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Iran Report: September 15, 2003


15 September 2003, Volume 6, Number 37

TEHRAN STILL SEEKS TO TRADE SUSPECTED AL-QAEDA FOR MKO MEMBERS. Government spokesman Abdullah Ramezanzadeh said on 8 September that he knows nothing about an alleged Saudi Arabian request for the extradition from Iran of Al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden's son Saad bin Laden, the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) reported. "We have a security agreement with Saudi Arabia and such a request would be considered in the context of the bilateral pact," he said. Ramezanzadeh added that Saad bin Laden is not among the Al-Qaeda members allegedly arrested by Iran, but he would not identify the individuals it is allegedly holding. (Saad Bin Laden and five other Al-Qaeda members reportedly left Iran "early this week," "Al-Sharq al-Awsat" reported on 10 September, citing "unconfirmed reports.")

Ramezanzadeh hinted that Tehran would like to trade these individuals for Mujahedin Khalq Organization (MKO) members who are in other countries. "We consider ourselves responsible for the international campaign against terrorism and expect other states to hand over the terrorists working against our national interest. Then, we will consider extradition of terrorists."

Tehran's ambassador to Saudi Arabia had announced a few weeks earlier that Tehran has extradited Al-Qaeda suspects to their country of origin, but then Saudi Interior Minister Prince Nayif bin Abd al-Aziz al-Sa'ud said that none of the Saudis detained in Iran have been sent to Saudi Arabia (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 1 September 2003).

The only extradition to date from Iran to Saudi Arabia -- of 13 people, including 11 women and children -- took place more than a year ago, "Al-Sharq al-Awsat" reported on 9 September, citing anonymous sources. According to the report, those extradited included members of two Saudi families that fled Afghanistan during Operation Enduring Freedom who were not connected with terrorism and had no importance from a security perspective. (Last year, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faysal bin Abd al-Aziz al-Sa'ud described Iran's extradition of 16 Al-Qaeda fighters; see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 12 August 2002).

Furthermore, Tehran reportedly has refused to extradite Al-Qaeda's Abu-Musab Zarqawi to Jordan (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 8 September 2003). "Al-Sharq al-Awsat" reported on 10 September that Zarqawi slipped into Iraq with the help of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps about two weeks before Jordan's King Abdullah's 2-3 September visit to Iran. (Bill Samii)

HOSPITALIZED PALESTINIANS MEET IRANIAN SPEAKER OF PARLIAMENT. Speaker of parliament Hojatoleslam Mehdi Karrubi on 7 September visited Tehran's Milad Hospital to see some 17 Palestinians who are undergoing treatment there, IRNA reported. Physicians briefed him on the patients' health, and Karrubi "made recommendations on their medical treatment." Karrubi said the Palestinian uprising will continue as long as there is an Israeli occupation, an absence of an independent Palestinian government, and Palestinian refugees have not returned. He also said the assassination of Palestinian leaders only reinvigorates the Palestinian resistance. About 400 Palestinians have been treated at Iranian hospitals in the last three years, according to IRNA. (Bill Samii)

IRAN ANNOUNCES ANTITERRORISM LEGISLATION. Iranian government spokesman Abdullah Ramezanzadeh announced on 8 September that legislation on eliminating financing of terrorist groups would be submitted to the parliament this week, AP reported. He said officials from the Central Bank of Iran, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Finance had spent a year drafting the bill, and if the legislature and Guardians Council approve it, Iran would become a member of the 1999 International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism (see http://www.un.org/law/cod/finterr.htm and http://untreaty.un.org/English/Terrorism/Conv12.pdf).

Ramezanzadeh said, "The bill seeks to block any financing of groups Iran recognizes as terrorists." He added that the Al-Qaeda network is on that list of terrorists but Hamas is not. Tehran does not see Palestinian Islamic Jihad or Hizballah as terrorist organizations, either, nor does it see suicide bombings as acts of terrorism.

There is little international agreement on which groups are terrorist organizations. According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, "The lack of agreement on a definition of terrorism has been a major obstacle to meaningful international countermeasures" (http://www.unodc.org/unodc/terrorism_definitions.html). (Bill Samii)

TEHRAN EXPECTS PAYMENT FOR RETURNING SPENT NUCLEAR FUEL TO RUSSIA. An anonymous Russian Atomic Energy Ministry representative told ITAR-TASS on 6 September that Russia and Iran have not agreed on where or when they would sign an agreement for the return of nuclear fuel used at the nuclear-power plant in Bushehr. During meetings in Moscow that began on 5 September, the two sides addressed the return of spent fuel for storage and reprocessing as well as the provision of fresh fuel, but according to the ITAR-TASS source, the Russian side insists that the provision of fresh fuel is conditional on the signing of a protocol on the return of spent fuel.

Interfax on 5 September cited an anonymous Atomic Energy Ministry source as saying that the protocol will not be signed "in the near future" because the required documents are not ready yet. Atomic Energy Ministry official Aleksandr Agapov had said on 29 August that the problem is an absence of detailed documents on handling emergencies during the transportation phase, Interfax reported. "The delivery of fuel is constantly being delayed because Iran has no final document on a reaction to possible emergencies," he said.

On the other hand, Russian State Secretary and Deputy Atomic Energy Minister Valerii Govorukhin said on 9 September that commercial aspects of the Russia-Iran protocol on the return of spent nuclear fuel must be addressed prior to the signing, ITAR-TASS reported. Govorukhin went on to explain that Tehran sees the spent fuel as its property and wants to be paid for sending it back to Russia for storage and reprocessing. The international practice, he added, is for the party providing these services to receive payment. If Tehran does not comply with this practice, Russia would have to raise the price of the fuel it is supplying to include the expenses associated with accepting the spent fuel. Govorukhin denied to ITAR-TASS that there was any connection between international pressure on Iran to sign the Additional Protocol of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and the delays in signing a bilateral spent-fuel-return protocol. (Bill Samii)

IAEA BOARD OF GOVERNORS PASSES RESOLUTION ON IRAN. The 35-country board of governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on 12 September adopted a resolution in which it urged Iran to accelerate its cooperation with the agency and to behave in a fully transparent manner (http://www.iaea.org/worldatom/Press/Focus/IaeaIran/gov2003-69.pdf). The resolution expressed concern that information provided by Iran contrasted with earlier information it had provided, and it also noted the tardiness and incremental nature of Iranian information sharing. Concerns were expressed about environmental samples taken from Natanz that showed highly enriched uranium, Iran's introduction of nuclear material to its centrifuge enrichment cascade at Natanz, efforts to modify the Kalaye Electric Company that would affect the accuracy of environmental sampling, and significant changes in Iran's statements to the IAEA.

The resolution called on Iran to "remedy all failures identified by the agency" and gave it until 31 October to ensure that it is in compliance with the safeguards agreement. Iran must grant unrestricted access to all locations, provide complete answers, and provide all the information required to resolve outstanding issues. The board will meet again on 20 November.

This did not sit well with Tehran. Iranian representative to the IAEA Ali Salehi and the rest of his country's delegation walked out of the meeting, and on 14 September AFP reported that he told "Der Spiegel" magazine that Tehran might stop cooperation with the IAEA and withdraw from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi said on 13 September that the resolution is "immature" and "politically motivated," IRNA reported. "Naturally, we should now decide about our cooperation with the [IAEA]," he said. Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi echoed this on state television on 14 September.

Salehi appeared to back off from the threat of Iranian withdrawal from the NPT when he said in the 14 September issue of "Iran" newspaper, "Iran's cooperation with the agency will continue, while our blatant criticisms shouldn't be translated into severing cooperation," the "Financial Times" reported on 15 September.

More enlightening is the statement by Ali Akbar Velayati, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's foreign affairs adviser, who said on a 14 September television call-in program that even if Iran wants to cooperate with the IAEA, the resolution's deadline is too short. Velayati also said that Iran's cooperation with the IAEA goes beyond its NPT commitments, whereas the IAEA has not cooperated with Iranian nuclear activities at all. This is not true; in fact, Iran is a recipient of the agency's Technical Cooperation Program and there are 13 related projects under way there, according to the IAEA (http://www-tc.iaea.org/tcweb/projectinfo/default.asp).

The Iranian officials seem genuinely surprised by the IAEA's resolution, but it is not clear why. IAEA Director-General Mohammad el-Baradei's August report on Iran (http://www.iaea.org/worldatom/Press/Focus/IaeaIran/gov2003-63.pdf), which was leaked to major Western newspapers, seemed quite critical (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 1 September 2003). Indeed, Iranian IAEA representative Salehi met with el-Baradei for two hours at the home of an Egyptian businessman in an effort to pressure el-Baradei to play down the significance of Iran's nuclear activities, anonymous "Western intelligence sources" said in the 8 September issue of Germany's "Die Welt" newspaper. El-Baradei reportedly said the IAEA could not ignore the evidence.

Nevertheless, the resolution could have been stronger. The draft resolution originally favored by the U.S. was very strong and called for the immediate imposition of UN Security Council sanctions. However, Reuters reported on 7 September that there was little support on the board for this resolution. It was eventually toned down.

Discussing the toned-down resolution on 8 September, Salehi told Reuters: "It's looking at things with pessimism. In other words, looking at the half-empty glass, and not the half-full." Salehi said that the resolution is selectively based on the IAEA report about Iran. "In other words, just picking the negative parts and not giving any attention to the positive parts of the report." "Even the praise in the resolution has come with qualifications," he said. "This is my objection."

South Africa at the 9 September meeting submitted a milder draft resolution that called on Iran "'as an urgent and essential matter' to enhance its cooperation and full transparency and provide 'at an early date' the necessary assurances about its nuclear activities," the "Financial Times" reported on 10 September.

The draft resolution submitted by France, Germany, the United Kingdom, and the United States, on the other hand, said that it is "essential and urgent" that Tehran remedy the failures identified by the IAEA and comply fully with its nuclear obligations by the next scheduled board meeting in November, according to AP on 9 September. The resolution called on Iran to suspend all uranium-enrichment activities, including the introduction of nuclear materials at Natanz, and it called on Tehran to ratify and sign the Additional Protocol of the NPT, which would allow more intrusive and unannounced nuclear inspections by the IAEA.

Reuters on 9 September cited anonymous diplomats as saying that most board members were ready to support a resolution that would demand Iranian cooperation with the IAEA, that would insist that Iran promptly answer the IAEA's questions on its uranium-enrichment program, and that would call on Iran to sign the Additional Protocol of the NPT.

The board's 11 September meeting was postponed as the U.S. and 14 allies lobbied other member states to back the resolution, AFP reported. (Bill Samii)

ASSEMBLY OF EXPERTS DISAVOWS WMD. The Assembly of Experts, an 86-member body of clerics, concluded its 10th official session on 9 September and issued a statement in which it said that Iran has never pursued and never will pursue weapons of mass destruction (WMD), the Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA) reported. This is because use of WMD contravenes Islam, it said. "The peaceful use of nuclear energy is the legitimate and legal right of all countries, including the Islamic Republic," the statement added. "The hue and cry created by America and other arrogant powers in this connection is in keeping with their continuous and successive conspiracies against the Islamic system in Iran." The statement continued, "We call on the Islamic system's officials to confront this conspiracy courageously and not give in to the wishes of America and the global arrogance."

The previous evening, members of the assembly and its chairman, Ayatollah Ali Meshkini, met with Expediency Council Chairman Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani to hear a briefing by Supreme National Security Council Secretary Hassan Rohani about U.S. objections to Iranian nuclear pursuits, IRNA reported on 9 September. He said that Washington is trying to pressure Iran for hegemonistic reasons. BS

EXECUTIVE BRANCH CONFRONTS EXISTENCE OF PARALLEL INTELLIGENCE ORGANIZATIONS. President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami's "housecleaning" of the Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) after the 1998 serial murders of dissidents is described as "one of the few genuine achievements to come out of his many confrontations with the conservative power structure" by Columbia University's Professor Gary Sick in the Autumn 2003 issue of "The Washington Quarterly" (http://www.twq.com/03autumn/docs/03autumn_sick.pdf). The investigation into the serial murders led to the arrest of ultraconservative MOIS officials, Sick writes, and to the replacement of personnel associated with former MOIS chief Ali-Akbar Fallahian-Khuzestani.

Even if the MOIS is no longer a hard-line stronghold, as Sick indicates, that doesn't mean that hard-liners have not created alternative structures to it. Khatami and his reformist associates have now turned their attention to these institutional competitors.

Deputy speaker of parliament Mohammad Reza Khatami, secretary of the reformist Islamic Iran Participation Party and also the president's brother, warned in a 9 July open letter to the country's executive that organizations working in parallel with the MOIS are interfering with judicial proceedings against people detained on political charges, IRNA reported. The parliamentarian wrote that such institutions are violating the rights of these individuals and referred to constitutional bans on torture and solitary confinement. A report on this letter that appeared in the 10 July "Yas-i No" daily added that many of those working in the parallel institutions are the same people who were purged from the MOIS after the serial murders investigation.

Isfahan parliamentary representative Rajab Ali Mazrui said in a 9 July interview with ISNA that the parallel intelligence organizations became active about two years ago. "They have especially tried to build a case against reformists," he said.

Describing the actual form of these institutions, Shahr-i Qods and Shahriar parliamentary representative Mohammad Ali Kuzegar said that they could be divided into two categories, ISNA reported on 9 July. "One group is made up of the cliques that are operating outside state institutions," he said, and "Another group is made up of parallel organizations which have been set up by other institutions."

More details were provided by parliamentarian Mohsen Mirdamadi in the 19 July "Yas-i No." He said that the people purged from the MOIS continued and expanded their activities elsewhere, and "the intelligence apparatus of one of these organs in Tehran has three times the number of personnel that the MOIS has throughout the country." Not only are the confinement and torture of students and national-religious activists examples of the parallel organs' existence, he said, but so is the case of Canadian photojournalist Zahra Kazemi, who was killed while in detention.

President Khatami referred his brother's complaint about parallel intelligence organizations to the Committee for the Implementation and Supervision of the Constitution on 26 July, IRNA reported. Khatami established this organization in November 1997 to protect people's rights. The committee asked Mohammad Reza Khatami to provide it with evidence so it could pursue the complaint.

More recently, there have been complaints that the provincial supervisory offices being created by the Guardians Council for oversight of elections will have an intelligence function. Mohammad Sadeq Javadi-Hesar, the former managing director of the banned "Tus" daily, said that these offices would have more latitude in their activities than the MOIS, "Toseh" reported on 4 August. They would have the power to permanently monitor and survey individuals, whereas the MOIS only has this power for a limited time and in specific cases. Javadi-Hesar ascribed this development to the conservatives' loss of confidence in the MOIS. A commentary in the 12 August "Yas-i No" said the Guardians Council is being transformed into an intelligence organization, and is becoming a government that acts against the official government.

President Khatami said in a 22 August speech to MOIS executives that their organization must have the dominant role in intelligence activities, "Iran" reported on 23 August. He added that the establishment of any parallel intelligence organizations is unconstitutional and harmful to the state. An unattributed article about Khatami's speech in the 23 August "Toseh" warned that parallel intelligence organizations counteract and duplicate each other's efforts, and make oversight impossible. The article noted that the MOIS was created in the late 1980s to centralize intelligence activities in the country and to eliminate duplication.

Regardless of the executive branch's efforts, it must contend with the existence of many official security and intelligence institutions that operate autonomously. Writing in the 28 August issue of Beirut's "Daily Star," commentator Nawaf Obaid referred to the "newly created Foreign Intelligence Service" that reports directly to the Supreme Leader's Office. The Islamic Revolution Guards Corps, different branches of the military, and the police all have their own intelligence and counterintelligence units. The Iranian executive branch will find it difficult, if not impossible, to reign them in and to centralize intelligence activities. (Bill Samii)

RELEASE OF HARD-LINE ACTIVIST RENEWS FOCUS ON VIGILANTES. Iranian journalists, student activists, and political dissidents are routinely jailed and held incommunicado for extended periods. While in prison, they are subject to physical and mental torture and forced to participate in televised confessions. Hard-line activists, however, seem to be able to come and go as they please, killing and beating their fellow citizens without penalty. Recent developments in the case of Said Asqar, a leader in the Ansar-i Hizbullah, shed some light on this situation.

Asqar was released from Evin prison and seen shopping with his wife in the vicinity of Dolatabad Avenue on 9 September, Fars News Agency reported on 11 September. Asqar received a 15-year prison sentence for shooting reformist ideologue Said Hajjarian in March 2000, but was out on bail when he played a role in suppressing the June 2003 unrest (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 27 March and 29 May 2000, and 23 June 2003). He subsequently turned himself in when he heard that Prosecutor-General Said Mortazavi wanted to have him arrested (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 11 August 2003).

The Tehran governor-general's assistant for political-security affairs, Ebrahim Rezai-Babadi, said in the 16 June "Iran" that Asqar was the main person behind the June 2003 violence at Allameh Tabatabai University's Tarasht Dormitory. Rezai-Babadi promised that Asqar and his cohorts would be dealt with severely.

But certain irregularities came to light after Asqar's trial got under way in mid-August. The indictment against him described Asqar as a man without a criminal record and disregarded his conviction in the Hajjarian case, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 18 August. Moreover, there was no follow-up on the complaints against him by the police intelligence unit or the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps.

Hard-line vigilantes such as the Ansar-i Hizbullah are sometimes referred to as plainclothesmen (lebas shakhsi-ha) or pressure groups, and they routinely justify their actions as being in defense of the theocratic system and Islam. Rezai-Babadi, however, described the plainclothesmen as a problem for the security forces -- "obstinate individuals who prevent the establishment of security with their presence."

Interior Ministry Undersecretary for Security and Discipline Ali-Asqar Ahmadi also criticized these individuals in an interview that appeared in the 28 July "Nasim-i Saba." "They think they are serving the system," he said of the plainclothesmen. In reality, Ahmadi said, "they play a role in the commotion and creation of insecurity. Then they interfere in the activities of the security and disciplinary forces." Therefore, Ahmadi asked, how can they be described as defenders of the system?

A different perspective on vigilantes and plainclothesmen came from Mohammad Ali Rahmani, who heads the police's Ideological and Political Organization. Rahmani said that people who interfere in security affairs on their own initiative and are not organized are vigilantes, and it is inaccurate to call them plainclothesmen, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 12 July. Rahmani went on to say that the police may sometimes call on the Basij for help, but then the Basij personnel would be under the police's command. Basij personnel who are not under police command and have not been organized do not have any right to interfere with police activities

Mohammad Zeynalzadeh, a member of the Tehran Province universities' Student Basij Central Council, offered yet another perspective on how the vigilantes are organized. He said in the 16 June "Entekhab" that there are four categories of such groups. The first group has revolutionary concerns and consists of people who act on their own initiative, but ignore Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The second group deceives students into opposing the regime's revolutionary wing. "The third group is made up of concerned and understanding Hizbullah individuals who cannot tolerate this situation."

Zeynalzadeh said the fourth group, which is the biggest one, consists of what he termed "official agents." He continued: "These are the people who can be present on the stage but not in uniforms. Many of them come from the Law Enforcement Security Division [hefazat-i niru-yi entezami] or the security divisions of other organizations. At any rate, all security, military, and law enforcement organs in our country see themselves as having responsibilities in this situation. It is natural for their security and intelligence forces to be present on this arena." (Bill Samii)

MORE SHOOTINGS AT BRITISH EMBASSY IN TEHRAN. British Embassy press attache Andrew Greenstock said two shots were fired at the facility on the evening of 14 September, according to dpa and Reuters on 15 September. Nobody was hurt, he said, and nobody has claimed responsibility. Greenstock cited witnesses who said it was two men on a motorcycle. This is the third such shooting.

Greenstock announced on 9 September that "three or four bullets" were fired at the embassy earlier in the day, Mehr News Agency reported. Mehr also reported that Greenstock said, "In a strong protest to the Iranian Foreign Ministry, the British Embassy has said that the security measures adopted by the ministry since last Wednesday [3 September, when an earlier shooting occurred] are not adequate."

An anonymous "informed source" at the Iranian Foreign Ministry told Mehr that the shots were not fired at the embassy and the issue was being exaggerated. "The shots were fired in one of the streets near the embassy at a considerable distance from the embassy building and did not hit the building," the source said, "The British embassy is trying to blow up the incident."

Later in the day, however, police public affairs official Ali Akbar Mahaki confirmed that somebody had shot at the embassy and added, "The bullets did not hit anything and there were no human or material losses." Mahaki said the police are seeking the gunmen and he speculated that they might be the ones responsible for the earlier shooting.

On 10 September, Mahaki denied everything. He told the Mehr News Agency, "The police have not received any report suggesting that shots were fired at the embassy." Mahaki also said that he did not confirm such news in interviews with any media, and added, "My name, title, and remarks were all wrong in the said report." (Bill Samii)

LONDON FREES FORMER IRANIAN AMBASSADOR TO ARGENTINA. A London High Court on 12 September freed former Iranian diplomat Hadi Suleimanpur on 730,000 pounds' (about $1.2 million) bail, international news agencies reported. Suleimanpur must report to the police every day. Formerly the ambassador to Argentina, Suleimanpur was arrested in the United Kingdom on 21 August on the basis of an international arrest warrant issued in connection with his alleged role in the July 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish community center in Buenos Aires. The British judge, Mr. Justice Royce, said that the information provided by Buenos Aires did not provide any "clear evidence demonstrating his involvement," BBC reported.

Suleimanpur's attorney, Alan Jones, had said on 9 September, "there is evidence that Argentine judicial officials were paid a sum of $4,000 in bribes to issue a verdict against Suleimanpur," "Iran Daily" reported on 11 September.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi said on 14 September that the release is a sign of Suleimanpur's innocence, IRNA reported. Assefi added, "the Argentinian judiciary had adopted an improper measure to create a chaos in international relations to merely please the Zionist regime." He went on to say that Argentinian Foreign Minister Rafael Bielsa told his Iranian counterpart Kamal Kharrazi that the Argentinian judiciary's action was "very inappropriate."

In Argentina, meanwhile, Jewish groups are angry with the government for what appears to be a reluctance to confront Iran, "Forward" reported on 12 September. As Judge Juan Jose Galeano, who issued the warrant for Suleimanpur's arrest, works to complete an extradition request that is due by 20 September, Foreign Minister Bielsa has called for an international tribunal to deal with the case.

Miguel Bronfman, a lawyer for AMIA, questioned this development, according to "Forward." "It now seems that the gestures of [President Nestor] Kirchner were just publicity stunts," he said. "They say this is a government priority, we are opening the [intelligence agency] archives, etc. But when Suleimanpur is arrested, they say this is just the judge's problem, then they come up with the idea of an international tribunal."

"Forward" also suggested that Tehran's concern for Suleimanpur is based on the possibility that he intended to defect to the U.K. British security services reportedly questioned Suleimanpur three times before his arrest, but he never sought the Iranian Embassy's protection. Tehran had known since March that Buenos Aires was preparing a warrant and trying to find Suleimanpur, "Forward" reported, but it never sought to bring him home.

Observers note that these do not sound like the actions of a potential defector, or of a government concerned about defection. They sound more like the actions of a loyal official who is trusted by his government. (Bill Samii)

LEGAL IRANIAN PILGRIMAGES TO IRAQI SHIA SITES TO BEGIN SOON. Iran's deputy interior minister for security and law enforcement affairs, Mr. Ahmadi, announced on 9 September that Iranians soon would be able to make the pilgrimage to Shia shrines in the Iraqi cities of Al-Najaf and Karbala, state radio reported. Ahmadi explained, "Based on a program for structuring pilgrimages to the holy sites which was approved by Iraq's policy-making council, the two sides will cooperate for normalizing travel by pilgrims." Ahmadi continued: "In the forthcoming days, travel by Iranian pilgrims will begin from the Khosravi, Shalamcheh, and Mehran border areas. And Iraqi pilgrims, for their part, can go to the Iranian Embassy in Baghdad and obtain visas for pilgrimage visits to Mashhad and Qom free of charge."

Government spokesman Abdullah Ramezanzadeh said on 8 September, according to IRNA, that the Haj and Pilgrimage Organization, Foreign Ministry, police, and other institutions are working together to expedite Iranians' visits to Iraq. Unregulated pilgrimage traffic to date has resulted in hundreds of deaths as Iranian travelers wander into old minefields or get lost in the desert (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 8 September 2003). And on 13 September IRNA reported that an Iranian who was caught in a Baghdad clash between U.S. soldiers and "unknown Iraqi individuals" died and another one disappeared. The dead man was identified as Yunis Mohammad-Yari, a pilgrim.

An anonymous "responsible source" at the Iranian Embassy in Baghdad announced on 11 September that renewable one-month visas would be issued to Iraqis, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq's (SCIRI) Iran-based Voice of the Mujahedin radio reported. Visa applicants were told that they would be charged $41 for each visa, that will be issued for the purposes of religious travel, trade, and tourism. (Bill Samii)

SADDAM HUSSEIN SUPPORTERS TRY TO KILL SHIA CLERIC. Unknown gunmen attacked the Al-Najaf home of a senior Shia cleric, Grand Ayatollah Bashir al-Najafi, on 7 September, "Iran Daily" reported on 9 September. Two of the ayatollah's aides were wounded, as was an attackers who was subsequently arrested. Al-Najafi was not hurt.

Sadreddine al-Kubbanji, who heads the SCIRI's Al-Najaf office, said that a man captured at al-Najafi's home confessed to being a member of Saddam Hussein's Fedayeen and to previously killing two U.S. soldiers in Baghdad's Kazimiyah district, according to AFP on 8 September. Al-Najafi is one of four Shia sources of emulation in Iraq -- the others are Ayatollahs Ali al-Sistani, Muhammad al-Fayyad, and Muhammad Said al-Hakim (nephew of slain SCIRI leader Muhammad Baqir al-Hakim). (Bill Samii)

SOFIA WANTS TEHRAN'S HELP IN KARBALA. Iranian Foreign Minister Kharrazi left Damascus for Sofia on 9 September and met with his Bulgarian counterpart Solomon Pasi later that day, according to news agencies. Pasi asked Kharrazi to help in the establishment of good relations with the Shia community in Karbala, where a unit of Bulgarian soldiers is stationed, Bulgarian National Television's Channel 1 and the private BGNES news agency reported. Pasi said: "The good contacts between our Iranian colleagues and the Shia in Karbala are well-known, and that is why I turned to them with a request to help us succeed in establishing a good climate, a friendly climate for our soldiers in Karbala to operate in. I received my Iranian counterpart's assurance of his support."

Bulgarian Prime Minister Simeon Saxecoburggotski said on 10 September that he also had discussed the security of the Bulgarian unit in Karbala with Kharrazi, BTA reported.

The two sides also discussed counternarcotics, as opiates originating in Afghanistan transit Iran and make their way to Europe along the Balkan Route, which passes through Bulgaria. Kharrazi also met with National Assembly Chairman Ognyan Gerdzhikov, who expressed optimism about the construction of a natural gas pipeline from Iran to Europe via Turkey and Bulgaria, BTA reported on 9 September. Gerdzhikov also expressed the hope that the decrease in bilateral trade would be reversed.

Bulgarian Deputy Prime Minister and Transport and Communications Minister Nikolay Vasilev promised Kharrazi when they met on 9 September that he would raise the possibility of Iranian membership in the Transport Corridor Europe-Caucasus-Asia Project when the organization's meeting takes place in Yerevan in October, BTA reported on 10 September. They also discussed air links between the two countries -- Mahan Air from Iran and Hemus Air from Bulgaria have been appointed by their governments to fly the Sofia-Tehran route. (Bill Samii)

IRAN ACTIVE IN REGIONAL ELECTRICAL SECTOR. Maurice Motamed, the parliamentary representative for Iran's Jewish minority, said on 13 September that more than 16 percent of the country's electrical output is wasted by aged systems and unauthorized expansion of electrical networks, IRNA reported. He added that 10 projects for the construction of power plants have been postponed because state organizations have not coordinated their efforts. Regardless of the difficulties, Tehran is willing to sell its electrical output and share its experience with other countries.

A senior official in Pakistan's Water and Power Development Authority announced on 8 September that Baluchistan is receiving electricity from Iran, Lahore's "Daily Times" reported on 9 September. The anonymous official said that electricity from Iran would benefit 26,500 consumers in the towns of Gwadar, Hoshab, Mundh, Pasni, Punjgoor, Tumb, and Turbat. Iran's provision of 32 megawatts of power costs $0.03 per unit, a sum that makes it less expensive to import Iranian electricity than to transport diesel fuel from Karachi to the Punjgoor and Pasni power stations, the official said.

Meanwhile. Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Mohammad Sadr noted in the 9 September issue of "Iran News" that Iraq might purchase Iranian electricity. Masud Hojat, deputy chief of the state power-generation and transmission-management company Tavanir, said that, although the Energy Ministry is technically ready to export electricity to Iraq, such a decision depends on foreign-policy factors, "Iran Daily" reported on 10 August. He described electrical imports and exports as a priority issue at the ministry and mentioned readiness to supply Afghanistan, Armenia, Pakistan, and Turkey. Foreign Minister Kharrazi also discussed bilateral ties in the electricity sector with President Bashar al-Assad during his recent trip to Syria, IRNA reported on 8 September.

Looking further afield, Kharrazi told visiting Senegalese Foreign Minister Tidiane Gadio in a 6 September meeting in Tehran, "Iran and Senegal enjoy great capabilities for boosting of mutual ties, and Iran can transfer its capabilities in oil and petrochemical sectors, electricity, trade, as well as dam construction to the Senegalese side," IRNA reported. (Bill Samii)

OFFICIALS REPORT ON FALL IN UNEMPLOYMENT, JOB CREATION. Deputy Labor and Social Affairs Minister Sadeq Bakhtiari said on 3 September that the current unemployment rate of 11.2 percent is two percentage points lower than it was at the same time one year ago, IRNA reported. Bakhtiari said that this development is "indicative of the government's success in creating employment." Bakhtiari said that the government's emergency employment act created 450,000 jobs. Bakhtiari had said in July that the unemployment situation is alarming and the increase in job opportunities is insufficient for job seekers' needs, IRNA reported on 25 August.

In his September statement, furthermore, Bakhtiari said that the plan to replace foreign workers with Iranian ones will be strictly enforced. The plan to replace foreign workers would open up 28,000 opportunities for unskilled laborers in Tehran Province this year, Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs official Mohammad Azizi said on 25 August according to IRNA. Azizi said that the national unemployment rate is around 11.6 percent and it is close to 12.07 percent in the province.

During a 28 August tour of the Saba Tire Thread Production Complex in the city of Zanjan, Minister of Industries and Mines Ishaq Jahangiri said that 400,000 jobs would be created when private-sector industrial projects become operational, IRNA reported. The average implementation time of each project is five years and Jahangiri hopes that will be reduced to three years. The previous day, Jahangiri told a meeting of industrialists in Tehran that the prospects for creating 200,000 jobs in the current Iranian year (21 March 2003-20 March 2004) are good but a 10 percent growth rate in the industrial sector is a prerequisite for attaining this goal, IRNA reported.

Seyyed Mohammad Musavi, the managing director of Iran's House of Industrialists, told IRNA during the 28 August inspection of a sports and cultural center in Mashhad that his organization created 20,000 jobs last year, IRNA reported. This year, he said, it would create 35,000 jobs. (Bill Samii)

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