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Iran Report: January 6, 2003


6 January 2003, Volume 6, Number 1

LOW REGISTRATION FOR COUNCIL ELECTIONS WORRIES OFFICIALS. Iran's second municipal-council elections are scheduled for 9 Esfand (28 February), and candidates had until 5 January to register. Some 170,000 council members are to be elected, and on 3 January, the director-general of the Interior Ministry Office of Election Affairs, Mohammad Ali Moshfeq, announced that approximately 51,000 candidates had registered, according to state television. This level of participation compares poorly with the first council elections in 1999, when some 298,865 candidates competed for council seats, and is causing some concern among government officials and political organizations.

Council elections, which are called for in Article 100 of the 1979 Iranian Constitution, were not held until February 1999, because Article 68 of the constitution allows for the suspension of elections during wartime. The extent of public interest in 1999 was impressive. In addition to the large number of candidates, there was a voter turnout of about 56.9 percent (39 million eligible voters, according to the State Registration Office and the Islamic Republic News Agency, IRNA) or about 63.4 percent (35 million eligible voters, according to the Plan and Budget Organization).

The 1999 election in big cities like Tehran was highly politicized, with four major factions fielding lists of candidates and with some of those candidates being prominent allies of President Mohammad Khatami. The Western press viewed the 1999 election results as a sweeping victory for "reformists" allied with Khatami, but in reality they were victories for populist candidates from across the political spectrum (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 1 and 8 March 1999). Moreover, since that time, the councils have not been able to accomplish a great deal due to legislative and financial handicaps, and in the case of Tehran and a few other cities, there have been frequent disputes between the mayors and the councils.

One of the more prominent candidates in Tehran now is former Interior Ministry official Mustafa Tajzadeh, according to the 4 January "Entekhab." He was in charge of the 1999 election and was accused by hard-line political figures of manipulating the election. Another candidate is Hamid-Reza Jalaipur, who is a leading figure in the pro-Khatami Islamic Iran Participation Party (IIPP).

But when Interior Ministry election official Moshfeq announced the candidate registration figures, he reminded people of the impending deadline and urged eligible candidates to sign up, according to "Entekhab." He said that it does not cost any money, that anybody over the age of 25 could register, and that they have to have resided in the municipality for at least one year before registering. Moreover, a statement from the pro-Khatami 2nd of Khordad Front also encouraged candidates to sign up.

The concern about a low level of interest was reflected in a 4 January interview on the official Vision of the Islamic Republic of Iran television with Mashhad parliamentarian Ali Tajernia, who is one of the election supervisors. Tajernia said that some 49,000 people had signed up by the evening of 3 January, but that number suddenly doubled on 4 January. Tajernia went on to say that the registration deadline could not be extended beyond 5 January, but the registration places' opening hours would be extended until the last minute.

Afterward, Tajernia explained, inquiries about the candidates' eligibility would be submitted to the Registry Office, the Law Enforcement Forces, the Ministry of Intelligence and Security, and the Justice Department over the following 10 days. This will be followed by seven days during which the election boards and the supervisory boards can approve or reject candidates. Rejected candidates will have four days in which they can appeal, and the provincial supervisory boards will have another 10 days in which they can examine these cases. The list of eligible candidates will be published eight days before the elections, and there will be seven days of campaigning. (Bill Samii)

STUDENT PROTESTS CONTINUE AT DIFFERENT LOCATIONS. Students at Isfahan's University of Art staged a sit-in on 1 January to protest university administrators' failure to consider their demands, the Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA) reported. The ISNA report did not note what demands were being ignored.

A protest at Mashhad's Ferdowsi University against the simultaneous closure of three student publications and the suspension of a student ended in the early morning of 2 January, according to ISNA. The deputy chancellor for student affairs, Dr. Davudi, said that the managing editors of the student publications could appeal the ruling. Davudi also said that nobody had been arrested and that a complaint of an assault on a student editor is being investigated.

Two Hamedan University students were given jail sentences on 24 December for protesting the death sentence given to political activist and university professor Hashem Aghajari, AFP reported. Hojatollah Rahimi was sentenced to spend 18 months in Sistan va Baluchistan Province and another six months in northeastern Iran, as well as 70 lashes. Parviz Torkashvand was given a jail term of four months and 40 lashes. (Bill Samii)

UNREST IN AHVAZ COULD PROVOKE ARAB MINORITY. Jasim Shahidzadeh, a parliamentary representative from Iran's southeastern Khuzestan Province, said on 30 December that he has called on the Interior Ministry to replace police officials in the city of Ahvaz, ISNA reported. Shahidzadeh said that discussions with these officials about unrest in Ahvaz were unproductive. The parliamentary representative described attacks on two villages near Ahvaz, as well as incidents at the local airport. These are not the only such events to take place in and around the city, and they could serve to catalyze further action by the Arab minority in Khuzestan Province.

About 100 employees of a pipe-producing factory in Khuzestan Province marched in Ahvaz on 31 December to protest nonpayment of wages, ISNA reported. The protesters had not been paid in several months and demanded their arrears. Security personnel immediately appeared and forced the protesters onto waiting buses. According to ISNA, the employees of the Ahvaz company have been having such problems since 1997-1998.

Some 50 residents of the Kut Abdullah area in Khuzestan Province staged a rally on 28 December, blocking roads and attacking vehicles and banks, "Entekhab" newspaper reported on 31 December. The newspaper did not give a reason for the protest, but it did report that Law Enforcement Forces arrested 21 people.

Students from Ahvaz's Shahid Chamran University and from the Medical Science University on 17 and 18 November demonstrated against the death sentence passed by a Hamedan court against Aghajari. The 29 December edition of "Aftab-i Yazd" reported that Interior Minister Abdolvahed Musavi-Lari has been summoned to the parliament to explain why the police did not stop violent attacks against these rallies.

On the evening of 20 November, about 2,000 people, including clerics and members of the Basij, gathered at the city's Irshad Mosque to protest against these university demonstrations, according to IRNA on 21 November. The participants chanted "Death to America" and called for a ban on future gatherings at the universities.

Ahvaz parliamentarian Shahidzadeh said that the Arab-inhabited areas of Khuzestan Province are particularly affected by poverty and social and health problems and that the Law Enforcement Forces' actions could make locals susceptible to the efforts of foreign provocateurs. (Bill Samii)

MORE DEFENDANTS IDENTIFIED IN POLLING-INSTITUTE TRIAL. Three individuals were initially identified as defendants in the case of research organizations that collaborated with the Washington-based Gallup Organization to conduct a poll that found that the majority of Tehran residents favored a restoration of Iran-U.S. relations. As the trial progresses, more people are being named as defendants, and the involvement of the Iranian executive branch in the case is increasing.

The original defendants in the case were Hussein Qazian, managing director of the Ayandeh Research Institute, and Ayandeh board members Abbas Abdi and Ali Reza Alavi-Tabar (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 9 December 2002). The indictment against Qazian was dealt with first. Abdi's trial began on 25 December, according to IRNA and other sources. Abdi was accused of "selling information and tampering with the polling," participating in international seminars, and communicating with Barry Rosen, who was held hostage by Abdi and his student revolutionary colleagues in Iran in 1979 along with 51 other U.S. citizens.

Deputy speaker of parliament Mohammad Reza Khatami, who founded the Islamic Iran Participation Party with Abdi and others, said after the hearing that the only difference between the charges against Abdi and those against Qazian is that the prosecutor's representative read the charges while "orating it as a pompous political address," IRNA reported. Khatami said, "I believe the accused should all be acquitted."

Abdi's second hearing on 29 December was held behind closed doors, because the indictment's fourth clause dealt with charges that Abdi collected and kept secret documents, IRNA and Iranian state radio reported. Abdi's lawyer, Saleh Nikbakht, told IRNA that he did not attend the hearing but did not reveal why he was absent.

The Tehran Justice Department announced on 29 December that the trial of the director of the National Institute for Research and Opinion Polls, Behruz Geranpayeh, would begin on 31 December, according to IRNA. In relation to Geranpayeh's trial, the court interrogated and detained Tehran parliamentary representative Ahmad Burqani, who was released only after posting 200 million rials' ($25,000 at the market rate) bail.

The 31 December hearing opened with prosecutor's representative Ali Asqar Tashakori reading a 75-page indictment, state television reported. He identified the defendants as Geranpayeh, Burqani, Haleh Geranhemmat, Vahid Sinai, and Mehdi Abbasirad.

Geranpayeh was accused of endangering national security and disseminating falsehoods. He was also charged with misappropriating government funds, collecting information that other countries could use, and trying to undermine the "anti-imperialist character of the Iranian people." Tashakori also said that Geranpayeh provided the terrorist opposition Mujahedin Khalq Organization (MKO) with information about Iran's internal affairs and that he hired MKO members.

Burqani was accused of misappropriating government funds when he was Deputy Minister of Islamic Culture and Guidance and of permitting misuse of the ministry logo. Geranhemmat was accused of forging the poll's results in order to show that the official foreign policy lacks popular support.

Sinai and Abbasirad were charged with forging the poll's results and publishing the results illegally in order to agitate the public. Tashakori added that the pollsters sometimes completed questionnaires without questioning anybody, they sometimes did not actually visit an address that they had listed, and they sometimes listed addresses that did not exist.

Geranpayeh told Judge Said Mortazavi that the legislature's research center had commissioned the poll, and it was this organization that prepared the questionnaire and formulated the questions, according to state television. Geranpayeh criticized IRNA for publishing the poll's results. Geranpayeh was oddly truthful about the general business of opinion polls, saying that "creating an opinion poll is like lying or playing academic tricks. Creating an opinion poll and taking advantage of it are means of conducting psychological warfare." Geranpayeh admitted that he had made a mistake in meeting with officials from a foreign embassy, and he said that he was not familiar with the appropriate way of contacting foreigners.

Geranpayeh made what appears to be an effort to get into the good graces of the court when he told correspondents after the 31 December hearing that political groups and factions should give more consideration to concerns about national unity and national interest, state television reported. "In this way," he said, "we will be able to act more decisively to confront foreign threats and accomplish our task more gloriously."

Meanwhile, government spokesman Abdullah Ramezanzadeh said on 1 January that the head of the Tehran Province Justice Department had provided the president with evidence relating to the case, IRNA reported. In turn, the president tasked the Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) with looking for evidence of espionage. (Bill Samii)

RIOTS AND FIRES IN IRANIAN PRISONS. Clashes between convicts and guards occurred at the Karun 4 prison in Ahvaz, where 300 inmates tried to prevent the transfer of a prisoner to the execution site, "Entekhab" newspaper reported on 31 December. The prisoner faced the death penalty for killing a policeman during a robbery. The riot spread as protesters set fires in the prison, but security forces regained control and relocated some of the protesters to a prison in Bandar-i Imam.

A 30 December fire in a prison in northeastern Gorgan Province killed 27 inmates and injured 50 others, according to IRNA. The head of provincial prisons, Abbasali Arab, said that all the victims were male and had been convicted by local courts on charges that included theft and narcotics trafficking. Arab also said that an electrical short circuit caused the fire. Prisons Organization chief Morteza Bakhtiari said on 1 January that the fire was being investigated by a special team. Iranian corrections facilities suffer from overcrowding as the prison population grows due to narcotics-related arrests. (Bill Samii)

IRAN COMMEMORATES AGRICULTURE WEEK. Agriculture Week was commemorated in Iran from 29 December through 4 January, and Deputy Minister of Agricultural Jihad Mohammad-Hussein Shariatmadari said on 4 January that the agricultural sector yielded a record high of 55 million tons in the current season, according to IRNA. Statements from state officials then and in the preceding weeks have raised questions about how the state can best support farmers.

At a 31 December ceremony, President Khatami awarded 15 farmers for having produced "record-breaking" products during the year, according to IRNA. Khatami said that more-efficient application of scientific methods, including biotechnology and genetics, could raise standards. Khatami called for better packaging of Iranian products and said that some Iranian goods are being packaged and exported as the products of other countries. Khatami said that revising regulations, redirecting money allocated for subsidies, and increasing investment would also help. Khatami also noted that the agricultural sector should receive the same amount of attention during the decision-making process as the industrial sector.

One week earlier, Expediency Council Chairman Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani told the first nationwide meeting of the 300,000-member Farmers House organization that the council is trying to ensure that the distribution of subsidies to farmers is fair, IRNA reported. Rafsanjani said that the council intends to provide price support and prevent fluctuations, help in the marketing of agricultural products, and promote water conservation. Rafsanjani said that the council is concerned about all agricultural polices, including insurance, workers' rights, and providing farmers with the right tools and equipment.

Agricultural Jihad Minister Mahmud Hojjati told the same Farmers House meeting that his ministry needs help in promoting mechanized farming so Iran can become a major regional crop producer, according to IRNA. Hojjati told the farmers that the agricultural sector enjoyed 9.9 percent growth in the last year.

Earlier in December, some 200 parliamentarians called for a 30 percent increase for the agricultural and water sectors in the state budget, because of these sectors' importance in sustainable development and employment (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 9 December 2002). In October, however, some parliamentarians criticized the provision of subsidies as a short-term solution that undermined productivity and competitiveness (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 18 November 2002). (Bill Samii)

IRAN AND AZERBAIJAN SIGN GAS-SUPPLY AGREEMENT. Iranian Cooperatives Minister Ali Sufi and Azerbaijani Deputy Prime Minister Ali Hasanov on 24 December signed an agreement on the transfer of Azerbaijani gas to that country's Nakhichevan exclave, IRNA reported. Hasanov added that this agreement, and associated road construction and border cooperation, would help both sides. Hasanov called for further cooperation in the cultural, economic, and humanitarian fields, according to IRNA. (Bill Samii)

PROGRESS AT BUSHEHR, BUT FUTURE REACTORS QUESTIONABLE. Russian Atomic Energy Minister Aleksandr Rumyantsev told reporters during a 24 December visit to the construction site of the Bushehr nuclear facility in southern Iran that the work is going well but that it must be evaluated before a final decision can be made on building a second unit there, IRNA reported. Two days earlier, Rumyantsev said in an interview with RIA-Novosti that Russia hopes to play an active role in developing new nuclear-power plants in Iran (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 December 2002).

Rumyantsev appeared to throw cold water on expectations of a second unit when he said on 27 December, "We can only speak of the construction of new nuclear-power units in Iran in hypothetical terms," according to Interfax. Rumyantsev said that there had not been any agreements on building another unit, and he questioned the feasibility of building another unit at Bushehr.

Nevertheless, indications are that the Bushehr facility is being built as rapidly as possible. Russia's NTV television reported on 26 December that the original completion date of 2005 has been moved up two years, and Rumyantsev's Iranian counterpart Qolam-Reza Aqazadeh-Khoi said on 28 December that the Bushehr nuclear plant would become operational by 21 March 2004, according to the "Tehran Times" on 31 December 2002.

There have been questions about the provision of nuclear fuel for the Bushehr facility and the fate of spent nuclear fuel. According to the nuclear.ru website on 24 December, Rumyantsev said that 180 fuel rods for the Bushehr reactor unit's initial start-up had been manufactured at Novosibirsk Chemical Concentrates Plant but that they would stay there until a storage facility for them at Bushehr is equipped with physical security measures that meet or exceed International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) requirements.

The director of the Center of Political Studies, Vladimir Orlov, said on 26 December that Tehran and Moscow are about to sign a related accord on returning the spent fuel to Russia, ITAR-TASS reported. Orlov repeated Iranian diplomats' statements that Iran does not intend to develop nuclear weapons and that it would cooperate with the IAEA. Rumyantsev said on 27 December that the two sides have agreed on the final text of the fuel-supply agreement and they expect to sign it within a month, Interfax reported. He said it begins with the words, "Russia pledges to supply, while Iran pledges to return, nuclear fuel."

In light of U.S. reluctance to see Iran acquire a nuclear capacity, Washington has pressured Moscow to stop its work at Bushehr. Russian Center for Contemporary Iranian Studies Director-General Radzhab Safarov explained why Moscow is going ahead with the project in a 27 December interview with Ekho Moskvy radio. The main reason is economic, according to Safarov, with Iran paying for 70 percent of the $800 million project in cash and the remaining 30 percent in kind. Moreover, according to Safarov, the nuclear sector is probably the only one -- apart from the military sector -- that is internationally competitive and earns a good return. The collapse of the Soviet Union forced companies that were working in the nuclear industry to shift to new activities, Safarov said, and the contracts with Iran effectively saved Russia's nuclear-power sector. (Bill Samii)

CRASH NEAR ISFAHAN COULD HINDER TEHRAN-KYIV AVIATION TIES. Tehran and Kyiv signed a contract in 1994 to jointly manufacture the Antonov 140 twin-engine turboprop aircraft, and President Khatami attended the 18 November 1999 inauguration of an Isfahan assembly plant for the redesignated Iran 140 passenger aircraft, Vision of the Islamic Republic of Iran reported at the time. Ukrainian officials later spoke about joint manufacturing of other types of aircraft as well: aircraft manufacturing was discussed when Khatami visited Ukraine in mid-October, and at the end of the month another memorandum on the Antonov 140 was signed (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 30 September, 21 October, and 4 November 2002.)

The 23 December crash of an Antonov 140 in Iran that resulted in the death of all 44 passengers -- including Russian and Ukrainian members of the team that designed and built the plane -- may compromise these plans, however. The victims were traveling to Iran to witness the maiden flight of the Iran 140. The Antonov 140 crashed near the village of Baqerabad as it was attempting to make a routine landing at Isfahan's Shahid Beheshti Airport.

In what could be an attempt to assuage concerns about the aircraft's safety or just to avoid taking any responsibility for the incident, the Isfahan airport's control tower announced that, "the aircraft hit a mountain near the city of Ardestan because of carelessness and a mistake by the pilot," the state-run Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran reported.

Yevhen Kushnarev, the governor of Ukraine's Kharkiv Oblast, hinted on 24 December that the aircraft could have been shot down because it was flying close to the no-fly zone over Iraq, Kyiv's Inter TV reported.

Tehran revised its assessment of pilot error in reaction to complaints from Kyiv and said that it would await examination of the flight recorder, which was recovered on 24 December, according to IRNA. The black box was sent to Kyiv to be examined by the Electronpribor firm, ITAR-TASS reported on 1 January. An unnamed expert said that the crew's conversation was fully deciphered and that it did not expect the crash until the very last moment.

Ruhoddin Abutalebi, the head of Iran's Aviation Organization, repeated on 31 December that the crash was due to pilot error, according to IRNA. He was especially critical of press reports that blamed the accident on faulty maintenance, because this would increase public concern. Abutalebi said: "In conversation with more than 15 Ukrainian officials, they all expressed satisfaction over the maintenance work of Iranian aircraft. This proves the quality of the work performed by the Aviation Organization's maintenance crew."

Pavlo Naumenko, general director of the Kharkiv aircraft plant that built the Antonov 140, said on 2 January that Iranian statements attributing the crash to pilot error are premature, Ukraine's 1+1 television reported. Naumenko said that the pilots were experienced and had flown the route before, and local radar systems may be to blame. He said: "Indeed, the radar system has some peculiar features. The state commission [investigating the crash] will establish how those features affected the causes of the tragedy. The pilots were experienced.... Each of them flew along this route many times. They flew to this airfield, [and] they flew both in daytime and at night."

A retired Ukrainian pilot, Yuriy Lukin, described the peculiarities of radar in Iran. He said, according to the 1+1 television report: "The air-traffic controller virtually does not see you, because there are no radars. The equipment is probably old; there is no modern equipment. Ukraine is probably 100 times better-equipped than Iran."

The crash did not, however, prevent the 26 December rollout of the Iran 140 by the HESA plane production company in Isfahan. HESA managing director Mohammad Islami said, according to IRNA, "Construction and rollout of the second Iran 140 plane has further encouraged the Iranian experts to go on working on the project." And Kharkiv chief Naumenko said, "The project should continue in full scale, since otherwise we would have deviated from following the set goals of the victims." (Bill Samii)

KHATAMI SIGNS AGREEMENTS AND MAKES SPEECHES IN PAKISTAN... President Khatami arrived in Islamabad on 23 December for a three-day visit. Khatami said at a banquet hosted by Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf on the first night that Tehran is encouraging its private sector to do business with neighboring countries and that attaining this objective will require the cooperation of both sides, IRNA reported. Khatami also noted that Iran and Pakistan are involved in regional groups like the Economic Cooperation Organization and that they share security interests.

On 24 December, the two sides signed agreements on bilateral cooperation and trade and a memorandum of understanding on economic affairs, Islamabad's PTV reported. An official statement cited by PTV said the agreements focused on gas, electricity, software, and the establishment of fiber-optic links, as well as antismuggling efforts and improved railway links.

Khatami did not confine himself to political and economic affairs. Khatami spoke on 24 December at Pakistan's National Library about his pet subject, the "Dialogue Among Civilizations," PTV reported. Khatami said that this is a subject that can be approached from different perspectives, and he used as an example Pakistan's national poet, Allama Mohammad Iqbal. Khatami warned that those who sacrifice their own identity, culture, and traditions in the face of Western military, political, and economic power will lose their own heritage and also will not gain access to the Western heritage. Khatami warned that a dislike for Western economics and politics could result in not having access to the positive aspects of Western culture. Khatami called for resolving issues through dialogue rather than through conflict.

Reflecting the Iranian approach to conflict resolution, Minister of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics Ali Shamkhani met with Pakistani defense officials and said that Iran is ready to exchange technical and training experience with Pakistan, ISNA reported. Moreover, anonymous "official sources" said that Pakistan and Iran will stage their largest-ever joint military exercises early in 2003, according to the 24 December issue of Islamabad's "The News." The Pakistani daily noted that the two countries have cooperated in military affairs before, but to date this cooperation has been limited to "minor maritime exercises, some training, and small-arms and ammunition sales." (Bill Samii)

...AND PAKISTANIS TRY TO TRIP HIM UP WITH KASHMIR. Speaking at a 23 December banquet, Musharraf welcomed Iranian efforts to help resolve the Pakistan-India dispute over Kashmir, IRNA reported the next day. Pakistani Prime Minister Zafarullah Khan Jamali said during a 24 December press conference in Islamabad that he and Khatami discussed the Kashmir dispute and agreed that it "should be solved through a meaningful and substantial dialogue between India and Pakistan and keeping in view the wishes of the Kashmiri people," Pakistan's TV-1 reported.

Khatami gave the impression that he wants to avoid Iran's involvement in this touchy subject when he said, "We hope that India and Pakistan will be able to respond to find solutions to their problems on the basis of reasoning and justice," RFE/RL reported on 24 December.

Islamabad, however, tried to spin Iranian statements to its own ends. Pakistani Foreign Office spokesman Kamran Niaz said in a 27 December interview with PTV: "Iran has always supported Pakistan's position on Kashmir.... The Iranian position of support for Pakistan was reiterated. They have always supported Pakistan's principled position on Kashmir." Islamabad's daily "The News" carried a similar report on 31 December. It cited a joint Iran-Pakistan communique that read, "Both sides called for an immediate de-escalation of tension between Pakistan and India for resolving, peacefully, all outstanding issues, particularly the Kashmir dispute in accordance with the wishes of the Kashmiri people."

These Pakistani efforts did not go down well either in Tehran or in New Delhi. The Iranian Foreign Ministry warned the Pakistani Embassy in Tehran about the efforts of "Pakistani media and propaganda circles" to take advantage of Khatami's remarks on Kashmir, "Hayat-i No" reported on 29 December. And a report in New Delhi's "The Economic Times" on 31 December accused the Pakistanis of intentionally mistranslating Khatami's words. The report said that the Pakistani translators of Khatami's speeches "creatively added phrases like 'freedom of Kashmir' and dropped words like 'bilateralism.'" The Indian daily said that Khatami changed his translators three times in one speech.

An editorial in New Delhi's widely read Hindi "Rashtriya Sahara" daily on 24 December accused Pakistani President Musharraf of trying to "achieve his objective by going around the world with a begging bowl." The Indian newspaper hinted that any involvement in the Kashmir dispute by Iran would put at risk the natural-gas pipeline from Iran through Pakistan to India. The daily said that the Indian market is as important for Iran as the European one, and it added that Iran is facing competition from the Trans-Afghan Pipeline. "If Iran and India maintain a cordial relationship...business between the two countries will flourish," "Rashtriya Sahara" concluded. (Bill Samii)

IRAN AND AFGHANISTAN STRENGTHEN COUNTERNARCOTICS TIES. Afghan President Hamid Karzai's national-security adviser, Zalmay Rasul, arrived in Tehran on 28 December for a three-day visit, IRNA reported. Before leaving Kabul, he said he would meet with Iranian Supreme National Security Council Secretary Hassan Rohani, Interior Minister Hojatoleslam Abdolvahed Musavi-Lari, police commander Brigadier General Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, and other officials to discuss increased cooperation in security affairs and antidrug efforts. Rasul mentioned the links between drugs and terrorism and said that failure in combating drug trafficking would lead to the failure of counterterrorism efforts.

According to the United Nations Office for Drugs and Crime, the crop in Afghanistan will yield 3,400 tons of opium this year, compared to 185 tons the previous year (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 28 October 2002). Rohani expressed regret during his meeting with Rasul that the cultivation of opium in Afghanistan has increased so much in the last year, Tehran's official Vision of the Islamic Republic of Iran reported on 29 December.

Before leaving Kabul, Rasul said that Afghanistan's five-year plan for crop substitution would become operational soon, according to IRNA. Rasul met with the head of Iran's Drug-Control Headquarters, Ali Hashemi, and according to Iranian state radio on 1 January, Hashemi said that the headquarters would provide 45 billion rials (US$ 5.6 million) to assist this crop-substitution program. Hashemi also said that Iran would increase its interdiction efforts with the addition of X-ray equipment and radar systems. He added that Iran would train Afghan policemen, strengthen guard posts on both sides of the border, and increase intelligence exchanges. (Bill Samii)

HIRMAND RIVER FLOWING AGAIN. Iranian Supreme National Security Council Secretary Rohani told Afghan President Karzai's national-security adviser Rasul during their 29 December meeting in Tehran that Iran is serious about implementation of the agreement governing the flow of the Hirmand (Helmand) River's water from Afghanistan into Iran, Iranian state television reported. A 1973 Tehran-Kabul agreement establishes how much Hirmand River water should reach Iran, but the Taliban did not fulfill this requirement. The river's water resumed flowing to Iran on 25 October 2002 and stopped about 10 days later (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 November 2002).

The river's flow into Iran started again on 15 December, but the volume continued to fall short of agreed levels. An anonymous "informed source" told IRNA that the flow increased by about 50 cubic meters per second on 31 December, and Zabol Water and Sewage Managing Director Hussein-Ali Shahraki said that the volume of water increased threefold on 30 December. Shahraki said that the water is muddy, which indicates that it is floodwater resulting from recent heavy rains in Afghanistan.

The Iranian media have been critical of the country's foreign-policy apparatus for its failure to get better access to the Hirmand River's water despite all the help Iran has provided to the Afghan people and close relations with Karzai's government (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 9 December 2002). A commentary in the 21 December issue of Tehran's "Seda-yi Idalat," for example, mentioned the assistance to Afghan Mujahedin during their jihad against the Soviets and to the Northern Alliance during its conflict with the Taliban, as well as reconstruction aid to the Karzai government. The commentary accused Iranian diplomacy of "extensive defensiveness," and it asked why Afghan Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah could say, "Only in the last year, and on the basis of humanitarian issues and the principle of good-neighborly relations, we agreed to giving Iran a share of the water of the Hirmand River." (Bill Samii)

TEHRAN PROMISES TO HELP DISABLED AFGHANS. Afghan Martyrs and Disabled Minister Abdullah Khan Wardak met on 30 December with Iranian presidential advisers for disabled affairs Abbas Paknejad and Mujtaba Rahmandust and called on them for assistance, IRNA reported. Rahmandust recommended institutionalizing and legalizing disabled services to achieve better results, and Paknejad said that Iran is ready to help.

Wardak spoke with Radio Free Afghanistan on 31 December. He said that Iranian officials promised long-term technical vocational training. He added: "I would like to convey the good news to the Afghani disabled that we have had long discussions with the Iranian government, and they promised to assist us by assigning their experts to Afghanistan for training and accepting Afghan trainees in their centers in Iran. Hopefully, in this way we will eliminate our brothers' problems."

Radio Free Afghanistan reported in early December that more than 1 million Afghans were disabled during the war against Soviet occupiers and in the subsequent civil war, and on 9 December disabled demonstrators in Kabul called for Wardak's resignation and complained about insufficient benefits (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 and 11 December 2002). (Bill Samii)

HERAT BUYS IRANIAN ROAD-BUILDING EQUIPMENT... Afghanistan's Herat Province governor Ismail Khan recently approved the purchase of 10 modern road-building machines from an Iranian company called HECOP at the cost of 20 million Afghanis (US$ 4.2 million), Herat television reported on 23 December. According to Herat television, this is the first such transaction for road-building equipment. (Bill Samii)

...IRANIAN FIRM TO PROVIDE HERAT WITH NATURAL GAS... A meeting of Herat Province officials has decided to establish five filling stations that would provide locals with Turkmen natural gas supplied by an Iranian company called Zarin, the official Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran's Mashhad-based Dari-language service reported on 23 December. Ahmed Kakar, who heads Herat's oil-products department, said the price of Iranian gas was too high, so the Afghans decided instead to import cheaper gas from Turkmenistan through the Iranian company. Herat Province Governor Ismail Khan recently inaugurated a new gas-storage facility 5 kilometers to the north of Herat city. (Bill Samii)

...AND TEHRAN DONATES AUTOMOBILES. The Iranian government has donated 10 Russian-made Volga automobiles to the Afghan Defense Ministry, IRNA reported on 29 December. An Iranian Embassy representative delivered the cars at a ceremony that day, and more vehicles will be contributed in the coming weeks. Previous Iranian vehicular donations include five Shahab-Khodro buses, according to IRNA. (Bill Samii)

IRAN PREPARES FOR IRAQI REFUGEES AND HUMANITARIAN CRISIS. A conflict in Iraq could impose a significant requirement for food aid in the country and could also cause considerable refugee pressures on Iraq's neighbors, and related preparations are under way in Iran.

Some 900,000 refugees could try to enter Iran, Turkey, Syria, and Jordan, according to "The Washington Post" of 5 January. Iranian government spokesman Abdullah Ramezanzadeh said on 1 January that Iran is ready to help the refugees and indicated that they will not be allowed to cross very far beyond the Iranian border, IRNA reported. "In case a number of Iraqi nationals require Iran's humanitarian assistance, we would take actions to host them under UN supervision beyond the border," Ramezanzadeh said.

On 31 December, Interior Ministry official Javid Mahmudi said Iran is readying 19 refugee camps along its western border, AFP reported. Mahmudi said the camps are just a few meters inside Iranian territory. Moreover, Interior Minister Abdolvahed Musavi-Lari indicated Iran's reluctance to allow refugees to get too far into the country. "We already have 2.5 million refugees, and no international organization has seriously cooperated with us. We do not have the capacity to accept new refugees," Musavi-Lari said.

Moreover, 4.5 million to 9.5 million Iraqis could need food, according to "The Washington Post." A UN official announced on 23 December that Baghdad and Tehran have asked the UN to open a new border crossing at Khusravi/Mondhariya, Reuters reported. The crossing is needed to facilitate the transit of goods into Iraq under the UN's oil-for-food program, and it could help the sale of Iranian goods in Iraq. The UN official said that the UN's Office of the Iraq Program, which oversees the oil-for-food program, will send inspectors to the crossing point with a view toward opening it in late January or early February. According to Reuters, existing entry points for the oil-for-food program are at the Iraqi towns of Trebil on the Jordanian border, Al-Walid on the Syrian border, Zakho on the Turkish border, Ar-Ar on the border with Saudi Arabia, and at Um-Qasr on the Persian Gulf. (Bill Samii)

IRGC, INTELLIGENCE LEADERS WARN AGAINST U.S. Ministry of Intelligence and Security chief Hojatoleslam Ali Yunesi on 2 January told a gathering of political-party leaders that the United States started a "political, economic, and cultural war against Islam" a few months ago, Iranian state television reported. Yunesi went on to describe this cunning plan and the preventative efforts of the MOIS: "The foreign intelligence services are trying to set the stage for tribal and religious wars. During the past year, the [MOIS's] agents have discovered and neutralized a large number of these plots inside the country." He reiterated this theme in a 20 December speech in Khorasan, saying, "The enemy intends to take advantage of ethnic and religious differences in the country," ISNA reported. And in a 21 October meeting with Lebanese Hizballah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah in Damascus, Yunesi said that the United States is trying to sow discord among Muslims, IRNA reported.

Leaders of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) are also concerned about U.S. intentions. IRGC commander Yahya Rahim-Safavi told a 2 January meeting of army commanders and martyrs that the Iranian people's morale is the most important factor in resisting the enemy and that is why the enemy has targeted Iran, especially its young people, with a "cultural onslaught," the official Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran reported. Discussing the United States, Rahim-Safavi said, "The warmongering hawks of America should know that the Iranian people will stand up to threats and will once again foil their conspiracies."

The chief of the IRGC public-relations department, General Masud Jazayeri, said on 26 December that the United States, Israel, counterrevolutionaries abroad, and mercenaries in Iran are waging psychological warfare against Iran in order to undermine popular resistance, ISNA reported. "Every so often, the Americans think that they should flex their muscles in the face of this grand, experienced nation," Jazayeri said. "If America embarks on such a stupid act, it will receive such a slap in the face from Islamic Iran that will be remembered as an important turning point in the political history of the world," he added. (Bill Samii)

TEHRAN DISMISSIVE OF U.S. PRESIDENT'S MESSAGE. Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid-Reza Assefi reacted on 23 December to U.S. President George W. Bush's 20 December message to the Iranian people (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 23 December 2002) by saying, "The Iranian people have not given Bush the authority to express his opinion as their spokesman," IRNA reported, as cited by AFP. "This is a fruitless and interfering act intended to create divisions between the Iranian people and officials," Assefi added. (Bill Samii)

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