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Iran Report: October 7, 2002

7 October 2002, Volume 5, Number 36

ARE STUDENTS ACTIVE OR APATHETIC? As the new school year begins, the press shows that students are still a force to be reckoned with in Iranian politics. At the same time, there are warnings about their frustration with the slow pace of reform and their diminishing interest in political participation. Such warnings are noteworthy because there are some 1.2 million university students in the country now, according to the 30 September "Iran News."

There were several warnings about apathy among the students and splits within student organizations. "Students are interested in political matters," Shiraz parliamentary representative Reza Yusefian said in the 22 September "Aftab-i Yazd," "but someday, they may be disappointed with the atmosphere prevailing in society." A commentary in the 29 September "Aftab-i Yazd" reminded President Mohammad Khatami about the important role students played in his and reformist parliamentarians' election victories, and it warned that the political involvement of students has dwindled since July 1999. Khatami will need the students' backing for the two recently submitted bills on presidential powers and the election law, the commentary said (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 30 September 2002).

Amir Mohebbian commented in the hard-line "Resalat" on 25 September that the number of politically active students is decreasing. He suggested that this is the result of "disillusionment with the behavior of parties and currents outside the university." Mohebbian warned that it would be a waste to lose the "force contained within the student movement." "Iran News" said that the liberal Office for Strengthening Unity (DTV) and the conservative Islamic Society of Students are the main groups, but "the overwhelming majority" of the student population does not fit in with these groups. As a result, many students either do not have a political voice or they seek one outside the universities.

Hamid Reza Jalaipur editorialized in the 14 September "Hambastegi" that there are efforts underway to break up the DTV. He compared these efforts to the splits that appeared between Islamists and Marxists in the Mujahedin-i Khalq Organization (MKO) in the 1970s. Jalaipur said that opponents of reform are making unfair comparisons between current events in the DTV and the 1975-1976 efforts of a "fascist minority" in the MKO to impose its will through force of arms. The majority of students still favor Islam and religion, Jalaipur wrote, and they favor "people's rule." Extremist opponents of reform are trying to impose their views on the DTV.

Nevertheless, reports of the death of the student movement appear to be greatly exaggerated. On 1 October, the DTV called on the courts to release all political prisoners, and it welcomed the release of three students earlier in the year, IRNA reported. Many of the prisoners were detained after the July 1999 riots. Student leader Ali Afshari was detained in April 2000 for participating in a controversial conference in Berlin. The Islamic Association of Students at Tehran University and the Faculty of Medical Sciences called for Khatami to be firm in pursuing his promised reforms, "Iran News" reported on 29 September, or he should resign. If the Guardians Council rejects his legislative proposals, Khatami should quit because his promises of reform did not materialize.

The Office for Strengthening Unity held its ninth annual meeting in late August, and it issued a statement to the press that was published in the 24 September issue of "Hayat-i No." The statement said that the DTV has resisted pressure to limit its activities to "guild and welfare issues," and it emphasizes the need to maintain its independence and position as a critic of the establishment. At the same, the DTV does not want to be a party, the arm of a party, or an arm of the government. It had previously backed candidates in elections and sought seats on city councils, but the DTV determined that such activities were inconsistent with being a student movement. "We will continue our activity in the sphere of civil society and pursue our special political and guild demands, and from the same angle, we will embark upon sympathetic criticism based on freedom, justice, and the national interest." The statement professed belief in the reform movement but asserted that the capacity of the reform movement that started in May 1997 (with President Khatami's election) to effect change is coming to an end. (Bill Samii)

GILAN PROVINCE RECEIVES KHATAMI. President Hojatoleslam Seyyed Mohammad Khatami arrived in Rasht on 30 September for a four-day visit to Gilan Province. A survey of the provincial media shows that locals' concerns, especially about the economic situation, are very similar to those of other Iranians. Khatami's public comments during the trip indicated his awareness of this situation.

Fuman and Shaft parliamentary representative Rasul Jamaati described the province's economic problems in the 1 August "Gilan-i Imruz." Jamaati said that during the previous regime, the province was relatively prosperous, "to the point where one cannot remember an educated, skilled, or semi-skilled person being unemployed in the province." After the revolution, however, many investors fled and transferred their assets overseas. The previously successful textile factories could not compete against smuggled or otherwise cheap imports. Jamaati said that the quality of management fell, too, and people were no longer chosen on the basis of their skills and management abilities. Privatization did not work as a solution, and it led to corruption.

Lahijan and Siahkal parliamentary representative Iraj Nadimi complained that the province is afflicted by a lack of investment, according to the 21 July "Gilan-i Imruz." He said that after the revolution, the new leadership saw Gilan as being overdeveloped, and the new leadership's "so-called vision of social justice and equality" led to an emphasis on other parts of the country. Hard currency, Nadimi said, has been spent on investment in provinces such as Isfahan and Kerman. Nadimi also complained that many of the provincial industries' managers do not even live in the province, so they are indifferent to development there.

Provincial Governor-General Masud Soltanifar discussed the quality of the new managers in the 27 July "Gilan-i Imruz." He complained that these managers try to deal with marketing and commerce instead of concentrating on production. He went on to say that marketing and commerce is where many of the factories have difficulties, and they cannot sell their goods inside or outside the country.

A column in the 28 July "Gilan-i Imruz" took to task visiting Minister of Industries and Mines Ishaq Jahangiri for the state of industry in Gilan Province. The industries did not get enough credit at the banks and they were not economically viable, their products were overpriced for the market, and they also employed too many people. Managers resorted to cutting the work force. The column also said that the agricultural sector was given priority over the industrial sector after the revolution, so provincial industries fell further behind. Although the building of dams all over the country was part of the new emphasis on agriculture, no new dams were built in Gilan despite the existence of several rivers there. Even the dam on the Sefid Rud River was neglected, so "the hardworking Gilani farmer still has to stare at the sky and put his hope in the generosity of the heavens for his annual rain."

Parliamentarian Jamaati said that Gilan currently has the third-highest unemployment rate in the country, that he expects the national unemployment rate to climb to 18 percent in two years, and that he expects unemployment in Gilan to be "much higher than 18 percent" by that time.

Several solutions to the province's economic difficulties have been proposed. Soltanifar said in the 27 July "Gilan-i Imruz" that there is an effort under way to attract technological and electronics businesses. He said that the Ministry of Industries and Mines will select a few provinces for such projects, and "We have seriously requested that the province of Gilan be considered." Lahijan and Siahkal parliamentary representative Nadimi proposed an emphasis on tourism.

Gilan Province is developing economic links with its northern neighbors. Soltanifar met with a representative of the Iran-Russia Joint Chamber of Commerce, "Juybar" reported on 3 August, and he said that a committee has been established to handle economic and commercial affairs between Gilan Province and Russia's Astrakhan Oblast. Soltanifar said that by expanding its presence in Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Russia, Gilan could serve as a bridge between Iran and the Commonwealth of Independent States. And on 8 September, Astrakhan and the port of Bandar Anzali in Gilan signed a memorandum of understanding that would facilitate the shipment of wheat, IRNA reported. Hadi Haqshenas, the managing director of Gilan's Ports and Shipping Department, said that Bandar Anzali can handle 12 freight vessels simultaneously, and 60-70 vessels use the harbor every month. Moreover, a one-week Russian trade fair was held in Rasht from 7-13 September.

The people of Gilan Province are interested in more than earning a living; they are involved in politics, too. A meeting of the province's political parties and groups was held on 3 August, "Gilan-i Imruz" reported the next day, and the participants in the meeting discussed the establishment of a "house of parties" in the province. And on 5 August, "Gilan-i Imruz" condemned the temporary ban on the province's "Khazar" newspaper.

President Khatami indicated his awareness of local concerns. On arriving at the Rasht airport, he announced that he wanted to see the problems firsthand and also that he would inaugurate some 500 development projects in the province, IRNA reported. He later spoke at the city of Someh Sara, described the potential for a lumber industry, agriculture, and tourism, and he invited people to invest in the city. Khatami also described his office's allocation of funds to build a gymnasium there. During a speech in Rasht, Khatami said that other projects are under way in the province, including the Qazvin-Rasht freeway, the Rasht-Qazvin railway line, dam building, and a "crash job-creation program."

Khatami termed the border city of Astara a tourist center that also has potential for agricultural and industrial activities, IRNA reported on 1 October. He said that the government has allocated credit to construct a water-storage facility, a women's sports complex, and playgrounds in the city. In Bandar Anzali the same day, he said that the government would review a plan to create a free-trade zone there, and he discussed the creation of an urban sewage network there. (Bill Samii)

POLL ON U.S. RELATIONS CAUSES CONTROVERSY. A recent poll on Iran-U.S. relations has caused some controversy in the Islamic Republic. Behruz Geranpayeh, head of the Islamic Culture and Guidance Ministry's National Institute for Research Studies and Opinion Polls, said on 1 October that Judge Said Mortazavi of Public Court No. 1,410 ordered the closure of the polling organization, IRNA reported. And Abdullah Nasseri, the managing director of the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA), appeared before Judge Mortazavi on 30 September to face a complaint from the public prosecutor. Nasseri rejected reports that the poll was faked. State television had reported on 24 September that IRNA's Public Relations Office issued a statement apologizing for the dissemination of a report on the poll's results, and it apologized to the University Jihad and two research establishments to which it attributed the poll.

IRNA published the poll results on 22 September. According to that report, 74.7 percent of Tehran citizens aged above 15 years favored negotiations with the United States, and 17.5 percent opposed negotiations. Of those surveyed, 64.5 percent favored the resumption of Iran-U.S. talks and 24 percent opposed it; 60.3 percent said that economic relations could not improve without diplomatic ties. Another 26.1 percent said that U.S. policy on Iran is wrong, while 13.1 percent said Iran's policy toward the United States is wrong. Furthermore, 74.7 percent said that dialog with the United States should be pursued when it can deter threats and animosity. Such talks would not humiliate Iran, in the opinion of 68.5 percent of those polled. And a large majority, 79.1 percent, favored such a dialog even in the absence of formal Iran-U.S. relations.

Public opinion about the U.S. government was not very favorable. Of those surveyed, 70.4 percent see the "U.S. administration" as unreliable, while 62 percent believe that the U.S. government's antiterrorism campaign is insincere, and 65.6 percent believe that Washington is not sincere about defending democracy and freedom. Moreover, 55.8 percent do not think that Washington is "striving for the economic prosperity of other countries." (Bill Samii)

U.K. AND U.S. CRITICIZE RELIGIOUS FREEDOM IN IRAN. The United Kingdom's Foreign and Commonwealth Office on 26 September released its annual human rights report, which noted the U.K.'s continuing concern about the treatment of religious minorities in Iran. It said that Bahais, who are not recognized by the constitution, suffer harassment in education, employment, housing, and travel, but none are now sentenced to death.

A more critical assessment of the situation in Iran came from the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. It said in a 30 September letter to U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell that it had reviewed evidence of "particularly severe violations of religious freedom by countries whose governments have engaged in or tolerated such systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom," and it recommended that he identify Iran and eleven other states -- Burma, China, India, Iraq, Laos, North Korea, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Turkmenistan, and Vietnam -- as countries of particular concern.

The report on Iran ( states that: "Minority religious groups that are not officially recognized by the state and those perceived to be attempting to convert Muslims suffer particular repression. Civil and human rights apply on the basis of one's religious affiliation, and only to those groups officially recognized by the government as legitimate." Iran's 300,000 to 350,000 Bahais are seen as heretics, according to the report. The authorities have killed more than 200 Bahai leaders since 1979 and dismissed more than 10,000 Bahais from government and university jobs. The government also does not permit Bahais to have a place of worship or schools, it does not recognize their marriages and divorces, and it denies them government jobs, pensions, and inheritance rights.

Though Christians, Jews, and Zoroastrians are recognized minorities under the Iranian Constitution, they still suffer legal and official discrimination. Women suffer because the government monopolizes and enforces the official interpretation of Islam, thereby limiting "their right to freedom of movement, association, and religion, and freedom from coercion."

Professor Joseph Esposito of Georgetown University, director of the Washington-based Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding, said in an interview with RFE/RL that the timing of the religious freedom report is problematic. "I think that it's a very difficult situation under normal conditions. I think it's complicated today by the current perception of the United States at times in its waging of its war against global terrorism, the perception of the U.S. -- not just in the Muslim world but also in many other parts of the world, including Europe -- as being rather arrogant and imperial to begin with," Esposito said.

The State Department must balance U.S. strategic interests with the commission's recommendations. Esposito noted that under these conditions, the United States must have two standards: one for countries of which it disapproves and another for countries that it needs. "The United States deals with many countries. And some countries it feels very free to be very clear and critical about. And [in] other countries, we wind up subordinating the very principles that we will press in another country. We will subordinate with specific allies. That again leaves the United States open to the charge that it has a double standard," Esposito said. (Bill Samii)

YEREVAN'S 'COMPLEMENTARY' APPROACH ANGERS TEHRAN. Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian defended Yerevan-Tehran relations in a 19 September speech at Yale University's conference on "The Silk Road in the 21st Century," and in a 28 September speech, he said that his country would strengthen its security relationship with the United States. Iranian Ambassador to Armenia has suggested that this approach is unacceptable, and he implied that Yerevan should strengthen its security ties with Tehran.

Oskanian said in his 19 September speech that the common border with Iran provides Armenia with options, and "By experience and necessity, our engagement with Iran is not and cannot be superficial and on-and-off again." This does not mean that the relationship is a threat to anybody, Oskanian said, and it is not even very significant in terms of trade. He described it as the cooperation of two neighbors who are trying to avoid different forms of isolation, and he said that they serve as bridges to the rest of the world. Oskanian suggested that Armenia could serve as a channel for Iran-U.S. dialog, and its ability to engage Iran could facilitate regional cooperation and stability. He rejected the proposition that Yerevan must choose one side or the other.

Oskanian took a different tone when he described Armenia's foreign-policy priorities during a 28 September speech in Yerevan, according to RFE/RL's Emil Danielyan. Oskanian reaffirmed Armenia's intention to boost security ties with the United States and other Western powers. Armenia opened its airspace to the U.S. military shortly after the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks, and Oskanian said that U.S. military aircraft heading for Central Asia have flown over Armenian territory more than 600 times over the past year. The United States allocated $4.3 million in military assistance to Armenia, according to Danielyan, and Congress is expected to earmark a similar amount of military aid for the next financial year.

Iranian Ambassador Mohammad Farhad Koleini publicly questioned Oskanian afterward. Koleini indicated that Armenia has neither the resources nor the international clout to pursue its "complementary" policy of maintaining good relations with the West, Russia, Iran, and other major powers.

Oskanian sought to reassure his Iranian questioner, according to Danielyan, by saying that Armenia would never take steps that could harm Iran. "We will not do anything in the region infringing on the interests of neighboring countries that are strategically important to us," Oskanian said, adding that Armenia would consider Iran's interests when selecting foreign contributors to any future Karabakh peacekeeping force.

In Yerevan on 2 October, Oskanian described Iran as the guarantor of stability in the disputed Karabakh region, IRNA reported the next day. (Bill Samii)

IRAN AND KUWAIT SIGN MEMORANDUM ON MILITARY COOPERATION. Kuwaiti Deputy Prime Minister and Defense Minister Sheikh Jabir Mubarak al-Hamad al-Sabah and Iranian Minister of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics (MODAFL) Admiral Ali Shamkhani on 2 October in Tehran signed a memorandum of understanding on military cooperation. Shamkhani said, according to Iranian state television, that, "The memorandum of understanding involves suitable training cooperation, exchange of experts, exchange of views on security issues, and God willing, exchange of hardware." According to the Kuwaiti official, as reported by his country's news agency, KUNA, "the memo of understanding derives from the two countries' keenness to achieve security and stability in the area." He added, "this memo reflects the strong relations and trust between the two countries." He explained that the memorandum includes "articles dealing with exchange of experiences and information in the military field in addition to joint training." The signing came at the end of Sheikh Jabir Mubarak's four-day visit to Iran.

When he arrived in Tehran on 29 September, Sheikh Jabir Mubarak said that it is important to strengthen bilateral ties because the region is going through a sensitive period, according to KUNA, and he said that he was carrying a letter for President Khatami from the Kuwaiti emir, Sheikh Jabir al-Ahmad al-Jabir Al-Sabah. On 30 September, Sheikh Jabir Mubarak inspected the MODAFL's armored industries, according to IRNA, and was familiarized with Iranian activities in the design and production of "advanced armored equipment." He also watched armored units conduct maneuvers. (Bill Samii)

IRANIAN DELEGATION VISITS YEMEN... A delegation of Iranian officials headed by Parliament Speaker Hojatoleslam Mehdi Karrubi arrived in Sanaa on 28 September on the first leg of a three-country tour. Before leaving Tehran, Karrubi said that the delegation's topics of interest included improvements in bilateral relations, regional affairs, and the situation in Palestine, according to state television.

Karrubi met with his Yemeni counterpart Sheikh Abdullah Bin-Hussein al-Ahmar on 29 September, and according to IRNA, Sheikh Abdullah said that Iran's approach on the Palestinian issue is the best of any country's.

Karrubi met with Prime Minister Abd-al-Qadir Ba-Jammal on 30 September to discuss bilateral cooperation in different fields, according to the Saba news agency. They also discussed events in the occupied territories, in Iraq, and in Afghanistan, and they criticized "foreign intervention."

On the same day, Karrubi and his delegation met with President Ali Abdullah Salih. Salih told them, according to Saba, "People of the Islamic nation must band together to face common threats." (Bill Samii)

...ALGERIA... Karrubi and his delegation went to Algiers from Sanaa in order to "expand and strengthen special parliamentary ties," according to IRNA on 1 October. Karrubi said, according to Algiers radio on 1 October, that the trip would be an opportunity to discuss bilateral relations, international and Islamic issues, and the Palestinian issue. He was scheduled to meet with President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, Prime Minister Ali Benflis, Speaker of the Council of Nations (upper house) Abdelkader Bensalah, and Foreign Minister Abdelaziz Belkhadem.

In his meeting with Bouteflika, Karrubi called for greater political, economic, and cultural cooperation. They discussed cooperation in the context of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, the Islamic Parliamentary Union conference, and the Interparliamentary Union, and also cooperation within the framework of oil-exporting countries.

When he met with Algerian Speaker of the National People's Assembly (lower house) Karim Younes, Karrubi said that "America's dual approach toward the issue of human rights is completely evident in the White House's support for the criminal Zionist regime," Iranian state television reported on 3 October. Younes later described their talks in an interview with Algerian radio. He said, "we agreed that the U.S. objective is to control and dominate the region's resources, and that the pretext of Iraq or Palestine is only aimed at foiling the dynamic of development in the region and at intimidating the countries in the region in order to seize all the oil wells and also control the gas."

Karrubi described Tehran-Algiers relations positively, saying, "We assess these relations as being very good. As we have already said, there was a break for a while and we all suffered from that break. But now the relations are moving at a good pace." (Bill Samii)

...AND SUDAN. The Iranian delegation arrived in Khartoum on 4 October. Karrubi met with his Sudanese counterpart Ahmad Ibrahim al-Taher, and they discussed the Palestinian issue, IRNA reported on 5 October. Al-Taher said that Sudan is providing support for the Palestinian intifada. Sudanese First Vice President Ali Osman Muhammad Taha also met with Karrubi. The Suna news agency reported on 30 September that the signing of a memorandum of understanding is scheduled, and on 6 October, Sudan television reported that a parliamentary memorandum of understanding was signed by the visiting Iranians and their Sudanese hosts.

Iran and Sudan signed another memorandum of understanding on customs cooperation on 30 September, according to IRNA. Iranian Customs Administration chief Masud Karbasian added that a protocol for customs cooperation was also finalized and that it would be enforced pending ratification by the Sudanese and Iranian legislatures.

Karbasian's Sudanese counterpart Salaheddin Ahmad al-Sheikh said that he hoped for an expansion in trade between the two countries and added that Iranian goods such as machinery, electrical goods, cars, and tires are already available in Sudan. Al-Sheikh described his country's potential in the export of sugar, livestock, and oil seeds. (Bill Samii)

KHARRAZI ALMOST DISCUSSES TERRORISM. Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi gave interviews to several major U.S. publications during his September trip to New York to attend the United Nations General Assembly session, and in these interviews, he voiced surprise at allegations of Iranian involvement in terrorism.

Kharrazi sounded the oft-heard plaint that the White House lost the chance to improve relations with Tehran when President George W. Bush included Iran in his 29 January "axis-of-evil" address. "Everyone was shocked," Kharrazi said in the 19 September issue of "USA Today," and when interviewer Barbara Slavin informed him that the discovery of Iranian-supplied weapons aboard the ship "Karine A" had disturbed the White House, Kharrazi responded that, "The 'Karine A' story was never substantiated," and "I imagine this is a plot fabricated by Israel. The source of all of this information was from Israel."

Kharrazi did not deny that Iran supports Lebanese Hizballah, which the State Department identifies as a terrorist organization. "So you back a terrorist group against Israel," interviewer Lally Weymouth asked him in the 21 September "Newsweek" and the same day's "The Washington Post," to which he responded that Hizballah is a legitimate party that fights against occupation. Asked if Iran supports "suicide bombings," Kharrazi said, "I don't like these sorts of questions," and he warned, "this is not the way to interview. If you have any meaningful questions, I will let you ask [them]."

In his interviews with "USA Today" and "The Washington Post," and also in one that appeared in the 19 September "Los Angeles Times," Kharrazi emphasized that Washington lost a golden opportunity to develop better relations with Tehran. Washington has made it clear that it recognizes Iran's importance, but the very topics that Kharrazi is reluctant to discuss are ones that cannot be avoided.

The U.S. National Security Council's senior director for Southwest Asia, the Near East, and North Africa, Zalmay Khalilzad, said in a 2 August speech in Washington that Iran's sponsorship of terrorism was one of the "destructive and unacceptable" aspects of its behavior. Khalilzad also noted that Iran and the United States have some common interests, but the terrorism issue stood in the way of going forward. "It is time for Iran to give up terror as an instrument of policy," Khalilzad advised. (Bill Samii)

CZECH TROOPS GOING TO AFGHANISTAN. "Jane's Defense Weekly" on 9 October cited a 26 September announcement by the Czech Ministry of Defense that 12 members of the Czech Army's counterterrorism unit are to be deployed in Afghanistan in January 2003. U.S. and British personnel who already have experience in Afghanistan are currently training the Czech troops. According to the report, this would be the first time since World War II that Czech soldiers are sent overseas for combat duty. (Bill Samii)

U.S.-AFGHANISTAN RADIO AGREEMENT SIGNED IN WASHINGTON. Afghan Minister of Information and Culture Seyyed Makhdoom Raheen and U.S. Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) Chairman Kenneth Tomlinson on 3 October signed the U.S.-Afghanistan Radio Agreement. The agreement calls for the BBG to install two high-powered, 400-kilowatt, medium-wave (AM) transmitters that will have nationwide reach across Afghanistan. Radio TV Afghanistan, operated by the Afghan government, will use one transmitter. The Afghan Radio Network Initiative, the joint 24-hour service of Voice of America (VOA) and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, will use the second transmitter. The $10.2 million project includes construction, transportation, and installation of equipment and is expected to take about six months. The BBG will also install FM transmitters in up to five places, including Kabul, Kandahar, Mazar-i-Sharif, and Herat.

The BBG's objective is to assist Afghanistan in establishing a national radio network by providing and installing a large AM transmitter and related equipment at the Pol-i-Charkhi site outside Kabul, as well as FM equipment. The BBG is also seeking to provide the people of Afghanistan with accurate, up-to-date news and information about the United States and the world by broadcasting 24 hours a day, seven days a week in Dari and Pashtu.

The Afghan Radio Network Initiative combines the VOA and RFE/RL streams into a complementary, around-the-clock package of Dari and Pashto programs that include hourly news and information from around the world and feature reports on issues such as health, education, women's rights, and economic reconstruction. There are also call-in shows and music programs. VOA-TV ships tapes in Dari and Pashto to Radio TV Afghan in Kabul every week. International broadcasters from the United States have trained more than 50 Afghan journalists.