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Iran Report: June 2, 2003


2 June 2003, Volume 6, Number 23

TEHRAN DENIES AL-QAEDA IN IRAN LINKED TO SAUDI BOMBINGS... Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi on 30 May said that Al-Qaeda members detained in Iran could not possibly have played a role, as Washington has charged, in the 12 May attacks in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, that killed 38 people, including eight Americans, Reuters reported. Kharrazi called the accusations "baseless" since the group's members were arrested before the attacks. "Prisoners cannot control a military mission. They are under tight control and they have no contact with the outside world," he said.

Tehran, or at least its Foreign Ministry, seemed to have difficulty during the week deciding who its Al-Qaeda detainees are or what to say about them. Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi said on 29 May that Tehran does not know whether Al-Qaeda "security chief" Saif al-Adel, linked to the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in East Africa and the recent terrorist bombings in Riyadh, is among the Al-Qaeda members Tehran claims it has detained for questioning, IRNA reported. Asefi said Iran has arrested "several elements" of the organization, but noted that "they have not been identified yet."

Earlier in the week, Asefi said on 26 May that "since the creation" of Al-Qaeda, Iran has dealt with the group seriously, Iran's Fars News Agency reported. He said "every one" of Al-Qaeda's members that has come to Iran has been "either isolated or interrogated." But Iranian officials apparently cannot figure out just whom they are interrogating. When asked whether senior Al-Qaeda members are in Iran, Asefi said: "We do not know who these are. How can we say that they are senior members of Al-Qaeda or not?" IRNA reported. Iranian state radio quoted Asefi the same day, however, as saying that there are no senior members of Al-Qaeda in detention. (Steve Fairbanks)

...AND REJECTS CHARGES IT IS INTERFERING IN IRAQ... Expediency Council Chairman, and former president, Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani during his 30 May Tehran Friday sermon dismissed U.S. and British charges that Iran interfered in Iraq's internal affairs, IRNA reported. He said that British Prime Minister Tony Blair blamed Iran for the reported opposition of Muslim clerics in Al-Basrah to alcoholic drinks and the nonobservation of Islamic dress code by women. "If they observe the Islamic dress code and refuse to drink liquor, are Iranians responsible?" Rafsanjani asked. He similarly played down allegations by L. Paul Bremer, the U.S. administrator in Iraq, that Iran was interfering as simply based on Iran's sending humanitarian relief aid to Iraq. Britain and the United States, he said, "did not help the Iraqi people under critical conditions, but Iranians did assist them."

Foreign Minister Kharrazi, at a press conference on the sidelines of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) foreign ministers' meeting in Tehran, called U.S. charges of interference in Iraq "a joke," Iranian state television reported. And at a press conference the previous day, Foreign Ministry spokesman Asefi called Bremer's charges "baseless," saying that Iran "does not intend at all to interfere in Iraqi issues and impose a government on Iraqis," IRNA reported. "It depends on Iraqis what model they want to choose for their country, and whatever they choose is acceptable from our point of view," Asefi said. (Steve Fairbanks)

...WHILE DENYING IT HAS TRAINED HIZBALLAH PILOTS. At the same 29 May news conference, Asefi rejected a report that Iran has been training Lebanese Hizballah pilots but had stopped doing so because of U.S. pressure. The report, written by expatriate Iranian journalist Ali Nurizadeh for the London-based Arabic-language daily "Al-Sharq al-Awsat" on 29 May, said that Iranian Revolutionary Guards trained more than 100 officers from Hizballah and 20 others from Palestinian Islamic Jihad in how to use engine-less hang gliders to carry out suicide operations against Israel. The report also said Iran has sent "a large unspecified number" of those aircraft to Lebanon as parts, to be reassembled by Revolutionary Guard technicians when needed. Asefi denounced the report as part of a "propaganda campaign" in a "psychological war" against Iran. (Steve Fairbanks)

TEHRAN WILL SIGN IAEA ADDITIONAL PROTOCOL -- IF SANCTIONS ARE LIFTED FIRST. Foreign Minister Kharrazi at a 30 May press conference said Tehran would sign the International Atomic Energy Agency's (IAEA) Additional Protocol if sanctions against Iran were lifted, IRNA reported. "If all sanctions, pressures, and restrictions against Iran are lifted," he explained, and if "nuclear technology for peaceful purposes is put at its disposal," Iran will sign the protocol. The Additional Protocol allows the IAEA to inspect all facilities of signatories without any notice. Kharrazi complained that, despite having signed the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, Iran "is still deprived of many of its rights and there are a lot of sanctions and pressures currently in effect." (Steve Fairbanks)

WHY NOT LET U.S. BUILD IRAN'S NUCLEAR PLANTS? During the same press conference Kharrazi also said that Iran would not oppose "involvement of other Western states" in the construction of nuclear-power plants on Iranian territory, according to IRNA. Apparently Russia not only agrees with Kharrazi, but also thinks that the United States would be the perfect partner for building such a plant. Russian Atomic Energy Minister Aleksandr Rumyantsev suggested on 30 May that would be a good way to ease U.S. concerns that Iran would use the nuclear reactor in Bushehr, currently being constructed by Russia, to develop atomic weapons, Reuters reported. "We have asked our American colleagues this question a few times while having top-level discussions. But so far they have only said they need to think about it," Rumyantsev told ITAR-TASS news agency. (Steve Fairbanks)

RUSSIA CLOSE TO AGREEMENT WITH IRAN ON SPENT NUCLEAR FUEL. Russian Atomic Energy Minister Aleksandr Rumyantsev, in a live interview on Ekho Moskvy radio on 29 May, said Russia is close to concluding an agreement with Iran on the return of spent nuclear fuel rods from Iran's Bushehr nuclear plant, ITAR-TASS reported. Reporting on the same interview, Moscow's Interfax news agency said the minister confirmed that Russia so far "has not shipped fresh nuclear fuel to Iran." Rumyantsev said all construction work on the project will be completed by the end of 2004, the reactor will be started in early 2005, and commercial operation will commence later the same year, ITAR-TASS reported. Meanwhile, a number of Russian Federation Council members have rejected Washington's suspicions about Iran's nuclear program and Russia's involvement in it, Interfax reported on 29 May. Federation Council First Deputy Chairman Valerii Goreglyad, citing numerous IAEA inspections in Iran, called the U.S. concerns "groundless." Goreglyad characterized the U.S. charges as "a desire to establish a new world order to suit its economic and political interests," according to Interfax. (Steve Fairbanks)

IRANIANS, RUSSIANS DISCUSS CONSTRUCTION DELAYS AT BUSHEHR. The construction schedule of the Russian-built nuclear-power station in Bushehr is lagging behind by "several months," the Moscow-based "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 27 May. The schedule was the subject of talks in Moscow on 26 May between Russian Atomic Energy Minister Rumyantsev and an Iranian delegation headed by Iranian Atomic Energy Organization Deputy Chairman Asadollah Saburi. According to "Kommersant-Daily," the delay is because Rumyantsev refuses to deliver fresh nuclear fuel due to Iran's reluctance to sign an agreement with Russia on returning spent nuclear-fuel rods from Bushehr. Deteriorating Iranian-U.S. relations have nothing to do with the extension of the time frame, according to "Kommersant-Daily." The official Iranian news agency IRNA reported simply that the meetings dealt with the "need for the timely meeting of commitments" and the need to avoid elaborating on details "which could be used in other countries' propaganda." (Steve Fairbanks)

RAFSANJANI SAYS GOD WILL FOIL ANY U.S. PLOTS AGAINST IRAN. Reacting to reports that Bush administration officials in Washington are debating the merits of destabilizing Iran, Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani during his 30 May Tehran Friday sermon assured his listeners that "the God of Islam...and the God of our revolution and our people will foil these [plots]," Iranian state radio reported. Addressing U.S. officials and urging them to listen "impartially" to what he is saying, the cleric admonished that "anyone who should want to stretch their hands towards Iran will have those hands cut off." (Steve Fairbanks)

SUPREME LEADER URGES SOLIDARITY AGAINST U.S. PRESSURES. Speaking to Iranian parliamentarians on 28 May, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei urged solidarity against U.S. pressures, which he said are aimed at destabilizing Iran, IRNA reported. He said U.S. leaders, driven by "stupid vanity," aim to "stir up social tumult and psychological commotion and petrify officials" in order to force the Iranian people to "give up national power" and their "preferred values." Khamenei's remarks appeared to reflect concerns that factional feuding among Iranian politicians, which has flared up in recent weeks over the conservative Guardians Council's rejection of legislation meant to strengthen the authority of reformist President Mohammad Khatami, would make the country vulnerable to possible U.S. plans to foment unrest in Iran. (Steve Fairbanks)

IRGC OFFICIAL DISMISSES U.S. THREATS... The head of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps' (IRGC) public-relations office, Masoud Jazayeri, said the Pentagon's purported plans for a military attack on Iran "are as flimsy as were the twin towers," Tehran's Fars News Agency reported on 27 May. Jazayeri asserted that the Iranian people are ready to defend their country, and if the United States should attack, "it will have to pay for all its bestial and wolf-like actions," Fars reported. (Steve Fairbanks)

...AND EXPRESSES CONCERN ABOUT DOMESTIC DISSENT. In the same Fars report on 27 May, Masoud Jazayeri arguably signaled that his real cause of concern is within Iran itself. He referred to people who "are showing the green light to America." He did not identify them, but suggested that such individuals are influential because they "have got to some position thanks to the system's generosity," and they "speak through channels that the system has generously put at their disposal," according to Fars. That would seem to point to the Foreign Ministry, which admits to official channels of contact with Washington. Jazayeri warned the United States not to be deceived by such people, whom he characterized as being worthless as "froth" on water. In a possible reference to media reports that the Pentagon is contemplating destabilizing Iran, Jazayeri asserted that the Iranian system "is so efficient now that it can overcome any foreign conspiracy." It has a "high degree of legitimacy," he said, although he acknowledged that "there might be some who have become alienated." (Steve Fairbanks)

TEHRAN HOPES TO MOBILIZE OIC SUPPORT. The 30th foreign-ministerial session of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) opened in Tehran on 28 May, IRNA reported. Foreign ministers and representatives from 57 OIC member states are attending the three-day meeting to discuss Iraq, Israel-Palestine developments, the war on terrorism, and, Tehran hopes, mounting U.S. pressures on Iran. Iranian President Khatami gave an inaugural speech in which he renewed his oft-stated call for civilizational dialogue. He urged abandonment of extremism and terrorism, which, he said, "destroy the dignity and authority of Islam," but he listed "unilateralism" together with terrorism as "the two horrible faces of today's world." Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi expressed regret on 28 May that the OIC has not effectively countered U.S. threats and noted that one aim of the Tehran meeting is to "mobilize the OIC to fulfill its international obligation," IRNA reported. The mainstream Tehran English-language daily "Iran News" on 28 May urged that the OIC adopt a united strategy against the Bush administration's "unilateralist" and "neo-imperial" strategies. (Steve Fairbanks)

U.S. SANCTIONS MOLDOVANS FOR ALLEGED EXPORTS TO IRAN. A State Department official cited by Reuters said on 28 May that the United States has imposed commercial sanctions on a Moldovan citizen and on two Moldovan companies for exporting missile technology to Iran. The Federal Register identified the individual as Mikhail Pavlovich Vladov and the companies as Cuanta SA and Computer & Communicatii SRL and their subsidiaries or successors. The notice said they had "engaged in missile technology proliferation activities that require imposition of sanctions pursuant to the Arms Export Control Act...and the Export Administration Act of 1979." The State Department source added, "They contributed to missile technology programs in Iran." As a result of the decision, the United States will not issue licenses for the export of sensitive equipment or technologies to those entities for two years, and the U.S. government will exclude them from any activities relating to missile equipment. The Russian Interfax news agency said that Vladov was CEO of Cuanta in 2002. In May 2002, the United States had already sanctioned Cuanta and Vladov under a law adopted in 2000 that is designed to prevent transfers of controlled equipment and technology to Iran (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 May 2002). (Michael Shafir)

GEORGIA DENIES TALKS ON USE OF TERRITORY FOR U.S. ATTACK ON IRAN. Georgian presidential press secretary Kakha Imnadze told journalists in Tbilisi on 29 May that there is no truth to an article published in the same day's issue of Russia's "Nezavisimaya gazeta" alleging that the U.S. administration is holding secret talks with the leaders of Georgia and Azerbaijan on the deployment in those countries of U.S. forces that could participate in a U.S. military intervention in Iran to overthrow that country's leadership, Caucasus Press reported. Imnadze said Georgia has not received any such proposal from Washington. (Liz Fuller)

IRAN REPATRIATING IRAQI REFUGEES. Iran has begun repatriating some 200,000 Iraqi refugees under an agreement with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), a senior Iranian Interior Ministry official told IRNA on 27 May. Bureau for Aliens and Foreign Immigrant Affairs head Ahmad Hosseini said the repatriation is voluntary and refugees returning to Iraq will be transported by UN-provided buses across the Shalamcheh border crossing to the southern Iraqi city of Al-Basrah. "According to negotiations held through the UNHCR with the British government, guarantees have been made so that the Geneva Conventions' requirements to safeguard the security of refugees and their access to basic needs are respected," Hosseini said. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

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