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Iran Report: September 20, 2005


20 September 2005, Volume 8, Number 37

AHMADINEJAD ADDRESSES UN GENERAL ASSEMBLY TWICE... President Mahmud Ahmadinejad left for New York on 13 September, state television reported. Before leaving Tehran, Ahmadinejad suggested this would be an opportunity to discuss the contentious nuclear issue, saying: "We believe that nuclear energy is a divine gift. It...belongs to all nations and all people. All of the people on the surface of the Earth have the right to use this clean energy."

Supreme National Security Council official Ali Aqamohammadi said on 13 September that Ahmadinejad would probably submit his suggestions on how to proceed on the atomic front, the Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA) reported. "Naturally we cannot know what promises to be an innovative idea, but we have heard a few things and have an idea what the framework of his talks will be. However, he will reveal the plan," Aqamohammadi said, adding that rejection of the plan will hurt those who have benefited from dialogue with Iran.

In his speech to the UN General Assembly in New York on 14 September, Ahmadinejad criticized the United States, saying the host of the event should not have special privileges. Two channels of Iranian state television, as well as Iranian satellite television and state radio, broadcast the speech live. Ahmadinejad complained that neither an Islamic nor an African state has a permanent seat on the UN Security Council. He also expressed concern about a breakdown in spirituality and morality, and described unilateralism as a "vicious malady." "Unilateralism, production and use of weapons of mass destruction, intimidations, resort to the threat or use of force, and imposition of destructive wars on peoples for the sake of security and prosperity of a few powers" mean that the UN must try to institutionalize justice, Ahmadinejad said.

The U.S. delegation was not in the assembly hall to hear Ahmadinejad's stinging comments, news agencies reported.

Ahmadinejad announced the Iranian position on the nuclear issue in a 17 September speech to the General Assembly (for the full text of the speech, see http://www.un.org/webcast/ga/60/statements/iran050917eng.pdf). Predictably, he preceded the discussion of the nuclear issue by denouncing the United States. "The Islamic Revolution toppled a regime, which had been put in place through a coup, and supported by those who claim to be advocates of democracy and human rights, thwarted the aspirations of the nation for development and progress for 25 years through intimidation and torture of the populace and submission and subservience to outsiders."

Ahmadinejad accused the United States of violating the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, arming "the Zionist occupation regime with WMDs [weapons of mass destruction]," and trying to block other countries' access to nuclear technology.

Ahmadinejad accused the United States of supporting Al-Qaeda and hinted at a conspiracy in which the United States was behind the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001.

After going on in this way for some time, Ahmadinejad got to the point. "Peaceful use of nuclear energy without possession of nuclear fuel cycle is an empty proposition," he said. "In accordance with our religious principles, pursuit of nuclear weapons is prohibited." He went on to express concern about the creation of a nuclear "apartheid." He called for a nuclear-weapons-free Middle East.

As a confidence-building measure, Ahmadinejad said, Iran is willing to partner with public and private groups in its uranium-enrichment program. He added that Iran will continue to cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency. However, he dismissed promises that other countries will be the source of fuel for the Iranian nuclear program.

Ahmadinejad returned to Iran on 18 September. (Bill Samii)

...AFTER RECEIVING U.S. VISA WAIVER. The State Department announced that the United States had waived regulations banning suspected terrorists from entering its territory and given Iranian President Ahmadinejad a visa to attend the UN General Assembly in New York, Radio Farda and the "Los Angeles Times" reported on 8 September.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said in Washington on 7 September that Iran's UN mission applied for a visa on 5 August, allowing Ahmadinejad to attend events around the opening of the 60th session of the UN General Assembly on 13-18 September, and the U.S. consulate in Berne, Switzerland, issued the visa on 6 September, the State Department website reported.

McCormack added that while Ahmadinejad would have been refused a visa for what the United States suspects are past terrorism-related activities, in accordance with the Immigration and Nationality Act, his ineligibility has been waived by the Department of Homeland Security at the request of the State Department. The visa "in no way indicates a change of U.S. views or policy toward the Iranian government," McCormack stressed. U.S. officials believe Ahmadinejad might have been among a gang of radical students who took U.S. diplomats in Tehran hostage in November 1979, a charge Iran rejects.

A number of expatriate Iranians protested outside the UN building on 14 September against Ahmadinejad's presence, Radio Farda reported. Approximately 1,500 people from various exile opposition groups -- royalists, constitutionalists, the Mujahedin Khalq Organization, the Green Party of Iran -- waved placards and chanted different slogans. The protesters expressed opposition to the Iranian nuclear program and the country's purported support for international terrorism, and they called for political prisoners' freedom. Their overriding sentiment was that they do not accept Ahmadinejad as Iran's representative, Radio Farda reported.

Among the protesters outside the Iranian mission to the UN in New York were Barry Rosen and Kevin Hermening, Radio Farda reported on 15 September. Rosen is a former U.S. government official and Hermening is a former U.S. Marine who were held hostage in Iran when the U.S. Embassy was seized by militants. In a press conference the day before, former UN Rapporteur on Human Rights Manuchehr Ganji said that President Ahmadinejad was involved in the interrogation of the hostages, as did another former hostage, Colonel Dave Roeder. (Bill Samii, Vahid Sepehri)

TEHRAN DENIES PURSUIT OF NUCLEAR WEAPONS. Nuclear weapons do not have a role in Iranian defense policy, Minister of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics Mustafa Mohammad Najjar said on 15 September, state radio reported. Najjar explained that Iran insists on the acquisition of nuclear technology so it can produce energy.

In New York, President Ahmadinejad told Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan that Tehran is willing to transfer nuclear technology to other Islamic states, the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) reported. Ahmadinejad insisted that Iran has no interest in nuclear weapons. (Bill Samii)

NUCLEAR WATCHDOG WANTS NO ACTION ON IRAN. Muhammad el-Baradei, director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), is asking the United States to give Iran another opportunity to cease alleged nuclear-weapons-related activities, AFP reported on 15 September, citing anonymous diplomats. Reuters reported the day before that the IAEA suspects that referring Iran to the UN Security Council will lead to divisions within the council. An anonymous diplomat suggested a three-to-four-week delay would be "in everybody's favor." El-Baradei reportedly told U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice that the IAEA governing board could set a deadline for Iran to resume the suspension of its nuclear activities. Tehran, however, has told the IAEA it will cooperate only if it can enrich uranium, Reuters reported.

The United States would like to see immediate action by the UN Security Council, but its efforts to persuade other countries are not going well, the "Financial Times" reported on 15 September. Neither China nor India have made any commitments in this regard, according to the newspaper.

Earlier in the week, U.S. Energy Department officials made a presentation to IAEA officials and governing board members that purportedly shows evidence of Iran's pursuit of nuclear weapons, "The Washington Post" and ABC News reported on 14 September (to view the presentation, go to (http://abcnews.go.com/images/International/iran_nuclear_report.pdf). The presentation describes Iran's violations of nuclear safeguards and a pattern of concealment. The U.S. presentation rejects Iranian claims that the nuclear program is for power generation and argues that it is on the scale of a weapons program.

Furthermore, Tehran has submitted a 131-page response to el-Baradei's earlier report on the Iranian nuclear program, IRNA reported on 13 September. The IAEA report called for greater cooperation and transparency on Iran's part, and it referred to some specific concerns (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 5 September 2005). The Iranian response stressed Tehran's belief that the issue has become politicized and said the IAEA is being swayed by a propaganda campaign. The response referred to efforts to divert attention from recent violations of the Nonproliferation Treaty by other countries, the proliferation of nuclear warheads, and the purported Israeli threat.

IAEA spokeswoman Melissa Fleming told Radio Farda on 7 September that its recent report will be a reference for the IAEA board of governors when it meets on 19 September to discuss Iran's program. She said Iranian officials have cooperated with IAEA inspectors, but they should cooperate more, and give the agency access to all "places, documents, and people" able to clarify persistent questions such as the source of traces of highly enriched uranium found on certain nuclear components in Iran. Iran has said they came from Pakistan with the equipment. Fleming said this cannot be ascertained, adding that there has been much progress made on discovering the source of the traces, Radio Farda reported. (Bill Samii, Vahid Sepehri)

TEHRAN STRESSES PERCEIVED NUCLEAR RIGHTS. Iran's ranking nuclear negotiator, Supreme National Security Council Secretary Ali Larijani, stressed in Islamabad on 7 September that Iran will not halt its nuclear program, but it is prepared to hold talks to alleviate international concerns, news agencies reported the same day. On his return from Pakistan, Larijani said that Iran "is not trying to expand" the number of parties negotiating over its nuclear program, and the IAEA remains its formal negotiating partner, ISNA reported on 8 September. He said third-party proposals "can be useful or helpful," but "Iran's conduct is that everything should be in its place, and we face the [IAEA] in this case," ISNA reported.

In meetings with Pakistani officials, Larijani said, they stated their acceptance of Iran's "natural right" to have a peaceful nuclear program. "I have no doubt that brotherly and Muslim Pakistan is by our side," he said. But Larijani also conveyed "concern" to Pakistani officials over their recent contacts with Iranian foe Israel. "I stated my concern" at the contacts, Larijani said according to ISNA, and "stated my reasons, and I think they have taken on board our perspective." The foreign ministers of Pakistan and Israel met in Istanbul on 1 September in the first high-level meeting since those two states emerged in the mid-20th century, AFP reported on 7 September.

In Tehran on 7 September, Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki said that "nobody" should overlook "the rights of the Iranian people" in negotiations over Iran's contested nuclear program, ISNA reported. He said after a meeting with foreign envoys that "no organization can deprive us of our rights, against international laws," referring to Western pressures on Iran to once more suspend all nuclear-fuel production and related activities, and negotiate over its program. He said that "there is a rational and clear view based on international laws that one cannot tell a country its duties, but deprive it of its rights."

Iran says that, within the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, it has the right to make fuel for what it says is a civilian program. Mottaki said the Ahmadinejad government gives great importance to justice, and in foreign relations that means "a balance between rights and duties" for countries signing up to international treaties. Iran may reconsider certain bilateral agreements, he added, as some parts have yet to be implemented, ISNA reported.

Mottaki told the press in Tehran on 11 September that Iran will not reseal a uranium-ore-conversion plant in Isfahan, central Iran, in response to Western demands to halt all fuel production and related activities, and he warned that nobody will win if Iran's dossier is referred to the UN Security Council, agencies reported the same day. Given Iran's "transparent activities and clear cooperation" with the IAEA, he said, "we see no juridical or legal reasons" for a UN referral, and "our positions will be clear in that regard," ISNA reported. Going to the UN Security Council would be "political," he said, and would initiate "a lose-lose game, and we prefer this not to happen." He described a "win-win" situation as an international community assured of the peaceful nature of Iran's nuclear program, and Iran being able to exercise what it says is the right to make nuclear fuel for power stations it has yet to build. Iran, he said, welcomes the "unconditional" resumption of talks on its dossier, ISNA reported.

Mottaki said on 12 September that Iran's nuclear policy is entirely clear, and if its "natural right" to have a peaceful program is recognized, "we respect the right of the international community to be assured of the peaceful nature" of its activities, ISNA reported the same day, citing an interview with Turkish television. He dismissed as unlikely the threat of U.S. strikes on Iranian nuclear installations. "The Americans threaten all the world.... We do not believe a military attack is likely, but if that happens, our response will be firm and painful."

Mottaki said Western concerns about Iran's program are only partly to do with fears over its abuse for military objectives. "The second part of the issue is that they are not inclined to have a developing state become a first-class state" and attain advanced nuclear technology "with numerous applications" for a country, he said. Mottaki said Iran's nuclear policy is based on the "duty" it feels to reassure the international community that its program is strictly civilian, ISNA reported. (Vahid Sepehri)

NEW SECURITY MEASURES NOT WELCOMED BY ALL. Recent steps by Iran's new government under President Ahmadinejad demonstrate the rightward drift in the country's affairs that became apparent in the months preceding the June 2005 presidential election. These steps include the appointment of provincial governors-general with a security background, as well as a crackdown on social malefactors. The impact of the provincial appointments will be felt for years to come, whereas pressure in Tehran is likely to ease off.

Provincial Appointments

Interior Minister Mustafa Purmohammadi said in the 14 September "Iran" that the selection of provincial governors-general will begin the next week and will only take place after consultations with legislators and local Friday-prayer leaders. He said most of the officials will be replaced. "Iran" reported that definite changes include the governors from Fars, Isfahan, Khorasan Razavi, Markazi (Central), Mazandaran, Sistan va Baluchistan, and Tehran provinces. An anonymous Interior Ministry official said he had no knowledge of the possibility that individuals with links to intelligence and security agencies will be selected.

Parliamentarians' reactions to this news varied. On the one hand, an unnamed representative from Urumiyeh said in "Kayhan" of 14 September that Purmohammadi has shown his sensitivity to individuals' qualifications rather than politics in making his choices.

On the other hand, Tabriz parliamentary representative Mohammad Hussein Farhangi accused Purmohammadi of appointing former officials of intelligence and security agencies as provincial governors-general, "Iran," "Aftab-i Yazd" and "Mardom Salari" reported on 14 September. "At the present juncture, some intelligence and security personalities are among the favorites to become future governors-general," Farhangi said. He advised against this, saying: "The interior minister must heed the demands of the parliamentary deputies about not employing people with intelligence and security links and background as government officials [in the provinces], otherwise he will certainly encounter problems in the future."

The issue prompted two legislators to submit their resignations. Iranshahr parliamentary representative Golmohammad Bameri said on 14 September that he had resigned, ILNA reported. Bameri said he was protesting Purmohammadi's failure to coordinate his appointment of new governors-general with the legislature. Zahedan parliamentary representative Peyman Foruzesh resigned the same day to protest Purmohammadi's appointment of a new governor for Sistan va Baluchistan Province. Foruzesh complained that the interior minister had not fulfilled his promise to coordinate his choices with legislators and local Friday-prayer leaders.

The Interior Ministry's appointment of new governors-general will have an enduring impact. The new officials could stay in place for at least eight years -- the length of two presidential terms. The Interior Ministry runs the elections, so the new officials could have a profound influence on voting for members of the Assembly of Experts (2006 and 2014), legislature (2008 and 2012), executive branch (2009 and 2013), and municipal councils (2007 and 2011). Even though President Ahmadinejad has promised to decentralize governmental affairs, these appointments suggest an effort by the central government to exert greater influence in the periphery.

In The Capital

While events affecting the provinces are still developing, security measures in the capital are already under way. Justice Minister and judiciary spokesman Jamal Karimirad told reporters on 6 September that a crackdown on people who disrupt security in Tehran has begun, "Jomhuri-yi Islami," "Aftab-i Yazd," and Radio Farda reported. "This plan, which has been put together by the office of the Tehran prosecutor-general, will be implemented for a period of 20 days with the cooperation and coordination of the relevant organs, such as the Law Enforcement Force, the Intelligence Ministry, the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps, and the Basij force.

Karimirad described the individuals who would suffer as a result of this campaign: "The elements who flex their muscles and show off their power by the use of knives and daggers; the thugs and the mob engaging in extortion and bullying; threatening actions and behaviors; attempts to create fear and tension in the society; disruption of public order and safety; acts of sabotage; those involved in selling, buying, possessing, or carrying unlawful weapons; abduction; and gang interfighting and violence." The harassment of women, sexual assaults and other sorts of lewd behavior, the establishment of brothels and gambling houses, drinking alcohol publicly or public drunkenness, and the sales or purchase of drugs are to be targeted as well.

Tehran police chief Morteza Talai described the type of criminals one encounters in the capital, "Jomhuri-yi Islami" reported on 7 September. One group carries scimitars and goes to different parts of the city to commit random acts of aggression. A second group, known as "lumpens," gets drunk in public and engages in rowdy behavior. A third group, he said, has the talent and potential for membership in the second group.

The judicial police will be tasked with maintaining public security in Tehran once it is equipped, financed, and ready to work, Radio Farda reported on 10 September. Tehran judiciary official Mahmud Mirkuhi said the force enjoys greater powers than the ordinary police. Judicial police patrols include a judge who can convict and sentence a person on the spot, and oversee his or her punishment, Radio Farda reported.

One of the security measures described by police chief Ismail Ahmadi-Moghaddam is action against "joy caravans" -- cars filled with celebrating relatives driving behind a newly wed couple, Radio Farda reported on 11 September. He termed the celebrants "louts" and a traffic nuisance. Radio Farda cited Moghaddam as telling the daily "Jomhuri-yi Islami" that such celebrations block Tehran traffic and lead to acts of "moral corruption" like dancing and alcohol consumption.

Tehran's provincial judicial chief Abbas Ali Alizadeh told the press on 12 September that Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has ordered the judiciary to give a "firm response" to "louts" and criminals, Fars reported the same day. Khamenei has ordered "God's laws" to be implemented against criminals, after reading a report on crime that he found "shocking," Fars reported. In an undated letter to judiciary chief Ayatollah Mahmud Hashemi-Shahrudi, Khamenei ordered authorities to combat crime "as vigorously as possible," and to give "mischievous" people "the harshest punishments set by God."

Alizadeh said he showed Khamenei's letter to a judge who recently asked him what to do with a man charged with forcibly taking money from people and cutting off someone's hand. That "criminal," Alizadeh said, must be considered a man "spreading corruption on Earth," a charge applicable to various activities and possibly punishable by death in Iran.

Just as legislators have mixed responses to possible security-related assignments in the provinces, their enthusiasm about this social crackdown is mixed.

Musa Al-Reza Servati, a member of parliament's Social Affairs Committee, has urged Iranians to show a certain "balance" when celebrating, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 12 September. "Unfortunately in Iran people go beyond accepted norms for the slightest celebration," he said, adding that the Islamic Culture and Guidance Ministry should define what type of celebrations are acceptable.

But Social Affairs Committee head Abdolreza Mesri said that "it is much more necessary" for police to deal with armed criminals that block city streets than with "joy caravans," according to "Aftab-i Yazd." People can wait a little for a street celebration, and "share in the joy of people around them, but waiting in traffic for hours because a man with a knife has blocked the street is impossible," "Aftab-i Yazd" quoted him as saying.

The security-related developments in Tehran will not have as enduring impact as those in the provinces. The crackdown in the capital is scheduled to last just 20 days. Furthermore, the government routinely implements such measures, especially at the beginning of the school year. Therefore, there could be an easing of pressure over time. (Bill Samii, Vahid Sepehri)

NATIONAL AND MILITARY LEADERS TALK TO REVOLUTIONARY GUARDS. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said in a 14 September speech in Tehran at a conference of Islamic Revolution Guards Corp (IRGC) commanders that everybody is expected to be pious and patient when confronted by hardship, IRNA reported. He added that one must resist temptation and show restraint when one is trying to fulfill the obligations defined by God. The country's officials, he continued, must be spiritually pure and morally upright.

IRGC commander Yahya Rahim-Safavi told the audience beforehand that the June presidential election showed that the nation supports revolutionary values, state television reported. Discussing Iraq and regional developments, Rahim-Safavi said, "America's incompetence in crisis management in the region has become more obvious recently." He described the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza as a defeat for the United States.

Speaker of parliament Gholam-Ali Haddad-Adel spoke on the afternoon of 14 July, IRNA reported, saying U.S. policy is demagogic and hypocritical. Its hidden objective is to control world oil resources, he said, and its strategic aim is world domination. Talk of spreading democracy is just a cover for these goals. He said the United States uses cultural tools -- books, films, NGOs, satellite television -- as well as economic and military ones to influence other countries.

The next day, Minister of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics Mustafa Mohammad Najjar told the conference that his ministry has presented its plans to the legislature, ILNA reported. Among the objectives in the plan are budget increases, a stronger air-defense capability, attention to the ministry's research and industries, and information security. He also mentioned greater unity between the armed forces headquarters and the ministry, as well as the elimination of duplication. To compensate for budget shortfalls, he said, Iran will export more goods. Najjar said some of the military industries will be relocated in order to create jobs.

Brigadier General Ali Akbar Ahmadian said in a 15 September speech at the IRGC conference, "We have formulated a new and evolutionary strategic management system in the corps," ISNA reported. Once Supreme Leader Khamenei approves this system, relevant plans will be distributed to all branches of the armed forces. Ahmadian mentioned long-term plans and programs, and added that the IRGC's Imam Hussein University will implement the strategic training programs. He did not provide any details on the system, plans, or programs. (Bill Samii)

SUPREME LEADER CALLS FOR GOVERNMENTAL UNITY. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said in Tehran on 8 September that senior clerics and politicians must support the government and end outstanding rivalries that stem from the June presidential polls, given what he described as foreign hostility to Iran's government, ISNA reported the same day. Khamenei told the Assembly of Experts, a body of clerics ostensibly charged with supervising Khamenei's performance, that the primary duty of politicians is to preserve "unity and cohesion" and end "the disagreements and offenses" of the elections. He added that "this duty pertains above all to those with a higher status in society, and those who work against society's unity cannot be the friends" of Iranians and their government, ISNA added.

The election results upset some candidates, including Expediency Council Chairman Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, who alleged he was the victim of a campaign of vilification, and Mehdi Karrubi, who denounced malpractice at polling stations. Former President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami has also recently warned that unspecified reactionaries and religious bigots are returning to positions of power.

Khamenei said the government should not be undermined "for certain expectations or grudges," while "religious elites" must counter the "organized effort" of "the enemies of the revolution" to weaken Iran's religion and political system. (Vahid Sepehri)

AHMADINEJAD MAKES MORE APPOINTMENTS. President Ahmadinejad has appointed his brother, Davud Ahmadinejad, as his adviser and chief of the presidential inspectorate, state radio reported on 13 September. State radio noted that presidents tend to appoint close relatives to this position -- Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami selected his brother, Ali, and Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani selected his son, Mohsen.

In addition, Ahmadinejad has selected Fada Hussein Maleki as secretary of the Drug Control Headquarters and Tehran municipal council head Mehdi Chamran as a special adviser, IRNA reported on 13 September.

Ahmadinejad will appoint Tehran municipal council member Masud Zaribafan as his spokesman, Mehr News Agency reported on 12 September, citing an anonymous "informed source." Zaribafan is a member of two hard-line political organizations, the Islamic Revolution Devotees Society (Jamiyat-i Isargaran-i Inqilab-i Islami) and the Islamic Iran Developers Coalition (Etelaf-i Abadgaran-i Iran-i Islami). Zaribafan was mayor of Mahabad and deputy governor of Kurdistan Province.

Ahmadinejad appointed Parviz Davudi as his first vice president on 10 September, IRNA reported.

Separately, Foreign Minister Mottaki appointed Muhammad Reza Baqeri as deputy foreign minister for Arab and African affairs; Mehdi Safari for Asia, Pacific, and Commonwealth of Independent States affairs; and Said Jalili for European and American affairs, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 12 September. (Bill Samii, Vahid Sepehri)

NEW GROUND FORCES CHIEF AND IDEOLOGIST APPOINTED. Supreme Leader Khamenei appointed Major General Ataollah Salehi the head of Iran's regular ground forces on 11 September, replacing Muhammad Salimi, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported the next day. Salehi entered the army in 1967, helped organize revolutionary "committees" in Isfahan during the 1979 revolution, and more recently ran the personnel and inspectorate departments at the armed forces joint headquarters, Fars reported on 12 September. Salimi now serves as a "special adviser" to Khamenei, IRNA reported on 11 September.

Meanwhile, Hojatoleslam Seyyed Mohammad Ali Al-e Hashem has been appointed deputy head of the armed forces' political-ideological department, "Iran" reported. The former head of the department, Seyyed Reza Akrami, will serve as a senior adviser to the political-ideological department. (Bill Samii, Vahid Sepehri)

BUS DRIVERS ARRESTED, JOURNALIST JAILED. An unspecified number of Tehran bus drivers were arrested after driving on 7 September with their lights turned on to protest against unpaid or insufficient wages, Radio Farda and "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 8 September. Company managers said they have paid wages owed to drivers and blamed the drivers' union for fanning discontent, Radio Farda reported. Union member Mansur Hayat-Gheibi told Radio Farda that managers have had some protesting drivers arrested and others sacked.

Separately, a journalist is in jail in Arak, central Iran, for charges relating to previous press activities even though the plaintiffs have withdrawn their original complaint, Radio Farda reported on 8 September. Masud Bastani is being kept in the general criminal population, and the Arak judiciary has rejected his request for transfer to a Tehran jail where political and press prisoners are kept, Radio Farda reported, quoting Tehran-based journalist Muhammad Reza Ruhbakhsh.

Ruhbakhsh said the Arak judiciary has also convicted Bastani of violating an earlier conviction, which carried a five-year ban on press activities, by recently reporting on a Tehran protest, and the court is expected to hand him another sentence. This conviction and Bastani's detention are illegal, Ruhbakhsh claimed, but he currently has no attorney.

Meanwhile, Justice Minister Jamal Karimi-Rad said in Tehran on 6 September that the judiciary is ready to present parliament with a bill to define political offenses, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 7 September. Iran often jails dissidents or politicians on charges such as subversion or making false allegations, and is unlikely to consider them political dissidents. Karimi-Rad said the five-year development plan starting in 2006 requires the judiciary to define political offenses. A similar bill was passed by the last parliament, but rejected by the Guardians Council, a body of mostly conservative jurists that confirms the legality of legislation (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 31 December 2001). (Vahid Sepehri)

NO JAIL VISITS FOR DISSIDENT, SAYS WIFE. Paris-based Reporters Without Borders on 6 September criticized the Iranian judiciary's decision to send back to jail dissident Akbar Ganji, who was on hunger strike to protest his detention , Radio Farda reported on 7 September. Ganji ended his 70-day hunger strike on 22 August and left hospital on 3 September, Reporters Without Borders reported on its website. The judiciary, it added, has apparently broken a promise to let Ganji recover at home.

Masumeh Shafii, Ganji's wife, told Radio Farda on 11 September that she has not been allowed to visit her husband or speak to him for a week. She said she now believes he is being kept in a special wing outside the prison chief's authority, though prison authorities have told her he is being held in an ordinary cell. Every time she calls, she said, she is told "he is in a meeting, or in the wing, unavailable, or call in half an hour...tomorrow morning, or in the afternoon." She said she would "no longer keep quiet," and has written a letter to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan urging him to ask visiting President Ahmadinejad "to respect justice regarding [dissident prisoners], including Mr. Ganji." She handed the letter to the UN representative office in Tehran on 11 September, Radio Farda reported.

Shafii told Radio Farda on 13 September that she has not seen or heard from her husband for 18 days. Justice Minister Jamal Karimirad, who serves as the judiciary spokesman, said on 12 September that Ganji is being kept in a shared cell at Evin prison while he recuperates, Radio Farda reported on 13 September. However, Tehran prisons chief Sohrab Suleimani has said that Ganji is in medical quarantine. If Ganji is in quarantine, Shafii asked, what kind of quarantine does not allow him to use the telephone? Shafii told Radio Farda that prison authorities have sent Ganji to solitary confinement. Whenever she asks about her husband, she continued, the authorities refer her to Tehran chief prosecutor Said Mortazavi. (Bill Samii, Vahid Sepehri)

ARMENIA MOVES FORWARD ON GAS PIPELINE TO IRAN. Armenian Energy Minister Armen Movsisian announced on 13 September that the government has formally granted permission for the Iranian company Sanir to continue construction of the second section of a natural-gas pipeline connecting Armenia and Iran, Arminfo reported. Construction of the first section of the new Armenia-Iran gas pipeline is under way and the Armenian government is still engaged in an environmental-impact study of the full route. Energy Minister Movsisian also reported that the Iranian MAP group will complete the fifth energy unit of Armenia's Razdan thermal power plant. The first significant bilateral agreement on the 140-kilometer Armenia-Iran gas pipeline was reached in September 2001 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 September 2001). (Richard Giragosian)

PALESTINIAN ISLAMIC JIHAD LEADER VISITS IRAN. Palestinian Islamic Jihad leader Ramadan Abdallah Shallah met in Tehran on 13 September with Expediency Council Chairman Hashemi-Rafsanjani, Mehr News Agency reported. Hashemi-Rafsanjani told his guest that the provision of spiritual and political support is part of Iranian policy. He added that the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza is a sign of Israeli weakness when confronted by Palestinian resistance, and warned of anti-Islamic U.S. and Israeli conspiracies. Shallah said resistance will continue. Shallah met with Hassan Khomeini, grandson of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, in Tehran on 9 September, IRNA reported on 10 September. Khomeini said the Palestinian issue was a major concern of his grandfather's. (Bill Samii)

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