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Iran Report: February 9, 2004


9 February 2004, Volume 7, Number 6

STUDENTS 'WATCH IN SILENCE.' The student movement's attitude towards the current political crisis in Iran is "worth elaboration," according to a commentary in the 29 January "Aftab-i Yazd." One could expect the students to be unsympathetic towards the parliamentarians' fate, because the current legislature never really followed up on the violent suppression of the students in July 1999 or on other similar incidents. However, they are not indifferent, they are "watching in silence," according to the commentary. What they are trying to determine is if they are just seeing a display of political gamesmanship, or are the parliamentarians serious about pursuing their goals and standing up for their rights?

Allameh Tabatabai University's Chancellor Najafqoli Habibi said that the country's university students must not be indifferent to events, and added that the universities have a duty to take the elections seriously, "Mardom Salari" reported on 28 January.

These are noble sentiments, but until 8 February the students were finding it difficult to act because the government refused to issue rally permits and it otherwise repressed them.

The Iranian press reported in January that a crackdown on student activists is under way. Tehran University Dormitory Guild Council Secretary Hamid Dehnabi received a court summons relating to the previous June's unrest, "Mardomsalari" reported on 21 January. Fifteen students from Malayer received prison sentences ranging from 91 days to six months for their roles in the previous year's unrest, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 20 January and "Sharq" reported the next day. A reformist website, roshangari.com, on 20 January reported on the filing of charges against a University of Rafsanjan student activist and the sentencing to prison of 15 students from Hamedan's Bu Ali Sina University.

The Isfahan Revolutionary Court summoned Said Razavi-Faqih of the Office for Strengthening Unity, "Hambastegi" reported on 13 January. The Revolutionary Court summoned Tehran University law student Payman Aref, "Etemad" reported on 12 January. Two websites, daneshjooyan.org and mellimazhabi.org, on 13 January and 20 January reported on the arrest of Isfahan University medical students and the receipt of court summons by Sabzevar students.

Student organizations' efforts to hold rallies were encountering problems, too. The government refused to issue a permit for an off-campus Students Day event in December (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 8 December 2003).

The Office for Strengthening Unity's late-December annual meeting at the Medical Sciences University in Ahvaz was cancelled and it failed to secure a permit to hold the meeting at Tehran's Tarbiat Mudariss University. Tehran parliamentary representative Fatimeh Haqiqatju said on 4 January that she would ask the minister of intelligence and security about his agency's interference in the student organization's affairs, the Iranian Labor News Agency (ILNA) reported.

The Islamic Students Union of Tehran University announced on 3 February that it wanted to hold a rally in front of the university's main gate on 8 February, the Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA) reported. Ali Talai, an official with the Tehran Governorate-General's Political-Security Affairs Directorate, said earlier in the day that the student's application to hold a rally on 4 February was rejected because it would have disrupted traffic, ISNA reported. The student organization asked why, if traffic is such a concern, conservatives are allowed to hold rallies in the same location after every Friday prayers.

By 8 February the students seemed to have had enough of watching in silence. On that day about 200 students affiliated with the Allameh wing of the Office for Strengthening Unity marched along Inqilab Avenue toward the University of Tehran and chanted slogans such as "Death to Tyranny," "Referendum, Referendum, This is the slogan of the people," and "Voting in Elections, Treachery, Treachery," Fars News Agency reported. At the university itself, the students called for President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami's resignation, dpa reported, citing ISNA. (Bill Samii)

THE SHOW MUST GO ON -- MORE CANDIDATES GRUDGINGLY REINSTATED. "The elections must be held on time, that is on the day of 1 Esfand [20 February]," Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said in a 4 February speech, according to state radio. "They must not be delayed even by one day." "God is great," his audience chanted in response. "Khamenei is our leader," "death to opponents of the guardianship of the supreme jurisconsult," "death to America," "death to Israel," and "death to Monafeqin [hypocrites, the Mujahedin Khalq Organization] and Saddam [Hussein, the deposed Iraqi dictator]."

President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami and parliament speaker Hojatoleslam Mehdi Karrubi met with Khamenei on 3 February and urged him to delay the parliamentary elections so the Guardians Council can reinstate more disqualified candidates, "The New York Times" reported on 4 February.

Supervisory boards affiliated with the Guardians Council initially rejected the candidacy of 3,533 out of 8,144 candidates, and the candidacy of 1,160 was reinstated later. Khamenei met with council members on 14 January and urged them to reinstate incumbent parliamentarians' right to run in the forthcoming election, but only three incumbents were reinstated (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 19 January and 2 February 2004).

Khamenei said Iran's foreign enemies are happy to see the dispute between state entities -- "the enemies are baring their teeth and claws" -- and are exaggerating its importance. These foreign enemies, he said, want to prevent the election. "They want to make sure that elections will not be held. They are very angry and deeply dissatisfied with the elections. They know that elections will foil their plots."

Government spokesman Abdullah Ramezanzadeh said afterwards, "In view of the esteemed leader's direction, I think that we shall obtain some positive results tomorrow," ISNA reported. This seemed to imply that a deal had been made and more rejections would be reversed.

Khamenei's private meeting with Khatami and Karrubi reportedly produced a compromise, according to Al-Jazeera television on 3 February. Under this compromise, the Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) will be the final arbiter on the eligibility of candidates. The MOIS is one of four governmental organizations that provided initial information on prospective candidates, and it is considered to be favorably disposed towards the reformists. However, Ramezanzadeh refused to confirm this at his 4 February press conference, ISNA reported.

Guardians Council Secretary Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati told a 30,000-person meeting of members of election supervisory boards on 6 February that subsequent to the supreme leader's 4 February decree, a number of previously disqualified prospective candidates for the parliamentary election were reinstated, ISNA reported. "The supreme leader asked the Guardians Council to approve a number of [the candidates] to serve the expedience [of the system] and, as usual, we followed his order," Jannati said. "As far as the expedience allowed us, we approved a number of the candidates." Jannati said the review ended "last night" but did not reveal how many people were reinstated.

Parliamentarian Mohammad Jahromi said on 6 February that the Guardians Council reinstated 200 candidates, including 12 incumbent parliamentarians, Fars News Agency reported. As of 5 February, the Guardians Council had approved only 51 out of 600 candidates that were cleared by the MOIS, ISNA reported. Khatami and Karrubi reportedly followed up on the remaining 549, because, according to ISNA, Jannati was supposed to reinstate all of them.

In a 6 February letter to the supreme leader, Khatami and Karrubi complained that the Guardians Council was not cooperating, the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) and state radio reported the next day. "Your Eminence's instructions were not followed and the list which was drawn up did not meet our minimum requirements. In fact, unfortunately, they have even related their action to the governmental decree issued by Your Eminence. In our view that is tantamount to injustice to the supreme leader."

In his reply on 7 February, Khamenei thanked the president and speaker for their efforts, IRNA and state radio reported. The country needs unity, he told them, and urged officials to lay aside their grievances and execute their responsibilities. "Holding elections is of vital importance to our country and nation because it serves their interests. Thus they must be healthy and dynamic and the people must take part in them enthusiastically. That is one of the duties of our officials." (Bill Samii)

QUITTERS THREATENED WITH PROSECUTION -- OR WORSE. Late on 2 February, IRNA published a list of 125 members of parliament who have offered their resignations as a protest against the disqualification of prospective candidates for the 20 February parliamentary elections. The previous day, 1 February, IRNA had published a list of 116 names. Moreover, all 27 provincial governors-general, the presidential cabinet, and many other officials have submitted their resignations as a protest against the disqualification of parliamentary election candidates.

Supreme Leader Khamenei said in his 4 February speech, "Refusing to shoulder the burden of responsibility by threatening to resign or by any other means, is contrary to the law and forbidden by Sharia [religious law]," state radio reported.

Security institutions later called on people to participate in the elections. This is not unusual, as it happens before every election. Yet, in this case, the statements specifically mentioned Khamenei's 4 February speech about the upcoming elections, thereby carrying a hint of a threat against those who acted contrary to the supreme leader's call.

The Armed Forces General Command Headquarters on 5 February issued a communique supporting Khamenei's speech, ISNA reported. It termed his remarks about the elections "the final word on all the evil doubts and murmurs that have been calling for a delay in, or the suspension of, the elections. It was an ultimatum to all officials in charge of political and administrative affairs in the country as well as those responsible for the administration of the elections."

The Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) on 5 February called on people to vote and thereby display the system's "power, stability, and unity," state television reported. The supreme leader's speech, according to the IRGC, crushed both the system's enemies and those affiliated with "foreign circles." The Basij [Resistance Force] also encouraged voters, state television reported.

IRGC deputy commander Brigadier General Mohammad Baqer Zolqadr told a memorial ceremony in Karaj that "the 22 Bahman rally [commemoration of the revolution's anniversary] and the [20 February] elections are a form of jihad and struggle," ISNA reported. "Through their extensive participation in the election, as in the past 25 years, people will prove their loyalty to the system and the Guardian Jurisconsult [Vilayat-i Faqih]," he added.

It is possible that these threats are not directed at the parliamentarians. Even though they have submitted their resignations, these are unlikely to be considered before the 20 February elections. Ardakan parliamentarian Mohammad Reza Tabesh said on 3 February that there would be no open legislative sessions until after the elections, and according to the legislature's rules, "dealing with legislators' resignations takes place at the first session after their receipt has been acknowledged," ILNA reported. "Hence, dealing with the resignations will be left to the first open session." (Bill Samii)

DISQUALIFIED LEGISLATORS MEET WITH KHATAMI... Some of the Iranian legislators who resigned on 1 February (see above) met with President Khatami on 3 February, Fars News Agency reported. Tehran's Elias Hazrati said later, "We only paid a visit to the president to ask about his health," Mehr News Agency reported. Khatami had gone to the hospital with "severe back pain" on 31 January, according to Mehr at the time.

Hazrati was vague on their discussion, although he did say that they briefed Khatami on developments in their constituencies after rejection of their eligibility as candidates. Hazrati said that after meeting with the parliamentarians the president and parliament speaker Karrubi went to a meeting with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Another participant in the meeting, deputy parliament speaker Mohammad Reza Khatami, said that the 70 legislators who met with the president demanded reinstatement of their eligibility as candidates and also demanded postponement of the elections, IRNA reported. Khatami said that he and his colleagues will not back down on these demands and that resolution of the current crisis depends on satisfaction of these demands. He was not forthcoming on the comments of the president and speaker of parliament. (Bill Samii)

...BUT DON'T GO QUIETLY. On 5 February the parliamentarians ended the sit-in that began when the mass disqualification of prospective candidates was announced on 11 January (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 12 January 2004). Tehran representative Davud Suleimani read their final statement, which pledged that the legislators would continue to communicate with the public on election issues, IRNA reported on 6 February. The parliamentarians also described the importance of safeguarding the achievements of the 1979 revolution.

Suleimani's statement seems vague, considering what some of the demonstrating parliamentarians were saying in the press. Mohsen Mirdamadi, for example, described the Guardians Council's rejection of prospective candidates as "a nonmilitary coup that aims to change the government so that the minority will take charge at the expense of the majority," "Al-Hayah" reported on 4 February.

Khoi representative Ali Taghizadeh-Khoi warned that only the despots will win if the election is held in an unfree atmosphere, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 1 February. Mohammad Kiafar, from Mianeh, found the current developments to be in conflict with "religious democracy" and the regime's republicanism. Dezful's Ali Seyyed Aghamiri made the same point, adding that the interaction between the people and political power would be eliminated. All three members of parliament warned that going ahead with elections under these circumstances would be harmful to Iran's international image and its interaction with other countries.

Tehran parliamentary representative Mohammad Reza Khatami, who is the secretary-general of the Islamic Iran Participation Party (IIPP), said after the organization's 2 February meeting that the IIPP will not participate in the forthcoming parliamentary polls, IRNA reported. Khatami said, "This election is not legal and fair, and nothing has been changed in the last few weeks although many efforts have been made in this regard," Reuters reported.

He repeated the call for a postponement of the election date, a request that the Guardians Council has already rejected. "We have two conditions for going to elections: first, to qualify all the candidates who were disqualified illegally and then to give more time for the candidates to be able to compete with each other. So postponing the election is inevitable." Khatami explained, according to Reuters. "Time is very important for us, because, at this moment, if today all these candidates qualify, there is no time for propaganda and for competition fairly."

But Khatami also said, according to IRNA, "We will not ask the people to boycott the elections, since making the decision in that regard is up to the people themselves." He predicted that the absence of parties would have a negative impact.

Ahmad Hakimipur, who is secretary-general of the National Will Party (Hizb-i Iradeh-yi Mellat) and an associate of the Freedom Movement, said on 3 February that the key to resolving the current political crisis is to "review criminal and political behavior, to postpone the elections, and to grant the rights of those parties that have not been able to operate," ILNA reported. He added that the people who are behind disqualifying the candidates see themselves as better than many other Iranians and they also have a hidden agenda. (Bill Samii)

LEGAL SYSTEM CONTINUES TO TARGET PRESS. Representatives of the Iranian press continue to encounter difficulties at the hands of the conservative-dominated legal system. The jailed editor in chief of the "Asia" newspaper, Iraj Jamshidi, was taken to the Evin prison infirmary on 3 February, ILNA reported, citing Jamshidi's wife. Saqi Baqernia added that her husband has a heart condition. Jamshidi was arrested on 6 July, and he has been imprisoned ever since. Jamshidi was being held on a temporary detention order, lawyer Nasser Chubdar told ILNA on 28 January, adding that his confinement continues even though the original order expired on 6 December. Chubdar added at the time that Jamshidi was in acceptable physical health but his psychological condition was worrisome. Baqernia said on 8 December that her husband has spent much of his time in solitary confinement.

Mohammad Sahfi, the deputy minister for press affairs at the Islamic Culture and Guidance Ministry, on 3 February dismissed a letter from Prosecutor-General Said Mortazavi that complained about the reporting in several newspapers, IRNA reported. In his letter, Mortazavi wrote that "Aftab-i Yazd," "Etemad," "Hambastegi," "Mardom Salari," "Nasim-i Saba," "Sharq," "Toseh," and "Yas-i No" should be cautioned on their election reporting.

Sahfi said Mortazavi was informed that the Interior Ministry executes the election law and it is up to the Interior Ministry to decide on electoral offenses. Mortazavi also was told that the newspapers have been doing their job of informing the public, according to IRNA. "If it becomes necessary to impose special limitations on newspapers' work of providing information," Sahfi added, "the criteria have to be promulgated by the Supreme National Security Council, and no such thing has been promulgated so far." Turning to Mortazavi's claim that the newspapers are sowing dissent, Sahfi reportedly told him to take it up with the Press Supervisory Board.

The criminal court in Tehran on 31 January found Abdul Rasul Vesal, the managing director of "Iran," which is the state news agency's Persian-language daily, guilty of press offenses and barred him from public service for three months, "Iran Daily" reported on 1 February. Judge Mohammad Islami also decreed that Vesal pay a 15 million-rial (about $1,900) fine. Vesal faced 63 complaints -- 31 from the prosecutor-general, 28 from private individuals, and five from the State Inspectorate Organization.

On 31 December, Judge Islami heard charges lodged against four other publications, "Yas-i No" reported on January. The charges against "Jadval" related to photographs it published and an allegedly immoral article. Managing Editor Bani Jamali responded that the picture in question was from an art book and was reproduced with permission of the Islamic Culture and Guidance Ministry, and that the author of the offensive article was reprimanded and this mistake will not be repeated. "Tamashagaran" was accused of publishing immoral pictures and materials, and Managing Editor Davudi asked to be acquitted because he did not have ill intent.

A private plaintiff complained about reports in "Safir and Ramin" about the distribution of cement in the cities, "Yas-i No" reported. Managing Editor Heidari said he had evidence that proves the cement sales were not justified and smugglers were involved. Heidari recommended taking the case to the financial court. A female movie star complained that a review in "Aknun" was insufficiently respectful and it provoked public opinion. (Bill Samii)

TEHRAN ARMS EXPORTED WORLDWIDE. "Today, the Islamic Republic of Iran exports arms to some 42 countries on different continents," Minister of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics Ali Shamkhani said on 25 January, according to ISNA. In separate reports, officials discussed developments in Iran's arms-and-related-technologies sector during the period from December 2003 to February 2004.

General Ahmad Vahid, managing director of the Aerospace Industries Organization, said on 3 February that Iran has made major advances in achieving self-sufficiency, state television reported. Vahid attributed this to reliance on God, local expertise, and experience.

Meanwhile, Minister of Communication and Information Technology Ahmad Motamedi said on 3 February that the Mesbah miniature satellite would be launched into space within 16 months, IRNA reported, with Iran's Aerospace Industries Organization to be in charge of the project. Turning to the Zohreh communications satellite project, he said that it has not reached a dead end, but has encountered some problems that will be resolved in the future. The Iranian legislature opposed building Zohreh with Russian assistance, mainly for financial reasons (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 6 May, 3 June, and 16 September 2002 and 4 August 2003).

Defense Minister Shamkhani on 29 January attended the inauguration of 14 military projects at Shiraz's Electronics Industries, state television reported. Among these projects were the Hasib radar system, which can be installed on all Iranian rotary and fixed-wing aircraft that can reach an altitude of 50,000 feet (15,000 meters), and a 4-kilometer-range air-to-ground missile system for Cobra helicopters. Other projects included lamps for radar systems and night-vision binoculars.

Shamkhani on 25 January participated in the inauguration ceremony of the Rad missile's production line, ISNA reported. The liquid-fueled, medium-range Rad can be fired from shore or ship. Shamkhani told reporters: "In view of our long maritime borders and our dominant position in the Straits of Hormuz, we relied upon [the] Nur missile, which has a range of 120 kilometers. Today, thanks to the production of Rad missile, the range has been tripled. Now that the Islamic Republic of Iran's fleet has acquired this missile, we will be more equipped than ever in terms of defending our own territorial waters." Shamkhani said the missile has been tested and had a 70 percent strike rate on the first shot and about 100 percent on the second one.

Hussein Dehqan, a Defense Ministry official, said on 15 December that Iran will upgrade its Shihab-3 missile, Reuters reported, but he did not specify the nature of the upgrade. Dehqan denied that Iran intends to build a Shihab-4 with a 2,000-kilometer range.

Defense Minister Shamkhani acknowledged in his 25 January comments that the Iranian arms industry is developing, although it faces both domestic administrative obstacles and international political obstacles, according to ISNA. He added that foreign arms producers secure financing and insurance coverage, but Iran does not have such backing. He explained that Iran wants to under-price its competition, saying, "The Islamic Republic of Iran's slogan is weapons with Western quality but Eastern prices."

Shamkhani described Iran's exports thus: "These exports range from technical know-how and the construction of factories to raw material and different heavy weaponry." (Bill Samii)

IRANIAN GRAIN IMPORTS ON UPSWING? Iranian Chamber of Commerce Vice Chairman Mir-Mohammad Sadeqi referred on 2 February to Iran's "wheat shortage" and said Iran will purchase 1 million tons of Canadian wheat, "Iran Daily" reported on 3 February.

Sadeqi's comments contradict Deputy Agricultural Jihad Minister Abdol Mehdi Bakhshandeh's announcement in November that Iran is self-sufficient in wheat production, as reported by "Iran News" on 22 December. "Given the considerable growth in the area under wheat cultivation, Iran will not need to import the product next year -- for the first time in decades," he said.

Deputy Agricultural Jihad Minister Mohammad Reza Eskandari said on 2 November that Iran had reduced its wheat imports by 4.8 million tons for the year, "Iran Daily" reported on 3 November. Eskandari noted that global wheat yield is 2.6 tons per hectare but Iran produces just 1.6 tons per hectare.

India sold 15,000 tons of corn to Iran for shipment in late January-February, the "Hindustan Times" reported on 19 January. The Iranian Customs Administration reported on 4 January that corn imports in the year starting 21 March 2003 were 140 percent higher than in the previous year, according to IRNA. Iran imported $326.6 million worth of corn. (Bill Samii)

IRANIAN OFFICIALS MISS MUNICH SECURITY CONFERENCE. A spokesperson for the 40th Munich Conference on Security Policy (http://www.securityconference.de) announced at the last minute that an expected Iranian delegation would not attend the event, IRNA reported on 7 February. The spokesperson did not give a reason for the cancellation. The delegation would have included Foreign Ministry General Director for Political and International Affairs Amir Zamaninia and Ambassador to Germany Seyyed Shamseddin Khareqani.

Deutsche Welle had reported on 5 February that developments in Iran, Iraq, and elsewhere in the Middle East would be discussed during the 7-8 February conference, and that all NATO defense ministers would be in attendance, including U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.

Iranian participation in last year's conference and the possibility of Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi's attendance led to speculation that he and Rumsfeld might discuss Iraq (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 10 February 2003). Kharrazi did not attend the event, however, and U.S. officials acknowledged at the time of the February 2003 conference that they had met with their Iranian counterparts in Geneva in January 2003 to discuss Iraq and to reassure them that Iran would not be targeted in the pending conflict. (Bill Samii)

THOUSANDS OF IRANIANS DEMONSTRATE AT HAJJ. About 14 Iranians have died while participating in the holy pilgrimage to Mecca (hajj), IRNA reported on 2 February, but none of them were victims of the 1 February stampede in which 244 pilgrims perished. The Iranians reportedly succumbed to coronary disease and in two cases, died in accidents.

Thousands of Iranians participating in the pilgrimage on 31 January participated in a "Disavowal of Pagans" event, IRNA reported. They issued a statement condemning Israel's alleged killing of Palestinians, the alleged hegemonic policies of the United States and United Kingdom, and the activities of the United States in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere. The statement also described the peaceful use of nuclear energy as a country's right and called for a weapons-of-mass-destruction-free Middle East.

Hojatoleslam Mohammad Mohammadi-Reyshahri, who is Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's hajj affairs representative, said that "opposition to the arrogant powers led by the U.S." is the theme of the Disavowal of Pagans event and Muslim support for the Palestinian uprising is the event's most important message, IRNA reported.

At an 8 January ceremony at Tehran's Mehrabad Airport to see off the first group of pilgrims, Reyshahri encouraged them to convey, in IRNA's words, "the message of compassion and affection." Reyshahri noted that 19 prospective pilgrims from Bam were killed in that city's 26 December earthquake.

According to IRNA, 96,000 Iranians will fly to Saudi Arabia over a 17-day period to make the pilgrimage. (Bill Samii)

KHARRAZI CONTINUES TO SEEK WORD ON OFFICIALS MISSING IN LEBANON. Foreign Minister Kharrazi arrived in Lebanon on 5 February for a two-day visit that relates to the case of four Iranian officials who have been missing since 1982. Determination of the status of the missing officials -- Charge d'Affaires Seyyed Mohsen Musavi, diplomats Ahmad Motevaselian and Taqi Rastegar-Moqaddam, and IRNA photojournalist Kazem Akhavan -- is the second part of the Israel-Hizballah prisoner exchange that took place on 29 January (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 2 February 2004).

Tehran representative Hojatoleslam Ali Akbar Mohtashami-Pur headed an Iranian parliamentary delegation to Beirut that welcomed the returnees from Israeli prisons. In an interview that appeared in the 29 January issue of the "Al-Safir" newspaper, Mohtashami said that in 1982 the Israelis controlled the situation in Lebanon. "We [therefore] hold the Israelis responsible for the abduction of the four Iranians...the four were delivered to the Zionist entity [after being detained by the Christian Lebanese Forces]," he said. Mohtashami-Pur added, "We later received information from Israeli jails that they were alive and detained in Israel."

Israel asserts that the diplomats were last in Phalangist (Al-Kataeb Party) custody. The now-dead Phalangist Elie Hobeika (1956-2002), who at the time led the security unit (jihaz al-amin) of the Lebanese Forces and was the principal military liaison with Israel's forces in the country, said that the Iranians were killed a few days after being captured, "The Daily Star" reported on 5 February. (Hobeika's former bodyguard linked his boss with the killing of the Iranians in a 1999 book; see "Middle East Intelligence Bulletin," http://www.meib.org/articles/0201_l1.htm)

Lebanese Minister of Administrative Development and Al-Kataeb head Karim Pakradouni said on 4 February that he will inform Kharrazi about the diplomats' fate, IRNA reported. "We gained the sensitive information in this regard following the return of Kataeb Party's delegation from Tehran [in summer 2003]," he said. Pakradouni met with Kharrazi on 6 February, "The Daily Star" reported the next day, but he evaded reporters' questions about their discussion.

Kharrazi also met with Hizballah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah on 6 February at a Hizballah office in Beirut to discuss the missing officials, news agencies reported.

The families of the missing officials accompanied Kharrazi on his current trip to Lebanon, and the families' official spokesman expressed confidence that the truth would finally be revealed, "The Daily Star" reported on 6 February. Spokesman Raed Musavi, the son of missing Charge d'Affaires Musavi, said, "I strongly believe my father will return alive very soon." Raed Musavi said he received a piece of his father's shirt from the Lebanese Forces with his father's writing on it in 1985, and in 1992 he spoke with a Palestinian human rights activist who claimed to have spoken with Musavi several times in Israeli jails. Musavi added that in 1992 former Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea confirmed his organization kidnapped the Iranians but said that only Hobeika knows what happened to them.

Another aspect of the second part of the prisoner exchange is the fate of missing Israeli aviator Ron Arad. Iranian parliamentarian Mohtashami told "al-Safir," "We have frequently declared that we have no information about him [Arad]." (Bill Samii)

HIZBALLAH PRISONER SWAP INSPIRES HAMAS. Hamas leader Sheikh Ahmad Yassin said on 30 January that his organization would try to kidnap Israelis so it can trade them for imprisoned Palestinians, "The Jerusalem Post" reported. On 29 January, Hamas claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing in Jerusalem that killed at least 10 people, "The Toronto Star" reported on 31 January. In an unprecedented move, the Israeli government made available a graphic video of the bombing's aftermath (http://www.mfa.gov.il/mfa/home.asp).

According to the U.S. State Department, Hamas is a terrorist organization that is backed by Tehran. Yassin's suggestion that his organization will kidnap Israelis is inspired by the actions of another Iranian-backed organization, Lebanese Hizballah, which on 29 January exchanged one Israeli businessman and the remains of three Israeli soldiers for 400 Arab prisoners and the remains of others (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 2 February 2004).

One of the Israeli prisoners who were released on 29 January is Hizballah's Sheikh Abd-al-Karim Obeid. "We salute all the officials of the Islamic Republic of Iran who are a source of glory and pride for Muslims," Obeid said in a 31 January interview with Iranian state television. "Islamic Iran is the main base of opposition to the global arrogance, especially the Great Satan, America."

Obeid met with visiting Iranian Foreign Minister Kharrazi at the Iranian Embassy in Beirut on 5 February, as documented in a Reuters photograph, as did Believers Resistance leader Mustafa Dirani, who was seized in 1994 and released at the same time as Obeid. Kharrazi met with Hizballah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah on 6 February at a Hizballah office in Beirut, according to a Reuters photograph. (Bill Samii)

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