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Iran Report: August 4, 2003

4 August 2003, Volume 6, Number 32

REFORMIST COALITION MIGHT SURVIVE UNTIL PARLIAMENTARY ELECTION. The coalition of reformist parties referred to as the 2nd of Khordad Front -- after the date of President Mohammad Khatami's May 1997 election -- achieved tremendous electoral success in the February 2000 parliamentary election. It seems, however, that the reformist parties are having trouble maintaining the coalition as the spring 2004 parliamentary election approaches. If the voter apathy that was apparent in the February 2003 municipal council elections continues, conservative candidates could end up dominating the seventh parliament just as thoroughly as they now dominate municipal councils.

A sharp verbal exchange on 27 July between Speaker of Parliament Mehdi Karrubi and two reformist parliamentarians -- Mohammad Naimipur and Ali Shakuri-Rad, both of whom represent Tehran -- is indicative of the widening rift in the 2nd of Khordad coalition, "Iran News" reported on 28 July. The pro-reform Militant Clerics Association (MRM), of which Karrubi is a member, was essentially dead before the sixth parliamentary election, and according to "Iran News" many reformists believe it was only its alliance with the pro-Khatami Islamic Iran Participation Party (IIPP) and the subsequent appointment of Karrubi as speaker that revived the MRM. Nevertheless, anonymous "experts" believe the MRM-IIPP differences will be overcome through the struggle against a common foe, "at least until the next parliamentary elections."

A series of meetings between several factions within the coalition is another possible sign of political realignment. Tehran parliamentary representative Hojatoleslam Ali-Akbar Mohtashami-Pur said that 100 reformist legislators met before the summer break and they will meet again in the coming week, according to a report in the 26 July issue of "Jomhuri-yi Islami." Mohtashami-Pur said the objective is not to create a new party, but to bring about accord between everybody and to eliminate tensions. According to Bushehr representative Rahman Khalili, "The topics to be discussed at this meeting will be appropriate ways to reduce the country's political tensions, [facilitate] interaction, and establish a dialogue among moderate currents in both of the factions." Khalili added that this new grouping wants to distance itself from the extremists who are currently active politically.

Rasht representative Elias Hazrati provided some details when he said, according to "Jomhuri-yi Islami," "A new spectrum will be created in the 2nd Khordad Front in coalition with the Solidarity Party and the MRM, which will operate actively in the [2004] elections."

Tehran parliamentary representative Hojatoleslam Majid Ansari, a leader of the pro-reform MRM, denied that his associates met with their counterparts in the conservative Tehran Militant Clergy Association (JRM) to discuss the spring 2004 parliamentary election, "Etemad" reported on 28 July. Ansari said his faction is negotiating with all the groups in the reformist 2nd of Khordad coalition and that he hopes to form a coalition like the one they had for the sixth parliamentary election in 2001.

Parliamentarian Rasul Montajabnia, who is a member of the MRM's central council, also dismissed rumors about MRM-JRM meetings, "Iran" newspaper reported on 29 July. "We have had so many disagreements in the last 25 years that we can no longer sit together and try to reach a compromise and understanding." He added, "In terms of viewpoints and preferences, they are at the opposite pole to us." Montajabnia said that the conservatives have been trying to insinuate for several months that differences exist in the reformist coalition, but the disagreements are not serious.

Other prominent reformists have been quick to deny that the IIPP and MRM are parting ways. Parliamentarian Mohsen Armin, who is a member of the Mujahedin of the Islamic Revolution Organization, commented on such rumors by saying the differences are minor and that the parties are trying to resolve them, "Iran Daily" reported on 29 July.

Tehran representative Ali Shakuri-Rad commented on the creation of a new reformist grouping, the Unity Faction, and dismissed the possibility that it would drive the IIPP out of the electoral arena in exchange for the approval of its own candidates, the Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA) reported on 29 July. He added that the conservative JRM would make major concessions to the reformist MRM in exchange for the termination of its relationship with the IIPP, but that the bonds between the MRM and the IIPP are strong enough to survive this challenge.

The Executives of Construction Party is still considered part of the 2nd of Khordad coalition, but the relationship was strained in 2000 by differences over support for Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani's candidacy for parliament. Shakuri-Rad told ISNA that although Hashemi-Rafsanjani no longer appeals to young voters, he could still play a role: "Mr. Hashemi has always been influential." (Bill Samii)

FISTICUFFS ERUPT IN PARLIAMENT. During the 29 July parliamentary session, Shiraz representative Seyyed Ahmad Azimi punched Tabriz's Akbar Alami in the back of the neck, prompting Alami to punch Azimi in the face, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported. Azimi fled when other legislators intervened, but Alami followed him to the cafeteria and the fight resumed. The fight apparently stemmed from Alami's allegations that Azimi, who serves on the parliamentary energy committee, is getting money from the Petroleum Ministry. (Bill Samii)

PRESIDENT, PARLIAMENT TO DISCUSS LEGISLATIVE DEADLOCK. The deadlock between the parliament and the Guardians Council over two pieces of legislation that would empower the executive branch appears to be causing tensions in the potentially fragile reformist coalition (on the "twin bills," see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 28 July 2003). President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami is acting to resolve the dispute, because he wants to avoid having the bills go to the Expediency Council -- the usual course of events when the Guardians Council and the parliament cannot resolve their differences over a bill.

Vice President for Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Mohammad Ali Abtahi said in the 29 July issue of the government newspaper "Iran" that a meeting of the cabinet and members of the legislature would take place on 3 August in order to enhance the two sides' cooperation. For their part, Ardabil parliamentary representative Nureddin Pirmoazen said that he and 24 of his colleagues have summoned President Khatami to the legislature on 3 August to answer their questions about the current situation, ISNA reported on 30 July.

Parliament speaker Hojatoleslam Mehdi Karrubi, trying to cast the issue in a more positive light, said on 27 July that the standoff between the legislature and Guardians Council over one of the twin bills would be resolved soon, the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) reported. The bill, which aims to modify the Guardians Council's ability to vet candidates for elected office (known as "approbatory supervision"), was rejected by the Guardians Council in April for failure to comply with the constitution and with religious law. The parliament and the Guardians Council have been trying to resolve their dispute over the bill since June. Karrubi said on 22 July that some Guardians Council members are biased, IRNA reported, and on 20 July reformist parliamentarians said in a letter to President Khatami that the Guardians Council is being inflexible, IRNA reported. (Bill Samii)

EDUCATION MINISTER TRIES TO RESIGN. Science, Research, and Technology Minister Mustafa Moin-Najafabadi's 24 July offer to resign was the result primarily of bureaucratic concerns -- the Ministry of Culture and Higher Education was renamed the Ministry of Science, Research, and Technology a few years ago, but little else about it has been allowed to change. Moin has tried to resign before -- in June 2003 and in July 1999 -- but for different reasons.

The Science, Research, and Technology Ministry's director general for public relations, Mahdokht Borujerdi, told Fars News Agency on 28 July that the main reason Moin wanted to resign was the Guardians Council's refusal to approve his plan for restructuring the ministry, even though the government and the legislature had approved the legislation. Moin also found that there were too many decision-making centers in the ministry.

A member of the parliament's Education and Research Committee, Rafsanjan representative Ali Mohammad Namazi, also said in a 28 July interview with the Iranian Labor News Agency (ILNA) that Moin wanted to quit because his plan for the ministry was rejected. Namazi hinted that Moin did not have adequate resources to do his job, and he speculated that President Khatami would not accept Moin's resignation because he is successful and efficient.

Hussein Salimi, dean of the law faculty at Allameh Tabatabai University, said that the country should take Moin's resignation as a warning, "Iran" reported on 29 July. Salimi said that the universities are overly centralized and have too many administrators. He added, "Many universities and university dormitories are falling apart and there is a lack of adequate facilities." Parliamentarian Jafar Kambuzia, who serves on the Education and Research Committee, said that it is pointless to stay on in a ministry that does not have the necessary authority.

Moin's previous efforts to resign were tied to excesses committed by the security forces and hardline elements against protesting students. In an interview that was published in the 25 June 2003 issue of the official "Iran" newspaper, Moin said that if the people responsible for the July 1999 unrest had been dealt with "decisively and the adventure had not been confined to stealing an electric razor," the unrest of June 2003 would not have taken place. In other words, if the people who gave the orders were punished, rather than being protected behind the facade of a sham trial in which a few policemen were charged with stealing an electric razor, then it is possible that the June riots would not have occurred. Moin added that the humiliation to which students have been subjected in recent years has not helped the situation. (Bill Samii)

CONTROVERSIAL CLERIC'S ARRESTED ASSOCIATE GETS SUPPORT. Members of the household of former Isfahan Friday prayer leader Ayatollah Jalal Taheri visited the family of his recently arrested associate, Mohammad Madah, on 29 July, ISNA reported the next day. The ayatollah's wife reportedly recalled the prison years they endured under the monarchy, stressed the importance of patience and composure, and expressed gratitude for Mohammad Madah's hard work since the 1979 revolution. Ayatollah Taheri visited the family himself on 21 July and said, "I was the target, and they can come and arrest me if they want to do so," ILNA reported on 23 July. "I have not committed any crimes for which I can be prosecuted or arrested." Members of the Islamic Society of Isfahan University and Isfahan Medical Sciences University visited the Madah family on 23 July, ILNA reported.

Madah was arrested on 19 July on the basis of a warrant issued by the Special Court for the Clergy. The arrest is presumably connected with his allowing the Central Council of the Office for Strengthening Unity student organization to hold a meeting at the Husseinabad mausoleum. (Bill Samii)

FAMILIES FEAR FOR ARRESTED LOVED ONES. The families of nationalist-religious activists Taqi Rahmani, Hoda Saber, Reza Alijani, and Amir Tairani said that they have had almost no contact with these men since they were arrested in June, ISNA reported on 18 July. Taqi Rahmani's wife, Nargis Mohammadi, said that she had been to the Tehran courts and even met with the prosecutor-general, Hojatoleslam Said Mortazavi, but still has not been allowed to see her husband. She added that she does not know the nature of the charges against her husband. Mohammadi added that she also had been to the office of the president and had spoken with Speaker of Parliament Hojatoleslam Mehdi Karrubi, and they all said that the Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) has no information about the arrests.

Mrs. Saber said that she had two brief conversations with her husband, ISNA reported, but did not know where he is being held. Mrs. Tairani said that her husband phoned home recently but they were warned beforehand that he could only discuss his well-being. She added that she does not know her husband's whereabouts, and when she went to the courts for help, "the explanation I was given was that the case was being investigated and they refused to give me any information on my husband's situation." Mrs. Alijani said that her husband has only had two brief conversations with the family since his arrest. One of their lawyers, Mohammad Sharif, said that he was told the men are being held in Evin Prison.

Amnesty International on 31 July expressed concern about the safety of the four nationalist-religious activists.

The families of some detained student leaders -- Said Razavi Faqih, Abdollah Momeni, and Mehdi Aminzadeh -- visited several leading clerics and scholars in Qom on 2 August, according to ISNA. The clerics advised the families to be patient.

Qazvin parliamentary representative Hojatoleslam Mohammad Hassan Abu-Torabi met with some of the detained students on 30 July, ISNA reported on 2 August. He said that he provided Tehran Prosecutor-General Said Mortazavi with a list of 69 people who were detained recently and was told that many had been released already. In all, Abu-Torabi and his colleague, Mohsen Safai-Farahani, met 20 detainees. In this group were 12 students and a member of the dormitory staff, and only one of them complained of maltreatment. (The two parliamentarians had visited detainees previously; see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 7 July 2003.)

A number of students from Ilam University have received jail sentences after a closed-door trial, ILNA reported on 30 July. Six of the students received three-year sentences for insulting Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, two received one-year sentences for unspecified reasons, and a third student received an 18-month sentence for acting against national security. The ILNA report did not say if they were tried for actions in June, when student demonstrations rocked the country, or at another time.

Amnesty International in a 31 July statement expressed its fear for the safety of four student leaders -- Reza Ameri-Nasab, Arash Hashemi, Mehdi Habibi, and Said Razavi-Faqih. Judge Mortazavi reportedly told Ameri-Nasab's parents that they should prepare a tombstone for their son. It is not known where he is being detained. Habibi and Razavi-Faqih are in Evin, and although Hashemi reportedly was released, his whereabouts are unknown. (Bill Samii)

HUMAN TRAFFICKERS DETAINED IN TEHRAN. The Tehran Prosecutor's Office has broken up four gangs that trafficked Iranian girls to the Arab states of the Persian Gulf, Turkey, Pakistan, and Europe, ISNA reported on 29 July. According to intelligence secured by the police force's Department for Combating Social Vices, the gangs were operating as travel agencies and identified girls aged 14-16 through five hairdressers and a company that filmed parties and played music. The Tehran Prosecutor's Office warned families that they should be careful when registering their children for music and acting classes, and it urged them to report suspicious cases immediately. (Bill Samii)

IRANIAN CANOEISTS DEFECT IN GERMANY. Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi said during a 28 July meeting in Tehran with the new German ambassador, Baron Paul Maltzahn, that he is happy with the improvement in relations between the two countries, IRNA reported. Other Iranians also share this view, it seems.

Hamid Farzam and Mohammad-Reza Zahrian-Esfahani, described as members of the Iranian national rowing team, are seeking asylum in Germany, Baztab website reported on 28 July, citing the exile newspaper "Peyk-i Iran." The defections allegedly took place in Augsburg, the site of the World Senior Canoe-Kayak Slalom Championship (22-27 July 2003). The championship's official website later confirmed this report (

A number of Iranian oarsmen sought asylum in Germany in September 2001. ISNA reported on 29 July that in light of the relatively frequent defections by Iranian oarsmen, there is a distinct possibility that the country's "Boating Federation" will be dissolved. (Bill Samii)

SPECIAL BASIJ UNITS TO BE ESTABLISHED IN TEHRAN AREA. The Basij Resistance Force, which serves as a reserve for the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) and is also used to suppress civil unrest, was in the news in the last week of July. Statements by top officials indicate that the Basij is being enhanced and mobilized to deal with possible urban strife.

Tehran Basij Resistance Force commander Brigadier General Ismail Ahmadi-Moqaddam said special Basij units would be established in Tehran by 21 March 2004 to support the Ashura (anti-riot) battalions, "Siyasat-i Ruz" reported. Two such units already exist, Ahmadi-Moqaddam said, with one to be deployed in the Meqdad area and the other in Rey. One will have air-transport duties while the other will support the IRGC navy in maritime and scuba operations. The training they are undergoing includes parachuting, scuba diving, self-defense, physical fitness, and mountaineering.

Colonel Ebrahim Azizi, the IRGC commander for the Shiraz Basij resistance zone, said in a speech at the 28 July cultural-political session of the Basij members at Shiraz's state-controlled offices and factories that, under current circumstances, the most important duty of the Basij is to identify the enemy, ISNA reported. If the Basij succeeds in "controlling the bedrock of unrest," he said, incidents such as the unrest of July 1999 would not occur again.

IRGC Commander in Chief Major General Yahya Rahim-Safavi told the first meeting of model Basij Resistance Force commanders on 28 July that the strategy of defending the borders has been expanded to defending every region of the country, so "no urban or rural region shall remain safe for our enemies," ISNA reported. Rahim-Safavi warned that Iran's enemies are trying to make the Basij look bad. "The enemies intend to depict a ruthless picture for the Basij forces in Iran, but these forces must be vigilant so as to make certain that the society maintains its respect for them as the forces of compassion, kindness, and commitment," he said. The IRGC chief reiterated the long-standing call for a 20-million man army.

Azizi also discussed domestic political issues. He called for unity over factionalism and stressed the need for the Guardians Council to prevent what he termed "incompetents" from running for parliament in the spring 2004 elections. Azizi warned that the enemy is trying to exploit the country's economic problems; thus, the removal of these problems should be a priority for the executive branch.

Rahim-Safavi discussed international issues in his speech. He said that the United States is trying to impose a global dictatorship and it is trampling on the UN through its aggressive activities in Iraq. The world is unstable, Rahim-Safavi said, "thanks to America's new strategy of trying to take control of the world's energy resources and dominate the global economy."

IRGC Deputy Commander in Chief Mohammad Baqer Zolqadr combined the domestic and international themes in a 31 July speech at the Isfahan Military Academy. He said, according to IRNA, "One cannot argue that the country's internal problems are unrelated to American policies." Zolqadr explained, "America does not believe that a military onslaught will solve its problems. So it is trying to create discord between the people, the state, and officials of this country." (Bill Samii)

IRANIAN SUPREME COURT JUDGE SKEPTICAL ABOUT INVESTIGATION OF CANADIAN PHOTOJOURNALIST'S DEATH... Supreme Court Judge Mohammad Sadeq Al-i Ishaq spoke out about the death of Canadian photojournalist Zahra Kazemi, who died of a cerebral hemorrhage on 11 July after the authorities detained her on 23 June. Al-i Ishaq said in a 26 July interview with ISNA that it is unacceptable that, 25 years after the Islamic revolution, certain events still occur that require the creation of a special committee to uncover the truth, and even then there is the fear that there might not be any results. The judge said it should be easy to identify the people involved in the case, because it is clear where Kazemi was held. He said the people responsible for Kazemi's death must be punished. In a reference to the 1998 murders of dissidents by Intelligence and Security Ministry personnel, he added, "It is hoped that this file will not have the same fate as some other files, such as that of the serial murders."

Al-i Ishaq also seems skeptical about the Judiciary's ability to deal with the case competently. Speaking about judiciary personnel, he said, "I would like to point out that in the judiciary there are a number of high-ranking judicial officials who have no experience in legal matters." "Although they are at a high level of learning, that by itself is not sufficient," he added. "A person who has not performed any legal tasks and has no judicial experience will not be able to be a successful manager in the judicial system."

Lending credence to Al-i Ishaq's skepticism about a fair investigation were the comments of Ezat Kazemi, the Canadian photojournalist's mother. She said in an interview that appeared in the 30 July "Yas-i No" daily that she was coerced into having her daughter buried in Shiraz, Reuters reported. Kazemi said she initially signed a document at the Canadian Embassy saying she wants Zahra's remains to be returned to Canada. But, according to Kazemi, unidentified personnel pressured her on a daily basis while she was staying at a friend's house in Tehran. "Every day, four or five people came and talked to the owner of the house [where I was staying], and they created problems for them, and I was obliged to accept her burial in Iran," Kazemi said. "I had no other choice. I didn't have money, I was alone, and I had no other place to go.... They wanted the burial to take place as soon as possible. They wanted to get rid of it [the body]," she added. Kazemi said she wants her daughter's killer to be found and executed.

Justice Minister Hojatoleslam Mohammad Ismail Shushtari told reporters after a 30 July cabinet meeting that the investigation into Kazemi's death has so far yielded no results, Fars News Agency reported. "The case is still being investigated, and no particular person has confessed to being the main culprit, and it has not produced results yet," he said. Shushtari said he has not seen Kazemi's corpse and could not respond to reports that the body bore bruises.

Health, Treatment, and Medical Education Minister Masud Pezeshkian told reporters on 30 July how the bruises got there, according to another dispatch from Fars. Pezeshkian said injections a patient usually gets in intensive care can cause bruising at the injection site. "The bruises that Zahra Kazemi's mother mentioned relate to the effects of the injections, and this is a totally technical and specialist opinion," Pezeshkian said. "A film of the body is available and all the stages of the autopsy are on film, and, if anyone makes a claim of this kind, we are ready to show them the film."

Vice President for Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Mohammad Ali Abtahi told reporters after the 30 July cabinet meeting that it is increasingly likely that Kazemi's hemorrhage was caused by a blow to the head, dpa and Reuters reported. Abtahi made the same assertion previously (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 21 July 2003). (Bill Samii)

...AS OTTAWA WELCOMES PROGRESS IN CASE. Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Bill Graham said on 30 July that the inquiry into the death of Kazemi seems to be progressing, "The Globe and Mail" reported on 31 July. Graham also welcomed Vice President for Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Mohammad Ali Abtahi's statement about the suspicious circumstances of Kazemi's death as a sign that reformists in the Iranian government want to get to the truth. Graham repeated his government's demand that Kazemi's remains be returned to Canada. (Bill Samii)

TEHRAN DENIES SUPPORTING TERRORIST FAMILIES. Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid-Reza Assefi said on 30 July that Israeli allegations that Tehran provides financial support to the families of Palestinian suicide bombers are "ridiculous," IRNA reported. Assefi termed Palestinian terrorism a resistance that has deep and historical roots, and he said that Israel should concede to what he termed the natural and legitimate rights of the Palestinian people. Reuters had cited anonymous "Israeli officials" on 29 July as saying that intelligence suggests Iran is offering $50,000 to suicide bombers' families. These officials said Iran is trying to fill a void left by Iraq's Ba'athist regime, which was reportedly paying suicide bombers' families. (Bill Samii)

IRANIAN OFFICIALS LOOK EAST. The governor of Afghanistan's Herat Province, Mohammad Ismail Khan, met on 28 July with a delegation of Iranian visitors, Herat television reported. The delegation from the Afghanistan-Iran Friendship Society was headed by parliamentarian Gholam-Heidar Ebrahim-Bay-Salami and included three other parliamentarians. The visitors donated some books, and Ismail Khan thanked Iran for its help during the anti-Soviet Jihad and for not forgetting Afghanistan during its post-Taliban reconstruction era.

Afghan Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah told the Iranians in a 27 July meeting in Kabul about the importance of constructing a rail line to his landlocked country, Radio Afghanistan reported. Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai discussed the constantly improving relations between the Afghan and Iranian people when he met with the visitors on 27 July, Radio Afghanistan reported.

Reza Mansuri, governor of the Khorasan Province city of Taiabad, said on 28 July that the construction of several police stations along the Iran-Afghanistan border is a positive development, IRNA reported. Khorasan Province Deputy Governor-General Hussein Zare-Sefat, an Iranian security official referred to as "General Akbia," and the deputy governor of Afghanistan's Herat Province attended a 21 July ceremony setting the cornerstones of 25 buildings at one of the new border checkpoints, Herat television reported the same day. The 936 kilometer long Afghan-Iranian border is a major transshipment point for narcotics traffickers and Afghan refugees. Legitimate trade between the two sides has increased greatly since the elimination of Taliban rule. (Bill Samii)

TOKYO, WASHINGTON DISCUSS IRANIAN AFFAIRS. The U.S. government expressed its concern during a 29 July meeting with Japanese officials in Washington about the Iranian nuclear program and a Japanese consortium's plans to help develop Iran's Azadegan oil field, Kyodo World Service reported on 30 July. Anonymous "Japanese government sources" told the Japanese news agency that the U.S. officials said Tehran should sign the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty's Additional Protocol.

The "Asahi Shimbun" daily newspaper reported on 30 July that this is the first official Tehran-Washington discussion about the plan to develop the Azadegan oil field. According to anonymous Japanese "government sources," their side will argue that participation in the Azadegan project will not affect Tokyo's caution toward Iranian nuclear activities. If Washington tries to link the Azadegan project with the distribution of Iraqi oil, according to "Asahi Shimbun," the talks could expand to cover Japanese and U.S. energy interests in the Middle East.

The Azadegan project was not discussed during a 1 August meeting of Japanese and U.S. officials in Tokyo, according to a Jiji Press news agency dispatch. Japan and the United States expressed concern over the Iranian nuclear program during their bilateral discussions. Representing Japan was Foreign Ministry Director General for Arms Control and Scientific Affairs Yukiya Amano, while the U.S. was represented by Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security John Bolton, who is on a tour of regional capitals.

The two sides agreed to pressure Tehran to cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency's inspections regime, and the U.S. side suggested referring the issue to the United Nations Security Council if it is demonstrated at the September IAEA Board of Governors meeting that Iran is in violation of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

In Vienna on 2 August, meanwhile, Iranian Petroleum Minister Bijan Namdar-Zanganeh said that discussions with the Japanese consortium about the Azadegan project are continuing, IRNA reported. He did not say where these discussions stand, but he described them as a "priority." (Bill Samii)

TEHRAN-KYIV TO CONCLUDE GAS AGREEMENT. Iranian Deputy Petroleum Minister Mohammad Nejad-Husseinian and Ukrainian Fuel and Energy Minister Serhiy Yermilov agreed on 30 July in Kyiv that Iran would supply Ukraine with 10-15 billion cubic meters of natural gas annually, Interfax-Ukraine news agency reported on 31 July. The two sides are expected to sign a memorandum to that effect after 31 July.

The two sides also are studying new routes for transporting gas from the Caspian Sea region to Ukraine. Nejad-Husseinian was quoted as saying that 50 percent of the Caspian's natural gas resources are Iranian, and he went on to say that Ukraine could serve as a transshipment point for gas exports to the rest of Europe. He also said that Ukrainian companies are welcome to work in the Iranian energy market.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Anatoliy Zlenko visited Tehran earlier in the month and met with his counterpart, Kamal Kharrazi. He discussed the possibility of his country's involvement in the Iranian oil and gas sector during a 19 July meeting with President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami, IRNA reported. Khatami visited Kyiv in October 2002 (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 21 October 2002). (Bill Samii)

PROGRESS CONTINUES IN INDIA-IRAN RELATIONS. Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Mohsen Aminzadeh arrived in New Delhi on 20 July for a three-day visit. On 21 July he met with Indian Foreign Secretary Kanwal Sibal, IRNA reported, and the Indian side said that the New Delhi Declaration signed during President Khatami's January visit (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 3 February 2003) is "the source of important developments especially in the areas of energy and transport." Aminzadeh met with Indian National Security Adviser Brajesh Mishra on the same day.

Aminzadeh and Ambassador Siavash Zargar-Yaqubi met with Indian Foreign Minister Yashwant Sinha on 21 July, IRNA reported. According to the report, the two officials discussed an Iran-India natural gas pipeline, Indian imports of Iranian liquified natural gas (LNG), and Indian participation in Iranian energy projects.

Indian Minister of State for Petroleum and Natural Gas Sumitra Mahajan said in a written reply to his parliament, the Rajya Sabha, on 29 July that Indian public-sector firms signed a contract to import 5 million tons of crude oil from Iran, the "New Delhi Business Standard" reported on 30 July. He also wrote that India has ruled out importing Iranian natural gas via Pakistan. "Keeping in view the present state of bilateral relations with Pakistan, the government is not considering any proposal for on-land natural gas pipeline transiting through Pakistan," Mahajan explained.

A 26 July editorial in New Delhi's "The Pioneer" said that warm relations between Tehran and New Delhi are based on "enlightened statecraft." By engaging with New Delhi, Tehran can maintain its ties to the international community. India also is a market for Iranian LNG, and India can help modernize the Iranian military. From New Delhi's perspective, India would gain steady access to West Asian energy resources, signal its interest in continuing ties with the Muslim world, and be able to appear independent of U.S. foreign policy. (Bill Samii)

IRANIAN ECONOMY FACES CHALLENGING FUTURE. Industries and Mines Minister Ishaq Jahangiri said at a 29 July investment seminar that the Iranian economy will face significant challenges in the next two decades, IRNA reported. Jahangiri said the government and public should be prepared and should "opt for appropriate solutions." He added that unemployment and the young population are two of those challenges and more opportunities for women need to be created.

Jahangiri criticized his country's oil-dependent economy, pointing out that oil has not guaranteed socioeconomic development elsewhere. According to "The Wall Street Journal" on 30 June, "Norway is one of the few major oil producers to have made enduring economic gains since the 1970s." The newspaper points out that income per person actually declined among Middle Eastern oil producers after accounting for inflation. Middle Eastern states wasted their money on inefficient state businesses, wars, and corruption, and they did not invest enough in education. Norway, on the other hand, is a stable democracy with honest officials, "The Wall Street Journal" reported. There were hiccups, but Norway rebounded in the 1990s by segregating the energy industry from the rest of the economy and by diversifying its private sector.

It is not just the factors described by "The Wall Street Journal" that hinder the economic development of Middle Eastern states. In the case of post-revolutionary Iran, uncontrolled economic activities are also harmful. A commentary in the 23 July "Yas-i No" says that these activities -- termed "an underground economy, a black economy, a shadow economy, a parallel economy, an unofficial and disorganized economy, and an undocumented or nebulous economy" -- create a power that is at cross-purposes with the government. The underground economy, according to the commentary, has made up anywhere from 6 percent to 36 percent of Iran's official gross national product over the last 25 years. Official organizations that operate outside of government control are also considered within this context, according to "Yas-i No." The commentary linked these organizations with the country's pressure groups, positing that as long as the problem of the black economy is not solved the problem of the pressure groups would not be solved either.

The Iranian legislature on 29 July approved the general outline of a bill that is meant to address some of the country's economic difficulties. This bill would reinstate the nationality of Iranians who have left the country and reflects an attempt to persuade elites and entrepreneurs to return, IRNA reported. Parliamentarian Mohammad Kazemi explained that, currently, no Iranian can hold dual nationality and this has discouraged exiles from returning. The parliament also decided to abolish a law that requires the sale of property belonging to people stripped of Iranian nationality. Kazemi said that the legislation is intended to attract investment as well as exiles. (Bill Samii)

IRAN SCRAPS SATELLITE DEAL WITH RUSSIA. Rajab Safarov, general director of the Center for Contemporary Iranian Studies and the head of the news agency, said on 29 July that Iran has decided against purchasing a communications satellite from Russia, the Ekho Moskvy radio station reported. The Russian Foreign Ministry first recommended purchasing the satellite, known as Zohreh, from a state-run company called Aviaeksport, while Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov recommended that the Iranians use the Intersputnik company as their intermediary. This behavior surprised the Iranians, according to Safarov, and is the reason why they cancelled the deal. "Iran is a leader of the Islamic world, and losing the Iranian market is a serious blow to Russia's interests," he said.

In fact, the Iranian legislature was never enamored with the Zohreh project. Some members of parliament criticized the project's connection with the dubiously reliable Aviaeksport, while some Iranian press outlets questioned the country's need for such a costly project (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 6 May, 3 June, and 16 September 2002). (Bill Samii)