Accessibility links

Iran Report: October 1, 2001

1 October 2001, Volume 4, Number 37

IRAN WILL NOT ASSIST 'AMERICA AND ITS ALLIES.' "We shall not offer any assistance to America and its allies in their attack on Afghanistan," Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said in a 26 September speech that was broadcast on state radio and television. As the crowd chanted "Death to America," Iran's top political and religious figure asked how the U.S. could seek Iranian assistance in attacking Afghanistan, when "You are the ones who have always inflicted blows on Iran's interests."

According to Khamenei, the U.S. wants to establish itself in Central Asia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the subcontinent under the pretext of establishing security. The U.S. also intends to "settle scores with anyone who defended the oppressed people of Palestine." Khamenei said that U.S. government comments about the terrorist attacks were "very arrogant and pretentious." Many who side with the U.S. "are more dangerous than the entire terrorists of the world," he said, adding, "The most stubborn and evil terrorists are on your side right now."

Khamenei's terminology is somewhat extreme, but it seems to reflect elite and popular sentiments in the country. President Mohammad Khatami on 26 September said that U.S. President George W. Bush is "arrogant" for thinking that he can "distinguish between good and bad on his own," according to IRNA. Three days earlier, the Association of Lecturers of Qom Seminary issued a statement which said that the "American government has a mean record in supporting state and non-state terrorism," according to state television. The statement called on the international community to prevent Washington from "unleashing its anger on the Muslim population of Afghanistan."

Moreover, a poll of 550 Tehran residents aged between 18 and 65 found that 83.1 percent of them oppose any U.S. attack on Afghanistan, while only 8 percent favored one. 50.5 percent said that said that the best position for Iran is to disagree with a military action, and 42.9 percent opted for Iranian neutrality, IRNA reported on 23 September. And as "thousands of worshippers" marched in Tehran on 28 September, they stressed that "Iran will not take part in any international attack led by the United States," IRNA reported.

On the one hand, Khamenei's stand seems to eliminate any hope of Iranian participation in a global antiterrorism coalition. President Bush had made it clear that "this is the time for nations to choose about whether they are with the United States and the free world in the war against terrorism or they are not," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer explained on 26 September.

On the other hand, Turkish Foreign Ministry Special Coordinator on Afghanistan Aydemir Erman recently met with his Iranian counterpart, Mohammad Ibrahim Taherian, and he proposed that the two countries share intelligence, "Turkish Daily News" reported on 27 September. Erman then flew to the U.S. to join Foreign Minister Ismail Cem, who met with U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov, furthermore, said that Iran may get involved with antiterrorist operations in Afghanistan, and Moscow and Tehran will find a common ground on this issue. He said that Defense Minister Ali Shamkhani's forthcoming visit to Moscow would be an opportunity to discuss the subject, Moscow's Agentstvo Voyennykh Novostei reported on 26 September.

Tehran has been resisting pressure from Western states and U.S. allies to support the antiterrorism coalition. Japan may have the greatest success in trying to mediate between Tehran and Washington over the antiterrorism effort. Former Japanese Foreign Minister Masahiko Komura is expected in Tehran on 2 October, and he will relay a message from Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi to President Khatami. According to dpa, President Bush asked Tokyo to tell Tehran that cooperation would lead to economic benefits.

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw left Tehran on 25 September after meeting with President Khatami and Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi. Khatami told his visitor that Iran would not accept the U.S. definition of terrorism and he wanted the UN to judge the issue.

A European Union delegation turned up next. The delegation's leader, Belgian Foreign Minister Louis Michel, explained the purpose of the trip on 25 September: "We want to explore with our Iranian partners what specific concrete actions could be taken to fight this effectively and pursue those who take part in terrorism and those who finance and those who harbor them." EU foreign policy and security chief Javier Solana added: "The fight and the combat against terrorism has to be done internationally and therefore the cooperation from an important country such as Iran is fundamental -- fundamental to preventing the financing of these groups (from) continuing. It is very fundamental so that the intelligence is shared, information is shared. It is also important that the weapons will not arrive to these groups whose objective is to produce terror."

German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder on 26 September telephoned Khatami to exchange views on the terrorist attacks in the U.S. and other related developments, according to IRNA. Khatami condemned the terrorist attacks in the U.S., as he did on 11 September, and he criticized "some dirty and satanic circles which try to take advantage of the incident to show Islam in confrontation with the West." Khatami also said that "the legitimate defense of the oppressed people of Palestine should not be linked with terrorist attacks." (Bill Samii)

DEFINING TERRORISM HINDERS INTERNATIONAL APPROACH. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is not inclined towards any anti-Taliban activities by the U.S., although he indicated in his 26 September speech that he approved of Iranian officials' willingness to help in a movement under UN auspices. "But there is one condition," he said, "and that is, the UN should not be influenced by America and other major powers." Other officials reiterated this theme in the following days. Expediency Council Chairman Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani said during the 28 September Friday Prayers sermon, "if America decides not to impose its own will...we are ready to join the antiterrorism coalition under the umbrella of the United Nations." Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi said on 30 September, "We are ready to cooperate under the auspices of the United Nations in an international effort to combat terrorism."

An absence of U.S. leadership in an antiterrorism coalition seems an unlikely eventuality, and it seems just as unlikely that the UN will agree on a definition of terrorism. The failure to agree on something so basic has long hindered international counter-terrorism efforts.

Six days after the attacks in the U.S., President Mohammad Khatami wrote in a letter to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan that Iran considered the UN the "suitable venue" for fighting terrorism. The next day, Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi said that "any coalition without the supervision of the United Nations cannot enjoy the support of other countries in the world," state television reported. Kharrazi ruled out military cooperation with the U.S. in an interview with "Der Spiegel," and said that an international initiative would be the only way to fight terrorism, IRNA reported on 22 September.

One day after the attacks, the UN Security Council passed a unanimous resolution that it was ready to "take all necessary steps" to respond to them. And since then the UN has moved with some haste. On 28 September the Security Council unanimously voted for Resolution 1373, which obliges member states to criminalize fund-raising for terrorist acts; freeze the assets of people who have committed terrorist acts; and "refrain from providing any form of support, including political or diplomatic, active or passive," to terrorists. Moreover, members states are obliged to "deny safe haven to those who finance, plan, support, or commit terrorist acts;" and they must ensure that terrorists are brought to justice and punished.

Resolution 1373, however, does not define terrorism. The failure to find a definition for "terrorism" and "terrorist groups" has long hindered international action.

The UN General Assembly established a Terrorism Prevention Branch in 1999 as part of its Office for Drug Control and Crime Prevention (ODCCP), and the UN has adopted 12 conventions and protocols on terrorism. But the member states still have not agreed on a definition of terrorism. A 1992 UN study suggested that the definition of terrorism should be based on the definition of a "war crime" � deliberate attacks on civilians, hostage takings, and the killing of prisoners. In other words, an act of terrorism is the peacetime equivalent of a war crime.

The U.S. Department of State, in its "Patterns of Global Terrorism -- 2000" report, also concedes that "[n]o one definition of terrorism has gained universal acceptance." Since 1983, the U.S. government has used the definition of terrorism contained in Title 22 of the United States Code, Section 2656f(d). It says that terrorism means "premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents, usually intended to influence an audience." This definition, furthermore, says that a "terrorist group" is one that practices, or has any subgroups that practice, "international terrorism" (which is defined as "terrorism involving citizens or the territory of more than one country").

Using this definition, the State Department accuses Iran of being the primary state sponsor of terrorism. Lebanese Hizballah, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Hamas, and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine -- General Command are listed as terrorist groups that Iran supports. The report mentions allegations by other countries about Iranian support for terrorist groups, too. The State Department's terrorism report says that the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) and the Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) "continued to be involved in the planning and the execution of terrorist acts and continued to support a variety of groups that use terrorism to pursue their goals."

Tehran neither apologizes for nor denies its support for these groups. Indeed, the IRGC is hosting a popular exhibition in Tehran right now which features displays by Hizballah, Hamas, and the PIJ, London's "The Times" reported on 28 September.

The Iranian response to allegations of supporting terrorism is fairly straightforward. Iranian officials say that supporting groups that are promoting a people's liberation and right of self-determination, whether in Lebanon or in Israel, is perfectly acceptable. Belgian Foreign Minister Louis Michel put it succinctly when he said, "The Iranians say that those groups are freedom fighters, we say that they are terrorists because they cause innocent victims," according to Brussels' "Le Soir" on 27 September.

Tehran's counter-accusation is that Washington supports Tel Aviv, and it is Israel that is repressing the Palestinian people and it is Israel that invaded and occupied Lebanon. This, for Tehran, is the definition of state terrorism. As Speaker of Parliament Hojatoleslam Mehdi Karrubi said on 27 September, the current Palestinian uprising is "a natural, legal, and firm reaction against the criminal actions of the occupying Israelis." He added that "the world's freedom-seekers today have hinged their hopes on this decisive struggle since they know that no alternative has been left for the Palestinian people except for the resistance and fight with the occupiers."

These differences suggest that Tehran and Washington are unlikely to ever see eye to eye on who is a terrorist. And similar differences suggest that an international agreement on this issue will not be forthcoming. UN spokesman Fred Eckhard acknowledged recently that past differences over the definition of terrorism and terrorist groups complicated efforts to create a counter-terrorism convention. He explained, "Some serious difficulties continue to exist on draft elements of the convention, including on the definition of terrorism, the relationship between the convention and other legal instruments that deal with terrorism, and the difference between terrorism and the right of people to self-determination."

Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani indicated his recognition of this dilemma during the Friday Prayers of 28 September. He asked, "What is the difference between a freedom fighter and aggressive terrorist.... The UN has to give a description for this which is acceptable to all of us and is done with a majority of votes." (Bill Samii)

AFGHAN OPIUM CULTIVATION COULD RESUME. The Taliban have told Afghan farmers that they can resume opium poppy cultivation if the country is attacked. The Taliban had banned opium cultivation in July 2000, and visits to Afghanistan by drug enforcement officials in February and May 2001 indicated that they were serious about this (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 12 March 2001 and 28 May 2001). Until the ban, Afghanistan produced three times more opium than all other areas of the world combined -- 3,700 tons of opium in 2000.

For Iran, the initial effect of the ban seemed to be increased opium prices that were matched by drops in the price and purity of street heroin. The existing opium stockpiles in Afghanistan were estimated to be sufficient for at least one more year, and Iranian state media produced on an almost daily basis reports about narcotics interdiction activities. Over time, however, the cultivation ban seemed to be having a real impact on Iran.

Antonio Mazzitelli, the UN Drug Control Program's chief in Tehran, told "RFE/RL Iran Report" on 25 September that seizure rates for opium. heroin, and morphine had dropped substantially in the 1 January - 31 July 2001 period, when compared to the same time frame in 2000.

Drug_____Seizures-2000 (kg)__Seizures-2001___Percentage Chg.

Heroin _______ 3,145 __________ 2,644 ________ (18.9 percent)
Morphine ____ 11,778 __________ 4,002 ________ (66 percent)
Opium ______ 109,738 _________ 51, 063 _______ (54 percent)
Hashish ______ 15,303 _________ 23,000 ________ 50 percent

Mazzitelli said that hashish has become more widely available in Iran, as other drugs become less common. On the Tajikistan-Afghanistan border, however, heroin seizures since the beginning of the year were more than double the amount confiscated in 2000, Russian officials told AFP on 16 September. A Western diplomat in Moscow told AFP that along the Afghan border heroin refining is on an "industrial scale."

The conditional reversal of the opium cultivation ban is being felt already, according to Bernard Frahi, the UNDCP chief in Islamabad. He told the 25 September "The Guardian" that opium prices had dropped and the value of stockpiles had fallen, too. If planting does resume, it probably would be from mid-October to late November/early December -- the traditional season.

It is difficult to predict the impact on Iran of the ban's elimination. Clearly, consumption habits had changed because of the ban, and if the availability of opium increases they could change again. Until now, well-equipped drug smugglers have engaged in pitched battles with Iranian security forces, and by employing a range of techniques they have bypassed the authorities and gotten the narcotics to market. In anticipation of U.S. military action against the Taliban, Tehran now claims to have taken steps that could hinder the smugglers. The Interior Ministry announced in mid-September that Iran would close its roughly 900 kilometers of border with Afghanistan for fear of a refugee influx, and it also described the deployment of security forces along the borders.

Moreover, Tehran's already intense efforts to generate foreign interest and support for its counter-narcotics activities may well increase if Afghan opium cultivation resumes. There were several international meetings to discuss counter-narcotics efforts in September and August. Iranian and European Union experts met in Brussels on 20 September to discuss the war on drugs and to call for expanded cooperation, IRNA reported. They also discussed cooperation between their law-enforcement agencies, information exchanges, and training. Australian Federal Police chief Richard Moses met with Iranian Anti-Narcotics Headquarters chief Mohammad Fallah in Tehran on 10 September, IRNA reported, and he described Australia's readiness to train Iranian counter-narcotics personnel.

A seven-man delegation led by Mohammad Javad Heshmati of the Anti-Narcotics Headquarters visited Finland in mid-August, Helsinki's "Helsingen Sanomat" reported. The Iranians said that they hope to benefit from Finland's ability to operate in international fora, and they said they would like training and technical advice. They learned about Russian-Finish border guard cooperation, operations of the customs and antinarcotics police, and treatment facilities.

Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi said that "since the consumers of the narcotics produced in Afghanistan are located in Europe, we are asking for European assistance in combating this phenomenon," Brussels' "Le Soir" reported on 11 September. This is something of an exaggeration: 40 percent of the drugs that enter Iran go to major trading centers for domestic consumption, and an estimated five tons of opium are consumed in Iran every day. (Bill Samii)

IRAN'S REFUGEE BURDEN INCREASING. British international development secretary Clare Short predicted that 400,000 Afghan refugees soon would arrive in Iran and a million would enter Pakistan, according to "The Guardian" on 20 September. Iran currently hosts some 1.4 million Afghan refugees at a cost of about $1 billion annually (according to the Interior Ministry), and Tehran is trying to prevent an increase in that burden.

Within days of the 11 September terrorist attacks in the U.S., Iranian officials announced the sealing of the border with Afghanistan to prevent an influx of refugees. Moreover, Iran has established camps in Afghanistan for people fleeing the fighting -- six camps along the border with Khorasan Province and two camps along the border with Sistan va Baluchistan Province, Interior Ministry official Mohammad Reza Rostami told IRNA on 23 September. Moreover, the Khorasan and Sistan va Baluchistan branches of the Red Crescent Society are on alert status, four medical stations are ready, and the medical teams of the Isfahan Red Crescent Society are prepared to assist wherever needed, IRNA reported on 22 September.

Some people do not think that the creation of these camps will be very helpful to Afghan refugees. Rachel Reilly, Refugee Policy Director at Human Rights Watch, complained that "past experience from Bosnia, Rwanda, and northern Iraq tells us that 'safe havens' have proved to be anything but safe." "Instead," Reilly advised, "any refugee camps established should be outside the territory of Afghanistan." She went on to explain that Afghans will have nowhere to go for protection, the withdrawal of international relief agencies from Afghanistan means that the people face a famine, and genuine asylum seekers may face prolonged detention or deportation. The World Food Program estimates that food supplies in Afghanistan are sufficient for two-three weeks.

The Afghans themselves do not seem convinced about the safety of the new camps. Yadollah Nasseri, a refugee who had just arrived in the southeastern city of Zahedan, said about 10,000 of his compatriots are waiting to get into Iran, IRNA reported on 23 September. Northern Alliance commander Abdulkarim Ayubi said in the 19 September "Entekhab" that some 5,000 refugees are heading towards Zabol because of the border closures.

Iranian officials are anything but enthusiastic about the arrival of more refugees. Zabol parliamentarian Qolam Hussein Aqai told "Entekhab" that Afghan emigration has been a continuous process, and some of them are bandits: "This has led to an increase in criminal activity and has promoted social insecurity." He predicted that smuggling would increase with the border closure. Sistan va Baluchistan Governor-General Mahmud Husseini complained that the province was particularly hard-hit by drought, ISNA reported on 21 September. The drought brought agriculture work and economic and employment opportunities to a halt: "Therefore, we have our own share of problems."

International actors are trying to assist the countries that will be directly affected by the refugee influx. British international development secretary Clare Short pledged an additional 25 million pounds in humanitarian aid. Deputy Interior Minister for Security Affairs Qolam Hussein Bolandian called on the UN High Commissioner for Refugees to plan emergency aid, IRNA reported on 18 September, and he said that the Interior Ministry exchanged views with international relief organizations. (Bill Samii)

IRANIAN ECONOMY FEELS IMPACT OF U.S. EVENTS. Deputy Commerce Minister Mohammad Nahavandian predicted on 23 September that the terrorist attacks in the United States would not have much of an impact on the Iranian economy, according to IRNA. The price of gold in the Tehran stock market rose sharply in late September, however, something which often occurs in times of economic uncertainty. Reports from Iran about hoarding immediately after the attacks in the U.S. and an overall rise in prices, furthermore, indicate that the economic impact of these attacks is being felt already.

Tehran-based economist Habibollah Chini told RFE/RL's Persian Service on 27 September that national economies are closely intertwined nowadays and there is a direct relationship between a commodity's price in one country and in another. It was almost inevitable, therefore, that the Iranian economy would be affected. Chini concurred that the Iranian and U.S. economies are not very closely linked due the lack of formal relations between the two countries, but he said that the use of the U.S. dollar for oil prices means there is a de facto relationship.

Chini predicted that Iran would not be affected very much if Afghanistan is attacked, because the two countries do not have diplomatic relations and because the borders have been sealed. He went on to say that pressure from refugees could change the situation.

Although Deputy Commerce Minister Nahavandian predicted that events in the U.S. would not have a direct effect on Iran, he acknowledged that there would be an indirect effect. He said that the slump in world trade that followed the 11 September terrorist attacks would lead to an overall decrease in demand for exports, and because most of Iran's international oil and gas transactions are conducted in dollars, the fall in the dollar's value would reduce Iranians' purchasing power. Nahavandian said that Iran is especially vulnerable because it has a single-product economy.

"Entekhab" daily assessed the immediate impact of the events in the U.S. in its 13 September issue. It said that fluctuations in the prices of basic commodities and the closure of European economic centers exposed the Iranian economy to tremendous losses. Gold, foreign exchange, oil, and the Tehran stock market all showed major fluctuations, and although the value of the rial compared to the U.S. dollar increased, trade in the dollar did not increase. (Bill Samii)

SIGNIFICANT NEW APPOINTMENTS. Minister of Islamic Culture and Guidance Hojatoleslam Ahmad Masjid Jamei appointed Abdullah Nasseri Taheri as the new head of the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA), according to a 24 September report. Taheri has a background in broadcasting, and he replaces Fereidun Verdinejad, who headed IRNA for 10 years. The next day, Kurdistan Province Governor-General Abdullah Ramazanzadeh was introduced as the new secretary of the presidential cabinet, "Tehran Times" reported on 27 September. Ramazanzadeh has been an outspoken supporter of President Mohammad Khatami. Moreover, Health Minister Masud Pezeshkian appointed former parliamentarian Mohammad Reza Rahchamani as head of the Welfare Organization; Rahchamani succeeds Gholamreza Ansari. (Bill Samii)

HOUSING OFFICIALS FACE HIGH DEMAND. The appointment of engineer Saidi-Kia as the new chief of the Islamic Revolution Housing Foundation was announced by the Islamic Students News Agency on 9 September, and it is clear that he and the minister of housing and urban development, Ali Abdol-Alizadeh, will be very busy for quite a while. This is because the demand for housing has increased as rural people have been displaced by drought and then by floods, and even before these events the Housing Ministry was being criticized in the press.

Iran's five most populous cities, according to a 1996 census, are Tehran (pop. 6,758,845), Mashhad (1,887,405), Isfahan (1,266,072), Tabriz (1,191,043), and Shiraz (1,053,025). The demand for housing in these cities, already high due to the large number of young Iranians who are eager to leave home, will continue to increase because provincial residents have been confronted by drought in many parts of the country.

Rahim Asfouri, the director of Zanjan Province's Agriculture Department, told IRNA on 20 September that this year's drought inflicted 800 billion rials worth of damage to the agriculture, livestock, and fisheries sectors. Water reserves behind the three dams that supply 60 percent of Tehran's drinking water are down by 80 percent, IRNA reported on 4 September. In Khorasan Province, water reserves behind the dams are down by 65 percent, IRNA reported on 3 September. In Isfahan Province, 40,000 villagers have migrated to various cities because of the drought, IRNA reported on 27 August. The Zayandeh River, which is the province's main irrigation artery, has shrunk by 70 percent. In Kashan, agriculture department director Abbas Naqdi said that drought damage has affected 40-100 percent of the wells and farmlands, IRNA reported on 26 August. Two hundred water management projects in Semnan Province are incomplete due to funding shortfalls, "Iran Daily" reported on 15 August. Drinking water supplies in 275 villages in Kermanshah Province have been disrupted, IRNA reported on 19 July, and 125 other villages in the province have severe shortages.

In contrast to the drought affecting much of Iran, tremendous floods hit parts of Gilan, Gulistan, Khorasan, Mazandaran, and Semnan provinces. Torrential rains in Mazandaran Province caused flooding that as of 20 September had destroyed 200 residential and commercial complexes, 85 rural roads, and 25 bridges, and furthermore killed 50,000 head of livestock and washed away 460 hectares of farmland, according to IRNA. Earlier floods destroyed 387 villages, IRNA reported on 26 August. In Damavand, Tehran Province, the combination of flooding and drought has caused 15 billion rials in damage, IRNA reported on 17 September, and the government has allocated 5.7 billion rials to compensate locals.

Flooding in Firuzkuh Province caused some 2.7 billion rials in damage to the agriculture and livestock sectors, IRNA reported on 15 September, and the drought had caused the same amount of damage. Flooding in Semnan caused about 10 billion rials in damage, including the destruction of 91 residential complexes worth 910 million rials, and electricity, gas, and water supplies were disrupted, IRNA reported on 8 September. Flooding in Gilan Province caused 37.5 billion rials in damage and harmed 30-60 percent of the residential and commercial complexes, IRNA reported on 4 September. In Gulistan, the floods inflicted some 300 billion rials in damage, according to IRNA.

The Czech Republic sent aid -- water disinfection supplies -- to the flood victims via the Iranian Red Crescent Society, IRNA reported on 10 September. At a 9 September cabinet meeting, President Mohammad Khatami ordered the provision of financial resources for rebuilding affected infrastructure and to create jobs. The cabinet also decided to extend 20 million rials in loans to Gulistan and Khorasan citizens so they could rebuild their homes.

Even before these difficulties arose, housing supply was not keeping up with demand. As a result, rent and prices were rising at a rate which in no way conformed with people's wages, according to the 29 July "Kar va Kargar." The cost of building, furthermore, had risen due to high taxes and construction costs and the increasing cost of construction supplies. Housing Minister Abdol-Alizadeh told the 23 July "Qods" that his ministry did not really think in terms of "housing," rather it thought in terms of "urban development." He went on to say that he was pleased with the housing sector's growth rate, 12 percent in 1999 and 20 percent in 2000. Ebrahim Asqarzadeh of the Tehran Municipal Council, on the other hand, was not so pleased. He described speculation by the Housing Ministry that drove up prices. The "Qods" writer also described private sector investment that is falling by 1 percent a year.

Abdol-Alizadeh met with his Chinese counterpart in Peking on 20 September, IRNA reported, and they reviewed cooperation in earthquake-related matters, house construction, subway lines, and export of decorative stones. They also signed an agreement to expand bilateral cooperation. Earlier in the month, Klaus Rollen Hagen, managing director of Germany's Association of Consultant Engineers, said that German firms are willing to participate in the Iranian housing industry. Hagen wondered, IRNA reported on 10 September, why Iranian companies ignored security standards against earthquakes. (Bill Samii)