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Iran Report: June 1, 2004

1 June 2004, Volume 7, Number 18

IRAN'S CONTROVERSIAL HARD-LINE PARLIAMENT CONVENES. The opening session of Iran's seventh parliament since the 1979 revolution was held on 27 May, with the reformist-dominated sixth parliament giving way to the more conservative deputies elected to the body on 20 February.

The new conservative majority owes its election in part to the disqualification by the conservative-dominated Guardians Council of thousands of reformist candidates prior to the elections. The majority also came about as a result of a drop in voter participation, with an official count of 51 percent of the electorate taking part (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 1 March 2004).

Iran's conservatives are not, however, unduly concerned by numbers. They believe they have a mandate to represent the people, and claim that Iranians simply want a decent standard of living -- the "dignified and peaceful life without material concerns" cited by the conservative Islamic Iran Developers Council in its electoral manifesto, according to IRNA on 24 May.

Gholam Ali Haddad-Adel, a Tehran representative and member of the Developers Council whom 122 legislators provisionally elected speaker of parliament on 24 May, told Fars News Agency on 23 May that "the people's message" in recent years has been that officials should "respond to the people not each other's objections." As a result, the new majority promised to address the people's material concerns, which it asserts were neglected in lieu of politics by their parliament predecessors.

"You already know the people's real demands and needs," Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei told legislators in a statement read at parliament's inaugural meeting on 27 May, ISNA reported. These include, according to ISNA, "employment, fighting financial corruption, ending the deprivation of deprived areas, curtailing inflation...spreading culture and morality...responsibility and accountability of officials." Legislators should not ignore these demands for "illusory needs, fabricated by foreign and malevolent propagandists," Khamenei urged, referring perhaps to demands for political liberties.

Ahmad Tavakkoli, a conservative representing Tehran, said in Isfahan on 26 May that "the resolution of economic problems will resolve other problems," ISNA reported.

Deputies formed "working groups" prior to the new parliament's first meeting to discuss their agenda, which includes a review of the 2005-2010 development plan bill, fighting "addiction, prostitution, and insecurity," and "poverty, unemployment, and inflation," and debating the "acceptance or rejection of the additional protocol to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty," according to IRNA on 24 May.

Referring to the 2005-2010 development plan bill, Tavakkoli commented on 26 May that it has "essential problems [that contravene] the constitution and disregard the rights of low-income groups," ISNA reported the same day. "We shall try...and make changes to the bill," he said.

The Guardians Council, which must certify the conformity of all proposed legislation with the constitution and religious laws, has already paved the way for changes by rejecting on 23 May the development plan bill that the outgoing parliament had approved in early May, citing dozens of constitutional discrepancies and "ambiguities." As the old parliament could not possibly consider amendments to the bill to satisfy the Guardians Council's concerns before the end of its term, it sent its approved version of the bill to the State Expediency Council, which arbitrates when there is a legislative deadlock between parliament and the Guardians Council. Expediency Council Chairman Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani said in Tehran on 27 May that his organization is currently reviewing the bill, according to IRNA.

Reformist politicians say their conservative counterparts have, since their parliamentary election victory, wanted to hold final approval of the development plan that sets Iran's economic agenda and money allocations for the next five years until a new parliament they control could be seated. Sending the parliament's version of the bill to the Expediency Council was a last-minute bid by outgoing reformist deputies to save "their" bill from the clutches of conservative rivals.

On 23 May, the sixth parliament sent the Expediency Council three other bills rejected by the Guardians Council in the form ratified by parliament, "Entekhab" reported on 24 May. These were bills defining political crimes, fighting money laundering, and ratifying Iran's accession to a UN antitorture convention, legislation that outgoing parliamentarians did not believe their conservative successors would show much enthusiasm for.

The seventh parliament is expected to have a more collaborative relationship with the Guardians Council and be more likely to clash with the government -- following the example of the nonreformist fifth parliament in its relations with the first government of President Mohammad Khatami in the late 1990s.

IRNA quoted Mohammad Reza Bahonar, a representative in the new parliament from Kerman, as saying on 24 May that "our assumption is one of cooperation...with the government. We shall avoid unnecessary quarrels. Our aim is to work for the people, but if we see that in spite of all our efforts, nothing happens, and there is obstruction, we shall remove all obstacles before us." Conservatives are already disenchanted with two ministers, Transport Minister Ahmad Khoram, whom they like to blame for the closure of Tehran's new airport (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 17 May 2004), and Interior Minister Abdulvahed Musavi-Lari, who reminded legislators on their first day of the thousands of hopefuls barred from participating in the parliamentary elections, IRNA reported on 27 May.

While the sixth parliament sought to strengthen its supervision of state bodies, this parliament may propose a bill for the "continuous supervision" of deputies, possibly by the Guardian Council. Former parliamentary speaker Mehdi Karrubi ridiculed the idea on 24 May, saying its implementation will produce "a parliament without powers, a rubber-stamp parliament," "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 25 May. Tavakkoli, on the other hand, said on 26 May that while lawmakers should be critical, many members of the sixth parliament had been "insolent," ISNA reported.

Reformers have defended their parliament's record. The reformist Participation Front announced on 25 May that the sixth parliament had worked "to force the most powerful people and institutions in the state" to obey the law, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 26 May.

Ahmad Burqani-Farahani, a member of the sixth parliament, said on 25 May in Tehran that his parliament "did not fail to ratify" any bill the government presented "that might have resolved some of the people's many problems," according to IRNA. That parliament had done its best "to consolidate liberties and defend public and fundamental rights," but the Guardians Council's "innovative" interpretations of the constitution and of its own prerogatives "blocked parliament's essential legislation," he said.

The daily "Aftab-i Yazd" commented on 26 May that if the sixth parliament devoted a significant amount of its time to political reforms, it was only because it believed investment and a flourishing economy could not be achieved without governmental accountability.

Former speaker Karrubi also warned that a parliament with no interest in politics is an indirect threat to civil rights. Fars News Agency reported that, in his final speech in parliament on 26 May, Karrubi asked, "Have you thought of the bitter events that can happen if parliament does not involve itself in political issues?" Citing the 1998 murders of dissidents as examples of state abuse that occurred under the conservative-dominated fifth parliament, Karrubi is reported by IRNA on 26 May to have continued, "These things happen in a society without a political environment."

IRAN REMAINS FIRM ON OWNERSHIP OF PERSIAN GULF ISLANDS. European Union and Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) ministers, meeting in Brussels on 17 May, expressed concern at "the lack of progress toward the resolution of the territorial conflict between the United Arab Emirates [U.A.E.] and Iran" over three Persian Gulf islands -- Greater Tunbs, Lesser Tunbs, and Abu Musa -- the "Tehran Times" reported on 19 May, citing IRNA.

Iran occupied the islands in 1971, when it was a monarchy, and both sides claim legal sovereignty over them (see "RFE/RL's Iran Report," 15 March 2004). The 17 May statement urged a "peaceful accordance with international law, either through negotiations or by referring the issue to the International Court of Justice," IRNA added. On 23 May in Tunis, Arab League representatives reiterated Arab support for the U.A.E.'s claim to the islands, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 24 May.

Iran generally reacts promptly to statements on the disputed islands, as proved to be the case in this instance. On 19 May, Deputy Foreign Minister for Western European Affairs Ibrahim Rahimpur met with Ireland's ambassador in Tehran, Thomas Bolster, whose country currently holds the rotating EU presidency, and conveyed Iran's displeasure at the possibility of Europe taking sides in the dispute (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 May 2004). The issue, Rahimpur told the envoy, pertains to "national sovereignty" and is sensitive for all Iranians.

On 24 May, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi said in Tehran that it is not "the first time the EU and the GCC have [mentioned the matter]. We reminded the European side, as usual, that the matter does not concern them, and it is between ourselves and the emirates, to be resolved through negotiations."

On 27 May, Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi called the dispute an "internal" matter, according to ISNA. "We will not accept any interference by foreign countries in our internal affairs...and ask the [EU] to maintain its neutrality," Kharrazi said, adding, "we consider the islands ours and do not care to discuss the matter." But, he said, Iran tries to "resolve these issues through dialogue," ISNA reported.

The issue cuts across political divisions in Iran. "Differences of opinion do not mean that the people will compromise over national interests," former deputy for Mashhad in the sixth parliament and member of its National Security and Foreign Relations Committee, Ali Tajernia, said in Tehran on 21 May, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported the next day. "The matter of the three islands is one that unites not just political movements inside, but also the opposition outside the country," he said.

Davud Hermidas-Bavand, an academic from Tehran, said on 21 May, according to the next day's "Aftab-i Yazd," that the "three islands are Iran's right, and belong to Iran."

As if to illustrate how the issue hovers between the political and legal domains, Iranian politicians say the matter is raised when foreign powers believe Iran is weak.

Tajernia said on 21 May that foreign pressures concerning the islands become more intense "when it is felt that the Islamic Republic does not enjoy the necessary support from [its citizens] and domestic political currents," "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 22 May. It seems likely that Tajernia was referring to ongoing disputes between reformers and conservatives as well as to public discontent with the pace of democratic reforms.

Kazem Jalali, who represented Shahrud in the sixth parliament, said on 17 May that it is "perfectly clear the [U.A.E] resorts to this move in particular international conditions" and is encouraged by unspecified "great powers," "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 18 May. He said that the "issue is part of an international project and cannot be interpreted as a dispute between Iran and the [U.A.E.]. It must be [considered] with regard to Iran's [position] in the international system. Because the mentioned when Iran is under international pressure." Iran is currently being closely scrutinized over its nuclear program, which many observers suspect complements a secret bid to make nuclear bombs.

Iran's defense minister, Ali Shamkhani, said in Tehran on 19 May that the resurgence of the matter was a "distraction" from regional issues, such as coalition actions in Iraq and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, IRNA reported, his comments suggesting that unspecified foreign powers may be behind the debate.

Mehdi Karrubi, the speaker of the last parliament, noted in Tehran on 24 May that the issue is "always raised to provoke discord," "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 25 May. However, Karrubi went on to ask why now, "when America is in the region...and the Palestinians are being killed mercilessly.... Is it a simple matter or is it planned?" The problem of "the Iranian islands," Karrubi said, "is a misunderstanding...and must be resolved through dialogue...and has nothing to do with other countries. Why do these conferences not mention territorial disputes between Yemen and [Saudi] Arabia, Qatar and [Saudi] Arabia, Algeria, and Morocco or Sudan and Egypt?"

As former parliamentarian Tajernia hinted on 21 May, political pressures can cut both ways. Disputes concerning the islands produce nothing but "distrust in the region," he said, according to "Aftab-i Yazd" on 22 May. Tajernia added that the states pressuring Iran must know "that distrust in the behavior of Iran, as a country with an impact on regional developments, will benefit nobody."

Iran believes it has the law on its side. The law, however, being of a contractual nature, requires recognition by the several parties involved to become a reality, hence Foreign Minister Kharrazi's seemingly contradictory remarks: Iran will not discuss the sovereignty of the islands but wishes to "resolve these issues through dialogue." Failing that, there is always the bottom line, as stated on 27 May by President Mohammad Khatami and reported by IRNA: "There is no need to repeat the matter. We have often stressed our ownership of the three islands." (Vahid Sepehri)

IRAN QUESTIONS ITS FUTURE WITH UN NUCLEAR BODY. President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami urged the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on 27 May not to look for "excuses" in examining Iran's recent report of its nuclear program, which the United States suspects is a cover for developing nuclear weapons, nor "submit to American pressure," ISNA reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 May 2004). Iran says its nuclear program is designed only to meet domestic energy needs, and wants the agency to confirm this during a 14-16 June meeting. "The important point is the decision the meeting will make. If there is hostile behavior, we too shall take the necessary decisions," he said. "So far, we have acted within...the [Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty], and voluntarily suspended uranium enrichment," he added. "We will resume [enrichment] if necessary." Iran, he said, will reject any request to shut its uranium-processing plant in Isfahan (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 5 April 2004). "The [IAEA] has no right to [request this]. We too want a lot of things," Khatami said. "If they accept what we want, we shall accept their requests." VS

NEW IRANIAN PARLIAMENT HOLDS INAUGURAL CEREMONY. Iran's seventh parliament since the 1979 Islamic Revolution held its inaugural session on 27 May, attended by legislators and state officials, Iranian news agencies reported. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei issued a statement on the occasion asking parliamentarians to address "the people's real needs and demands," which he explained are mostly economic, "not the illusory needs fabricated by foreign and malevolent propagandists," ISNA reported the same day. Khamenei asked legislators to avoid "any words or deeds" that "provoke factional challenges," as well as "ostentation and...costly and useless foreign trips at public expense." He added that it "is a priority" to cooperate with the Guardians Council, the conservative-dominated body of jurists that checks bills to ensure they conform with the constitution and religious laws. On 23 May, the Guardians Council also rejected the 2005-10 economic-development bill approved by that parliament, citing dozens of constitutional discrepancies and "ambiguities," ISNA reported. VS

IRAN'S FIVE-YEAR DEVELOPMENT PLAN AWAITS APPROVAL. Expediency Council Chairman Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani said in Tehran on 27 May that the Expediency Council, which rules on legislative deadlocks between parliament and the Guardians Council, is examining the 2005-10 economic-development plan, ISNA reported. The last parliament sent the bill to the Expediency Council after refusing to make amendments demanded by the Guardians Council. However, Guardians Council member Reza Zavarei said on 27 May that "the plan must return to [parliament]" for review. President Khatami said on 27 May that unless the plan is approved soon, the government will have to draft the 2005-06 budget on the basis of the 2000-05 five-year plan, Fars News Agency reported. VS

IRAN'S SUPREME LEADER DECLARES PUBLIC MOURNING FOR IRAQ. Supreme Leader Khamenei issued a statement on 27 May deploring the "desecration" of Iraqi Shi'a shrines "in recent days," and declaring 28 May "a day of national mourning" in protest against coalition actions in Iraq, reported. The U.S. military denied responsibility on 25 May for damage to a shrine in Al-Najaf (see "RFE/RL Newsline, 26 May 2004). President Khatami said in Tehran on 27 May that coalition forces are responsible for such damage, "because the Americans are the source of the violence," ISNA reported the same day. "They may say [they] did not mean this to happen, which is why we are telling them to get out," he said. He warned that if violence "by the occupiers continues in Iraq, all Muslims will rise up against them." VS

IRAN'S REFORMIST PARLIAMENT SITS FOR THE LAST TIME. Iran's reformist-dominated parliament, the sixth since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, held its last official session on 26 May, Iranian news agencies reported. Speaker Mehdi Karrubi defended the chamber's political and economic record against conservative critics who say it neglected public welfare, saying the parliament "passed the most and the best [economic] bills" during its four-year term, Fars News Agency reported. Karrubi said the parliament's attention to political reforms under his tenure helped safeguard civil rights and prevent recurrences of state abuses such as the 1998 killings of liberal dissidents, IRNA reported on 26 May. He blamed those killings on the conservative-dominated fifth parliament that ruled at the time, which the speaker said cared little for politics. "In a society without a political atmosphere, these things happen," Karrubi said. He demanded again that the Guardians Council, a supervisory body, explain why it barred many reformists from running in the 20 February parliamentary elections, Fars News Agency reported. "You cannot extensive group, without an explanation," IRNA quoted him as saying. In reference to the Guardians Council, Karrubi added, "The leader says, 'I am accountable,' and you say you are not?" VS

AMNESTY REPORT CITES IRAN'S RIGHTS ABUSES IN 2003. Amnesty International says in its annual report released on 26 May that "flagrant violations" of Iranian and international laws continued in Iran in 2003, in spite of what it called a growing awareness of human rights there. The report notes that 108 people were executed in Iran in 2003, "including long-term political prisoners, and frequently in public." The report also states that dissidents and journalists were arrested, the Internet was at times partially blocked, and that a political stalemate between reformers and conservatives hindered the "development and fulfillment of human rights in Iran." However, the report cites as positive developments "a growing sense" of the importance of human rights, visits by UN envoys, and informal human-rights consultations with the EU since 2002. Meanwhile, "Iran" reported on 26 May that Iranian and unspecified European "professors, jurists, and human rights experts" are to meet in Tehran on 14 and 15 June, the fourth such meeting in recent years to discuss human rights. VS

IRANIAN DEPUTY INTERIOR MINISTERS SUMMONED TO COURT. Deputy Interior Minister Morteza Muballeq, who ran the ministry's electoral headquarters during the 20 February parliamentary elections, and 18 district governors have been summoned to a Tehran court in connection with "observations and speeches...made as part of their legal duties in the course of the seventh parliamentary elections," IRNA reported on 26 May, citing an unidentified Interior Ministry official. The date of the summons was not provided in the report, and it did not mention whether the officials had been charged for any crimes. The news agency added that Mahmud Mirluhi, the deputy interior minister for legal and parliamentary affairs, appeared at the same Tehran court on 24 May after the public prosecutor filed a suit against Mirluhi for the alleged "publication of falsehoods and incitement of public opinion." Mirluhi, who headed the Interior Ministry's electoral inspectorate, reportedly answered an interrogator's questions. VS

DEFENSE MINISTER SAYS IRAN CAN BUILD ITS OWN EQUIPMENT. Defense Minister Ali Shamkhani said in Tehran on 26 May that Iran "can build every type of defensive equipment that exists on land and in the air," "Entekhab" reported on 27 May. "At present, 1,700 types of defense products are made inside the country," he said, adding that there "was a time [when] we could only dream of making such products." Shamkhani said the Defense Ministry "currently meets 50 percent of the country's defense needs," and has surplus materiel it can export. Meanwhile, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi on 26 May condemned as "savage acts that have become unnatural" the unspecified "desecration" of Iraqi Shi'a shrines by coalition forces, IRNA reported. A shrine in Al-Najaf was hit by what appeared to be mortar shells on 25 May during fighting between U.S. forces and insurgents loyal to radical Shi'a cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, although U.S. forces have denied responsibility (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 May 2004). "I think because of the defeats they suffer every day in Iraq, American soldiers have lost all self-control and are resorting to insane acts," Assefi said. VS

IRAN, RUSSIA TO SIGN REPATRIATION DEAL ON SPENT NUCLEAR FUEL. Iran and Russia are to sign a deal this summer on the return of spent nuclear fuel Russia will provide for the Bushehr nuclear plant in southern Iran, Reuters reported on 25 May. The deal is intended to prevent the extraction of plutonium from spent fuel and its possible use in nuclear warheads. Russian officials have stated in the past that they will not ship fuel to the plant, which Russia is helping build, without an accord on the repatriation of spent fuel. The U.S. suspects Iran might have a secret nuclear-weapons program and has pressured Russia to curtail its nuclear cooperation with Iran. Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi said in Warsaw on 25 May that Iran has given the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) "all the information" on traces of enriched uranium and plans for advanced P2 centrifuges found in Iran, two items IAEA inspectors believe have no place in the peaceful nuclear program Iran says it is pursuing, IRNA reported the same day (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 22 March 2004). Iran "has not enriched uranium to high levels and [equipment] parts contaminated with highly-enriched uranium were imported," he said. VS

IRAN REJECTS PRESS REPORTS ON NUCLEAR INSPECTIONS. Iran's envoy to the Vienna-based IAEA, Piruz Husseini, on 25 May characterized as "negative propaganda" a Reuters report that Iran has hindered IAEA inspections of its nuclear installations, Mehr News Agency reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 May 2004). He said Iran has repeatedly seen "false reports cited from unnamed diplomats" before previous IAEA meetings. "What certain Western media and unnamed diplomats say is very different from the truth and what is happening on the ground," he told "Iranian experts and [IAEA] experts and officials have repeatedly met in Tehran and Vienna, and...they have examined problems and resolved many of them," Husseini said. He added that Tehran expects the IAEA to take Iran's dossier from "its present state and restore it to normality." Meanwhile, IAEA spokesman Mark Gwozdecky told ISNA on 25 May that the UN's nuclear watchdog is examining the report Iran provided it on 22 May. He said the agency will convey its conclusions to the IAEA's governing board, but might not be able to "resolve all problems" by the board's 14-18 June meeting. VS

IRAN'S FUTURE PARLIAMENTARY SPEAKER ELECTED. Members-elect of Iran's next parliament, which began work on 27 May, provisionally chose Gholam Ali Haddad-Adel as the next speaker of parliament during an informal meeting in Tehran on 24 May, "Aftab-i Yazd" and "Iran" reported on 25 May. Haddad-Adel, a member of the conservative Developers Council who will serve as a Tehran representative, received 122 of 229 votes cast at the meeting. Mohammad Reza Bahonar, who will serve as a Kerman representative, was elected first deputy speaker with 161 votes, and Gholamreza Mesbahi was voted in as second deputy speaker with 93 votes, according to "Aftab-i Yazd." Legislators are to formally choose a provisional parliamentary presidium on 30 May, "Iran" reported on 25 May. Meanwhile, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on 23 May appointed Ezzatollah Zarghami to head the state broadcasting body, replacing Ali Larijani, AP reported the same day. Zarghami, considered a conservative, works with the broadcasting body Voice and Vision and is a former member of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps. On 25 May, Khamenei appointed Larijani to the Supreme National Security Council and the Supreme Council of the Cultural Revolution, which develops cultural policies, IRNA reported. VS

IRAN BOASTS 5 MILLION INTERNET USERS. Communication and Information Technology Minister Ahmad Motamedi said on 25 May in Gorgan, northern Iran, that 5 million Internet users were recorded in Iran year-on-year to March 2004, IRNA reported the same day. Only about 200,000 Internet users were recorded year-on-year to March 2001, according to the news agency. Motamedi added that there are some 15 million land-line telephone connections and 3.5 million mobile-phone numbers in use. Iran had a population of 68.9 million in 2003, according to the BBC, citing UN reports. VS

WESTERN DIPLOMATS SAY IRAN OBSTRUCTING NUCLEAR INSPECTIONS... Reuters cited four unnamed Western diplomats as saying in Vienna on 24 May that Iran has prevented International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors from checking certain military sites. The "third diplomat close to the IAEA" told Reuters that inspectors have had "managed access" to sites. The agency cited the "second diplomat" as saying there is no "hard evidence" to show that Iran is hiding possible nuclear-bomb making activities, as the U.S. suspects, but "the pattern of behavior suggests they are trying to hide something." Iran's ambassador to the United Nations in Vienna, Piruz Husseini, rejected the charges on 24 May and said "everything is going in a smooth way," Reuters reported. VS

...AS RUSSIA SAYS IRAN RUNS A 'TRANSPARENT' NUCLEAR PROGRAM. Russia's Atomic Energy Ministry spokesman Nikolai Shingarev told IRNA in Moscow on 24 May that "developments in the past six months in Iran's nuclear program and repeated examinations [by the IAEA governing board] show that it is transparent." Shingarev said that the latest report Iran has given to the IAEA (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 May 2004) confirms this. According to IRNA, Shingarev denied that U.S. Undersecretary of State for Arms Control John Bolton, who was in Moscow on 20 May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 May 2004), has asked that Russia end its nuclear cooperation with Iran. "He only expressed concern...and discussed [this] with [Russian Atomic Energy Minister Aleksandr] Rumyantsev," Shingarev said, adding that Russia and the U.S. have not agreed on the possibility of sending Iran's dossier to the UN Security Council, which could impose sanctions on Iran for violating the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. VS

IRAN PROVIDES FULL REPORT ON NUCLEAR ACTIVITIES. Iran announced on 22 May that it has handed the IAEA a full declaration of its nuclear activities, Reuters reported. The IAEA is conducting an investigation to determine if Iran's nuclear program is entirely intended for peaceful purposes, as it claims. Inspectors from the world nuclear watchdog will use Iran's declaration to complete their assessment "later this month," AFP quoted IAEA spokesman Mark Gwozdecky as saying on 23 May. The IAEA governing board is to make a declaration on Iran's dossier during its 14-18 June meeting. In Tehran on 23 May, Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi said the aim of the "1,000-page report" Iran presented is "transparency and confidence building," ISNA reported. Everyone, he said, "will slowly realize that Iran wishes to make peaceful use of nuclear energy and has no hidden program." However, Iran has accused the United States, which suspects Iran is running a secret nuclear-weapons program, of pressuring the IAEA to take a more aggressive stance with Iran. VS

IRANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER REJECTS RIGHTS-ABUSE CRITICISMS. Kharrazi said on 23 May in response to a recent U.S. State Department report that criticized Iran's human-rights record that the United States "is not competent to assess [Iran's] human rights conditions," ISNA reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 May 2004). "Events in Iraq are a good indicator...of how much one can trust America's assessments," he said. In reference to the State Department report, Kharrazi said that "such claims and reports...have political motives," adding that the report constitutes an attempt by the United States to "shift the blame" for human rights problems it faces. "It is drafted on the basis of double standards that reveal the political motives behind [the United States'] approach to...human rights," he said. Iran often criticizes the United States for supporting Israel, a state Iran does not recognize and accuses of violating Palestinian rights. VS

IRAN WANTS A 'REAL' HANDOVER OF POWER IN IRAQ. Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi said in Tehran on 23 May that the U.S. must hand power to "the Iraqi people's real representatives" if it wants to "come out of the crisis" it faces there, IRNA reported. Iran, he said, wishes "the occupiers to leave Iraq, a handover of sovereign power to [Iraqis] and government by the people's real representatives within the framework of solidarity and cooperation among different Iraqi groups." He said the departure of U.S. troops will not provoke disorder. He rejected as "baseless" reports that Ahmad Chalabi, a Shi'a member of the Iraqi Governing Council, has provided Iran with sensitive information on coalition forces in Iraq (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 May 2004). Iran has "constructive and good relations" with all Iraqi Governing Council members, "and this is based on the principle of noninterference in Iraq's internal affairs," Assefi said. VS

U.S. OFFICIAL WANTS RUSSIA TO END COOPERATION ON IRANIAN NUCLEAR PROJECTS. U.S. Undersecretary of State for Arms Control Bolton said in Moscow on 20 May that Iran still abides by its "strategic decision to acquire nuclear weapons" and has "never been fully cooperative" with the IAEA, AFP reported the same day. Bolton told Russian officials his country is concerned by Russia's nuclear cooperation with Iran, and assistance to Iran's ballistic-missile program, AFP added. But Russian Atomic Energy Agency Director Rumyantsev said on 20 May, "We are not breaking any [international] rules in cooperating with Iran," AFP reported. VS

INTERIOR MINISTER RETURNS FROM AFGHAN SECURITY CONFERENCE. Iranian Interior Minister Abdulvahed Musavi-Lari told a regional-security conference in Qatar on 19 May that Afghanistan needs a strong police force for its security, which affects "regional stability and security," IRNA reported on 20 May. He told interior ministers from Afghanistan's neighbors that though weakened, "terrorist networks and drug traffickers" in Afghanistan "remain a serious threat to world and regional security," IRNA reported. "Evidence shows [an increasing] link between terrorism and drug trafficking," he said. Musavi-Lari urged information exchanges, frontier patrols, and joint training between Afghanistan and its neighbors to fight "drug production and trafficking, organized crime, and terrorism." To guard its border with Afghanistan and Pakistan, he said, Iran has built 212 border posts, 205 observation towers, 22 concrete barriers, dug 290-kilometers of ditches, built 659 kilometers of earth barriers, and strung 78 kilometers of barbed wire, IRNA reported. VS

IRAN EXPELS BRITISH CORRESPONDENT. Iran has asked "Guardian" correspondent Dan de Luce to leave the country for three months for reporting without permission in Bam, the southeastern town that was devastated by an earthquake last December, Reuters reported on 20 May. Deprived of his visa and press accreditation, he may reapply for them in three months, Reuters added. In Tehran, Muhammad Hussein Khoshvaqt, the head of foreign press affairs at the Culture Ministry, said on 20 May that de Luce "intentionally violated [Iran's] regulations and laws" in reporting on Bam reconstruction activities after the ministry told him not to go there, reported that day. Separately, Reuters reported on 20 May that the trial of state security agent Reza Ahmadi is to resume on 17 July. Ahmadi is charged with the "semi-intentional" killing of Iranian-Canadian photographer Zahra Kazemi while interrogating her in Tehran in 2003. At the start of his trial in October Ahmadi pleaded not guilty to the charge of giving Kazemi a fatal blow to the head. She had been arrested for taking photos outside a prison, Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 July 2003). VS

IRANIAN DEFENSE MINISTER SAYS ISRAEL CANNOT STRIKE IRAN. Ali Shamkhani said on 19 May that "Israel can never carry out a military attack on Iran" because it is "too vulnerable" and its "threats have no operational value," IRNA reported the same day. Israel has in the past threatened to strike Iran's nuclear installations to prevent Iran, its declared enemy, from becoming a nuclear power. "There is no doubt that Israel is a mischievous regime and its discourse is one of threats and the use of military force," Shamkhani said after a cabinet meeting. Why, he asked, does the world not respond to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's "threatening discourse?" Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi on 19 May denounced Israel's "continuing crimes" and "the clear and evident violation of human rights and international laws," in a reference to Israel's raid on the Rafah refugee camp in Gaza, IRNA reported on 19 May. VS

TEHRAN PROTESTERS HURL GAS BOMBS AT BRITISH EMBASSY. Protesters threw "petrol bombs, firecrackers, and stones" at the British Embassy in Tehran on 19 May during a 500-strong gathering to protest against the occupation of Iraq by coalition forces, Reuters reported. Police reportedly arrested two dozen demonstrators before the gathering dispersed after three hours. Tens of thousands of people joined a larger demonstration in Tehran the same day to denounce coalition actions in Iraq, according to the news agency. Parliamentary speaker Mehdi Karrubi said in his address to demonstrators that the "occupiers are trying to provoke internal wars" in Iraq, IRNA reported on 19 May. VS

IRANIAN PRESIDENT, SUPREME LEADER CONDEMN U.S. IN IRAQ. President Khatami said in Tehran on 18 May that U.S. "crimes and violations" in the holy cities of Al-Najaf and Karbala, where coalition forces have fought rebels loyal to Shi'a cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, have increased Muslim hatred of the U.S "minute by minute, and prompted violent acts that prevent stability and security in Iraq," ISNA reported on 19 May. "We do not rejoice on seeing the bodies of American and British soldiers taken out of Iraq," he said. "But...for every [death], hundreds of Iraqi women, men, and children have been martyred, and regions destroyed." VS

IAEA MIGHT NOT DECIDE ON IRAN BY JUNE. The IAEA might not have all the evidence it needs to conclude by its scheduled mid-June meeting whether Iran's nuclear program is entirely for peaceful purposes, as it claims, AFP reported on 18 May. The agency cited an unidentified "official close to the IAEA" as saying in Vienna that Iranians delayed a "crucial round of inspections" in Iran in March, thus denying nuclear inspectors all the evidence the IAEA needs to draw its conclusions by a 14 June meeting of the IAEA governing board. AFP cited IAEA Director-General Muhammad el-Baradei as telling CNN on 15 May that the agency hopes to conclude its investigations this year, especially those for determining the origins of traces of highly enriched uranium, a component necessary for nuclear weapons, found in sites in Iran. The IAEA is waiting for another full report by Iran that will take 6-12 months to evaluate, AFP cited the official as saying. Iran is to provide that report by the end of this month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 May 2004). VS

U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT REPORT CONDEMNS IRAN'S RIGHTS RECORD. The U.S. State Department on 17 May issued a report titled "Supporting Human Rights and Democracy" that states that Iran's rights record worsened in 2003 and early 2004. The report deplores "summary executions, disappearances, extremist vigilantism, widespread...torture and other degrading treatment" that took place in Iran over that period. Meanwhile, police chief Brigadier General Muhammad Baqir Qalibaf announced in Mashhad on 17 May that his force expelled 955 policemen during the year that ended in March 2004 for taking bribes, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 19 May. He blamed the problem on the "material and economic" difficulties of police personnel, but added that "violations" recorded among police over that period dropped 36 percent, the daily added. In Tehran, the head of the Tehran judiciary, Abbas Ali Alizadeh, said there is widespread drug abuse and "moral problems" in Iran's prisons, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 19 May. He claimed that prison officials "disrespect" prisoners' families and said prisons are overcrowded, in part, "because the provisional detention [Islamic law] has set for six days can last a year" in Iran. VS

IRANIAN PRESIDENT SAYS U.S. MUST APOLOGIZE FOR DAMAGE TO SHRINES. President Mohammad Khatami said in Tehran on 16 May that the U.S. must apologize for the "desecration and disrespect" it has shown Shi'a Muslim shrines in the holy cities of Al-Najaf and Karbala, where it has fought militiamen loyal to Shi'a cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, IRNA reported on 17 May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 and 17 May 2004). At a meeting of ministers and provincial governors, he criticized U.S. polices that he said are "now more than ever threatening peace in the region and the entire world," and fueling "extremism and violence" worldwide. Meanwhile, clerics reportedly gathered in the central Iranian city of Qom on 17 May to protest against the "desecration" of Shi'a shrines in Iraq, Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran reported. The radio station also reported on 17 May that residents of Tehran plan to hold their own rally on 19 May to denounce "the desecration of the holy cities in Iraq and massacre of innocent people by occupying forces." Similar rallies are planned in other cities throughout Iran on 21 May. VS

IRANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER MEETS WITH PUTIN IN MOSCOW. Russian President Vladimir Putin told Iran's visiting Foreign Minister Kharrazi in Moscow on 17 May that his country will make it a "political priority" to expand "excellent and solid" relations with Iran, IRNA and ISNA reported the same day. He confirmed that Russia will complete the nuclear power plant it is helping build in Bushehr in southern Iran, and said Russia "will not allow Iran to be the victim of rumors" regarding its nuclear intentions, IRNA added. Kharrazi said that Iran interacts with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on the basis of "complete transparency and a firm defense of our legitimate rights, and so far we have defended these legitimate rights [before] the [IAEA] governing board," IRNA reported. He added that the Bushehr nuclear plant must "start working as soon as possible, as a symbol of cooperation and a confidence-building measure." IRNA reported that Putin will visit Iran at an unspecified future date to sign a 10-year bilateral economic-cooperation agreement. VS

JUDICIARY CHIEF REJECTS REPORTS ON DISSIDENT'S SENTENCE. Judiciary head Ayatollah Mahmud Hashemi-Shahrudi on 17 May rejected recent media reports that Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has personally ordered the review of a death sentence handed down to dissident Hashem Aghajari (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 May 2004), ISNA reported. "So far, the judiciary has not been sent any instruction from his eminence, nor has any state order been issued," ISNA quoted Hashemi-Shahrudi as saying at a meeting of judiciary officials. "Basically there is no need for a state order because there are legal channels for legal cases, and the sentence is not definitive." He said the Supreme Court is reviewing the case. ISNA reported on 17 May that it stands by "every detail" of its 15 May report on Khamenei's intervention, in which it also cited his "intense dissatisfaction with the delay in the case." VS

IRAN CONDEMNS ASSASSINATION OF IRAQI GOVERNING COUNCIL HEAD. Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi on 17 May condemned the killing that day of Abd al-Zahra Uthman Muhammad (a.k.a. Izz al-Din Salim), the Iraqi Governing Council's president for the month of May (see Iraq items below and "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 May 2004), IRNA reported the same day. However, he added that the coalition presence in Iraq "provokes plots" and causes "insecurity and bloodshed." "The Islamic Republic...emphasizes that the continuation of forceful policies and the occupiers' insistence on spreading violence and [using] militarism against [Iraqis]...will increase acts of sabotage and instability" in Iraq, Assefi said. Meanwhile, Islamic Revolution Guards Corps commander Yahya Rahim Safavi on 17 May criticized as "an American plan" proposals by UN special envoy "Lakhdar Brahimi, the American representative." to form an interim Iraqi government, IRNA reported the same day. This "flawed plan is the same as the Governing Council plan, and a government is being formed without consulting the popular vote," he said. VS

UN NUCLEAR CHIEF UNSURE ON IRAN'S NUCLEAR PROGRAM. International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director-General Muhammad el-Baradei said in New York on 14 May that while Iran has the capacity to enrich uranium to weapons-grade levels, the IAEA has yet to find proof that it is doing so, Reuters reported. Meanwhile, Russian Deputy Atomic Energy Minister Sergei Antipov said in Berlin on 15 May that Russia will complete the nuclear-power plant it is helping build in southern Iran despite technical and commercial complications, and U.S. objections, Reuters reported the same day. Antipov added that Russia will only provide reactor fuel on the condition that all spent fuel be returned to Russia to ensure it cannot possibly be used in the production of nuclear weapons. In Tehran, Expediency Council Chairman Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani said on 16 May that "we are on the verge of nuclear change, but we do not seek nuclear weapons, and we know it is incorrect to use such weapons in human society," reported the same day. "They do have a deterrent effect, but we hope to use other means of deterrence," he said. VS

SUPREME LEADER ORDERS REVIEW OF DISSIDENT'S DEATH SENTENCE. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has reportedly asked judiciary head Ayatollah Mahmud Hashemi-Shahrudi to review the death sentence handed down to dissident Hashem Aghajari, who received the sentence in 2003 for criticizing Iranian clergy (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 and 10 May 2004), "Iran" reported on 16 May, citing ISNA. However, Abdulreza Izadpanah, the deputy judiciary chief for social affairs, denied on 15 May that Khamenei has ordered a review, although he said Khamenei is one of several senior clerics who believe that Aghajari's statements "do not constitute an instance of apostasy," "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 17 May. VS

IRAN'S SUPREME LEADER DENOUNCES 'STUPID' U.S. ACTIONS IN IRAQ. Supreme Leader Khamenei on 16 May deplored the "brazen, shameless, and stupid" intervention of "American occupying forces" in the Shi'a holy cities of Al-Najaf and Karbala (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 May 2004), where coalition forces are battling al-Sadr loyalists, reported. He said in Tehran that the "Americans are so shameless that in spite of these crimes and indignities in Iraq, they go on talking about human rights and democracy," reported on 16 May. He added that U.S. officials are "blatantly lying" when they say they knew nothing of the abuse of Iraqi detainees, because the Red Cross informed them of this "long ago." Coalition forces are "now stuck in a bog and a stinking quagmire wherein they sink as they advance," the news agency quoted Khamenei as saying. VS