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Iran Report: April 22, 2002


22 April 2002, Volume 5, Number 14

OIL, PIPELINES THE FOCUS OF KHATAMI'S KAZAKHSTAN VISIT. Iran's President Mohammad Khatami is scheduled to arrive in Kazakhstan on 24 April for a two-day visit, Kazakh Deputy Transport and Communications Minister Bakytzhan IsengAliyev told the Interfax-Kazakhstan agency on 17 April. Earlier reports had Khatami scheduled to arrive on 25 April. One day more or less may not make much a difference under normal circumstances, but this meeting will come on the heels of a 23-24 April summit conference of the Caspian states' presidents in Ashgabat at which they are to discuss the Caspian Sea legal regime. Kazakhstan, furthermore, is considering construction of a pipeline to Iran.

From a bilateral perspective, the Caspian summit could be tense for Iran and Kazakhstan. Kazakh commercial television on 11 and 16 April broadcast reports which claimed that Iranian parliamentarians and Foreign Ministry officials were demanding a return to treaties made in 1921 and 1940. Iran and the Soviet Union were independent states under those treaties, so Iran still is entitled to 50 percent of the Caspian's resources while the Soviet Union's successor states must parcel out the remaining 50 percent. "In that case," according to Kazakh TV on 16 April, "Iran will get some of the oil deposits which are currently owned by Kazakhstan."

These reports were somewhat selective, however, because parliamentarian Kazem Jalali had not made any sort of official demand. He suggested that Tehran "should have insisted on its 50 percent share in the beginning to at least secure a 20 percent share of the resources," according to the 10 April "Tehran Times," and he warned that other countries are trying to reduce Iran's share to less than 12 percent.

While selective reporting could be behind some recent tensions, Tehran has objected publicly to the signing of a Baku-Astana accord on the Caspian Sea in late November 2001. The Iranian Foreign Ministry submitted a letter of protest to the UN about this agreement, Iranian state television reported on 7 March. Moreover, it is believed that Russia has persuaded Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan to back its plan for dividing only the seabed into national sectors along a median line, keeping the waters in common (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 8 April 2002). In late March, Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliyev said that he would sign a border-delimitation agreement with Russia during a June visit to St. Petersburg, and Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said that Moscow was close to signing a protocol with Kazakhstan.

Oil pipelines are likely to be another topic during Khatami's visit. Astana still has not decided on a pipeline going south to Iran, the Baku-Ceyhan pipeline, or a pipeline to China. On one hand, U.S. Ambassador Larry Napper was cited as saying that Washington promotes the construction of pipelines and it sees Baku-Ceyhan as profitable and viable, "Kazakhstanskaya Pravda" reported on 10 April. And American presidential adviser on Caspian Sea issues Steven Mann said on 12 March in Astana that Washington prefers the Baku-Ceyhan pipeline and it opposes a pipeline to Iran, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. On the other hand, Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Mohammad Hassan Adeli said that the Iranian route would be the shortest and most profitable, according to "Kazakhstanskaya Pravda," and he predicted that U.S. policy towards Iran could change.

Tehran has asked Astana to stop its oil exports to countries that support Israel, Kazakhstan television reported on 13 April. Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei signed the request.

Other possible topics would be the North-South transport corridor, which includes Russia and India. Iran may want a bigger share of the Kazakh market; currently, Iran imports eight times more goods from Kazakhstan than it exports to Kazakhstan. The trade turnover is worth about $220 million, Kazakh Foreign Minister Qasymzhomart Toqaev said on 17 April, according to Kazakh television. Most of the trade was in nonferrous metals and grain. (Bill Samii)

JIANG'S TRANSFORMING VISIT TO IRAN. The visit to Iran this week by Chinese President Jiang Zemin seems to confirm the observation that President Khatami's June 2000 visit to China "appears certain to change China, Iran, and the international balance of power." But the changes will be somewhat different than those predicted by RFE/RL analyst Paul Goble at the time, mostly because of 11 September and heightened Chinese and Iranian concerns about America's intentions.

In June 2000 it seemed that links with Iran would give China leverage over regional competitors India and Russia. In this way, China would be more able to pursue its interests in Central and South Asia. But now it appears that China's main regional competitor is the U.S., which is in a tactical alliance with Russia to facilitate its activities in Central Asia in support of the war in Afghanistan. And Tehran has made no secret of its concern about the U.S. presence in Central Asia, Afghanistan, the Persian Gulf, and the Caucasus.

What better partner for China, then, than Iran, whose Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei told Jiang Zemin, according to a 21 April AP report, that standing up to "America's wrong" policies was necessary for the future of the globe. Khamenei added, "Based on its political and military might, the United States seeks to impose its will regarding global issues on all countries and this is a big danger for the international community." Jiang Zemin said on 21 April that China differs with the United States on terrorism. "Our opinion is not the same with the United States. We believe any fight against terrorism should be based on evidence and [be done] in a principled way."

Editorials in the 18 April "Iran Daily" and the 18 April "Iran News" both noted the significance of Jiang Zemin's visit in the context of relations with the U.S. The former newspaper described "America's deformed regional policy," and the latter said that "Iran and China have a common enemy -- the United States." And a report in the "South China Morning Post" on 16 April said that Jiang Zemin's visit to Iran, coming on the heels of his visit to Libya, shows the U.S. that Peking does not have "'axis of evil' or 'rogue nation' in its foreign policy vocabulary."

Other aspects of the two countries' political relationship are progressing in the same vein. An Iranian parliamentary delegation arrived in Peking on 15 April to take part in the Third Public Forum of the Asian Parliaments for Peace, IRNA reported. Parliamentary deputy Mohsen Armin said that the Iranian delegation would attempt to draw attention to the Palestinian issue and threats to Asian countries within the context of the "axis of evil" accusation against Iran, Iraq, and North Korea. When Chinese State Councilor Wu Yi visited Tehran on 18 March to discuss expanded cooperation, she called for Iran and Iraq to hold continuing consultations on terrorism, Afghanistan, and bringing about a new world order based on mutual respect, IRNA reported.

President Khatami and President Jiang on 20 April signed agreements on cooperation in the energy, trade, and transport fields, as well as culture, education, and information technology. The volume of bilateral trade between the two countries was about $3.3 billion in 2001, Xinhua reported in March. (Bill Samii)

IRAN'S TOP CLERICS ADVOCATE 'MARTYRDOM OPERATIONS.' A handful of Iran's top Shia clerics have given their approval to suicide bombings, or what are referred to as "martyrdom operations." Termed "Sources of Emulation," these individuals are qualified to be followed in all aspects of religious law and practice. An Iraqi religious organization also has approved of suicide bombings.

The Palestinian Islamic Jihad's representative in Tehran, Abu Jihad, met in Qom on 12 April with Grand Ayatollahs Mohammad Fazel-Movahedi-Lankarani, Nasser Makarem-Shirazi, Mohammad-Taqi Bahjat, Yusef Sanei, and Abdol-Karim Musavi-Ardabili, as well as Ayatollah Ali Akbar Meshkini-Qumi. Abu Jihad asked these religious scholars about the permissibility of "martyrdom operations," state radio reported. In the words of state radio, "the grand ayatollahs reiterated the views that they had already expressed, saying that martyrdom operations were permitted in occupied Palestine." Fazel-Lankarani said, "The Palestinians have no choice but to carry out martyrdom operations." Meshkini advised use of the oil weapon, saying, "The whispers about the cut-off of Islamic countries' oil [exports] have frightened the enemies."

Iraqi clerics also have advocated the use of suicide bombings, according to a religious ruling made at a meeting of Baghdad's Awqaf and Religious Affairs Ministry. Sheikh Abd-al-Qafur al-Qaysi read the ruling on Iraqi state television on 16 April, saying that "the Muslim men of religion in Iraq" are of the view that "martyrdom operations" are, "from a religious point of view, the highest form of Jihad for the sake of God." The statement went on to say that that these Iraqi "men of religion" blessed the "martyrdom operations," and they urged other "Muslim men of religion" to support these rulings, rather than riding on "the bandwagon of the U.S.-Zionist misconceptions to conceal the truth about these blessed operations." Iraq has been making monetary payments to the families of suicide bombers. (Bill Samii)

KHATAMI TRIES TO GENERATE ARAB SUPPORT FOR PALESTINIANS. President Khatami on 15 April communicated with leading regional officials in an effort to encourage them to support the current Palestinian uprising, but Iraq is questioning the validity of Iran's support for the Palestinians.

Khatami in a 15 April message to the emir of Qatar, who currently chairs the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), said that the OIC must implement an embargo against Israel and suspend oil exports for one month to pressure the states that back Israel, Tehran television reported on 15 April. In messages to Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz, Kuwaiti Emir Sheikh Jabir al-Ahmad al-Jabir al-Sabah, and the United Arab Emirates' President Sheikh Zayid Bin-Sultan Al Nuhayyan, Khatami called for collective action to "stop the Israeli violence, state terrorism, and massacre of defenseless Palestinians," according to IRNA.

Baghdad originally proposed the suspension of oil exports, and Supreme Leader Khamenei suggested that this could be effective if all the Arab and Islamic oil producers did the same thing (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 8 April 2002). Iraq's President Saddam Hussein apparently thought that Iran would follow his lead when he announced the suspension of oil exports on 8 April, and Tehran's failure to act accordingly seems to have disappointed the Iraqi leader. He said, according to Baghdad television on 14 April: "Iran earlier called for suspending oil exports for a one-month period. Iraq did abide by that and decided to suspend its oil exports for one month. However, Iran did not take any practical steps to fulfill its call nor did it stop its oil exports for one month. Now, it is calling upon others to offer part of their one-month oil revenues to the Palestinian people. This is commendable, but let Iran pay its share. We hope that Iran will be the first to pay part of its one-month oil revenues to the Palestinian people."

And in a 16 April speech, Saddam Hussein complained that Iraq suspended its oil exports "after it heard from Iran" the suspension proposal. Then he explained that he had not been suckered by the Iranians: "A person who suggests an idea ought to implement it first in order to score a point with the others when they do not come through. This is what Iraq did.... Therefore, we appeal to Iran to follow in the same direction and to return the Iraqi planes." By doing so, according to Saddam Hussein, Iran would strengthen "the rank that is in direct confrontation with the Zionist entity" and it would be "supporting Palestine as well." (Iraq claims that it flew about 140 of its aircraft to Iran during 1991 Gulf War, but Iran claims only 22 Iraqi aircraft landed in its airport and it will not return them without UN approval.)

On the other hand, in a 17 April meeting with Iranian parliamentarian Mohsen Mirdamadi, Iraqi Charge d'Affaires to Tehran Abd-al-Sattar al-Rawi said that Baghdad welcomed the Iranian call for an oil cutoff, and the two countries differences over this issue were not that serious. He said: "The points that create unity between Tehran and Baghdad outnumber minor differences. The two countries have taken significant steps to promote mutual ties."

A number of Iranian officials, such as Speaker of Parliament Hojatoleslam Mehdi Karrubi, called for the suspension of oil exports during a 9 April rally in Tehran. Presidential adviser Ataollah Mohajerani said that Tehran should follow Baghdad's lead in the oil embargo, IRNA reported, and he added that countries opting out of the embargo should use their oil income to support the Palestinians for one month. Nevertheless, Iran is unable to forego the oil revenues on which it depends. According to the 10 April "Financial Times," furthermore, Tehran has no desire to form an anti-Western alliance with Iraq when Baghdad is faced with an impending American military attack. (Bill Samii)

PKK CHANGES NAME -- ONLY. The Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) has changed its name to the Congress for Freedom and Democracy in Kurdistan (HADEK), according to 16 April press reports. The PKK was founded in 1974, and by the early 1990s it moved from waging a rural insurgency to urban terrorism. The PKK is designated as a "foreign terrorist organization" by the U.S. Department of State, and its members have received safe haven and modest aid from Iran, Iraq, and Syria. The recent escape to Iran by members of the PKK leadership earlier in April caused a minor flap in Tehran-Ankara relations (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 15 April 2002).

HADEK spokesman Riza Erdogan said, "The armed struggle is over," AP reported on 16 April, but others seem unconvinced. Turkish Foreign Minister Sabahattin Cakmakoglu said on 16 April that the name change does not matter, "What matters is that they pay for what they have done in the past." Washington also has indicated that the name change would not alter the PKK's designation as a foreign terrorist organization. (Bill Samii)

YAZD TO COMMEMORATE 'OPERATION EAGLE CLAW.' Yazd is preparing to commemorate on 25 April the failed 1980 mission to rescue American hostages, IRNA reported 10 days earlier. Eight Americans died in the rescue mission, code-named Operation Eagle Claw. A committee has been created at the Yazd governorate to coordinate the activities of groups participating in this year's anti-American rallies, "which are expected to be vaster than the past 20 years, due to the current U.S. administration's pro-Israeli stands." On the same day, IRNA continued, a memorial service will be held at the Rozeh-yi Mohammadieh Mosque in Tabas for Islamic Revolution Guards Corps commander Mohammad Montazer-Qaem, who died the day after the failed mission when the Iranian air force bombed the wreckage. (Bill Samii)

SPEECH AND PARADE MARK ARMY DAY. Iran commemorated Army Day on 18 April with a parade of infantry, armor, and air units, as well as a display of equipment produced by the Ministry of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics. President Khatami made a speech before the parade, which was held near Father of the Revolution Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's mausoleum in southern Tehran.

Khatami said in a speech broadcast by state television that Iran is confronted by "threats" and "opportunities," and the art of statesmanship is the ability to foil threats and use opportunities. Khatami said that a strong defense system can guarantee the country's national security, and he added that the armed forces are ready to fend off any kind of aggression. In his words, "Today, our nation, our government and our armed forces, while shunning any provocation and providing any pretext to the enemies, are ready to defend the nation's independence, territorial integrity and revolutionary aspirations against any threat or aggression." Khatami also discussed Israel, saying, "If we [Islamic countries] join hands, I believe we will be able to stop that regime [Israel], without the need to fire even a single bullet and we will be able to restore the legitimate rights of the Palestinians."

Khatami conceded that, in terms of equipment, Iran might not have the strongest military, but that it makes up for any material shortcomings with its spirit. "It is true that in terms of equipment and facilities, we may be in a weaker position compared to some other countries. However, is power always measured by how much equipment one possesses? The main pillar of power is faith and endeavors to turn the available resources into a source of potential power in all areas." Khatami went on to say that the army, alongside the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC), Basij, and Law Enforcement Forces, is "one of the key foundations of our national power."

Army commander General Mohammad Salimi said in a message that the army is ready to defend Iran's independence and territorial integrity, "Tehran Times" reported on the eve of Army Day, and its personnel are ready to give their lives for their country. He also said that the army is a promoter of peace and believes in conflict avoidance. And the Ministry of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics said in an earlier statement, which also was reported in the "Tehran Times," that the armed forces are ready to "defend the country under the command of the leader." The MODAFL message added that Iran's "detente policy" could be more effective with greater coordination between the army and other branches of the armed forces.

The Army Day parade included a group of disabled officers, units from the air force and Law Enforcement Forces, army units on horseback, motorcycle units, and a special joint army and Islamic Revolution Guards Corps unit under Supreme Leader Khamenei's command. A lot of equipment was on display, too, including American M-60 and M-47 tanks, American M-113 armored personnel carriers, Russian T-55 tanks, and Russian BTR-80 APCs. Also on display was domestically produced equipment, such as the Babr-400 and Zolfaqar tanks and 175 mm artillery pieces. Several types of missiles were shown, such as the MF-80, the MQM-107, and -- "shown for the first time" -- the Monazeat-10 missile. (Bill Samii)

POLITICAL POWER BETTER DETERRENT THAN ARMS. Tehran is continuing to develop its military capabilities, but at least one Iranian political leader believes that political power is a greater deterrent. There is the recognition, however, that going against the paradigm of military self-sufficiency could earn one a negative label.

President Khatami said in his 18 April Army Day speech that the Iranian military depended on America before the revolution, but now it is self-sufficient. In his words, "Today, we have demonstrated a remarkable ability in the area of production of advanced military hardware." Indeed, the deputy commander of the navy, Admiral Masud Sarikhani, said on 17 April that Iran soon would launch an indigenously produced destroyer called the Mowj, according to IRNA. And air force commander General Mohammad Daneshpur described U.S. provocations and said that Iran is building an air-to air missile "to defend the country's air space against foreign aggression." Brigadier General Akbar Ghafaollahi described on 17 April the domestically manufactured Babr-400 tank carrier, ISNA reported.

In fact, Iran continues its pursuit of prohibited American military products. In February, German citizen Gunter Kohlke pleaded guilty to shipping Chinook helicopter parts and aircraft-cannon components to Iran, "USA Today" reported on 20 March. Kohlke said that over the years he had done up to $1.5 million in annual sales to Iran. Iran also purchases foreign goods and is pursuing a new piece of electronic-warfare equipment with Russia's help. Russia's Rosoboronexport and Tehran are negotiating the sale of an electronic counter-measures system known as Akup, "The Washington Times" reported on 8 March. Akup is designed specifically for defeating the American AWACS (Airborne Warning and Control System) aircraft, according to "The Washington Times," and it has a 62-mile range.

Four organizations affiliated with Iran's Ministry of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics participated in the 8-11 April Defense Services Asia Exhibition and Conference in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. This is the fourth time that Iran has participated in the biannual event, Tehran television reported on 8 April. The Iranian firms displayed indigenously produced air defense equipment, ammunition, communications gear, machine guns, optics, surface-to-surface missiles, and unmanned aerial vehicles.

Not only is Iran making military equipment for export, but it has developed the capability of repairing the equipment it buys from other countries. A Russian MIG-29 jet aircraft was overhauled at the Tabriz air base, state radio reported on 14 March, in a six-month process that saved the country some $1 million in hard currency. Air force commander Brigadier General Reza Pardis said seven jets would be overhauled in the year beginning on 21 March 2002. Pardis also described development of a system that allows the pilot and navigator of an American F-5 to eject simultaneously. Pardis on 4 March said that air force engineers had made a machine that could test for petrol and oil seepage in the engines of Russian Sukhoi-24 aircraft, according to state television. Pardis said that such seepage is a major cause of on-board fires. Pardis also described a joint project by engineers from the Tehran and Shiraz air districts in which they created a silencer for jet engines. This should eliminate much of the sound pollution suffered by people who live near air bases.

Not everybody agrees with this emphasis on military development to ward off outside threats. Parliamentarian Rajab Ali Mazrui argues in the 17 March "Noruz" that deterrence must rely on political power. If the priority is given to military deterrence, then all the country's efforts must be focused on the production of arms and defensive capabilities. Such an approach, Mazrui warns, was behind the Soviet Union's collapse. If the focus is on political deterrence, Mazrui argues, then all the country's resources, policies, and administrative capabilities must be employed in such a way that every citizen feels like a stakeholder if the country is threatened from outside. Mazrui points out that Iran held off a militarily superior Iraq for eight years because the people believed in the ruling system.

In recognition of Iran's politically charged atmosphere, Mazrui prefaced his article by warning, "should any individual or group put forward a new perspective that is outside what is considered to the prevailing and official outlook, [he or she] would immediately face a flood of ready-made labels, the least of which these days being the 'enemy's fifth column!'" (Bill Samii)

TEHRAN RELEASES NATIONALIST-RELIGIOUS ACTIVIST. Nationalist-religious activist Taqi Rahmani was released from prison on 18 April, ISNA reported. Rahmani got out on 1 billion rials (about $125,000 at the open rate) bail, according to his wife, Nargis Mohammadi. Rahmani was arrested in March 2001 and was the last member of the nationalist-religious coalition to be tried. His closed trial began on 14 April after numerous postponements. (Bill Samii)

YAZDI COMES HOME. Ibrahim Yazdi, leader of banned Liberation Movement of Iran, on 20 April came home from Texas, where he was undergoing medical treatment, according to press reports. There has been an arrest warrant outstanding for Yazdi, but he said that neither he nor his attorney have received a summons from the Revolutionary Court, IRNA reported. Yazdi also called for greater national unity to confront what IRNA called "recent foreign threats against the Islamic Republic" and the "anti-Iranian remarks of U.S. President George W. Bush." (Bill Samii)

INTERNET PROVIDERS PROTEST NEW REGULATIONS. The Telecommunications Company of Iran (TCI, which is part of the Ministry of Post, Telegraph, and Telephone) denied in a 17 April bulletin that it has restricted public access to the Internet, according to IRNA. TCI explained that any regulatory changes are meant to prevent foreign firms or their local middlemen from "accruing undue financial benefit which [is] contrary to international standards and could also result in a negative balance of payments with foreign countries." Internet Networks Employers Guild head Mustafa Mohammadi told RFE/RL's Persian Service that TCI is trying to recoup the losses it suffers when people make inexpensive international calls over the Internet. Mohammadi said that in this way TCI would gain complete control over telephone communications in Iran.

An open letter from the Internet Networks Employers Guild, furthermore, called on President Khatami and the Supreme Cultural Revolution Council to reconsider its most recent Internet-related regulations and the related public-sector monopoly over Internet service providers (regarding this issue, see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 25 March 2002). The open letter asked why the guild is not trusted to maintain and properly use the information resources developed by its members, "Bonyan" reported on 13 April. Khatami was urged to "reconsider and amend" the regulations that he signed. Moreover, the letter encouraged Khatami to prevent implementation of the new regulations; invite private-sector representatives to participate in the relevant committees and in the Supreme Cultural Revolution Council; publish all information on Internet regulations; and call on the parliament to formulate new regulations and laws. (Bill Samii)

PROVINCIAL DAILY CLOSED; JOURNALISTS IN COURT. The Tabriz general court on 16 April revoked the publication license of "Shams-i Tabriz" weekly and sentenced publisher Ali Hamed Iman to seven months in jail and 74 lashes, according to IRNA. Iman has 20 days to appeal the sentence. Iman said on 17 April that he has not been formally notified of the sentence, adding that once he is formally informed of the sentence he would protest it, "notwithstanding the fact that I am not optimistic about mitigation of the sentence at the appeal court," IRNA reported. Charges against Iman included publishing lies, stoking ethnic tensions, and insulting Islamic sanctities and officials. He has had run-ins with the law before (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 28 May 2001 and 31 December 2000).

Also on 16 April, former "Azad" managing editor Mohammad Reza Yazdanpanah-Fadai was summoned to court on the basis of a complaint made by former Law Enforcement Forces counterintelligence chief General Gholam-Reza Naqdi, "Azad" reported. Naqdi had made the complaint in the year beginning on 21 March 1999 after "Azad" published a story about Naqdi and the torture of Tehran district mayors -- Naqdi and several of his junior officers were tried for using force to extract confessions from the mayors, who were being held on corruption charges. Naqdi was acquitted of the torture charges but was found guilty of slander (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 19 July 1999). Naqdi eventually was relieved of his duties with the LEF, but rather than being dismissed he was appointed as deputy chief of Depots and Support and Industrial Research Division of the Armed Forces (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 16 December 2000). (Bill Samii)

AFGHAN AIRWAVES KEEP CHANGING. Afghan Deputy Defense Minister Abdul Rashid Dostum on 15 April instructed the domestic broadcasting agencies in Balkh, Faryab, Jowzjan, Samangan, and Sar-i-Pol provinces that they must improve their standards, Mazar-i Sharif's Balkh Radio reported. Dostum also called for utilization of universally accepted standards of journalism that bypassed partisan or personal interests and for improved technical standards. The relevant commission held its first meeting on 17 April, according to Balkh Radio.

Meanwhile, Kabul television is increasing its activities and is now on the air for five hours a day, Almaty's Khabar TV reported on 16 April. And four days earlier, Radio Netherlands reported that humanitarian and informational programs are being broadcast by a system known as Special Operations Media System - B (SOMS-B). According to the Joint Interoperability Test Command's website, SOMS-B is a tactically deployable ground radio and television broadcasting system for use by Army Psychological Operations (PSYOPS) forces. It provides self-contained ground tactical capabilities that can be rapidly moved and can operate for extended periods with limited support. (Bill Samii)

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