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Iran Report: February 16, 2004


16 February 2004, Volume 7, Number 7

IRANIANS TO VOTE IN SEVENTH PARLIAMENTARY ELECTIONS. Iran's seventh parliamentary elections since the 1979 Islamic revolution are scheduled to take place on 20 February. Candidates will compete for 290 seats, five of which are allocated to the country's religious minorities -- Armenians, Assyrian and Chaldean Christians, Jews, and Zoroastrians. Campaigning began on 12 February and ends on 18 February. The 19th is a day off.

The Interior Ministry announced on 4 February that 46.35 million people are eligible to vote in the election, the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) reported. The election law states that voters must be Iranian nationals, 15 years of age or older, and sane. About 38.7 million people were eligible to vote in 2000, and some 26.1 million turned out.

The Guardians Council, which has the final say in vetting prospective candidates for the election, on 10 February posted the 190-page final list of candidates on its website (http://www.irisn.com/akhbar/1382/13821120/13821120.pdf). Vahid Jalalzadeh, public relations chief for the council, said on 10 February that the council approved the qualifications of 5,625 of the 8,164 people who signed up to be candidates, IRNA reported. About 6,800 people registered as candidates for the elections in 2000.

There will not be any real competition in 202 constituencies, "Mardom Salari" reported on 24 January, because the vetting process knocked out competitive reformist candidates.

The Guardians Council, which in addition to vetting candidates for elected office also supervises elections, on 9 February announced that it would not allow computerized vote counting, Agence France Presse (AFP) reported. The council reportedly based its decision on shortcomings in the Interior Ministry's computer software. Tehran Governor-General Ali Awsat Hashemi, on the other hand, said there was nothing wrong with it. "We spent months preparing the software. Yet right from the very first day the Guardians' technical representative made clear his disapproval," Hashemi said. "We still don't know what the Guardians are making a fuss about."

The council warned in early-January that the Interior Ministry had yet to prepare adequate software and said the Central Supervisory Board has developed "reliable software" that the Interior Ministry can use instead (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 12 January 2004). (Bill Samii)

NEW PARTIES AND COALITIONS EMERGE BEFORE ELECTIONS. Article 26 of the Islamic Republic of Iran's 1979 Constitution permits the formation of parties and political associations, and the September 1981 Parties Law specifies who can issue party permits. Nevertheless, it was not until the May 1997 election of a new president, Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami, that parties flourished. Iran currently has more than 100 licensed political organizations.

This number is deceptive, however, because the Iranian party system differs from the Western one in several important ways. Many of these organizations have no real political role. In the Iranian party system individuals can be members of several organizations. In elections, furthermore, the parties do not field candidates. Rather, they back lists of candidates, and all the parties in a faction will not necessarily back the same candidates. Around election time, parties suddenly emerge and after polling day they disappear.

The Coalitions

In the run-up to the February 2004 parliamentary elections, the parties participating in the contest can be divided into two broad factions. The reformist faction, known as the 2nd of Khordad Front, is named after the date on the Iranian calendar of President Khatami's election on 23 May 1997. Reformist organizations include the Executives of Construction, Islamic Iran Participation Front, Islamic Iran Solidarity Party, Islamic Labor Party, Militant Clerics Association, Mujahedin of the Islamic Revolution Organization, and Office for Strengthening Unity.

Ali Mohammad Hazeri, secretary and spokesman of the 2nd of Khordad Front's election headquarters, said on 10 February that the coalition's coordinating council has decided not to participate in the 20 February parliamentary elections, Fars News Agency reported. Individual groups within the coalition can decide individually if they will participate, he added. "This time, the funeral lament of an exciting election has been sung," Hazeri said.

The Coalition for Iran (Etelaf Bara-yi Iran), which includes reformist groups like the Executives of Construction, the Militant Clerics Association, the Islamic Iran Solidarity Party, the Islamic Labor Party, and the Shiraz wing of the Office for Strengthening Unity student organization, announced the list of candidates it backs for Tehran's constituencies on 12 February, the Iranian Labor News Agency (ILNA) reported. The better-known names on the list include the speaker of parliament, Hojatoleslam Mehdi Karrubi, as well as other members of the legislature, such as Hojatoleslam Majid Ansari, Elias Hazrati, Mahmud Doai, Ali Hashemi-Bahramani, Jamileh Kadivar, and Soheila Jelodarzadeh. On 15 February the Coalition for Iran announced the names of 191 parliamentary candidates it supports throughout the country, ILNA reported.

A seven-member coalition of reformist groups -- including the Militant Clerics Association, the Islamic Association of Ladies, the Executives of Construction, and the Islamic Labor Party -- criticized the rejection of prospective candidates but encouraged people to vote, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 12 February. "Under the current conditions, not taking part in elections, sulking, and staying away from the ballot boxes will have no result other than voluntarily handing over all of the parliament to the minority that is against reforms," the unnamed coalition stated.

The conservative faction's main focus is to halt the political reforms promoted by the reformists while defending the objectives of the revolution and, at the same time, opposing the spread of Western influence in Iran and sociocultural liberalization. The main conservative organizations are the Ansar-i Hizbullah, the Islamic Coalition Society, and the Tehran Militant Clergy Association. "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 28 September that a new conservative faction called the Islamic Revolution Forces Coordinating Council had been established in all provinces.

The conservative Islamic Iran Developers Council (Etelaf-i Abadgaran-i Iran-i Islami; http://www.abadgaran.ir) appeared before the February 2003 municipal council elections and won control of 14 of the 15 council seats in Tehran, and it seems poised to repeat this feat in February 2004.

"The very same group which formed the [Tehran municipal] council and, praise God, has done well and has appointed a good mayor will, God willing, propose good [parliamentary candidates]," an Expediency Council member and adviser to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Hojatoleslam Ali Akbar Nateq-Nuri, told a 5 February gathering of more than 1,800 Friday prayer leaders. Nateq-Nuri asked the audience the name of this group, and when it responded with "Abadgaran," he said, "Remember the name. There are learned people among them."

Hojatoleslam Gholamreza Mesbahi and Seyyed Mehdi Tabatabai, who are members of the conservative Tehran Militant Clergy, are being listed as candidates of the Abadgaran, the Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA) reported on 6 February. Mesbahi, who serves on the clerical organization's central council, said that body will not present a separate candidate list for the 20 February parliamentary elections. Mesbahi added that Hojatoleslam Ahmad Ahmadi and Abbas Ali Akhtari are not members of his organization, but it supports them and they are on the Abadgaran list.

Another way to identify the factions has been proposed by Hussein Seifzadeh, "The Landscape of Factional Politics in Iran," "The Middle East Journal," v. 57, n. 1 (Winter 2003). He states that there are three factions -- fundamentalists, pragmatists, and reformists. The fundamentalists include the Tehran Militant Clergy Association, the Islamic Coalition Society, and some minor groups. The pragmatists -- the Executives of Construction and the Moderation and Development Party -- side with the fundamentalists or the reformists on an issue by issue basis. The reformists include the Militant Clerics Association, Islamic Iran Participation Front, Islamic Iran Solidarity Party, and the Mujahedin of the Islamic Revolution Organization.

The Parties

* Ansar-i Hizbullah. This organization serves as the conservatives' enforcer by attacking pro-reform public speakers and government officials. It also clashes with student demonstrators.

* Association of Technocrats. The organization's secretary-general, Khosrow Nassiri-Rad, said in December 2003 that his new group would secure at least 110 seats in the election.

* Executives of Construction (Kargozaran-i Sazandegi). Top officials in President Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani's administration created the Servants of Construction (Khedmatgozaran-i Sazandegi) in 1996. After cabinet ministers withdrew due to legal prohibitions on their political involvement, the party was renamed the Executives of Construction.

A communique from this organization urged the public to vote, but it also criticized events surrounding the elections. It said that many prospective candidates are not campaigning for obvious reasons, even though running for office is a right, IRNA reported on 13 February. "Unfortunately a large number of Iranian citizens have been deprived of their civil right to run for the parliament membership, which is a broad violation of the country's laws."

* Freedom Movement (Nehzat-i Azadi). One of Iran's oldest political organizations, the banned but tolerated Freedom Movement declared that it will not participate in the elections, "Yas-i No" reported on 9 February. It complained of the Guardians Council's "illegal actions" and accused that body of favoring a "rubber-stamp election." The Freedom Movement described the Guardians Council's actions as contravening law, national interests, and national security.

* Islamic Coalition Society (Jamiyat-i Motalefeh-yi Islami). This very conservative group was formed in 1963 as a coalition of local Islamic clubs, conservative bazaar merchants, and clerics. The society reduced its activities after 1979 and many members joined the Islamic Republic Party but, after the party's dissolution in the late-1980s, the society resumed its activities.

* Islamic Iran Participation Front (Jebhe-yi Mosharekat-i Islami-yi Iran). This reformist organization was created in September 1998 to back President Khatami. Mohammad Reza Khatami, the party's secretary-general, announced in early-February that it will not participate in the parliamentary polls but it would not call for a boycott (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 9 February 2004). Ali Shakuri-Rad, head of the party's election headquarters, announced on 11 February that it has stopped all its activities, ISNA reported. He explained that, at a 2 February meeting, the party decided that the elections would not be competitive, fair, or legitimate. Shakuri-Rad added that his organization "will not present candidates in any of the electoral constituencies and will not be active in the elections."

In a statement marking the occasion of the 1979 Islamic revolution, "Yas-i No" reported on 9 February, the party warned that the accomplishments of the revolution are being endangered by the actions of "deviated and reactionary people." "The destruction of the people's right to choose and fixing and arranging elections that are not free and not just (especially during this 25th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution) is a deviation from the ideals of a regime that has its roots in the bravery of thousands of proud martyrs of this homeland." The statement concluded, "the Participation Front cannot hide its concern over the deviation that is occurring today."

* Islamic Iran Solidarity Party (Hizb-i Hambastegi-yi Iran-i Islami). This reformist organization was created in 1999-2000. Urumiyeh parliamentary representative Shahrbanu Amani, who is a member of the party's political committee, said on 9 February that her party will not put forward a list of candidates for the parliamentary elections, Fars News Agency reported. She explained that the candidacies of 120 party members were rejected.

An anonymous Solidarity Party source said on 10 February, however, that the party will issue a common list with the Militant Clerics Association, Islamic Labor Party, and the Executives of Construction, Fars News Agency reported.

* Islamic Labor Party (Hizb-i Islami-yi Kar). Individuals who were part of the Workers House (Khaneh-yi Kargar) created this reformist party in February 1999.

* Militant Clerics Association (Majma-yi Ruhaniyun-i Mobarez). This pro-reform clergy association broke away from the original Tehran Militant Clergy Association in 1988. Its secretary-general is Speaker of Parliament Hojatoleslam Mehdi Mahdavi-Karrubi, and other prominent members are Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami and Hojatoleslam Ali-Akbar Mohtashami-Pur.

Party member Hojatoleslam Majid Ansari said on 7 February that his organization is considering whether it will submit a list of candidates it backs for the elections, IRNA reported. The matter depends, however, on its ultimate decision on participation in the elections, he said. Ansari said the public is watching developments closely and that there is still the possibility of competitive elections, although many well-known figures will not be running. "If we reached the point that the minimum condition for a competitive election is prepared, we would ask the people to hold a vibrant election and not to let the current restrictions turn the House of the People into a 'House of a section of the people,'" Ansari added.

In an 8 February statement addressed to the Iranian nation, the Militant Clerics Association warned of "a dangerous plan" that aims to "eliminate the people's presence and to establish a sham parliament," BBC Monitoring reported on 11 February. Yet the statement urged people to vote for reformists where they could and, if no reformist candidates were available, to vote for independents "in order to prevent the entry into the house of the nation of the candidates approved by the authoritarian group."

Association spokesman Gholamreza Mesbahi said on 14 February that it would not back a list of candidates for the elections, IRNA reported. Mesbahi said that the association only supports the four clerics on the Abadgaran list. "If we focus on the four criteria of faith, effectiveness, courage, and compassion, this will suffice for having a Majlis that is in keeping with the dignity of the system and the nation," he added. "Undoubtedly, candidates who have these attributes -- even if they are not members of the Militant Clergy Association or are not formally supported by it -- are acceptable to us and are fundamentalist [Persian: osulgara] forces."

* Moderation and Development Party (Hizb-i Ettedal va Toseh). Mohammad Baqer Nobakht is the secretary-general of this politically pragmatic party, which held its first congress in 2002. Spokesman Gholamali Dehqan announced on 11 February that the party has put together a list of candidates it backs in the parliamentary elections, ISNA reported. These candidates are drawn from the Islamic Society of University Staff, the Militant Clerics Association, and a coalition of independent groups, he said. Some of the better-known names on the list are parliamentarians Hojatoleslam Mehdi Karrubi, Gholamali Haddad-Adel, Hojatoleslam Majid Ansari, and Alireza Mahjub, as well as Hojatoleslam Taha Hashemi, who runs "Entekhab" newspaper.

Karrubi met with this party on 14 February, IRNA reported, and he criticized the absence of other parties from the elections. "Democratic elections need competition," he said.

* Mujahedin of the Islamic Revolution Organization (Sazeman-i Mujahedin-i Enqelab-e Islami). This reformist group emerged shortly after the Islamic revolution, when several underground antimonarchy organizations merged; dissolved itself in the early-1980s; and re-emerged in the late-1990s.

Tehran parliamentarian Mohsen Armin, a leading member of this organization, said on 6 February that it would not participate in the elections, ISNA reported. The organization announced on 15 February that it would not participate in the unfree and unfair elections, ISNA and IRNA reported.

The organization noted in a statement marking the occasion of the 1979 Islamic revolution that, even as the Iranian people celebrate "the most popular revolution in the world," "Yas-i No" reported on 9 February, "they are also witnessing a resurgence of dictatorship and authoritarianism in the name of religion." "This is an unwelcome movement with goals that defy republicanism and change the nature of the regime," the statement added. It went on to praise parliamentarians and warned "those that are thirsty for power and singular rule, who have dreams of presenting dictatorship covered in religious garb, that a nation that let the Islamic Revolution open the way and had Khomeini as its guide toward freedom will never bow down to dictatorship and authoritarianism."

* Office for Strengthening Unity (Daftar-i Tahkim-i Vahdat). This is a national organization of Islamist university students that supported Khatami's presidential bid in 1997 and reformist parliamentary candidates in 2000. Since then the organization has undergone splits over tactical and ideological issues, with a radicalized majority wing known as the "Neshast-i Allameh" and a more conservative minority wing known as the "Neshast-i Shiraz."

The Allameh wing called for a boycott of the elections, ISNA reported on 14 February. The student group's statement also criticized President Khatami for agreeing to hold the elections on 20 February.

* Proud Iran Party (Hizb-i Iran-i Sarfaraz). Mohammad Reza Karimi, the party's secretary-general, announced that its slogans for the elections are "loyalty and sincerity towards the people," "trust in the younger generation," "management by the elite," and "securing social tranquillity," "Resalat" reported on 14 February. Karimi denied that his party list contains members of the Islamic Iran Participation Party. Some of the better-known names on that list are parliamentarians Hojatoleslam Mehdi Karrubi, Gholamali Haddad-Adel, Hojatoleslam Majid Ansari, and Elias Hazrati, as well as Hojatoleslam Taha Hashemi.

* Tehran Militant Clergy Association (Jameh-yi Ruhaniyat-i Mobarez-i Tehran). This conservative group's creation predates the Islamic revolution and it has not deigned to obtain a party permit. (Bill Samii)

PROMINENT CANDIDATES PULL OUT OF ELECTION. The Iranian Interior Ministry announced late on 14 February that, so far, more than 600 candidates have withdrawn from the parliamentary race (http://www.moi.ir/). Reasons for the withdrawals were not provided.

Tehran parliamentary representative Hojatoleslam Ali Akbar Mohtashami-Pur told ISNA on 13 February that he has withdrawn from the parliamentary elections. In addition to being a prominent reformist, Mohtashami-Pur is a member of the Militant Clerics Association (Majma-ye Ruhaniyun-e Mubarez).

Tehran parliamentary representative Fatimeh Rakei announced on 8 February that she would not stand as a candidate in the upcoming polls because, "I personally have no motivation to participate in an undemocratic election," "Iran Daily" reported on 9 February. She ascribed this absence of motivation to President Khatami's failure to keep his word not to hold unfair elections. She described the upcoming elections as illegitimate because the new parliamentarians were chosen before the elections took place. Rakei urged all female prospective candidates who were disqualified to contact the parliamentary Women's Faction, according to "Iran Daily."

Seyyed Hadi Pazhuheshi-Jahromi, the Khorasan Province election headquarters chief, said on 12 February that 30 candidates for the parliamentary elections pulled out of the race on the first day of campaigning, ISNA reported. He did not explain the withdrawals. Before the withdrawals, the Guardians Council listed 577 candidates in Khorasan Province. (Bill Samii)

LEGISLATORS NOT ALLOWED TO QUIT. Behyar Suleimani, the parliamentary representative from Fasa in Fars Province, said on 14 February that he intends to attend just one more legislative session, Fars News Agency reported. Suleimani is one the 125 legislators who tendered their resignations in protest against the Guardians Council's disqualification of incumbents. Suleimani told Fars, "As far as the Guardian Council is concerned, I am not qualified to be a deputy and, in their opinion, I cannot, in accordance with religious law, be involved in lawmaking; hence, I am determined to stand by my resignation as a deputy." He said he would only attend the session at which his resignation is discussed.

Suleimani should hold off on looking for a new job, because Speaker of Parliament Hojatoleslam Mehdi Karrubi said that the resignations will not be accepted. According to Karrubi on 14 February, "According to Article 95 of the Majlis by-law, massive resignation cannot be accepted, because it deprives the parliament of the quorum necessary to go ahead with formal debate," IRNA reported. "The parliament should work until May 26 and the resignations will not be accepted," Karrubi said. (Bill Samii)

MEDIA COVERAGE BEFORE THE ELECTION. The press build-up in the weeks before the parliamentary elections fulfilled expectations, particularly after the 11 January disqualification of thousands of candidates and the subsequent sit-in by legislators. The hard-line "Kayhan," for example, on 14 January referred to "parasites" and on 12 January it accused disqualified parliamentarians of "economic corruption, slander, fraud, drug addiction, and affiliation to counterrevolutionary groups." "Jomhuri-yi Islami" on 14 January claimed the political conflict was adversely affecting relief activities in Bam, site of the 26 December earthquake. Pro-reform newspapers, such as "Etemad" and "Sharq," carried quotes from protesting parliamentarians and criticized what they saw as the hard-line pursuit of total power.

The focus of the real conflict was state broadcast media, which is known as the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) and also as the Voice and Vision of the Islamic Republic. The public relations department of the Interior Ministry-run, and therefore pro-reform, Election Headquarters complained in a 15 January letter that IRIB was being uncooperative and biased, ISNA reported. Deputy Interior Minister Mahmud Mirlohi said in another letter to IRIB that it is obliged to keep the public thoroughly informed, "Etemad" reported on 24 January. Instead, he wrote, the broadcasting organization is promoting a "specific interpretation of the electoral mechanism" and selectively using laws and regulations that agree with its factional outlook and oppose the government and Interior Ministry.

IRIB told Mirlohi, "Basically, in view of your position, you should not get involved in controversial issues," Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 28 January.

IRIB, furthermore, imposed a relative blackout on news about the parliamentarians' sit-in. The only initial attention it paid to this event was the mandatory live broadcast of parliamentary proceedings on Radio Farhang. Reformist legislators took advantage of this situation to read out statements from the sit-in participants during their pre-agenda speeches.

IRIB gave the sit-in some unwanted attention on 23 January during the "Noqteh-Chin" comedy show on Channel 3. That show was about a dishonest character's campaign for a trade-union post. The protagonist and his friends stage a sit-in and hunger strike after his candidacy for the post is disallowed. Once they get hungry the protestors take out some sandwiches to eat, but then they hide the sandwiches because they hear that journalists are coming.

"The protesting MPs were not amused," BBC Monitoring noted. Their statement, read out during the 25 January legislative session, referred to IRIB's "partisan programs and biased and satirical broadcasts directed against the parliamentary deputies." Deputy Speaker of Parliament Mohammad Reza Khatami, the sit-in's spokesman, said in the 25 January "Sharq," "Our national media has unfortunately fallen into a state that it mocks the most important issue of the country, namely the elections that have become of global concern." Isfahan representative Rajabali Mazrui said on 26 January, "The IRIB, which is publicly funded, should respect impartiality, the regulation that the IRIB is relentlessly ignoring," IRNA reported.

IRIB, for all intents and purposes, told the parliamentarians to lighten up. Its public relations department said on 26 January, "The language of artistic satire is not factual and its main aim is to produce mirth in the audience, although it may be somewhat cutting because of the overstatement of a point," ISNA reported. Turning to Mohammad Reza Khatami's complaint, the IRIB statement said that his remarks demonstrate that "an educated person does not correctly understand the structure of artistic satire." Finally, IRIB found it odd that the same people who advocate freedom of opinion are so close-minded about a satire.

The Presidential Office also became upset with IRIB. Ali Khatami, the head of the office, complained to state broadcasting chief Ali Larijani on 26 January that IRIB is "censoring and curtailing" the president's statements and speeches, IRNA reported.

The council tasked with supervising IRIB noted the organization's biases, "Yas-i No" reported on 27 January. The supervisory council noted that a speech by Guardians Council Secretary Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati was selectively and partially edited to his advantage. The council added that state broadcasting ignored the parliamentary sit-in. It concluded that broadcasting comedies that insult and lie about the disqualified legislators and the ones at the sit-in is meant to discourage public participation in the elections.

IRIB's response to these complaints was dismissive. "In deciding on the news, the importance of the news is considered, not the wish of some individuals who are protesting their disqualification," "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 28 January. IRIB went on to say that the very fact that foreign media is focusing on the sit-in should make the protestors aware of the adverse effect of their actions.

Tehran seems to feel threatened by an open media that might relay factual information about the election, so not only are its own broadcasts biased but it also tries to keep out the Persian-language programs of surrogate broadcasters. Before the last parliamentary and presidential elections -- in 2000 and 2001 respectively -- Tehran targeted Persian broadcasts of RFE/RL, VOA, and BBC. These transmissions were jammed with high-power bubble jammers, a low-power "whiner" jammer, and by overriding them with the Arabic Service of the Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran in the west and the Turkmen Service in the east.

Radio Farda, the U.S. Broadcasting Board of Governor's (BBG) Persian-language service, has also been the target of "intense jamming," BBG chairman Kenneth Y. Tomlinson said in November 2003 (http://www.bbg.gov/_bbg_news.cfm?articleID=97&mode=general). Tehran made technological advances by 2003, and with Cuban assistance it began jamming a number of U.S.-based Persian-language satellite television transmissions.

These jamming activities are likely to be intensified during the days surrounding the elections. (Bill Samii)

IRAN AT A CROSSROADS AS IT COMMEMORATES REVOLUTION'S 25TH ANNIVERSARY. The Iranian government marked the 25th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution with nationwide rallies on 11 February (22 Bahman) and a speech by President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami at Tehran's Azadi Square, according to state television. Expediency Council Chairman Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani and Speaker of Parliament Hojatoleslam Mehdi Karrubi attended the event in Tehran, IRNA reported, at which some people burned an effigy of Uncle Sam.

Khatami said the country is at a crossroads. The adherents of one path wants to ignore Iran's religious and cultural identity and copy the West, Khatami said, while those of a second, extremist, path ignore people's needs, views, and votes and "under the flag of the religion and values is overtly or covertly struggling with freedom and democracy and considers itself [to have the] right to decide on behalf of the people." Khatami compared this road to the Taliban regime of Afghanistan. "The third way," Khatami was quoted by state television as saying, "is the way of the Islamic Republic of Iran in [the] true meaning of the word. The result of our revolution was the Islamic Republic of Iran." (Bill Samii)

MARTYRS FOUNDATION BACKS FATWA AGAINST RUSHDIE. Iran's Martyrs Foundation (Bonyad-i Shahid) -- which assists with education, employment, and housing for victims of the Iran-Iraq War and the revolution, as well as their families -- issued a statement on 10 February reiterating its support for Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's 14 February 1989 religious decree (fatwa) against British author Salman Rushdie, ILNA reported.

Rushdie had authored the book "The Satanic Verses" which, according to Khomeini, "was a manifestation of the satanic conspiracies of global arrogance and usurping Zionism that came out of this apostate devil's sleeve." The fatwa sentenced Rushdie to death, and the 15th of Khordad Foundation -- which purportedly helps the oppressed and deprived -- put a $2.5 million bounty on his head. The bounty was later increased to $2.8 million. The current supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, subsequently said of the fatwa, "The Imam's sentence regarding the apostate Salman Rushdie is based on the divine verses [of the Koran] and is as solid and inviolable as the divine verses," ILNA reported.

The Rushdie issue bedeviled Tehran's relations with the West until September 1998, when President Mohammad Khatami visited New York to address the UN General Assembly and told Western reporters, "We should consider the Salman Rushdie issue as completely finished." Khatami later backed away from this stance, declaring in March 1999 that Rushdie is "a person who has desecrated...the feelings of more than 1 billion Muslims" and going on to "confirm" the sentence against the author (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 19 February 2001). (Bill Samii)

BRITISH ROYAL VISITS IRAN. Prince Charles, the heir to the British throne, met with President Khatami in Tehran on 9 February in the first open meeting between a member of the British royal family and an Islamic Republic official. Khatami discussed the spread of aggression, injustice, poverty, terrorism, violence, and war in the 20th century and hailed the impact of philosopher John Locke on British democracy, state television and IRNA reported. Khatami criticized the course of events in Iraq, called for UN-supervised elections there, and encouraged support for the country's reconstruction. He also thanked Great Britain for the sympathy it expressed towards the victims of the 26 December earthquake that devastated the Kerman Province city of Bam.

Prince Charles arrived in Bam later in the day and was greeted at the airport by Kerman Governor-General Mohammad Ali Karimi, IRNA reported. The crown prince toured the ruins of the centuries-old Bam citadel and he also inspected the reconstruction of wells and palm groves in the nearby city of Baravat, according to IRNA. Ardavan Nosudi, the director-general in charge of regional palm groves, said that the 19,200 hectares of palm groves in Bam yield 120,000 tons of dates annually.

Prince Charles's 8 February arrival in Tehran was a low-key event, with London's "The Times" of 9 February describing a deserted airport with "unimpressed" cleaning crews and "only a gaggle of foreign press huddled around the arrivals gate." A "disappointed onlooker" said he was expecting British Prime Minister Tony Blair, and a shopkeeper questioned the timing of the visit: "Why has he come to Iran now, just as our democracy has come under attack? He should have stayed away to show his support."

"The Financial Times" on 10 February said the visit "sent a strong signal to Tehran of the importance the UK attaches to its improving ties with the Islamic republic."

Michael Gove wrote in London's "The Times" of 10 February, "If the Prince really wanted to do more to help Muslims then he could have used his trip to Iran to ask some pertinent questions." "He could have drawn attention to the absence of a free press, free elections and free speech," Gove wrote. "He could have asked why the tragic people of Bam were condemned to live in jerry-built housing in an oil-rich country that uses its resources to fund terror abroad and build nuclear weapons." Gove observed, "The Prince should have known, before he made his trip to Iran, that his visit would be seen as a blessed conferral of legitimacy on a tightly controlled religious tyranny." (Bill Samii)

IRAN DENIES LINK WITH TOP PAKISTANI NUCLEAR SCIENTIST. Iran is rejecting a confession by top Pakistani scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan that he passed nuclear secrets to Tehran for personal profit. Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi said on 8 February, "Pakistan's worries are Iran's worries, but what is being raised in the media is not true," IRNA reported.

Assefi acknowledged that Tehran obtained some foreign nuclear know-how from middlemen but made no mention of having received technology made available by Khan on the black market. He said the Iranian government recently provided the UN's nuclear watchdog -- the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) -- with the names of some of the illicit brokers at the agency's request.

The Iranian denial of any direct connection with Khan is the latest twist in a complex story of nuclear proliferation that centers on the top Pakistani scientist. It comes after Khan on 4 February publicly confessed on Pakistani national television to transferring nuclear technology to Iran, Libya, and North Korea during the 1980s and 1990s.

Khan, who last week received a full pardon from Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, said his activities were not authorized by Islamabad: "I also wish to clarify that there was never, ever, any kind of authorization for these activities by the government. I take full responsibility for my actions and seek [the Pakistani people's] pardon."

Pakistan is widely believed to be the technology source for Iran's efforts to enrich uranium beyond levels needed for peaceful energy purposes. Gary Samore, a weapons proliferation expert at the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies, describes the suspected Pakistan-Iran nuclear link this way: "I think it is generally accepted that Pakistan provided centrifuge technology -- which is a technique for producing weapons-grade uranium -- to Iran back in the late 1980s, and that, on that basis, Iran has subsequently pursued its own centrifuge program. The unknown question is whether or not Pakistan also provided nuclear weapons design information to Iran."

Samore says the question of whether Iran acquired additional nuclear secrets from Pakistan arises because it is known that Khan sold such information to Libya: "Now we know, in the case of Libya, because the Libyans have acknowledged [that] they paid $50 million to A.Q. Khan and company for a nuclear weapons design. Whether Iran received a similar design is something that is not publicly known and, hopefully, the Pakistani government -- having investigated A.Q. Khan's activities -- will be in a position to share that kind of information with relevant governments, including the United States, as well as international agencies, like the IAEA."

Learning the truth about how much nuclear information Tehran received from Pakistan is essential to learning just what weapons-making capabilities Iran may still be concealing from investigators. But Samore says that despite Khan's confessions investigating the technology transfers is exceedingly difficult.

The nuclear expert notes that it remains far from certain whether Khan operated independently. Khan -- who is highly regarded at home as the "father" of Pakistan's nuclear bomb -- headed a key government nuclear laboratory until he was forced to retire by Musharraf in early 2001 under intense U.S. pressure.

Samore notes that because Pakistan is not a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, Islamabad -- unlike Tehran -- is under no international obligation to cooperate with IAEA efforts to investigate sales of nuclear secrets. He also says that Musharraf may have little reason to back any wide-ranging IAEA or other public investigation into how Khan sold Pakistani nuclear secrets because the results could be politically explosive: "Musharraf is in a bind. On one hand, it is very unlikely that A.Q. Khan carried out these activities over the last 15 years without senior members of the Pakistani military and the intelligence service being aware of it, although they might not have known about every detail."

Samore adds: "But, on the other hand, if Musharraf conducts a full investigation, he is very likely to create domestic political problems for himself -- not only because of A.Q. Khan's popularity but also because Musharraf would be forced to investigate all of his predecessors as army chief of staff, which is likely to cause trouble in the Pakistani army, and that is Musharraf's principle power base."

That means much about how Iran and other states acquired nuclear secrets from Pakistan may never become fully clear.

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell is due to travel to Islamabad soon to meet with Musharraf in an apparent effort to maintain pressure on Islamabad to make sure it curbs the activities of Khan and his associates in the future. No firm date for the trip has yet been announced.

Washington welcomed the Pakistani government's probe earlier this year into Khan's activities and has called Musharraf's decision to pardon the nuclear scientist "an internal matter." (Charles Recknagel)

NUCLEAR PROLIFERATION AS A MARKETING OPPORTUNITY. The international community is watching with concern as Iran continues to violate its nuclear obligations. Now, Tehran has offered to sell nuclear fuel. It is unlikely that Tehran already has the capability of producing the fuel, so this seems almost undoubtedly to be another tactic designed to convince the Europeans to make more concessions to Iran. And once they make more concessions, the Europeans -- led by France, Germany, and the United Kingdom -- will surely proclaim their actions to be the outcome of dialogue with Tehran.

U.S. President George W. Bush said during an 11 February speech at the National Defense University in Washington, D.C. that Pakistani nuclear scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan (see above) provided Iran with uranium centrifuge designs and Iran is "unwilling to abandon" its uranium enrichment program, according to the White House website (http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2004/02/20040211-4.html). He said Iran is taking advantage of a loophole in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty to "produce nuclear material that can be used to build bombs under the cover of civilian nuclear programs."

Bush said that permitting countries such as Iran, which are being investigated for violating their nonproliferation obligations, to serve on the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Board of Governors is "an unacceptable barrier to effective action." Any state under investigation should not be on the board, Bush said, and it should be suspended if it is on the board already. "Those actively breaking the rules should not be entrusted with enforcing the rules."

Iranian state radio on 12 February accused Bush of repeating "baseless allegations" against Iran.

But then the "Financial Times" reported on 12 February that IAEA inspectors found undeclared experiments including a new type of uranium-enrichment centrifuge design in Iran. Reports in the 13 February editions of "The Washington Post," the "Los Angeles Times," and "The New York Times" added details to this story. They reported that UN inspectors had discovered documents for a sophisticated uranium enrichment machine referred to as P2 or G2, depending on the source. This discovery resulted from the investigation into the activities of Pakistani nuclear scientist A.Q. Khan.

Tehran had not previously declared this centrifuge project although it claimed to have been completely forthcoming in an October report to the IAEA (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 27 October 2003). Iran's IAEA representative at the time, Ali Akbar Salehi, said, "We have submitted a report that fully discloses all our past activities, peaceful activities, in the nuclear field."

Henry Sokolski of the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center described the importance of this discovery in a comparison: "This is like saying I prohibited you from having any motorized vehicles, and you declared your motor scooter, and I discovered you had a Ferrari," the "Los Angeles Times" reported.

Referring to the initial reports about the discovery of undeclared Iranian nuclear activities, U.S. Undersecretary of State John Bolton said, "The information that the IAEA has learned is certainly consistent with the information that we had, and it's not surprising. It's another act of Iranian deception and not something that leads to any feeling of security that they are carrying through on their commitment to suspend enrichment activity."

Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi, during a 12 January visit to Rome, rejected Bolton's comments, RFE/RL reported. Kharrazi responded, "We have decided to develop nuclear technologies for peaceful purposes and we insist on that. This is our right, this is our legitimate right to have access to nuclear technology for peaceful purposes." Kharrazi claimed that Iran does not believe nuclear weapons will contribute to its security, and he said that Iran is ready to respond to IAEA inspectors' questions.

In the wake of Kharrazi's statement, Tehran decided to exploit the opportunity to market its new product. Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi said on 13 February, "The Islamic Republic of Iran has achieved major success in the technology of nuclear fuel centrifuge and...is ready to play its role within the context of an international cooperation in the market that supplies fuel for nuclear reactors," ISNA reported.

In case that statement was insufficiently clear, Kharrazi said, according to a 14 February IRNA report, "The Islamic Republic of Iran, as a country which has potentials on producing nuclear fuel, is ready to offer its produced fuel to international markets." (Bill Samii)

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