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Iran Report: September 6, 2004

6 September 2004, Volume 7, Number 30

WITH LITTLE ELSE TO DISCUSS, IRAN'S MEDIA CONSIDER PRESIDENTIAL RACE. The Iranian presidential election is not due to take place until May 2005, but in the absence of other politically interesting developments and because its freedom to comment on many national issues is circumscribed, the country's press is already discussing potential candidates.

The leading conservative candidate at this point appears to be Tehran Mayor Mahmud Ahmadi-Nejad, although the conservative media has actually spent more energy criticizing the reformist candidate than promoting one of its own. When asked if he intends to run as a candidate, the 48-year-old Ahmadi-Nejad responded, "I think we have more important issues with which to deal," "Sharq" reported on 8 June. When pressed he said, "My duty today is to build Tehran and perhaps...." "Shoma" -- described as the "mouthpiece" of the Islamic Coalition Party by "Sharq" -- did defend Ahmadi-Nejad by saying, "For the future presidential elections, the reformers have placed the plan to discredit the popular image of the Tehran mayor on their agenda."

Ahmadi-Nejad has been Tehran's chief executive for a little more than one year. The mayoralty of the capital city earns one a great deal of publicity, even if the incumbent is not campaigning for elected office. State television carries images of him as he performs his duties and state radio reports on his activities. But there are accusations that some measures in Tehran are politically motivated, such as the provision of loans to young couples that are marrying and the distribution of purchase coupons to teachers. Moreover, Ahmadi-Nejad is "unassuming and simple," as well as straight talking, and these qualities have made him popular, according to "Sharq."

Ahmadi-Nejad's political activism commenced shortly after Iran's 1979 revolution, with the Office for Strengthening Unity. During the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War, he served as governor-general of Ardabil Province. Ahmadi-Nejad is now a member of the conservative Association of Engineers and a member of the central council of the Society of the Devotees of the Islamic Revolution.

It is too early to say if Ahmadi-Nejad's candidacy is a certainty. Indeed, "Sharq" reported on 3 August that the conservative faction has formed a 15-member working group to determine who its candidate will be. Such working groups appeared on the scene before the swearing in of the seventh parliament, with the Developers Coalition -- named for the conservative Islamic Iran Developers Council (Etelaf-i Abadgaran-i Iran-i Islami) -- holding four such meetings. The working groups considered such sensitive issues as Iran's relationship with the International Atomic Energy Agency and the legislature's internal bylaws. The conservatives have not announced a candidate yet, "Sharq" reported, but there is already "indirect and unnoticeable management of propaganda for the presidential elections."

Initially the conservatives' favored other candidates, such as former Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting Director and current adviser to the supreme leader Ali Larijani, or former Foreign Minister and current adviser to the supreme leader Ali Akbar Velayati. Larijani said in the 29 May edition of "Entekhab" that he has no intention of running for president. Pressure from more extreme right-wingers to bring in "new faces" tilted the scales in Ahmadi-Nejad's favor, "Vaqa-yi Ittifaqiyeh" reported on 19 June.

Some of the other potential conservative candidates are Supreme National Security Council Secretary Hojatoleslam Hassan Rohani and Expediency Council Secretary Mohsen Rezai. The names of Islamic Azad University head Abdullah Jasbi and Tehran parliamentary representative Ahmad Tavakoli were mentioned in the 23 June "Aftab-i Yazd."

The leading prospective candidate for the reformists appears to be former Prime Minister Mir-Hussein Musavi, whose candidacy was mentioned by the reformist Militant Clerics Association (Majma-yi Ruhaniyun-i Mubarez) and the Islamic Iran Participation Party in late July and again in mid-August (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 23 August 2004). Mohammad Baqer Zakeri, a member of the Militant Clerics Association's central council, said in the 28 August "Aftab-i Yazd" that Musavi would be willing to run if he is allowed to be a candidate (presumably by the Guardians Council).

According to a report in the 24 August "Resalat," a reformist parliamentarian who requested that his name not be used said, on the sidelines of the 23 August legislative session, that Mir-Hussein Musavi has rejected requests that he run for president. "Negotiators talked to Musavi three times and finally did not arrive at a definite conclusion and failed to encourage him to run for president in the next election, and ultimately Mr. Musavi informed the negotiators of this final decision for not running as a candidate in the presidential election." The parliamentarian said that the reformist parties are confused on how to proceed.

Mohsen Tarkashvand of the Mujahedin of the Islamic Revolution Organization said in the 16 August "Etemad" that Musavi is the left wing's sole candidate. He warned that if the hard-liners do not dissuade him from running, they might resort to disqualifying him in an effort to gain the presidency in the same way that they won the last parliamentary elections.

The hard-line "Yalisarat al-Hussein" on 4 August offered one of its trademark conspiracy theories on why the reformists favor Musavi. It said that Musavi's candidacy is a distraction and at the last minute the reformists will reveal their true candidate (whose name it did not offer). Moreover, according to the newspaper, the reformists are using Musavi as a tool to erase their record of hostility to fundamentalism.

Other prospective reformist candidates, according to the political grapevine, are former parliamentary speaker Hojatoleslam Mehdi Karrubi and former Education Minister Mustafa Moin.

A less frequently heard name is that of Minister of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics Admiral Ali Shamkhani, who ran in the 2001 race. Asked in the 24 August issue of "Iran" newspaper if he considers himself President Mohammad Khatami's colleague or rival, Shamkhani said, "He is the president and I am his minister. That was a contest lasting 11 days." This is a telling statement about the seriousness of that election, which featured 10 candidates.

When asked if wants to run again, Shamkhani retorted, "You should ask serious questions." He suggested that the next president would have hard-line or revolutionary credentials, saying: "In the next election the view that possesses the logic of the revolution should dominate. The logic of the revolution is to be in the service of the people." He said factionalism is not "the answer."

Shamkhani said in an 18 August interview on Al-Jazeera satellite television that it is "too early" to decide on his candidacy. He said the next president's qualifications should include upholding "the logic of the Islamic revolution," as well as "efficiency, firmness, creativity, and activity" to improve the economy and people's living standards. He said the next president should use "new and unconventional means" to develop the country. Shamkhani concluded, "He must keep Iran strong, in order to avert the dangers of the challenges and threats currently facing the region."

Expediency Council Chairman Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani has already expressed his reluctance about being a candidate (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 23 August 2004). Former Isfahan parliamentarian Ahmad Shirzad said in the 17 August "Etemad" that, in the reformist 2nd of Khordad faction, only the Executive of Construction Party backs Rafsanjani's candidacy. If the conservative and reformist factions can compete freely in the election, Shirzad said, Rafsanjani's presence will not make a difference.

At this point in time, a victory by a conservative candidate seems fairly certain. Conservatives dominate the electoral process through its most important institution, the Guardians Council, although reformists control the Interior Ministry, which runs elections. Guardians Council Secretary Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati suggested in the 5 August "Aftab-i Yazd" that the council has already started vetting prospective candidates, when he said, "the hopefuls are better known."

Then again, Hojatoleslam Ali-Akbar Nateq-Nuri's victory in the May 1997 presidential election seemed a certainty, too, not least because he had the backing of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. It was a surprise to most followers of Iranian affairs, therefore, when Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami scored a landslide victory. Presidential confidante Mustafa Tajzadeh, who is a member of the reformist Islamic Iran Participation Party and the Mujahedin of the Islamic Revolution Organization, predicted in the 18 July "Etemad" that the reformists would win again in 2005, if the election is free and fair. The reformists do not really have a strategy, according to Tajzadeh, but "our society will vote for them out of fear of the alternatives."

A recent poll of 1,123 people in Tehran supports Tajzadeh's prediction of a reformist victory at the polls. The Iran University Students' Polling Center, which is affiliated with the University Jihad, conducted the poll, "Farhang-i Ashti" reported on 1 September. Mir Hussein Musavi topped the list with 29.4 percent of the respondents favoring him as the best choice for the election. Hashemi-Rafsanjani was a close second with 26.4 percent. Trailing far behind were Ahmadi-Nejad with 6.8 percent, Tavakoli and Rohani with 4.7 percent each, parliamentary speaker Gholam Haddad-Adel with 4.3 percent, former Islamic Culture and Guidance Minister Ataollah Mohajerani with 3 percent, and former parliamentary speaker Hojatoleslam Ali-Akbar Nateq-Nuri with 2.6 percent. (The results total up to about 82 percent; the report does not provide information on the remaining 18 percent of responses.) The report notes that 56.6 percent of the respondents said they do not follow news about the presidential election, and only 22.6 percent of the respondents were familiar with the prospective candidates. The poll also found that 43.5 percent of the respondents believe that the election will help resolve many of the country's problems. (Bill Samii)

MOST IRANIAN PARTIES ACTIVE ONLY FOR ELECTIONS. Hassan Ghafuri-Fard, the head of Iran's Parties House, announced on 30 August that there are more than 200 registered political parties and groups in the country, IRNA reported. He noted that most of them become active only around election time and, of that 200, only 20-30 are national organizations. Ghafuri-Fard said the Parties House is trying to institutionalize parties, and his organization has provided such groups with 20 billion rials (about $2.5 million) in grants, with about $1 million going to parties and the rest to social groups. Parties must be licensed by the Article 10 Commission, but some politically active organizations operate without licenses. (Bill Samii)

LEGISLATURE TO QUESTION TRANSPORT MINISTER. Hamedan parliamentary representative Hamid-Reza Haji-Babai said on 29 August that 60 members of the legislature have signed a motion to question Roads and Transport Minister Ahmad Khoram, IRNA reported. There is concern in parliament over the railway disaster in Nishabur (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 23 February, 1 and 22 March 2004), the continuing problems with the Imam Khomeini International Airport, and the high rate of accidents on Iran's roads.

The legislature has been considering the motion to interpellate Khoram for several months, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 22 August. The motion has made little progress, however, because the Abadgaran Coalition -- named for the conservative Islamic Iran Developers Council (Etelaf-i Abadgaran-i Iran-i Islami) -- wants to avoid any signs of tension between the branches of government before the May 2005 presidential election.

Khoram announced on 29 August that airline ticket prices will increase by 17.2 percent, which he described as the minimum level needed to keep airlines afloat, IRNA reported. He explained that gasoline prices keep increasing every year, whereas ticket prices have not changed. Inflation has contributed to the problem as well, Khoram said.

Khoram explained, in a 28 August interview with AFP, that the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) closed the Imam Khomeini International Airport as part of a campaign against foreign investment and/or because it did not win an operating contract (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 17 May 2004). He said: "Iranian companies also took part in the tender process. Among them were companies run by the armed forces...and the Revolutionary Guards. But their prices were higher and they were not selected." Khoram added: "We are not against the Revolutionary Guards winning contracts. Some of their companies already have contracts with us, but first they have to win the tender."

The IRGC attributed its actions to security concerns, but Khoram said: "When they talk about security, this is groundless. There are some 300 foreigners who work at Mehrabad airport. And if the presence of foreigners at an international airport is a danger to national security, then by definition all international airports should be closed."

Khoram said the dispute over the airport could be resolved in 10 days and the airport could reopen in two or three weeks.

Khoram blamed other transport-sector problems on his predecessors. "I knew that when I took this portfolio it was a ministry of disasters. There has been 20 years of mismanagement." (Bill Samii)

ALLEGATIONS OF SECTARIAN TENSION IN IRAN REVIVED. Spies are creating tension in some parts of Iran, Intelligence and Security Minister Hojatoleslam Ali Yunesi told journalists on 31 August when asked about his warnings of ethnic strife in the country, ISNA reported. He had said on 27 July that an unnamed "enemy" is plotting to start an ethnic war, ISNA reported at the time.

Iran is an ethnically diverse country, with large numbers of Baluchis in the southeast, Arabs in the southwest, Kurds along the borders with Turkey and Iraq, Azeris in the northwest, and Turkmen in the northeast, as well as many nomadic tribesmen. Although the constitution guarantees ethnic rights and the use of minority languages, government policies emphasize the Persian nature of the state and seek to assimilate the minorities. Many of the minorities, furthermore, practice Sunni Islam, whereas Shi'a Islam is Iran's state religion.

Yunesi's claims of spies who are encouraging ethnic or sectarian strife are probably just hyperbole. But, if one did want to plant the seed of dissent, one would find fertile ground. Sunni parliamentarians sent a letter to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei requesting greater attention to the rights of Sunni citizens, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 18 April. The letter noted the constitutional articles relating to minority rights, and called for the selection of Sunni clerics to deal directly with Sunni affairs. The letter criticized the failure of authorities to grant permission for the construction of a Sunni mosque in Tehran. It added, "Given the emphasis placed by the officials of the system on the need to observe the rights of all religions in Iraq and Afghanistan, why should the same not be done in the Islamic Republic of Iran, which has been the forerunner in establishing closeness among religions and introducing unity week?"

The parliamentarians' letter also criticized the low number of Sunnis in the executive and judicial branches and in academia, which it said strengthens the Sunni perception that the system does not trust them. The letter called on Khamenei to "issue a decree at this juncture and to put a halt, once and for all, to the repeated immoral and antireligious steps in the mass media and in books and publications, and especially in the Voice and Vision of the Islamic Republic of Iran [the state broadcasting agency]."

"In the past, politicians imagined that the poorer the ethnic groups are, the better they can be controlled," presidential adviser Ali Rabii said at a May conference in Tehran on "National Identity -- A Review of the Role of Ethnic Groups." Rabii expressed regret over ethnic groups' sense of injustice, and noted, "At present, most ethnic groups live in deprived regions," "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 23 May. Rabii told the audience that the government would draft an ethnic policy that will focus on coexistence. The ethnic factor has been noted in studies on national security, he added.

Independent journalist Hamid Reza Jalaipur delivered a paper at the same conference, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 23 May. He told the audience that the "Kurdish Question" did not end with government suppression of the Kurds' postrevolution insurgency. "We still have ethnic and economic discrimination in Iranian Kurdistan," Jalaipur said. That is why, he continued, "we have and continue to face 'social resistance' in Kurdistan."

Parliamentary speaker Hojatoleslam Mehdi Karrubi told the legislature on 4 May that there are efforts under way to sow discord between Sunni and Shi'a Muslims, IRNA reported. Yunesi seemed to confirm Karrubi's assertion in his 31 August comments: "Recently, we have noticed the formation of a new sect in Tehran and other cities and some have been arrested for distributing provocative books." An outlawed cleric named Yasub-i Din Rastgari-Juybari was arrested on 26 April for writing a book that insulted the leading Shi'a clerics and raised "serious doubts about the foundations of the Sunni brethren's beliefs," IRNA reported. Distributors of the book were interrogated and copies of it were confiscated.

Entitled "The Fact of Unity in Islam and Id al-Zahra Philosophy," 20,000 copies of the unlicensed book were published, IRNA reported on 10 April. These were then mailed to Sunni clerics in the western cities of the country. "Jomhuri-yi Islami" reported on 4 April that demonstrations against the book took place in Piranshahr and Sunni-inhabited areas of West Azerbaijan Province. (Bill Samii)

NEW QUESTIONS OVER VALUE OF DIALOGUE WITH TEHRAN. Canadian Foreign Minister Pierre Pettigrew said on 31 August that Tehran has turned discussions about Canadian-Iranian photojournalist Zahra Kazemi, who was killed while in Iranian custody, into a "farce," Reuters reported. Kazemi was arrested in June 2003 and within weeks she was dead of a head injury allegedly suffered at the hands of her captors. Tehran claims she died accidentally after bumping her head on the floor. Pettigrew said: "What we want is to know what has happened in that jail, we've asked for the body to be returned to Canada so that we could autopsy it. They say it's an accident, that she fell. Well, we'll know. When you have the body you know those things."

Pettigrew said the human rights situation in Iran has not improved and criticized the European approach to this issue. "Europeans have been very engaged in the dialogue with Iran. I don't think it has improved in any way the situation of human rights in that country, so we are comparing notes at this time."

The European Union appears to have reached the same conclusion. EU External Relations Commissioner Chris Patten told the European Parliament on 1 September that efforts to build ties with Iran have not progressed, Reuters reported. He said, "We tried very hard -- I don't think I've tried harder on anything -- to construct a viable policy on Iran which would enable us to bring Iran out of the cold and enable it to play its role internationally and responsibly." EU political and trade ties with Iran would be based on progress on human rights, and terrorism and nuclear concerns, but, Patten said, "I'm sorry that that policy's gone backwards." He added, "We've seen deeply concerning reverses on human rights." Nevertheless, Patten said the West must continue engaging Iran, because isolation does not work.

EU foreign- and security-policy chief Javier Solana said, during a 1 September meeting with Iranian Ambassador to Brussels Abolqasem Delfi, that the general trend of the EU-Iran relationship over the last five years has been positive, IRNA reported, citing Solana's spokeswoman, Cristina Gallach. Solana conceded, however, that there have been some difficulties during those five years. (Bill Samii)

TEHRAN CONSIDERS SELLING WATER TO KUWAIT, WHILE PARTS OF IRAN CONTEND WITH DROUGHT. Reza Talai, a member of the legislature's National Security and Foreign Policy Committee, said on 24 August that a number of issues must be clarified before the legislature ratifies an agreement to transfer fresh water from Iran to Kuwait, IRNA reported. Under the agreement, Talai said, 900,000 cubic meters of water are to be transferred to Kuwait every day over a 30-year period. He said there is no proof that Kuwait has finalized the agreement.

Kuwait's ambassador to Iran, Majid Zafiri, met with National Security and Foreign Policy Committee head Alaedin Borujerdi on 11 July and said implementation of the project should be sped up, IRNA reported.

Iran and Kuwait signed the water-transfer agreement, worth a reported $1.5 billion, on 13 December 2003, according to IRNA. The water will be transferred to Kuwait via a 540-kilometer pipeline -- 330 kilometers overland from the Karkheh Dam in southwestern Khuzestan Province to the Arvand River in Abadan, then 210 kilometers undersea to the Kuwaiti coast. The agreement was signed during Kuwaiti Energy Minister Sheikh Ahmad Fahd al-Sabah's visit to Tehran. Iranian Energy Minister Habibullah Bitaraf said at the time that the money earned through this project would be used for development projects in Khuzestan Province.

Inside Iran, some areas continue to suffer from water shortages. The farms, orchards, forests, and gardens of Sistan va Baluchistan Province have turned to sand because seven years of drought stopped the flow of the Helmand River and dried Lake Hamun, "Resalat" reported on 25 August. Now, according to the daily, there are sandstorms 250 out of 365 days of the year, and water, electricity, and telephones are cut off three or four days a week. There is no hiding from the intense heat. Elderly residents of the Sistan plain suffer from respiratory ailments and the province has the country's highest tuberculosis rate. The shifting sands have buried more than 200 villages. A local resident, Mohammad Hussein Rasheki, suggested to "Resalat" that President Khatami and his cabinet meet in the province to witness one of the sandstorms. Rasheki said the government should allocate money for a project to spread mulch on the shifting sands, thereby protecting the villages.

Adel Azar, the parliamentarian from Dehloran, Ilam Province, said in a pre-agenda speech during the 10 August parliamentary session, "drought has reached an intolerable level" in his constituency as well, "Sharq" and "Resalat" reported on 11 August. (Bill Samii)

IRAN, PAKISTAN TO COOPERATE ON STEEL AND ENERGY. Iran and Pakistan have agreed to increase cooperative efforts in the steel sector, Pakistani daily "The News" reported on 30 August. Pakistan Steel Mills Chairman Abdul Qayyum and Iranian Deputy Minister for Mines and Industries Mustafa Moazenzadeh met in Tehran and discussed Iran's provision of technical assistance on iron-ore exploration and the expansion and modernization of Pakistani steel plants. Qayyum told his host that Pakistani industry requires more steel, and Pakistan currently imports iron ore from Australia, India, Iran, and Mauritania. The officials agreed that bilateral trade must increase.

A five-man delegation of Pakistan's compressed natural gas (CNG) industry was in Iran from 20-25 August, Islamabad's APP news agency reported on 29 August. They were exploring ways in which the two countries could cooperate. There are more than 550 CNG filling stations in Pakistan and some 550,000 cars in the country use CNG, according to APP, which also noted that Iran has just started a program to establish 7,000 CNG filling stations. (Bill Samii)

KHATAMI DENIES THAT IRAN HAS NUCLEAR-WEAPONS AMBITIONS. President Khatami said on 28 August in Tehran that Iran will do "everything necessary" to guarantee that it does not pursue nuclear weapons, Radio Farda reported, citing AP. He denied that Iran is using its civilian nuclear program to disguise a military one. He said that, as an Islamic state, Iran cannot use nuclear weapons. Khatami also urged the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) not to submit to U.S. pressure to declare Iran in violation of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. Khatami also said that Iran would continue to cooperate with the IAEA, the Islamic Republic of Iran News Network reported.

Some observers remain unconvinced by Iranian reassurances.

In Amman on 29 August, German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer said the possibility of an Iranian nuclear arms build-up has serious implications, Bahrain's "Gulf Daily News" reported the next day. Fischer told reporters, "It would be a nightmare for the region...if there would be the beginning of an arms race -- a nuclear arms race -- in the region." The German diplomat explained that Europe is trying to defuse the crisis over Iran's nuclear activities, saying, "We are in intensive talks with Iran, and we hope the leadership in Tehran would not miscalculate the situation." France, Germany, and the United Kingdom reportedly are nearing an understanding with Iran regarding the provision of nuclear technology.

Israeli Defense Forces intelligence chief Major General Aharon Farkash-Ze'evi said at the 30 August cabinet meeting that Iran's intention to develop a nuclear-weapons capability will be known in the coming year, Voice of Israel reported. As an Iranian nuclear bomb will threaten Europe as well as Israel, he said, Israel does not have to take the lead against the Iranian nuclear program. Deputy Prime Minister and Justice Minister Tommy Lapid said that the real threat to Israel is Iran, not terrorism, and Israel should focus all its efforts and resources on this issue. (Bill Samii)

IRANIAN NUCLEAR PROGRAM GETS A PASS FROM IAEA. An assessment of Iran's nuclear program was issued as a confidential document to International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) members on 1 September, Reuters and "The New York Times" reported. The assessment states that the agency has requested information from Iran on an order it made for components that can be used in P2 centrifuges. Moreover, the IAEA states that it is not satisfied with the explanations Iran has given for the seven-year gap between when it acquired a design for a P2 centrifuge -- which can produce weapons-grade uranium twice as fast as a P1 centrifuge -- and the date it claims it began experiments on the new model. The report calls for more information on traces of highly enriched and low-enriched uranium found by the IAEA, which Iran says came from contaminated equipment it purchased. Information on highly-enriched-uranium contamination found at the Kalaye Electric Company and at Natanz is "plausible," according to the IAEA. The assessment says more information is needed more quickly on Iran's experiments with polonium, which can be used to initiate a chain reaction in a nuclear bomb.

According to "The New York Times," the report does not offer new evidence on covert programs and suggests that Tehran is becoming more cooperative. Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi said on 1 September that the most recent IAEA report demonstrates Iran's extensive cooperation with the agency and the transparent nature of Iran's nuclear program, ISNA reported. He said Iranian cooperation will continue. As for the remaining questions, Assefi described them as "trivial and insignificant." He predicted, "However, some people are trying to start a brouhaha and create a hostile environment."

The IAEA report notes that Iran intends to convert 37 tons of nearly raw uranium (yellowcake) into uranium hexafluoride, "The New York Times" reported on 2 September. Uranium hexafluoride can be enriched in centrifuges. David Albright, president of the Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security, theorized that this process could yield 100 kilograms of highly enriched uranium, Reuters reported. He added, "It's roughly enough for about five crude nuclear weapons of the type Iran could conceivably build." U.S. Undersecretary of State for Arms Control John Bolton said on 1 September that the processing plans are a threat to global peace, Reuters reported. He added, "Iran's announcements are further strong evidence of the compelling need to take Iran's nuclear program to the Security Council."

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell told reporters on 1 September that he will urge the IAEA at its 13 September board of governors meeting to refer the Iranian nuclear program to the UN Security Council for noncompliance with its Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty commitments, Reuters reported. He explained, "They still have a program that, in our judgment, is a nuclear program designed to develop ultimately a nuclear weapon." Washington believes the issue should have been referred to the Security Council a long time ago, Powell said.

Reuters reported that diplomats at the UN say there is currently little support for Washington's approach. Anonymous U.S. officials told Reuters that Washington may shift its tactics in an effort to ensure that the matter is referred to the Security Council before year's end. Washington might propose a so-called trigger resolution at the September meeting. This would commit the IAEA to automatically refer the matter to the Security Council at its November meeting if Iran fails to meet required standards.

Diplomatic initiatives may be irrelevant. "USA Today" reported on 29 August that Iran is only one to three years from having a weapons-making capability, and that acquisition of this capability cannot be prevented. The Center for Strategic and International Studies' Anthony Cordesman told the daily, "We can't stop Iran from developing the technology and reaching the breakout point." Henry Sokolski of the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center added that Iran has the necessary hardware and personnel. He added, "Whether it's 12 months or 36 months, the idea that you can stop them is hoping for too much." (Bill Samii)

TEHRAN ARRESTS ALLEGED NUCLEAR SPIES. Intelligence and Security Minister Hojatoleslam Ali Yunesi said, in a 31 August meeting with journalists, that several spies have been arrested for stealing information about Iran's nuclear program and sending it out of the country, IRNA reported. Yunesi did not provide any names, but said members of the Mujahedin Khalq Organization sent out most of the information about the nuclear program. (Bill Samii)

IRAN PLAYS BOTH SIDES IN AFGHANISTAN. The dualities of the Iranian foreign-policy process show in the country's interaction with Afghanistan. While some executive-branch officials meet with their counterparts in Kabul to discuss trade issues, other (possibly) parts of the government are involved with military activities in Herat.

In Kabul on 26 August, Afghan Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai and Iranian Deputy Minister of Economy and Finance Mohsen Safai-Farahani signed an agreement on economic cooperation, IRNA reported. The agreement calls for the training of Afghan technicians in Iran, the provision of access to Iranian software, and the provision of books to universities and public libraries. Iran also will help construct a road from the Iranian city of Sangan to the Afghan city of Herat and from Herat on to Meymaneh. Safai-Farahani reportedly told Afghan Transitional Administration Deputy Chairman Hedayat Amin Arsala, one of four deputies to Hamid Karzai, that the Iranian private sector will be encouraged to invest in Afghanistan.

Safai-Farahani told Afghan Trade Minister Mustafa Kazemi on 25 August that an Afghanistan-Iran joint commission could hold its first meeting in Tehran after the upcoming Afghan presidential election, IRNA reported. He added, "Iranian businessmen and merchants expect the Afghan officials to give permission to Iranian banks to operate in Afghanistan and to activate their own customs affairs in a way to ease commercial activities." Safai-Farahani said that Iranians would like to see more airplane flights between the two countries, as well as clarification of the tariff regime. He added, "Iran's private sector is fully ready for construction of a 3,000-ton cement factory in Herat."

Iran's Roads and Transport Ministry released on 21 August a report stating that Tehran has allocated 60 billion rials ($6.9 million) for a Sangan-Herat railway project, IRNA reported. The project was launched in May and its completion is expected in 2007, at an estimated total cost of 600 billion rials.

These meetings and related activities represent the more constructive aspect of Iranian foreign policy. The less constructive side is represented by allegations that Herat Province Governor Mohammad Ismail Khan is receiving arms from Iran.

Abdul Karim Afghan, Herat Province warlord Amanullah Khan's spokesman, said on 25 August that Iran is providing military aid to Herat Governor Ismail Khan, the Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press reported. Discussing recent fighting between militias loyal to Amanullah Khan and Ismail Khan, the spokesman said that the governor has "established an Afghanistan inside Afghanistan," while maintaining "a private army" (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 18 and 26 August 2004). Afghan alleged that Ata Mohammad Nur, governor of Balkh Province in northern Afghanistan, has dispatched 2,000 fighters to Herat, disguised as civilians. "Iran has provided Mohammad Ismail Khan with 6,000 weapons in order to arm these forces, and these troops have been integrated" into the governor's militia, Afghan claimed. Both Nur and Ismail Khan are supporters of the Jami'at-e Islami party and, while officially serving as provincial governors, command their own militias independent of the Afghan National Army.

The next day, the Afghan Interior Ministry rejected reports that troops from Balkh Province have arrived in Herat Province, Afghanistan Television reported on 26 August. In a statement, the Interior Ministry said that it "rejects claims made by Aref Afghan and regards such claims as rumors." The Interior Ministry statement did not mention the allegation of Iranian military support. (Bill Samii, Amin Tarzi)

IRANIAN PHOTOGRAPHER ARRESTED IN AL-NAJAF. Iraqi police arrested Fars News Agency photographer Hassan Ghaedi in Al-Najaf on 29 August, the agency's director of photography, Majid Saidi, told Radio Farda on 30 August. The photographer reportedly had a permit and entered the city with a group of journalists, and he was detained later, Fars News Agency reported on 30 August. An anonymous source told Fars News Agency that Iranian photographers must have special permits to take pictures in Al-Najaf. The news agency reported that, on 28 August, Iraqi police began blocking Iranian reporters' and photographers' access to Al-Najaf. Saidi told Radio Farda that the photographer had been working for two days and was even taking pictures of the U.S. military without any problems. Saidi told Radio Farda that the Iraqi authorities intend to expel Ghaedi from Iraq. Iraqi police released Ghaedi on 2 September, IRNA reported. (Bill Samii)