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Iran Report: July 13, 2005


13 July 2005, Volume 8, Number 27

IRAN'S AMBIGUOUS RESPONSE TO LONDON BOMBINGS. Tehran's reaction to the 7 July terrorist attacks in London is following a pattern seen before, and what this pattern shows is that the government projects an earnest and civilized facade to the outside world. At the same time, Tehran is highly critical of the outside world in messages to its domestic audience, and it tends to pin the blame on the victims. A precedent for this reaction, albeit on a different scale, was Tehran's response to the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States.

Tehran's immediate response to the 7 July terrorist attacks in London was a statement from Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi in which he condemned the bombings and expressed sympathy for the victims' families, according to state television.

President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami condemned the attacks in an 8 July statement, the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) reported. "Such terrorist moves are not only in direct contrast with all values and teachings of the divine monotheist faiths, but also seriously condemned and loathed by the whole humankind." Khatami added, "I hereby express my deep sympathy with the bereaved families of this incident's victims and wish for full recovery of its wounded victims."

A state television commentary on 7 July struck a different note. It suggested that the bombings represent a "complete failure for [British Prime Minister Tony] Blair," and it added that "Blair's government has always been criticized for blindly following the American policies in Iraq and Afghanistan." The commentary said the British public will want to know why "Blair and his friends are searching for terrorists thousands of kilometers away, while the terrorists are targeting the British people in the heart of London."

An Iranian state-radio commentary on 8 July blamed the Israeli intelligence organization, Mossad. The commentary cited the BBC as saying there were no witnesses to identify the perpetrators of the bombings. This claim, according to the Iranian commentary, "strengthens suspicion that the Zionist circles, in particular the Mossad espionage organization, were behind London's bloody events." The commentary connected the attacks with the G-8 summit in Edinburgh, saying, "often simultaneously with every G-8 summit, the Mossad organization tries to do something in order to direct the attention of the G-8 leaders towards the opponents of the Zionist regime." It concluded, "Of course, this espionage organization is the only body capable of carrying out such operations in London."

Friday-prayer leader Ayatollah Mohammad Emami-Kashani condemned the bombings in his 8 July sermon, according to state radio, and he extended his sympathies. Kashani noted that Prime Minister Blair said although the terrorists act in the name of Islam the majority of Muslims are decent and law-abiding.

Kashani then asked hypothetically, "have you forgotten who the parents of Al-Qaeda are?" "America is the father and Israel the mother," he answered. He went on to suggest that the British got what was coming to them.

"You brought this [illegitimate son] in the name of Islam. It is therefore obvious what will be the fate of a son whose father was the White House's [global] arrogance and whose mother was the hangman of Israel. And you named him Islam. The destiny of such a boy is obvious, and your motive is clear. You brought to exploit him as a pest against our life. But praise be to Allah, he became a pest of your life."

State radio on 9 July noted that Al-Qaeda is the most likely perpetrator of the attacks, before going on to pin some of the blame on the U.S. It said "most analysts," without identifying these individuals, find a "direct correlation between these bombings and the failure of America's methods in its war on terror." It went on to say, "America and the extremist policies of the Bush's government are to blame -- to some degree -- for these attacks and loss of human lives." State radio concluded, "It is, therefore, possible that the British people are paying the price for their elected government's support of America's foreign policy, specially in Iraq."

After 9/11

Three-and-a-half years ago, after 9/11, President Khatami condemned the attacks and expressed condolences on Iran's behalf. "I condemn the terrorist operations of hijacking and attacking public places in American cities, which have resulted in the death of a large number of defenseless American people," he said. The Iranian people, furthermore, responded with a genuine and spontaneous outpouring of sympathy. This ranged from signing a condolence book at the Swiss Embassy in Tehran, which represents U.S. interests, to a moment of silence at a soccer match.

But just as it did in 2005, the regime blamed the victims. "The planning of operations, the selection of targets and the savage way in which the operations were carried out in America show that non-American groups are incapable of carrying out such attacks," Tehran Radio asserted on 12 September.

Ayatollah Emami-Kashani said in his Friday-prayers sermon three days after the 2001 attacks, "Israel and the usurper Zionist regime are the No. 1 state terrorists. They are causing havoc like this.... America itself, the White House and the prevalent policy in the United States, most of which is in the hands of the Zionists -- they condone these crimes that are perpetrated here and there."

"America's expansionist policies were the cause of recent developments," Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said six days after the 2001 attacks. "Most of the evidence points the finger of suspicion toward the Zionists for masterminding the recent incidents in America," according to Khamenei, and he went on to say that Israel is exploiting the situation to oppress the Muslim Palestinians.

The two incidents -- the London bombings of 7 July and the 11 September 2001 attacks -- are not isolated cases. For example, Tehran blamed the United States for the March 2004 bombings in Uzbekistan, and violence in Iraq is routinely blamed on occupation forces.

More sophisticated observers in Iran are unlikely to believe such accounts by state media or officials. Those who have less access to information about the outside world and who are dependent on Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting for news, however, may become convinced by what they hear. (Bill Samii)

SHANGHAI GROUP WELCOMES IRAN AS OBSERVER. The Shanghai Cooperation Group (SCO), which met in Astana, Kazakhstan, on 5 July, approved the observer status of Iran, Pakistan, and India, news agencies reported (see "RFE/RL Iran Report, 14 June 2005). One day later, the SCO called on the United States to withdraw from military bases in Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, with acting Kyrgyz Foreign Minister Roza Otunbaeva saying the situation in Afghanistan is stable and the United States no longer needs the bases. She added: "All of us are part of the antiterrorist coalition, including our country. However, there is a time limit for everybody who comes to stay somewhere," Otunbaeva said. "We are members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. We raised this issue [of the U.S. bases] together with the other [SCO] member states."

Iran's First Vice President Mohammad Reza Aref-Yazdi arrived in Astana on 4 July to participate in the meeting, and he subsequently met with Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev and Chinese President Hu Jintao, Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) reported. At the 5 July SCO meeting, Aref-Yazdi said Iran could link member states with the Persian Gulf, IRNA reported.

In Moscow on 8 July, Iranian legislator Mohammad Khoshchehreh, an adviser to President-elect Mahmud Ahmadinejad, referred to the SCO's military potential and power and predicted that the SCO could surpass NATO, Interfax reported. He referred to cooperation in counternarcotics and the possibility of a single currency. Khoshchehreh added, "The presence of the Americans in our region, especially in Afghanistan, has had very bad consequences: during the occupation of Afghanistan, drug production increased several-fold there.... This has put the countries of the region in serious danger," he said.

Current members of the organization, which was formed in 1997, are China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. The organization originally focused on border-security issues and now serves as a regional forum for discussion and confidence building. (Bill Samii)

IRAQ GETS $1 BILLION AID PLEDGE FROM IRAN. Iraqi Defense Minister Sa'dun al-Dulaymi visited Tehran on 6 July, where he met with Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi and Defense Minister Ali Shamkhani, Radio Farda and other news agencies reported the same day. The two countries fought a war between 1980 and 1988, but Shamkhani said "we want to forget the past and start a new phase with our neighbor," Radio Farda reported. Shamkhani expressed Iran's concern at the presence of U.S. troops in Iraq. "Insecure conditions at present," he said, should not prompt Iraqis to "permit" foreign powers to "consolidate their dominance and strengthen" Israel's "security cordon," Radio Farda reported. Al-Dulaymi said no power could cause problems in the two countries' relations, and we must try not to create "a pretext" for the presence of foreign forces.

Al-Dulaymi also visited a helicopter manufacture and repair plant, and was separately shown a display of weaponry made in Iran, the Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA) reported. He later told Kharrazi that Iraq wants to "strengthen the bridges of confidence" with neighbors -- "especially" Iran, with which it wishes to have ties resting on "new bases," ISNA reported. "Iraq apologizes to Iran for the consequences of the policies of [its] past regime," he added.

Al-Dulaymi said during a 7 July press conference in Tehran that Iran has pledged to provide Iraq with a $1 billion aid package, Radio Farda and other news agencies reported. Defense Minister Shamkhani told reporters that the two sides would sign agreements on military cooperation -- including training -- soon. Asked about the status of the Mujahedin Khalq Organization, an armed Iranian opposition organization that is based in Iraq and currently enjoys "protected status" under the Geneva Conventions, al-Dulaymi pledged that it would not be allowed to launch operations from Iraqi territory.

Al-Dulaymi met with President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami on 7 July. Khatami expressed optimism on the continuation of political development in Iraq, called for the country's reconstruction, stressed ethnic unity, and offered Iranian cooperation. According to anonymous sources cited by "Al-Hayat" on 6 July, al-Dulaymi is close to the United States and therefore the visit is meant to strengthen Iran-Iraq ties (presumably by reassuring Iran about U.S. intentions). (Bill Samii, Vahid Sepehri)

TEHRAN, ISLAMABAD SIGN GAS-PIPELINE MEMORANDUM. Iranian Petroleum Minister Bijan Namdar-Zanganeh and his Pakistani counterpart, Amanullah Khan Jadoon, witnessed the 7 July signing in Islamabad of a memorandum of understanding to continue discussions on construction of a natural-gas pipeline, IRNA reported. "This is the first written document after years of talks," Namdar-Zanganeh said. The overland pipeline is meant to transport natural gas from Iran across Pakistan to India, and Pakistan itself will use the pipeline to supplement its gas supply. The visiting Iranian official met earlier in the day with Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz, PTV World reported. (Bill Samii)

NEW LEGISLATORS SWORN IN. Legislators elected in by-elections on 17 June have been sworn in. Alireza Mahjub from Tehran, Hojjatullah Ruhi from Babolsar and Fereidun Kenar, and Golmohmmad Bameri from Iranshahr and Sarbaz were sworn in on 5 July, IRNA reported. Ali Morad Jabbari from Gachsaran, Emad Husseini from Qorveh, and Karim Shafeh from Marand and Jolfa were sworn in on 3 July, IRNA reported. (Bill Samii)

WILL THE NEW PRESIDENT HAVE A BIG TENT? President-elect Mahmud Ahmadinejad will be sworn in on 4 August, and a formal inauguration at the legislature will take place one day earlier. In the meantime, Ahmadinejad must select a cabinet. Ahmadinejad says ideology and politics will not determine his choices and he has met with individuals from the hard-line and reform factions. His choices are a sign of what one can expect from his presidency.

Reformists Not Interested

"It is a government of 70 million," Ahmadinejad said during a 26 June press conference, state television reported. "I mean, it is a cabinet that makes the entire Iranian nation feel that their willpower finds manifestation there. They feel that their demands are being studied." Ahmadinejad indicated that competence rather than ideology would be the deciding factor in his choices, saying, "We will use all talents and take advantage of all opportunities and use all worthy individuals."

As if to emphasize his desire for inclusiveness, Ahmadinejad has met with members of incumbent President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami's cabinet, and he has sought reformist legislators' opinions. The president-elect met on 30 June with Islamic Culture and Guidance Minister Ahmad Masjid-Jamei, Petroleum Minister Bijan Namdar-Zanganeh, Defense and Armed Forces Logistics Minister Ali Shamkhani, Intelligence and Security Minister Hojatoleslam Ali Yunesi, and Roads and Transport Minister Mohammad Rahmati. They discussed their respective ministries and offered advice on possible successors.

Ahmadinejad met with Agriculture Jihad Minister Mahmud Hojjati, Cooperatives Minister Ali Sufi, and Management and Planning Organization chief Hamid Baradaran a week later. The president-elect also met with Supreme National Security Council secretary Hojatoleslam Hassan Rohani.

Parliamentary speaker Gholam Ali Haddad-Adel asked the reformists to select several legislators to reflect their views. On 4 July, Boin-Zahra's Qodratullah Alikhani, Tabriz's Ismail Jabarzadeh, Bojnurd's Ismail Gerami-Moqaddam, and Ardakan's Mohammad Reza Tabesh were chosen to consult with Ahmadinejad on his cabinet choices and possible methods for interfactional cooperation. Later in the day, however, Gerami-Moqaddam said the reformists will not have a role in creating the cabinet, nor will they be members of it.

Mohammad Sadai, a member of the pro-reform Islamic Iran Participation Front, dismissed the calls for inclusivity, saying, "a bipartisan cabinet sounds more like a slogan than a reality," "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 4 July. The conditions under which Ahmadinejad was elected, Sadai said, "effectively make that impossible."

Considering Hard-Liners

Not surprisingly, Ahmadinejad is looking closer to his ideological home for his ministers. Shokrollah Atarzadeh, a hard-line legislator from Bushehr, said on 26 June that Ahmadinejad will look to the parliamentarians who backed him. The legislature's hard-line faction formed a five-member committee -- Reza Abdullahi, Mohammad Reza Bahonar, Hussein Fadai, Mohsen Kuhkan, and Gholamreza Mesbahi-Moqaddam -- to advise Ahmadinejad on cabinet choices.

Ali Larijani's name has come up often in the discussion about Ahmadinejad's cabinet. Larijani, who lost in the first round of the presidential election, is the supreme leader's representative to the Supreme National Security Council and, until resigning so he could run for president, headed the official Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting. Parliamentarian Shokrollah Atarzadeh said on 26 June that Ahmadinejad will include Larijani in his cabinet, and Ahmadinejad met with Larijani on 1 July. On 6 July, the hard-line "Kayhan" newspaper and the Iranian Labor News Agency mentioned Larijani as the next Islamic culture and guidance minister, a position he held in the 1990s. "Kayhan" added that Larijani might succeed Hojatoleslam Hassan Rohani as secretary of the Supreme National Security Council and be the lead person in nuclear negotiations with Europe.

Tehran municipal council chief Mehdi Chamran is another possible cabinet member or even the choice for first vice president, according to some observers. Chamran is a leader in the Islamic Iran Developers Coalition (Etelaf-i Abadgaran-i Iran-i Islami), which backed Ahmadinejad's presidential bid.

Among the other names that are being considered are former Minister of Economic Affairs and Finance Tahmasb Mazaheri, Tehran parliamentary representative Elias Naderan, and Tehran parliamentary representative Ahmad Tavakoli, "Farhang-i Ashti" reported on 27 June. Tavakoli, however, said on 1 July that he is reluctant to be in the cabinet and would rather stay in the legislature, Fars News Agency reported.

A Resurgence Of The Haqqani School

During a 3 July visit to the holy city of Qom, Ahmadinejad met with a number of senior clerics, including Ayatollah Mohammad Taqi-Mesbah-Yazdi, a prominent hard-line cleric associated with the Haqqani seminary. Mesbah-Yazdi had endorsed Ahmadinejad's candidacy, "Farhang-i Ashti" reported on 20 June. Subsequently, there was speculation that Mesbah-Yazdi would become minister of Islamic culture and guidance.

Some of the country's most hard-line figures are alumni of the Haqqani seminary (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 30 April 2001). Furthermore, alumni have gone on to leading positions in intelligence and security institutions. Ayatollah Mohieddin Haeri-Shirazi, the supreme leader's representative in Fars Province, said some of the president-elect's supporters were his students at the Haqqani seminary, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 30 June.

A list of possible cabinet members provided by the hard-line Daricheh website (http://www.daricheh.com; the site did not provide first names) on 2 July included at least two Haqqani alumni as prospective intelligence and security ministers. They are Special Court for the Clergy official Purmohammadi (first name not available) or Documents Center chief Hojatoleslam Ruhollah Husseinian, who has served in the Ministry of Intelligence and Security and the Special Court for the Clergy.

The Iranian Labor News Agency (ILNA) on 6 July lists judiciary official Ebrahim Raisi as a possible intelligence and security minister, and press court judge Said Mortazavi as the justice minister.

The hard-line credentials of other individuals mentioned by the Daricheh website are noteworthy. Possible defense ministers are Basij commander Mohammad Hejazi, Islamic Revolution Guards Corps deputy commander Mohammad Baqer Zolqadr, Defense Minister Ali Shamkhani, former national police chief Hedayat Lotfian, or former presidential candidate Mohsen Rezai. All of these individuals have a background in the Guards Corps. Possible interior ministers are former presidential candidate Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, Tehran parliamentary representative Mohammad Reza Bahonar, or Guardians Council election official Mohammad Jahromi.

According to Daricheh and ILNA on 6 July, a possible Petroleum Minister is Deputy Oil Minister for International Affairs Mohammad Hadi Nejad-Husseinian. Tehran parliamentary representative Emad Afruq is mentioned by both as a possible Islamic culture and guidance minister.

Tehran parliamentary representative Manuchehr Mottaki is described as the next foreign minister by ILNA. Daricheh indicates there are more choices, mentioning judiciary adviser and former diplomat Javad Larijani, current Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi, and former Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi.

The ministers Ahmadinejad selects must win a vote of confidence from the parliament before they can begin work (constitutional articles 133-142 deal with the president and his cabinet). Discussion of the composition of Ahmadinejad's cabinet, at this point, may seem excessively speculative and therefore irrelevant. However, the individuals responsible for domestic issues will have a serious influence over human rights, press freedom, and social welfare. And ministers dealing with petroleum and foreign affairs will affect Iran's interaction with the international community. Ahmadinejad's cabinet choices will say a great deal about what Iranians and the rest of the world can expect from his presidency. (Bill Samii)

TOP NUCLEAR NEGOTIATOR MAY RESIGN. Supreme National Security Council Secretary Hojatoleslam Hassan Rohani, who has led negotiations with the European Union over Iran's controversial nuclear program, may resign once President-elect Mahmud Ahmadinejad takes office on 4 August, news agencies reported on 6 July. However, council spokesman Ali Aqamohammadi dismissed the reports, telling AP that "Rohani will remain in his position" while Mohammad Khatami is president, after which "it is up to Ahmadinejad, who has not announced any stance on Rohani." Ahmadinejad, who reportedly advocates a tougher stance in negotiations, met with Rohani on 6 July to discuss the dossier, news agencies reported. (Vahid Sepehri)

IRANIAN OFFICIALS FIRM OVER NUCLEAR FUEL. Iran has asked the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) for permission to break UN seals on parts of a uranium-conversion plant in Isfahan, central Iran, in order to test them, Reuters reported on 6 July, citing unnamed Western diplomats in Vienna, where the IAEA is based. Confirming the request, IAEA deputy head Mohammad Saidi said this will not violate Iran's ongoing pledge to the EU to suspend all fuel production-related activities while it negotiates over its program, Reuters reported.

Iran's Atomic Energy Agency chief Gholamreza Aqazadeh said in Tehran on 5 July that Iran should not show "flexibility" in its talks with the EU, and he is "not very hopeful" the EU can make "significant" proposals soon to resolve outstanding differences, ISNA reported that day. The EU, he said, has "very little capacity" to resolve the "great issue" the dossier represents, and "talks will proceed with great difficulty from now on." The problem, he said, is now political not technical. "If certain people inside the country imagine that our nuclear [dossier] will be resolved without the resolution of our political problems with the world, they are mistaken," he said. Iranians should be firm and united over the issue, for "if foreigners feel there is a weakness somewhere, they will exert pressure from that very point." He added he will step down as the agency head once the Bushehr plant in southern Iran reaches the "commercial operation" phase, ISNA reported.

Meanwhile, Saidi said on 5 July that Iran will not accept EU proposals "due to be made" in late July, unless the union formally recognizes "Iran's right to make nuclear fuel," ISNA reported the same day. (Vahid Sepehri)

MORE THAN 11,000 HAVE HIV IN IRAN. The head of the Health Ministry's AIDS office, Mitra Motamedi, said in Tehran on 5 July that "the latest official figures" show that 11,221 Iranians have HIV, an increase of almost 1,000, she said, from figures three months earlier, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 6 July, citing Fars news agency. The figures are for cases the ministry knows about, and she said that it estimates 44,000 people may be HIV-positive in Iran. She said that 523 members of the known group "are at the stage of illness" and receiving unspecified medical treatment. Of the group, she said, almost 95 percent are men, 40 percent are aged between 25 and 34, 61 percent contracted the virus by drug injection, and 7.3 percent through sexual intercourse, without stating how the remainder were infected. Meanwhile, Hamid Sarrami, an official from the state antinarcotics agency, said on 5 July that the Health Ministry estimates there are about "3.4-4 million" drug addicts in Iran, 40 percent of whom work in various farming sectors, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 6 July. He said 60 percent of the "youngsters and people" who turn to drugs are dissatisfied with their lives. (Vahid Sepehri)

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