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Iran Report: September 1, 2003


1 September 2003, Volume 6, Number 35

ISRAEL'S 'ANNIHILATION' DEMANDED AT TEHRAN CONFERENCE. A conference, titled "Intifada: a Step Toward Freedom," was held at Tehran University from 19-21 August. It was hosted by the student committee of the secretariat of the Support for the Palestinian Intifada conference series, the Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA) reported on 18 August. Conference secretary Ruhollah Owhadi said that "active Palestinian students from numerous Palestinian Jihadi groups" would be there, and "a number of Iranian students from various branches of political parties have also been invited to attend the conference in order to establish cultural and civil ties with the Palestinian students, and to reaffirm their support for the Palestinian nation's resistance against the Zionist regime."

Hojatoleslam Ali Akbar Mohtashami-Pur -- who is secretary of the Support for the Palestinian Intifada conference series, a founder of Lebanese Hizballah, President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami's special envoy, and a reformist parliamentarian from Tehran -- and Palestinian scholar and Hamas ideologue Munir Shafiq gave the opening speeches.

Another reformist parliamentarian from Tehran, Seyyed Hadi Khamenei, spoke in praise of "martyrdom operations" (suicide bombings) at the conference. He said, "The second Intifada is dependent on the martyrdom operations of Palestinian resistance and youngsters," "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 21 August. Khamenei also described Iranian influence on regional events: "The Islamic Republic of Iran and its founder the late Imam Khomeini, God's benedictions upon him, have been the true founders of the Intifada movement in the Palestinian territory. Thus, the Islamic Republic of Iran and the ideas of the imam, God's benedictions upon him, play the central role in the Palestinian territory and would surely have an influence over all issues there including the plans for peace."

Mohtashami-Pur gave the 21 August closing speech of the conference. He said that the existence of Israel precludes the establishment of regional peace and stability, "Iran" reported on 23 August, citing ISNA. He also said, "The racist Israeli regime will be isolated because of the unity, solidarity, and unanimity of the Islamic world. Only through the disintegration of that regime will a government of the people be established in Palestine." The Palestinian issue will be resolved only if, in the words of "Iran," "the Jews who invaded the land of Palestine went back to their own countries." Mohtashami-Pur called for a referendum in which all Palestinians, be they Muslims, Christians, or Jews, determine their own destiny.

"The participants in the conference consider the annihilation of the Zionist regime as a prerequisite and precondition for democracy in the Middle East," according to the final resolution of the conference, as reported in the 23 August "Siyasat-i Ruz." The resolution condemned Israel for a variety of reasons and called on the international community to support Palestinians' rights. The resolution promoted a nuclear-free Middle East and the disarmament of Israel. The Al Aqsa Intifada was hailed as the only way to defeat the occupation of Palestine. The resolution condemned U.S. threats against independent countries and occupation of Islamic ones, and it called for an end to the occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq. (Bill Samii)

RIYADH DENIES RECEIVING AL-QAEDA MEMBERS FROM TEHRAN. Saudi Interior Minister Prince Nayif bin Abd al-'Aziz al-Sa'ud says that none of the Saudis detained in Iran have been sent to Saudi Arabia, according to an interview that appeared in the 30 August "Al-Hayat." Prince Nayif urged Tehran to extradite the Saudis in its custody. Iran's ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Ali Asghar Khaji, had said on 23 August that Tehran has extradited alleged Saudi Al-Qaeda members to their country of origin, the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) reported. He did not identify any of these individuals by name. Among the alleged top Al-Qaeda figures who reportedly are or have been in Iran are Saad bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri, Saif al-Adel, Suleiman Abu Ghayth, and Abu Musab Zarqawi. According to anonymous "Iranian sources" cited by the "Financial Times" on 23 August, Saad bin Laden has been sent to Pakistan, and al-Zawahiri is "too big a fish to keep in Iran." The British daily noted that there is controversy in Iran over what to do with the alleged Al-Qaeda personnel. Further complicating the issue, some of the detainees have been stripped of their citizenships. (Bill Samii)

REPORT ON IRANIAN NUCLEAR ACTIVITIES NOTES GOOD AND BAD. The International Atomic Energy Agency's (IAEA) report on Iran is expected in early-September, and at the end of August major newspapers reported on a leaked version of that report, which did not paint an encouraging picture. Later comments by IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei were similarly discouraging. Tehran, meanwhile, is resorting to its usual delaying tactics in order to put off the possibility of its signing the Additional Protocol of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT).

Speaking in advance of the expected release of the IAEA report, IAEA spokesman Mark Gwozdecky said that Iran has agreed to start negotiations relating to signing the Additional Protocol, AFP reported on 26 August. But a willingness to start negotiations should not be confused with an actual commitment to sign the Additional Protocol. Saber Zaimian, a spokesman for the Iranian Atomic Energy Organization, stressed on 28 August that Iran is merely willing to look into the technical and legal aspects of the Additional Protocol, Mehr News Agency reported.

IAEA's Gwozdecky also said, "There are still a number of outstanding issues, particularly with regard to Iran's enrichment program, which require urgent resolution," AFP reported. Gwozdecky called for increased Iranian cooperation in order to resolve these issues, and he said, "The only way to build high confidence in the peaceful nature of their nuclear program, is for Iran to sign and bring into force an additional protocol to their safeguards agreement with the IAEA."

The IAEA confidential report on Iran, as described in "The New York Times" on 27 August, notes that international inspectors found traces of highly enriched uranium at the Iranian nuclear facility at Natanz (on the discovery, see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 21 July 2003). The report added, "Additional work is also required to enable the agency to arrive at conclusions about Iran's statements that there have been no uranium enrichment activities in Iran involving nuclear material."

Iranian Atomic Energy Organization spokesman Zaimian was dismissive of reports that samples taken by IAEA inspectors contained traces of highly enriched uranium. "The samples have not been tested yet," Zaimian said. The normal procedure is for the samples to be tested by reliable laboratories in three neutral countries, and "the Iranian samples have not gone through those stages yet."

Iran also acknowledges for the first time, according to a portion of the report described in "The Washington Post" on 27 August, that it received a lot of foreign help in building the Natanz facility. The source of that help is not identified, but according to anonymous sources IAEA information indicates that Pakistani firms supplied technology and parts. Henry D. Sokolski, executive director of the Washington-based Nonproliferation Policy Education Center, told "The Washington Post," "The notion that Pakistan wasn't involved is getting less and less tenable."

IAEA chief ElBaradei said in a interview that appeared on the BBC's "HARDtalk" television program on 29 August that Iran has purchased nuclear components on the international black market, and although he is not certain which countries made the equipment he has a "pretty good idea" which ones did so, Reuters reported.

Islamabad rejects allegations that it has provided Iran with nuclear technology. "We have never provided nuclear technology or information to any other country," Pakistani Foreign Office spokesman Masood Khan said, as reported by Karachi's Urdu-language "Islam" newspaper on 28 August. Khan said Pakistan has faced similar charges in the past. "Today also," he maintained, "nobody has any proof to substantiate these charges." Pakistani Foreign Minister Mian Khurshid Mehmood Kasuri reiterated this denial in Islamabad on 29 August during a joint press conference with visiting Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi, Reuters reported.

Iranian officials would not give IAEA inspectors who visited Iran in June access to the Kalaye Electric Company's nuclear power plant in Tehran. The most recent report notes that the facility has been sanitized since that time. "We did get access to the Kalaye Electric Company," IAEA spokeswoman Melissa Fleming told RFE/RL on 27 August. "There had been accusations that the centrifuges were tested there, using nuclear material that would have to have been declared to us. We had requested to take these sophisticated samples from that facility and were finally given access a couple of weeks ago. However, we did find once we arrived that the facility had been modified, which could have an impact on the results of our samples. Construction had been done. It had been rebuilt in a way that could have consequences on our ability to take accurate samples."

IAEA's ElBaradei said on " HARDtalk " that Tehran should be more "proactive" and "transparent" and noted that it has not provided a full picture of its nuclear program. "They have not really been fully transparent in telling us in advance what was going on," he said. ElBaradei said that Iran's nuclear program has a longer history than the IAEA realized, and it would have been easier to verify the status of that program if the IAEA had a complete picture from the outset. "It would have been easier for us to complete our job if we knew what was going on as early as the mid 1980s," ElBaradei said. "Now we have to go...20 years back." (Bill Samii)

JUDICIARY REPORTS ON PROVINCIAL UNREST. The State Inspectorate and the State Prosecutor's Office presented their reports on the mid-August unrest in Isfahan Province at a 25 August meeting of senior judiciary officials, state radio reported. No details were provided. Judiciary head Ayatollah Mahmud Shahrudi had ordered the State Inspectorate and the State Prosecutor's Office on 19 August to establish a committee to investigate the unrest, IRNA reported.

The unrest started with a protest against the amalgamation of Semirom's Vardasht village with the neighboring town of Shahreza into the administrative region of Dehaqan, but it expanded and grew violent, with eight people being killed and 150 wounded (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 18 August 2003).

"Jomhuri-yi Islami" reported on 19 August that all members of the Semirom municipal council resigned in protest. According to the daily, townspeople are angry that the unrest that swept the country in June and July was addressed without firing a shot, whereas so many people were killed and injured in the relatively small protest that took place in their town. The council members said in their letter of resignation that they had cited their opposition to the merger plan in a meeting with Interior Ministry representatives but had been ignored.

Hojatoleslam Qorban-Ali Dori-Najafabadi, who heads the Administrative Justice Organization, presented a third report at the 25 August meeting and said that those who were unhappy about plans for the towns could have asked the Administrative Justice Organization to help. He explained: "The Administrative Justice Organization is the institution which is responsible for dealing with the issue of injustice or the complaints the people make about officials or institutions or the regulations drawn up by the government. It is responsible for the restoration of the rights of the people." (Bill Samii)

KHORASAN PROVINCE DIVISION POSTPONED. The parliament on 18 August rejected one part of a bill that would divide Iran's eastern Khorasan Province into two new provinces, and it rejected another part of the bill that would divide Khorasan into five new provinces, IRNA reported. The legislation has been returned to the National Security and Foreign Policy Committee for further deliberation. Proposals to divide the province, which has a population of roughly 6 million people, have caused a great deal of unrest in the past, and recent incidents in Isfahan Province (see above) might have added to legislators' concerns (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 3 September 2001, and 11 February, 6 and 13 May, 29 July, and 11 November 2002). (Bill Samii)

REJECTION OF CEDAW MEMBERSHIP REVERBERATES. The Guardians Council's 12 August rejection of a parliamentary bill on Iranian membership in the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), on the grounds that the bill violates Islamic law and the constitution, continues to have an impact. (For arguments for and against the bill, see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 28 July and 11 and 18 August 2003.)

Ayatollah Kazem Musavi-Bojnurdi, a presidential adviser on information-dissemination affairs, head of the national library, and head of the Imam Khomeini Center for Islamic Studies, said on 18 August that Iran could sign the CEDAW and opt out of sections of the convention it finds un-Islamic, IRNA reported. Bojnurdi said Islamic law is applicable to social life, and he added that Iran should not separate itself from the international community by rejecting the convention. "Islam supports the emancipation of women, so we have no difficulty signing up to the convention except for certain parts that the religious leaders are opposed to," he said.

Tehran parliamentary representative Elahe Kulyai told female managers of Kerman Province on 19 August that many of those who criticize the CEDAW have not even read it, IRNA reported. She added that the members of parliament who passed the bill take their religious beliefs seriously, and furthermore, they have sworn on the Koran not to pass any legislation that violates Islamic law.

Tehran parliamentary representative Fatimeh Rakei said that women do not have a powerful forum from which they could voice their support for CEDAW membership, "Iran Daily" reported on 25 August. Membership is important, she said, because it would improve Iran's international image. Rakei noted that since 1979 women have become more aware of their rights, but a minority within the ruling system sees itself as superior to the legislature and the government and it resists modern approaches to social issues.

Judiciary spokesman Qolam-Hussein Elham on 26 June gave the legal reasons why Iran could not join the CEDAW, IRNA reported. He said that the right to have reservations about parts of the convention is ambiguous. Elham said that the Guardians Council believes the convention contradicts several articles in the constitution.

OFFICIALS UNHAPPY ABOUT REPORT ON JOURNALIST KAZEMI'S DEATH. According to the official investigation into the death of Canadian photojournalist Zahra Kazemi when she was in custody, two interrogators working for the Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) are responsible for her death, ISNA reported on 25 August. The investigators visited all the locations where Kazemi was held, spoke with all the individuals who were in contact with her, and examined her medical records. Inquiries also were made at the MOIS, the police, the prosecutor's office at Evin prison, and at the prison itself.

Very little about the case is clear at the moment. Kazemi, who was born in Iran but later acquired Canadian citizenship, was in Iran on assignment in June. She was taken into custody on 23 June as she photographed detainees' families outside Evin prison, and on 11 July she was dead. It was later determined that she died of a cerebral hemorrhage suffered while in custody. (On her death and the course of the investigation, see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 14 and 21 July, 4 and 11 August 2003.)

Nasser Qavami, who heads the legislature's Judicial and Legal Affairs Committee, complained on 25 August that the report on Kazemi's death does not explain why she was murdered, ISNA reported. Nor does the report, Qavami said, explain how it was determined that the two individuals are guilty -- did they confess, were there witnesses, or was it the judge's deduction on the basis of the evidence? "Zahra Kazemi's case will suffer the same fate as the serial murders case," Qavami commented, "because the reason for their guilt has not been made clear in the report." The "serial murders case" is a reference to the 1998 murders of dissidents and intellectuals by so-called "rogue agents" in the MOIS. Public skepticism about the case was underlined when the primary suspect supposedly killed himself by drinking an exfoliating solution while he was in custody. Contributing to this skepticism was the frequent reductions in the sentences of the others involved in the case since the trial ended in January 2001 (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 8 and 29 January 2001).

The Article 90 Committee, which deals with complaints about the government, met with MOIS officials on 26 August to discuss the report on Kazemi's death. Committee chairman Hussein Ansari-Rad said, "The Article 90 Committee has not at all reached a definitive conclusion as to who or which organization is guilty," ISNA reported on 25 August.

The outcome of such a meeting was hinted at by a ministry official identified as "Shafei," which is presumably a cover name, on 25 August when he rejected as "sheer lies" the assertion that two members of his organization are responsible for Kazemi's death, IRNA reported. He added, "The [MOIS] has discovered the truth of the matter on the case related to the death of Zahra Kazemi and is intending to publish it for public information in the very near future."

The legislature's Article 90 Committee invited Prosecutor-General Said Mortazavi and MOIS chief Hojatoleslam Ali Yunesi to its 26 August meeting, but only a lower-ranking ministry official appeared. That official's comments, according to interviews published by ISNA, apparently absolved the ministry of blame. After the meeting Tehran representative Jamileh Kadivar said it became clear that ministry personnel did not hit Kazemi. MOIS officials believe that the killing blow was landed in the first two or three hours of her detention, Kadivar said, and the ministry knows the name of the assailant and has related evidence. The assailant was arrested and then released after about three days, she said. The presiding judge forced the ministry to stop its investigation, and now a committee is adjudicating the dispute between the MOIS and the judiciary.

Another parliamentarian, Mohammad Kianush-Rad, also told ISNA that the ministry is not involved in Kazemi's death and he expressed concern that this case would be a repetition of the 1998 serial murders case. (Bill Samii)

TEHRAN FEELS NO OBLIGATION TO KEEP OTTAWA INFORMED. Government spokesman Abdullah Ramezanzadeh said during a 26 August press conference that Tehran is not obliged to share any information on the case with the Canadian government, IRNA reported. Ramezanzadeh explained that from the Iranian point of view, Kazemi was an Iranian citizen with dual nationality and her death occurred on Iranian territory, so Iranian officials would therefore deal with the case.

Tehran's failure to provide the official report on Kazemi's killing has prompted an angry response from Ottawa. Isabelle Savard, a spokeswoman for Foreign Minister Bill Graham, said on 27 August, "Although Canada has made repeated requests, the Iranian government has yet to provide us with the investigative report on Ms Kazemi's death," Reuters reported. "This is not the cooperation and transparency that Canada has insisted on and that I have been promised by Foreign Minister Kharrazi," Savard quoted Graham as saying. Graham also was quoted as saying that Canada will continue to try to have Kazemi's remains returned to Canada in accordance with her family's wishes.

Graham said in a 28 August conference call with reporters that he doubts that just two lower-ranking people are responsible for Kazemi's death, Reuters reported. "It's clear nobody accepts the fact these people are likely to be responsible," Graham said. He added, "One finds it difficult to believe that two lower-level people would be responsible for Ms. Kazemi's death without the orders of people higher up." Graham said that it is too early to impose sanctions on Iran and he expressed a desire to see how the situation develops.

Ottawa has said several times that it would like to have Kazemi's remains returned to Canada and has encouraged a thorough investigation into her death (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 28 July and 4 August 2003). (Bill Samii)

DISPUTE OVER DATE OF IRANIAN PARLIAMENTARY ELECTION. With approximately six months before elections for the seventh parliament, Iran's conservatives are moving to curtail reformist campaigning by changing the election date.

Deputy Interior Minister for Parliamentary Affairs Seyyed Mahmud Mirlohi has said the Guardians Council wants to hold the next parliamentary election on 26 February, which would coincide with the Muharram mourning period, "Etemad" reported on 18 August. In contrast, "the Interior Ministry has proposed holding the elections during the Ten Days of Dawn [revolution anniversary celebrations in early February] and coinciding with the Id al-Ghadir [anniversary of the Prophet Mohammad's designation of Ali as his successor], which is a celebratory occasion, and the people would take part in the elections with enthusiasm and joy," Mirlohi said.

Reformist campaigning, which tends to be positive and cheerful by Iranian standards, would seem inappropriate during a somber period like Muharram and could be criticized by conservative forces.

Parliamentarian Ali Shakuri-Rad complained, "They want to impose their views on the smallest of issues," "Iran" reported on 23 August. He said naming the election date is up to the Interior Ministry, and the Guardians Council can only object to the chosen date.

Seyyed Reza Zavarei, a jurist member of the Guardians Council, said that the only reason for a possible later date for the election is that it could otherwise interfere with the council's review of the budget for the year 1383 (21 March 2004-21 March 2005), "Farhang-i Ashti" reported on 23 August. Zavarei said that the budgetary discussions might coincide with the council's vetting of candidates.

The "Hambastegi" newspaper reported that the parliamentary elections scheduled for February 2004 could be combined with the elections for the Assembly of Experts (scheduled for Autumn 2004) and the president (scheduled for May 2005), the Baztab website reported on 28 August. This would require either an extension of the parliamentary term or a reduction in the presidential term. The conservative faction, boosted by its success in the February 2003 municipal elections, believes that it will carry the parliament in the next election and therefore favors a reduction in the presidential term, according to "Hambastegi." (Bill Samii)

KHATAMI ENCOURAGES APPRAISAL OF SUCCESSES, FAILURES. President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami said in a 26 August speech marking Government Week that his government has tried its best to fulfill its promises to the voters, but as his presidency nears its end people must judge for themselves where and why it sometimes failed to achieve its objectives, ISNA reported. "This government has always defended freedom and people's rights," he said, "of course, their realization is another matter." Khatami urged his audience to assess where the government succeeded and failed, "so that we can decide what factors inside or outside the government have caused them." (Bill Samii)

IRANIAN PARLIAMENT LOOKS INTO WEBSITE FILTERING. Parliamentary representative Ali-Akbar Musavi-Khoeni told reporters on 27 August that Post, Telegraph, and Telephone Minister Ahmad Motamedi must appear before the legislature to answer questions from 40 parliamentarians about the filtering of certain websites, IRNA reported. Musavi-Khoeni said that the Supreme Council of Cultural Revolution had approved filtering by the ministry. He added that the filtering is enforced selectively and this is a factional problem. "Certain websites continue to insult legal and real entities but no action has been taken against them," he said. (For more on website filtering, see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 16 June and 21 July 2003.) (Bill Samii)

TEHRAN REACTS ANGRILY TO DIPLOMAT'S ARREST IN U.K.... Hadi Suleimanpur, who previously served as the Iranian ambassador to Argentina, was arrested in England on 21 August in connection with his alleged role in the July 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish Community Center in Buenos Aires that killed 85 people and wounded another 265, international news agencies reported. Argentinean Judge Juan Jose Galeano on 13 August ordered the arrest of Suleimanpur and seven other Iranian officials for their roles in the July 1994 bombing. Suleimanpur is studying at the University of Durham and no longer enjoys diplomatic immunity.

The extent of Suleimanpur's involvement in the 1994 bombing is unclear. Alireza Nurizadeh, who heads the Center for Arab and Iranian Studies in London, told RFE/RL on 28 August that he has followed the case closely since 1994 and believes that even if Suleimanpur was not involved directly, he has a lot of related information. "Mr. Suleimanpur, as far as I am concerned, may not be directly involved in what happened. But as an ambassador, and someone who had very close links with the intelligence unit of the Revolutionary Guards since he was recruited by the intelligence unit in 1981, I believe he knows what happened. He knows who was responsible and he knows all the details about this plan and the people who carried out this atrocity."

As might be expected, Tehran has proclaimed Suleimanpur's innocence and has resorted to counteraccusations and threats of retaliation.

President Khatami reacted to the arrest of Suleimanpur by saying, according to state radio on 24 August, "I believe what happened has been politically motivated and currents and lobbies, which are behind the case, are trying to exert pressure on the Islamic Republic with their baseless accusations and false claims.... Argentina will be dealt with seriously...and we here announce that the British government must quickly put an end to its incorrect action and apologize."

The Iranian Foreign Ministry summoned British Charge d'Affaires Matthew Gould on 24 August to update Director-General for Western Europe Ebrahim Rahimpur on efforts to release Suleimanpur, IRNA reported on 24 August. This was the second time Gould had to appear. Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi said in a 25 August telephone conversation with his British counterpart, Jack Straw, that Suleimanpur's arrest "will have a very negative effect on the two countries' relations," state radio reported. Kharrazi said that Suleimanpur is innocent and called for his immediate release. Kharrazi added, "the verdict of the Argentine judge was politically motivated and lacked any legal basis.

Anonymous "diplomats in Tehran" said on 26 August that Iran may expel British ambassador Richard Dalton and downgrade diplomatic relations with the U.K. in retaliation for Suleimanpur's arrest, the "Financial Times" reported on 27 August. According to the British daily, this would be "a setback for Britain's policy of 'constructive engagement' with Iran." Dalton took up the post on 1 December 2002, succeeding Nick Brown, who had left the country one year earlier. David Reddaway was the original nominee but Tehran refused to accept his credentials even though or possibly because he had served at the Tehran embassy previously.

Argentinean Charge d'Affaires Ernesto Alvarez was summoned to the Foreign Ministry to learn from Director General for American Affairs Mehdi Mohtashami that Tehran has suspended all economic and cultural cooperation with Argentina, the Telam news agency reported on 23 August. Mohtashami said, "The Argentinean government will be held responsible for all the legal and political consequences on bilateral relations."

Argentinean Interior Minister Anibal Fernandez said on 25 August that her government will inform Tehran that the decision to issue arrest warrants against Iranian citizens was made by the court, Buenos Aires' Canal 13 television reported. She added that this was not a political decision. The Foreign Ministry in Buenos Aires also regretted the Iranian decision, saying on 25 August, "It is hard to understand the attitude adopted by the government of Iran to stop economic and cultural relations between the two countries," Reuters reported.

Argentinean Foreign Minister Rafael Bielsa announced on 27 August that his government is taking the "appropriate diplomatic measures" to support the extradition request, the Telam news agency reported. (Bill Samii)

...AS DO IRANIAN PARLIAMENTARIANS. Speaker of Parliament Hojatoleslam Mehdi Karrubi on 24 August criticized the arrest of Suleimanpur as a politically motivated plot and an effort to exert pressure on Iran, and Mohammad Reza Khatami, the deputy speaker, said that the arrest violated international regulations, IRNA reported. Qazvin representative Qodratollah Alikhani said the arrest is intended to pressure Iran and the country must expect this because it will not submit to U.S. pressure, the Iranian Labor News Agency (ILNA) reported on 23 August. Nishabur representative Mohammad Reza Dolatabadi said the arrest was related to internal Argentinean affairs. Qaenat parliamentarian Musa Qorbani opined, "The arrest took place because of pressure exerted by the Zionist regime and America, and without any evidence," ILNA reported on 23 August. Nishabur parliamentary representative Hojatoleslam Hussein Ansari-Rad said on 22 August that the arrest should be seen as a warning in light of current relations with the U.S. and concerns over the Additional Protocol of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, ILNA reported. (Bill Samii)

CORRECTION. It was inaccurately asserted in the 18 August "RFE/RL Iran Report" that Argentina's Federal Judge Juan Jose Galeano signed international extradition requests for Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, Ali Akbar Velayati, and Hojatoleslam Ali Akbar Fallahian-Khuzestani. In fact, Galeano on 5 March signed arrest warrants for Fallahian, former cultural attache at the Iranian Embassy in Argentina Mohsen Rabbani, diplomat Ali Balesh-Abadi, and former Iranian official Ali Akbar Parvaresh. Argentinean prosecutors wanted Galeano to issue a warrant for Khamenei but he refused. (Bill Samii)

CATCH AND RELEASE IN BRUSSELS. Iranian official Said Baghban, who serves in the embassy in Brussels, was arrested on 27 August in connection with the July 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish Community Center in Buenos Aires, news agencies reported. He had traveled to Argentina as a diplomatic courier shortly before the attack, dpa reported. He was later released because he enjoys diplomatic immunity. (Bill Samii)

SAVAK AND MOIS SPY ON TRIAL IN BERLIN. The trial of a man with Iranian and German citizenship, who has admitted to working for Iran's Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS), began in Berlin on 26 August, the daily "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" reported on 27 August. The man was an employee of the former regime's intelligence and security organization, SAVAK, and served in Tehran, Hamburg, and Berlin. After the 1979 revolution he secured asylum in Germany, and in 1991 his parents in Tehran contacted him to say that they were being threatened in order to force him to return to service, this time for the MOIS. By his own admission, the man reported to the MOIS on the activities of Iranian royalists in Germany from 1991-2002. "Iraj S." was previously identified as a restaurateur from Berlin (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 21 July 2003). (Bill Samii)

IRANIANS IN IRAQ MAY FEEL UNWELCOME. Haytham Suleiman, security patrols director for Al-Salihiyah, said in an interview that appeared in the 21 August issue of "Al-Ahd al-Jadid" that 12 Iranian intelligence agents were arrested at the offices of Al-Mashriq Money Exchange Company in Al-Salihiyah. The suspects were interrogated and it was determined that they intended to conduct bombings in Baghdad. The individuals reportedly possessed counterfeit dollars.

Colonel Nazzim Sherif Mohammad, the Iraqi border police commander at the Al-Munthiriya border crossing, said that the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) and Al-Da'wah al-Islamiyya are helping Iranian travelers who pretend to be pilgrims enter Iraq, the London-based "Times" reported on 28 August. "We captured some Iranians and brought them here. They told us that people from Al-Da'wah and al-Hakim's party [SCIRI] were taking $50 to bring people across the border."

Muqtada al-Sadr said in his 22 August Friday prayer sermon in Al-Kufah that Iran has placed its security officials in some major Iraqi government posts, the Baztab website reported on 23 August. Al-Sadr warned the Iranians to leave Iraq promptly and reportedly said that the 19 August bombing of the UN compound in Baghdad resulted either from the absence of a security apparatus or because the security organizations are under the control of Iranians and other foreigners.

Back in Iran, meanwhile, the families of Iranian documentary filmmakers Soheil Karimi and Said Abutaleb held a sit-in at the United Nations office in Tehran on 25 August, Iranian state radio reported. The two employees of the official Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) were taken into custody by the U.S. military on 1 July. Members of the filmmakers' families presented a letter for UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan to the UN office, and they also expressed their regrets over the previous week's attack on the UN compound in Baghdad.

Furthermore, according to IRNA on 24 August, over 100 Iranian movie actors and documentary directors urged Annan to press for the two Iranians' release and 162 members of the Iranian legislature wrote a letter to President Khatami urging him to act. The Iranian Red Crescent Society announced on 7 August that Karimi and Abutaleb are in good health, IRNA reported. (Bill Samii)

TEHRAN BLAMES OCCUPATION FOR AL-NAJAF BOMBINGS. Tehran has reacted sharply to two violent incidents in Al-Najaf and is blaming the occupation forces there for both of them. In the first incident on 24 August, the explosion of a booby-trapped gas cylinder wounded 10 people, including Grand Ayatollah Muhammad Said al-Hakim, and killed three others. And in the second incident on 29 August, a car bomb killed at least 120 people, including Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) leader Ayatollah Muhammad Baqir al-Hakim.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei expressed his concern about the first incident in a message to Baqir al-Hakim, who is the grand ayatollah's nephew. Khamenei said that the bombing is aimed at weakening the Al-Najaf seminary and threatening the sources of emulation, state radio reported on 24 August. Khamenei warned that such incidents could be used by the occupation forces as a pretext for suppressing the people and also could cause unrest. "With vigilance and firm resolve, the pious and brave people of Iraq will overcome all the conspiracies of the enemies," Khamenei added.

President Mohammad Khatami said in a statement, "The forces that are occupying Iraq are responsible for the incident," state radio reported on 25 August. Khatami condemned the assassination attempt and the death of the ayatollah's associates.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi said that Iran "holds the occupying forces responsible for the incident," IRNA reported on 25 August.

The grand ayatollah's family members have a different take on the incident. Muhsin al-Hakim, who is Iraqi Governing Council member Abd-al-Aziz al-Hakim's political adviser, said, "we suspect that [the perpetrators are] members of the former Ba'ath regime and Saddam supporters who wish to ignite a war between the Sunnis and the Shi'a," SCIRI's Voice of the Mujahedin radio reported. Amar Abd-al-Aziz al-Hakim presented a nuanced view on 25 August, RFE/RL reported, saying, "We believe that remnants of the former regime and its followers are behind such acts. We hold the occupying forces responsible for that. They [the occupying forces] are still insisting they should control everything."

Some observers suspect the followers of firebrand cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who is a relative newcomer to Iraqi politics, are behind the first attack. Two of al-Sadr's aides, Shaykh Muhammad Reza al-Numani and Shaykh Adnan al-Shamani, were very critical of al-Hakim and the other sources of emulation -- Ayatollahs Ali al-Sistani, Muhammad al-Fayyad, and Bashir al-Najafi -- in June interviews (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 30 June 2003).

Moreover, speculation persists that al-Sadr's followers are responsible for the April murder in Al-Najaf of Abd-al-Majid al-Khoi and of later trying to force Ayatollah al-Sistani to leave town. RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq correspondent Mohamed-Ali Heidari said, "Some of the people who were in the funeral of those three who were killed yesterday accused Muqtada al-Sadr followers and they called on the religious leaders to establish a Shi'a militia in Al-Najaf to prevent another attack."

Ayatollah Khamenei reacted to the 29 August assassination of Baqir al-Hakim in a message that was read out on state radio: "The guilty and sinister hands of the mercenaries of imperialism have created a great tragedy. They annihilated a precious figure who was a bastion of resistance to those who are occupying Iraq." Khamenei described the assassination as "an act perpetrated with a view to serving the interests of America and the perfidious Zionists."

Expediency Council chairman Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani described the bombing as a crime that proves the occupation has failed to bring "minimum security" to Iraq, IRNA reported on 30 August.

Hassan Rohani, secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, told a 31 August memorial ceremony in Tehran that a Zionist group affiliated with the Israeli intelligence organization, Mossad, visited Iraq a week before the assassination and such a bombing could not have been the work of an individual or of an inexperienced group, IRNA reported. Rohani said that the U.S. and the U.K. are responsible for this event.

SCIRI representative Hamid al-Bayati told Radio Free Iraq on 29 August that he suspects Hussein loyalists are responsible. "I think it's Saddam-loyalists who are behind this attack. They have targeted the ayatollah for a long time. They arrested dozens of members of his family, they persecuted 16 members of his family, and they assassinated his brother in 1998. His life was under several assassination attempts when he was in Iran and they managed to kill him now in Al-Najaf today." (Bill Samii)

TEHRAN-SARAJEVO CULTURAL AND ECONOMIC TIES EXPAND. An Iran-Bosnia investment conference was held in Tehran on 19 August, Visoko's Radio Naba reported. Approximately 200 Iranian business people attended the event. Behruz Olfat, who heads the marketing division of the Export Promotion Center of Iran, said on 19 August that his organization dispatched a delegation to Bosnia, Albania, and Turkey to prepare the grounds for investing in the Balkans, IRNA reported. Among the areas he identified are automobile parts, clothing, construction materials, foodstuffs, metals, telecommunications equipment, and tourism. Olfat said that, in 2001, Iran exported $480,000 worth of goods to Bosnia and imported $760,000 worth of goods from Bosnia. Iranian exports were mainly dried fruits, office furniture, digital equipment, and rugs, and the imports were mainly automobile parts, industrial and excavation equipment, and fuel pumps.

Bosnian cabinet adviser and head of the Foreign Investments Development Agency Mirza Khirich said on 19 August that Iranian investors and traders would be provided with five years of tax-free investment and said that the Iran-Bosnia Friendship Association would provide more facilities, according to IRNA.

Mahmud Heidari, deputy head of the Iranian Embassy in Sarajevo, told the Croat-Muslim federation Prime Minister Ahmet Hadzipasic on 18 August that Iran plans to build a complex for cultural and sports activities in Sarajevo, Onasa news agency reported. The cornerstone for the complex will be laid in September, when Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi is scheduled to visit the capital. (Bill Samii)

LATVIA INTERCEPTS RUSSIAN MILITARY HARDWARE BOUND FOR IRAN Latvian customs officials in Riga on 18 August intercepted 28 tons of Russian-made military equipment that were reportedly bound for Iran, gazeta.ru and other Russian media reported on 21 August. The equipment reportedly included spare parts for tanks and night-vision equipment and was being shipped as agricultural hardware on a Russian plane from Yekaterinburg. Latvian officials have opened a criminal case on suspicion of smuggling strategic goods. The incident could increase tensions between Russia and the United States over Russian military cooperation with Tehran. (Victor Yassman)

TOKYO RELUCTANT TO GIVE UP AZADEGAN PROJECT. Washington has pressed Tokyo to pull out of the approximately $2 billion deal to develop Iran's Azadegan oilfield due to concern over Iran's nuclear ambitions and activities (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 7 and 21 July 2003). Tokyo, however, seems reluctant to sacrifice this opportunity or the prospect of reducing its dependence on Arab oil suppliers.

After his 28 August meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, visiting Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi said that discussions on Japanese development of the Azadegan oilfield are continuing, Reuters reported.

An anonymous senior Japanese government official told the "Financial Times" on 20 August that Japan will go ahead with the Azadegan deal as long as it is commercially viable. A "senior Japanese official with close knowledge of the negotiations" said, "we have not withdrawn from the deal. We basically think the issues of nuclear and oil are separate."

This point was reiterated by Foreign Ministry spokesman Jiro Mokuyama, who said, "The nuclear concern is one thing. But Azadegan is another." Okuyama added that Tokyo is putting pressure on Tehran to sign the Additional Protocol of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

Koizumi told Kharrazi on 28 August that Iran should cooperate fully with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Japan's Jiji Press reported. Kharrazi told his host that Iran intends to strengthen its relationship with the IAEA and will negotiate with it on signing the Additional Protocol. He said, "We are increasing our cooperation with the IAEA and recently decided to discuss the Additional Protocol with the IAEA," according to Reuters.

Japanese officials, according to the "Financial Times," resent being pressed to give up such a deal when European firms are left to their own devices. Nevertheless, an anonymous diplomat told the British daily, Tokyo is unlikely to defy Washington. Tokyo could be penalized under the Iran-Libya Sanctions Act, which targets investments in the Iranian energy sector that exceed $20 million.

Although the administration of former President Bill Clinton turned a blind eye to such European activities, U.S. President George W. Bush's administration is not similarly inclined and pressure is being applied to European firms. U.S. Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham urged Italy and the Netherlands to not let their companies invest in the Azadegan oilfield, according to a 16 August report in the "Financial Times." Italian Industry Minister Antonio Marzano told Abraham that energy producer ENI would provide written assurances that it will not do so. The Dutch government did not provide such assurances. (Bill Samii)

IRAN MAY IMPLEMENT VALUE-ADDED TAX. Issa Shahsavar Khojasteh, who heads Iran's Taxation Organization, said on 26 August that a system of value-added tax (VAT) will be adopted in Iran in the next two years, IRNA reported. Among the advantages to Iran of a VAT system, Khojasteh said, are its safety and reliability as a source of government revenues, its positive influence on the production rate, its fairness in distributing wealth, and its contribution to social justice. Other benefits are identification of taxpayers, speedy receipt of taxes, and a reduction in tax evasion, Khojasteh said. (Bill Samii)

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