Accessibility links

Iran Report: March 1, 2004


1 March 2004, Volume 7, Number 9

NOTE TO READERS:
The next issue of the "RFE/RL Iran Report" will be published on 15 March 2004.

TEHRAN ANNOUNCES FINAL ELECTION RESULTS. The State Election Headquarters announced on 28 February that counting of votes for the 20 February parliamentary elections has concluded, state radio reported. Out of a total of 46,351,032 eligible voters, 23,725,724 voters cast their ballots. This puts overall voter turnout at 51 percent.

According to the State Election Headquarters, 225 candidates received enough votes to win outright in the first round, and 128 candidates will run in the second round to decide the winners of 64 seats. A date for the second round has not been announced yet.

Overall, 156 conservative candidates were elected in the first round of the parliamentary elections, the legislature's website (http://mellat.majlis.ir) reported on 25 February. Reformists hold 39 seats, independents hold 31 seats, and five went to the religious minorities. Voting did not take place in the Bam constituency, which was badly damaged by an earthquake in December. (These results do not agree with the ones provided later by the State Election Headquarters.)

Iranians who are compelled to vote sometimes register their disapproval of the electoral system and candidates by casting blank or voided ballots. The 28 February report from the State Election Headquarters did not provide any information on the number of such ballots. Gholamreza Gudini, the head of the Tehran, Shemiranat, Islamshahr, and Rey election headquarters, said on 27 February that in his constituencies 188,468 ballots out of 1,971,748 were voided or blank, IRNA reported. Gudini said turnout in the capital was about 30 percent.

The Interior Ministry announced on 25 February that the counting of votes in the capital had been completed, according to the ministry's website (http://moi.ir/). In the Tehran, Rey, Shemiranat, and Islamshahr constituency 1,965,666 votes were cast and 27 candidates received a sufficient number of votes to take their seats in the 290-member legislature. The remaining three seats will be determined in by-elections for which the date has not been set yet. A slightly earlier report from ILNA cited the Guardians Council as saying that 29 of the Tehran seats were decided in the first round.

The Interior Ministry announced on 26 February that 25 of Tehran's 30 seats have been decided, IRNA reported. Ten candidates will vie for the remaining five seats. The ministry said that the votes in 3,452 ballot boxes had been counted.

Hojatoleslam Hashem Hashemzadeh-Harisi, who serves on the presidentially appointed Committee for the Implementation and Supervision of the Constitution, said on 28 February that its report on the elections would not be released, ISNA reported. He explained, "The required specialist investigations were undertaken in this respect, but in order to prevent tension and to safeguard society's atmosphere, it was decided not to present a report." (Bill Samii)

SPEAKER OF PARLIAMENT PULLS OUT OF BY-ELECTION. One of the Tehran candidates who did not receive enough votes in the first round of voting is Speaker of Parliament Hojatoleslam Mehdi Karrubi. He announced on 25 February that he would not run in the by-election, IRNA and ISNA reported. Hojatoleslam Mohammad Baqer Zakeri, the Quchan representative, said that Karrubi did not want to be a candidate in the first place and only registered because he was pressured to do so, ISNA reported on 27 February. Shiraz representative Jalil Sazgarnezhad said that Karrubi wanted to withdraw his candidacy before the first round of the election but he gave in to calls to support the revolution, "Mardom Salari" reported on 26 February.

The front-runner in Tehran, Gholamali Haddad-Adel of the Abadgaran coalition, said vaguely that "We all respect Mr. Karrubi" when he was asked on 22 February who the next speaker would be, ISNA reported. Asked if a non-cleric could be the next speaker, Haddad-Adel responded that this would be permissible legally.

Haddad-Adel is not the only possible successor to Karrubi. Former Labor Minister Ahmad Tavakoli, who received the second highest number of votes in Tehran and is an Abadgaran backer, is a possible successor. Mohammad Reza Bahonar, who is the secretary-general of the Islamic Association of Engineers and who served in the fifth parliament, is a viable possibility for the speakership as well. (Bill Samii)

EXPECTATIONS FROM A CONSERVATIVE PARLIAMENT... "The next parliament is going to be moderate, without paying any attention to right-wing or left-wing slogans," Expediency Council Chairman Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani said after casting his vote, "Farhang-i Ashti" reported on 22 February. A specific date for the inauguration of the new legislature has not been set yet, but in 2000 the legislature was sworn-in in late May.

So far this message of moderation has been championed by what is normally one of the country's most conservative newspapers, "Resalat." Amir Mohebian wrote in a 21 February editorial that "reform" is important to all of Iranian society, and he added that "religious democracy" does not have a "specific backer." Mohebian said the new legislature would cooperate with President Mohammad Khatami's administration, and he also criticized the judiciary's press closures. "We prefer the overall intelligent management of the media," Mohebian wrote.

Mohammad Kazem Anbarlui, a "Resalat" editorial-board member, predicted in a 21 February interview with ISNA that there would be "less political commotion and sensationalism." He also predicted greater cooperation between the legislative and executive branches.

These predictions of calm on the political front may very well come true. The most likely reason for this is that disputes between the legislature and the Guardians Council, which must approve all legislation on Islamic and constitutional grounds, are unlikely to occur. And if the president who wins in Iran's 2005 presidential election is of a like mind, there will be almost no need for public disagreements.

...ON THE DOMESTIC FRONT... The new political setting will affect policymaking in different ways in the domestic and international arenas. It can be argued reasonably that legislators in the last parliament had limited power, contending as they did with a Guardians Council that blocked their efforts, but they did have the ability to voice concern about important issues and bring them to public attention.

It was the outspoken outrage of parliamentarians over the beating death of Canadian photojournalist Zahra Kazemi that forced the government to investigate the case, and similar outrage resulted in the trial of security officials after the July 1999 attack on a Tehran University dormitory. Admittedly, nothing really came of these protests, but at least the legislators exercised their responsibilities as the electorate's representatives by voicing concern over these issues.

The reformist parliamentarians also spoke out against the harsh press law and accompanying numerous press closures. It is unlikely that the new parliamentarians will defend the media with the same vigor.

Turning to other domestic issues, the parliamentarians-elect have not been very forthcoming with policy statements. When asked about a range of subjects on 22 February, Haddad-Adel responded, "Let the seventh parliament convene, we will speak about issues together," IRNA reported.

Yet it seems that they agree on the importance of economic issues. Ahmad Tavakoli told a questioner before the election that Abadgaran's focus on entering the parliament would be "jobs, jobs, jobs," "Resalat" reported on 9 February. Tavakoli said at a subsequent press conference "we will pay serious attention to investment" in order to resolve the unemployment problem, "Nasim-i Saba" reported on 15 February. Another Abadgaran leader, Hussein Fadai, said that the coalition had studied people's demands over the last two years and found that resolution of "economic and political problems" tops the list, "Nasim-i Saba" reported. Tehran parliamentarian-elect Elham Aminzadeh described economic issues as the main priority, Mehr News Agency reported on 28 February.

Their economic plans could be tested soon. The parliament approved the outlines of the Khatami administration's 1.07 trillion rials ($129 million) budget for the coming year on 24 February, IRNA reported, and on 29 February approved a 1.15 trillion rials budget. If the Guardians Council does not approve the budget before the end of May, the new parliament will have to complete work on it. On a related issue, the new parliament is less likely to insist on its oversight authority over controversial state agencies like Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting and the foundations (bonyads), that tend to be either controlled by or supportive of hard-line interests.

The current parliament has blocked the accession to the Guardians Council of a new jurist member several times. While it is possible that the head of the judiciary will persist in his efforts to get the new member approved by the incumbent legislators, he is more likely to wait for the new -- and presumably more amenable -- parliamentarians to be sworn in.

...AND IN FOREIGN AFFAIRS. The predominant Iranian foreign policy issues will continue to be relations with the United States, nuclear developments, and interference in other countries' affairs. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei set the tone for relations with the United States in a 21 February speech about the elections that was broadcast by state radio and television. "The nation is the winner of these elections.... Those who lost the elections were America, Zionism, and the enemies of the Iranian nation," he said.

And in the first Friday Prayers sermon after the elections, Expediency Council Chairman Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani described the turnout as a major defeat for the United States, IRNA reported on 27 February, and he went on to claim that the U.S. is now backing the opposition in Iran. He said Iran is open to cooperation with all countries except the U.S. Rafsanjani claimed that Europe and the U.S. are seeking pretexts for interfering with Iranian affairs.

Under these circumstances, it seems unrealistic to expect a repeat of the August 2000 meeting in New York City between Speaker of Parliament Karrubi and Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA), and Congressmen Robert Ney (R-OH), Gary Ackerman (D-NY), and Eliot Engle (D-NY); the January 2004 meeting in Geneva between Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi and Senator Joseph Biden (D-DE); or the January 2004 meeting in Washington between Ambassador to the United Nations Mohammad Javad Zarif and Senator Specter, Congressman Ney and Ney's colleagues Dennis Hastert (R-IL), John Larson (D-CT), Doug Bereuter (R-NE), and Vic Snyder (D-AR).

Nor should one expect members of parliament to openly advocate an opening with the United States, as was the case in April 2002. At that time parliamentarian Mohsen Mirdamadi organized several sessions to discuss ways to deal with the U.S. and said that there is nothing preventing discussions between Iranian MPs and America. Tehran's Mohammad Naimipur said the taboo against relations with the United States must be broken.

This is not to say that officials from Tehran will be banned from meeting with their counterparts from Washington. Rather, they will just do so in secret, or else these contacts will take place in the context of "track-two diplomacy," in which unofficial actors convey governmental messages. It is less likely, furthermore, that legislators will conduct their own foreign policy initiatives.

Some of the newly elected parliamentarians, on the other hand, are giving mixed signals on the possibility of relations with the United States. Ahmad Tavakoli, recipient of the second-highest number of votes in Tehran, said, "We do not regard relations with America ideologically as being absolutely necessary, like daily prayer and fasting, or absolutely forbidden like wine," "Etemad" reported on 22 February.

Tavakoli then launched into a familiar litany of alleged U.S. misdeeds: "America's approach to the Iranian nation is one of superiority and arrogance, and for years, it has been trampling on the rights of the Iranian nation. Therefore, it is not at all in our benefit to speak about relations vis-a-vis this hegemonic attitude. It should amend its behavior so that the system can respond accordingly to this change." He added that there is no need to make "specific changes" to the country's foreign policy.

Reformists, on the other hand, predicted before the election that the conservatives would begin discussions with the United States, because they want to claim for themselves the credit for doing so. A 5 February commentary in the reformist "Yas-i No" daily asserted that the conservatives requested that "foreign parties" stay quiet on the rejection of candidates before the election, and that afterwards, "the outlook for the development of relations will be good." Mujahedin of the Islamic Revolution Organization and Islamic Iran Participation Front official Mustafa Tajzadeh told ILNA on 16 February that the conservatives are promising the United States that, in exchange for its support, they would help solve the problems in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The new legislature is likely to be very supportive of the government's nuclear activities. In November 2003, Isfahan parliamentarian Ahmad Shirzad spoke openly and critically about an Iranian nuclear weapons program (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 8 December 2003). It seems certain there will be no repetitions of this incident.

Members of parliament also voiced concern about the Israeli discovery on the Karine-A (a ship carrying a cargo of Iranian supplied weapons), about the presence in their country of Al-Qaeda and Taliban personnel, and about the Iraqi foreign minister's visit to Tehran shortly before Operation Iraqi Freedom. A conservative-dominated legislature is unlikely to speak critically about these issues. (Bill Samii)

WHAT ABOUT THE REFORMISTS AND THE REFORM MOVEMENT? "During the next few days, the arrogant and ossified media, affiliated to the axis of America, Europe, and the Zionist regime, will hold media funeral processions, shed crocodile tears, and mourn the death of what they have described as the reformist movement," Shemiranat Friday Prayer leader Hojatoleslam Mohsen Doagu predicted on 20 February, IRNA reported.

Does the conservative victory in the 20 February parliamentary election mark the end of "the reform movement" as a political entity and as a political sentiment? The answer to the first question is "maybe not," and the answer to the second question is "certainly not."

As an organized entity, the reformist 2nd of Khordad movement does appear, however, to have ground to a halt. Members who were in the parliament were not allowed to stand as candidates, and two of its key members boycotted the elections. The parties that make up the reformist movement -- 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 -- are likely to remain active individually.

A pre-election editorial in a reformist daily asserted that if the reformers present a united front and if they do not make false promises to the voters, they will have public support, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 17 February. They will therefore create a strong minority in the parliament and be able to block some conservative legislation.

Parliamentarian Ali Taqizadeh predicted that although the reformist organizations in the 2nd of Khordad Front would no longer be in power, they could take advantage of this period, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 8 February. Taqizadeh said they could identify their weaknesses and then create a program that would minimize these weaknesses. Looking back, he said, "The only lesson that we can learn from this issue is the analysis that the weaknesses that we had in this period made our rivals more audacious in their efforts to make us fail."

Hojatoleslam Majid Ansari also decided to look to the future as a rebuilding period. "We should strive toward the reorganization of 2nd of Khordad groups and the creation of centralized leadership in the reformist front," he said according to the 16 February "Aftab-i Yazd." Ansari said that to do otherwise would be to surrender to a process that "regards its victory to lie in the political assassination of its rival."

For his part, Mohammad Reza Khatami of the Islamic Iran Participation Front said that he expected his party to be banned, "Sharq" reported on 17 February.

On the other hand, Islamic Iran Participation Front official Mustafa Tajzadeh said in the 19 February "Mardom Salari" that "Today, reforms are more alive than ever, because democracy has never been so invaluable and reactionary forces have never been hated to this degree."

There has been speculation that the new conservative parliament would not endorse members of President Khatami's cabinet. Abadgaran's Ahmad Tavakoli discounted the possibility of replacing cabinet members on the grounds that it has only months before it ends and it is not enough time to change managers, "Nasim-i Saba" reported on 15 February. He said it would be better to work with the current government, "but we cannot be 100 percent sure about the performance of a minister."

An editorial in the hard-line "Kayhan" on 21 February said that "extremism" has come to a stop. The 2nd of Khordad Front has been succeeded by the 1st of Esfand (20 February) Front, it said. "This front sees itself above and beyond factions and groupings, loyal to the constitution and national interests, and in a fight with the camp of foreign powers and their worshippers." (Bill Samii)

REVOLUTIONARY GUARDS ACCUSED OF POLITICAL INTERFERENCE. The Interior Ministry's website reported that on 17 February Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) commanders met at the base on Tehran's Azadi Avenue and were informed that the country's senior leadership backs the Abadgaran list of parliamentary candidates, ISNA reported on 18 February. The Abadgaran list of mostly conservative candidates was then allegedly distributed among the military commanders. IRGC spokesman Masud Jazayeri rejected the Interior Ministry account, ISNA reported.

Last year, furthermore, there were press reports that IRGC personnel were being encouraged to run for parliament (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 20 October 2003).

A report in the 23 February "Washington Post" appeared to corroborate such accounts, when it asserted that the Abadgaran "slate" included "several former commanders of the Islamic Revolution Guard Corps, as well as founders of the Basiji militias." The peiknet.com website made similar charges. One example cited by peiknet.com is Farhad Nazari, who was elected in Luristan Province. Nazari is the former Tehran police chief who was tried in spring 2000 in connection with the July 1999 assault on Tehran university students; he was acquitted in July 2000. Another noted by peiknet.com is Seyyed Jamaledin Arjomand from Jahrom, who allegedly was involved with a death squad in the early days of the revolution as well as with the 1992 murder of dissidents at the Mykonos restaurant in Berlin.

An earlier press report also alleged that the IRGC would play a part in the elections, albeit a security-oriented one. "Thousands" of IRGC and Basij personnel reportedly were deployed in major cities before the election, London's "Al-Sharq al-Awsat" reported on 5 February, citing an anonymous "reformist lawyer."

Regardless of such reports, the IRGC leadership seems pleased with the outcome of the election. IRGC commander Major-General Yahya Rahim-Safavi told a 23 February meeting of IRGC welfare department employees that the extent of public participation in the previous week's parliamentary elections was an event of epic proportions, IRNA reported. He added, "The well-informed Iranian people realized the importance of the occasion, and with their wise and alert participation in the election, they demonstrated their political maturity and awareness to the world." This participation, he said, neutralized America's effort to "prevent Islam from becoming a global power."

"All sorts of sabotage was conducted in this city and other cities so that the people do not turn out at the ballot boxes," Safavi said during a 28 February speech in Qom, according to IRNA. He repeated his claim that the United States fears Islam's global potential and added, "the heart of the Islamic world has been targeted in order to confront the uprising of Hazrat Mahdi" (the vanished Imam, who will return to earth to restore justice). (Bill Samii)

IRANIANS DIE IN PROVINCIAL UNREST. Seven people were killed and 38 others were injured in post-election violence on 21 February in the towns of Andimeshk and Izeh in Khuzestan Province and the town of Firuzabad in the Fars Province, IRNA reported on 22 February. There was more unrest in Boirahmad va Kuhkiluyeh Province on 21 February, according to IRNA. Additional protests took place on 24 February in Ardal, Chaharmahal va Bakhtiari Province, "Jomhuri-yi Islami" reported on 25 February.

A Khuzestan Province official identified only as the deputy governor-general for political and security affairs said that four people were killed on 21 February when a mob tried to attack the governor's office in Izeh but was beaten back by police, ISNA reported. The mob then attacked the municipality, the Justice Department, and banks. The official said the police arrested 30 people and dispersed the rest of the attackers "by firing at them and throwing tear-gas canisters."

Abadan parliamentary representative Ahmad Meidari said on 21 February that, although there was some violence in Izeh, nobody was killed, ISNA reported. Dezful representative Ali Seyyed-Aghamiri confirmed that violence occurred in Izeh and added that government property was destroyed, ISNA reported.

Deputy-Interior Minister for Law-Enforcement Affairs Asqar Ahmadi said on 22 February that there are no security problems in Izeh, Dashti, or Firuzabad, ISNA reported, and any violence was connected with the election. "A number of people were injured during the protests and a number of government buildings were destroyed," he said. "However, no one was killed."

A crowd of some 1,700 people gathered outside the governorate building in Ardal on 24 February, in response to rumors of forged ballots in favor of the winning candidate, Seyyed Qobad Mortazavi-Farsani, and the distribution of counterfeit money by his associates. Police confronted the protestors and used tear gas against them, and in the ensuing tumult some protestors were injured. (Bill Samii)

LEGISLATOR'S DEATH GREATLY EXAGGERATED. According to a report that appeared on the peykeiran.com website and elsewhere, Seyyed Abbas Musavi, who represented Izeh and Baghmalek in the fifth parliament (1996-2000), died after being beaten up by security forces who were dealing with unrest in the city.

Parliamentarians Ahmad Meidari and Ali Seyyed-Aghamiri told ISNA on 21 February that Musavi's death had nothing to do with the unrest in the town, ISNA reported. They said he died from a heart attack.

Musavi told ISNA on 22 February he is in good health. Aghamiri, whose reliability some may now reasonably question, confirmed this and noted his colleague's rapid recovery. "Musavi is in good health now," he said. (Bill Samii)

STATE AGENCIES TRADE ACCUSATIONS OVER ELECTION REPORTING. An anonymous official from the state radio and television broadcaster, the Voice and Vision of Iran, on 24 February protested against the Interior Ministry's treatment of its correspondents, Fars News Agency reported. The official also decried the refusal by Interior Ministry officials to grant interviews unless they were broadcast live, rather than with "a few minutes delay." On 23 February, Interior Ministry officials refused to announce the final election results on the grounds that the Voice and Vision only read out the first 30 names in Tehran, Fars News Agency reported. President Khatami on 22 February ordered an investigation into the Voice and Vision's reporting of the election results, ISNA reported. (Bill Samii)

TEHRAN INVESTIGATES RAILROAD DISASTER. An anonymous security official cited in the conservative "Siyasat-i Ruz" daily on 21 February said that "sabotage and conspiracy are possible" in a fatal 18 February railroad accident in northeastern Iran. The official added, "If the sabotage theory is proved, the goal of the masterminds behind this accident was to impose a psychological shock on the eve of elections. Two days later, Khorasan Province Governor-General Hassan Rasuli dismissed the possibility of sabotage, IRNA reported on 23 February.

IRNA on 21 February put the toll of the accident at 315 people dead, 460 wounded, and 90 missing. Mohammad Maqduri, an official from the Khorasan Province governorate, on 23 February revised the earlier report of 315 dead downward to 289 dead, according to IRNA. Maqduri added that 460 people were injured and noted that 150 state employees were killed, including the Nishabur governor, electricity board chief, and fire chief. Maqduri said 25 of the dead have been identified.

Initial accounts stated that a mild earth tremor shook dozens of rail cars into motion, leading to a tragic chain of events at Khayyam, near Nishabur, as reported by IRNA, Iranian state radio, and other local and international media. Fifty-one rail cars loaded with cotton, fertilizer, sulfur, and gasoline were reportedly on a siding in Abu Moslem when they slid out of the siding, gradually picked up speed, and eventually derailed at Khayyam, the next station down the line.

The derailment set off fires and small explosions, bringing firemen and observers to the scene. While trying to get the fire under control, an explosion erupted that reportedly registered 3.6 magnitude on the Richter scale at the seismologic station in Tehran. The blast shattered windows within a 10-kilometer radius, and the shock was felt 75 kilometers away in Mashhad. Several surrounding villages sustained severe damage. Iranian Roads and Transport Minister Ahmad Khorram traveled to Khayyam to inspect the site of the tragedy, and Iranian State Railways announced the suspension of service between Mashhad and Tehran.

A report in the reformist daily "Etemad" quoted an unidentified railways expert as saying that "as a general principle, carrying explosive materials by railway is not recommended." In particular, the expert said, carrying sulfur on trains "may be done only in special circumstances, by applying specific measures and fully observing standards." The expert said that the authorities should investigate why halting methods weren't used.

Investigators from the State Inspectorate Organization have been dispatched to the scene of the incident, IRNA reported. In a 21 February message to Friday Prayer leaders, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said it is important to get to the bottom of the incident, IRNA reported. He expressed his condolences with the grieving families.

Transport Minister Khorram on 24 February said that negligence, rather than sabotage, is the most likely cause of the train wreck, ISNA reported. "After the examination of different hypotheses by the Supreme Committee on Railway Accidents, the likelihood of sabotage or external factors, such as an earthquake or a strong wind, have been rejected," he said. Nevertheless, Khorram added, the possibility of a deliberate act by a disgruntled employee or a mistake by personnel is being investigated. He said the initial cause of the accident is poor oversight at Abu Moslem station, where the railway cars started rolling.

Khorram's assessment did not satisfy 132 members of parliament, who sent a letter to Speaker of Parliament Hojatoleslam Mehdi Karrubi demanding another probe into the accident, IRNA reported on 28 February. Hamedan parliamentarian Hamid Reza Babai, a signatory of the letter, attributed this demand to the "lack of transparency" in the previous announcement. (Bill Samii, Luke Allnutt, Jack Helm)

TEHRAN SAYS IT IS NOT OBLIGED TO MAKE NUCLEAR DECLARATIONS. International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director-General Mohammed el-Baradei on 24 February circulated the agency's report on Iran among member states, according to the agency's website (http://www.iaea.org/NewsCenter/Focus/IaeaIran/index.shtml). He told reporters that he would like Iran to respond to requests for information more rapidly. He described Iran's failure to disclose work on the P2 centrifuge, which can be used to enrich uranium, as a "setback." "I hope this will be the last time any aspect of the program has not been declared to us," he said.

The IAEA report also regretted Tehran's failure to disclose production of polonium-210, which can be used in initiating a chain reaction in a nuclear weapon, "The Wall Street Journal" reported on 25 February. The U.S. daily obtained a copy of the IAEA report, the distribution of which is restricted, and reported that it states that "most of the workshops" producing centrifuges are "owned by military-industrial organizations," which is a new revelation.

Iranian Atomic Energy Organization chief Gholamreza Aqazadeh-Khoi said on 25 January that Tehran is not obliged to inform the IAEA about its research programs before 21 March 2004, state television reported. Therefore, he said, not declaring the P2 centrifuges is not tantamount to concealment.

Supreme National Security Council Secretary Hojatoleslam Hassan Rohani said on 25 February that most of the criticisms in the IAEA report can be explained, state television reported. He said Iran did not reveal the centrifuges because it does not have any. "We are at the stage of making sample equipment parts in order to move toward the testing stage.... We have other research projects which we have not declared to the agency," he added.

Aqazadeh-Khoi also said that several phases of the Bushehr power plant's first nuclear reactor have not been completed on time, IRNA reported, blaming the Russian contractor for the delays. (Bill Samii)

U.S INTELLIGENCE COMMUNITY ASSESSES IRAN. On 24 February top U.S. intelligence officials discussed global issues in testimony before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. According to the committee's website (http://intelligence.senate.gov/0402hrg/040224/witness.htm), Iran was a major topic of the briefings. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Director George Tenet discussed terrorism, Iranian interests in Iraq, and proliferation. Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) Director Vice Admiral Lowell Jacoby discussed proliferation, as well as Iran's strategic and military concerns.

Both officials discussed domestic Iranian affairs and Tenet said the impact of the hard-liners' victory in the 20 February parliamentary elections is likely to be "greater repression." He also predicted that it will be difficult to break out of "old foreign policy patterns."

In the context of terrorism, Tenet noted that Iran and Syria support terrorist groups, and their links in Iraq are causing problems for the United States. Lebanese Hizballah works with Iran and "surrogate groups" in Iraq, he said, and it is likely to retaliate against U.S. and Israeli targets if it, Iran, or Syria are attacked.

Tenet expressed suspicions about many of Iran's "humanitarian and outreach programs" in Iraq. Tenet asserted that in southern Iraq, Iran hopes to "maximize its influence among Iraqi Shia after 1 July."

Tenet described Iran's acknowledgement of having a covert nuclear program as "good news," but he added that some of the activities it is permitted to conduct under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) "can be used to build a military program as well." He said that Iran has one of the largest missile inventories in the Middle East, including the 1,300-kilometer range Shihab-3 and "a few hundred" short-range ballistic missiles. Tenet expressed concern that Iran could begin flight-testing space-launch vehicles within six years.

The DIA's Jacoby noted Iran's signing of the NPT's Additional Protocol, which allows more intrusive inspections of its nuclear facilities. "However, we remain concerned about Iran's ultimate nuclear intentions," he said. He warned that, on the basis of its space-launched vehicle program, Iran "may have the capability" to field an intercontinental ballistic missile by 2015. Jacoby acknowledged that the DIA does not know if Iran has decided to field this kind of missile. He also said that "Russian and Chinese entities" are involved with the Iranian nuclear and missile programs.

Turning to Iran's strategic concerns, Jacoby said that the large U.S. presence in Iraq concerns Iran, and "a substantial minority strongly distrusts U.S. motives in the region." Iran's effort to modernize its military is not progressing, he said, with the exception of its navy. Jacoby described the Iranian navy as "the region's most capable." (Bill Samii)

IRANIAN INTELLIGENCE HEAD MEETS WITH ARMENIAN OFFICIALS. Visiting Yerevan on 23-25 February, Iranian Minister of Intelligence and Security Hojatoleslam Ali Yunesi met with Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian, Prime Minister Andranik Markarian, and President Robert Kocharian, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau and Armenian media reported. Topics discussed included bilateral relations; regional conflicts, including the Karabakh conflict; and expanding economic cooperation. Armenian statements issued following Yunesi's talks with Oskanian and Markarian stressed the need to move ahead on construction of the planned pipeline to export Iranian natural gas to Armenia.

On 5 February, Interfax quoted Energy Minister Armen Movsisian as saying a formal agreement on that project will be signed during a visit to Yerevan in late February or March by Iran's oil and gas minister. Official communiques failed to say whether a date was discussed for Iranian President Mohammad Khatami's planned visit to Armenia, which was originally scheduled for late 2003. (Liz Fuller)

IRANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER VISITS ASHGABAT. Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi visited Turkmenistan on 24 February for talks with Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov, turkmenistan.ru, ITAR-TASS, and IRNA reported. The Iranian side emphasized resolving issues related to the Caspian Sea, while the Turkmen side appeared to be particularly interested in progress toward completing a reservoir on the Turkmen-Iranian border and a commitment by Iran to build a polyethylene plant in Turkmenistan. Iranian firms are currently building gas-liquefaction facilities. Niyazov and Kharrazi also discussed prospects for an oil pipeline that would link Iran, Turkmenistan, and Kazakhstan. (Bess Brown)

WASHINGTON UNTROUBLED BY TEHRAN-TOKYO OIL CONTRACT. Kazumasa Kusaka, the director-general of the Agency for Natural Resources and Energy of Japan's Ministry of International Trade and Industry, on 18 February signed a $2.8 billion agreement on the development of the Azadegan oil field, the "Financial Times" reported. Iranian Petroleum Minister Bijan Namdar-Zanganeh said on 19 February that in the initial phase of the contract 150,000 barrels of oil per day will be produced, and in the second phase output will increase to 410,000 barrels per day, IRNA reported. Thirty-six wells will be dug in the first phase, and another 39 wells will be dug in the second. Namdar-Zanganeh said the contract will boost the two countries' economic cooperation in more than just the oil sector.

The signing of the Azadegan development contract was expected last June, but crumbled in the face of U.S. opposition to outside investment in Iran's energy sector (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 7 July 2003). The "Financial Times" reported on 19 February that the U.S. stance "softened" following Japan's deployment of troops to Iraq and Tehran's agreement to allow snap inspections of its nuclear facilities.

"I'm not at all concerned that this decision will weaken our cooperation in ensuring that Iran is held to account of its obligations under the nonproliferation treaty and under the resolutions of the board of governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency," U.S. Undersecretary of State for Arms Control John Bolton said in Tokyo on 19 February, Kyodo World Service reported. (Bill Samii)

IRAN SIGNS GAS DEAL WITH FRANCE AND MALAYSIA. Officials from the National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC), France's Total, and Malaysia's Petronas on 25 February signed an agreement to create a company that will build a liquefied natural gas (LNG) plant and export facility, state television reported. NIOC will hold a 50 percent stake in the company, Total 30 percent, and Petronas 20 percent. The LNG is expected to be available on the market in five years, and the project is expected to produce 8 million tons of LNG annually. The plant and export facility will cost at least $2 billion, "The Wall Street Journal" reported on 26 February. An anonymous Total spokesman could not say when the negotiations for the overall project would be concluded. (Bill Samii)

...AND REFUSES TO DISCOUNT TURKISH GAS. Turkey's Minister of Energy and Natural Resources Helm Guler announced on 26 February that he would visit Tehran on 29 February to discuss a reduction in the price of imported gas, IRNA reported. He added that the gas agreement between Iran and Turkey includes a clause that permits changing prices. Guler said that Iranian gas is currently more expensive than the gas imported from Russia. National Iranian Gas Export Company Managing-Director Rokneddin Javadi said this proposal goes against the two countries' previous agreement and "we have rejected that proposal," the "Turkish Daily News" reported on 26 February. IRNA on 25 February cited Javadi as saying that the Turkish request is being considered. And on 23 February, IRNA noted Javadi's assertion that Ankara is trying to drive the gas price downward, as well as his accusation that Ankara seeks to drive a wedge between Iran and Russia. (Bill Samii)

XS
SM
MD
LG