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Iran Report: October 20, 2003


20 October 2003, Volume 6, Number 42

TEHRAN REJECTS REPORT THAT IT SUPPORTS AL-QAEDA... Government spokesman Abdullah Ramezanzadeh on 14 October rejected a report in a U.S. newspaper that Iranian government agencies are harboring Al-Qaeda personnel, AFP reported. "We have announced time and again that we will not allow these activities to take place in Iran. This is a decision taken by the highest officials in the country. The report is an absolute lie," he said. Ramezanzadeh accused Israel of disseminating this information, saying, "All the world's security services know that this report is not true, and it is very obvious that the newspaper has got its information from the Israeli lobbies."

"The Washington Post" reported on 14 October that the Qods Force -- special-operations unit of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps -- is protecting about 25 Al-Qaeda leaders, including Saad bin Laden. Citing anonymous "U.S. and European intelligence officials," the daily asserted that Qods Force/Al-Qaeda ties can be traced to Sudan in the early 1990s, when the Iranians were establishing terrorist training camps there and Osama bin Laden was setting up his organization's infrastructure.

Tehran claims that it has Al-Qaeda personnel in custody, and that some of them intended to act against Iran and would be tried for this. Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi said in an interview that appeared in the 29 September "Financial Times" that a dozen Al-Qaeda suspects had established cells in Iran, and they were caught after a firefight in which at least one Iranian security official was severely wounded. Kharrazi hinted that the Al-Qaeda suspects could be extradited after the trial, saying that they could serve their sentences in Iran or "be exchanged or sent to their original countries."

The Al-Qaeda presence is a dilemma for Iran, "Iran" reported on 1 October. While the suspects could serve as bargaining chips in negotiations with other countries, the newspaper said, the whole situation could also do damage to the Islamic Republic. According to the daily, which is produced by the official Islamic Republic News Agency, the Al-Qaeda suspects' presence in Iran has been very inconvenient. Al-Qaeda and its supporters have threatened to act against Iran if it turns the suspects over to the United States. At the same time, Iran is accused of supporting Al-Qaeda because the suspects are there. This situation, in turn, has complicated Tehran's discussions with other governments regarding the extradition of the suspects.

President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami on 17 October repeated that Tehran is not sheltering Al-Qaeda members, Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting reported the next day. He conceded the difficulty of securing the country's porous eastern borders. Khatami went on to accuse the United States of creating the Taliban: "When the United States was organizing the Taliban to stand against the former Soviet Union, Iran had ideological differences with them." "They have a hostile attitude toward Iran which culminated in assassination of eight Iranian diplomats and [an] IRNA [Islamic Republic News Agency] reporter [in August 1988]," he said. (Bill Samii)

...AND ACCUSATIONS OF SECRET NUCLEAR SITE. Iran's Ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Ali Akbar Salehi, told Reuters on 14 October that Iran has "certainly not" hidden any facilities from the IAEA. "This piece of information is absolutely baseless."

Salehi was reacting to earlier accusations by the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), which is a front for the terrorist Mujahedin Khalq Organization, that a site called "Isfahan's Fuel Research and Production Center" has been built for the testing of centrifuges used for uranium enrichment. The facility allegedly is located 15 kilometers east of Isfahan. The NCRI spokesman claimed that Iran is "very likely" to have a nuclear weapon by 2005 if the international community does not stop Iran's clandestine nuclear program.

A Western diplomat told Reuters that the NCRI has a mixed record of accuracy: "The IAEA has visited some sites the NCRI reported on this year," he said. "Some have turned out to be nuclear facilities and some have not. They do not have...100 percent accuracy." The IAEA did not comment on the NCRI claim, Reuters reported.

This could be one of the cases in which claims made by the NCRI prove to be less that precise. Iran informed the IAEA in early 2003 of its plan to build a fuel fabrication plant at Isfahan, according to a "Fact Sheet" from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (http://www.ceip.org/files/projects/npp/pdf/Iran/nuclearfacilities.pdf). According to another generally reliable website (http://www.globalsecurity.org/wmd/world/iran/esfahan.htm), "A 05 May 2003 letter from Iran informed the [IAEA] for the first time of its plan to commence construction in 2003 of a fuel manufacturing plant at Isfahan. (Bill Samii)

IAEA CALLS FOR IRANIAN TRANSPARENCY. International Atomic Energy Agency Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei arrived in Tehran on 16 October, and upon arrival he announced, "I am here to see what Iran has so far done with regards to the IAEA deadline [of 31 October] and what the country intends to do further until then," dpa reported.

ElBaradei said during the flight to Iran that Tehran has not been sufficiently cooperative, "We have been making progress but not with the speed we would like to see," AFP reported. "Iran has been offering us additional information, additional access but not the 100 percent transparency and not the pro-active cooperation I would like to see if we were to be able to get [the] full information we need by the end of the month," ElBaradei said.

The agency has also requested access to military sites that it would like to inspect before 31 October, Reuters reported from Vienna on 15 October, citing anonymous diplomats. Tehran has agreed to provide access to this list of sites. One Western diplomat said it is almost certain that some sort of "non-compliance verdict" will be issued at the next Board of Governors meeting, but that this does not necessarily mean the imposition of sanctions.

Parliamentarian Mohsen Mirdamadi, who serves on the National Security and Foreign Affairs Committee, said that Tehran is willing to permit inspections of the bases, ISNA reported on 17 October. Tehran does not want the bases to be inspected, he said, but "we don't want the Security Council to do anything either. We don't want anything like that to happen."

ElBaradei met with Supreme National Security Council secretary Hassan Rohani, who afterwards said that the two sides discussed ways in which their cooperation would continue, state television reported. Rohani added, "We explained the concerns we have about the Additional Protocol. In turn, they explained things in order to remove these concerns." Rohani described Iran's concerns as "national security, national sovereignty, and classified information" and said that these concerns would be addressed at official discussions on the Additional Protocol "next week."

Foreign ministers from France, Germany, and the United Kingdom are expected in Iran next week to discuss the nuclear crisis, Reuters reported on 16 October. Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi said on 19 October that a date for their visit has not been set yet, IRNA reported. Assefi said that Tehran has invited the foreign ministers to get their views of the Additional Protocol. (Bill Samii)

COMPLETION OF BUSHEHR REACTOR POSSIBLY DELAYED. An anonymous Russian Atomic Energy Ministry official said on 13 October that the completion of the first power-generating set at the nuclear power plant in Bushehr might be delayed by one year, ITAR-TASS reported on 13 October. According to the new work schedule the reactor's launch is delayed from 2004 to 2005 because 15 percent of the required technical equipment has not been delivered to the building site yet. "The Iranian side was supposed to buy this equipment from third countries," the Russian official said. The official added that this delay is in no way connected with the issue of returning spent nuclear fuel from Iran to Russia. An agreement on the return of spent fuel for reprocessing and storage has not been signed yet, and Moscow has said that will not supply fuel for the Bushehr facility until the agreement is signed (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 13 October 2003).

An anonymous "informed source" and an anonymous "nuclear power expert" said in 14 October interviews with the Mehr News Agency that the reported delays in completion of the Bushehr nuclear power plant have been misrepresented. The source rejected the Russian Atomic Energy Ministry official's claim that Iran has not purchased the necessary equipment from a third country, adding, "According to the contract signed by Iran and Russia, Iran is not responsible for purchasing any equipment needed for the project." The source also said that it is normal to alter the work schedule of long-term projects on the basis of technical problems. The nuclear power expert said that there are no political or management problems, furthermore, and Moscow and Tehran see eye-to-eye on Bushehr. The informed source said that the propaganda about "a nonexistent dispute between Iran and Russia is in line with U.S. policy to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear technology and expertise." (Bill Samii)

KHATAMI IN MALAYSIA FOR OIC SUMMIT. President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami arrived in Kuala Lumpur on 15 October to participate in the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) summit that began the next day, IRNA reported, and he returned to Tehran on 18 October.

Khatami said in his 16 October speech at the summit that, with the end of the Cold War, the United States needed a new enemy -- as the disappearance of its enemy put in doubt the need for its "gigantic military machinery." Islamic obscurantists began their rise at the same time, he said, leading to the irony of the U.S. finding its "natural allies in religious obscurantism, superficial nominalism, and praise for violence...whose swords are whetted for carnage and destruction." Khatami called for the withdrawal of foreign forces from Iraq and Afghanistan, according to the Malaysian national news agency's special conference website (http://www.oicsummit2003.com/).

Khatami said Iran wants a Middle East free of nuclear weapons and added that Iran considers access to advanced technology, including nuclear technology for peaceful purposes, as the legitimate right of the Iranian people. Khatami said Iran would continue its good faith cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency.

During his speech, Khatami also criticized terrorism, especially the "state terrorism of Israel."

IRNA reported that Khatami was expected to meet with Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammad while in Kuala Lumpur. On the first day of the conference, RFE/RL reported that Mahathir had said, "We (Muslims) are actually very strong. 1.3 billion people cannot be simply wiped out. The Europeans killed 6 million Jews out of 12 million. But today the Jews rule this world by proxy. They get others to fight and die for them." Malaysian officials tried unsuccessfully to defuse the outraged international reaction to this anti-Semitic statement.

Shimon Samuels, international affairs director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center for Europe, told RFE/RL on 17 October that such statements are typical for Mahathir. Samuels added: "His statements, now in terms of apologia, to apologize for the Holocaust, for genocide, Holocaust denial, his claims of Jewish control of the world, are very classical anti-Semitic arguments used since the Middle Ages."

Khatami defended Mahathir during a 17 October press conference. Khatami said that anybody who criticizes Israeli practices against the Palestinian people is accused of anti-Semitism, IRNA reported. "No Muslims are anti-Semitic," Khatami said. "They believe in coexistence and living together in peace with followers of all divine religions." (Bill Samii)

KHATAMI MEETS IRAQI LEADERS. President Mohammad Khatami met with Iraqi Governing Council head Ayad Allawi and several other council members on 17 October during the OIC summit in Malaysia, IRNA reported. Khatami described the council as a step toward a democratic government and added, "The [council] can provide the blueprint for drawing up an independent and progressive constitution for Iraq compatible with the religious and cultural identity of the Iraqi people and put it to public voting." Khatami said the continuation of the occupation is detrimental to Iraqi sovereignty. Allawi expressed his interest in the restoration of Tehran-Baghdad relations. (Bill Samii)

KURDISH LEADER CRITICIZES TURKEY DURING TEHRAN VISIT. Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) leader and Iraqi Governing Council member Jalal Talabani arrived in Iran on 13 October, news agencies reported. He subsequently met with Expediency Council Chairman Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, President Khatami, Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi, and Supreme National Security Council Secretary Hassan Rohani. "Contrary to American claims, we have not witnessed any attempts by Iran to interfere in Iraqi affairs," Talabani said on his arrival at Tehran's Mehrabad Airport, Fars News Agency reported. "We have opened our doors to Iranian companies and we wish to have excellent relations with them." He added that the Iraqi Governing Council opposes the dispatch of Turkish troops to Iraq.

Rafsanjani told Talabani that U.S. pressure on Turkey to provide troops is a sign that Washington is looking for a way out of the Iraqi "quagmire," IRNA reported on 14 October. Talabani responded that the United States wants to send more troops but this will not establish security in Iraq. Talabani said the money would be better spent on reconstruction. Kharrazi said the withdrawal of occupation forces is the only solution to problems in Iraq, IRNA reported on 14 October.

Talabani met with Rohani on the evening of 15 October, ISNA reported the next day, and remarked on Iran's assistance to the PUK and the Iraqi people during Saddam Hussein's reign. Talabani reiterated his previously expressed opposition to the presence of Turkish troops in Iraq and said that Iraqis should provide security there. Rohani said that Iran opposes terrorism and the activities of Al-Qaeda and Ansar al-Islam. Turning to Iraqi affairs, Rohani said, "The future of Iraq, its national unity, and its territorial integrity would depend on the nature of its constitution; and the constitution should therefore be compiled by the experts who are elected and trusted by the Iraqi people."

Talabani also spoke out against the Mujahedin Khalq Organization (MKO), an Iranian opposition group that is based in Iraq and which was employed by former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein against the Kurdish and Shi'a minorities in the late 1980s and again in the early 1990s. "We have called for the trial of its leaders, including Masud and Mariam Rajavi," he said according to Fars News Agency. "We also tried to persuade its ordinary cadres to return to Iran." Talabani told Rohani that the governing council has passed a bill against the MKO, according to the Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA). (Bill Samii)

AGRICULTURAL JIHAD MINISTER VISITS KABUL BEARING GIFTS. Agricultural Jihad Minister Mahmud Hojjati arrived in Kabul on 14 October for a two-day visit, IRNA reported. Iranian state television reported the next day that he signed some 38 agreements before his departure from Afghanistan.

On arriving at the Kabul airport, Hojjati announced that Iran would extend $9 million in aid to Afghanistan for agricultural development. This aid would consist of 200 tractors, agricultural equipment, fertilizer, and genetically modified seeds. "Part of the fund to be extended to the Afghan government will be allocated to supplying water and restoration of aqueducts," Hojjati added. He went on to say that Afghans are being trained in Iran, and Iran has helped in the areas of plant protection and pest control.

Hojjati said during his meeting with President Hamid Karzai that, while the amount of water flowing from Afghanistan's Helmand River into Iran has increased, it is still insufficient. Karzai, in turn, remarked on the rise in the number of Afghan drug addicts and called for international support in the counter-narcotics campaign, and he discussed mutual cooperation in drug control.

Karzai met with President Khatami on the sidelines of the Organization of the Islamic Conference summit in Malaysia on 17 October, IRNA reported. Khatami described the importance of a strong central government in Kabul and renewed his call for crop substitution as a solution to opium cultivation in Afghanistan. Karzai concurred and added that Afghanistan needs international financial help for crop substitution. (Bill Samii)

SUDANESE OFFICIAL MAKES REPEATED TRIPS TO IRAN. Sudanese Interior Minister Brig. Abdelrahim Mohammed Hussein is showing a great affinity for Iranian hospitality, visiting Iran in mid-October just three months after his last trip.

Iranian First Vice President Mohammad Reza Aref-Yazdi told the visiting Sudanese interior minister on 15 October that the expansion of relations would not only benefit the two countries, it would help the Islamic community as a whole, IRNA reported. The Sudanese guest responded that the two countries have similar views on Iraq, Palestine, and the peaceful use of nuclear energy.

Hussein, who is also the chairman of the Board of Directors of Sudan's Defense Industries, met on 14 October with Minister of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics Ali Shamkhani, IRNA reported. Shamkhani told his guest, "Unipolarism which toes the line of a Zionist minority has targeted its attacks toward [the] world of Islam." Hussein called for greater defense and security cooperation between the two countries.

Hussein also visited Iran for three days in early July. During that trip he met with Interior Minister Abdolvahed Musavi-Lari on 3 July, and called for Iranian assistance to be provided to the Sudanese police forces, ISNA reported. The next day, Musavi-Lari and Hussein signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) on cooperation in fighting organized crime and police training, IRNA reported.

Hussein was part of a larger delegation during the July trip, which was headed by First Vice President Ali Othman Mohammad Taha. While in Tehran, Taha met with President Khatami, Republic of Sudan Radio reported. On 4 July, the two sides signed two MOUs -- the one mentioned above on law enforcement, and one addressing cooperation in science, research, and higher education.

Sudanese Minister of Energy and Mining Awad al-Jaz and Minister of Investment al-Cherif Ahmad Omar Badr came to Iran at the end of July. Al-Jaz met with Khatami on 29 July, IRNA reported, and they discussed cooperation in commerce, customs, and aviation. Al-Jaz met parliament speaker Hojatoleslam Mehdi Karrubi on 30 July, and Karrubi said that the legislature is ready to expand Iran's commercial and political ties with Sudan, especially in the inter-parliamentary union, IRNA reported. The Iranian and Sudanese sides signed six MOUs on 30 July, Khartoum's "Al-Ray al-Amm" reported the next day. These addressed agriculture, banking, customs, education, and trade. (Bill Samii)

PRAETORIANS PREPARE TO PLAY OVERT POLITICAL ROLE. Hard-liners already hold the best hand in Iran's political poker game. Now they are poised to pull a wild card from their sleeves. Conservative figures in the government and the leading conservative political factions are advocating the candidacy of Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) personnel for parliamentary office.

The IRGC ground forces deputy commander in charge of cultural affairs, Brigadier General Alireza Azimi-Jahed, said on 3 October that having IRGC members in the parliament would help Iran, ILNA reported. He added that they could be candidates only after their resignations from the IRGC are accepted. Azimi-Jahed said, "if elected they would not try to establish a military attitude in the parliament."

According to Article 29 of the election law, armed forces personnel must leave the military at least two months before registering as candidates. They must discontinue all activities related to their previous profession.

A conservative legislator from Tehran, Gholam Ali Haddad-Adel, said on 12 October that there is nothing wrong with military personnel serving in the parliament, ILNA reported. He noted that many of these people have served in various professional areas and now they want to bring their expertise to the legislature. Haddad-Adel conceded the likelihood of such candidates receiving right-wing support and added, "This is natural and it is not a crime for a current of thinking to support military men." Alluding to the reformists, Haddad-Adel said that some of them are much more militaristic than the armed forces personnel who would run for office.

This would not be the first time that former military and security personnel stand for public office in Iran; they have done so in every election since 1979. What is significant now is that such a large number of such individuals are to run, and that this is reportedly part of an organized political plan. Reformists worry about the hostility expressed toward them previously by some IRGC and Basij leaders.

IRGC spokesman Commander Masud Jazayeri denies that that the Guards Corps has made specific recommendations to its personnel about participating in the election, "Iran" reported on 15 October. Jazayeri said that all government organizations, including the military, are prohibited from any action for or against a specific candidate. Another IRGC official, Commander Fathollah Jafari, added that the Guards Corps command announced formally before the last election that it would not support specific candidates or groups and it intends to do the same thing this time.

"The Guards Corps is always trying to have a lively and purposeful presence in all the areas of social life," Jazayeri said according to "Iran." "The election is not an exception to that rule. However, there is a big difference between this kind of participation and interfering in the decisions of the voters and their elected representatives."

There have been many unsubstantiated claims that IRGC personnel voted overwhelmingly for the dark horse and reformist candidate, Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami, in the May 1997 presidential election. How will they vote in the parliamentary election? Will they vote for their comrades in arms, or do they bear an animosity toward the military leadership that would preclude such support? What about the general public: will appeals to patriotism and revolutionary values attract public support? (Bill Samii)

REFORMIST PARTY HOLDS ANNUAL CONGRESS AMID QUESTIONS ABOUT COALITION'S FUTURE. Iran's main reformist political group has just completed its annual two-day congress, but questions about the reformists' role in the February 2004 parliamentary election remain unanswered. Meanwhile, President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami is encouraging the unenthusiastic reformists to participate in the election.

The Islamic Iran Participation Party's (IIPP) fifth annual congress began on 16 October, and items on the agenda include domestic and foreign affairs, the upcoming parliamentary election, the economy, the performance of the party, and its activities in the coming year, ISNA reported. Participating in the congress are 147 provincial representatives, 113 central party officials, and 100 none-voting observers, including a vice president, cabinet ministers, and national-religious activists. Officials from the Islamic Iran Solidarity Party and the Executives of Construction Party were also guests at the congress.

IIPP Secretary-General Mohammad Reza Khatami, who is the deputy speaker of parliament and the president's younger brother, reportedly made some daring observations in his opening speech on 16 October. According to Mehrdad Serjooie's article in "Iran News" on 19 October, Khatami "openly question[ed] the powers of the Supreme Leader." He also said, according to dpa on 16 October, that fundamentalist interpretations of Islam by some of those in government are driving people away from religion and the Islamic system. "This will not only increase the trend towards secularism, especially among the youth, but also lead to more influence from abroad for overthrowing the system."

A milder version of the speech was provided by IRNA. Mohammad Reza Khatami said that Iran's constitution is adequate and does not need to be changed. The problem, according to Khatami, is not the absence of laws but the absence of the rule of law. He added that the constitution is implemented in an ambiguous manner, and the connection between responsibilities and accountability is missing.

"Yas-i No" reported on 15 October that the rest of the sessions would be held behind closed doors. IIPP official Hussein Mahmudzadeh shed light on the course of these sessions, however, explaining that it is still not clear if the party will participate in the election. Many would like to leave some room to maneuver on the issue.

A little more than a week before the IIPP congress, in the evening of 8 October, leaders of the reformist 2nd of Khordad political factions met with President Khatami and parliament speaker Hojatoleslam Mehdi Karrubi to discuss the parliamentary election, IRNA reported on 9 October. Khatami said that a suitable atmosphere would ensure a massive public turnout, and he emphasized acting within a constitutional framework. Karrubi reportedly echoed Khatami's comments. All the meeting participants stressed the need for intra-factional unity. This was the second such meeting; the first took place on 2 October (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 6 October 2003).

Second of Khordad groups went into the earlier meeting with a sense of despair about the upcoming election, the "Sharq" newspaper reported on 4 October. Some of the more radical reformist groups, such as the Mujahedin of the Islamic Revolution Organization, even advocated a boycott of the election. Yet President Khatami and Karrubi emphasized the importance of public participation, according to "Sharq." The performance of both the legislative and executive branches was criticized, and the need for their coordination and unity was stressed. Parliamentarian Jamileh Kadivar was at the meeting, and she said that the 2nd of Khordad groups expressed concern about restrictions on public choice in the election.

The reformists' lack of success in getting laws amended also is worrisome to the country's top elected officials. Khatami and Karrubi met on 9 October with members of the Guardians' Council, Fars News Agency and state television reported. The meeting was convened on Khatami's invitation and reportedly was intended to address some of the differences between the elected executive and legislative branches of government and the unelected guardians -- namely, the establishment of provincial election-supervision offices, supervisory boards, and the fate of the twin bills. The bills were introduced in September 2002 and were intended to reduce the power of the Guardians' Council in elections and to strengthen presidential powers.

When asked about the outcome of the meeting, Karrubi was noncommittal, saying that there was a lot to discuss, such as the annual budget, the fourth development plan, the February parliamentary election, and other future elections. He said that differences should be reduced and "we should all move forward within the framework of the constitution and the aspirations of the imam."

This latter series of meetings -- those of the reformists with Khatami and Karrubi, and that of the Guardians' Council with Khatami and Karrubi -- is indicative of the weak position in which the reformists find themselves only four months before the election. According to a report in "Entekhab" on 13 October, the absence of the Executives of Construction Party and of the student movement at these meetings raises questions about their role in the election. (Bill Samii)

TOUGH POLITICAL COMPETITION IN MAZANDARAN. Ahmad Vaseqinejad, secretary of the reformist Solidarity Party in Mazandaran Province, said on 30 September that the reformists could win 50-60 percent of the 290 seats in the February parliamentary election, ISNA reported. He said that parties and political groups will not be as relevant in this election as they were in the 2000 parliamentary election. The public has become frustrated with the reformist parties, he said, and he warned, "what happened in the local council elections [February 2003, when there was low voter turnout] could also happen in the parliamentary elections."

Mohammad-Ali Minafar, secretary-general of the conservative Islamic Coalition Association in Mazandaran Province, said in the 29 September "Farhang-i Ashti" daily that the conservatives could win up to 150 seats (51 percent) in the upcoming parliamentary election. Minafar said that the public is unhappy with the reformists because they did not fulfill their electoral slogans. He also predicted that some reformists would not win approval as candidates. (Bill Samii)

EXECUTIVE BRANCH, REFORMISTS CONCERNED ABOUT PARALLEL INTELLIGENCE ORGANIZATIONS. Agencies working in parallel to the Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) must cease their activities, government spokesman Abdullah Ramezanzadeh said during his weekly press conference on 13 October, IRNA reported. The MOIS expressed its concern about the creation of institutions that interfere with its activities during the most recent cabinet session, Ramezanzadeh added. President Mohammad Khatami said in an August speech to MOIS personnel that the establishment of any parallel intelligence organizations is unconstitutional and harmful to the state, and reformist parliamentarians complained about such agencies in July (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 15 September 2003).

Reacting to such complaints, President Khatami referred the issue to the Committee for the Implementation and Supervision of the constitution. Hojatoleslam Hashem Hashemzadeh-Harisi, who serves on this committee, said in the 7 October issue of "Iran" that the committee has opened its file on this matter and initial investigations on the existence of these bodies have been conducted. "And now we have to see whether the existence of bodies of this kind contravenes the constitution or not," he added.

Another committee has been created to investigate the activities of the Tehran Justice Department and the Tehran prosecutor-general, and ISNA reported on 3 October that the MOIS has provided the committee with a list of the parallel intelligence agencies. Parliamentarian Mohsen Armin, a member of this committee, told ISNA that although the MOIS has information on the parallel organizations it declined to turn it all over to the committee, "because of certain considerations." Armin did not enter into specifics.

An 8 October editorial in "Sharq," a neo-reformist daily, notes that this is the first time Iranian reformists are defending the centralization of the country's intelligence activities. This change began with the 1999 uncovering of alleged rogue agents in the MOIS who had killed a number of dissidents the previous year. This, in turn, led to the dismissal of many MOIS employees, especially those identified with Intelligence and Security Minister Ali Akbar Fallahian-Khuzestani (1989-1997). Since then, the MOIS reportedly has tried to stay out of the political fray, but this policy has not been without cost. MOIS chief Hojatoleslam Ali Yunesi said on 7 October, according to "Sharq," "We are the most unjustly treated institution in this country, but we shall pay the price of our independence. We even remain silent when they blame us for the crimes of others."

Another editorial, this one in the 14 October issue of the reformist daily "Yas-i No," noted that the just distribution of power in a democratic system is incompatible with the existence of unconnected and parallel institutions acting autonomously. Iran, however, has had to contend with parallelism in security and intelligence matters for several years. The current existence of parallel intelligence organizations leads to frustration and to weakness in the ruling system, according to the editorial. (Bill Samii)

DEFENDANT IN CANADIAN JOURNALIST'S MURDER CASE ELIGIBLE FOR BAIL. Judge Rasul Ghanimi announced on 13 October that the temporary detention order for the individual accused of murdering Canadian photojournalist Zahra Kazemi while she was in custody, Mohammad Reza Aghdam Ahmadi, has been changed to a bail order for 30 million tomans (about $37,500), ISNA reported. The trial of Ahmadi began the previous week ("RFE/RL Iran Report," 13 October 2003). Judge Ghanimi said that nobody has paid the bail yet. (Bill Samii)

AMERICAN IMPRISONED IN IRAN. A U.S. citizen named Dariush Zahedi has been in Iranian custody since July, the "San Francisco Chronicle" and AP reported on 19 October. Zahedi is a political science lecturer at the University of California-Berkeley and Santa Clara University who was visiting relatives in Iran when he was detained by the Ministry of Intelligence and Security. According to David Leonard, dean of the University of California-Berkeley's International and Area Studies Department, after Zahedi was arrested he was turned over to the Justice Ministry. According to a 19 October AP report, Zahedi faces espionage charges and is in solitary confinement. BS

THOUSANDS WELCOME IRANIAN NOBEL WINNER. Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi returned to Tehran on 14 April and was greeted at the airport by relatives and "a number of Ms. Ebadi's friends," state radio initially reported. State radio added on 15 October that "tens" of Iranian and international correspondents were on hand, as were government spokesman Abdullah Ramezanzadeh, and parliamentarians. ISNA reported on 14 October that Vice President for Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Mohammad Ali Abtahi was there, too. DPA reported that "tens of thousands of jubilant fellow Iranians...rushed to the airport to welcome her," and Reuters reported that 3,000 Iranians welcomed Ebadi.

Ebadi told a crowd at the airport, ISNA reported, "The prize does not belong to me. It belongs to the Iranian nation. The significance of this prize lies in the fact that the world has heard the Iranian people's demand for human rights, democracy, and peace." Most significantly, perhaps, she said, "I would like to request the release of political prisoners."

People at the airport chanted slogans in Ebadi's favor, but there were protestors, too, with one bearing a placard that said, according to ISNA, "When you see that the enemy is clapping for you, you should know that you have scored an own goal."

President Khatami was not at the airport. In fact, he dismissed the significance of the first award to one of his compatriots of a Nobel Peace Prize and he derided the award as a political token, ILNA reported on 14 October. Khatami asked, "Do we have to issue an official message about whatever happens in the country?...In my opinion, the Nobel Peace Prize is not very important. Of course, the prize for literature is important, but the one for peace is not."

Scientific criteria are important for the other Nobel prizes, Khatami said, but, "In awarding the Nobel Peace Prize, political motives and criteria are involved." Khatami criticized the importance of the prize because it was previously awarded to Israeli Prime Ministers Menachem Begin and Shimon Peres, to Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, and to U.S. President Jimmy Carter. He added that the U.S. is the main threat to world peace.

Rather than providing the full details on the president's comments, IRNA reported selectively, "Khatami expresses pleasure over Ebadi's Nobel Peace Prize success." "There is no one who does not delight in the success of his compatriot," Khatami is reported to have said, adding, "I am also pleased that a compatriot has achieved such a success".

At her first press conference after returning to Tehran from Paris, Ebadi was asked on 15 October about Khatami's indifference about her winning the award and his dismissal of the prize for being politically motivated. She responded graciously, ISNA reported: "His remarks reflected his belief.... What he said was his belief and I respect it."

Ebadi reiterated her interest in human rights issues at the press conference. "I hope that political and press-related prisoners would be freed as soon as possible," she said. Ebadi also said that she would continue to focus on revising Iran's laws and added, "We have always demanded that the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran should respect its international commitments about human rights and should observe human rights." (Bill Samii)

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