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Iran Report: August 15, 2005


15 August 2005, Volume 8, Number 32

PRESIDENT'S CABINET CHOICES COULD ENCOUNTER RESISTANCE.

Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad on 14 August submitted a list of 21 proposed cabinet members to the legislature for approval. Parliament has until 21 August to hold its vote.

Ahmadinejad is 48, and the average age of the proposed ministers is 48 1/2, with the youngest aged 40 and the oldest aged 59. By contrast, former President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami is in his early 60s. Ahmadinejad's cabinet selections further demonstrate the ascendancy of a new generation in the country's politics.

Five proposed ministers served with the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC), as did the president, and several others are veterans of the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War.

Conservatives now dominate the parliament, but the approval of Ahmadinejad's list is not a certainty. On one hand, the legislature may grant the new president a "honeymoon" of sorts, but, on the other, this could be an instance in which age-cohort divisions come into play. Even within the Developers Coalition (Abadgaran), which backed Ahmadinejad's presidential bid, there are differences -- individuals connected with the Tehran municipal council versus legislators -- that could affect the approval process. There is already controversy about the nominees.

A Nationalistic Foreign Policy Team

Given heightened international concern about Iran's nuclear activities, the country's proposed new foreign minister, defense minister, and Supreme National Security Council secretary will be of greatest interest. Two of these individuals have demonstrated nationalistic and hard-line stances on foreign-policy issues, while the third has kept out of the limelight.

Manuchehr Mottaki has been selected as foreign minister. Born in 1953, he joined the Foreign Ministry in 1984 and has had ambassadorships in Turkey and Japan. Mottaki is a serving parliamentarian and a member of the Abadgaran coalition. He currently heads the legislature's National Security and Foreign Policy Committee, and he has used this platform to demand greater legislative involvement in Iran's nuclear negotiations.

Mottaki has criticized the United States for purportedly exerting excessive influence on the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), "Tehran Times" reported on 14 June 2004, adding that the United States openly opposes Iran's gaining a civilian nuclear capability. Mottaki went on to say that Iran can resume uranium-enrichment activities whenever it wants, and it will not forgo this right. He took a more assertive stance on 2 April 2005, saying that "the Islamic Republic of Iran must give an ultimatum to Europe and resume it uranium-enrichment program," Fars News Agency reported. He warned that failure to do so would lead to irreparable but unspecified damages.

Mustafa Mohammad Najjar, who was born in 1956 and educated as a mechanical engineer, has been named minister of defense and armed forces logistics. A member of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps since its creation in May 1979, he participated in suppression of a Kurdish insurgency in 1978-79. He appears to have had mostly administrative and logistical responsibilities since that time, including the establishment of medical facilities and hospitals. He has been involved with defense industries during much of his career, and he is on the board of directors of the Defense Industries Organization. Since 1982, according to khedmat.ir, a website that is reportedly associated with Ahmadinejad, Najjar was responsible for the Middle East -- Lebanon, Palestine, and the Persian Gulf -- and has made frequent visits to Lebanon.

Another important position on the foreign-affairs team is secretary of the Supreme National Security Council, which does not require parliamentary approval. The council's public-relations chief, Ali Aqamohammadi, said on 8 August that Ali Larijani's appointment as Supreme National Security Council secretary will come "soon," the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) reported. Aqamohammadi added that the current secretary, Hojatoleslam Hassan Rohani, will stay on as the supreme leader's representative to the council. Larijani is already the supreme leader's representative to the council. Larijani is noted for his disapproval of Iran's nuclear negotiations with the European Union, saying at one time that Iran had traded "pearls for bonbons."

From the perspective of international observers, several other ministries bear watching. The American-educated Ali Saidlu was named as oil minister. He has served as Tehran's mayor since Ahmadinejad won the presidential election in June. Prospective Energy Minister Parviz Fattah was born in 1961 and has served with the IRGC, but he appears to have limited practical experience in the relevant areas. Ali-Reza Tahmasbi was proposed as industries and mines minister. Born in 1961, he earned a doctorate in Canada, performed military research for the IRGC (1985-87), and has worked for the legislative research center.

Domestic Hard-liners

Three individuals who will have a significant impact on domestic policies are the ministers of intelligence and security (MOIS), of interior, and of Islamic culture and guidance. Two of these individuals are alumni of the Haqqani school, an especially hard-line seminary.

The nominee for the MOIS is Hojatoleslam Gholam-Hussein Mohseni-Ejei, a Haqqani alumnus who was born in 1956. He has a long background with the MOIS, dating to its creation in the mid-1980s. He served with the ministry until 1990, then served with the Tehran Prosecutor's Office, and subsequently returned to the MOIS as the judiciary's representative until the mid-1990s. Mohseni-Ejei served with the Special Court for the Clergy from 1995 until 2002-03, first as a prosecutor and then as its head.

Mohseni-Ejei is associated with Hojatoleslam Mohammad Mohammadi-Reyshahri, the first chief of the MOIS, and their careers have paralleled one another. Reyshahri served as chief judge of the Military Revolutionary Tribunal in the immediate post-revolutionary period, headed the MOIS from 1984 until 1989, and later served as prosecutor of the Special Court for the Clergy.

Hussein Safar-Harandi, who was born in 1953, has been named as Islamic culture and guidance minister. With a degree in civil engineering, he served with the IRGC from 1980-94. From 1993-97 served with the Islamic Republic News Agency's strategy council. From 1994-2005, Safar-Harandi served as deputy managing director and editor in chief of "Kayhan," a hard-line daily associated with the supreme leader's office.

Ahmadinejad submitted Haqqani school alumnus Hojatoleslam Mustafa Purmohammadi, who was born in 1959, as his interior minister. From 1979-86 Purmohammadi served as a revolutionary prosecutor in Bandar Abbas, Kermanshah, Khuzestan, and Mashhad, and in 1986 he took over as military prosecutor in western Iran. According to khedmat.ir and IRNA, he headed "foreign intelligence" (it is not clear for which organization, but presumably with the MOIS) in 1990-99; in 1987-99, he was a deputy intelligence minister. Purmohammadi also has served as an adviser to the supreme leader's office since 2002 and is a member of the board of trustees of the Islamic Revolution Documents Center. This latter institution is run by another Haqqani alumnus, Hojatoleslam Ruhollah Husseinian.

Other positions that of domestic relevance are education minister (Ali Akbar Ashari); health, treatment and medical-education minister (Kamran Baqeri Lankarani); and science, research, and technology minister (Mohammad Mehdi Zahedi). Individuals who could have an impact on business affairs are the economy minister (Davud Danesh-Jafari) and commerce minister (Masud Mir-Kazemi).

Proposed transportation minister Mohammad Rahmati is a member of former President Khatami's cabinet. Mohammad Saidi-Kia was nominated as housing and urban development minister. Born in 1946, he served as roads and transportation minister in 1985-93 in the cabinets of Prime Minister Mir-Hussein Musavi and President Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani. In 1997-2000, he served a construction jihad minister in Khatami's cabinet.

Other officials whose positions have a domestic impact are the cooperatives minister (Ali Reza Ali-Ahmadi), agriculture jihad minister (Mohammad-Reza Eskandari), and labor and social affairs minister (Mohammad Jahromi). Judiciary spokesman Jamal Karimirad was nominated as Justice Minister. Mehdi hashemi was nominated as welfare and social security minister.

A Mixed Reception

Ahmadinejad's list has met with criticism for a number of reasons. Pro-reform legislator Hadi Haqshenas stressed regionalism in his comments, which appeared in the 14 August "Etemad." He complained that half the proposed cabinet members are from Isfahan and very few are from the northern part of Iran.

Gender is an issue as well. Maryam Behruzi, political secretary of the Followers of the Imam and Leadership Front, predicted that Ahmadinejad would not have any females in his cabinet, "Mardom Salari" reported on 6 August. Behruzi, who also serves as secretary of the conservative women's party called the Zeynab Society, added that Ahmadinejad has yet to respond to the request of 10 women's parties and groups for a meeting.

After the cabinet was introduced, Fatemeh Rakei, a female member of the reformist Islamic Iran Participation Party, said the list contradicts Ahmadinejad's early promises of inclusiveness, the Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA) reported on 14 August. "There is no mention of women on Mr. Ahmadinejad's proposed list," she said. "We thought that even if for appearances' sake, the names of one or two women would be on the list, but it did not happen." Rakei went on to say that several of the individuals tapped by the president are relatively unknown, while others have a distinct ideological tendency.

Rakei noted that the president's choices could have an international impact. "In today's world that is moving toward democracy, such decisions will have immediate global repercussions and will encounter political and international pressure," she said.

Mujtaba Shakeri, a member of the hard-line Islamic Revolution Devotees Society, told the Iranian Labor News Agency (ILNA) on 14 August that Ahmadinejad could have made better choices. However, he approved of the president's choice of relative unknowns. "The price of rotating the elite is that well-known faces will have to be put aside to make room for the younger players," he said. "The parliament should take the trouble of learning about the new faces and vote for them so that the president's ideals will be realized." (Bill Samii)

NUCLEAR DECISION MAKING UNDERGOES CHANGES

Recent announcements from Tehran about new President Mahmud Ahmadinejad making personnel changes in the Supreme National Security Council and the Foreign Ministry raise questions about the future of the country's international relations, generally, and the course of its nuclear decision making, specifically. Such personnel changes could have a visible impact on Iran's negotiations with other countries and in its public facade. In practical terms, however, decision making and policy setting in Iran is very complex, and its consensual nature precludes one person from causing a complete reversal.

Supreme National Security Council public-affairs chief Ali Aqamohammadi said on 8 August that Ali Larijani's appointment as Supreme National Security Council secretary would come "soon," the official Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) reported. He added that the current secretary, Hojatoleslam Hassan Rohani, would stay on as the supreme leader's representative to the council. As Larijani is already the leader's representative to the council, in practical terms he and Rohani are only exchanging jobs.

Unconfirmed reports from a news website that is reportedly associated with Ahmadinejad (http://www.khedmat.ir) asserted on 6 August that the possible future foreign minister is Ali Akbar Salehi. Salehi is a nuclear physicist who has served as Iran's representative to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). He was relieved of his duties in late 2003, when he leaked information about the policy process to the press.

On 14 August, however, Ahmadinejad submitted the name of Manuchehr Mottaki for the foreign minister position. Born in 1953, he joined the Foreign Ministry in 1984 and has had ambassadorships in Turkey and Japan. Mottaki is a serving parliamentarian and a member of the hard-line Abadgaran Coalition. He currently heads the legislature's National Security and Foreign Policy committee, and he has used this platform to demand greater legislative involvement in Iran's nuclear negotiations.

The Foreign-Policy Process

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is at the top of the foreign-policy process. According to Article 110 of the constitution, his duties include establishing general policies of the country after consultation with the Expediency Council, and supervising the proper execution of these general policies. According to Article 112, the supreme leader appoints all Expediency Council members.

The Supreme National Security Council is the country's top foreign-policy body, according to Article 176, and it determines national security and defense policy within the framework of the general policies specified by the supreme leader. The president chairs the Security Council. Its other members are the speaker of parliament; judiciary chief; chief of the armed forces' Supreme Command Council; the officer in charge of planning and budget; two representatives of the supreme leader; the heads of the Foreign Ministry, Intelligence and Security Ministry, and Interior Ministry; and the top officers from the regular armed forces and the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps. The supreme leader must confirm Security Council decisions before they can be implemented.

In addition to these constitutional, and therefore formal, factors that define the extent of the supreme leader's influence in the foreign-policy process, there are informal institutions that are at least as influential. The most important of these are the office of the supreme leader and the system of leader's representatives. Khamenei uses these institutions to bypass normal bureaucratic methods.

As a leader's representative and a member of the Expediency Council, therefore, Ali Larijani has always had a role in the foreign-policy process. His prospective promotion to the position of Supreme National Security Council secretary suggests that he may have a greater influence than before, but he will not be the final arbiter in foreign-policy issues.

Determining Nuclear Policy

The nuclear issue is a particularly sensitive one for Iran, and the related policy process in Tehran has undergone significant changes in the last three years. Initially, there were three committees that dealt with the issue -- the primary Council of Heads and the secondary Policymaking Committee, as well as a third committee of relevant experts. The Council of Heads included Hassan Rohani. Members of the Policymaking Committee included cabinet members and the director of the country's Atomic Energy Organization (Gholamreza Aqazadeh-Khoi). Two confidantes of the supreme leader, Ali Larijani and former Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Velayati, also were members of this committee.

The Foreign Ministry was in charge of the Policymaking Committee and expert-level meetings. It also had the lead in negotiations with the IAEA.

The major change came after the IAEA's board of governors meeting in September 2003. At that time the board urged Iran to accelerate its cooperation with the agency and remedy failures identified in its resolution.

Around September-October 2003 there was talk among the country's foreign-policy elite that one person should have authority over the nuclear issue and all the agencies that deal with it. Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi recommended Hassan Rohani for this job, but Rohani was reluctant to take on this responsibility. Rohani suggested that the Foreign Ministry handle the issue while the Supreme National Security Council provided support. Rohani said later, in an interview that appeared in the 23 July "Kayhan," that both Supreme Leader Khamenei and President Khatami insisted that he take on the new job. He added that he was instructed not to implement changes in the ministerial-level committee, and he said he kept the same negotiating team.

The most important decisions continued to be made by the Council of Heads -- for example, whether or not to negotiate with the European Union or cooperate with the IAEA. "In fact, all of the important and strategic principles and decisions that were the foundation of work were ratified in the Council of Heads," Rohani said. "The decisions that were made on the second level, which means in the Committee of Ministers, were also reported to the leader and the president before being executed."

Every committee agreed, Rohani said, that the complete nuclear fuel cycle is Iran's "red line." In other words, Iran might be willing to suspend some of its nuclear activities temporarily, but it would never forsake mastery of the fuel cycle -- uranium extraction and enrichment; fuel production; loading the reactor with fuel; and then unloading, reprocessing, and storing the spent fuel. When foreign ministers from France, Germany, and the United Kingdom came to Tehran in October 2003 and called for termination of fuel-cycle related activities, they were rebuffed. Even calls for a long-term suspension were dismissed.

Resuming Operations In Isfahan

In late July 2005, Iranian officials began to discuss the possibility of resuming activities at the Isfahan Uranium Conversion Facility. Raw uranium is processed into uranium hexafluoride (UF6) at the Isfahan facility. UF6 is a gas that is used in centrifuges to make enriched uranium; the centrifuges are at a facility in Natanz. "We are determined to start operations in Isfahan, and naturally, we know that this has certain costs and we are ready to pay them," Rohani said in an interview that appeared in the 26 July "Kayhan."

IAEA inspectors arrived on 8 August to remove the seals and install surveillance cameras. Later that day, according to the Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA), activities at the facility resumed in the presence of the inspectors and Mohammad Saidi, the deputy international affairs chief at Iran's Atomic Energy Organization.

Tehran has gone to some effort to show that the decision to resume activities at Isfahan was made regardless of the new president. Supreme National Security Council official Ali Aqamohammadi said in the 27 July "Sharq" that Supreme Leader Khamenei, President Khatami, President-elect Ahmadinejad, and former Prime Minister Mir-Hussein Musavi participated in a meeting on when to resume nuclear activities. Aqamohammadi was more explicit in a 1 August interview with IRNA, saying the decision to resume nuclear activities in Isfahan involved the country's top officials. He cited the same names as before, as well as Expediency Council Chairman Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani.

Unlike the other officials, Musavi is not known to have a role in setting nuclear policy. Yet he came across as quite the enthusiast, saying on 30 July that current Iranian achievements in the nuclear field are as significant as the nationalization of oil in the early 1950s, Mehr News Agency reported. Musavi praised President Khatami's role in this area, as well as the efforts of Iran's scientists.

Where To Now?

Ali Larijani has been openly critical of his country's diplomatic contacts with European negotiators, saying they have given away too much in exchange for very little. President Ahmadinejad struck a similar tone in his 6 August inaugural address. He accused "some governments" of "trying to deprive our nation of its inalienable rights," state television reported. "I don't know why some [governments] don't want to understand the fact that the Iranian nation will not be bullied."

The individual initially identified as the prospective foreign minister, Ali Akbar Salehi, has accused the United States of trying to deprive Iran of its perceived right to use nuclear energy. He told the IAEA's board of governors in September 2003 that, "If cooperation has been slow at times...if there have been [a] few incidents of discrepancies...it is all out of one and only one concern: The U.S. intention behind this saga is nothing but to make this deprivation final and eternal," "The Wall Street Journal" reported on 18 March 2005. And when the legislature passed a nonbinding resolution calling on the government to resume developing nuclear fuel, Salehi was quoted as saying, "We need security of supply," "The New York Times" reported on 16 May. "We would like to get energy from all possible sources."

Manuchehr Mottaki, who was later confirmed as the prospective foreign minister, has taken an assertive stance on the nuclear issue. He said on 2 April 2005, "The Islamic Republic of Iran must give an ultimatum to Europe and resume its uranium enrichment program," Fars News Agency reported. He warned that a failure to do so would lead to irreparable but unspecified damages.

These new players in the policy process -- particularly Ahmadinejad -- are likely to be more nationalistically driven than individuals with more longstanding involvement. The discrete nature of policy setting and decision making in Iran suggests that if any dramatic changes do occur, they will not be revealed to the public in the near future. Furthermore, the existence of disagreements is not likely to see the light of day, given restrictions on the media. Therefore, tracking public statements by top officials could be the only way to discern possible changes in Iran's nuclear stance. (Bill Samii)

IRAN RESUMES SOME NUCLEAR ACTIVITIES.

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors arrived at the Isfahan Uranium Conversion Facility (UCF) on 8 August to remove the seals and to install surveillance cameras after Tehran's announcement that it will resume work there, RFE/RL reported. Raw uranium is processed into uranium hexafluoride (UF6) at the Isfahan facility. UF6 is a gas that is used in centrifuges to make enriched uranium. Work at the Isfahan UCF was suspended in November 2004.

According to the Iranian Students News Agency, activities at the facility resumed in the presence of the inspectors and Mohammad Saidi, the deputy international affairs chief at Iran's Atomic Energy Organization. Saidi said the inspectors' removal of the seals would be completed by 9 August. Saidi told state television that there were no plans to resume activities at the facility in Natanz; that is, where UF6 is enriched in centrifuges. He said this will be a subject of discussion in future meetings with European Union representatives.

The Uranium Conversion Facility in Isfahan was partially unsealed on 10 August, IRNA reported. This is the section of the facility where uranium hexafluoride (UF6) is produced. Other sections of the facility, where uranium tetrafluoride (UF4) is produced, had not been sealed, and they resumed activity on 8 August. An anonymous specialist told IRNA that "once the seal is broken, a 15-day interval is required between the final stages of production at Isfahan Uranium Processing Complex and production of the final product [UF6]."

While these events were taking place, there were developments on the diplomatic front. President Mahmud Ahmadinejad denounced on 9 August a nuclear proposal that was submitted by the EU the previous week, IRNA reported. "What the Europeans forwarded to us does not look like a proposal at all," he said. "It is an insult to the Iranian nation. They addressed us as if the Iranian nation was suffering from backwardness and the time was 100 years ago and our country was their colony." Ahmadinejad said the EU was emboldened by the two-year suspension of nuclear activities and apparently this led to unrealistic expectations. Ahmadinejad said Iran is willing to continue its discussions with the EU, and he will submit his proposal to the EU after forming a cabinet. An anonymous diplomat in Vienna told AFP that Iran's written response to the EU proposal was "colorful" and "intemperate."

International community concerned

President George W. Bush said at a 9 August press conference in Crawford, Texas, that Iranian willingness to continue negotiations is a positive development, Reuters reported. But he also said the United States is "deeply suspicious" of Iran's intentions. "It is important for the Iranians to understand that America stands squarely with the EU-3 [Britain, France, Germany], that we feel strongly the Iranians need to adhere to the agreements made in the Paris Accord, and that we will be willing to work with our partners and deal with appropriate consequences should they ignore the demands."

Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mikhail Kamynin said on 9 August that Moscow has asked Iran to stop the work on uranium conversion that it began the previous day, RIA reported.

French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy said in Biarritz that "we are holding out the hand of friendship," AFP reported.

The Iranian removal of seals at the Isfahan Uranium Conversion Facility prompted a stern reaction from Washington. Deputy U.S. State Department spokesman Adam Ereli said on 10 August that Iran's message to the international community is that it is distancing itself from cooperation. He continued: "I think that that's a message that's being heard loud and clear by the members of the [International Atomic Energy Agency] board [of governors]." Ereli added, "We view this as yet another negative step taken by Iran in breach of the November 2004 Paris agreement. It shows that Iran is just isolating itself further, digging itself deeper into a hole."

The IAEA reacts

The IAEA's board of governors adopted a resolution on 11 August that calls on Iran to suspend all activities relating to nuclear fuel. The resolution, which can be found in full on iaea.org, asks that IAEA chief Muhammad el-Baradei "provide a comprehensive report on the implementation of Iran's NPT [Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty] Safeguards Agreement and this resolution by 3 September 2005." Following the passage of the resolution, el-Baradei said in Vienna that "I was very encouraged in fact by the statements both by Iran and by the [EU-3] that they are ready to continue negotiations." He added, "I think we still have a window of opportunity between now and my next report to regulate, [and] rectify the situation within a broader context of negotiations."

Iran's representative to the IAEA, Cyrus Nasseri, said in Vienna that the resolution "does a disservice to the agency and the safeguards system as a whole.... That, we regret. The operation in Isfahan will continue under full-scope safeguards."

International nonproliferation experts have a mixed take on the value of the IAEA resolution. Henry Sokolski, who directs the independent Nonproliferation Policy Education Center, criticized the resolution as insufficiently firm. He told Radio Farda the measure's insistence on Iran's voluntary suspension of enrichment-related activities sent the wrong message to Tehran. "It's unnecessary, and not helpful in framing what is still a fundamental problem about compliance," Sokolski said. "Not only to this freeze, which was admittedly a political understanding with European Union countries, but compliance with the IAEA safeguards agreement, which is a treaty-like obligation which they still at the IAEA cannot be sure Iran has complied with."

Iran's moves do not merit a very tough resolution, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace nonproliferation expert Miriam Rajkumar told Radio Farda. She said it was important for the resolution not to harden negotiating positions. "They're not breaking any legal obligations," she said. "There are cameras in place at this spot in Isfahan that actually is watching what is going on, so the likelihood of diversion is very low. [The uranium conversion] doesn't in any way hasten the onslaught of nuclear weapons. I mean, it's a long way from that. So I think that's why the [resolution's] language is such that they are not wanting to push Iran in a corner." (Bill Samii, Robert McMahon, Fatemeh Aman)

MOSCOW URGES IRAN TO HALT NUCLEAR RESTART.

For years, Russia has defended Iran against accusations that Tehran is seeking to develop nuclear weapons.

Russia, which is in the final stages of building an $800 million nuclear power plant for Iran at Bushehr, has always upheld Tehran's right to civilian nuclear technology.

On numerous occasions, Russia's foreign minister has said Moscow will not support referring Iran to the United Nations Security Council for possible international sanctions for pursuing a nuclear program the United States says is aimed at developing atomic weapons.

But that was before Iran announced its intention to resume uranium enrichment -- a diplomatic slap in the face to the IAEA and the European Union, which had offered Tehran political and trade incentives to permanently drop the program.

This places Russia in an almost impossible situation.

Up to now, Moscow felt it could risk damaging its relations with the United States over Iran. But it cannot risk its relations with both America and Europe, as Aleksei Malashenko, of Moscow's Carnegie Center, told RFE/RL. And that puts Moscow's twin objectives -- commercial and diplomatic ties with both Europe and Iran -- at risk: "There are two main goals here. And these two main goals contradict each other. The first one is of course maintaining cooperation with Iran while at the same time ensuring that this cooperation does not spoil Moscow's image in Europe. So, it's going to be very hard to achieve, but I think Moscow will try."

Relations between Moscow and the European Union have worsened in recent months.

They hit a new low after Ukraine's Orange Revolution -- whose success was helped by Europe's diplomatic intervention. They risk once again being upset by Poland's diplomatic war with Kremlin-allied Belarus.

Malashenko says Moscow's public criticism of Iran is an attempt to show the West that Russia remains interested in cooperation: "I would place this Russian statement in the context of Russia's overall [foreign] policy. What do I mean? The fact is that in recent months there has been a rather noticeable divergence in Russia's foreign policy and the foreign policy of the West, of the United States. So I think Russia doesn't want to spoil those relations -- above all with the Europeans. And so Russia found it necessary, and in this particular situation very appropriate, to express its complete solidarity with the Europeans, which is what was done."

Stephan de Spiegeleire, a Russia analyst at the Clingendael Center for Strategic Studies in The Hague, notes that economically, if Russia is forced to pick between cooperating with the European Union or with Iran, the choice is obvious. That calculation is sure to have influenced Moscow, he says: "In this particular instance, I think a tactical choice was made on Iran, that at this particular juncture, it's better to keep cooperating within the IAEA, to get some 'brownie points' also from the European Union, which of course is much more important to Russia than Iran. The trade relationship between Iran and Russia is about $2 billion a year. [The trade relationship] between Russia and the European Union is $100 billion a year. So of course, the economic interests at stake here are very different."

Nevertheless, says Malashenko, Russia will do everything it can to ensure it does not have to choose one over the other. He says the best outcome for Moscow would be for Iran to stop its reprocessing program and resume cooperating with Europe.

That would ensure the Bushehr plant is completed and Russia and Iran's financially advantageous bilateral nuclear cooperation can continue.

Just this February, Russia's Federal Atomic Energy Agency signed a multiyear agreement on supplying the plant with nuclear fuel. Under the deal, Iran will return spent fuel to Russia for suitable disposal. As Malashenko notes, Russia is depending on the deal going through: "I think that if Iran is going to observe all the demands put forward by Europe and the IAEA, then Iran's [nuclear] cooperation with Russia is covered politically. There will be no problems and Russia will not be saddled with all of these accusations."

Right now, the International Atomic Energy Agency is meeting in emergency session in Vienna to consider its options. What will Russia's reaction be if the IAEA eventually decides to refer the case to the UN Security Council? "It's very hard to say," Malashenko said. "I think that above all, Russia does not want it to get to this point. In this case, Russia will make the maximum effort to ensure this does not happen because if this is handed to the Security Council, the Russian question will once again be raised, in terms of what types of cooperation [with Iran] have been taking place. Therefore, I think Russia's task is not to allow this to happen."

Unlike the other nations on the Security Council, Russia may be the only permanent member with the leverage to make Iran cooperate with the international community -- precisely because of the unfinished Bushehr plant.

Experts, however, see the chances of UN sanctions ever being imposed as minimal. China -- another permanent Security Council member -- has not made any official statements on the case.

China's trade with Iran has been rising steadily, as Beijing's energy needs mushroom. Bilateral trade was worth $7 billion last year. Recently, the two countries signed long-term oil and gas deals worth an estimated $100 billion -- something China is unlikely to want to jeopardize. (Jeremy Bransten; originally published on 10 August 2005)

FORMER PRESIDENT TAKES OVER LEFT-WING CLERICS PARTY.

Former President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami has been elected as secretary-general of Iran's relatively liberal clerical party, the Militant Clerics Association (Majma-yi Ruhaniyun-i Mobarez). Making the announcement on 8 August, central council member Hojatoleslam Mohammad Ali Abtahi said the choice was made on 7 August, IRNA reported. Former Secretary-General Hojatoleslam Mehdi Karrubi resigned after the June 2005 presidential election, and he intends to establish a new political party. Another central council member, Seyyed Mohammad Razavi, told Fars News Agency before the voting on 7 August that if Khatami does not accept the post it will be offered to Hojatoleslam Ali-Akbar Musavi-Khoeni. (Bill Samii)

AUTHORITIES RAID DISSIDENT JOURNALIST'S HOME.

Judiciary spokesman Jamal Karimirad said on 9 August that journalist Akbar Ganji, who has been on hunger-strike for nearly 60 days, has given up his fast, IRNA reported. "He [Ganji] drank water and tea and used a sugar cube," Karimirad said. "If it was called a hunger strike, now it has ended." He said Ganji is in good health.

Hospital spokesman Sirus Tabesh had a different perspective. He said on 9 August that Ganji continues to abstain from eating, ILNA reported. "If Ganji's current [health] condition continues as it has, he will be in danger," Tabesh said. "There has been no change in Ganji's condition. He's become neither better nor worse."

Masumeh Shafii, Ganji's wife, has told Radio Farda that personnel from the Tehran prosecutor's office raided her home on the morning of 8 August and confiscated tapes, papers, documents, a computer, and an address book. She claimed that officials handcuffed her to a bed during the inspection of the premises, which they videotaped. She added that telephone service to her and neighboring homes was disconnected. Shafii said the officials who conducted the raid had a warrant from Judge Said Mortazavi, and that she had previously seen them at Milad Hospital, where her husband is located. Female security personnel participated in the raid on the Ganji home.

A crowd of 100 (according to Fars News Agency) to 250 people (according to IRNA) gathered on 11 August in front of the Milad Hospital in Tehran to protest Ganji's continuing detention. The event was organized by the Allameh wing of the Office for Strengthening Unity student organization, and student leader Ali Afshari called for Ganji's immediate release. At the end of the event a statement was read out that called on the authorities to allow Ganji access to his lawyers and family.

Poet Simin Behbehani told Radio Farda that the authorities refused to comply with the demonstrators' demands. She added that a hospital representative said Ganji's life is in danger, his blood pressure has fallen, his stomach is bleeding, and his muscles have swollen. (Bill Samii)

IMPRISONED LAWYER'S FAMILY DENIED ACCESS.

The wife of an Iranian attorney who was arrested on 30 July told Radio Farda in the second week of August that judiciary spokesman Jamal Karimirad has said her husband is not being granted access to his lawyers for reasons of national security. Masumeh Dehqan said in the interview that she had not heard from her husband, Abdolfattah Soltani, for 11 days. She therefore went to Judge Mortazavi's office, and although he was not there she submitted a letter requesting access to Soltani and the return of goods confiscated from her home. Soltani is representing the defendants in a nuclear-espionage case (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 27 December 2004). (Bill Samii)

IMMIGRANTS AND DIRTY VEGETABLES BEHIND CHOLERA OUTBREAK.

Health Minister Masud Pezeshkian said on 7 August that 59 people in Iran have been identified as cholera patients and four have died of the disease, Iranian state radio reported. An anonymous Health Ministry official warned that consumption of unwashed vegetables and human contact are the main causes of the outbreak.

Another Health Ministry official identified only as "Dr. Akbari" said on 5 August that illegal immigrants are responsible for the cholera outbreak, state radio reported. "One hundred Pakistanis who were living around Indus River in Punjab region until recently have traveled to Qom and settled in various parts of that province," he said. "Cholera has been transmitted by these illegal immigrants." Akbari said unwashed vegetables carry the illness in the Tehran and Karaj areas and stressed the importance of hygiene.

An Iranian Health Ministry official identified as Dr. Sorush said on 10 August that more cases of cholera have been identified in the country, ISNA reported. He mentioned one case in Abhar; five in Azadshahr; two in Gonbad; 13 in Karaj; one in Konarak near Chahbahar in the south; one in Nazarabad; one in Qazvin; 51 in Qom; one in Robat Karim; two in Savojbolagh; five in Shahriar; two in Shahrud; and one in Zabol. A medical center in western Tehran, he added, has identified a further three cases of cholera, and another three people have died of the disease.

"The Daily Times," a newspaper from Lahore, reported on 6 August that Iran has restricted its visa policy for Pakistanis, and officials at the Iranian Consulate in Lahore attributed this to health concerns. "We are refusing visas to hepatitis (B and C) and tuberculosis patients only," said consulate official Ishaq Bangash. An unidentified consulate source said this policy applies to the poor, but not to clerics or Shi'a leaders. (Bill Samii)

SUICIDE BOMBERS GET ENCOURAGEMENT IN IRAN.

The conservative Iranian daily "Siyasat-i Ruz" reported on 7 August that the United States has announced it cannot confront Iran's "martyrdom-seeking forces," and quoted British parliamentarian George Galloway as saying that this is the reason the United States will not attack Iran. The Iranian daily said the creation of "martyr-seeking divisions" has frightened American, British, and Israeli military personnel and that they are trying to resign as a result.

With President Mahmud Ahmadinejad's assumption of the presidency, Radio Farda reported on 4 August, there is a renewed emphasis in Iran on "martyrdom-seeking operations." Nowadays this refers to suicide bombings, but in a broader context it refers to the willingness to sacrifice one's life. Such operations contributed to the defeat of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's army in the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War, Radio Farda reported, and Ahmadinejad reportedly is an advocate of such activities.

Female suicide bombers are commonly referred to in Iran as "Olive Girls," and a ceremony to honor them was held in Tabriz on 18 July, the hard-line "Ya Lisarat al-Hussein" reported on 3 August. This event was organized by the Headquarters for Tribute to the Martyrs of the Global Islamic Movement, local members of the Basij Resistance Forces, and a local husseinieh (prayer hall). The event began with a video of a suicide bombing in Israel, followed by speeches from Tabriz parliamentary representative Hojatoleslam Seyyed Mohammad Reza Mir-Tajedini, who said Israel only understands violence.

Other speakers at the 18 July event were Khajeh Nasr-i Din Tusi University Professor Mohammad Sadeq Kushki and Tabriz University Professor Hojatoleslam Nazari. "There were days when we exported martyrdom to the world, but today we should learn martyrdom from the Palestinian youths," Kushki said. Nazari said that the "tactic of sacrifice" is the only way to confront the Israel. He also criticized Al-Qaeda's suicide bombings as religiously improper. Afterward, volunteers signed up.

In late July, the "Parto Sokhan" weekly published forms that suicide-bombing volunteers could complete. (Bill Samii)

TEHRAN DENIES INTERFERING IN IRAQ.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi dismissed on 10 August U.S. allegations of Iranian involvement in the Iraqi insurgency, IRNA reported. Assefi advised Washington to "admit the consequences of its blunders in Iraq and avoid raising baseless charges against others." He went on to say that, "On account of their terrible blunders in Iraq, the U.S. officials are pressurized [sic] by the world and regional public opinion, particularly that of Iraqi Muslim people. In order to justify their failure, they have taken the option of resorting to a visionary enemy." Assefi said the U.S. cannot undermine Tehran-Baghdad relations.

The issue arose at a 9 August Pentagon press briefing when a reporter asked about "sophisticated weapons, including shaped charges" that are allegedly entering Iraq from Iran, according to the State Department website (http://usinfo.state.gov). U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld responded: "It is true that weapons, clearly, unambiguously from Iran have been found in Iraq." When asked about the amount of weapons, Rumsfeld said, "Goodness, how can you know? You only know what you know. That's a big border. And it's notably unhelpful for the Iranians to be allowing weapons of those types to cross the border."

The issue also arose when British Embassy officials in Tehran went to the Iranian Foreign Ministry on 10 August, "The Guardian" reported on 11 August. The Britons described as "unacceptable" the discovery two weeks earlier of an arms shipment near the Iran-Iraq border. Iraqi forces opened fire on the smugglers, who returned to Iran but left their "timers, detonators, and other bomb-making equipment" behind. The anonymous British official cited by "The Guardian" linked the shipment with the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps or with Lebanon's Hizballah.

Baghdad, meanwhile, has played down these reports. Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jafari's spokesman, Laith Kubba, said during an 11 August news conference that his government is looking into the issue. He went on to say that somebody could have fabricated proof of Iranian involvement in an attempt to cause problems. (Bill Samii)

SYRIAN PRESIDENT VISITS IRAN.

Syrian 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. "Common threats to Iran and Syria require joint cooperation from the two countries more than ever," IRNA quoted Ahmadinejad as saying at a joint press conference. He added that there are no limits to Tehran-Damascus cooperation. Al-Assad said the two would discuss bilateral relations, the war on terror, the Middle East peace process, international developments, and Iraqi affairs.

Syria and Iran are the main foreign supporters of Lebanese Hizballah, and just days before al-Assad's visit, Hizballah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah visited Iran to meet with Ahmadinejad.

Al-Assad concluded his visit to Iran on 8 August, IRNA and state television reported. On the second day of the trip, al-Assad met Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Expediency Council Chairman Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, Minister of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics Ali Shamkhani, and Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi.

Hashemi-Rafsanjani stressed the importance of continuing cooperation between Iran, Syria, and Hizballah in Lebanon.

Shamkhani and the Syrian visitor discussed cooperation in the defense arena, and Shamkhani also touched on what IRNA referred to as "Syria's resistance to the Zionist regime." He added that "regional cooperation is the best strategy for dealing with the expansionism of Zionists and the ultraregional powers."

Kharrazi told his guest, "Current developments in Lebanon and particularly vigilance and solidarity of the Lebanese nation and different groups in the face of ups and downs and parliamentary elections are indicative of new political achievements by the Lebanese Islamic Resistance," IRNA reported.

Al-Assad also met with former President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami. (Bill Samii)

RUSSIA-IRAN DISCUSS COUNTERNARCOTICS, FOREIGNERS.

Iranian Drug Control Headquarters chief Ali Hashemi said on 10 August in Moscow that Iran and Russia have almost identical opinions of the narcotics situation in Afghanistan and believe trafficking is increasing, ITAR-TASS reported. Hashemi and Russian Federal Drug Control Service Director Viktor Cherkesov signed a memorandum of cooperation and afterward Hashemi said the agreement will yield new results.

Cherkesov also derided other countries' efforts to help the Afghan people, saying, "As regards the influence of international forces on the situation in Afghanistan and the influence of the countries which have their military contingents there, their efforts have not yet contributed to a serious change in the situation."

Cherkesov did not comment on the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and its continuing impact.

Collective Security Treaty (CST) Council Secretary-General Nikolai Bordyuzha said in a 10 August meeting with Iranian Ambassador to Moscow Gholamreza Ansari that Iran should participate in Afghan narcotics-trafficking operations, ITAR-TASS reported. The two sides reportedly reached an agreement on the presence of "extra-regional foreign states" in the Caucasus and Central Asia, saying, "their presence should be reduced as the situation in the region stabilizes, in particular, in Afghanistan and around it." (Bill Samii)

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