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Iran Report: November 4, 2002

4 November 2002, Volume 5, Number 40

KHATAMI'S LEGISLATIVE PROPOSALS GAIN INITIAL APPROVAL. Government spokesman Abdullah Ramezanzadeh said on 30 October that the joint parliamentary committee tasked with reviewing two bills that would amend the election law and increase presidential powers has approved the legislation, IRNA reported. Mohsen Armin, the committee spokesman, said the previous day that the legislation did not contradict the constitution and could, in fact, have included more authority for the president, IRNA reported.

Armin went on to say that the bill dealing with presidential powers contained some ambiguities, for example, it does not deal with cases in which a judiciary official or even the chief of the judiciary has violated the constitution. The bill's outline will be turned over to the legislature's presiding board, which would in turn present it to the chamber. Once the deputies approve the outline, it would go back to the joint committee for a second debate.

Ahmad Safaifar, the government's director-general for parliamentary affairs, defended the legislation and said that it does not represent an attempt by the executive branch to broaden its mandate, according to the 29 October "Entekhab." Safaifar said that the president only wants to institutionalize the powers that have been entrusted to him by the constitution. Safaifar added that there have been many constitutional violations in the last year, such as "the judiciary's treatment of parliamentary deputies because of their speeches, the failure to respect the rights of the accused, and dealing with political cases without the presence of a jury." Safaifar concluded, "Mr. Khatami's prediction is that the bill will be approved decisively in the parliament and will also be approved by the Guardians Council."

The Expediency Council would adjudicate any irresolvable disputes between the Guardians Council and the parliament regarding the legislation. According to a report in the 21 October issue of "Iran," the Islamic Republic News Agency's newspaper, Khatami spent two hours discussing the two pieces of legislation with Expediency Council Chairman Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani. The daily did not know the outcome of the meeting.

One hint came from Expediency Council member Hojatoleslam Ali Akbar Nateq-Nuri, the former speaker of parliament, when he said at a meeting of clerics in Sari on 31 October that the two pieces of legislation are unnecessary, in light of the sensitive situation in the region. He added, "Under circumstances in which America is mischievous and believes Iran to be an axis of evil, proposing these bills will cause a crisis in the country." (Bill Samii)

CENTRALIZATION OF PENAL SYSTEM TO RESOLVE SHORTCOMINGS. Iranian prisons are facing many problems, particularly overcrowding and an absence of centralization and accountability. The Iranian legislature is trying to resolve the problems plaguing the penal system, starting with Tehran.

On 29 October, a fire broke out during what authorities described as an escape attempt in Qasr Prison, killing one inmate and injuring four others. IRNA reported the next day that the cellblock housing convicted murderers where the fire occurred held 1,000 inmates. Tehran Province Justice Department chief Abbas Ali Alizadeh called for the construction of new prisons in Tehran because the current facilities cannot accommodate all the new prisoners, "Entekhab" reported on 17 September, although he did not identify the source of the new convicts. Furthermore, a police official announced earlier that some of the 150-200 petty drug dealers and users who are arrested in Tehran every day must be released because of the shortage of prison space, IRNA reported on 27 June.

Iranian parliamentarians touring Iranian prisons in autumn and winter 2000 learned that there are many detention facilities that are not under the purview of the Prisons, Security, and Correction Organization (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 22 January 2001). Concerned about these unknown prisons, they began an investigation of this phenomenon and learned that the Law Enforcement Forces (LEF), LEF precincts, the Armed Forces Judicial Organization, the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC), the judiciary, and the Revolutionary courts all run separate penal facilities. In the case of Evin Prison, a section was reserved exclusively for the use of the Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS).

Tehran parliamentarian Ali Akbar Musavi-Khoeniha described the discovery of these unknown prisons in October 2000, and in a 19 October 2002 interview with the Iranian Students News Agency, he described what has been done to deal with this crisis in the penal system. Musavi-Khoeniha said that Minister of Intelligence and Security Ali Yunesi had ordered the closure of the Towhid Detention Center, which will be turned into a museum. MOIS prisoners now are held at Evin Prison. The Islamic Revolution Guards Corps' "59 Eshratabad" Detention Center will be closed as soon as its new facility at Evin Prison is ready. The army's Heshmatieh Prison at the Qasr Crossroads has been turned over to the Prisons Organization. Musavi-Khoeniha also said that changes are under way at the Vozara judicial center, where people accused of drinking alcohol or attending parties are taken.

The detention center at Shahid Motahari Avenue remains a problem, Musavi-Khoeniha said. The facility is clearly unsuitable, but nothing has been done to improve conditions. Nor is it clear who is responsible for the facility. Musavi-Khoeniha said it appears to be an interrogation center for the judiciary's Security Department.

According to Musavi-Khoeniha, the Law Enforcement Forces run a facility north of Eshratabad Garrison for drug offenders. The women's quarters there are not suitable, and the LEF acknowledges a lack of resources to move them. There also have been complaints about the women's facility at Evin.

Musavi-Khoeniha said that legislators intend to visit detention centers at police stations and the Criminal Investigation Headquarters. He expressed the hope that in the future detention centers run by the security departments of the LEF, Ministry of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics, and the army would be transferred to Evin Prison. Qasr Prison is being moved to the outskirts of southern Tehran, but transferring prisons to the city's periphery is being held up by lack of funds.

Hassan Zarezadeh, director of Tehran's society to defend political prisoners, told RFE/RL's Persian Service on 21 October that Musavi-Khoeniha did not discuss the detention center on Seoul Street that is used by a Tehran police unit called the Public Establishments Office. This is the facility to which many writers, journalists, and artists have been summoned for questioning in the last year. (Bill Samii)

IMPRISONED IRANIAN JEWS GET FURLOUGHS AND EARLY RELEASE. In July 2000, the Fars Province Revolutionary Court sentenced 13 Jews and four Muslims facing espionage charges -- 10 of the Jews and two of the Muslims received prison sentences, lashings, and cash fines. Three of these individuals -- Javid Ben Yaqub and Farzad Kashi, who were serving six-year sentences, and Shahrokh Paknahad, who was serving a five-year sentence -- were released from prison on 24 October. Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi said that the Jews who had been released, "had either served their [prison] terms or they were pardoned," according to state television on 28 October.

Fars Province Justice Department chief Hussein Ali Amiri said on the same day, according to IRNA, that the Iranian Jews "convicted of spying for the Zionist regime" have been on home leave for the last three weeks. Amiri explained that under Iranian prison regulations, any inmate could enjoy home leave if he appeared to have benefited from the punishment, and he confirmed that the Jews could be released on parole.

The parliamentary representative for the Jewish minority, Maurice Motamed, told RFE/RL's Persian Service that the eight Jews convicted in July 2000 of spying for Israel were allowed to leave jail on furlough during the past three weeks. He added that the Jewish community has asked the judiciary chief to parole the eight Jews who currently are on furlough, an act that requires the supreme leader's approval. The Jewish Telegraphic Agency on 30 October, on the other hand, reported that five of the Jews had not received a furlough. The five are Hamid Tefilin and Asher Zadmehr (13 years each), Nasser Levi Haim (11 years), Ramin Farzam (10 years), and Farhad Saleh (eight years). (Bill Samii)

STUDENT PRISONERS MAY BE RELEASED SOON. Tehran parliamentarian Ali Akbar Musavi-Khoeniha discussed several high-profile prisoners in a 19 October interview with the Iranian Students News Agency. He expressed the hope that Akbar and Manuchehr Mohammadi, Abbas Deldar, Mehrdad Lahrasbi, Javid Tehrani, and Ahmad Batebi -- all of whom were detained in relation to the July 1999 student unrest -- would be freed. There is resistance to freeing former Interior Minister and Tehran municipal council member Hojatoleslam Abdullah Nuri (although he was given leave to attend the funeral of his brother, parliamentarian Ali Reza Nuri, who died in an automobile accident in the last week of October), and the situation with Hojatoleslam Hassan Yussefi-Eshkevari is unclear. Musavi-Khoeniha also expressed concern about attorney Nasser Zarafshan, who represented the victims' families in the serial-murder trial and who was arrested in August. (Bill Samii)

TEHRAN ONLY WILLING TO TALK ABOUT HUMAN RIGHTS. Recent comments from Tehran about human rights in general and about anti-torture legislation in particular send contradictory signals on both issues. The way in which one construes these signals depends on one's interpretation of the Iranian government's sincerity and credibility.

Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi said at a 27 October joint news conference with visiting Swiss Foreign Minister Joseph Deiss that Tehran is willing to discuss human rights issues that concern European countries, Reuters reported, but it will not change its position. "Talks on human rights can promote better understanding of cultural and religious differences," Kharrazi added. The Swiss visitor expressed his country's opposition to stonings and hangings, but Kharrazi cited Islam and said such penalties could not be changed. Deiss also called on Iran to ratify international anti-torture conventions, Swiss Radio International's Swissinfo website reported on 27 October, and he expressed satisfaction with Tehran's progress on human rights.

Iran's willingness to discuss international conventions against torture is a sign of progress, Deiss said in an interview with Swissinfo that appeared on 28 October. "I think Iran is quite open to dialogue today and prepared to have these discussions [provided] they are conducted with mutual respect for each other's sovereignty. On our side, we have to take into account the situation of this country... [Swissinfo ellipsis] its will to be a religious state, and the influence of its own civilization."

Earlier in the year, the Iranian parliament debated anti-torture legislation. During the 8 May reading of the bill, various forms of torture in Iran were defined, and it was determined that confessions obtained under these conditions were invalid, IRNA reported. The legislation banned blindfolding of prisoners; nocturnal interrogations; sleep deprivation; psychological pressure; denial of food, water, and health care; and confinement of more than one prisoner in a solitary-confinement cell. The bill also banned putting pressure on an inmate's family members. Qazvin representative Nasser Qavimi said beforehand that Article 38 of the constitution bans torture, but the proposed legislation would define what constitutes torture, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 27 April.

The anti-torture legislation encountered opposition from the Guardians Council, which rejected the bill on 8 June on the basis of what it said were nine discrepancies with Islam and the constitution, IRNA reported. The Guardians Council rejected the parts of the bill that challenged a judge's authority.

Guardians Council member Ayatollah Mohammad Yazdi criticized the anti-torture bill in the 14 June Friday-prayers sermon as broadcast by Iranian state radio. Yazdi said that definitions of torture amount to a "value judgment" (ilhaq-i hokmi) rather than an "objective judgment" (ilhaq-i mozoi). Yazdi said the bill does not define torture, whereas, "We [the Guardians Council] say that any kind of torture, be it physical or psychological, is, first and foremost, forbidden from the religious point of view." Yazdi said the bill did not say whether the torture ban applies to individuals in "temporary incarceration." Yazdi described why it would be acceptable to prevent an individual from contacting family members: to avoid hatching plots, passing messages, or destroying evidence.

Gholam-Hussein Elham, who heads the Guardians Council Research Center, criticized the bill because it encouraged torture, "Noruz" reported on 26 May. Elham added, "The main problem with this law is that it refers to certain actions as torture but says it is not wrong to administer them." "According to this law, it is possible to administer torture, as defined by the first article of the law, on individuals accused of certain crimes such as participation in drug networks, armed activity against the system, kidnapping and hostage taking, spying for foreigners, and being a member of groups fighting the system." Elham also objected to a part of the bill that would permit prison inspections by a nine-member delegation representing the three branches of government, because such inspections would obstruct the judiciary's independence.

Four days after rejection of the anti-torture bill, Human Rights Watch (HRW) condemned the Guardians Council for rejecting it. An HRW statement said that the Guardians Council's decision is "contrary to Iran's obligations as a State Party to the United Nations Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment." HRW went on to say that the convention requires that "states take effective legislative measures to prevent torture" and also that they "ensure that all acts of torture are offences under its criminal law." (Bill Samii)

SWISS MAKE DEALS IN TEHRAN. During his visit to Tehran in late October, Swiss Foreign Minister Deiss met with President Mohammad Khatami and invited him to make an official visit to Switzerland in 2003. Deiss also signed a double-taxation-avoidance agreement with Minister of Economic Affairs and Finance Tahmasb Mazaheri. Swissinfo reported on 28 October that the main object of Deiss's trip was to strengthen bilateral relations and that the two sides are working on a framework to achieve this end. A deal involving the Swiss firm Nestle is scheduled to start soon, Deiss said, and it will amount to a direct investment in Iran worth "tens of millions of dollars." (Bill Samii)

IRAN-EU TRADE TALKS POSTPONED. The Iran-EU negotiations on a Trade and Cooperation Agreement that were scheduled for 29 October in Brussels have been postponed until December because the European Union is demanding a political declaration that would mention political dialogue and counterterrorism, AFP reported on 29 October. AFP quoted an anonymous source as saying, "The Iranian side is not yet ready." Another version of events, as reported by IRNA on 30 October, is that "the Iranian official responsible for the political dialogue" had traveled to Spain with President Khatami. An anonymous spokesman for the Danish EU presidency said that the two sides are trying to settle on a new date. (Bill Samii)

IRANIAN OFFICIALS SIGN BUSINESS AGREEMENTS IN SPAIN. President Khatami, Foreign Minister Kharrazi, and Finance and Economic Affairs Minister Tahmasb Mazaheri arrived in Spain on 28 October for a three-day visit. (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 21 and 28 October 2002.) On the day that he arrived, Khatami went to the royal palace for a private dinner in order to avoid any, as IRNA delicately termed it, "political gaffes." King Juan Carlos advised his guest, according to the Spanish newspaper "ABC" on 30 October, that "it is only possible to guarantee lasting well-being and firmly rooted progress within a legal framework that protects the equality of citizens before the law, human rights, and basic freedoms, and that proscribes every kind of discrimination for reasons of gender, religion, or ethnic origin."

Before leaving for Madrid, Khatami said that the trip is important because Spain is "a bridge between Islamic and Western civilizations. is better positioned to participate in the dialogue of civilizations," according to Iranian state television. Khatami also noted that Spain is an important trading partner. Indeed, business was a major aspect of the trip.

Mazaheri on 28 October discussed expansion of economic ties with his Spanish counterpart Rodrigo Figaredo Rato. Specifically, according to IRNA, they spoke about agreements on investment, customs cooperation, tourism, and avoiding double taxation. Mazaheri also mentioned oil and gas as an area in which the two sides could cooperate.

The next day, according to Iranian state television, President Khatami and Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar signed four economic agreements that set the foundations for future cooperation on bilateral investments, investment guarantees, governmental affairs, tourism, and environmental affairs. Khatami encouraged more countries to invest in Iran, IRNA reported, saying, "Iran today is on the brink of massive economic, social, political, and cultural developments, and it welcomes cooperation of other countries for investment, [transfer] of technical know-how, and expansion of economic possibilities in Iran." On 30 October, Khatami inaugurated a joint economic gathering in which Spanish and Iranian traders, industrialists, union heads, and economic experts participated.

Khatami's supporters saw the visit as valuable. Mahmud Raufi of the Islamic Iran Participation Party told ISNA on 27 October, "If Iran is able to improve its ties with countries such as Spain, it will be able to use these relations for international bargaining." Raufi added that visits such as this could "change many negative and wrong impressions that European governments, and even some of their peoples, have toward Iranians and the achievements of the revolution." "Aftab" Managing Director Issa Saharkhiz told ISNA on 27 October that such trips could improve Iran-EU relations, and "The European Union modifies and thwarts the climate that is created by Washington." Saharkhiz said that Khatami's foreign-policy efforts have allayed many of the suspicions people had about Iran during Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani's presidency. (Bill Samii)

IRANIAN AND WESTERN NAVIES COOPERATE IN PERSIAN GULF. Iraq is allowed to sell oil only under the auspices of the United Nations oil-for-food program. In violation of the UN embargo, third-country-flagged ships take on oil in Iraq, and then they pass through Iranian territorial waters and bypass the Multinational Interdiction Force. This has been done with the cooperation of the Islamic Revolution Guards Navy, and it has earned Iran at least $500 million a year in "tolls" (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 18 September 2000). But now, the allied naval blockade against the smuggling of Iraqi oil is 80 to 90 percent effective thanks to help from Iranian naval forces.

CENTCOM commander General Tommy Franks referred to this situation during a 29 October press briefing, when he said that the interdiction efforts were "less effective when Iranian territorial waters were somewhat open to Iraqi smugglers to be able to come out of the Khor Abdullah or the Shatt-al-Arab, and then move through Iranian waters and so forth. The Iranians have taken a hard stand there now." Units from the IRGC and the regular Iranian Navy are helping now by "pushing smugglers out into international waters," according to the Australian Navy's Commodore Peter Sinclair as cited by the 29 October "New York Times." Once in international waters, the smugglers' ships can be stopped, boarded, and their cargos inspected.

It is not clear why the Iranian forces are helping now, and "The New York Times" speculated that the Iranian action is either the result of residual hostility from the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq war or because Iran does not want U.S. vessels to have a reason to venture into Iran's territorial waters. The former explanation seems unlikely, because in the past the IRGC profited from the smuggling.

This is not the first time that Iranian cooperation with the naval blockade has received U.S. praise. In March 2001, the commander of the U.S. fleet in the Persian Gulf noted Iranian cooperation, and in September 2000, the Pentagon praised Iranian cooperation with the Maritime Interdiction Force (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 26 March 2001 and 2 October 2000). (Bill Samii)

DUELING DEFENSE CHIEFS. Iranian Minister of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics (MODAFL) Admiral Ali Shamkhani told a 30 October meeting of the clerics assigned to the MODAFL's Politico-Ideological Organization that Iran could be a target in U.S. efforts to organize the region, ISNA reported. Shamkhani went on to say that a U.S. presence in Afghanistan and Iraq would challenge Iran. Shamkhani said, therefore, "We must raise the level of our national preparedness in the civil and military sectors for dealing with America, " and he continued: "Our assumptions must be based on the idea that America will attack us; hence, domestic cohesion and the avoidance of anything that leads to dissension is imperative. General preparedness must, therefore, be raised; everyone must sense that they are in danger."

Sounding much less panicky than his Iranian counterpart, U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said during a 30 October radio show in the United States: "I think Iran is an interesting place in the sense that there's a very small clique of clerics that are controlling that country, and the women and the young people don't agree with how it's being run.... The young people and the women and the people who believe in freedom will overthrow that cleric government, and it will fall in some way of its own weight." The 69-year old Rumsfeld predicted that this collapse would occur during his lifetime. Rumsfeld added that he saw no need for any military measures to topple the government.

The commander in chief of the Iranian armed forces, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said during the 29 October graduation ceremony at Imam Ali Army Academy that "the global arrogance" is using the "language of extortion and militarism," in IRNA's words, but this would fail. He added that, because the enemy recognizes that the military approach would fail, it plans to "target the religious beliefs of the Iranian nation."

Deputy Islamic Revolution Guards Corps commander Mohammad Baqer Zolqadr on 25 October spoke about the perceived U.S. threat to Iran, according to ISNA. He said that the United States is trying to create discord in the state apparatus and a rift between the people and the state in order to create the right conditions for military success. He also accused the United States of "trying to weaken the morale of our nation." (Bill Samii)

TEHRAN TO MARK OPPOSITION TO 'GLOBAL ARROGANCE.' On 4 November, Iran will commemorate the Day of Fighting Global Arrogance -- known elsewhere as the day in 1979 that so-called "students" seized the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and then held American personnel hostage for 444 days. According to Iranian state radio on 28 October, a ceremony will be held in front of the U.S. Embassy, which now is referred to as "the Nest of Spies." On 3 November, a conference was held there to review the policies of Father of the Revolution Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and his successor as supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, toward the United States. Other parts of Iran will host book fairs and photo exhibits dedicated to 4 November. The exhibition in Tehran features music with lyrics such as: "America, death to you. The blood of our youth is dripping from your nails," Reuters reported on 1 November. But Reuters went on to report that most Iranians are finding it hard to drum up the necessary enthusiasm for America bashing. One of the guides at the "Great Satan" exhibition in northern Tehran told the Reuters reporters, "We don't hate the Americans." (Bill Samii)

FECKLESS FUNDAMENTALIST FULMINATES IN VAIN. During his late-October trip to Spain, Iranian President Khatami took the opportunity to complain about the United States during a 29 October press conference and again that day during a speech at a Spanish university.

At the press conference, Khatami took exception with President George W. Bush's reference to Iran as a component of the "axis of evil" during his State of the Union address. Khatami said: "The axis of evil is where there is bullying. The axis of evil is where the land of others is occupied through the use of force. The axis of evil is where people want to impose their demands on the world by acting unilaterally. The axis of evil is where we do not approve of anyone except ourselves."

Khatami repeated his comparison of Osama bin Laden and President Bush -- the former said that anybody who is not with his side is an apostate, and the latter said that anybody who is not with his side is against it. The end result is the same, Khatami said: "This sort of rationale has, on the one hand, caused the most atrocious and horrendous kinds of terror in our era. On the other hand, under the pretext of opposing terrorism, the worst possible form of warlike conditions is being created in the world."

Khatami said that the United States has not reacted positively to Iranian goodwill gestures, the most recent of which was cooperation in Afghan affairs and the successful conclusion of the Bonn accord. Khatami objected to U.S. statements about Iranian support for terrorism, saying that they stem from the view that the most powerful person can impose his views on others.

In another apparent reference to the United States, Khatami told a gathering of "academics and intelligentsia" at Madrid's Complutense University on 29 October, "Don Quixotes of our time are in a ruthless terror fit; [they] are destroying people with their gargantuan war machine and putting global life, security, and peace [under] threat." He added: "Don Quixotes of our time do not see beyond themselves and want everything for their own interests, as well as their power and wealth. Thus, they divide the world into 'us' and 'them' in which 'they' must be eliminated," IRNA reported on 30 October. (Bill Samii)

QUESTIONS RAISED ABOUT IRAN-U.S. TRADE. U.S. government agencies have raised questions about the legality of some aspects of Iran-U.S. trade this year. Other aspects of the trade, such as the legally permissible business in foodstuffs, are booming.

The U.S. Treasury Department granted only six licenses for U.S. firms to do business related to Iran in the 1997-2000 period, "The New York Times" reported on 24 October, three of which went to Enron. On 2 October, the Treasury Department wrote to Enron and requested all records pertaining to transactions that took place under these licenses. Although these transactions were licensed, other business transactions involving Iran and U.S. goods have also raised questions.

Exhibitors at the International Police and Security Equipment show in Tehran said in the 28 February "Financial Times" that they represented a number of U.S. companies, and one said that his firm has purchased a lot of Western security equipment for use in Iran in the last 10 years. The U.S. sanctions had raised prices, he said. Sa-Iran, which is affiliated with Iran's Ministry of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics, displayed Motorola communications equipment, and a Sa-Iran exhibitor said, "We have resolved the problem of U.S. sanctions somehow."

The U.S. companies whose goods were on display at the exhibition, however, said that they were in compliance with U.S. sanctions regulations, the "Financial Times" reported on 1 March. A Motorola spokeswoman said that the company's equipment could not have been purchased directly, and she added: "We have no other evidence that other products are for sale in Iran. We don't sell directly to Iran or through our subsidiaries." Spokespeople with other firms whose goods were on display in Tehran -- face-recognition-systems maker Visionics, access-control-products manufacturer Apollo Security, and aerial-photograph and satellite-imagery supplier Space Imaging -- also claimed to comply with U.S. regulations.

BS & B of Houston and its London affiliate, Black, Sivalls, & Bryson, were fined nearly $1 million, according to a U.S. Commerce Department announcement as reported by AP in February. The fines were for exporting oil-field-processing equipment to Iran, and they were assessed after an investigation involving several U.S. federal agencies.

The trade in foodstuffs is not subject to sanctions, in accordance with an exemption approved by President Bill Clinton in 1999. Coca-Cola and Pepsi soon thereafter renewed ties with their Iranian partners, Khoshgavar and Neysan-i-Sharq, the "Financial Times" reported on 26 October. As a result, their sales in Iran have boomed at the same time as the soft-drink makers face a boycott in the Arab world. Coca-Cola officials are modest about their success in Iran, but careful research by the "Financial Times" reveals that Irish exports to Iran of "mixtures of odiferous substances for use in food/drink," mostly Coke concentrate made in Ireland, climbed to 57 tons in the first five months of 2002 from 18 tons in the whole of 2001. Moreover, restaurants with names like MashDonalds, McMashallah, and MaxBurger are enjoying a great deal of popularity in Iran. (Bill Samii)

TEHRAN DENIES PURCHASING AMERICAN RICE. Iranian Commerce Ministry spokesman Hashem Saidi on 27 October denied that his country recently purchased American rice, the "Tehran Times" reported on 28 October. "Neither the Iranian government nor the private sector have even placed an order for rice from the United States," Saidi said, adding, "Not only has the Islamic Republic not placed any orders for rice from the United States, but has not conducted any negotiations to that end with any corporation or agricultural entity in America." More than 80 percent of the rice consumed in Iran is domestically produced, and the rest is imported from India, Pakistan, Thailand, Vietnam, and Uruguay. Saidi added that Iran imported 250,000 tons of rice last year and that it would need less this year.

Saidi was reacting to a 23 October Reuters report about what it called the first American rice sale to Iran since 1995. Bill Reed, the spokesman for Riceland Foods Inc. had described the sale of high-quality long-grain rice valued at $1.4 million to a private Iranian company. Riceland President and CEO Richard Bell said that his firm has maintained a dialogue with Iranian rice importers and distributors for 25 years.

Thirty-eight percent of Iranian rice is grown in Gilan Province, Gilan Province Regional Water Organization Director Engineer Haqiqat said according to the 8 September "Gilan-i Imruz." Twenty-three thousand of the 400,000 hectares of land under cultivation are dedicated to rice, and rice cultivation accounts for 2.67 billion cubic meters of the 3.645 billion cubic meters of water used in the province. Over the last decade, provincial farmers have racked up a 30 billion-rial ($3.75 million at the market rate) debt for water, Haqiqat said, and if they paid up many of the regional water-delivery repair and maintenance problems could be solved. (Bill Samii)

OFFICIALS DISCUSS IRANIAN SEAFOOD EXPORTS. Hussein Nejad, managing director of Iran's Punel fishery company, told a 22 October seminar titled "The Seafood Market -- Opportunities and Challenges" that Iran produces just 3 percent of the global seafood output and a 0.2 percent share in seafood exports, IRNA reported. To improve the situation, Nejad recommended promoting Iranian seafood through better marketing and packaging, more low-interest loans, and a reduction of customs duties.

A little less than one year earlier, Agriculture Jihad Minister Mahmud Hojjati announced plans to increase seafood production capacity through comprehensive planning, IRNA reported on 13 November 2001. Hojjati said that Iran produces 400,000 tons of seafood from international waters and 70,000 tons of fish and shrimp from its domestic waters. (Bill Samii)

WATER FROM AFGHANISTAN REACHES IRAN. Water from the Helmand (Hirmand) River in Afghanistan reached Iran on 25 October, Iranian Energy Ministry official Hussein Ali Eshraki told AP on 28 October, "but the flow of water is so low that it can't revive the region's agriculture. It's only sufficient for drinking." Eshraki said that if the water level does not increase, it could not revive Sistan va Baluchistan Province's Lake Hamun. Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi on 28 October said that the water's arrival in Iran was a great success for the Islamic Republic, IRNA reported. IRNA described on 20 October a sandstorm in the provincial capital, Zabol, that reduced visibility to less than 100 meters. Provincial Roads and Transportation Organization Director Shamseddin Sargazi said, "The sandstorm, triggered by the drying up of Lake Hamun, had strongly affected the traffic on Zabol road, which bypasses the lake." Moreover, the provincial Meteorological Department reported that locals have been forced to wear masks as protection against the dust in the air. (Bill Samii)

TEHRAN'S TAKE ON THE MOSCOW HOSTAGE CRISIS. Iranian commentary on the hostage crisis at a Moscow theater that began on 23 October was relatively muted and generally supportive of the Russian government. This reflects Tehran's close ties with Moscow, its dependence on Moscow for military and nuclear development, its commercial interests, and its own concern about the destabilizing effect of ethnic sentiments among Iranian minorities. In overall terms, the Iranian approach reflects the emphasis on realpolitik over ideology in current Iranian foreign policy.

An early commentary from Iranian state radio on 24 October noted that military means could not resolve the crisis in Chechnya and that other methods are necessary after years of civil war. Later on 24 October, Iranian state radio commented that violence has not resolved any of the Chechnya-related issues, and it added, "harsh tactics over the problem of Chechnya will create more violence instead of solving the problem." Turning to the hostage takers' demand of a Russian withdrawal from Chechnya, Iranian state radio opined, "It does not seem likely that such a deep-rooted conflict can be resolved within a week." The only way to restore peace and stability in Chechnya, according to Tehran radio, is to hold talks and to maintain Russia's territorial integrity.

This official Iranian stance in support of Moscow and backing Russian territorial integrity can be traced to the outbreak of the current Chechen conflict in September 1999. Tehran condemned the activities of Russian troops in Chechnya that October, but after that it stayed relatively silent, pausing only to reaffirm its commitment to Russian territorial integrity. At that time, Iran headed the Organization of the Islamic Conference, and in December 1999 it led an OIC delegation to Moscow to discuss the conflict. Iranian Foreign Minister Kharrazi again said that the Chechnya issue is an internal Russian affair that concerns its territorial integrity.

Tehran maintained this position in spite of criticism from Islamic leaders in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and other countries. There was even criticism from religious leaders in Iran. Qom Friday-prayer leader Ayatollah Ebrahim Amini-Najafabadi, for example, said on 27 November 1999: "We are witnessing the onslaught of Moscow's Red Army on the Chechen Muslims. This is very distressing. Unfortunately, the Muslims are silent and the Organization of the Islamic Conference is not performing as it should."

The Iranian Constitution states that the Islamic Republic must direct all its resources to, among other things, "fraternal commitment to all Muslims and unsparing support to the freedom fighters of the world." In this vein, Tehran supports groups such as Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad that are violently opposed to Middle East peace. In the case of Chechnya, however, Tehran is unwilling to risk its relationship with Moscow in order to fulfill its constitutional imperative.

The relationship with Moscow is important to Tehran for a number of reasons. Russian firms are building the Bushehr nuclear-power station in the face of strong opposition from the United States. Indeed, on 22 October, a delegation from Iran's Atomic Energy Organization met in Moscow with Atomic Energy Minister Aleksandr Rumyantsev to discuss the possibility of amending a bilateral agreement on the return of spent nuclear fuel to Russia (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 28 October 2002).

Iran is also a market for Russian military products, including tanks, armored personnel carriers, self-propelled howitzers, jet fighters, and submarines. Moreover, assistance from Russia and other countries will remain "crucial to the success" of Iran's ballistic-missile-development program, according to a U.S. National Intelligence Council estimate titled "Foreign Missile Developments and the Ballistic Missile Threat Through 2015."

Tehran and Moscow have also shared interests in the energy field, which may now be expanding. Iranian Petroleum Minister Bijan Namdar-Zanganeh visited Moscow on 24 October to discuss a 10-year bilateral economic agreement. The Russian and Iranian sides also discussed expanding Russia's contacts with the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), of which it is not a member, and differences over the division of the Caspian Sea and its resources. Russian firms are also considering investments in Iran's South Pars natural-gas field in the Persian Gulf.

Tehran's repeated comments about the importance of Russia's territorial integrity reflect Iran's own problems with an ethnically diverse population. Iranian minorities -- Azeris in the northwest, Kurds in the west, Arabs in the south, Baluchis in the southeast, and Turkmen in the northeast -- have at different times expressed separatist or autonomous sentiments. It is no surprise, therefore, when President Khatami said in a 14 October speech about a potential conflict in Iraq that Tehran respects Iraq's territorial integrity, and the next day, Khatami discussed the Kurdish communities in Iraq, Iran, Syria, and Turkey. He said, according to Iranian state television: "We want the territorial integrity of all countries to be preserved...we oppose any intervention in any area on the basis of ethnicity and religion because this will only create discord and jeopardize the national security of various countries. It is for that reason that we support the territorial integrity and national unity of Iraq."

The degree of Iranian support for different Muslim communities reflects political realism, rather than ideological enthusiasm. Iranian parliamentarian Elahe Kulyai explained the stance on Chechnya in a 19 August speech about Iranian foreign policy. "We can support Muslims in a rational manner. Our lack of support for the Chechen Muslims against the Russians demonstrates our ability to understand and differentiate between our interests and the values that we defend. In different circumstances, we use different means to realize these values," Kulyai said. (Bill Samii)

HARD-LINE MEDIA BLAME CONSPIRACY FOR MOSCOW SIEGE. The Iranian government took a fairly subdued approach toward the 23-26 October hostage crisis at a Moscow theater (see above), but at least three of Iran's more hard-line newspapers felt less restrained.

A 27 October editorial by Heshmatollah Falahat-Pisheh in "Resalat," a conservative daily that is associated with traditional merchants and conservative clerics, asserted that over the past year, the Chechens were seen as the victims of collusion between President George W. Bush and President Vladimir Putin. The Moscow hostage crisis is connected with the October attack on a French oil tanker in Yemen, the bombing of a discotheque in Bali, and the attack on U.S. military personnel in Kuwait. "Without a doubt," according to the editorial, "America is the main responsible party for all this lack of order," and the White House will make use of the situation to advance its (unidentified) main strategy.

"Jomhuri-yi Islami" on 28 October editorialized about the "joint effort of American, European, and Zionist mass media" to capitalize on the Moscow siege, the bombing in Bali, and the serial snipings in the United States as part of a "wide and extensive assault against Islam and portraying Muslims as terrorists." The daily noted that the Chechens are likely to react to "injustice and oppression" at the Russians' hands, but it is "equally probable that the promoters of venomous propaganda and smear campaign against Islam, having taken advantage of the independent mood and separatist aspiration of Chechen militants, have stage managed the hostage-taking operation in Moscow."

"Kayhan International" on 28 October editorialized about speculation that the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency could have been behind the crisis in Moscow in order to test Russian President Vladimir Putin's nerves in combating terrorism and to test his reaction to domestic pressure. "Kayhan International" also advised the world to examine the root causes of terrorism rather than following other countries' definition of the phenomenon, and it advised Moscow to respect Chechens' aspirations, rather than saying that the Caucasus is part of the Russian Federation. (Bill Samii)

KYIV AND TEHRAN MAKE DEAL AT AIR SHOW. An international air show opened on Kish Island on 30 October. According to IRNA, 40 domestic and 12 foreign companies are participating in the five-day show. The foreign guests are from France, Germany, Indonesia, Italy, Pakistan, Slovakia, Switzerland, Ukraine, and the United Kingdom. Parliamentary speaker Hojatoleslam Mehdi Karrubi said at the opening ceremony that defense readiness is the most important factor in establishing peace and security. On 31 October Ukraine's Defense-Express website reported that Ukraine's Kharkiv state aviation manufacturing company and the Iranian HESA aircraft-building company signed a memorandum on sales and servicing of the An-140 aircraft, which is assembled in Ukraine and Iran. The memorandum follows on from President Khatami's visit to Ukraine in mid-October (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 21 October 2002). (Bill Samii)

NORWAY'S STATOIL VIOLATES ILSA. Statoil, the Norwegian state-controlled oil company, on 28 October signed a $330 million deal to develop phases 6, 7, and 8 of the South Pars natural-gas field. The three phases are expected to provide 85 million cubic meters of natural gas, "Iran News" reported on 29 October, and also to provide sour gas for injection into old oil fields.

Under the Iran-Libya Sanctions Act (ILSA), the United States could impose sanctions against companies that invest $20 million or more to help develop the Iranian energy sector, but Statoil spokesman Kai Nielsen said, according to AP on 28 October: "Statoil is a Norwegian company that operates under Norwegian law. And the Norwegian Foreign Ministry has encouraged investment in Iran." Statoil said that starting in 2004 it would receive profits from the first four years of the production of condensate and liquefied petroleum gases, according to AP.

Iranian National Oil Company geologist Hussein Nureddin-Musa said on 24 September that Statoil is not qualified to conduct studies on, and development of, Iran oil fields, according to IRNA. Statoil officials had asserted that Iranian oil fields had only a 20 percent recovery ratio, while Norwegian oil fields have a 60 percent recovery ratio. Nureddin-Musa accused Statoil of trying to use its technological superiority to gain financial advantage, and he also said that Statoil wants to weaken Iranian technical knowledge in the upstream sector. (Bill Samii)