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Iran Report: July 21, 2003

21 July 2003, Volume 6, Number 30

INSPECTORS ALLEGEDLY FIND ENRICHED URANIUM IN IRAN. Anonymous "diplomats" from an unnamed country said on 18 July that UN inspectors found enriched uranium in environmental samples they took in Iran, Reuters reported. Initial analysis, they claimed, showed enrichment levels that could be consistent with efforts to make weapons-grade nuclear material.

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) spokeswoman Melissa Fleming said only that her agency is continuing its sampling in Iran, and the complex inspection process is continuing, Reuters reported.

Iranian Atomic Energy Organization spokesman Khalil Musavi said on 19 July that Tehran would not comment on such reports unless the source is identified, the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) reported. Musavi said that only the IAEA is authorized to comment on this issue. Musavi also said that a team of IAEA inspectors had just begun their work in Iran.

Hamid Reza Assefi, the Foreign Ministry spokesman, dismissed the report as "suspicious and vague," IRNA reported on 19 July. "This type of forged news is suspicious and vague, since it is up to the International Atomic Energy Agency to make comments on this issue, and not diplomats who have no accurate information about it," he added.

Meanwhile, U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said on 18 June, according to RFE/RL: "We expect Director General [Muhammad] el-Baradei to provide the International Atomic Energy Agency Board of Governors with a full and factual accounting of what they have found in Iran. We hope that would come well in advance of the next International Atomic Energy Agency Board of Governors meeting, which is scheduled, I think, September 8 to 12. And we'll work with other members of the board to ensure that the board takes effective and appropriate action."

El-Baradei's 18 July statement to his Board of Governors indicates that the State Department may well be disappointed: "I shall be reporting on our verification activities in Iran to the Board in September and hope that substantial progress in clarifying many of the outstanding issues will by then have been made." (Bill Samii)

IRANIANS DISCUSS NPT ADDITIONAL PROTOCOL. The international community is pressing Iran to sign the Additional Protocol of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NNT), which would open the way for more thorough international inspections of all Iranian nuclear sites, and this pressure is eliciting Iranian resentment (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 7 and 14 July 2003). The alleged discovery of enriched uranium will undoubtedly increase the pressure on Iran to sign.

IAEA Director General Muhammad el-Baradei described his 9 July visit to Tehran in an 18 July statement to the IAEA Board of Governors ( "I impressed on the Iranian authorities once again the need to clarify without delay outstanding safeguards issues...and to cooperate fully and in a transparent manner with the agency. I also urged the Iranian sign an Additional Protocol that would enable the agency to conduct the in-depth and comprehensive verification that could generate, particularly in a country like Iran with extensive nuclear activities, the required assurances."

Meanwhile, Iranian Atomic Energy Organization spokesman Khalil Musavi said on 18 July that experts are studying the technical, economic, and political ramifications of the Additional Protocol, the Iranian Labor News Agency (ILNA) reported. Musavi added that Tehran would not act until these studies are complete.

A commentary in the 17 July "Kar va Kargar" daily newspaper said that Iran could sign the Additional Protocol if economic sanctions against it are eliminated. The commentary warned that the unhindered access given to nuclear inspectors would undermine Iranian defensive capabilities. On the other hand, it warned, refusal to sign would almost certainly result in UN sanctions against Iran. The commentary said that Iran's nuclear activities have been transparent, and "even though Iran has signed important treaties such as the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, Tehran is deprived of many of its rights, and there are many sanctions and pressures against Iran."

A commentary by Hussein Shariatmadari -- the supreme leader's representative at "Kayhan" newspaper -- in the 12 July issue of the publication, recommends Iranian withdrawal from the NPT. Shariatmadari writes that the NPT discriminates against all states that did not have nuclear weapons prior to 1967 (The only states with nuclear weapons prior to that time were China, France, the U.K., the U.S., and the USSR). The IAEA cooperates with the U.S. in thwarting NPT articles that would benefit Iran, he writes, and asks further, why is Iran being pressured to sign the Additional Protocol when only 32 other states have done so. (Bill Samii)

IRAN, EGYPT, KUWAIT DISCUSS AL-QAEDA EXTRADITIONS. Kuwaiti Deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister Sheikh Nawaf al-Ahmad al-Jabir al-Sabah said on 17 July that his government rejected an Iranian offer to extradite Al-Qaeda spokesman Sulayman Abu Ghayth, Kuwait's Kuna news agency reported. The Kuwaiti official said that Abu Ghayth is no longer a Kuwaiti citizen.

An anonymous "senior reformist official close to Iran's president" said on 12-13 July that Abu Ghayth is just one of several high-ranking Al-Qaeda members in Iranian custody, the "Los Angeles Times" reported on 15 July. It was reported in early-June that Iran's Supreme National Security Council decided to expel Abu Ghayth and other terrorists who are being sheltered by the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps because their presence was harming Tehran's relationship with regional governments (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 9 June 2003).

Iranian and Egyptian officials also are negotiating the extradition of Al-Qaeda members who are in Iran, the Baztab website reported on 8 July, citing the United Arab Emirates' "Al-Bayan" newspaper. The discussions focus on the Egyptian-born Ayman al-Zawahiri (Al-Qaeda's second-in-command) and Muhammad Eslamboli (the brother of Anwar Sadat's assassin, Khalid Eslamboli). Anonymous "well-informed sources" cited in "Al-Sharq al-Awsat" on 1 July said that the discussions involve a list of more than 10 people, including members of Al-Qaeda and Egyptian Islamic Jihad. "Al-Sharq al-Awsat" reported that these discussions would pave the way for the resumption of diplomatic ties between Cairo and Tehran after a more than two-decade break.

The Iranian Foreign Ministry in late-June denied that Al-Zawahiri is in Iran, while Doha's Al-Jazeera television had reported that Tehran and Cairo are discussing the extradition of some eight Egyptians who were arrested in Iran in the last two months while Dubai's Al-Arabiyah reported that several Al-Qaeda members are under arrest in Iran (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 30 June 2003). (Bill Samii)

IRAN DENIES VIOLATING IRAQI BORDER. L. Paul Bremer, the U.S. administrator in Iraq, said on 20 July that Iran has moved seven border posts between 1.5 and 3 kilometers into Iraqi territory in the south of the country, RFE/RL reported. Bremer described the alleged intrusions as "pretty minor" but insisted that Iran should withdraw the border posts.

In a 9 July appearance before the U.S. Senate Committee on Armed Services, U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld described "recent reports of Iranians moving some of their border posts along about a 25-kilometer stretch several kilometers inside of Iraq," Reuters reported. Such an action, Rumsfeld added, is "obviously not being respectful of Iraq's sovereignty." "Certainly that is behavior that is not acceptable and they should be staying on their side of the border," Rumsfeld said.

Iranian Deputy Interior Minister for Security Affairs Ali Asqar Ahmadi on 10 July rejected Rumsfeld's claim, Fars News Agency reported. "Such statements are aimed at exporting American problems," he said. "Such problems are caused by the difficulties America is experiencing in running Iraq, as well as by the White House rulers' impotence as demonstrated by their failure to establish order and tranquility in Iraq," according to Fars News Agency.

Iranian government spokesman Abdullah Ramezanzadeh told reporters in Tehran on 11 July that Iran has not moved its border posts and said such accusations are connected with the inability of occupation forces to restore security and stability in Iraq, Iran's Sahar television reported on 11 July. (Bill Samii)

IRANIAN IN GERMANY CHARGED WITH ESPIONAGE. A 62-year-old Iranian restaurateur from Berlin identified only as "Iraj S." has been charged with espionage by Germany's federal prosecutor-general, Germany's "Focus" weekly reported on 15 July. The trial probably will start after the summer break. Iraj S. is suspected of having spied on regime opponents, a service he allegedly provided for the Pahlavi monarchy as well. He was arrested in Berlin in June, according to "Focus." (Bill Samii)

IRANIAN GOVERNMENT BEATS CANADIAN TO DEATH... Ali-Reza Tabesh, director-general of the Public Relations Department at the Ministry of Islamic Culture and Guidance, announced on 18 July that the report on the official investigation into the death of Canadian photojournalist Zahra Kazemi would be presented to President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami on 20 July, ILNA reported. Given Iran's track record in dealing with charges of government repression, it would be unrealistic to expect anything but a cover-up from the Iranian government.

A naturalized Canadian who was born in Iran, Kazemi was photographing the families of political prisoners in front of Evin Prison on 23 June when she was detained by the authorities. On 10 July it was reported that she was comatose in the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps' Baghiatollah Hospital and she died the next day of what officials termed a cerebral hemorrhage (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 14 July 2003).

Vice President for Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Mohammad Ali Abtahi said after the 16 July cabinet meeting that Kazemi "died from a brain hemorrhage resulting from a blow," the Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA) reported. Abtahi's statement appears to confirm speculation that Kazemi died from injuries sustained during a beating while in detention.

On the other hand, Health Minister Masud Pezeshkian said after the same meeting that there was no evidence of injuries to Kazemi's face, IRNA reported. Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi said in a 16 July conversation with Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Bill Graham that Kazemi had a fractured skull and suggested that she could have been injured in a fall, Toronto's "The Globe and Mail" newspaper reported on 17 July.

Graham insisted that the Iranian government get to the bottom of the matter. This seems very unlikely -- Canadian Ambassador to Iran Philip McKinnon said that Iran's "feudal" political system leaves little hope for a fair and transparent investigation, "The Globe and Mail" reported on 16 July. He added that Iranian law does not recognize dual citizenship and Tehran is treating the case as the death of an Iranian citizen, precluding Canadian participation in the investigation.

President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami called on the Intelligence and Security (MOIS), Interior, Islamic Culture and Guidance, and Justice ministries to launch an investigation into Kazemi's death, IRNA reported on 13 July. RFE/RL on 13 July quoted Tanya Churchmuch, the head of Reporters Without Borders' (RSF) Canadian branch, as saying: "The fact that the Iranian government says it wants to lead its own investigation, perhaps we can see that as a slight, slight step in the right direction, but for us at Reporters Without Borders, it's far from being sufficient. It would be like having a prisoner being held by Montreal police who dies in custody and having the Montreal police investigate. It's not the right way to do things. You need somebody that's independent, outside, that's not involved with what happened to do the investigation."

An independent investigation probably will not take place.

Asked if a Canadian medical team would be allowed to conduct an autopsy, Pezeshkian said, "I think we are educated enough to investigate this issue ourselves," IRNA reported on 16 July.

Zahra Kazemi's son, Stephan Hachemi, demanded that his mother's remains be returned to Canada, the "The Globe and Mail" newspaper reported on 17 July. He said he had spoken with his grandmother in Shiraz, and "It has been clear between us, and all the members of the family, that [Zahra Kazemi] won't be buried in the land of the people who murdered her." He added, "She belongs with me, her only child." Hachemi said that independent medical experts in Canada could determine the true cause of death, Toronto's "National Post" reported on 14 July. He has filed a formal request with the Iranian Embassy in Ottawa for repatriation of the body to Canada.

"Since Mrs. Zahra Kazemi is an Iranian, no country has the right to seek the transfer of her body," Iranian government spokesman Abdullah Ramezanzadeh said on 16 July, according to IRNA. Ramezanzadeh said that as an Iranian national Kazemi is subject to Iranian law, regardless of what the Canadian government says.

Canadian diplomats cited by the "National Post" said Kazemi's mother in Shiraz is authorized to determine what is done with the remains, while Department of Foreign Affairs spokesman Reynald Doiron said Canadian authorities are likely to drop their efforts to repatriate the body because of the mother's reported authority over the body. In what could be an effort to intimidate the mother, officials from the Fars Province office of the Islamic Culture and Guidance Ministry visited the Kazemi family home on 14 July, IRNA reported.

The status of Kazemi's remains is in question. Seyyed Sadeq Kharrazi, Iran's ambassador to France, told a delegation from RSF on 16 July that Kazemi's body was buried on 13 or 14 July, RSF announced on 16 July. Kharrazi said he does not know the precise location of the burial site. Hours later, the Iranian Embassy in Paris said on 16 July that Kazemi's remains have not been buried and will not be buried until an investigation into her death is concluded, AFP reported.

Parliamentarian Nasser Qavami, who chairs the Judicial and Legal Affairs Committee, said on 18 July that in light of the conservatism at the MOIS and the Ministry of Justice, there is little reason for confidence in the investigation into Kazemi's death, ISNA reported.

Not only that, Tehran's record speaks for itself. When rogue MOIS agents allegedly murdered dissidents in 1998, the MOIS chief was replaced with a more hard-line official. The individuals found guilty of the murders were imprisoned, but their sentences have been reduced numerous times. The investigation into the unrest of July 1999 resulted in the Soviet-style forced and televised confessions of students, and the minor sentences of policemen tried in connection with the unrest have been reduced. One of the individuals found guilty of trying to murder reformist ideologue Said Hajjarian in 2000, Ansar-i Hizbullah leader Said Asqar, was free on bail when he took part in the vigilante repression of students participating in the recent June protests ("RFE/RL Iran Report," 23 June 2003).

When the report was presented on 20 July, it asserted that Kazemi died as the result of a physical attack, according to IRNA. It did not, at least according to the IRNA dispatch, identify the party responsible for beating her to death. (Bill Samii)

...WHILE LEGISLATURE HOPES FOR EXPANDED RELATIONS WITH CANADA. Three days after the death of Kazemi, Speaker of Parliament Hojatoleslam Mehdi Karrubi met with Canadian Ambassador Philip McKinnon, IRNA reported. During the 14 July meeting Karrubi called for expanded political, economic, and parliamentary ties between Iran and Canada. Karrubi told his guest that greater interaction between the two countries and the exchange of experience would contribute to reform in Iran. According to IRNA, McKinnon briefed Karrubi on Canadian political institutions and the legislature's role in domestic and international affairs.

Jamileh Kadivar, the rapporteur for the legislature's Article 90 committee, which deals with complaints about the government, said on 16 July that the committee looked into the case of Kazemi prior to her death, IRNA reported. Kadivar said Kazemi's family sent a letter to the committee and that, in turn, committee Chairman Hussein Ansari-Rad wrote to Tehran Justice Department chief Abbas-Ali Alizadeh. The committee's letter was reportedly dated 10 July, one day before Kazemi's death, and Alizadeh's response was dated 15 July (the nature of that response is unknown).

Tehran parliamentary representative Elaheh Kulyai said on 15 July that the legislature is trying to clarify the circumstances of Kazemi's death, IRNA reported. Kulyai said that when people who have official permission from the Islamic Culture and Guidance Ministry are prevented from disseminating news and informing the public, it undermines the Iranian state's credibility and "leads foreigners to escalate their pressures and attacks on us." (Bill Samii)

TEHRAN POSTPONES UN RAPPORTEUR'S VISIT. An anonymous Iranian Foreign Ministry official said on 15 June that Tehran has postponed the visit of Ambeyi Ligabo, the UN's special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, IRNA reported. Ligabo was scheduled to visit Tehran on 17-27 July, and the official said the postponement was connected with the difficulties in arranging interviews. The anonymous official claimed that Tehran is keen to cooperate with the UN and he cited the example of a previous visit to Iran by a UN delegation. In February, a five-member team of UN officials toured Iranian penal facilities and met with representatives of the Supreme Court, the Revolutionary Court, the Prisons Organization, and the Prosecutor-General's Office (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 3 March 2003). (Bill Samii)

EDITORIAL CRITICIZES RELIGIOUS JUSTIFICATIONS FOR REPRESSION. In a recent meeting with Iranian students, Grand Ayatollah Abdol-Karim Musavi-Ardabili expressed concern that some things that are attributed to religion drive the young away, according to an editorial in the 14 July "Yas-i No." He added that some actions are, in fact, inconsistent with Islamic instructions and are mistakes. The editorial said these observations are noteworthy at a time when religious leaders do not speak clearly about the dangers threatening the country's Islamic society. Over the years, according to the editorial, one political faction has projected itself as the "absolute owner of religion, religious values, Shia clergy, the seminaries, and all the Sharia [Islamic jurisprudence] resources of this land," and is acting at the expense of cultural and religious resources. This faction hides behind a religious barricade, according to the editorial. (Bill Samii)

MORE STUDENTS QUESTIONED AND DETAINED... Meisam Saidi, a parliamentary representative from Tehran, said in the 15 July "Yas-i No" that the student movement's main concern is "to extend and deepen democracy in Iran." Its efforts are hindered, he said, by "weakness of leadership, organization, and ideology." Saidi said that the weakness of Iranian civil institutions has forced the student movement to act as a political party, and that the opponents of reform then targeted those students and media who helped invigorate the reform movement. Nevertheless, the questioning and detention of students in connection with the events of 9 July -- 18 Tir according to the Iranian calendar, the anniversary of the day in 1999 when Iranian security forces and vigilantes stormed the Tehran University campus -- continues.

Samira Sadri, secretary of the Islamic Association of Students at Alzahra University, told ISNA on 18 July that she has been summoned by the Revolutionary Court in connection with the campus unrest, although nothing actually happened at her campus. She will appear in court on 19 July. Two other women, Fatimeh Bolbolpur and Fatimeh Bak-Javani, of Shahid Beheshti University, were also summoned, according to ILNA.

The authorities detained two student leaders on 16 July, ILNA reported. Said Babai and Amir Motamedi, the head and secretary of the Islamic Association of Students at Tehran University, respectively, failed to return after responding to a summons from the Tehran Prosecutor's Office, a member of the student association's central council said.

Hojat Sharifi, a former member of the Office for Strengthening Unity (OSU) student organization, was detained on 12 July, ILNA reported the next day. A group of student activists met on 13 July with the family of Said Razavi-Faqih, an activist in the Allameh faction of the OSU, ILNA reported. Razavi-Faqih's wife expressed concern about her husband's health and said she has not heard from him since he was detained on 10 July.

The parents of Tehran University student Payman Aref, who was arrested recently, met with the boy at Evin Prison on 16 July, ILNA reported on 18 July. Aref's parents expressed concern about his asthma and asked for prompt resolution of his case so he could get medical treatment.

Nothing has been heard from Mehdi Habibi of Amir Kabir University since his 11 July detention, Amnesty International reported on 17 July, and Reza Ameri-Nasab and Arash Hashemi, who were detained immediately after an OSU press conference on 9 July (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 14 July 2003), have not been heard from either. Habibi phoned home from Evin Prison on 17 July, ILNA reported the next day.

Ali Talai, an official from the Tehran Governorate-General's Political-Security Affairs Directorate, said on 12 July that 250 people were arrested on 9 July, and State Prosecutor-General Abdul-Nabi Namazi said that some 4,000 people had been detained in June (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 30 June and 14 July 2003). (Bill Samii)

...AMIDST CONTRADICTORY REPORTS ON THEIR SITUATION. Parliamentarians Mohsen Safai Farahani and Hojatoleslam Abu Torabi-Fard spent about 17 hours with students jailed in Evin Prison. Their findings were published in the 12 July issue of "Yas-i No," although it is not clear if the newspaper published a statement from the parliamentarians or a letter from the Tehran Justice Department. They met with some 57 students, none of whom complained about insufficient access to fresh air, about the food, or about prison conditions. Torabi-Fard was quoted as saying, "All of the students have acknowledged that the acts they committed were mistakes." He also said that the students described their writings as incorrect, erroneous, and "the product of their youth and immaturity."

"Entekhab" Manager Taha Hashemi, meanwhile, said in an interview that appeared in the 5 July "Hambastegi" that a parliamentary investigation into the imprisonment of students would be unproductive. Hashemi said that the Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) should investigate the issue rather than behaving passively and indecisively. (Bill Samii)

JOURNALISTS AND AUTHORS HARASSED. Issa Saharkhiz, the managing director of "Aftab" monthly, was released on bail late on 17 July, ISNA reported. Saharkhiz was imprisoned on 15 July after appearing before a court in Tehran to face a complaint about a text published in August-September 2002; bail was set at 150 million rials (about $18,750), ISNA reported. Iraj Rastegar, the managing director of "Tavana" weekly -- temporarily banned two years ago -- received a court summons on 13 July and, when he appeared the next day, he was sent to Evin Prison, ISNA reported on 14 July. Vahid Pur-Ostad and Hussein Bastani, editorial-board members of "Yas-i No," were detained on 12 July when they responded to a court summons, as was another board member, Said Razavi-Faqih, on 10 July, according to Reporters Without Borders on 12 July.

Habibullah Davaran and Farhad Behbehani, authors of a banned book titled "Memoirs of Prison," were interrogated at the Tehran Revolutionary Court, "Yas-i No" reported on 14 July. They were summoned to answer questions about the book, which deals with their imprisonment in the early 1980s.

Davud Alibabai, the director of Omid-i Farda -- the publishing house that published "Memoirs of Prison" -- wrote in a fax to "Yas-i No" that the Islamic Culture and Guidance Ministry had authorized and censored the book already, and asked whether the judiciary recognized the authority of the ministry. If it does not, Alibabai wrote, then this should be announced so that publishers no longer have to bother getting permits. (Bill Samii)

ANGRY REACTION TO TEHRAN'S INTERFERENCE WITH WEBSITES. Iran's Post, Telegraph, and Telephone Ministry announced that the blocking of the websites and, both hosting sites for personal-publication websites, were caused by a private company's mistake, "Yas-i No" reported on 14 July. The ministry added that it has ordered the company, Pars Online, to lift the filters and be more careful in the future.

As noted in about the blocking of the sites, "They always knew that Iranian weblogs can be their first enemy [and] they couldn't stand so many pages in the Internet without their control written by Iranians [and] were always searching for a way; at last they did the worst [and] blocked all of them!"

Meanwhile, students at Amir Kabir University have threatened to take legal action against President Mohammad Khatami's government for blocking Iranians' access to their website (, dpa reported on 14 July. The students' letter noted, "We regret that access to many pornographic sites is easier than that of an acknowledged and registered students' group."

The Amir Kabir University website is not the only one that provides news that irritates the Iranian government. The following are the addresses for several other websites that provide news and analysis of Iranian affairs (these sites are mentioned only for informational purposes and this does not imply endorsement of them):,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,, and (Bill Samii)

WOMEN'S RIGHTS SEEN AS ENEMY PLOT. The diversity of Iranian views about women's rights continues to bedevil their struggle for equality. The old school perspective is that the Islamic revolution brought about great benefits for women. Ayatollah Mohammad Ali Movahedi-Kermani, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's representative to the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps, said in a 17 July message to a ceremony commemorating female martyrs from Qom Province that campaigns in support of women's rights were part of the plot hatched by Iran's enemies, ISNA reported. He also said, "Islam has ensured that women will attain a lofty status. It has prepared the ground for this by defining its values and principles."

The head of Iran's Islamic Culture and Relations Organization, Mahmud Mohammadi-Araqi, said during a 15 January meeting with the vice chancellor of Mumbai University, Bhalchandra Mungekar, that the West inaccurately portrays Iranian women as being unable to pursue higher education, IRNA reported. Araqi said that at least half the university students in Iran are women, and the Islamic revolution prepared the ground for this trend.

Another part of Iranian opinion believes that women have a long way to go in Iran. Minister of Labor and Social Affairs Safdar Husseini said on 16 July that the participation of Iranian women in national security and socio-economic development must be improved, IRNA reported. In Iran the figure stands at 12-14 percent, he said, in comparison with 22-25 percent in countries such as Syria and Kuwait. The IRNA report cited data from the Iran Statistical Center that show an unemployment rate of 41.4 percent for Iranians with a high school or higher education and 23 percent for those who are less educated. Although there are fewer women seeking jobs than men, the women are still less able to secure employment, according to the Statistical Center.

Meanwhile, Isfahan parliamentary representative Akram Mosavari-Manesh said in the daily "Etemad" of 13 July that "serious opposition" exists to a bill on adopting legislation to eliminate all forms of discrimination against women. She said the parliamentary women's faction and the presidential cabinet do not think that the bill contradicts religious law, but that it is being delayed until there is a more settled atmosphere in parliament. (Bill Samii)

HOUSING MINISTER DESCRIBES RECENT DEVELOPMENTS. Housing and Urban Development Minister Ali Abdol-Alizadeh said that for every 113 families in Iran there are 100 housing units, during a 17 July visit to the city of Shahr-i Kurd in Chahar Mahal va Bakhtiari Province, IRNA reported. There is a total of around 12 million housing units inhabited by around 13.5 million families, he said, and around 3 million families share 1.5 million housing units. Abdol-Alizadeh said that 140,000 rental and shared housing units are under construction.

Abdol-Alizadeh did not make clear what he means by a "housing unit," but if each housing unit is meant for one family, then the figures he cited on 17 July appear to undermine a previous claim he made on 24 June, also cited by IRNA, that housing construction is outpacing demand. Made during a speech at the inauguration of a housing development in Hamedan, Abdol-Alizadeh said that 656,000 houses were built and delivered in the March 2002-March 2003 year. Abdol-Alizadeh also said that the provision of housing for young, married couples is an important issue. (Bill Samii)

IRAN-JAPAN OIL NEGOTIATIONS ON HOLD. Tokyo previously indicated that it would not sign a contract for a project to develop the Azadegan oil field if Tehran fails to address international concern about its nuclear activities (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 7 July 2003). Iranian statements since then -- which range from optimistic to threatening -- indicate Tehran's concern about the deal's collapse.

Hadi Nejad-Husseinian, the Iranian deputy petroleum minister, said in Moscow on 18 July, "We would like to cooperate with Japan, but if the negotiations drag out, Iranian commitments may become invalid." He added, according to ITAR-TASS, "In that case Teheran may offer other international partners [the opportunity] to cooperate in the Azadegan development."

In a similar tone, Petroleum Minister Bijan Namdar-Zanganeh said on 14 July that Iran and Japan are close to agreeing to the $2.8 billion Azadegan development deal, Kyodo World Service reported. Zanganeh claimed that the Petroleum Ministry also has held discussions with Chinese, Indian, and Russian firms, but there is a good chance that it will conclude its deal with Japan.

On 16 July, furthermore, an anonymous "informed source" told IRNA that Iran and Japan had agreed on some of the technical issues relating to the development of the Azadegan oil field.

Yet anonymous "Japanese sources" cited by Kyodo on 14 July cautioned that many differences remain, although the discussions are continuing.

This may explain a report in the 17 July "Asahi Shimbun" daily that Iran-Japan negotiations on development of the Azadegan oil field will be suspended temporarily at the end of the week. The Iranian side is going on summer break and the future negotiation schedule is undecided, but Japan's Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry (METI) remains keen to go ahead with the project. U.S. objections to the deal are one consideration, but its profitability is in doubt, too. An anonymous oil industry official pointed out that the oil field is near the Iraqi border in an area full of land mines, and two members of the Japanese consortium are having second thoughts -- Inoex Corporation objects to the sizable investment risks, and Japan Petroleum Exploration Company fears that the investment risk will reduce the price of its initial public offering. METI officials also are concerned about possible competition from China, with which Iran has entered negotiations.

Prompted by Tokyo's concern about concluding a contract for the development of the field, an editorial in the conservative "Jomhuri-yi Islami" daily on 15 July suggested that it is time for Iranian statesmen to review cooperation with Japan. The editorial accused Japan of having a poor record in its relationship with Iran and questioned Japanese officials' failure to take advantage of Iranian statesmen's "patience and tolerance."

The "Jomhuri-yi Islami" editorial also questioned Japanese attention to U.S. concerns about Iran, especially at a time when "the people of Okinawa are passionately and furiously demanding the cleansing of their country and island of the filth of their [the Americans'] presence." The editorial added, "The Americans are so detested in Japan for their vicious and immoral behavior and sexual rapes and for their brutal massacre of people in the atomic strikes of Hiroshima and Nagasaki that nothing can make people forget those painful memories." (Bill Samii)

IRAN ANNOUNCES NEW OIL DISCOVERY. Abol-Hassan Khamushi, managing director of Iran's Oil Development and Engineering Company, announced on 14 July the discovery of three new Iranian oil fields near the southern city of Bushehr, IRNA reported, citing "Kayhan" newspaper. Preliminary studies indicate that the Ferdows oil field contains 30.6 billion barrels, the Kuh-i Mond oil field contains 6.63 billion barrels, and the Zagheh oil field contains 1.3 billion barrels, Khamushi said, according to Reuters. The high-density oil said to have been found at these sites is of less value in international markets, and the recoverable amount will be much less than the announced 38 billion barrels, Reuters reported. (Bill Samii)