear precisely how much progress, if any, was made in Ashgabat in the multilateral talks on a draft convention defining the legal status of the sea. In October 2004, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told Interfax that eight of the 33 provisions of the draft convention on the legal status of the Caspian Sea have been agreed upon and another eight provisions and preambles have been partially agreed upon. And a second Caspian summit, tentatively scheduled first for December 2004 and then for January 2005 in Tehran, has again been postponed. Iranian Ambassador to Moscow Gholam Reza Shafei told journalists on 1 February that the postponement was due to the position adopted by one of the leaders of the littoral states, but failed to say which one, Interfax reported. He said the summit will now not take place before the Iranian presidential election scheduled for 17 June. (Liz Fuller)

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