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Iran Report: November 6, 2000

6 November 2000, Volume 3, Number 42

'CAMPAIGN AGAINST GLOBAL ARROGANCE.' Iranians commemorated the 21st anniversary of the 1979 seizure of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran on 3 November this year. This day is known as the "National Day of the Campaign Against Global Arrogance," or 13 Aban, its date on the Persian calendar. 13 Aban also marks the day Father of the Revolution Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini was exiled to Turkey in 1964 and university students were killed by the shah's troops in 1978.

To mark this occasion, schoolchildren were bussed in and thousands of other people marched through Tehran until they met in front of the U.S. Embassy to hold a rally, hear speeches, and burn flags. Israel was a major focus of this year's speeches and organizers distributed banners stating in English that "Israel must be eliminated from the arena of the universe." The U.S. was condemned for supporting Israel.

Calls for participation in the rally from the Martyrs Foundation (Bonyad Shahid), Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC), and the General Staff of the Armed Forces also criticized the U.S. for its relationship with Israel. The Office for Strengthening Unity, the student group which has effectively succeeded the one that led the embassy seizure, was criticized by "Kayhan" on 2 November because it had "refrained from issuing any anti-American statement or calling on students to participate in [the] rally." The OSU also was criticized because it had not issued a statement about the "Intifada of Al-Aqsa Mosque and on the crimes of the Zionist regime."

Parliament speaker Hojatoleslam Mehdi Karrubi added that Ayatollah Khomeini was exiled because he objected to U.S.-imposed capitulations that he claimed gave U.S. citizens immunity from prosecution for any crimes committed in Iran.

The parliament, meanwhile, approved legislation on 1 November that allows "victims of U.S. interference" to sue the U.S. The law was approved on its second reading amid shouts of "Death to America." The Guardians Council endorsed the bill one day later. This measure was a reaction to recent U.S. legislation that permits American victims of state-sponsored terrorism to be paid damages which the U.S. would attempt to recover from Iran. Former hostages, such as Terry Anderson, or victims' families, such as that of the murdered Marine Corps Colonel William Higgins, will receive over $213 million. Iranian state radio on 1 November described the U.S. measure as "blackmailing," and this encouraged Iran to follow a "tit-for-tat policy."

Meanwhile, "Takeover in Tehran," a book by one of the Iranian hostagetakers, was released in Persian (in Iran) and English (in Canada) in the first week of November. The author, Masumeh Ebtekar (a.k.a. Sister Mary), said that the book is an attempt to "clarify the distortions" made in American accounts of the hostage crisis. She told AP that "The seizure was a reaction to years of American interference in Iran's internal affairs. It was an attempt by a nation to preserve its dignity undermined by America's domination." Ebtekar currently serves as a vice president in Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami's government. Abbas Abdi, Ebrahim Asqarzadeh, and Said Hajjarian are some of the other hostagetakers who wield political and ideological influence in the current government. (Bill Samii)

KHATAMI SETS REQUIREMENTS FOR IMPROVED U.S. TIES. While in Japan, President Mohammad Khatami outlined his requirements for improved relations with the U.S. in separate interviews. In the first, he said that "the United States continues to take unreasonable measures against us, including economic sanctions and freezing Iranian assets in the United States. The United States has the key to improve the relationship. The door can be opened through concrete U.S. actions" (NHK General Television, 31 October). In the second, he said that "Returning the frozen Iranian assets is one of them. Another could be changing the attitude of hostility as suggested by members of the U.S. Congress recently" (NHK General Television, 1 November). And in the third, as reported in Japan's "Yomiuri Shimbun" on 1 November, Khatami objected to Iran's place on the list of state sponsors of terrorism. He also said that Iran will react positively if the Iran-Libya Sanctions Act is not renewed (when it expires in August 2001). (Bill Samii)

CONVICTED JEWS WANT CHARGES ANNULLED. Fars Province Justice Department chief Hussein Ali Amiri said on 31 October that all 10 Iranian Jews who were tried on espionage charges in July have asked to have the verdicts annulled, and "if the prosecutor decides that the request is valid he will ask the court to hold a new trial." Attorney Mustafa Mandegar, a lawyer representing four of the Iranian Jews, said on 25 October that a request has been filed with the Prosecutor-General's Office to have the charges annulled. One week earlier, lead defense attorney Ismail Nasseri and attorney Karam-Nejad were dismissed in a letter from five of their clients. Members of the Shiraz Jewish community are concerned that this may be the result of duress, according to the "Financial Times."

There are some grounds for optimism that the charges might be annulled. The original espionage charges were overturned by the appeals court on 21 September, and only charges of collaboration with a hostile country remain. Fars Province Justice Department chief Amiri announced, according to state radio, that the Appeals Court "only upheld the lower court's ruling on the charges of collaboration with the Zionist regime and has reversed the ruling on the other counts." But sentiment against the accused among public officials and the media, as well as Tehran's reluctance to "cave in" to foreign pressure, militate against a complete pardon. (Bill Samii)

NO MOVEMENT TOWARD A FREE MEDIA. Neither Iranian publishers nor Iranian audiences appear likely to have a free press anytime soon. An amendment that would have eased some of the restrictions they face was rejected by the Guardians Council, while press closures and press trials continue. But despite this pressure, publishers have not stopped trying to keep people informed.

The Guardians Council on 1 November rejected a parliamentary bill that would reduce some of the restrictions on publishers. Specifically, it would have made it more difficult for the Judiciary to ban publications which attempt to shift from a weekly to a daily schedule. On 24 October, 15 parliamentarians presented a "triple urgency" bill calling for interpretation of Note 6 of Article 9 of the Press Law.

Elite opinion was divided on the desirability of such a bill. Hardliners said that reconsidering the press law in this way contradicted Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's August ban on debating the law. Others said that the press law did not need to be amended because if somebody's credentials were already acceptable for publishing a weekly, then they automatically would be acceptable for publishing a daily. And still others complained that the existing law was vaguely worded and open to different interpretations depending on one's factional tendency. They also complained that neither the Judiciary nor the security services were qualified to determine an editor's qualifications for his job. If the parliament and the Guardians Council do not reach a compromise on the bill it will be referred to the Expediency Council for a final decision.

Earlier, the Tehran Justice Department banned the "Sepideh-yi Zendegi" and "Mihan" weeklies, IRNA reported on 24 October. Reporters Sans Frontieres Secretary-General Robert Manard asked "that the ban on these newspapers as well as the ban on 26 other publications be cancelled" in a letter to Ayatollah Mahmud Hashemi-Shahrudi, head of the Judiciary. (At least 34 publications have been closed since April.)

Trials of media personalities continue. On 28 October the Press Jury found "Asr-e Azadegan" Managing Editor Qafur Garshasbi guilty of publishing sacrilegious, defamatory, and false articles, and of violating the press law. He was indicted on charges brought by the Law Enforcement Forces (LEF) and Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB), but acquitted of charges brought by the Armed Forces Judicial Organization, the managing editor of "Jameh-yi Farda," and Guardians Council Secretary Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati. The trial of journalist Akbar Ganji, on the basis of his statements during an April conference in Berlin, is scheduled to begin on 9 November.

The state's repression of press freedom has not eliminated interest in publishing. Deputy Minister of Islamic Culture and Guidance for Press Affairs Shaban Shahidi-Moadab said on 28 October that 2,000 periodicals -- including 145 newspapers -- have applied for publication licenses, IRNA reported. In the last six months -- mass press closures began in April -- his ministry has received 530 license applications, but the Judiciary has delayed processing the applications. Shahidi pointed out that no licenses have been issued in the six past months. Between March and September, 9,564 different book titles were published in Iran, IRNA reported on 24 October, which is a 23 percent increase from the previous year. 18 percent of these books were translations of foreign titles. (Bill Samii)

COUNCILS STRUGGLING FOR A ROLE. The election of municipal councils in February 1999 was hailed as a sign of increasing democratization in Iran and a sign of support for the reform agenda. Signs of this optimism still exist, and just three months ago parliament speaker Hojatoleslam Mehdi Karrubi noted that the councils are "symbols of power, participation, and presence of people in the country's domestic affairs," IRNA reported.

There also were indications that such optimism was premature because poorly-written and non-existent laws would make it very difficult for the councils to accomplish much. Eighteen months later, this has proven true, and funding difficulties and factionalism also have hindered some councils' ability to address the difficulties they face.

The difficulties confronting Iran's urbanizations preclude an easy solution. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei told the Tehran council in July that it should deal with the homeless, drug addicts, and beggars. People in Tehran complain about the construction of the 120 high-rise apartments in Heravi Gardens, which they see as unnecessary. Other problems include air pollution and traffic jams. In Tabriz there are complaints about the mayor himself and people want to know why the council will not replace him, "Fajr-i Azerbaijan" reported in August, since he refuses to execute its decisions, and Tabriz's "Payam-i No" described the city as "lawless."

The Mashhad council must deal with the suburban sprawl and demand on city resources brought on by the arrival of poor Afghan immigrants and an overall population that is approaching 3.5 million. Also, 14 state industries have bought up farm land and transferred it to their employees, "Khorasan" reported in July, which makes it very difficult to create a "green belt" around the city. Cities in the southern provinces, such as Abadan, Khorramshahr, and Ahvaz, suffer water shortages and garbage pile-ups. And in Borujerd, a local journalist called Hamidi told RFE/RL's Persian Service, the council was dissolved completely.

Legislation to clarify the role and powers of councils approached the final stages of compilation in August, and in late October parliamentarian Mohsen Mirdamadi said the law was still undergoing review, according to state radio. Tehran councilman Ebrahim Asqarzadeh had complained that the government prepared this legislation without input from the councils themselves. Asqarzadeh appreciated the government's interest and support, but he said that the Tehran council had studied similar bodies in many other countries and he thought such input in formulating the legislation would have been invaluable, "Iran" reported in September.

Another weakness of the legislation is that it does not specify ways for the councils to generate revenue, a Mr. Mofidi of the Mashhad council said according to the 2 October "Hayat-i No." Mollai of the Zanjan council explained that economic problems that persist since the time of the war with Iraq also limit the councils' ability to act, "Omid-i Zanjan" reported in May.

Bureaucratic rivalry and competition from other governmental institutions is another reason for the councils' failure to live up to their potential. Mofidi of Mashhad explained that many of the powers needed by the council to deal with municipal issues are in the hands of the Interior Ministry. President Khatami insisted on the importance of the councils, Mofidi said, so they expected the government's cooperation, but what has happened is that "the Interior Ministry expects the councils to act as its spokesmen."

Another sign of competition and conflict with the Interior Ministry appeared in a discussion about Tehran Mayor Morteza Alviri, who is chosen by the ministry. Ahmad Hakimipur of the Tehran council complained that Alviri considers city hall to be in competition with the council, "Tehran Times" reported in June. He acts without prior consultation with the council, and he and his subordinates give jobs to family members. Earlier, there were disputes over control of the Traffic Police and control of the Culture and Arts Organization, which produces "Hamshahri" daily.

In another sign of competition, Energy Minister Habibollah Bitaraf complained that most of the councils have not taken any steps to regulate water usage fees, "Jam-i Jam" reported on 10 October. Bitaraf also complained that the councils operate on a factional basis, a charge that Asqarzadeh rejected. Asqarzadeh complained that the government has gotten into the habit of scapegoating the councils.

Deputy Interior Minister Morteza Mablaq told the 1 October "Hayat-i No" that overall, the government and the councils have gotten along well. He admitted that there is an interest in decentralization, adding that government ministries are trying to determine which responsibilities they should devolve. But in May, Mablaq had told a Khorasan Province meeting of council members that the decision to devolve many powers had already been reached and action would be taken by the end of the month, "Khorasan" reported.

Factionalism also has caused problems. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei warned members of the Tehran council that they should not allow "partisan considerations" to block their dealings with social affairs. But on 10 October the conservative "Abrar" complained about this very thing, saying that council-members' "affiliation to political party currents [explains] the slow process of the function of the city councils." Factionalism -- as practiced by a government organization -- surfaced in Zanjan, where there are complaints that the council does not communicate with the citizens. According to council head Mollai, this is because state broadcast media "has been ungracious...and we have no expectations from the right-wing and so-called conservative press." (Bill Samii)

EMERGENCY IN KHUZESTAN. "The war in Abadan and Khorramshahr has not ended," Abadan Friday Prayer leader Hojatoleslam Qolam Hussein Jami said, adding that "we say there is still a state of emergency in Abadan and Khorramshahr." Jami was discussing problems with the drinking water in Khuzestan Province (which led to riots in late-July and early-August), but other reports suggest that security in the province is problematic, too. What these reports indicate, furthermore, is that government officials are both corrupt and inattentive. Local dailies hope that Khuzestan's new parliamentary representatives will help the province overcome its current difficulties.

Ayatollah Musavi-Jazayeri, the Ahvaz Friday prayer leader, said that crime in the city includes robberies of homes, drug distribution, and even the theft of high tension wires. The bazaar has become a "center of immorality and sedition," and Imam Khomeini Avenue and Ayatollah Taleqani Avenues "have become symbols of anarchy and illegality." Musavi-Jazayeri said that women are in danger, fights and scuffles are a daily occurrence, and trash is not collected. The Friday Imam wanted to know where the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps, the Basij, and the Headquarters for the Propagation of Virtue and Prohibition of Vice are when they should be eliminating such problems, "Nur-i Khuzestan" reported in August.

The July riots in Abadan over poor water quality should have been foreseen, according to Hojatoleslam Jami, because the locals had been complaining for quite a while that the water was salty. He added that Khuzestan Province officials, from the governor-general down, were unresponsive to public complaints, and he said that if they did not know how to do their jobs, they should "go abroad and bring people from there," "Bahar" reported in July. Contractors used oil tankers to transport drinking water, and Jami suggested that the contractors who were hired to provide water were corrupt. Jami also complained that a sugar beet project, in which the state-run banks are the biggest shareholders, is using up much of the water in Abadan and Khorramshahr and is also polluting the water supply.

Ayatollah Shafii, who represents Khuzestan in the Assembly of Experts, pointed out in a meeting organized by the provincial governor-general that the local administration is not efficient, "Nur-i Khuzestan" reported in May. The provincial agricultural chief said that not only is the drought causing problems, but growers of onions and wheat are facing other (unspecified) difficulties. The demands of local workers are not being met, according to the province's Labor Ministry representative, and there is not enough housing. Governor-General Moqtadai suggested that "if everyone minded his own business...there would be good order in the country. If we do not accept this, any remarks made amount to mere sloganeering."

An August editorial in "Nur-i Khuzestan" said that the province's current difficulties and misperceptions about the province can be traced to its representatives in the first and second parliaments. Factionalism, furthermore, meant that constituents' problems took second place to politics. The publication expressed the hope that the new deputies would not repeat these mistakes, so that Khuzestan Province could achieve its full potential. (Bill Samii)

ORDER IN THE EAST. October events in northeastern Khorasan Province -- bombings, kidnappings, and assorted mayhem -- and in southeastern Sistan va Baluchistan Province -- bombings with a possible sectarian linkage -- call into question the Iranian government's frequent claims about stability and unity across the country. But Iranian officials have been quick to point out that they have restored order and justice swiftly and that, in any case, foreigners are behind the security problems.

Khorasan Law Enforcement Forces commander Brigadier-General Nowruzi said that 21 bandits were killed in firefights around Birjand, Qayen, Torbat-i Heidarieh, and Sarakhs, "Jam-i Jam" reported on 28 October and state radio reported the next day. Although weapons, cash, gold, and drugs were seized, according to Nowruzi, the bodies were left in the mountains. Islamic Revolution Guards Corps Colonel Kargar, who leads the Kashmar LEF, announced that bandit leader Sattar had been killed in the region's Kuhsorkh Heights, state television reported on 29 October. Also, 62 kidnapping victims were rescued.

The IRGC is ready to step in if the situation in the northeast gets any worse. IRGC commander Major-General Yahya Rahim-Safavi, in a 30 October interview with state television, said that "until recently, we had a mission in the northeast which has now been transferred to the Law Enforcement Force...However, in some regions in the northeastern region where there are crises we can enter into action."

General Nowruzi also said that a search of the bandits' corpses revealed that they all had firearms licenses and safe-passage permits issued by Afghanistan's Taliban. This points to "direct cooperation between these bandits and elements within the Taliban forces," he said.

As for the problems in Sistan va Baluchistan, senior IRGC Commander-General Abdul Mohammad Raufinejad said these "mischievous moves" were linked with the (unidentified) enemy's cultural offensive. Raufinejad told Basijis in Zahedan, the province's capital, that "the enemy has opened a new front against the Islamic revolution," IRNA reported on 29 October.

Some observers believe that instability in the east has been exaggerated by hardline media. Hojatoleslam Kashmiri, the Friday prayer leader of Kashmar, said during a recent sermon that the problems are real. He added that arming the local Basij Resistance Forces has improved the situation and the local LEF should have more resources. And Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Meshkini-Qomi, the Friday prayer leader in Qom, which also is facing increasing criminality and rising drug addiction rates, said that "our people expect our officials to work harder to make them feel secure." (Bill Samii)

JAPAN TRIP PAYS OFF. The primary purpose of President Mohammad Khatami's trip to Japan was to encourage investment in the Iranian petrochemical sector, and the secondary purpose was to encourage more loans and lines of credit. This first goal may not have been reached, but the second one was.

The oil lure for Japan was the Azadegan oil field in Khuzestan Province. It is believed to hold 5-6 billion barrels of recoverable crude oil with the potential to produce up to 400,000 barrels a day.

Mojgan Djamarani of London's "Petroleum Review" told RFE/RL that Iran's agreements with Western oil companies require the investment of both capital and of new technology in order to increase the country's production capability. Iranian restrictions, furthermore, specifically "build-operate-transfer" arrangements (foreign investors can operate oil facilities for short periods to recover their investments but must later transfer the assets to Iran) are not very attractive, because they offer lower profits than if companies own the facilities and fields themselves.

Djamarani believes that such requirements have militated against greater foreign investment. "[Iranian officials] were expecting to attract more offers from western companies than they have actually received. They were hoping investments of up $20-30 billion would come in and that hasn't happened. One reason being that build-operate-transfer is not very attractive to some of the companies." Djamarani says that Iran has received only about $5 billion dollars in investment pledges from foreign companies.

Tehran's slow repayment of its debts also has undermined Japanese willingness to invest there, as has concern about a U.S. reaction. On 2 November, however, Radio Japan announced that the Japan Bank for International Cooperation and private Japanese banks agreed to jointly loan about $490 million to Iran in an agreement signed with its Central Bank. The money is to finance two petrochemical plants, a steel plant, and a project to improve the communication system for Iran's national railway. (Bill Samii)

WHEN IT'S BETTER NOT TO SAY ANYTHING. Japanese Foreign Minister Yohei Kono expressed concern about the similarity between Iran's ballistic missiles and North Korea's Scud-C and Nodong-1 missiles in a meeting with his Iranian counterpart, Kamal Kharrazi. According to the Japanese Foreign Ministry, Kharrazi replied that Iran is developing its own missiles and it does not need any help from North Korea. "It has been developed independently and had nothing to do with other countries at all," Kharrazi said about the Shihab-3 missile.

President Mohammad Khatami also denied allegations that Iran has received missile technology from North Korea. He claimed that Iran has developed its missiles independently, "Yomiuri Shimbun" reported on 1 November.

Khatami and Kharrazi's statements about self-sufficiency in weapons development are false. Given recent reports about the Shihab-3's failures, it would be even more embarrassing if they were true. The 21 September flight test of the Shihab-3 near Semnan was a flop, either because of propulsion pitfalls or directional difficulties, "Jane's Intelligence Review" reported on 1 November. There has been only one successful test of the Shiahb-3, and it only flew about 800-900 kilometers, rather than the 1,300 kilometers Tehran claimed. In addition to North Korean involvement in developing missiles, Russia leads in providing technical and material assistance at the Shahid Hemat Industrial Group and the Shahid Bagheri Industrial Group, where most of the missile development activity takes place. (Bill Samii)