4 March 2002, Volume
KHATAMI: AL-QAEDA COULD BE HERE.
Tehran initially denied that any Al-Qaeda or Taliban entered Iran, but as the search for Osama bin Laden and other members of Al-Qaeda continues, Tehran is admitting that the terrorists could have crossed the border. Reports from other countries demonstrate that Tehran has been well aware of the terrorists' presence.
President Mohammad Khatami would not reject the possibility of Al-Qaeda personnel being in Iran, according to an interview that appeared in the 26 February Saudi daily "Al-Watan." He said, "One could say that these elements do exist. But as far as I know, they do not include any officials or key figures. And if they existed, we would deal with them."
The previous day, Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi had said there were no Al-Qaeda in Iran. He said that "allegations on the presence of some Al-Qaeda members are related to those who were arrested recently in the country. But it became known that there were no Al-Qaeda members among them," IRNA reported. And the head of the Iranian mission in Cairo, Hadi Khosroshahi, said that the people arrested after crossing the border from Afghanistan into Iran are either non-Arabs or are women and children from the families of Arab Afghans, according to London's weekly "Al-Wasat" (25 February-3 March).
In spite of Kharrazi and Khosroshahi's denials, Tehran arrested "many Jordanians" after they entered Iran from Afghanistan, Amman's "Al-Arab al-Yawm" reported on 28 February. Citing a "Jordanian diplomatic source" and "informed sources," the daily reported that the Jordanian embassy in Tehran is in touch with the Iranian Foreign Ministry about the fate of the purportedly more than 10 Jordanians. Jordan's ambassador in Tehran, Bassam Omoush, complained that the Iranian authorities are "hampering" his activities, and he urged them to "hand over to Amman four Jordanian prisoners" as well as their women and children, dpa reported on 3 March.
Dutch police, meanwhile, arrested on 26 February a man deported by Tehran in connection with the murder of Afghan opposition commander Ahmad Shah Masood. Mohammad Sliti, a Tunisian-born Belgian, is wanted on "suspicion of forgery and use of forged documents, criminal association, and recruiting activities abroad for an armed organization bearing arms against Belgium's allies," senior Brussels police official Glenn Adenaert said according to RTBF La Premiere Radio. Adenaert continued: "We believe he was in charge of the training of young recruits who went from Western Europe to Afghanistan and stayed there for a period of 12-18 months before returning here."
Kuwaiti military intelligence, furthermore, is interrogating "military men" when they return from Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan to see if they are associated with Al-Qaeda. Sheikh Jabir al-Mubarak al-Sabah said on 24 February, according to KUNA, that if these men were linked with Al-Qaeda they would be dismissed from the army. Kuwaiti security forces arrested Lieutenant Adil Bu-Humayd when he flew in from Mashhad, the pan-Arab daily "Al-Qods Al-Arabi" reported on 22 February.
The search for Osama bin Laden is continuing amidst revised reports on his whereabouts, an anonymous "senior official" cited by "The New York Times" on 24 February said that U.S. military action has taken out about one-third of Al-Qaeda's core leadership, which the White House defines as 20-25 terrorists. Bin Laden probably is in the mountainous region between Afghanistan and Pakistan, and some officials think that he could be near the tribal areas of the Northwest Frontier Province and Baluchistan. Military and intelligence officials, however, are expressing skepticism about the reliability of these reports. In contrast to this report about Bin Laden, Rawalpindi's "Jang" newspaper reported on 20 February that it has learned through "highly credible diplomatic sources" that Bin Laden is in Iran.
Mullah Omar appears to be alive, too. "Al-Qods al-Arabi," a London-based Arabic daily that is sympathetic to bin Laden, on 27 February carried a message from the Taliban leader that said the struggle against America would continue. Iran's representative in Cairo, Hadi Khosroshahi, denied that Ayman Al-Zawahiri, believed to be the second highest Al-Qaeda official, is in Iran. If Tehran does apprehend Al-Zawahiri in Iran, Khosroshahi said, he would be turned over to the interim administration in Kabul or deported to Egypt, but he would not be handed over to Washington. (Bill Samii)ARMED FORCES ESSENTIAL IN PURSUIT OF 'REGIONAL HEGEMONY.'
The Iranian armed forces are continuing to develop indigenous military products and complementing their arsenal through foreign purchases. This trend is ominous because, in the view of U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) Commander-in-Chief General Tommy Franks, Iran "pursues the goal of regional hegemony through an orchestrated campaign of economic, cultural, and political influence, backed by increasingly modern Armed Forces."
The Islamic Revolution Guards Corps Navy took delivery of the first batch of domestically produced warships and torpedo boats on 13 February, according to IRNA and state radio. The Azhdar-Afkan torpedo boat and the Zuljenah double-decker warship were launched at a ceremony in the Persian Gulf. The Ministry of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics (MODAFL) has created a production line for these vessels.
Iran's first homemade tugboat and two 500-ton capacity barges were introduced by the MODAFL at a ceremony attended by Defense Minister Ali Shamkhani, "Resalat" reported on 13 February. The tugboat was built at the Shahid Darvishi Industrial Complex, which is affiliated with the Nautical Industries Department of the Defense Industries Organization. The rudder-less tugboat also can serve as a fire engine. The barges were delivered to the regular Navy, and they can transport water, fuel, or cargo. They will be used in Iranian territorial waters and near the coastline.
Tehran radio announced on 15 February that a multipurpose vessel was launched in the special economic zone of the port of Khorramshahr. The vessel has a 13,000-ton capacity, and can transport all kinds of oil by-products, oil platforms, and goods. State radio said that producing this vessel domestically has saved $1 million in foreign exchange.
Army ground forces commander General Nasser Mohammadifar said the air-to-ground missiles tested by helicopter units at a competition in Nasrabad, Isfahan Province, were superior to their foreign equivalents in terms of range and power, Tehran's daily "Jomhuri-yi Islami" reported on 24 February and IRNA and IRIB reported on 21 February. The Ministry of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics manufactured these Tube-launched, Optically-tracked, Wire-guided (TOW) missiles.
An Unmanned Aerial Vehicle called the Mohajer 4 underwent a test flight on 16 February. The Saeqeh UAV was tested at the same time. Minister of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics Ali Shamkhani said that Iran is one of the few countries to have the knowledge for designing and building UAVs, state radio reported.
Tehran is intent on its military self-sufficiency, but it also looks abroad for supplies. Ukraine recognizes this and is trying to interest Iran in buying the ambulance version of the AN-74 aircraft. Kyiv's Novyy Kanal Television reported on 26 February that Iranian, Chinese, and Libyan representatives attended a demonstration of the plane, which is designed for the transportation of sick VIPs.
Tehran is keen to continue military cooperation with Moscow, Russian Duma International Affairs Committee head Dmitry Rogozin told ITAR-TASS on 19 February. Rogozin added that "the country's government plans to modernize Iran air defense and it will probably ask Russia to sell some air defense systems to it." About two weeks earlier, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov said, "Russia supplies conventional weapons and hardware to Iran. This means armored vehicles and air-defense systems with limited effective range." Ivanov added that "these are straightforward commercial dealings and we won't give them up."
In Romania, meanwhile, there is concern that revelations about arms sales to Iran could scuttle Bucharest's efforts to join NATO. "Romania Libera" reported on 14 February that Romtehnica was secretly delivering missiles to Iran. Defense Ministry State Secretary-General Florentin Popa rejected the official requests to ship the weapons, but then he coordinated the shipments clandestinely with generals Vasile Ionel and Marin Pancea. ISA-6 missiles and batteries of CUB anti-aircraft missiles were involved, and when Moscow halted deliveries to Iran following an agreement with Washington, Romtehnica served as the intermediary in making more shipments.
China supplies advanced conventional weapons to Iran, and in January it delivered naval anti-aircraft missiles, according to U.S. intelligence officials cited in the 22 February "Washington Times." The HQ-7 surface-to-air missiles have a range of up to eight nautical miles and can travel at twice the speed of sound.
Foreign assistance from Russia, China, and North Korea is an important component of Iran's missile program, according to a December 2001 National Intelligence Estimate titled "Foreign Missile Developments and the Ballistic Missile Threat Through 2015." Currently, Iran is pursuing short- and long-range missile capabilities -- it has the 1,300-km-range Shihab-3 medium-range ballistic missile and is pursuing an intercontinental ballistic missile/space launch vehicle system. The Shihab 3 is based on reverse engineering of the North Korean No Dong missile. Most agencies in the U.S. intelligence community -- with one exception -- project that the U.S. is likely to face a missile threat from Iran before 2015.
Iran's missile-development programs pose a "significant risk to the region and to our deployed forces," CENTCOM General Tommy Franks told the House Armed Services Committee on 27 February, as reported by Gulfwire (www.arabialink.com). He also said that Iran places a "high priority" on developing nuclear, biological, and chemical capabilities. Franks said that Tehran has a "large-scale, nearly self-sufficient, chemical warfare program" and is "likely to have developed a small arsenal of biological agents."
Iranian officials reject assertions that their intentions are anything but peaceful and defensive. President Mohammad Khatami asserted in a 2 March speech, according to state radio, "Our motto is eliminating tensions even with our enemies as well as negating war and violence." He also said, "The Islamic Republic of Iran condemns war and does not want war with anyone, even its enemies. However, Iran should always be prepared to defend its principles and territorial integrity." Iranian defense officials emphasize that their armaments drive is for defensive purposes only, too, and they say that Iran is pursuing regional stability and peace.
Not all observers are convinced by these claims. Writing in the 16 February London based Arabic newspaper "Al-Sharq al-Awsat," Abd al-Rahman al-Rashid says that Iran will be viewed with concern "on account of the fact that it is pursuing a military project that it hopes will render it a militarily influential actor in the region." The article points out that one of the major threats to Iran -- the Taliban -- has been eliminated, and the other major threat -- Iraq -- is about to be destroyed by the U.S. The article suggested that the key actors in the region -- Iran, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Syria -- should work together to improve security and end the arms buildup. (Bill Samii)IRANIAN JOURNALISTS CONDEMN PEARL MURDER.
In a 26 February interview with RFE/RL's Persian Service, the Association of Iranian Journalists condemned the killing of "Wall Street Journal" reporter Daniel Pearl, which had been confirmed on 21 February. AIJ spokesman Ahmad Zeidabadi said that all the Iranian journalists, along with their international colleagues, feel the same pain over this horrifying incident. An AIJ statement added, IRNA reported on 26 February, "The abduction and murder of journalists who are struggling for the cause of informing the public of world events is a flagrant violation of all human rights." The U.S. Department of State's Diplomatic Security Service's Rewards for Justice program is offering up to $5 million for information leading to the arrest or conviction of those responsible for Pearl's kidnapping and murder. (Bill Samii)PARLIAMENTARY BY-ELECTIONS SCHEDULED.
By-elections for the parliamentary seats in Sonqor Kolyai and Khalkhal are to be held on 26 July, "Iran" reported on 13 February. The sixth parliament refused in July 2000 to approve the credentials of Barat-Ali Mohammadifar from Sonqor and Seyyed Motahhar Kazemi from Khalkhal. They had won in a second round of voting after the Guardians Council overturned the first round's results, and reformist deputies refused to accept these victors. The April 2000 rejection of the results in Khalkhal led to two days of violent protests. New candidates can register from 11 to 18 May. (Bill Samii)CLERIC CALLS FOR U.S. PRESIDENT'S DEATH.
During the second Friday prayer sermon at Tehran University on 1 March, Guardians Council secretary Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati asked God to "bring happiness" to the Muslim people "by granting death to [Israel's Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon or [U.S. President George W.] Bush or any other means, please do so in any way that you deem appropriate." (Bill Samii)TEHRAN WANTS ITS MONEY FROM U.S.
Iran must have relations with the rest of the world, Expediency Council chairman Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani said during a 27 February news conference, with the exception of the U.S. and Israel. "Our problem with America," he explained according to state radio, "is resolvable....if they return our frozen assets, they will have shown goodwill and, in that case, we would be able to discuss the resolution of the problem." The U.S. Treasury Department says that these assets are worth about $423 million. One day earlier, the parliament approved a fund in the state budget for "uncovering and foiling the conspiracies and interference" of the U.S. in Iranian affairs. This fund is approved every year. This fund also would be used for pursuing Iranian claims against the U.S. in international courts. According to state radio's comments, this fund would "enable the Islamic Republic to take the initiative in the public relations arena and take legal disputes against America to courts either in this country or in international legal institutions." It added, "This measure can contribute to the release of the frozen assets of our country in America." (Bill Samii)NEW FACTIONAL LEADERSHIP IN TEHRAN?
The Tehran City Council appointed Mohammad Hassan Malek-Madani as the new mayor of Tehran on 25 February, state radio reported. Mayor Morteza Alviri resigned on 13 February after irreconcilable differences with the council (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 18 February 2002). Interior Minister Abdolvahed Musavi-Lari approved the new mayor on 3 March.
Malek-Madani is identified with the Islamic Iran Participation Party, whereas Alviri is identified with the Executives of Construction Party. Iranian journalist Jafar Golabi told RFE/RL's Persian Service that Malek-Madani is close to Gholamhussein Karbaschi. Malek-Madani succeeded Karbaschi as mayor of Isfahan when Karbaschi became mayor of Tehran. Some council members implied that they had been pressured to vote for Malek-Madani, the "Tehran Times" reported on 26 February, but they did not provide any details.
Mohsen Hashemi was considered as a candidate for mayor, too. Council chairman Mohammad Atrianfar said that Hashemi's fate is tied to that of his father, Expediency Council chairman Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, so selecting him is actually the selection of two people, "Azad" reported on 19 February. Because of the resulting effect on the political process and because Hashemi-Rafsanjani himself opposed it, Mohsen Hashemi's name was removed from consideration. Hashemi-Rafsanjani is identified with the Executives of Construction Party. (Bill Samii)DESPITE TENSIONS, TEHRAN WARM TOWARDS BAKU.
Both Tehran and Baku seem keen on maintaining good relations with each other regardless of disputes over the Caspian Sea's resources. Ramiz Mehdiyev, head of the Azerbaijani Presidential Executive Staff, said that a recent naval encounter between Iranian and Azerbaijani vessels had already been settled, ANS TV reported on 26 February. The Iranian press attache in Baku, Ezatollah Jalali, would not confirm or deny reports that an Iranian naval vessel had entered Azerbaijani waters in the Caspian Sea, MPA reported on 26 February.
The incident allegedly took place shortly before 21 February, according to the official "Iran" newspaper, when the Iranian vessel chased away Azerbaijani vessels that had entered the disputed waters. Iranian Ambassador to Baku Ahad Qazai said on 26 February that "Such incidents are settled on the spot. Relations between Iran and Azerbaijan are sincere and friendly and there can be no such claims [that Iranian or Azerbaijani ships are crossing the other side's border]."
The two sides seem eager to prevent the incident from escalating and involving regional powers -- Turkey and Russia got involved in a July-August 2001 row over a similar naval encounter. Under the current legal regime, Iran's share of the Caspian is limited to 13 percent. Tehran advocates a new arrangement by which each state bordering the Caspian would have a 20 percent share of the seabed, surface, and waters. This underlying conflict does not seem any closer to being resolved. Embassy spokesman Jalili said that "as long as the legal status of the Caspian Sea remains undefined, we cannot talk of borders," and he added that whoever spreads these stories is trying to be provocative and is directed by "certain political forces."
Statements by Iranian officials indicate that Tehran views the 20 percent division as an accomplished fact (for previous statements to this effect, see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 30 July 2001). Mehdi Safari, the Iranian official in charge of Caspian Sea affairs, said on 26 February that "no country is allowed to prospect for oil in his country's 20 percent share of the sea," IRNA reported. Speaking at a conference in Moscow that was cosponsored by the Russian Foreign Affairs Ministry, Moscow's Faculty of International Relations, and Russian energy enterprises, Safari said that he believes that there should be a joint legal regime, but if there is insistence on dividing up the sea then Iran must have a 20 percent share, and furthermore, "unilateral and provocative acts" should be avoided.
Oil Minister Bijan Namdar-Zanganeh had said that "We begin acting, relying on our own understanding of the law, and we will not permit anybody's action in the part of the sea we regard as our own," ITAR-TASS reported on 20 February.
Iranian Embassy spokesman Jalili expressed Tehran's best wishes for Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliev's speedy recovery, Turan news agency reported. Aliyev had been scheduled to visit Tehran and canceled his visit because he was in Cleveland, Ohio, for surgery (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 25 February 2002). Jalili said that Aliev's visit to Tehran would go ahead: "The date of this visit will be set after Aliyev has returned to Azerbaijan." (Bill Samii)KARZAI WALKING A FINE LINE.
Afghan interim administration chief Hamid Karzai was warmly received during his 24-26 February visit to Tehran. He met with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, President Mohammad Khatami, addressed the parliament, and met other officials. Karzai is in a difficult spot -- in a major part his position and his country's future are dependent on the U.S., the U.S. accuses Iran of causing instability in Afghanistan, and Afghanistan needs its eastern neighbor's help in reconstruction and stabilization.
U.S. special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad met with Karzai in Kabul just before the latter's departure for Tehran. Khalilzad has referred frequently to Iranian interference in Afghan affairs and, after meeting with Karzai, reiterated his viewpoint. "This is a continuing problem. The issues that we are concerned about are something that the chairman and other Afghan officials that I have talked to share. As far as the United States is concerned, we do expect Iran to stop the kind of activities that we find objectionable."
If Karzai agreed with Khalilzad in Kabul, he showed no sign of this in Tehran. "Iran has never interfered in the internal affairs of Afghanistan," he said according to IRNA on 26 February. Karzai added that the situation between Iran and the U.S. would never affect the promotion of relations between Kabul and Tehran. Karzai added that what is important is the participation of Iran and the U.S. in his country's reconstruction.
Karzai made it clear in the part of his meetings that was made public that he is eager for Iran to participate in the reconstruction of Afghanistan. Karzai said at a 24 February press conference after his first round of talks with Khatami, "Iran is our brother and we attach great importance to Iran in the reconstruction...of Afghanistan. We hope that Iran will cooperate with us in this regard. And, God willing, Iran will do so." First Vice President Mohammad Reza Aref-Yazdi discussed reconstruction with Karzai, too. Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi announced "Iran's complete readiness for active participation in Afghanistan's reconstruction, both monetarily and technically," IRNA reported on 26 February.
Supreme Leader Khamenei said that "everyone, and particularly the Islamic world, must actively participate in that country's reconstruction," according to state television on 25 February. Khamenei also offered the advice that "the government of Afghanistan, too, should be careful that the issue of reconstruction is not exploited by others to infiltrate politically and culturally."
Karzai also tried to encourage Iranian merchants and businessmen to invest in Afghanistan. In one meeting, IRNA and state television reported on 25 February, Karzai described the formation of a commission that would reorganize the taxation and customs systems in order to guarantee state revenues, as well as efforts to reduce inflation and improve financial stability. Karzai said that Afghan banks would be linked to the international banking system so they could get credit, and his government would revise the regulatory system to encourage foreign investment. Karzai also said, "At the moment, Afghanistan is trying to repay its debts via the banking system which is being restored."
Iranian officials are aware of the potential benefits to their country of participation in Afghan projects, and they are encouraging the Iranian private sector to get involved. Before Karzai addressed the Iranian businessmen, he was preceded by Economic Affairs and Finance Minister Tahmasb Mazaheri, Foreign Minister Kharrazi, and six trade and business representatives. They outlined the government's economic policies and described Iran's "willingness to invest in and reconstruct Afghanistan."
Reconstruction of Afghanistan could lead to jobs for Iranians, too. A former Iranian government official, Mohammad J. Mahallati, wrote in a co-authored commentary in the 28 February "New York Times," "Iranians, especially the 65 percent of [the] population that is under 25, can best be described as masses of unemployed skilled labor and underemployed talent that have not been, and cannot be, absorbed into the domestic market because of the economic problems facing the government."
Iranian media views on the value and importance of Karzai's visit ran the spectrum. The daily "Noruz" reported on 24 February that Karzai is aware of Iran's important role in achieving peace and stability, and from Tehran's perspective Karzai has the traits necessary for stability, independence, and responsible government in Kabul. A "stable and secure Afghanistan," according to "Noruz," will encourage refugees to go home and will deal with drug trafficking. A 25 February English-language commentary on state radio said that Karzai's visit is "a suitable response to the baseless claims of the White House officials." State radio added that Washington intends to construct an "espionage and military base in Afghanistan to advance its illegitimate objectives in the region." "Aftab-i Yazd" and "Noruz" on 26 February said that Karzai's visit was important. Some hard-line publications, such as "Resalat," ridiculed Karzai. (Bill Samii)TRANSPORT, INFRASTRUCTURE TO DOMINATE AFGHAN RECONSTRUCTION.
Iranian Minister of Roads and Transport Ahmad Khoram said on 26 February that the rebuilding of infrastructure and transportation would be the biggest component in Iran's reconstruction of Afghanistan, IRNA reported. He had just signed a cooperation agreement with Afghan Minister of Transportation Sultan Hamid Sultan, and they agreed to form a joint transportation cooperation commission. Khoram said that his ministry is ready to provide a workforce for the Afghan transport sector and to expand cooperation between the two countries' private sectors.
Two days later, Khoram discussed the country's transport system. He said, according to Tehran radio on 28 February: "Today our transport system, including air, rail and road transport, has reached breaking point. On the road, our cargo fleet is 21 years old. The passenger fleet is also about 17 or 18 years old. The average age of our air fleet is 21 and we are still busy equipping our airports."
Afghan Commerce Minister Mustafa Kazemi said on 25 February that Iran is a secure route for the transit of goods to Afghanistan, IRNA reported, and he said that he and his Iranian counterpart, Mohammad Shariatmadari, had agreed to devise a plan to improve Tehran-Kabul trade relations. Kazemi added that a trade delegation will visit Tehran soon. The fee for transporting cargo to Afghanistan has at least tripled recently, IRNA reported on 26 February. Transporting 20 tons of cargo to Mazar-i Sharif cost 8.6 million rials during the Taliban period, but it now costs 22 million rials. Drivers used to buy cheap fuel in Iran and then resell it at a big mark up after they crossed the border, but restrictions on doing this mean that the drivers defray their costs by transferring them onto the merchants.
Goods can be transported by rail, too. The plan for constructing the Torbat-i Heydarieh-Sangan-Herat railroad was ratified in the 2002 Budget, according to the proceedings of the 27 February parliamentary session. Deputy Ebrahimbay-Salami, who heads the Iran-Afghanistan Parliamentary Friendship Society, said that "Transportation of more than 3 million heavy loads of iron ore from the mine in Sangan, as well as shared investments of Iran and Afghanistan in the rich mines of Afghanistan, are considered the functions of this plan." (Bill Samii)NUCLEAR COOPERATION NOT LINKED TO CANCELLED MOSCOW VISIT.
Less than a week after Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi canceled a trip to Moscow, an Iranian newspaper reported that Russian nuclear specialists were leaving Iran. Tehran was quick to scotch rumors of disrupted nuclear projects, and there are three possible reasons for the cancellation of Kharrazi's visit.
"Bonyan" newspaper on 25 February reported that Russian specialists at the Bushehr nuclear facility are returning to their motherland. The Iranian newspaper cited a Paris weekly that claimed Moscow has decided to restrict the transfer of nuclear technology to Iran. Bushehr parliamentary representative Mohammad Dadfar told "Bonyan" that it is "clear that the Russians do not have one policy" on the project, and the number of personnel varies. The next day, Dadfar was cited by the "Noruz" daily as saying that he does not know about the departure of Russian specialists. And Bushehr representative Hamideh Idalat said, "It is not true that Russian experts are leaving Iran after pressure was exerted by America." She explained that the Russians' departure is part of a planned transfer of operations to Iranian personnel.
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi reacted to the "Bonyan" report by saying that there has been no change in Tehran-Moscow nuclear cooperation, IRNA reported on 26 February. Russian Ambassador to Tehran Aleksandr Maryonov said Moscow-Tehran nuclear cooperation is "developing successfully and has good prospects." He added: "A preliminary date has been set for launching of the first unit of the nuclear power plant -- December 2003," RIA-Novosti reported on 26 February.
Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi was scheduled to visit Moscow just one week earlier, but the trip was canceled abruptly. This could have been because U.S. Undersecretary of State for Arms Control John Bolton was scheduled to be in Moscow at the same time, and the issue of Russian military and nuclear cooperation with Iran is a major concern for Washington. Bolton said, "this is a matter of fundamental importance in the shaping of Russian policy to be consistent with that of the other major powers that have access to nuclear and ballistic missile technology to prevent its spread to countries like Iran," "The Washington Post" reported on 20 February. Moscow and Washington are negotiating a new arms control agreement. Moscow's "Kommersant" on 20 February reported that the visit was canceled at Washington's insistence.
Cancellation of the visit also could have been linked to the sudden demotion of Ilya Klebanov, Russian deputy prime minister for arms sales and atomic energy, to minister of industry, science, and technology. The Iranian Foreign Ministry's Press and Information Office announced that "the foreign minister's trip to Moscow has been postponed because of a lack of coordination in his timetable of meetings in Moscow," according to IRNA on 19 February.
Yet there is a third possible reason, discussed in the 21 February "Entekhab." It said that Kharrazi was to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin to discuss regional issues. Moscow intends to use a Kharrazi visit as a bargaining chip in discussions with Washington. (Bill Samii)HEKMATYAR HITS THE HIGHWAY.
An anonymous "informed official" said on 26 February that former Afghan Premier Gulbuddin Hekmatyar has left his Iranian home for an undisclosed destination, IRNA reported. Tehran recently closed the offices of his party, the Hizb-i Islami, and the anonymous official said that the decision that Hekmatyar should leave was relayed to him a few days earlier. Quoting unnamed sources, "Bonyan" reported on 28 February that Hekmatyar had been in touch with Baghdad and might have gone to Iraq. But because he had contacts with the Taliban, according to "Bonyan's" sources, he could have returned to Afghanistan.
It seems unlikely that Hekmatyar would return to Afghanistan, where Afghan Foreign Ministry spokesman Omar Samad told the AP on 25 February that he "will be treated as a war criminal." Hekmatyar has been vocally opposed to Afghanistan's interim administration. Interim administration chief Hamid Karzai, who was visiting Tehran at the time, said that he had not discussed Hekmatyar's case with the Iranians, IRNA reported on 26 February. Karzai said: "In the talks [with Iranian officials], the situation of the refugees and the repatriation of the Afghans who are residing in Iran was discussed in general, but specific individuals were not discussed." (Bill Samii)