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Iran Report: June 14, 2004


14 June 2004, Volume 7, Number 19

IRAN-BACKED TERRORISM -- A MORE IMMEDIATE THREAT. The International Atomic Energy Agency's board of governors is meeting on 14 June to discuss Iran's nuclear ambitions and its lack of cooperation with the nuclear watchdog. While the world worries about a nuclear-armed Iran in the future, it must not forget about a terrorist Iran today.

The U.S. State Department first designated Iran as a state sponsor of terrorism in January 1984, and it has been on the list ever since. Indeed, "Iran remained the most active state sponsor of terrorism in 2003," according to the State Department. By now, Tehran has learned to take the annual designation in stride and, as it has every year, it responded with denials and counteraccusations. Iran's Foreign Ministry spokesman described the charges as "repetitive, demagogical, and worthless," and he added, the U.S. "has had an active role in spreading murder and terrorism and is not in a position to assess the record of others." Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, chairman of the Expediency Council and the second-most-powerful figure in Iran, said in the 30 April Friday prayer sermon that the terrorism charges are linked to the upcoming U.S. presidential election, and he went on to describe U.S. military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan as acts of terrorism.

Tehran does not hide its relationship with terrorist groups such as Lebanese Hizballah and Hamas. Hizballah's Sheikh Abd-al-Karim Obeid, who was released from an Israeli prison in January, visited Tehran in April and met with President Mohammad Khatami, Rafsanjani, and other officials. Moreover, Hamas has a permanent representative in Tehran, Abu Osama Abd-al-Moti. Tehran does, however, challenge the U.S. characterization of its relationship with these organizations, saying that it provides only moral and political support, not arms and money. Tehran also views Hizballah and other groups as liberation movements, not terrorist organizations.

American officials have expressed concern about Iranian activities in Iraq, while Tehran denies that it is interfering there. Nevertheless, Iran is openly advocating suicide bombings (euphemistically called martyrdom operations) in Iraq. Enrollment forms for volunteers were distributed after a 2 June meeting in Tehran, where Tehran parliamentary representative Mehdi Kuchakzadeh, military officials, and scholars spoke on topics such as "Martyrdom Operations and Military and Security Strategies" and "Martyrdom Operations -- The Last Weapon," the Iranian Labor News Agency (ILNA) reported on 4 June. Kuchakzadeh has expressed similar attitudes before. He said in the legislature's inaugural session on 27 May: "I call on you to chant slogans for the defeat of the occupying American forces, who have attacked holy sites, and turn your attention to the issues which need attention," the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) reported. His colleagues responded by shouting "death to America."

The awkwardly named Headquarters for Tribute to the Martyrs of the Global Islamic Movement announced: "We are confident that expelling the British and American occupiers from Iraq is not possible in any way other than martyrdom-seeking operations," the daily "Kayhan" reported on 22 May. "The headquarters has started registering the names of volunteers for martyrdom-seeking operations against the British and American occupiers," it added. The same newspaper, which is officially linked with Iran's leadership, reported five days later that more than 2,000 people -- including a 13-year-old boy and a 45-year-old woman -- had registered to blow themselves up. This suicide-bombing headquarters reportedly is connected with the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC), an arm of the Iranian armed forces, "Al-Sharq al-Awsat" reported on 28 May.

The Center for Doctrinal Studies, which is connected with the IRGC, is doing more than calling for suicide bombings. The center's director, Hassan Abbasi, said at a seminar at Tehran University, "We will burn the roots of the Anglo-Saxon race. We have made plans for America's Achilles Heel, and we will present these to all the guerrilla organizations in the world," "Vaqa-yi Etefaqi-yi" daily reported on 25 May. Abbasi added, "Our missiles are now ready to hit their civilization. As soon as we receive the orders from the leader, we will launch the missiles toward their cities and installations," "Al-Sharq al-Awsat" reported on 28 May. Abbasi added that 29 sites in the United States and elsewhere in the West have been targeted.

Iran's relationship with Hizballah and Iran's role in Iraq are brought together for a common purpose by individuals like former Tehran parliamentarian Ali-Akbar Mohtashami-Pur, who -- as ambassador to Damascus in the 1980s -- was instrumental in Hizballah's creation. He said in a discussion about Iraq, as reported by "Sharq" daily on 27 May, "Our duty today is very clear. We, the Islamic countries, should create a massive storm against America and Israel... many of the youths and Muslims are ready to carry out suicide operations against the American crusaders." He continued, "Today, Islamic resistance in Iraq and the devoted and brave forces in Najaf and Karbala need the moral and material support of the entire world of Islam."

Nor is it just the sponsors of terrorism in Iran who are advocating action in Iraq. Hizballah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah said in an 18 May speech that the forces of Iraqi cleric Muqtada al-Sadr should "fight until the last drop of blood" against U.S. forces in the holy cities of Al-Najaf and Karbala. In his 21 May speech to an audience that included people wearing white burial shrouds -- which indicate their readiness to die -- Nasrallah said the only way to defeat the enemy is through "jihad, martyrdom, and anger."

It is possible that the statements of Iranian leaders and their proxies are nothing more than rhetoric meant for domestic audiences, and nuclear proliferation is a threat to the international community. Yet Tehran's long and bloody record in supporting terrorism, its professed hostility to the United States, and its 1,500-kilometer-long border with Iraq mean that Iranian threats in this regard should not be ignored. (Bill Samii)

HIZBALLAH LINKED TO TERRORISM IN SOUTH AMERICA. The U.S. Treasury Department on 10 June designated Lebanese Hizballah member Assad Ahmad Barakat and two of his companies -- Casa Apollo and Barakat Import -- as responsible for terrorist financing in South America's triborder region of Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay, according to the State Department's Bureau of International Information Programs (http://usinfo.state.gov/). Barakat reportedly used strong-arm tactics and coercion to raise money that was sent to Hizballah in Lebanon and Iran. He reportedly threatened shopkeepers in the triborder region that if they did not give him money for Hizballah their family members in Lebanon would be placed on a "Hizballah blacklist."

As of late 2001, he reportedly made annual trips to Lebanon and Iran. On these trips he allegedly met with Hizballah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah and spiritual leader Hussein Fadlallah. Barakat also served as deputy financial director for a religious center in Brazil, the Husseinieh Imam Khomeini. Regional intelligence sources previously identified Assad Ahmad Barakat's brother, Sheikh Akram Ahmad Barakat, as a kind of roving Iranian ambassador for Latin America (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 17 July 2000). Barakat currently is imprisoned in Paraguay for tax evasion. (Bill Samii)

INTERNATIONAL NUCLEAR CONCERN BEFUDDLES A BELLIGERENT TEHRAN. A leaked copy of the International Atomic Energy Agency's (IAEA) 1 June report, prepared for the 14 June meeting of the agency's board of governors, is not encouraging reading for Iran's leadership. While Tehran initially expressed optimism about the outcome of the forthcoming meeting and ascribed international concern to U.S. incitement, it later expressed anger and made threats.

The IAEA report (http://www.fas.org/nuke/guide/iran/iaea0604.pdf) mentions several "Outstanding Issues and Next Steps." These include questions over the design of a uranium-conversion facility, requests for additional information on uranium-conversion experiments, and the conclusion that Iran slightly understated the amount of plutonium produced in plutonium-separation experiments. "Supply routes and sources of conversion and enrichment technology and related equipment and nuclear and non-nuclear materials" are also being investigated, according to the report. IAEA spokeswoman Melissa Fleming expressed regret that the report on Iran was leaked to the media, "Iran Daily" reported on 8 June.

Before the release of the IAEA report, U.S. Undersecretary of State for Arms Control John Bolton said that Iran is using "denial and deception" and pursuing a "clandestine program to acquire nuclear weapons," AP reported on 1 June.

The U.S. envoy to the IAEA, Kenneth Brill, said on 2 June that the IAEA report on Iran's nuclear activities confirms U.S. suspicions that Iran has a secret program to make nuclear bombs, news agencies reported. He said Iran's persistent refusal to cooperate fully with IAEA inspectors "fits a long-term pattern of denial and deception...designed to mask Iran's military nuclear program," Reuters reported. Brill added, "Unanswered questions continued to be the hallmark of Iranian cooperation with" the IAEA, according to Reuters. The U.S. envoy added that the "more the IAEA digs, the more problems it finds" and "its list of outstanding issues is larger than...in March," when the IAEA last issued a report on Iran.

IAEA Director-General Muhammad el-Baradei was more circumspect. He said in the Slovak capital of Bratislava on 1 June that it is "premature to make a judgment" on whether or not Iran's nuclear program is entirely peaceful, as Iran insists, Reuters reported. El-Baradei added that IAEA inspectors have no "concrete proof of a military program." Reuters quoted el-Baradei as saying, on 6 June in Talloires, France, that the IAEA hopes to conclude its investigations within months.

Iranian officials cast a different light on the IAEA report. Supreme National Security Council Secretary Hassan Rohani said in Tehran on 2 June, according to IRNA, that the report shows Iran's "nuclear activities [are] peaceful and have not deviated from this course" and that its "nuclear dossier is close to conclusion." Rohani told a Tehran press conference that traces of highly enriched uranium, found at several sites in Iran and of concern to the IAEA for its potential use in bomb making, were from already contaminated "imported equipment," IRNA reported. He suggested inspectors take more samples to confirm this and prove Iran is not enriching uranium to that level. He said Iran is undertaking research on P-2 centrifuges, which can enrich uranium to weapons-grade levels, and will decide whether to manufacture the parts once the research is complete. Iran has already agreed to stop making centrifuge parts, but Rohani said he cannot "determine a specific time" when the three private firms currently making parts for P-1 centrifuges, which enrich uranium to a lower level for civilian purposes, will stop.

Rohani said, "the Americans are scaring the [IAEA] and [claiming] there is much Iran has not revealed." If America has the information to support its charges on Iran's nuclear activities, Rohani asserted, then it should give it to the IAEA. Rohani stressed that "Iran will not permit the [IAEA] access to specific military and nonmilitary centers." Iran, he said, has suspended uranium enrichment voluntarily, for the period of time it considers "necessary," IRNA reported.

Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi said in Seoul on 1 June that Iran has not received nuclear technology from North Korea, AP and ISNA reported the same day. "Our atomic programs are Iranian, though certain equipment was purchased from foreign dealers," ISNA quoted him as saying. AP reported that recent IAEA investigations suggest North Korea as a possible source of nuclear weapons know-how for several countries. But unlike Libya, Kharrazi said, "Iran's...program is native and is a source of national pride," ISNA reported. "We have voluntarily and temporarily suspended uranium enrichment while there is a two-way and constructive cooperation between Iran and the IAEA," Kharrazi added.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi said in Tehran on 6 June that Iran has cooperated with the IAEA and "responded to many ambiguities, and there is nothing left to question" regarding its nuclear activities, "Kayhan" reported. Assefi went on to dismiss the 1 June report as "nothing new, just a repetition of the past in a different language.... We think that the report is more an indication of the [IAEA] being fussy than of any failure to collaborate."

Separately, Defense Minister Ali Shamkhani said in Tehran on 6 June that "contrary to Israeli and American ideas that...Iran has a [hidden nuclear] program, we do not have a nuclear doctrine in our defense strategies," ISNA reported the same day. He said that the June IAEA meeting will show if Iran's dossier is a "technical" matter or "an instrumental dossier used to serve American polices and strategies in the Middle East."

Ali Akbar Salehi, Tehran's former envoy to the IAEA, said that the IAEA's report expresses concern over just two issues -- the source of enriched-uranium particles found at different sites, and the importation and fabrication of P-2 centrifuge components, Iranian state television reported on 9 June. He also said the United States is behind international concern over Iranian nuclear activities. "In the previous meetings of the [IAEA's] board of governors, America has been generally trying to give a political aspect to the Iranian case and to drag the issue to the Security Council of the United Nations," he said.

Iranian nuclear pursuits are of concern not only in the U.S., but around the world. France, Britain, and Germany are drafting a resolution urging Iran to improve its cooperation with the IAEA, which they intend to present at the 14 June board of governors meeting, unnamed diplomats in Vienna told Reuters on 6 June. The resolution will state that "there are areas where Iran has [cooperated] with the [IAEA], and areas where [Iranians] have not," Reuters quoted an unnamed diplomat as saying. The resolution "will also tell [Iran] to cooperate more," the diplomat said, adding that the European resolution will assert that snap inspections of Iranian installations should continue.

Tehran initially expressed confidence that the IAEA criticism of its nuclear program would blow over. Mohammad Saidi, who heads the International Affairs Department of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization, said on 9 June that Iran has fulfilled all its nuclear pledges but the West has not reciprocated, ISNA reported. He added that Tehran's future actions depend on European actions in the 14 June IAEA meeting. "The Islamic Republic of Iran expects the Europeans to close our nuclear file at the 14 June meeting and for everything to go back to normal," Saidi said.

Tehran reacted angrily after the leaders of the G-8 criticized its nuclear stance during their recent Sea Island summit. Members of the G-8 (Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) on 10 June issued a statement that Iran is not providing full disclosure of its nuclear activities, Reuters reported. "We deplore Iran's delays, deficiencies in cooperation, and inadequate disclosures," the statement said.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Assefi said of the G-8 statement, "These stances are irrational and contradict the realities," IRNA reported. He dismissed international concern and described it as an effort to pressure Iran. Assefi said the G-8 should not expect Iran to forego its right to the peaceful use of nuclear power. Rather, it should provide Iran with the necessary technology. And in response to the European draft resolution that criticized Iran's weak cooperation with the IAEA, Supreme National Security Council Secretary Rohani said, "This draft only reflects views of the United States and some Western countries," state television reported. Failure of IAEA members to amend the draft, he said, will affect Tehran's future decisions.

By 11 June, Tehran appeared to sense which way the wind was blowing. Expediency Council Chairman Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani said in his Friday prayers sermon in Tehran that the European draft resolution and the G-8 statement suggest that the United States and Europe "have reached an agreement on a certain point that, on the whole, Iran should be deprived of the use of peaceful nuclear technology," state radio reported. He added, "If that is what they have decided and if they intend to go along that path, they would most definitely regret it. They should be certain that Iran will not let go of this right of the people." (Vahid Sepehri, Bill Samii)

IRANIAN FOREIGN MINISTRY CLARIFIES PRESIDENT'S NUCLEAR STATEMENTS. Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi said on 30 May in Tehran that President Mohammad Khatami's comment that Iran will react to a negative report on its nuclear program by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) "does not mean [Iran's] departure from the [Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty]," "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 31 May. But, he said, "the [IAEA] must not create an environment that will force...officials to view cooperation with the agency with skepticism." He said that if the IAEA governing board, which is to discuss Iran's program at a 14-18 June meeting, "does not show laziness, there is no reason why our dossier should not to be closed." Assefi added that European states "and those with technology must cooperate with us...[as] we cannot forego nuclear technology." On 29 May, IAEA inspectors arrived in Iran to check unspecified installations, farsnews.com reported on 30 May. (Vahid Sepehri)

IRAN, RUSSIA TO CONTINUE NUCLEAR COOPERATION. Iran's ambassador to Russia, Gholamreza Shafei, said in Moscow on 7 June that Iran and Russia will continue to cooperate over nuclear energy and arms purchases "in accordance with international laws and agreements," Mehr News Agency (http://www.mehrnews.com) reported, citing an Interfax interview with Shafei. Such cooperation, he said, is in keeping with the "natural right of countries to meet their needs," adding that "with nuclear weapons, we have stressed many times that we have no inclination to move in that direction and to access [them]." Military cooperation with Russia, he said, is entirely "within [Iran's] defensive doctrine." Shafei said that one reason Iran is expanding relations with Russia is because Russia does not have "double standards" in its foreign policy, mehrnews.com reported. Russia is currently helping to build a nuclear reactor in Bushehr, southern Iran. (Vahid Sepehri)

ROHANI THREATENS ISRAEL WITH RETALIATION IN CASE OF STRIKE. Supreme National Security Council Secretary Hojatoleslam Hassan Rohani threatened "painful" Iranian retaliation in the case of Israel striking Iran's nuclear installations, IRNA reported. With Russian help, Iran is building a nuclear power station at Bushehr on its southern coast. Israel, which Iran considers to be a hostile and illegitimate state, has previously threatened to strike Iranian installations to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear power. "Israel says these things, but I do not think it would do such a foolish act," Rohani said. "The Israelis know our response to their mistaken acts. They know how painful and destructive our response to an attack on Iran [would be]. [Israeli threats] are more for publicity," he said. Iran and Russia are negotiating the financial aspects of a future deal to repatriate spent fuel from the Bushehr nuclear plant, Rohani added. (Vahid Sepehri)

IRAN SAYS IT IS BUILDING STEALTH MISSILE. Ministry of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics (MODAFL) spokesman Mohammad Reza Imani told AP on 1 June that Iran is building its first stealth missile -- a rocket that can evade radar detection -- although he did not give a range. Parts of the missile, known as Kosar, are currently on show at a Tehran fair showing MODAFL products to government officials, AP and "Kayhan" reported on 1 June. The missile, designed "for defensive purposes" and comparable to the cruise missile, is built by MODAFL's Aerospace Industries Organization, IRNA reported on 31 May, quoting the ministry's public-relations department. It can be launched against ships from land, ship, or air and is designed with the geography of the Persian Gulf and the Oman Sea in mind, IRNA reported. The missile can sink "small and medium-sized naval vessels" should it strike them, according to "Kayhan." Defense Minister Ali Shamkhani said on 26 May that Iran currently manufactures 1,700 types of armament-related products (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 31 May 2004). (Vahid Sepehri)

TEHRAN SENDS MIXED MESSAGES ON IRAQI GOVERNMENT. Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi said in Tehran on 30 May that "there is no question of our cooperating with America" in Iraq, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 31 May. Iran, he said, expects an Iraqi "government with full sovereignty, so the occupiers leave as swiftly as possible." He urged the United Nations to ratify a "resolution without ambiguities" on Iraq. "The important point with the resolution is that firstly it must reflect the wishes of [Iraqis], secondly consider the opinion of Iraq's neighbors" and also of "influential" Security Council members such as France, China, and Russia, "Aftab-i Yazd" quoted Assefi. The UN Security Council discussed in camera on 26 May a draft resolution on Iraq, the UN News Service reported.

Assefi on 2 June welcomed the formation of an Iraqi government as a step toward "a full transfer of power and a true end to the occupation," ISNA reported. Assefi also said that Iran will cooperate with the Iraqi interim government, but urged the UN to become more active in Iraq and help the country take "a step closer to the full transfer of power to [Iraqis]," ISNA reported on 6 June. Iran, Assefi said, "does not intend to impose its will" in Iraq. "Neither Iran nor America have the right to interfere in Iraq's internal affairs. The American mistake was to think that the Iraqis would accept an injected democracy," he said.

Supreme National Security Council Secretary Hojatoleslam Hassan Rohani said in Tehran on 2 June that while the new Iraqi interim government "may not be subject to everybody's approval and satisfaction...[it] is a step forward, and we hope this provisional government will pave the way for free elections, the formation of a government, and national sovereignty in Iraq," IRNA reported. "This government is not chosen by the Iraqi people," he said, but by the "occupiers." Rohani did welcome "any step that benefits [Iraqis] and distances the occupiers from direct interference in [Iraqi] affairs."

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said in Tehran on 3 June that "the occupiers...have no right to appoint a single official" in Iraq, IRNA and ISNA reported the same day. He said that the votes of Iraqis must determine Iraq's fate and insisted "Iran does not interfere in Iraq's affairs," IRNA reported. Coalition forces, he said, "must abandon Iraq without delaying so much as another day."

Khamenei ridiculed U.S. President George W. Bush's stated goal of democratizing the Middle East, according to IRNA, and said the world can "clearly see the American version of democracy and human rights in the crimes of [Israeli Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon, the humiliation of the peoples of Palestine, Iraq, and Afghanistan, and the...torture of prisoners in Abu Ghurayb and Guantanamo." Iran has often condemned U.S. support for Israel, which Iran accuses of violating Palestinian rights. (Vahid Sepehri)

TEHRAN CONTINUES TO DENY SPECIAL RELATIONSHIP WITH CHALABI. Supreme National Security Council Secretary Hojatoleslam Hassan Rohani on 2 June rejected reports that Iraqi National Congress chief and former Iraqi Governing Council member Ahmad Chalabi informed Iran that the United States had broken an Iranian communications code, IRNA reported. Iran, he said, has had "no contacts or special relationship with Chalabi." Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi also rejected as "baseless" reports on Chalabi's alleged provision of sensitive information to Iran (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 1 June 2004).

In fact, Chalabi has made several trips to Iran, although that does not necessarily indicate a special relationship (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 2 April 2001; 18 February, 5 August, 16 December 2002; 3 February, 15 December 2003; 22 March 2004).

Chalabi reportedly is linked with another incident involving coded Iranian communications, "The Washington Post" reported on 4 June. In that case, Chalabi is said to have informed Tehran of a CIA plot to assassinate Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. According to "The Washington Post" report the plot was supposedly a fabrication by Chalabi that he passed off as genuine to Iranian intelligence officers. (Bill Samii)

REPORT SAYS NO COMPENSATION FOR TEHRAN AIRPORT CLOSURE. The Iranian government has reportedly decided not to restore the operation of Tehran's new Imam Khomeini Airport to a Turkish-led consortium, IRNA reported on 2 June, citing the Turkish newspaper "Vatan." The consortium, Tepe-Akfen-Vie (TAV), built the airport and had an agreement to operate the facility. On 8 May, the airport's first day of operation, Iranian troops blocked the runway, citing the presence of foreign TAV staff as a security risk (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 17 May 2004). Iran reportedly informed Turkey "early this week" that it will pay TAV some $15 million which TAV spent on staff training and equipment for the airport's first terminal, IRNA reported. But the government may not compensate the consortium for the loss of future profits because Iran and TAV have no contract, only a less formal agreement on the airport's construction, expansion, and operation, IRNA added, citing "Vatan." Turkey has warned the closure may damage business ties with Iran and discourage Turkish investment in Iran.

Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Mohsen Aminzadeh met with Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul in Ankara on 3 June during a visit to discuss bilateral, economic, and political ties, iribnews.ir and IRNA reported. According to IRNA, Gul said that Iran and Turkey are continuing negotiations over the TAV airport agreement. "These are matters that must be discussed and examined in a peaceful environment," IRNA quoted him as saying. Gul added that Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is scheduled to visit Tehran in late June, IRNA reported. (Vahid Sepehri)

PARLIAMENT ELECTS NEW SPEAKER. Iran's parliament on 6 June elected Gholam Ali Haddad-Adel, a Tehran representative and member of the conservative Developers Coalition, as its speaker for one year, IRNA reported. Haddad-Adel, a 59-year-old former philosophy professor, was the only candidate for the speaker's position and won 226 of the 259 votes cast, IRNA reported. Kerman representative Mohammad Reza Bahonar won 188 of 259 votes to become first deputy speaker, and Qazvin representative Seyyed Hassan Abutorabifard received 173 votes to become the second deputy speaker, Mehr News Agency reported. Haddad-Adel is the first noncleric since the 1979 revolution to become speaker of parliament, AP reported on 6 June.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei appointed Mehdi Karrubi, the former speaker of parliament, as an adviser and as a member of the Expediency Council, a top arbitration body, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 31 May. (Vahid Sepehri)

GUARDIANS COUNCIL APPROVES DIVISION OF KHORASAN PROVINCE. The Guardians Council, which must approve all bills as conforming with the constitution and religious laws before they can become law, has approved a bill that splits Khorasan Province, bordering Turkmenistan and Afghanistan, into three (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 3 May 2004), "Khorasan" reported on 31 May. The legislature approved the bill on 18 April, but the council sent the bill back for amendments on 11 May because the split "created a financial burden for the government," "Khorasan" reported. The parliament then amended the bill to respond to the council's complaints on 18 May. (Vahid Sepehri)

INTERIOR MINISTER CRITICIZES WESTERN WAR ON DRUGS, TERRORISM. Interior Minister Abdolvahed Musavi-Lari said on 31 May in Tehran that some 5,000 tons of opium were produced in Afghanistan in the year up to March and "such an immense volume...was certainly for export," ISNA reported the same day. He said drugs are produced in spite of Western forces being in Afghanistan. "That shows [Western countries] are not thinking of fighting drugs and we cannot...wait for them," he told a visiting Kuwaiti Interior Ministry official, Ahmad Abd al-Latif al-Rajib.

Furthermore, Western countries "oppose terrorism that threatens their interests and support it when it serves their interests," ISNA quoted him as saying. "Westerners...tolerate and cooperate" with the Mujahedin Khalq Organization, an Iranian rebel group hostile to the Tehran government, "but oppose Al-Qaeda, which they themselves created," he said. "We think they both constitute terrorism," he added.

Meanwhile, Deputy Interior Minister Ashraf Borujerdi said in Tehran on 31 May that drugs are now sold in Iran on the Internet "and this method...cannot be controlled," ILNA reported the same day. Ecstasy has replaced opium as the drug of choice among young people, she said. (Vahid Sepehri)

JUDICIARY OVERTURNS DISSIDENT'S DEATH SENTENCE. Judicial spokesman Gholamhussein Elham said in Tehran on 1 June that the Iranian Supreme Court has overturned the death sentence against dissident Hashem Aghajari for apostasy, ISNA reported. Aghajari was sentenced to death in 2002 after criticizing the Iranian clerical system (for his comments see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 1 July 2002, and on his court case see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 8 July, 12 August, and 11 November 2002). Elham said the sentence was overturned because the sentencing court in Hamedan, in western Iran, did not satisfactorily "complete the investigations and correct the flaws" in the initial sentence to which the Supreme Court had objected, ISNA reported. Elham said that the case has been sent to the Tehran judiciary for further review. Elham added that Aghajari, currently in prison, "is eligible for pardon but until the pardon can be implemented, he serves his sentence," ISNA reported.

Tehran Justice Department chief Abbas Ali Alizadeh said on 12 June that a decision on where to pursue Aghajari's court case would be made that day, IRNA reported. It was later decided to reexamine the case in Tehran. (Vahid Sepehri, Bill Samii)

INTERNET SERVICE PROVIDERS SHUT DOWN IN IRAN. Reza Rashidi, the head of Iran's Data Connection Company, said on 7 June that the judiciary will close Internet service providers (ISPs) that operate without a permit, ISNA reported. ISPs that do not filter websites or that allow international telephone calls (Internet telephony) will be closed, he added. "Iran Daily" reported the same day that the judiciary has a list of 220 ISPs that it intends to close and that it has closed 50 ISPs since May. "Iran Daily" cited Rashidi as saying that the state Telecommunications Company of Iran has lost some $50 million due to Internet telephony. (For more on Internet telephony and website filtering, see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 28 May 2001; 16 June, 21 July, 1 September, and 29 December 2003; and 19 January 2004.) (Bill Samii)

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