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Iran Report: October 8, 2001

8 October 2001, Volume 4, Number 38

IRAN REACTS QUICKLY AND CRITICALLY TO THE ATTACKS. Tehran reacted almost immediately to the 7 October air strikes against targets in Afghanistan. "These attacks -- which have been launched regardless of the world public opinion, especially the Muslim nations, and will damage the innocent and oppressed Afghans -- are unacceptable," Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid-Reza Assefi told IRNA. Assefi also urged the U.S. to avoid violating Iranian airspace.

Anti-Taliban commander Abdul Rashid Dustum described the air strikes as they occurred in an interview with RFE/RL's Turkmen Service. He said: "The American planes started their strikes about one and half hours ago. They targeted the airbases of Mazar-i Sharif, Shibirghan, Kunduz, Herat, Kabul, Kandahar, [and] Jalalabad. The Radio Kabul and the Taliban's Ministry of Defense were hit. The morale of the Taliban is very low. The strikes are continuing." U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld provided additional details when he explained that American and British warships and submarines fired 50 missiles at targets in Afghanistan. They also attacked with 15 bombers and 25 fighter jets.

Nor is this just an American effort. A senior Pakistani official, who asked not to be named, told RFE/RL that his government was informed about the attack before it occurred and it had given permission for Pakistani airspace to be used for the raids. President George W. Bush added: "We are joined in this operation by our staunch friend Great Britain. Other close friends including Canada, Australia, Germany, and France have pledged forces as the operation unfolds. More than 40 countries in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia have granted air transit or landing rights. Many more have shared intelligence. We are supported by the collective will of the world."

Tehran's reaction to the attacks demonstrates its desire to have its cake and eat it too. On the one hand, the Iranian government will be happy to see the last of the Taliban because of the regional instability they cause. According to an anonymous Western diplomat who attended a special meeting organized by unnamed "high-ranking officials in the administration of President Mohammad Khatami," "They [the Iranians] said the Taliban and bin Laden are the same, don't try to make a distinction. It's a war against extremism." Moreover, "[t]hey said that if you fail, they will be heroes and it will be even worse than before, so don't leave the job unfinished like you did in Iraq," "The Washington Post" reported on 6 October.

On the other hand, Iranian officials continue to disparage the U.S. and accuse it of terrorism. According to a 7 October commentary on Iranian state radio, "Iran does not recognize the U.S. statesmen as qualified and honest enough to lead the global war against terror." A 6 October radio commentary said, "Under conditions when the American statesmen themselves are the number one supporters of terrorism, they exploit the subject of war against terrorism as a leverage aimed at exerting pressure on independent states." It went on to say that the U.S. is "not qualified" to lead the campaign against terrorism.

In a 5 October sermon that was broadcast by state television the next day, Assembly of Experts speaker Ayatollah Ali Meshkini said, "If a group of honest political scientists and economists sit down together and form a headquarters to count the number of crimes America has committed, then, undoubtedly, in the end, they will come to the conclusion that America is more of a terrorist than the rest of the world." The congregation in Qom interrupted the sermon several times by chanting: "Death to America," "Death to Israel," "Khamenei is our leader," and so on.

Attacks against the Taliban were expected, although the exact timing was not known. Abdullah Abdullah, the foreign minister of the Islamic State of Afghanistan (the United Front), told Iranian state radio on 7 October that "a U.S. attack on Afghanistan might start in the early hours of tomorrow, that is to say within less than 24 hours." Moreover, Pakistani President General Pervez Musharraf announced during the day on 7 October that he would address his nation on television the next day, prompting speculation that a military strike was imminent. (Bill Samii)

TEHRAN'S STANCE ON TERRORISM GAINS SUPPORT. Tehran's resistance to a U.S.-led antiterrorism coalition and its preference for a UN-led one have resonated among some Islamic countries. And although the UN adopted an antiterrorism resolution (no. 1373) on 28 September, Iran and many other countries are concerned with how "terrorism" will be defined when the General Assembly begins its debate in the first week of October. In light of the upcoming meeting of the Organization of the Islamic Conference on 9 October, Iranian officials are touring the region and meeting with their counterparts, and they also have telephoned those who are farther away.

Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi repeated his interest in seeing terrorism addressed by the UN during a 1 October interview with Al-Jazirah satellite television, and he added that all the members should define terrorism and ways to deal with it. Defense Minister Ali Shamkhani repeated this theme during his visit to Moscow, Interfax reported on 2 October. He said that Iran would support an operation to destroy terrorist bases in Afghanistan only if the international community favored it, but first one must define terrorism. Shamkhani added that "Israel is a university of terrorism, and one of the teachers of terrorism is Ariel Sharon."

Kharrazi went on to say that he hoped Islamic countries' foreign ministers would adopt a "united and coordinated stand" on "terrorism" at the upcoming OIC meeting. The next day, President Mohammad Khatami expressed this sentiment in a telephone conversation with Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammad, Xinhua reported.

Tehran radio noted on 1 October that the Security Council had just adopted an antiterrorism resolution without actually defining terrorism. This could lead to abuse or the creation of obstacles, the radio warned, which is why "it is imperative to present a precise definition of terrorism and to distinguish it from the honorable struggles that are taking place in the occupied territories within the framework of the right to legitimate defense."

The Iranian perspective was promoted by Kharrazi when he visited Lebanon, Syria, and Egypt. In Beirut he met with President Emil Lahud and Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, and afterwards Kharrazi said, "We regard Hizballah as a resistance group instead of a terrorist organization." He added that this is a view shared by the entire Islamic world, Xinhua reported on 29 September, and he expressed the hope that the OIC meeting would be the occasion to ask the Islamic world to contribute to the international fight against terrorism. Iranian Energy Minister Habibollah Bitaraf was in Beirut a few days later to discuss bilateral trade cooperation. Iran has made a multimillion-dollar package available to Lebanon for energy projects. Bitaraf also met with Hizballah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah.

President Lahud said a few days later that there must be a distinction between "terrorism and resistance aimed at liberating one's country," Beirut's "Daily Star" reported on 2 October. And Nasrallah warned that as long as "terrorism" has a "loose meaning," the U.S. will define it for its own ends, the "Daily Star" reported on 3 October. He called for coordination among Islamic states on defining terrorism and distinguishing it from "legitimate resistance." Sheikh Naim Qasim, Hizballah's deputy chief, accused the U.S. of using the terrorist attacks against it as a pretext for trying to impose its hegemony on the world, Beirut's "Al-Safir" reported on 3 October.

In Damascus, Kharrazi met with President Bashar al-Assad, Foreign Minister Faruq al-Shara, and Iranian Ambassador Hussein Sheikholeslam. On his arrival at the airport, Kharrazi said that Tehran would not participate in any U.S.-led antiterrorism coalition, and he called for international consensus and cooperation within the UN framework. Al-Shara added that all Islamic countries including Syria had an identical view on countering terrorism, particularly the "state terrorism practiced by Israel," according to Damascus radio, and they all support the "legitimate resistance movement" against Israel, IRNA reported on 29 September. Kharrazi said that the OIC meeting would be an opportunity for coordination.

After these meetings, a Syrian diplomatic delegation went to Beirut. There is little information about their meetings, but sources told the 2 October "Daily Star" that the two sides had "similar positions" on UN Resolution 1373. Specifically, they said that it did not define terrorism and was the result of "political extremism and bias."

Kharrazi met with President Hosni Mubarak and Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher in Cairo on 30 September and reiterated his views on terrorism. These discussions probably were more sensitive because of Egypt's diplomatic relations with Israel. Maher said that Iran and Egypt "share one viewpoint," Cairo's MENA news agency reported, but he did not identify that viewpoint. Kharrazi also met in Cairo with Arab League secretary Amr Musa. Musa was scheduled to tour several Persian Gulf states, including Qatar and Bahrain, afterwards. And the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, Sheikh Mohammad Tantawi, told Kharrazi that the terrorist attacks in the U.S. could not be approved by any divine religion and the culprits must be brought to justice, MENA reported.

Tehran is trying to influence Saudi Arabia's stance on the current crisis: President Khatami already telephoned Saudi Crown Prince Abdallah bin abd-al-Aziz. Riyadh's position has been hard to gauge; on the one hand its seems to oppose American actions against the Taliban, and on the other hand it is home to many American military units. Saudi Defense Minister Prince Sultan told Masahiko Komura, a special envoy of Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, that the international community and especially the UN Security Council should do more in response to the terrorist attacks against the U.S., Kyodo news agency reported on 2 October. Earlier, Prince Sultan said that Riyadh would not allow foreign soldiers to use Saudi territory in a war with Muslims.

Washington reportedly would like to use a military command center -- the Combined Air Operations Center at Prince Sultan Air Base near Riyadh -- to help coordinate air operations in the Afghan theater. Riyadh is sensitive to charges that it is permitting non-Muslims into the country -- this is seen as one reason why Osama bin Laden has targeted Americans -- and this may be why Washington and Riyadh are being coy about possible American use of the facility, which was built by the U.S. Air Force with joint financing from Saudi Arabia. U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld visited Saudi Arabia in the first week of October, but he did not reveal the results of his visit.

Iranian efforts to influence the antiterrorism issue are continuing. Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri will arrive in Tehran on 7 October, according to IRNA. Moreover, Supreme National Security Council secretary Hassan Rohani is scheduled to visit Saudi Arabia soon, London's "Al-Hayah" reported on 1 October. (Bill Samii)

EASTERN NEIGHBORS COMMENT ON IRANIAN STANCE. Tehran's approach to terrorism and its refusal to cooperate openly with the U.S. has gotten some attention from countries to its east.

Kabul's Voice of Sharia radio said on 27 September, "Esteemed Ali Khamenei, spiritual leader of Iran, strongly denounced the U.S. expansionist move in Central Asia, under the pretext of fighting terrorism." The Taliban radio station quoted approvingly from Khamenei's speech of the previous day in an effort to show how much international support Afghanistan's rulers have. The station also said that Indonesia would declare a religious war against the U.S. if it attacks Afghanistan.

Noting Khamenei's comments, Islamabad's "Ausaf" daily predicted on 27 September that Gulbudin Hekmatyar, an Afghan opposition commander who lives in Iran, would get closer to the Taliban, and if that occurred, Professor Sayyaf, another commander, would leave the Northern Alliance. If Iran, Hekmatyar, and Sayyaf side with the Taliban, the daily predicted, the Northern Alliance would have little chance of success, and this would benefit Iran, which has bad relations with the U.S. India would then improve its relations with the Taliban through Iran.

Rawalpindi's "Nawa-i-Waqt" reported on 28 September that Khamenei's views were "justified" when he said that the U.S. is trying to extend its regional influence. Pakistan's second-largest daily predicted that Washington would pursue Kashmir as a target of terrorism after Afghanistan, and it has its eye on Central Asia. The daily advised its readers that they could learn from Iran's reaction.

Karachi's "Business Recorder" said on 29 September that Khamenei may not be alone in wanting to tell the U.S. that "we are not with you. At the same time we are not terrorists." But Iran is probably the only Muslim country that can say this without fear of punishment for its "independence of thought and action."

Dhaka's "Dainik Inqilab," which is a pro-Islamic daily, noted Khamenei's comments with approval on 29 September. The daily also reported that "anti-U.S. protests all over the Muslim world have taken a serious dimension." (Bill Samii)

RUSSIAN ARMS DEAL BELIES TENSIONS. The early October signing of an arms agreement between Iran and Russia, as well as the two countries' long-standing opposition to the Taliban, would seem to indicate a strong relationship between Moscow and Tehran. An American scholar recently pointed out, however, that Iran and Russia's relationship could fall apart due to disagreements about the division of the Caspian Sea's oil resources.

Russia and Iran have been aiding the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance (a.k.a. United Front) for several years. Russia's daily "Nezavisimaya gazeta" newspaper reported on 4 October that Moscow plans to supply the Northern Alliance with up to $45 million worth of tanks, armored vehicles, and other weapons. The shipments, which the newspaper said would start within weeks, would include Mi-24 attack helicopters, Mi-8 troop-carriers, 40-50 tanks, 60-80 armored personnel carriers, Grad missile systems, artillery, mortars, antitank weapons, sniper rifles, and ammunition. The daily speculated that Washington would foot the bill. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov had said earlier that Iran may get involved with antiterrorist operations in Afghanistan, and this subject might be discussed during Minister of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics Admiral Ali Shamkhani's early October visit to Russia (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 1 October 2001).

Meanwhile, Shamkhani and Ivanov signed on 2 October an agreement for the sale of Russian weapons to Iran. The deal could earn Russia as much as $300 million annually. Radzhab Safarov, who heads the center coordinating Russia-Iran programs, said on 4 October that the agreement addresses the purchase of SU-27 and SU-30 jet fighters, KA-50 and KA-52 helicopters, and T-90 and T-82 tanks. Safarov added that a few more agreements are being drafted, Agentstvo Voyennykh Novostei (AVN) reported on 4 October, and negotiations for the Iskander-E operational-tactical missile system and the Yakhont supersonic ship-based missile are nearing completion.

During his five-day trip to Russia, furthermore, Shamkhani toured several arms production facilities. He went to the Machine-Building Design Bureau in Kolomna. An official there told ITAR-TASS on 3 October that Shamkhani would see several of its products: Igla, Igla-1, Dzhigit, Strelets-2M, and Strela-10MZ anti-aircraft and portable anti-aircraft missile systems; Malyutka-2, Shturm, Ataka, and Khrizantema antitank missile systems; Tochka-U and Iskander-E missile systems; and Arena-E tank protection complexes. Shamkhani visited the Northern Shipyards in St. Petersburg, too. According to AVN, Russian defense experts expect Shamkhani to purchase the export model of the Project 20382 corvette, which costs over $50 million.

Such transactions, as well as Russia's work on Iran's nuclear reactor in Bushehr, make Washington very uncomfortable. National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice told the U.S.-Russia Business Council's Annual Meeting on 4 October: "There is no doubt that we have been concerned about Russian proliferation in Iran, for instance. Now, it's our view that this is not good for Russia, and not good for the United States, and not good for the region. We expect to continue to push the issues having to do with proliferation."

Regardless of American concerns, such transactions with Iran are important to Russia. Ruslan Pukhov, director of the Center for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies in Moscow, described the importance of the arms sale and of the relationship in an interview with RFE/RL. Pukhov said: "Iran, together with Armenia, is the only full Russian ally in the Middle East region. Even if Iran has a very important role in the Muslim world, it openly backed the Russian military operation in Chechnya. [Iran] never condemned it, [on the contrary], several times it condemned Chechen terrorism and separatism."

George Mason University Professor Mark Katz does not see the relationship between Moscow and Tehran as being so clear-cut. In a 24 September presentation at the Kennan Institute in Washington, D.C., Katz explained that from late 2000 through mid-2001, Russian-Iranian relations appeared to be developing into a strategic partnership based on shared interests. Disagreements over the division of the Caspian Sea's resources and both countries' reluctance to reach an accommodation on this issue are straining the partnership. "Far from being grateful for Russia's willingness to sell arms and nuclear know-how to Tehran," Katz continues, "the Iranians seem to think that Moscow should be grateful to Tehran for buying them. Tehran could, after all, buy these items from others."

Russian President Vladimir Putin is expected to visit Tehran in May 2002, according to Mehdi Safari, the Iranian ambassador to Moscow. He added that Speaker of Parliament Mehdi Karrubi would visit Russia this year, Interfax reported on 11 September. (Bill Samii)

HUMANITARIAN CRISIS CREATES ODD PARTNERSHIPS. The humanitarian crisis caused by the displacement of Afghan civilians is putting Tehran in touch with an unusual assortment of governments. Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi denied on 1 October a report that a Taliban delegation had visited Tehran at the invitation of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Al-Jazirah satellite television reported. The nonexistent Taliban delegation consisted of Minister of Refugee Affairs Mulawi Abd-al-Raqib and Deputy Foreign Minister Abd-al-Rahman Zahid, and they supposedly intended to discuss refugee issues. On 2 October, AFP cited anonymous officials in Kabul as saying that Raqib and Zahid had been invited to Tehran to discuss refugees: "The visit has come at the direct invitation of Ayatollah Khamenei." The Afghan delegation allegedly flew to Herat on 2 October and was to be taken by helicopter to the Iranian border and then on to Tehran by plane, according to the anonymous official.

The U.S. will use Iranian territory for the first time to ferry aid to displaced people in Afghanistan, U.S. Agency for International Development chief Andrew Natsios said on 4 October. This is part of a wider plan to store food aid in all the countries bordering Afghanistan, he explained, and Tehran is enthusiastic about this development. "The Iranian government has a large interest in not having large refugee flows across the border," he said. "To the extent that we can move food through their country or any of the other neighboring countries into the villages themselves, it's in their interest for us to do it, so they facilitate."

Washington is making $320 million available for humanitarian aid. This includes $25 million to help Afghanistan's neighbors, including Iran, deal with refugees. Another $295 million will go to non-governmental organizations, the UN, and the Red Cross.

The International Committee of the Red Cross, meanwhile, will use Iran as a base for its aid missions to Afghanistan. The ICRC has surveyed the area around Mashhad in northwestern Khorasan Province to evaluate the infrastructure and the availability of relief goods in the local markets. The ICRC will open a temporary office and transit facility in Mashhad. (Bill Samii)

SEALING THE BORDER ELECTRONICALLY UNLIKELY. Border Guards chief Brigadier General Mohammad Sanei said that Iran has started using electronic devices to seal its eastern border with Afghanistan against the flow of Afghan refugees, IRNA reported on 3 October. Defense Minister Ali Shamkhani was expected to discuss purchasing a Russian-made electronic border-protection system during his early October visit to Moscow, but the Russian Federal Border Guard Service's press service said on 3 October that no such discussions had occurred, Interfax-AVN reported.

A spokesman for the Russian military-industrial complex told ITAR-TASS on 2 October that Tehran would buy two sets of stationary border-protection equipment that would be deployed along a 40-kilometer stretch of the border, and then it would make a final decision on purchasing the Russian equipment for the entire border. An almost identical proposal was discussed when National Security Council secretary Hassan Rohani visited Moscow in January 2000, and the preliminary discussions occurred in Tehran in November 1999. The Iranian parliament has been equivocal about funding this purchase and other border security measures, in spite of calls for sealing the border against "bandits" and drug smugglers. (Bill Samii)

OPIUM THE BIGGEST THREAT... The greatest drug threat to Iran continues to be opium-based products coming from Afghanistan. The Taliban use the narcotics trade as a source of revenue, and although they banned opium cultivation last year, sizeable stockpiles remain. Moreover, some narcotics originate in parts of Afghanistan controlled by the opposition to the Taliban -- the Northern Alliance or United Front.

Iran's effort to interdict this flow of narcotics has been costly -- Tehran claims that over 3,000 members of the security forces have died in battles with the well-armed smugglers. The borders are guarded by the police, army, and Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, and the residents of over 1,000 villages have been armed and turned into Basij units.

After the 11 September terrorist attack on the U.S., Tehran said that it had sealed the 936-kilometer border with Afghanistan by increasing the presence of security forces, and it is claiming that it is using electronic border-security devices, too. "We have established complete security in eastern borders especially in Khorasan Province," the 4 October "Abrar" quoted Border Guards chief Brigadier General Sanei as saying. "Efforts are also underway to bring more security to the southern border province of Sistan-Baluchestan."

The opium-based products, however, continue to flow. On 5 October Iranian counter-narcotics officials seized a tractor-trailer carrying 530 kilograms of opium and 52 kilos of morphine in Birjand, Khorasan Province, according to IRNA. Police in Sistan va Baluchistan Province announced that they seized some 1.27 tons of narcotics on 25 September and another ton of narcotics the previous day, according to IRNA. On 27 September, police and Basij forces killed six bandits near Tayyebad in Khorasan Province, IRNA reported, and they seized over one ton of hashish and killed more bandits in Kerman, near the Sistan va Baluchistan border. And the situation could get worse as Afghan refugees and internally displaced people struggle to earn an income by smuggling narcotics. The Taliban control much of the drug trade, and British Prime Minister Tony Blair said on 4 October that Osama bin Laden and his Al-Qaeda organization is involved with this: "For its part, the Taliban regime has provided bin Laden a safe haven within which to operate and allowed him to establish terrorist training camps. They jointly exploit the Afghan drugs trade. In return for active Al-Qaeda support, the Taliban allow Al-Qaeda to operate freely, including the planning, training, and preparing for terrorist activity. In addition, they provide security for the stockpiles of drugs."

Although the Taliban, which controls most of Afghanistan, must bear the main responsibility for the narcotics trade, there is plenty of blame to go around. United Nations Drug Control Program (UNDCP) chief Pino Arlacchi told RFE/RL: "No one who is fighting in Afghanistan is clean. Drug trafficking and production and trade have financed the Afghan civil war since the beginning."

The UNDCP is expected to report soon that the opposition to the Taliban -- the Northern Alliance or United Front -- has made "no effort to stop the production, refining, and export of heroin from its territory," "The Independent" reported on 2 October. 3,105 hectares of land under United Front control are under cultivation. Moreover, local commanders are involved in the narcotics trade in northeast Afghanistan, according to a 3 October report in "Jane's Intelligence Review," but there is no evidence that this is the result of a direct policy of the opposition leadership to raise funds.

Bernard Frahi, the UNDCP chief in Islamabad, warned ominously that there are "serious doubts" about the future, according to "The Independent." He said that the ingredients for illicit opium cultivation -- civil war, no law and order, and no alternative crops -- are in place, as are the criminal gangs that control the refining and shipping of heroin. A Western counter-narcotics official's warning was even more ominous. He said it would not matter if there was war or peace in Afghanistan: "We fully expect a resurgence of cultivation in Afghanistan this coming year, whether or not there is [U.S.] military action," "The Miami Herald" reported on 1 October. (Bill Samii)

...BUT COCAINE SEIZURES MORE WORRISOME. News about a cocaine bust in Iran could indicate one of three things when it is linked with other developments. On one hand, news about a cocaine bust and news about the arrest of two Iranians in rebel-controlled areas of Colombia point at the link between drugs and terrorism. On the other hand, the Iranians' presence in Colombia could be connected with a major international drug-trafficking ring that was broken up by Tehran earlier in the year. Finally, most of the drugs that enter Iran are opium-based and originate in Afghanistan, whereas most of the world's cocaine comes from South America. So when this is factored in with reports about increasing hashish abuse (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 1 October 2001), one would conclude that Iranian consumption habits are changing.

Tehran police chief Brigadier General Mohsen Ansari said on 27 September that the police have seized one kilogram of cocaine since 21 March, and according to IRNA, Ansari "expressed worry at this first instance in Iran of seizure of cocaine." According to Interpol, about 80 percent of the world's cocaine comes from Colombia. Just one day earlier, Bogota's Caracol television reported that two Iranians were arrested on 22 September as they were leaving Colombia's de-militarized zone. The two Iranians claimed that they were university professors who were conducting research.

The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), which is listed as a terrorist organization in the U.S. Department of State's annual terrorism report, control the de-militarized zone where the arrests occurred. The FARC has links with the Irish Republican Army, three members of which were arrested in Colombia in August. Finally, the FARC is linked with narcotics traffickers. The State Department's Coordinator for Counterterrorism, Michael Sheehan, told the House Judiciary Committee on 13 December that the FARC is involved in exporting cocaine. He explained more generally that "Some terrorists have developed loose mutually beneficial relationships with drug traffickers to support both the terrorists and drug traffickers interests."

A more mundane explanation could be that the two Iranians are somehow linked with a major international drug cartel that was broken up last spring. The gang was operating in Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan, Turkey, Cyprus, Colombia, and the U.S. The Iranian gang leader and his deputy lived in the U.S. until 1996, when they moved back to Iran, and they had contact with traffickers in Colombia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Turkey. The Iranian police began tracking the gang in 1999, confiscating at different times heroin, cocaine, cars, cash, and carpets.

Finally, it should be noted that Ansari's claim that this is the "first" cocaine seizure in Iran is untrue. He had described the February 2001 seizure at the airport of 450 kilograms of cocaine smuggled in from Colombia, Peru, and Russia in a 22 March 2001 IRNA report. Tehran Province Law Enforcement Forces antinarcotics director Colonel Nasser Aslani said on 22 August 2000 that in the previous five months one kilogram of cocaine was seized in Tehran. And according to the Iranian Embassy in Islamabad, 11,700 kilograms of cocaine were seized in Iran in 1997, Islamabad's "The Nation" reported on 5 May 1999. (Bill Samii)

HOUSING REVISITED. The combination of concern about an upcoming conflict in Afghanistan and Housing and Urban Development Ministry plans to increase the supply of cheap homes has led to a drop in Iranian housing prices, Reuters reported on 2 October. Potential buyers are holding onto their money because they prefer to have cash in times of uncertainty and also because they are hoping that prices will fall some more. In Tehran, prices have fallen by around 5 percent and in Mashhad they have fallen by around 11 percent; business volume for September was only 20 percent of the normal amount.

The 1 October "RFE/RL Iran Report," on the other hand, stated that "demand for housing has increased as rural people have been displaced by drought and then by floods." Since then, residents in Ramsar, Mazandaran Province, have been forced to evacuate their homes as days of severe rains triggered flash floods. According to the Ramsar's governor, Qanbar Simiari, over 90 percent of the city's houses are surrounded by water and at least five houses have been destroyed, IRNA reported on 2 October. (Bill Samii)