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Iran Report: September 29, 2003

29 September 2003, Volume 6, Number 39

TEHRAN TRIES TO CONTROL DOMESTIC NUCLEAR DEBATE. Iran's Supreme National Security Council has submitted to the Islamic Culture and Guidance Ministry its assessment arguing that the mass media should, in the words of the Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA) on 20 September, "refrain from discussing arguments and analyses or raising any issues that may cause misperceptions about the [Additional] Protocol [to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, or NPT]." The Supreme National Security Council argued that media organizations should coordinate their reporting with government officials who deal with the issue, ISNA reported.

This is not the first government decree on the line that the media should follow in reporting on domestic affairs. And considering officials' contradictory statements about the nuclear issue, it is not surprising that the government wants to control the reportage.

Iranian representative to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Ali-Akbar Salehi said on 22 September that Iran does not have the technical capability of producing the enriched uranium needed for nuclear weapons, dpa reported, citing state television. "For all experts, it is quite clear that the enriched uranium was not made in Iran but imported as the country is technically not capable to make this process," he said. Salehi also said that Iran does not have the facilities or equipment for enriching uranium and rejected all accusations that Iran is seeking a nuclear-weapons capability.

Yet Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei had said in a 17 September speech that Iranians enriched uranium themselves (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 22 September 2003).

Further undermining Tehran's claims was the 25 September report from AFP, citing anonymous diplomats, that UN nuclear inspectors have discovered traces of highly enriched uranium (HEU) in environmental samples taken at the Kalaye Electric Company near Tehran. The inspectors do not know if the HEU was produced in Iran or if it was on equipment that Iran imported from another country. HEU was previously found in samples taken at Natanz. There is speculation that equipment Iran purchased from Pakistan could have been contaminated, but Pakistan has denied providing Iran with nuclear technology (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 1 September 2003).

While they are not united on the IAEA's 12 September resolution on Iran or on the wisdom of signing the Additional Protocol (see here and below), Iranian officials are united in denying that they have any intention of developing nuclear weapons. Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi, for example, told the United Nations on 25 September: "Iran does not have a nuclear-weapons program nor does it intend to embark on one. Thus we have nothing to hide and in principle have no problem with the Additional Protocol." Kharrazi had preceded that assertion by saying that Iran will continue to "vigorously pursue its peaceful nuclear program."

President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami stressed at the 22 September military parade in Tehran, state television reported, that Iran has a defensive military strategy and has "no intention of gaining access to weapons of mass destruction." Khatami also said, "Our region is the center of aggression, terror, and storage of weapons of mass destruction, and the center is the Zionist regime." "The biggest atomic arsenal is in Israel and the worst kind of state terror occurs in Palestine," he continued.

Ayatollah Khamenei, furthermore, said in a 20 September speech to members of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps and Basij of Mazandaran and Gulistan provinces that complaints about Iran's nuclear pursuits are untrue. Khamenei warned that an unidentified enemy has launched a massive propaganda campaign against Iran, state radio reported. "They have launched a deceptive propaganda campaign, saying that the Iranian nation is making efforts to acquire nuclear weapons," Khamenei said. "They are trying to portray the Islamic Republic of Iran as being a threat to regional and global peace." Khamenei went on to accuse the United States and Israel of threatening "regional and global peace." Khamenei accused the "tyrannical world powers" -- which he did not identify -- of being furious with Iran because of its Islamic faith. (Bill Samii)

ADDITIONAL PROTOCOL -- PRO ET CONTRA. If Iran does not want to produce nuclear weapons, Deputy Foreign Minister Mohsen Aminzadeh asked on 22 September, "Why do we hesitate to sign the [NPT Additional] Protocol to show our friends that our nuclear program is transparent and open to United Nations inspection?" Aminzadeh said, according to the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA), that Iran should have signed the Additional Protocol ahead of the September meeting of the IAEA's board of governors, and in fact, Iran should have signed "several years ago." The international community will not allow Iran to make nuclear progress if it fails to sign, he warned.

Luristan Province parliamentary representative Alaedin Borujerdi, who serves on the National Security and Foreign Affairs Committee, on 23 September expressed strong disapproval of Aminzadeh's comments, Fars News Agency reported. Borujerdi said: "In principle, decisions in respect of such an important issue are within the jurisdiction of the Supreme National Security Council. Such remarks will bear adverse repercussions for Iran." Borujerdi added that Aminzadeh should have defended Iran's stance and objected to the "unprincipled and illegal action of the [IAEA] board of governors." Turning to Iran's need for a nuclear capability, Borujerdi said, "Sooner or later, we will run out of oil." He condemned what he termed "the refusal" of other countries to help Iran's nuclear pursuits, even though Iran is a signatory of the NPT.

Not only should Iran not sign the Additional Protocol, substitute Tehran Friday prayer leader Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati told his congregation on 19 September according to state radio, but it should withdraw from the NPT altogether. Jannati noted that North Korea withdrew from the NPT and other countries have not even signed it. Under the more intrusive regime of the Additional Protocol, Jannati warned, inspectors could examine the parliament building or the supreme leader's office.

"In a nutshell, the Muslim people of Iran, the government and nation of Iran, will not accept this humiliation. And all of them will, God willing, stand firm against the criminal and conspiring America." After the crowd finished chants that included "Death to America," Jannati said: "We must one day finally settle scores with America. The horn of this ghoul must one day be cut off in this world. This cannot go on." His words elicited further chants of "Death to America." (Bill Samii)

MISSILES STAR IN 'SACRED DEFENSE WEEK.' Iran kicked off "Sacred Defense Week" -- the annual commemoration of the beginning of the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War -- on 22 September with a parade near the shrine of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in Tehran and with parades in other cities, state media reported. Six Shihab-3 missiles, bearing the slogans "Israel must be wiped off the map" and "We will crush America under our feet," were the stars of the Tehran parade, Britain's "The Guardian" and "The Times" newspapers and Dubai's Al-Arabiyah television reported on 23 September.

Other missiles displayed at the parade, according to state television on 22 September, were the Nazeat-6, Nazeat-10, Zelzal, Maverick, Hawk, Tondar-69, Fateh-110, Scud B, SAM-6, surface-to-surface naval missiles, Fajr air-to-ground missiles, and long-range shore-to-sea missiles. At the end of the week, the medium-range Shihab-2 and Zelzal missile were exhibited in Tehran Baharistan Square, dpa reported on 27 September.

It was not just missiles that featured during Sacred Defense Week. Units from the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC), the regular armed forces, the Ministry of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics, and the police participated in the parade. Also on display in the parade were armored personnel carriers -- M113, BTR-60, and BTR-82 -- and tanks -- M47, M60, and Babr 400.

Other days of Sacred Defense Week were dedicated to conscripts; the defense industries; martyrs, the disabled, and their families; the leadership; the siege of Abadan; and the IRGC and Basij. A conference organized by the army opened on 24 September, and reporters went to the southwestern border region to hear veterans' remembrances. There were exhibits, concerts, and sports events, and army medical centers provided free services to military families.

During this week, several military officials gave speeches or press interviews. Rear Admiral Shafii, the deputy minister of defense and armed forces logistics, said in a 22 September interview with state radio that Iran is now capable of producing and supplying its armed forces with fighter aircraft, is "completely self-sufficient" in producing armored equipment, and is capable of supplying the ground forces. He also announced the creation of a "new headquarters to enhance our readiness to create deterrent power." Shafii said that Iran is working on the establishment of "defensive diplomatic relationships with friendly countries, the value systems of which are similar to our own."

Military officials, meanwhile, declared their readiness to defend the country. Iranian Army ground forces commander Brigadier General Nasser Mohammadifar said on 24 September that his forces are in the best condition they have ever been in, state television reported. He said that the army can conduct "rapid reaction operations" using helicopters and "heavy transport units." Mohammadifar said his forces are doing their best to mass-produce armored personnel carriers and tanks, and also to achieve self-sufficiency in producing armored vehicles.

Major General Mohammad Salimi, commander of the army, said on 22 September that the army is ready to defend Iranian territory, IRNA reported. "The ground forces and the navy are deployed on the territorial borders, on land and at sea and are well prepared to defend national sovereignty," he said.

IRGC commander Major General Yahya Rahim-Safavi said on 22 September that Iran is not going to be bullied and world powers understand this, IRNA reported. The "new security situation in the Persian Gulf created by the U.S. and British forces as well as pressures exerted on Iran over the NPT issue have caused the Iranian armed forces to show their readiness to defend national sovereignty with more vigor and sensitivity," Rahim-Safavi added.

The IRGC's Brigadier General Ali Reza Afshar gave a speech about the Iran-Iraq War before the Tehran Friday Prayers on 26 September, which was the day dedicated to martyrdom. He told the congregation, "Other gains of the imposed war were the promotion of morale of martyrdom and export of the Islamic revolution to every corner of the world." Afshar went on to say, "Today the Lebanese combatants and Palestinian warriors owe their victories against the Zionist regime to their lesson from the justice-seeking struggle of the Iranian people." (Bill Samii)

TEHRAN REJECTS SAUDI COMPLAINTS ABOUT AL-QAEDA. Iranian presidential adviser Mohammad Shariati advocated "patience and accuracy" when asked to comment on Saudi ambassador to the United States Prince Bandar bin Sultan bin Abd al-Aziz's complaints about poor Iranian cooperation in the extradition of Al-Qaeda members, Al-Jazeera satellite television reported on 21 September. Prince Bandar had said that his government suspects that there could be up to 400 Al-Qaeda members in Iran, but hard-liners in the Iranian government do not want to extradite them (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 22 September 2003).

Shariati sought to deflect attention from the Al-Qaeda issue by saying that attention should go to Palestine and Iraq, and "regional countries should cooperate with regard to the danger of both [Palestine and Iraq], the United States, and terrorism in order to combat these dangers." Shariati emphasized that Tehran-Riyadh relations are strong and have improved since President Khatami's election.

Iranian Foreign Minister Kharrazi announced on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly meeting in New York on 24 September that Iran would put the Al-Qaeda personnel in its custody on trial soon, the "Financial Times" reported on 25 September. Explaining Tehran's refusal to extradite these individuals, Kharrazi added that they must be tried in Iran because they are accused of committing crimes there.

Washington's belief that Al-Qaeda members in Iran were behind bombings in Saudi Arabia in May 2003 led to the suspension of Tehran-Washington discussions. Kharrazi, however, said that the talks could not have been suspended because of these bombings, because Iran is not connected with them, "The Washington Post" reported on 25 September. He said that Iran concluded through its interrogation of the Al-Qaeda suspects that it is "baseless" to say that they were involved in the bombings.

There is no way that Iran is working with Al-Qaeda or any other terrorist groups, according to an article in "Toseh" on 23 August. The article notes that Al-Qaeda and Ansar al-Islam are based on the Wahhabi school of Islam, whereas Iran's Islamic republic is based on Shia Islam and it is the first Shia state. Many of the radical religious groups that were created in 1978-93 intended to undermine Shia Islam, the article claims. "The groups that Western propaganda tries to link to the Islamic Republic of Iran until yesterday have been the sworn enemies of this regime's basic thinking and ideas." In its concluding paragraph, the article claimed, "The truth of the matter is that the Islamic Republic of Iran has not had any relations except for some political relations for a short period of time with terrorist groups." (Bill Samii)

KHATAMI CALLS FOR ISLAMIC UNITY IN LEBANON. President Mohammad Khatami in a 20 September speech to members of the Assembly of Lebanese Ulama (clerics) warned that the umma, or Islamic community, is facing grave threats, IRNA reported on 21 September. Among the factors threatening Muslims are occupation of their lands, puppet governments ruling Islamic states, and tribal and factional disputes. Discussing Iraq, Khatami espoused the cooperation and unity of all that country's tribes and groups to establish democracy, freedom, and independence. Referring to Lebanon, Khatami called for increased unity and solidarity between Shia and Sunni Muslims. Such a call from the Iranian president is intriguing, since Sunnis in Shia-majority Iran continue to complain of discrimination against them (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 11 August 2003). (Bill Samii)

PROSECUTOR'S OFFICE: GOVERNMENT NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR KAZEMI'S DEATH. The Tehran Prosecutor's Office announced on 22 September that a Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) agent has been charged with the "semi-premeditated murder" of Canadian photojournalist Zahra Kazemi, AP reported. Kazemi was beaten to death after the authorities detained her on 23 June (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 14 and 21 July, 4 and 11 August 2003). The charge means that the accused did not intend to kill Kazemi. The MOIS official was not identified, but according to AP this is one of the two officials who was charged in the case earlier (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 1 September 2003). Moreover, according to the statement from the Prosecutor's Office, no governmental institution is responsible for the killing of Kazemi.

An anonymous Iranian judiciary official in Tehran said on 23 September that an Iranian court would try the MOIS official who is charged with killing Kazemi, Reuters reported.

Meanwhile, Iranian Foreign Minister Kharrazi and Canadian Foreign Minister Bill Graham discussed the cases of Kazemi and Iranian immigrant Keyvan Tabesh, who was shot to death by the Canadian police officer he was attacking with a sword, on the sidelines of the UN conference in New York on 23 September, IRNA reported.

Graham announced after the meeting that Kharrazi promised him that the Canadian government and Kazemi's family would be allowed to participate in the trial, "The Toronto Sun" reported on 24 September. Graham said that his Iranian counterpart did not say when the trial would begin or what the permissible form of participation would be.

Graham also said that charging the MOIS official does not exonerate the Iranian government. "In the Canadian legal system, if an individual were in the custody of Canadian authorities and an employee of the Canadian government killed that person, the Canadian government would have a great deal of difficulty in saying it was not in some way responsible for the death," he said. (Bill Samii)

IRANIAN ASSASSINS TO BE PART OF ISRAEL-HIZBALLAH PRISONER SWAP? Israeli efforts to secure the release of its citizens who are being held by Lebanese Hizballah are bringing about unexpected developments.

Israeli chief Rabbi Yona Metzger met on 23 September at an interfaith conference in Kazakhstan with Ayatollah Mehdi Hadavi Moghaddam (a.k.a. Mehdi Hadavi Tehrani), who headed a delegation from Iran's Islamic Culture and Relations Organization, according to news agencies. Their discussion lasted 10 minutes, and Moghaddam said that he is ready to seek information on the whereabouts of Ron Arad, an Israeli Air Force officer whose aircraft crashed in Lebanon in 1986, Israeli Defense Forces Radio reported on 24 September. Moghaddam added that because Iran opposes Israel, not Judaism, a religious forum is the most convenient place to discuss this issue. Metzger said that this is a promising beginning but cautioned against expecting to see Israeli prisoners of war "tomorrow."

Israel is interested in the return of Arad, the remains of Israeli soldiers in Lebanon, and Israeli reservist Elhanan Tenenbaum, who was kidnapped by Hizballah in October 2000. Hizballah wants all Lebanese and some Palestinian and other Arab detainees to be released from Israeli jails. Tehran's involvement is based on the alleged presence in Iran of Arad, on its close relationship with Hizballah, and on Tehran's interest in the whereabouts of four of its diplomats who, in the words of a 6 July IRNA dispatch, "were taken hostage in 1982 by the Phalangists in southern Lebanon, and then handed over to the racist Israeli regime."

The conference, called the "Dialogue of Confessions" by Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev, was held in Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan. The stated purpose of the conference was "to develop interconfessional dialogue [and] consolidate peace and confidence," according to RFE/RL.

Although Kazakhstan may seem like an unusual place for a meeting between Iranian and Israeli representatives, "The Jerusalem Post" correspondent Herb Keinon told RFE/RL correspondent Antoine Blua in October 2002 that Kazakhstan is viewed as a channel for Israel-Iran communications. Keinon said that Israel had turned to Kazakhstan a few months earlier for help in getting information from Iran about Ron Arad.

Eurasian Jewish Congress leader Aleksandr Mashkevich, whose organization is closely involved with the conference in Kazakhstan, discussed the significance of the meetings that took place at the conference in the 25 September issue of "Novosti nedeli," a Russian-language newspaper from Tel Aviv. According to Mashkevich, efforts are under way to secure information about Ron Arad. "We are carrying out consistent activities in several directions at the same time," Mashkevich said. "President Nazarbaev and the Foreign Ministry of Kazakhstan coordinate this work. I also act on this matter, using the good services of well-known Iranian businessmen with whom I maintain friendly relations. No less important are the contacts maintained through the mufti of Azerbaijan, who has very important ties in Iran." Mashkevich said that he might visit Iran in order to "clarify the fate of all Israelis without exception who are held prisoner by Hizballah or have been reported missing."

Even before Metzger's visit to Kazakhstan, there were reports of developments on a possible prisoner swap. The London-based newspaper "Al-Hayat" reported on 27 August that German mediator Ernst Orlau had been shuttling between Tel Aviv and Beirut as he tried to work out the details of a prisoner swap, and that he had renewed his efforts after Hizballah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah threatened to capture more Israelis if there was no progress.

Nasrallah said in a 16 September speech that his organization is holding "active and continuous negotiations" with Israel on the exchange of prisoners, Al-Manar television reported. Voice of Israel reported on 18 September that Palestinian prisoners would be exchanged for Tenenbaum and the remains of soldiers Beni Avraham, Adi Avitan, and Umar Suwayd, who have officially been declared "killed in action."

Israeli military sources confirmed on 19 September that Tenenbaum's family had received a letter from him via German intermediary Orlau, Voice of Israel reported. The Israeli sources denied, however, that the exchange would be concluded before the Jewish New Year in October. They also said that Hizballah has no information on Arad's whereabouts and expressed the belief that he is being held in Iran.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said on 25 September that Iranian prisoners in Europe might be part of the swap, according to 26 September reports in "Haaretz" and "The Jerusalem Post." The newspapers reported that an Iranian and two Lebanese who are imprisoned in Germany for their parts in the September 1992 murders in Berlin of Iranian Kurdish dissidents are to be part of the swap. Hizballah would return Tenenbaum and the remains of the three Israeli soldiers. In the exchange, Israel would free Lebanese prisoners -- including Hizballah official Sheikh Abdul Karim Obeid, who was seized in 1989, and Amal official Mustafa Dirani, seized in 1995 -- about 200 Palestinians, and some other Arabs. According to sources in Jerusalem, furthermore, Israel would get information about Ron Arad. (Bill Samii)

GOVERNMENT OFFICIAL DEFENDS YOUTHFUL FASHIONS. Rahim Ebadi, who heads the National Youth Organization, said in a 24 September meeting with a senior cleric that the government is not to blame for the appearance of young people, "Iran Daily" reported on 25 September. "It is unfair that some have accused the government of promulgating [sic] slovenly behavior among the youth. The fact that the youth are trendy and follow fashion stems from changes in the world we live in," the English-language daily quoted him as saying. Ebadi seemed to concede that there is room for improvement, saying, "Of course, we must try to encourage the youth to emulate more appropriate paradigms."

Grand Ayatollah Abdul-Karim Musavi-Ardabili had told Ebadi that some officials are to blame for youthful disappointment with religion, and that the actions of some officials have weakened their faith in Islam and the Islamic revolution. Musavi-Ardabili said that the youth should be allowed to express their views freely. "Some officials and personalities of the country have accused the youth of being disbelievers," he said. "But in fact these people are guilty because they have not been able to nurture the youth effectively due to their shabby performances." (Bill Samii)

STUDENT LEADER RELEASED ON BAIL AS SCHOOL YEAR BEGINS. President Khatami said in a 27 September speech at Tehran University to mark the first day of the new academic year that nobody is happy with what has occurred in the country's universities in recent years, IRNA reported. Khatami went on to criticize the branding of the student movement and its demands as criminal.

Just a few days earlier, a student leader who had spent more than two months in prison was released. Nemat Ahmadi, the lawyer for Said Razavi-Faqih, a leader in the Allameh faction of the Office for Strengthening Unity (OSU), went to the Prosecutor's Office at Evin prison on 25 September to put up bail for his client, ISNA reported.

Razavi-Faqih walked out of Evin that evening and was greeted by friends and well-wishers, AP reported the next day. Said Shariati of the reformist Islamic Iran Participation Party told AP that Razavi-Faqih had spent the nine-week detention in solitary confinement.

A 25 September editorial in the "Yas-i No" reformist daily noted that the OSU was holding its annual camp this week. The editorial also noted that, simultaneously, all of the members of the OSU central committee are involved in legal cases. Nevertheless, according to the editorial, all the participants in the camp will commemorate Razavi-Faqih, not least because he stands for "rationality," "free-thinking," and defense of the university's sanctity. At the time of the protests against the Hashem Aghajari death sentence, for example, Razavi-Faqih prevailed against efforts to radicalize the situation.

The four-day camp ended on 26 September with a declaration honoring prisoners and what the student movement has undergone in the last year, ISNA reported on 27 September. Participating in the closing ceremony were recently released student leaders and relatives of detained national-religious activists. Dissident cleric Hojatoleslam Mohsen Kadivar spoke at the ceremony. (Bill Samii)

INFLATION IN IRAN APPROACHES 20 PERCENT. The official Iranian news agency IRNA reported on 21 September that inflation in the country continues to climb and has reached 16.7 percent in the first five months of the Iranian calendar year. The prices of primary goods, fuel, manufactured goods, and foodstuffs all went up. According to IRNA, the main causes of inflation are mismanagement in banks, "staggering" lending and borrowing, "mostly by state organizations," the government's role in the economy, and excessive subsidies. (Bill Samii)

CORRUPT PRACTICES INVOLVING IRAN HIT NORWEGIAN OIL COMPANY. The board of directors of Statoil fired Chief Executive Officer Olav Fjell on 23 September, Norway's daily "Aftenposten" reported. The dismissal took place after auditors gave the board a detailed report on allegations that the firm paid bribes to an Iranian consulting company -- Horton Investments -- with direct links to the son of former Iranian President and current Expediency Council Chairman Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 22 September 2003). Statoil Chairman Leif Terje Loeddesoel resigned on 21 September. The board had voiced its support for both officials the previous week.

Escorted out of the Statoil headquarters by a security guard at 2 a.m. in a driving rain, Fjell said this was a sad day for him, "Aftenposten" reported. A 7 million-kroner ($983,270) severance package should assuage some of Fjell's sadness.

The Norwegian National Authority for Investigation and Prosecution of Economic and Environmental Crime raided Statoil's headquarters near Stavanger on 11 September and charged the company with illegally influencing foreign government officials. The investigation continues. Moreover, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has asked Statoil to provide it with documents on the contract with Horton Investments, AP reported on 26 September. The SEC reportedly is conducting an informal inquiry, and Statoil said that it would cooperate.

Harald Finnvik, who heads Statoil's office in Iran, is worried that these events will jeopardize the company's future in Iran, "Aftenposten" reported on 23 September, citing "Dagens Naeringsliv." "For three years we've tried to win confidence down here. Now it's in danger of being torn away." Finnvik questioned the necessity of the contract with Horton Investments and said that Iranian officials linked with the bribery allegations were upset -- presumably this is a reference to Rafsanjani's son Mehdi Hashemi-Rafsanjani, who is the managing director of a National Iranian Oil Company subsidiary called the Organization for Optimization of Energy Consumption.

Finnvik expressed concern in "Dagens Naeringsliv" that the scandal might undo Statoil's efforts in Iran. He appears to have mistaken Iranian business ethics with those of his home country. (Bill Samii)