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Iran Report: November 3, 2003


3 November 2003, Volume 6, Number 44

WASHINGTON AND TEHRAN OUTLINE MUTUAL EXPECTATIONS. The last week of October saw numerous developments on the part of U.S. official bodies related to Iran, ranging from the State Department's declared willingness to discuss some issues with Tehran and its rejection of "regime change" to legislative proposals that call for supporting an internationally-monitored referendum in Iran through which the people could change the form of government peacefully. For its part, although Iran publicly acknowledged what it called a more realistic approach by the U.S., it stuck by its demand for practical action by the U.S. before relations could improve.

Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage argued that U.S. policy could have an impact on developments in Iran during 28 October testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the State Department's Bureau of International Information Programs (http://usinfo.state.gov) reported. "I believe American policy can affect the direction Iran will take," Armitage said. And during the question and answer session, Armitage denied that the U.S. is pursuing regime change in Iran, the "Financial Times" reported.

Armitage said Washington seeks to counteract Tehran's "negative and destructive policies and actions," namely its poor human-rights record, nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons programs, support for terrorism, and interference in regional politics. Iran is interfering in Iraq and Afghanistan, and as the foremost state supporter of terrorism, it provides financial and logistical support to Hamas, Hizballah, and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. At the same time, Iran offers "rhetorical support" to regional stability and has pledged material support for Iraq and Afghanistan.

Armitage said that Washington encourages "constructive policies and actions" and engages in "a direct dialogue with the Iranian people." Armitage added, "We are prepared to engage in limited discussions with the government of Iran about areas of mutual interest, as appropriate. We have not, however, entered into any broad dialogue with the aim of normalizing relations." U.S. and Iranian officials have met in the past to discuss issues of mutual interest, he said, and "We are prepared to meet again, but only if that would serve U.S. interests."

Iranian government spokesman Abdullah Ramezanzadeh said on 29 October that the U.S. is becoming more realistic in its approach to Iran, the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) reported, but the big question is what practical steps the U.S. will take to earn Iran's confidence. When asked if being dropped from the "axis of evil" list -- President George W. Bush's reference to Iran, Iraq, and North Korea in his January 2002 State of the Union address -- would qualify as a practical step, Ramezanzadeh said that Iran does not think the list is credible. And when a reporter suggested that Iran's extradition of suspected Al-Qaeda members might be a positive gesture, Ramezanzadeh hinted, according to IRNA, that Mujahedin Khalq Organization members should be extradited from Iraq.

In response to a question about Deputy Secretary of State Armitage's comments about being "prepared to engage in limited discussions," Ramezanzadeh said, "You cannot pose threats on one hand, block Iranian national assets, fabricate charges against Iran, and then call for talks."

Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi said that the U.S. must lift sanctions, stop threatening Iran, and "refrain from leveling unfounded charges against Iran" if it wants to have a dialogue, state radio reported on 30 October.

Armitage's comments garnered the greatest media attention, but Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Treasury William Scheurch also discussed U.S. policy towards Iran in 29 October testimony to the House Financial Services Subcommittee on Domestic and International Monetary Policy, Trade, and Technology. Scheurch pointed out that U.S. law (under the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996) prohibits many transactions with Iran, and they therefore require that U.S. officials oppose multilateral lending to Iran, the State Department's Bureau of International Information Programs (http://usinfo.state.gov) reported. The Treasury Department and the U.S. executive director at the World Bank, therefore, "have consistently sought to block all proposals for World Bank Group assistance to Iran," Scheurch said.

The U.S. is the biggest shareholder out of the bank's 183 member countries, but with a voting share of 16.4 percent it must have other countries' support to block lending decisions. Scheurch said that from July 1993 to May 2000 G-7 countries (Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States) cooperated to block lending to Iran, but since that time the Europeans have advocated engagement with Iran. Since May 2000, Scheurch said, the bank has lent $432 million to Iran and the International Finance Corporation has approved $5 million in credit. Four other projects are "in the pipeline," Scheurch said, "a $150 million project to establish a local development fund, an $80 million project for low-income housing, a $120 million project for water supply and sanitation and a $295 million project for urban 'de-urbanization.'"

Government officials were not the only ones talking about Iran on Capitol Hill. After Armitage spoke on 29 October the Senate Foreign Relations Committee heard comments from United Nations Association President William Luers, Nasser Hadian of Columbia University, Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic & International Studies, and Robert Einhorn of CSIS. And, after Scheurch's comments, the House subcommittee heard comments from Patrick Clawson of the Washington Institute of Near East Policy and Ray Takeyh of the National Defense University.

Several pieces of legislation relating to Iran currently are under consideration in Congress. One of these is the Iran Democracy Act (S-1082) in the Senate, and another is the Iran Freedom and Democracy Support Act (HR-2466) in the House. House International Relations Committee Middle East Subcommittee Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen on 15 October introduced the ILSA Enhancement and Compliance Act (HR-3347), which calls for amending the Iran and Libya Sanctions Act of 1996 to prevent the direct and indirect financing of the development of weapons of mass destruction by Iran and Libya. (Bill Samii)

TEHRAN'S STANCE ON AL-QAEDA PROMPTS DOMESTIC COMMENTARY. Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi said on 26 October that Tehran has provided the United Nations with the names of 225 suspected Al-Qaeda members that it has repatriated and the names of 2,300 other people who were arrested and repatriated when they tried to enter Iran through Pakistan, IRNA reported. The arrests were made between October 2002 and July 2003.

Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) had reported on 23 October that the report was released as an "official document." The IRIB dispatch said that the Iranian report named 78 Al-Qaeda members who were arrested in Iran and repatriated, and that a list of 147 other Al-Qaeda members and suspects who are facing legal proceedings was also provided to the UN. Assefi refused during his 26 October press conference to identify or provide the exact number of Al-Qaeda suspects being held in Iran, AP reported.

An anonymous "senior U.S. official" said on 26 October that none of the repatriated Al-Qaeda suspects are top members of the organization, CNN reported. "We have no indication they've turned over any of the big guys," the official said.

This assertion was reinforced by the publication by "Al-Hayah" on 2 November of the 147 names on the UN's list of repatriated Al-Qaeda and Taliban suspects. Among the deportees are 14 women and 46 boys. The list includes 29 Saudi Arabians, 12 Jordanians, and 13 Yemenis, seven of whom were extradited to their country and the rest to Morocco. There are six Moroccans, six Tunisians who were extradited to Italy, and one Syrian. Thirty-five Pakistanis, seven Somalis, and 34 unidentified persons were deported to Pakistan. Three Afghans and one Austrian were sent to their respective countries of origin.

Asked to comment on Tehran's claims, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said on 27 October, "We believe Iran needs to turn over all suspected al-Qaida operatives to the U.S. or to their countries of origin or to third countries for interrogation and trial," the State Department's Bureau of International Information Programs (http://usinfo.state.gov) reported. "It's essential that other countries have direct access to information that these people may have about past and future al-Qaida activities." Boucher went on to say that it is not clear if Tehran has identified the senior Al-Qaeda leaders "who may be in Iran -- who are in Iran." Tehran and Washington have discussed Al-Qaeda before, Boucher said, but he knows of no new developments.

During Congressional testimony the next day, Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage cited Iran's provision of safe haven and transit to Al-Qaeda and Ansar al-Islam personnel as aspects of "Iran's support for terrorist organizations," the State Department's Bureau of International Information Programs (http://usinfo.state.gov) reported.

Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faysal bin Abd al-Aziz al-Sa'ud praised Iran's extradition of 16 Al-Qaeda fighters in 2002, but Saudi Interior Minister Prince Nayif bin Abd al-'Aziz al-Sa'ud said more recently that none of the Saudis detained in Iran have been sent to Saudi Arabia (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 12 August 2002 and 1 and 15 September 2003). Tehran has refused to extradite Jordanian Al-Qaeda members (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 8 September 2003).

Several commentaries on the Al-Qaeda presence in Iran were published in local newspapers at the end of October. The most fascinating of these was by Hussein Shariatmadari, the supreme leader's representative at the Kayhan Institute, in the 20 October "Kayhan," when he said that Al-Qaeda members in Iran should be expelled to a third country. After detailing his tortured logic, Shariatmadari writes that Al-Qaeda is an American fifth column. "We can conclude without the least doubt," he continued, "that some of the so-called reformists are the Iranian offshoot of the Al-Qaeda group." Shariatmadari referred to the alleged desire of the Islamic Iran Participation Party to withdraw from the government (see below), accusing the reformists of rejecting the legitimacy of the system "in harmony with the United States and the Zionist lobby." Shariatmadari also tied Shirin Ebadi's receipt of the Nobel Peace Prize to his rhetorical edifice, saying that the "Iranian Al-Qaeda group rushed to welcome this."

Iran is wise not to share intelligence on Al-Qaeda with the U.S., according to a more orthodox editorial that appeared in the 30 October "Kayhan International." Tehran is not obliged to do this, according to the editorial, having fulfilled its international obligations by informing the UN Security Council. Tehran should reject Washington's offer to resume talks and there should be no engagement as long as the American witch hunt of the Iranian leadership continues. Iran would not hesitate to provide the information, according to the editorial, if the White House were prepared to "discuss ties on an equal, impartial, and open footing."

An editorial in the reformist "Aftab-i Yazd" daily on 28 October stated that the presence in Iran of Al-Qaeda members fleeing Afghanistan has opened the way for people to accuse the country of a lack of cooperation. Notably, the editorial questioned the overall wisdom and value of Iran's support for militant groups. "When many people in this country face financial difficulties, both press and members of the public note and object to the financial and moral support given to fighting groups in Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan, Bosnia-Herzegovina, or Lebanon, as well as their aggrandizement." And while Tehran refuses to recognize Israel, some of the groups supported by Iran have officially agreed to negotiate with Israel. As for Iraq, according to the editorial, the groups that received Iranian aid were among the first to say that they do not want to emulate the Islamic republic system. (Bill Samii)

EXILE CLAIMS IRAN INVOLVED IN AL-HAKIM ASSASSINATION. An Iranian exile claims that he is in contact with an Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) defector who was involved in the late-August assassination of Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) leader Ayatollah Muhammad Baqir al-Hakim, "Al-Sharq al-Awsat" reported from London on 30 October. Former Ansar-i Hizbullah member Amir Farshad Ibrahimi said he recently received an e-mail from a member of the IRGC's special-operations unit -- the Qods Force -- requesting help to complete an escape from Iran; this individual is reportedly in an Eastern European country bordering Turkey.

The IRGC member claims he and a 10-man Qods Force hit squad were told that al-Hakim had backed away from calls for an Iraqi Islamic republic. The assassins had cover as radio and television correspondents and filmed al-Hakim for several days before killing him in Najaf with a car bomb, according to the source. In exchange for asylum in Iraq or another Arab state, the exile said, the IRGC member claimed that he would provide information about al-Hakim's murder, the 19 September bombing of the UN headquarters in Baghdad, and the 26 October attack on the Rashid Hotel in Baghdad. (Bill Samii)

GERMAN ENVOY TO VISIT IRAN FOR INFORMATION ON ISRAELI AVIATOR. German emissary Ernst Urlau will travel to Iran to get information on the whereabouts of Ron Arad, an Israeli Air Force officer whose aircraft went down over Lebanon in 1986 and who reportedly was sold to Iran by his Hizballah captors, Israel's Channel 10 TV reported on 30 October and "Yediot Aharonot" reported on 31 October. Germany has been mediating in Israel-Hizballah prisoner swap negotiations for several months (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 29 September and 13 October 2003).

An Israeli official is scheduled to fly to Germany in the first weekend of November with a list of 400 Palestinian prisoners that Israel is willing to exchange, "Maariv" reported on 31 October. They will not be exchanged for Arad, but for kidnapped Israeli reservist and businessman Elhanan Tannenbaum and the remains of three Israeli soldiers.

Iran, meanwhile, has sent a message to Israel saying that it would like to begin talks, Israel's "Ha'aretz" daily reported on 30 October. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is skeptical and believes that Tehran is feigning flexibility because of other unspecified problems it is facing, according to "Ha'aretz." The Israelis reportedly have asked a third party to make inquiries in Tehran regarding the seriousness of the message.

The Iranian Embassy in Beirut on 1 November rejected the "Ha'aretz" report and described it as "unfounded," IRNA reported. Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi dismissed the "Ha'aretz" report as "funny," IRNA reported. (Bill Samii)

TEHRAN GRADUALLY FULFILLING ITS NUCLEAR PROMISES. Tehran declared on 21 October that it had decided to sign the Additional Protocol of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), and suspend its uranium enrichment and reprocessing activities (see http://www.iaea.org/worldatom/Press/Focus/IaeaIran/statement_iran21102003.shtml). Although Tehran appears to be living up to its end of the bargain with the IAEA, it seems to be doing so without a sense of urgency.

Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi said in an undated interview that appeared in the 26 October issue of Manama's "Al-Ayyam" daily that Iran will sign the additional protocol on 20 or 22 November. "The important thing is that our rights and interests have been taken into consideration," Kharrazi added. "We seek to benefit from nuclear technology for peaceful purposes. This is our right, and we will not cede our rights or any of our conditions." The IAEA's Board of Governors will discuss whether Iran has provided the required full accounting of its nuclear program on 20 November.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi said in a 26 October telephone interview with Reuters that Iran has not yet suspended uranium enrichment. "We are discussing and examining how to suspend enrichment," he said, according to the agency. Ali Akbar Salehi, the Iranian representative to the IAEA, said on 26 October that Tehran is still considering this issue, IRNA reported. "I can just say that Iran is currently holding consultations on the issue with [the] IAEA."

IAEA Director-General Muhammad el-Baradei said on 30 October that the declaration on nuclear activities provided by Iran to the agency appears to be comprehensive, Reuters reported. "I think we are making good progress. Iran has submitted what [it] assured me to be a comprehensive and accurate declaration," el-Baradei said in Ottawa. "I think I could say that at first glance the report is comprehensive but we still have to do a lot of fine-tuning, we still have to do a lot of questioning, and that is why we are there right now and we will continue to be there doing an inspection for quite a few months in fact." El-Baradei went on to say that he expects an Iranian request to be a signatory of the additional protocol next week.

The IAEA set a deadline of 31 October for Iran to come clean on its nuclear activities (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 15 September 2003), but IAEA spokeswoman Melissa Fleming said on 30 October that the agency will not act because it is still verifying the documents that Tehran has provided, AP reported. Fleming said the agency cannot judge if Iran has fulfilled the requirements until it completely analyzes the documents and that process will "not necessarily" be completed by 20 November, when the IAEA Board of Governors meets. Fleming explained, "There are a number of very complicated technical issues that require complicated technical processes to fill in the blanks and connect the dots.... We will not be in a position to evaluate the fullness and completeness of that declaration until we have had the chance to fully verify it." Even the report that will be issued before the Board of Governors meeting might not contain "the final information," she said.

Behind the scenes, it would seem that Tehran has not been entirely forthcoming or cooperative. The IAEA told Tehran in a 29 October letter that Iran must suspend uranium enrichment, suspend the installation and operation of centrifuges, suspend laser enrichment, and suspend the construction of plutonium-separation facilities, the "Financial Times" reported on 1 November. An anonymous "senior official close to the negotiations" said, "We have yet to see anything being suspended, and the acid test will be in the implementation." (Bill Samii)

TEHRAN CONSIDERS RENEGOTIATING TURKISH GAS DEAL. Rokneddin Javadi, managing-director of the National Iranian Gas Exports Company, said on 28 October that his firm is considering a Turkish request to renegotiate the cost of imported natural gas, IRNA reported.

Turkish Energy and Natural Resources Minister Hilmi Guler had said on 23 October that Ankara would review its agreement with Tehran because the natural gas is too expensive, Anatolia news agency reported. National Iranian Gas Company Managing Director Mohammad Melaki said two days later that Tehran would not renegotiate its gas-export agreement with Turkey, Mehr News Agency reported. Melaki said Tehran and Ankara signed a long-term contract that cannot be refused for reasons of high prices or questionable quality.

Javadi of the National Iranian Gas Exports Company added that demands for the renegotiation of such long-term contracts are expected, and Iranian officials would discuss the issue with their Turkish counterparts. Javadi noted that Ankara has made a similar request of Russia.

This is not the first instance of friction in the gas deal. Turkey stopped importing Iranian gas from June-November 2002, allegedly due to concerns about its quality, and Tehran was forced to offer a discount (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 16 September, 21 October, and 2 December 2002). (Bill Samii)

IRAN SET TO LEAD WORLD IN OPIUM SEIZURES. Iran has consistently led the world in seizures of opiates (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 15 August 2003 and http://www.unodc.org/unodc/global_illicit_drug_trends.html), and this pattern is unlikely to change soon, because the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has just announced that Afghanistan has once again become the world's biggest opium producer. Kabul is struggling to deal with its opium problem, and Tehran is trying to protect itself through interdiction and by assisting its eastern neighbor.

Afghanistan now produces three-fourths of the world's opium, according to the "Afghanistan Opium Survey 2003" released by the UNODC on 29 October (http://www.unodc.org/pdf/afg/afghanistan_opium_survey_2003.pdf). From 2002 to 2003 opium production increased by 6 percent, from 3,400 to 3,600 tons, and the area under opium poppy cultivation increased by 8 percent, from 74,000 hectares to 80,000. Opium is now produced in 28 out of Afghanistan's 32 provinces. The increase in production was accompanied by a drop in prices, from $350 per kilogram in 2002 to $283 per kilogram in 2003.

Speaking at a 29 October press conference in Moscow, UNODC Executive Director Antonio Maria Costa warned that this situation could lead to the creation of "narco-cartels and other forms of organized crime, that undermine [Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid] Karzai's effort to promote democracy and rule of law." Costa called for "surgical drug-control measures." The survey was produced jointly with the Afghan government's Counter-Narcotics Directorate, and Costa noted Karzai's ban on opium cultivation and trafficking, the adoption of a 10-year National Drug Control Strategy, and the adoption of a new drug-control law. This law proposes the death penalty for narcotics traffickers, according to a 22 October report from Mashhad radio.

Other steps are being taken throughout Afghanistan. In Jalalabad on 1 October, for example, the foundation stone was set for a new building for the counternarcotics department, Radio Nangarhar reported. The political head of the provincial Security Command, Colonel Gholam Rabbani Kohestani, described the eradication of opium crops, the seizure of opium, heroin, and hashish, and the arrest of drug traffickers and abusers.

Seyyed Ahmad Qattali, chief of Herat Province's Enjil District, said on 21 September, "Unlike in other provinces, a vigorous campaign against drugs is under way in Herat Province," Mashhad radio reported. Qattali complained that the international community has not provided substitute crops, and the farmers are suffering.

Just as Afghanistan leads the world in opium production, Iran leads the world in opiate seizures. Iranian police have seized more than 5,000 kilograms of illegal drugs in the past week, IRNA reported on 29 October. About 2,500 kilograms of drugs and 10 assault rifles were seized in eastern Iran. Police in the Fars, Gilan, Gulistan, Hormozgan, Isfahan, Kerman, Khorasan, Khuzestan, Sistan va Baluchistan, West Azerbaijan, and Yazd provinces seized about 2,600 kilograms of drugs and arrested about 53 drug dealers during this period.

Ali Hashemi, secretary-general of Iran's Drug Control Headquarters (DCHQ), announced on 9 October that police seize almost 90 percent of the drugs entering the country, IRNA reported. Speaking at a ceremony during which 40 tons of seized drugs were destroyed in a bonfire, Hashemi said 113 tons of drugs had been seized in the previous nine months, representing a 10 percent increase over the same period last year.

Despite these impressive seizure rates, the problem of drug abuse is growing in Iran. DCHQ adviser Mohammad Morad-Qoli said there are 2.5 million drug addicts in Iran, "Tehran Times" reported on 20 October. He noted that most of the DCHQ's plans focus on interdiction, rather than demand reduction, and suggested that this should change.

Iran is cooperating with many neighboring states in its war on drugs. Hashemi met with his Uzbek counterparts to discuss greater cooperation in the fight against Afghan narcotics production, Mashhad radio reported on 20 October, and considered the Economic Cooperation Organization as a good venue for such efforts. Mujtaba Jabal-Ameli, the deputy secretary-general of the DCHQ, met with Aleksandr Fedorov, deputy head of Russia's recently created State Commission on Drug Monitoring, IRNA reported on 4 October. They signed a memorandum of understanding that calls for the exchange of information on trafficking and the holding of seminars and conferences. Fedorov said, according to ITAR-TASS on 1 October, that Moscow and Tehran want to create a "security belt" around Afghanistan.

Much of this cooperation, of course, is with Afghanistan itself. Officials from Iran's Agricultural Jihad Ministry met in Kabul on 15 October with Agriculture Minister Seyyed Hussein Anwari and British Embassy officials to discuss crop substitution, IRNA reported. Afghan Interior Minister Ahmad Ali Jalali announced on 8 October that Iran would build 25 checkpoints along their shared border, Radio Afghanistan reported. Iranian security personnel and officials from Khorasan and Sistan va Baluchistan provinces visited Kabul to discuss the project, which will be financed by the United Nations. Iran's Agricultural Jihad Ministry on 28 September handed over 125 tractors to the Afghan Agriculture Ministry at the Dogharun border crossing, Mashhad radio reported, and an Iranian official declared that the tractors are to be used to cultivate land to replace poppies. (Bill Samii)

EXECUTIVES OF CONSTRUCTION UNCOMMITTED. Sixteen associates of then-President Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani created the predecessor of the technocratic Executives of Construction Party (ECP) in 1996, and it went on to be a major supporter of Mohammad Khatami's 1997 presidential bid. As such, it was and remains important in the reformist 2nd of Khordad coalition. The ECP's relationship with other organizations in the coalition has become increasingly strained since the 2000 parliamentary election, because of ideological disputes and because of differences over Hashemi-Rafsanjani's role. These differences have surfaced publicly in recent weeks, and the party's future seems increasingly limited.

Mohammad Hashemi-Rafsanjani, a leader in the ECP, explained the absence of his party's representatives from recent meetings of reformist leaders and the heads of the executive and legislative branches of government by saying, "The ECP central council has not yet made a clear decision on whether to attend the meetings of these groups," the "Aftab-i Yazd" daily newspaper reported on 19 October. Hashemi-Rafsanjani went on to say these meetings (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 6 and 20 October 2003) amount to little more than campaigning for the upcoming parliamentary election, "and I believe that it is legally problematic." Hashemi-Rafsanjani asserted that extremism and the absence of a clear strategy are splintering the reformist 2nd of Khordad coalition.

Another ECP leader, Mohammad Atrianfar, said his party's representatives participated in earlier meetings in order to eliminate misunderstandings within the coalition, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 15 October. Whether the misunderstandings were eliminated would, in turn, determine the extent of the ECP's electoral participation and the approval of candidate lists. Atrianfar then explained that the ECP representative did not attend the most recent meeting because he had other engagements. An ECP observer attended the mid-October Islamic Iran Participation Party (IIPP) congress.

Atrianfar seemed rather pessimistic about the future of the 2nd of Khordad coalition when he spoke after the IIPP congress. Atrianfar said in the 20 October issue of "Entekhab" that the coalition would not be able to participate in the election with the same kind of "strength, unity, and cohesion which characterized its presence in the arena of previous elections." He explained, "This is because of its failure to fulfill the promises given by the reformists, as well as by a lack of harmony and consistency between the executive structure [of the coalition] and its objectives and programs." Atrianfar reiterated that the ECP has not decided on its role in the upcoming election.

Another leading figure in the ECP, Mohammad Ali Najafi, said that he has not participated in any formal ECP meetings in the last six months and explained that this means he intends to resign from the party, "Farhang-i Ashti" reported on 21 October. Najafi said that he has not been very active for the last two years and hoped that the situation would improve, but now, "I do not believe that party activities would be very useful." Najafi, who previously served as the education minister and as the director of Plan and Budget Organization, said that he would like to teach at the university level. (Bill Samii)

HAS LEADING REFORMIST PARTY GONE TOO FAR? President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami attended the 27 October meeting of the reformist Islamic Iran Participation Party's (IIPP) central council. According to IIPP Undersecretary-General Ali Shakuri-Rad, the president spoke about previous elections and about his concerns regarding current events, IRNA reported on 28 October.

Normally this would not be considered a noteworthy event. What makes Khatami's presence at the meeting significant is its timing and the party's desire to publicize it, because there have been suggestions ever since the mid-October 2003 IIPP annual congress that the party wants to go "beyond Khatami" (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 24 November 1998 and 20 October 2003). Moreover, both conservative and reformist commentators are comparing the IIPP, which was created around Khatami in 1998, to the Executives of Construction Party (ECP) that was created in 1996 around the presidency of Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani.

An editorial in the 21 October issue of the hard-line "Kayhan" daily said that the only difference is that the ECP "respected and praised" Hashemi-Rafsanjani, whereas Khatami's backers rebelled against him and have gone their own way. The IIPP rode in on Khatami's coattails and took advantage of its ties to the president to gain the political upper hand, according to "Kayhan," particularly in the 2000 parliamentary election. The editorial also claimed that the IIPP tried to use the experiences of the Mujahedin of the Islamic Revolution Organization (MIRO), and it formed a coalition with the national-religious activists and the banned Freedom Movement (Nehzat-i Azadi). But these organizations made the mistake of stressing political development at the expense of resolving economic difficulties such as unemployment.

A commentary in the 21 October issue of the neoreformist daily "Sharq" said that some suspect the IIPP of wanting to go beyond Khatami, while others think that is as unlikely as the ECP being independent of Hashemi-Rafsanjani. As for claims of wanting to "deepen reforms," those are viewed as skeptically as was the slogan of "active calm" (aramesh-i faal; see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 4 December 2000). Nevertheless, according to the commentary, "reform as a political trade has come to the end of its life.... the mission of reformists as political forces within the layers of the ruling system has come to an end..."

Another "Sharq" commentary -- in the 19 October issue -- alluded to the Servants of Construction (a.k.a. Executives of Construction Party) when it asserted that it is more meaningful to call the IIPP the "Servants of Khatami." The "Sharq" commentary noted that most of the ministers in Khatami's second cabinet are members of the IIPP, and the IIPP is following the path of the ECP -- "the democrats became bureaucrats.... Intellectuals who defended the notion of changing the current state were substituted with directors who wanted to preserve the current state."

Several reformist newspapers have been discussing the creation of a new coalition. Its members would be the IIPP, the MIRO, the Office for Strengthening Unity student group, the national-religious (melli-mazhabi) forces, and cultural and intellectual figures, "Entekhab" reported on 19 October.

Nishabur parliamentary representative Mohammad Reza Dolatabadi, who is a member of the Militant Clerics Association (Majma-yi Ruhaniyun-i Mubarez), dismissed reports of the possible creation of a new reformist front. The objective behind such a proposal, he said, is for "some politically bankrupt individuals to make up for their political debacle and win back the trust of the people," "Entekhab" reported on 20 October. (Bill Samii)

PARLIAMENTARIANS AND GUARDIANS COUNCIL TO DISCUSS TWIN BILLS. Speaker of parliament Hojatoleslam Mehdi Karrubi has appointed three legislators from Tehran -- Hojatoleslam Ali-Akbar Mohtashami-Pur, Hussein Marashi, and Davud Suleimani -- to discuss the controversial "twin bills" with the Guardians Council, IRNA reported on 25 October. The bills -- which amend the election law by greatly reducing the Guardians Council's role in vetting candidates and increase the president's power relative to other governmental bodies -- have been repeatedly rejected by the Guardians Council, which vets all legislation for conformity with the constitution and Islamic law. According to the IRNA report, the three parliamentarians will meet with "Ayatollah Momenzadeh" (presumably, this is Ayatollah Mohammad Daneshzadeh-Momen-Qomi) and "Mr. Alizadeh" (Ahmad Alizadeh and Mohammad Reza Alizadeh are nonclerical members of the Guardians Council) in an effort to facilitate the legislation's approval. (Bill Samii)

PARLIAMENT CLEARS INTELLIGENCE MINISTRY IN CANADIAN'S BEATING DEATH. Tehran parliamentary representative Jamileh Kadivar on 28 October read out the report of the Article 90 Committee -- which investigates complaints against the government -- on the incarceration and death of Canadian photojournalist Zahra Kazemi last summer, IRNA, the Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA), and Mehr News Agency reported. The report noted that Kazemi had a press permit from the Islamic Culture and Guidance Ministry, cleared the Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) of involvement in Kazemi's death -- an MOIS employee is being tried in connection with the case -- and noted that the MOIS had rejected initial accusations that Kazemi was a spy. The report also said, "There was no justification for issuing a detention order, and the changing of the detention order to a bail order took place in circumstances in which Zahra Kazemi was in a state of brain death and without respect for the law."

Tehran Public Prosecutor Said Mortazavi declined to participate in the committee's inquiry, although he did provide written answers to its queries. Mortazavi said on 28 October, "The report consisted entirely of lies and slander," the Islamic Labor News Agency (ILNA) reported. Another official from the Tehran Public Prosecutor's Office, Mohammad Shadabi, invited Article 90 Committee Chairman Ansari-Rad to a televised debate, "Iran Daily" reported on 30 October. Shadabi said he is ready to respond to the committee's report on the Kazemi case, and he added that his office would send a detailed response to Speaker of Parliament Hojatoleslam Mehdi Karrubi.

The open reading of the parliamentary committee's report prompted heated reactions from conservative legislators, too. Nur and Mahmudabad representative Ahmad Nateq-Nuri said on 28 October that the case of Kazemi's death should be pursued but that the Article 90 Committee should not be involved and the legislature's time should not be wasted with a reading of its report, "Iran Daily" reported on 30 October. Another conservative parliamentarian, Musa Qorbani from Qaenat, questioned the legal justification for reading out the report.

Meanwhile, Issa Saharkhiz, the managing editor of "Aftab" monthly and the representative of newspaper managers on Iran's Press Supervisory Board, explained on 29 October that most newspapers have not published the full text of the Article 90 Committee report because they fear retaliation, ILNA reported. In a clear reference to the judiciary's practice of closing down publications and prosecuting journalists, Saharkhiz said, "Previous events show that when certain gentlemen feel threatened by newspapers, they put pressure on them through instruments that they have available in order to prevent any revelation."

In his statement, Saharkhiz cited an article of the press law that asserts that state officials are prohibited from pressuring a publication regarding articles it publishes, and another article stating that the print media has the right to publish news about domestic and foreign affairs for the promotion of public awareness and interest. The law calls for officials who violate these articles to be suspended from their government posts for a period of six months to two years. (Bill Samii)

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