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Iran Report: August 9, 2005


9 August 2005, Volume 8, Number 31

IRAN GETS NEW PRESIDENT. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei confirmed the presidential decree of Mahmud Ahmadinejad on 3 August at a ceremony in Tehran, the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) reported, in line with Article 110 of the country's constitution.

In his first speech as president, Ahmadinejad called for the elimination of weapons of mass destruction, state radio reported. He also called for the elimination of double standards that try to reduce some countries' access to the same benefits other countries have. Ahmadinejad described his priorities as justice, peace, public rights, and he said his government will stress attention to people's needs, the promotion of justice, serving the masses, and the country's spiritual and economic progress.

"I regard myself as a drop in the boundless ocean of the Iranian people," he said, "And in gratitude for the opportunity given to me to enable me to offer my services, I rub my forehead into the dust on the ground to express my gratitude before Almighty God." Ahmadinejad added, "I pledge to repay the people for their trust and the hope they attach to me through my sincere service."

Ahmadinejad took the oath of office at the legislature in Tehran on 6 August, Islamic Republic of Iran News Network reported. His term will last four years. (Bill Samii)

AMERICA IS AT AHMADINEJAD'S CONFIRMATION. The United States was a featured part of Supreme Leader Khamenei's speech at the 3 August ceremony, state radio reported. Khamenei criticized U.S. officials' statements about the Iranian presidential election in June and said: "The Iranian nation, for its part, does not accept their democracy. What pride can there be in the democracy in which the money of Zionist capitalists speaks the loudest? And what can it teach the people of the world?" Khamenei stressed that Iran is a "peace-loving nation" but warned "the global arrogance and especially the Great Satan and America" that Iran will defend its rights. (Bill Samii)

WOMEN WEIGH KHATAMI'S LEGACY ON GENDER ISSUES. The presidency of Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami ended on 3 August, when his successor, Mahmud Ahmadinejad, was installed. Khatami's landslide election victory on 23 May 1997 owed a great deal to support from female voters. Women make up about half of Iran's eligible voters, and Khatami actively courted their backing. As he leaves office, observers are debating how much he managed to achieve for Iranian women.

Khatami appeared to recognize this constituency's backing when, following his election, he appointed a woman, Masumeh Ebtekar, as his vice president for environmental protection and appointed Zahra Shojai as his women's affairs adviser. Despite the demands of women in 2001, when he was reelected, Khatami did not select any women for his cabinet, although he chose Zahra Rahnavard as his senior adviser on cultural affairs.

Khatami's attitude on gender issues was summarized in a 4 July statement in Tehran, when he said, "We should have a comprehensive view of the role of women and before anything else, should not regard women as second-class citizens," Fars News Agency reported. "We should all believe that both men and women have the capability to be active in all fields, and I emphasize, in all fields."

Farideh Ghayrat, a Tehran-based lawyer and the spokeswoman for the Association for the Defense of Prisoners Rights, told Radio Farda in May that the political atmosphere is more open now than it was eight years ago. Ghayrat credited Khatami with creating an environment that encourages women to participate.

However, she continued, this trend has stopped short of any significant improvement in the legal arena. "Legally, there has been no change [in the condition of women]," she said. "We cannot say that women now, according to the law, have more competence in taking responsibilities. Women still have trouble with ordinary laws, not to speak of running for office."

Marzieh Mortazi-Langarudi, a reformist women's rights activist, told Radio Farda that female activism has been on the rise during the Khatami presidency. She added that women now have more confidence to fight for their rights. Moreover, Mortazi-Langarudi told Radio Farda, religious laws that created an authoritarian atmosphere and tied a woman's fate to her gender and physique are being challenged, and this is an important step. "In general, the women's movement grew relatively well during the reformists' [leadership]," Mortazi-Langarudi said. "I think women's most urgent claim has been equality in human rights and gender rights. Steps have been taken. Women have more self-confidence in seeking their rights. I think that during [the reign of] Khatami, there was no stagnation. Stagnation was before Khatami, when no one could challenge the laws that appeared holy."

Women serve in the legislature, and they are eligible to serve in municipal councils. However, no females serve in the Assembly of Experts, an elected body that is restricted to clergymen. In the last two presidential elections, women have registered as candidates, but have not passed through the vetting process. That is because the law uses a vague Arabic term -- rejal -- that is interpreted in such a way that the chief executive must be a man.

Mahnaz Afkhami, who served as deputy minister of women affairs before the 1979 Islamic revolution, told Radio Farda that "what is really important is not simply whether a woman can achieve a high post, but rather what the position of that woman is on the women's issues and women's rights." Afkhami suggested that when the basic principles of democracy and human rights are not respected, the presence of a few women in the presidential race is irrelevant. "If you are seeking democracy and equality, such political games would not make any change," Afkhami said.

Khatami spokesman Abdullah Ramezanzadeh defended the president's efforts during a meeting of deputy governors and governors-general for women's affairs in Tehran in early May. "We had not claimed that we would be able to bring about sexual justice," he said, according to "Etemad" on 4 May. "Nobody should expect us to bring about that kind of sexual justice in a matter of 10 or 15 years. What Khatami's government did in a democratic society was to turn the issue of sexual justice into an issue of the day, rather than allowing it to be confined to intellectual circles, to the extent that today no politician can easily ignore that issue." (Bill Samii, Fatemeh Aman)

KHATAMI RECEIVES MIXED MARKS FOR HIS ECONOMIC AND POLITICAL LEGACIES. In the final days of his presidency, Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami met with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. During that meeting, Khatami discussed what he saw as the accomplishments of his administration during his two terms in office (1997-2001 and 2001-05). Khatami was very upbeat, but outside observers gave mixed marks to his economic and political record.

Boost From The Oil Boom

During his meeting with Khamenei, according to Iranian state radio on 2 August, Khatami described his administration's efforts to deal with economic issues such as unemployment and inflation. Khatami said poverty is something the incoming government of Mahmud Ahmadinejad must confront, and he noted that the poverty rate had fallen sharply during his eight years in office.

Djavad Salehi-Isfahani, a professor of economics at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (aka Virginia Tech), described Iran's economic realities in a 2 August interview. "The situation has improved both in terms of real wages and in terms of unemployment. [Iran has] much lower unemployment for the 30-years-and-older [age] group. In fact, if you look at the latest data on employment (about 3 percent unemployment for men and 6 percent for women), it's so low for that group [that] it's hard to imagine it will fall any lower.... For the younger [citizens], it hasn't improved much."

Youth unemployment is where Khatami failed, according to Salehi-Isfahani. "[Khatami] did not do enough to help the young people, especially young women.... Urban women's unemployment rate was 60 percent in 2004," he continued. "This is an astronomically high figure. For men 20-24 years of age, it's also very high -- 25 percent." Khatami tried to resolve this problem by pushing through a package of unemployment benefits that targeted young people. This effort was misplaced because the Iranian economy just was not capable of absorbing the large increase in young job seekers.."

It is not clear to what extent the overall economic upturn is due to Khatami's policies. Oil revenues have climbed in recent years, Salehi-Isfahani noted, and this is inevitably accompanied by an economic boom, income increases, and a fall in unemployment. "Khatami in the last five years has been riding this oil boom," Salehi-Isfahani continued. "This is not to say he hasn't done anything. External events such as oil prices and internal events -- some policy -- may have contributed to this improved situation. I believe it's mostly the external factors, the rising oil price is responsible for this improvement."

Salehi-Isfahani said Khatami intended to introduce new programs, but he eventually continued the economic reforms initiated by his predecessor, Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani. This encouraged investment and led to privatization. "The private sector has been continuously growing in term of employment and output at the expense of the public sector," Salehi-Isfahani said. "Those are important achievements of Khatami, but really it is more staying the course as opposed to coming up with the program and doing something."

The average Iranian citizen's situation has improved over the past eight years, with real wages increasing. Salehi-Isfahani said the annual economic-growth rate has been in the 5-7 percent range, which places Iran in the top 20 percent of the world's fastest-growing economies. Salehi-Isfahani went on to say that the poverty rate has declined, mainly because "you have a system of subsidies that protect the poor from hunger and you have a booming economy and booming employment."

Not all the subsidies helped the poor, however, and recent studies have found that much of the gasoline subsidy goes to relatively well-off people. "That does not benefit the poor," Salehi-Isfahani said. "But, if you look at the subsidies, especially for food and medicine, the poor benefit a lot from them and this is what is holding Iran together."

A discussion of the economic legacy of the Khatami presidency can seem abstract until one gets a sense of how an Iranian lives. Mehrdad, a young disabled man in Tehran, told Radio Farda that nearly all of his activities take place in his own home. Mehrdad works on his computer and writes a weblog. He said he is financially dependent on his father, who is retired from the army and has a modest income. Mehrdad went on to say that there are few training centers for the disabled, and getting to them is difficult. "There is only one in west Tehran, and I need to spend 4,000 tomans [about $5] just for transportation. The government has only 10 buses for disabled transportation for the whole Tehran Province."

Mixed Political Accomplishments

Khatami's presidency probably will be remembered best for its political impact. But his efforts to achieve reform within a constitutional framework were not entirely successful, not least because they were countered by unelected institutions, such as the Guardians Council. Furthermore, hard-line institutions managed to violate citizens' rights without having to account for their activities. Therefore, Khatami's presidency has received mixed reviews from many observers.

One perspective is that the new open discourse on issues such as civil rights, democracy, and social freedom created a new and unprecedented environment in Iran. Majid Tavalai, editor of the monthly "Nameh," said this environment boosted Iranians' courage. "The official discourse on human rights and democracy created an umbrella for people under which they felt secure to express their opinions and demands," Tavalai said. He went on to say that this was not a stable or consistent trend, referring to the reduction in social and political activities after the crackdown on student demonstrators at Tehran University in 1999, the mass closure of the reformist press from 2000 onward, the trials of participants in a conference in Berlin in 2000, and the continuous arrests of political activists.

Tavalai said a sense of hopelessness gradually came to dominate society. "In this time the conservatives managed to raise the costs of political activism resulting in its rapid decline and its limitation to a small group of elites," Tavalai said, adding that people came to dislike politics and adopted a more apolitical lifestyle.

Former parliamentarian Qasem Sholeh-Saadi at one time sided with the reformists, but he broke with them over what he saw as a lack of resolve on Khatami's part. Asked if the president created the environment in which Iranians could express themselves, Sholeh-Saadi retorted that Khatami himself was a product of the bravery of the Iranian people. "Khatami himself by his own accounts and that of his friends cannot be categorized as a courageous man," Sholeh-Saadi said. "So he cannot be credited for the people's bravery. People themselves created this environment and not Khatami."

Sholeh-Saadi conceded that some institutional improvements did take place during Khatami's presidency, and he credited the president with revealing the serial killings of dissidents by alleged rogue elements in the Intelligence and Security Ministry. He also praised the country's first municipal elections, which took place in 1999. Sholeh-Saadi described these as fairly minor achievements and insisted that Khatami actually hindered progress in other areas, such as the crackdown on students and the jailing of journalists and dissidents. He criticized Khatami for doing nothing to change the constitution, which effectively stripped the president of power. Sholeh-Saadi said Khatami should have led the people to the streets, but that he proved to be more of an obstacle to reform than its promoter. (Bill Samii, Fatemeh Aman, and Maryam Ahmadi)

HUNGER STRIKER REFUSES MEDICAL TREATMENT. Hospitalized journalist Akbar Ganji, whose hunger strike began in early June, is refusing medical treatment, Milad Hospital spokesman Sirus Tabesh told IRNA on 4 August. Tabesh described Ganji's situation as "dangerous" and getting worse.

Ganji's wife, Masumeh Shafii, told Radio Farda on 30 July that her husband currently weighs 50 kilograms. Ganji, who is technically a prisoner, is currently in the hospital in Tehran. He told his wife there on 30 July that neither he nor his attorneys have, nor would they ask for a pardon or a conditional release, Shafii told Radio Farda. It is Iran's government, he told her, which should ask to be pardoned for jailing him "illegally" for 2,015 days, she said.

Ganji was jailed for writing articles alleging involvement by state officials in the killing of dissidents in the 1990s. The judiciary says he could be eligible for a conditional release, if he asks for it, for having almost served out his sentence.

Shafii also told Radio Farda on 31 July that she would protest and call for his release on 3 August outside the United Nations office in Tehran.

On 30 July, a reportedly "very large" number of sympathizers gathered outside Ganji's house, Mohammad Maleki, a participant, told Radio Farda on 31 July. They reportedly included liberal politicians and writers. (Bill Samii, Vahid Sepehri)

LAWYER JAILED FOR DISCUSSING SPY DOSSIERS. Abdolfattah Soltani was arrested in Tehran on 30 July and taken to an unknown place, apparently for divulging the contents of a nuclear espionage case, Radio Farda and the Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA) reported on 31 July. Judiciary spokesman Jamal Karimi-Rad said on 31 July that Soltani discussed the case with the families of defendants. "I do not know why they behave this way. They have so much professional experience," he said. The Information Ministry, he added, has a full dossier on Soltani. But lawyer Mohammad Ali Dadkhah told Radio Farda that Soltani should first have been summoned to court to hear charges. Dadkhah added that the judiciary spokesman has spoken about the charges as if Soltani were already convicted. Radio Farda reported on 31 July that men presenting themselves as judiciary agents searched Soltani's house "five days before" his arrest, and took away unspecified papers and documents. Soltani told Radio Farda on 23 July that he believed the Tehran chief prosecutor Said Mortazavi was taking measures that would lead to his "arrest and torture." Iranian officials reported the arrest of a dozen "nuclear spies" in December 2004 (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 27 December 2004). (Vahid Sepehri)

VIOLENCE ROCKS TEHRAN. Deputy Prosecutor-General Masud Moqaddas, who also worked as a judge, was shot to death on 2 August by one or two men on a motorcycle as he crossed Ahmadi Avenue in Tehran. Tehran Police Chief General Morteza Talai said there was no known motive for the killing, but did not rule out that the crime could have a political connection. Judiciary spokesman Jamal Karimirad said Moqaddas -- who was known as a hard-liner -- headed the Tehran judiciary complex and focused on social vice cases. He also handled the trial of journalist Akbar Ganji -- who is currently on a hunger strike, AP reported. Tehran Prosecutor's Office official Abbas-Ali Alizadeh said the killing has nothing to do with Ganji's case and will have no effect upon it, the Fars News Agency reported.

One day after the burial of Moqaddas, Judge Said Mortazavi discussed the assassination, state television reported on 4 August. Mortazavi said a group identifying itself as the Armed Youth of Cherikha-yi Fadai has taken credit on its website. "However, I think that this is a false claim or at least we have not reached the conclusion that this group was responsible," he said, adding that the investigation is continuing.

Also on 2 August, a small explosion occurred in Tehran near the building housing the offices of British Airways (BA) and British Petroleum. Ambassador John Dalton told reporters that "We do not know who the target of the explosion was. The Iranian authorities responded very quickly and I'm grateful for that. I will be consulting them about additional precautions which may be necessary for British companies," RFE/RL reported.

Deputy Interior Minister for Security Affairs Ali Asqar Ahmadi denied that the BA office was the target, baztab.com reported, and he would not dismiss the possibility that the same group responsible for explosions in Tehran in early June could be responsible for this incident. Meanwhile, the Hadian-i Aftab Association plans a demonstration outside the British Embassy on 3 August, the Iranian Labor News Agency (ILNA) reported on 2 August. The association's secretary, Vahid Mahabadi, said this is to protest the burning of an Iranian flag when the country's national soccer team was in the United Kingdom. (Bill Samii)

KURDISH UNREST IN IRAN SPREADS. An unknown number of people violated a ban on demonstrations and gatherings and rioted in the city of Sanandaj, Kurdistan Province, on the evening of 1 August, IRNA reported the next day. Before police quelled the unrest, rioters set four autos alight and broke the windows at a bank.

In a continuation of unrest in predominantly Kurdish parts of Iran, the Baztab website reported on 3 August, there have been some violent incidents in Saqqez, Kurdistan Province. Members of a Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) affiliate called the Kurdistan Independent Life Party (PJAK) set the local husseinieh (a prayer hall) on fire and broke the windows of some banks. The PJAK members reportedly shot at security personnel, but there is no accurate accounting of the casualties. Baztab noted that the unrest has been continuing for three weeks, since the killing by security forces of a Kurdish activist known as Shavaneh (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 19 July and 26 July 2005).

IRNA described the demonstrators in Saqqez as "a bunch of anarchists" on 3 August.

Iranian security forces posted near the city of Haji-Omran, Piranshahr, West Azerbaijan Province, clashed with PJAK militants on 4 August, state television reported. The Middle East News Agency reported on 4 August that Iranian missiles have landed in Iraq during these clashes.

Kurdistan Province journalist Masud Kurdpur told Radio Farda on 4 August that after several weeks of unrest the calm of the grave has descended over the predominantly Kurdish cities of northwestern Iran. Kurdpur noted that several regional publications -- including "Ashti" and "Atoo" -- have been closed and their heads -- Burhan Lahuni and Delir Azadikha -- arrested. Lahuni said his publication, which is published in Kurdish and Persian, was temporarily closed by the provincial court on 4 August, IRNA reported. Only 45 issues of the daily have been published so far.

Kurdpur also told Radio Farda that after the unrest the towns have a noticeable security presence, and he noted the arrest of Kurdish activists.

One of the ones he mentioned is Roya Tolui. Humanrightsfirst.org said Tolui was arrested on 2 August. It demanded her release, as well as the release of other Kurdish activists. Tolui is described as a vocal critic of the Iran government's stand on minority and gender issues. (Bill Samii)

IRAN RECEIVES LEBANESE HIZBALLAH'S LEADER, THEN SYRIA'S. Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, secretary-general of Lebanon's Hizballah organization, arrived in Tehran on 31 July, Radio Farda and other news agencies reported. Nasrallah met with Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi on the first day of his visit, and on 1 August he met with Expediency Council Chairman Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, President-elect Ahmadinejad, and President Khatami.

"Success, victories, and progress of this popular and faithful force in political, cultural, social, and military domains of Lebanon are results of purity and reliance on God's will that should be preserved and institutionalized as the main factor in the fight against enemies of Islam," IRNA quoted Ahmadinejad as saying.

Khatami denounced calls for Hizballah's disarmament, IRNA reported.

Middle East expert Alireza Nurizadeh told Radio Farda that aside from the longstanding military and security contacts between Iran and Hizballah, Nasrallah and Khatami have developed a close relationship in recent years. This trip is an opportunity for the Lebanese official to bid farewell to outgoing friends in government, and it is an opportunity for Nasrallah to establish contacts with the newly elected leadership.

Nasrallah met with Supreme Leader Khamenei, parliament speaker Gholam-Ali Haddad-Adel, and Defense Minister Ali Shamkhani on 2 August, Iranian news agencies reported. Khamenei advised his guest that "America has truly become weak in the region and its defeat in Iraq, Lebanon, and Iran are all signs of this very fact," state radio reported. Nasrallah responded: "The most important objective pursued by America, Israel, and some European countries regarding Lebanon's recent events is to disarm Hizballah and to implement [UN Security Council] Resolution 1959. But the massive participation of the Lebanese people in the elections, the unity among different groups and the insight of the Muslims, the outcome of the elections was against America's expectation and in addition to its presence in the parliament the Lebanese Hizballah took seats in the cabinet as well."

Haddad-Adel told his guest that Iran is interested in the reconstruction of Lebanon, IRNA reported. "The U.S. always supports despotic regimes and for the time being they have changed their policy by taking up the banner of democracy.... The conspiracy was defused in Lebanon," he said.

Continuing his visit to Iran, Nasrallah met on 3 August with Supreme National Security Council Secretary Hojatoleslam Hassan Rohani, IRNA reported.

Lebanon's "Al-Diyar" daily (http://www.journaladdiyar.com) reported on 3 August that Nasrallah's visit to Tehran is especially important now because the organization has lost some of its support from Damascus. The article noted that Hizballah must coordinate its activities with the new Iranian leadership, and it said some Hizballah leaders are very happy with the outcome of the Iranian presidential election. Hizballah's leaders, "Al-Diyar" reported, "will find the new Iranian leadership to be more flexible and more forthcoming in supporting the party's strategy," and it will take "a hard-line stance when it comes to the subject of Hizballah since it considers this party a vital political and security arm for the Islamic regime in Iran."

Syria's President Bashar al-Assad arrived in Tehran on 7 August for a two-day visit, SANA and IRNA reported. Minister of Housing and Urban Development Ali Abdulalizadeh met the visitor at the airport, and al-Assad then met with his counterpart, Mahmud Ahmadinejad. Ahmadinejad said at a joint press conference, "Common threats to Iran and Syria require joint cooperation from the two countries more than ever," IRNA reported. He added that there are no limits to Tehran-Damascus cooperation. (Bill Samii)

IRAN COMMENTS ON CENTRAL ASIAN DEVELOPMENTS. "Following the disintegration of the Soviet Union, America redoubled its efforts to use political, economic, and cultural instruments within the framework of a new order, based on its militarism, to enter the strategic zones of the newly independent republics, particularly in Central Asia," an Iranian state television commentary announced on 31 July. The commentary went on to say that the Central Asians know a U.S. presence will not contribute to stability or security in their countries, and it has actually contributed to political instability and even changes in state structures.

The commentary follows reports that Uzbekistan has given the United States six months to vacate the Karshi-Khanabad air base in that country (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 August 2005). The Shanghai Cooperation Organization -- of which Uzbekistan is a member and which recently granted Iran observer status -- called for the withdrawal of foreign forces in early July (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 14 June and 13 July 2005). (Bill Samii)

BAGHDAD COMPLAINS ABOUT INFILTRATORS FROM IRAN. "One of the biggest one-week death tolls for U.S. forces in Iraq and a continuing surge in killings of Iraqi forces and civilians showed that the insurgency is increasing its lethality and expanding its scope," "The Washington Post" reported on 7 August, citing U.S. and Iraqi officials and casualty counts. There are indications that Iran could be contributing to that rising body count.

Anonymous U.S. military and intelligence officials asserted in the 6 August edition of "The New York Times" that "many of the new, more sophisticated roadside bombs used to attack American and government forces in Iraq have been designed in Iran and shipped in from there." These supposedly sophisticated new bombs include shaped charges, which are designed to penetrate armor. A shipment of these from Iran was reportedly captured in northeast Iraq.

The anonymous sources mentioned possible and worrying cooperation between Shi'a Muslims from Iran and Sunni Muslims from Iraq. However, Ken Katzman of the Congressional Research Service was skeptical. "Iran's proteges are in control in Iraq right now, yet these weapons are going to people fighting Iran's proteges," he said in "The New York Times." "That makes little sense to me."

Supporting The Sunnis?

It may seem counterintuitive that Iranian support would go to Sunnis. Yet the factionalized nature of the Iranian state provides ample opportunity for government agencies to engage in activities that run counter to official policy or logic. The Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) and the Ministry of Intelligence and Security traditionally deal with the clandestine aspects of foreign policy. Personnel from these agencies interact with Shi'a Iraqi groups like the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq and its Badr Corps, Al-Da'wah Al-Islamiyah, and the Islamic Action Organization, as well as Kurdish groups such as the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan and the Kurdistan Democratic Party. Yet the IRGC and the Ministry of Intelligence and Security also dealt with Kurdish Islamists, such as the Islamic Movement of Kurdistan, Ansar Al-Islam, and the Kurdistan Islamic Group.

The U.S. capture of explosives in northern Iraq -- rather than in the south where Iran has greater influence -- suggests that they could have been funneled through the Ansar Al-Sunnah or Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi's group. This does not necessarily mean that Iranian agencies are trying to undermine or otherwise harm their Shi'a co-religionists. Their motivation may be to contribute to an insurgency that either forces the United States to leave Iraq, or at least, undermines U.S. claims to be contributing to regional peace and security.

Some American officials, as well as Iraqi ones, have gone on the record voicing unease about Iranian intentions.

In a 1 August speech in Baghdad, U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad referred to Iran's mixed record on relations with Iraq, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq reported. "Iran is working along two contradictory tracks," he said. "On the one hand, Tehran works with the new Iraq; on the other there is movement across its borders of people and material used in violent acts against Iraq." Khalilzad noted that Iran is pursuing diplomatic relations with all its neighbors, but stressed that activities that run counter to this principle must end.

Iran And Syria

Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar al-Zebari struck a similar note in an interview that appeared in "Al-Sharq al-Awsat" on 1 August. He agreed that foreign gunmen are entering his country and added: "Terrorist elements are infiltrating from neighboring countries, particularly from Iran and Syria. We have asked these countries' authorities to control their borders and stop the infiltrations." He said Syria and Iran could stop the infiltrations but they are not doing so.

It could be a coincidence that Syria's President Bashar al-Assad arrived in Tehran on 7 August for a two-day visit. Al-Assad met with President Mahmud Ahmadinejad, as well as Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and Expediency Council Chairman Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani. The two presidents reportedly discussed cooperation on Iraq. Hashemi-Rafsanjani told the visitor that cooperation between Iran, Syria, and Lebanese Hizballah is necessary and would block, in the words of Iranian state television, "the violation of the rights of the Iraqi and Palestinian nations." Iran and Syria are the two main foreign supporters of Lebanese Hizballah, which the U.S. State Department has designated a terrorist organization.

Anonymous "Pentagon and intelligence officials" told the 6 August "New York Times" that Hizballah or Iran's Islamic Revolution Guards Corps might have brought the recently discovered explosives into Iraq. The newspaper quoted "American commanders" who compared these explosives to those used by Hizballah against Israel.

U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said in Los Angeles on 4 August: "There's no question but that Iran is a problem for Iraq as well in terms of their developing a reasonably representative system. The last thing the Iranians want is to see Iraq succeed as a democracy, as a representative system, as a moderate state. It's exactly in conflict with the situation in Iran, which has a small handful of clerics who run the country."

Tehran dismisses these allegations. Referring to Rumsfeld's remarks, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi said on 7 August that Iran has no reason to interfere in Iraqi affairs, IRNA reported. Assefi said the United States is trying to justify what he described as its "failure" in Iraq by blaming an enemy of its own creation. (Bill Samii)

NEW COMMERCIAL AGREEMENTS BETWEEN IRAQ AND IRAN. Iraqi Transportation Minister Salam al-Maliki said in Baghdad this week that Iran intends to build a $20 million-$25 million international airport in Al-Najaf, "The Washington Post" reported on 3 August. Al-Maliki added, "The funding will come from a soft loan from Iran, and it could open as soon as in the next four months." He said that Tehran and Baghdad are negotiating the return of some 150 aircraft that were flown to Iran so they could avoid being destroyed in the 1990-91 Gulf War, and Iraqi technicians could go to Iran soon to examine the state of the passenger jets.

There is some skepticism about Iran's generosity, with an anonymous Iraqi politician telling "The Washington Post," "In general, no country gives this kind of loan without other interests." The politician added, "I think this doesn't go without something in return."

In the southwestern Iranian city of Abadan on 2 August the head of the local Chamber of Commerce, Industries, and Mines, Gholamreza Akbarizadeh, met with his counterpart from the Iraqi city of Al-Nasiriyah, Jabr al-Ghazi, IRNA reported. They signed a memorandum of understanding in which they agreed to discuss cooperation on communications, information exchange, and joint trade fairs. (Bill Samii)

ISRAEL ADJUSTS IRANIAN NUCLEAR ESTIMATE. An anonymous "high-ranking IDF [Israeli Defense Forces] commander" was quoted as saying in "The Jerusalem Post" on 1 August that because Iran is no longer running separate and independent military and civilian nuclear programs, the estimated date by which the country could develop a nuclear weapon has been moved back. If there was still a secret military program, the source said, a bomb could be ready by 2007, but because the military program now depends on the civilian one the earliest possible date is 2008. A more likely date is 2012, according to the source.

One day later, "The Washington Post" reported that a new National Intelligence Estimate -- which represents the consensus opinion of the U.S. intelligence community -- described credible indications that the Iranian military is conducting clandestine activities but there is no information linking these activities directly with a nuclear weapons program. Although it remains unclear if the Iranian leadership has decided to build nuclear weapons, an anonymous "senior intelligence official" said, "it is the judgment of the intelligence community that, left to its own devices, Iran is determined to build nuclear weapons."

The estimate speculates that Iran is unlikely to have the ability to build a nuclear weapon before "early to mid-next decade," and according to "The Washington Post" this is a pushing back of the deadline. This represents a reduced belief that Iran has distinct military and civilian nuclear programs. Four anonymous sources familiar with the estimate said, however, that there is evidence of "clandestine military work on missiles and centrifuge research and development that could be linked to a nuclear program."

Vice Admiral Lowell Jacoby, director of the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency, told the Senate in February 2005 that Iran might be able to produce nuclear weapons "early in the next decade" (see "RFE/RL Iran Report, 1 March 2005). (Bill Samii)

EUROPEAN NUCLEAR OFFER DEEMED UNACCEPTABLE. Supreme National Security Council Secretary Hassan Rohani informed Iranian President Mohammad Khatami in a 31 July letter about some of the proposals European states may make to reach an accord with Iran over its disputed nuclear program, agencies reported the same day. Rohani wrote that "comments and evidence" suggest that the EU may give its "full support to a program of nuclear-energy production in Iran, including supplying power stations from Western sources," IRNA reported.

A European deal may include assurances of nonaggression and respect for Iran's territorial integrity, facilitating the transfer of advanced technologies, technological cooperation, and a more swiftly concluded trade deal with the EU, IRNA reported. The foreign ministers of Great Britain, France, and Germany -- the three states negotiating with Iran -- and EU foreign-policy chief Javier Solana have written to Rohani, asking Iran to wait one week to hear the details of a proposed deal, AP reported on 31 July.

Iranian officials have said Iran will not wait a week to hear EU proposals, and may renew halted activities at a plant in Isfahan, central Iran, though not sensitive uranium enrichment at another plant, agencies reported on 31 July.

Supreme National Security Council spokesman Ali Aqamohammadi said on 31 July that the council would meet that day to discuss reactivating the Isfahan plant, and will consider EU proposals if received by 12:30 GMT that day, AP reported. The Isfahan Uranium Conversion Facility transforms uranium ore into a gas fed into centrifuges that enrich uranium.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi said separately in Tehran on 31 July that Iran's deadline to the EU would end on 1 August, IRNA reported on 31 July. He said EU proposals seemed in any case "without content," as they will likely not state that Iran can legally make fuel. Iran, he said, will inform UN nuclear inspectors in Tehran "today or tomorrow" about the renewal of activities in Isfahan, AP and IRNA reported. Separately, Great Britain, on behalf of the EU, warned Iran on 31 July not to take any steps that would jeopardize talks, AP reported, citing a Foreign Office statement.

Following Tehran's announcement that it intends to resume operations at the Isfahan Uranium Conversion Facility, the European Union has urged it to reconsider, Reuters reported on 1 August. A letter from Tehran to the International Atomic Energy Agency announced intentions to remove the seals on the facility.

Speaking on behalf of the EU, Germany said it, France, and Great Britain will submit a list of proposals on cooperation in nuclear, economic, and political arenas. There is speculation that the EU proposal will not meet Iranian expectations, EU diplomats told Reuters, and Tehran is using resumption of activities at the Isfahan facility in order to exert pressure.

In Washington, White House spokesman Scott McClellan said, "We've repeatedly said that if they're not going to abide by their agreements and obligations, then we would have to look to the Security Council," dpa reported.

The "Financial Times" reported on 2 August that Tehran decided late on 1 August to extend by 48 hours its deadline for the resumption of activities at the Isfahan Uranium Conversion Facility.

U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said in Los Angeles on 4 August, "It certainly looks [like] that country [Iran] is on a path where they are quite determined to have nuclear weapons," RFE/RL reported. "And the Europeans and the United States and the rest of the world has to make a judgment about what kind of a world that's going to be, given the fact that they're on the terrorist list and that they're sponsoring terrorism continuously."

The European Union submitted its nuclear proposal to Iran on 5 August, news agencies reported. The proposal says Iran can continue to develop its nuclear program if it is only for civilian purposes, AFP and "The New York Times" reported. Anonymous diplomats told AFP that the proposal rules out Iran's enriching uranium and reprocessing plutonium, and much of it focuses on fuel and access to it. The proposal recommends allowing Iran to purchase nuclear fuel and send it elsewhere for disposal, and it reportedly calls for continuation of the suspension of uranium conversion. Other aspects of the proposal reportedly focus on industrial and technological cooperation, energy issues, and intellectual property rights. Anonymous diplomats cited by "The New York Times" added that the proposal includes security guarantees and mentions human rights and terrorism, representing a full spectrum of Western relationships with Iran.

Speaking at a 5 August briefing in Brussels, European Commission spokesman Stefaan de Rynck said, "Clearly, the fact that this package has been [offered] expresses our firm commitment to opening a new chapter in our relationship between the EU and Iran, and now, it's up to our Iranian partners and counterparts to study the proposal and react in due course," RFE/RL reported. "Of course, in the meantime, we expect [from Iran] full compliance with the Paris agreement -- which includes the suspension of nuclear fuel-cycle activities."

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Assefi acknowledged receipt of the proposal, state television reported. He said relevant entities, including the Supreme National Security Council, will discuss the proposal.

Assefi said on 6 August that the EU's proposal is unacceptable, IRNA and state television reported, and it ignores what he called Iran's right to enrich uranium. He accused the Europeans of wasting time.

The next day, Assefi said Tehran is unworried about the possibility that Iran will be referred to the UN Security Council, RFE/RL reported. He added, "I suggest that the Europeans avoid the language of threat. The Europeans have called an emergency meeting for the IAEA on [9 August] about Iran's nuclear case. We think the referral of Iran's case to the Security Council would be unlawful and politically motivated. If one day they refer Iran's case [to the UN Security Council], we won't be worried in the least. The Europeans should choose their way." (Vahid Sepehri, Bill Samii)

WORK AT BUSHEHR NUCLEAR PLANT ACCELERATES. The spokesman for the Russian firm building the nuclear power plant in the southern Iranian city of Bushehr said on 2 August that the company is rushing to overcome delays, ITAR-TASS reported. Irina Yesipova, spokesman for Atomstroieksport, said they are three months behind schedule. "Under the working schedule the reactor's physical launch is due in the fourth quarter of 2006," she said, adding that 4,000 Russian specialists and Iranian builders are working there and the number will increase to 5,000 by year's end. She added: "the Iranian side has arranged for round-the-clock work without any days off, [not] even religious holidays."

Iranian Ambassador to Russia Gholamreza Ansari said on 5 August that the plant "will be commissioned in June 2006," ITAR-TASS reported. He added that it will generate power for the national grid by the end of 2006. While it is possible that Iran will cooperate with Europe on future nuclear projects, Ansari said, Russia is a more likely and logical partner because of their many years of working together. He said representatives from the two countries are already discussing the construction of new power units. (Bill Samii)

NOTE TO READERS: An Iranian newspaper, "Tehran Times," on 1 August reproduced without authorization an article by Bill Samii that first appeared on the RFE/RL website (http://www.rferl.org/featuresarticle/2005/7/3F2BB717-1EFC-4290-A765-664703D100BE.html). The "Tehran Times" names Samii as the author, but it does not identify the original source of the article, thereby conveying the false impression that the piece was written for the "Tehran Times" (http://www.tehrantimes.com/archives.asp). Moreover, the "Tehran Times" heavily edited the article and omitted its last 400 words, effectively changing the meaning and intent of the piece. Bill Samii did not write this or any other article for the "Tehran Times" or any other Iranian publication. The Iranian daily did not contact the author or RFE/RL to request permission to reproduce the piece.

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