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Iran Report: February 1, 1999


1 February 1999, Volume 2, Number 5

COMPENSATION FOR U.S. MISSILE STRIKE DEMANDED. When a cruise missile accidentally hit the Iranian city of Khorramshahr during the U.S.-U.K. missile strikes against Iraq in December, Iran's initial official reaction consisted of little more than a Foreign Ministry summons of the Swiss ambassador, who represents U.S. interests in Iran, and of the charge d'affaires of the British Embassy to convey a "strong protest." But when another missile landed in the outskirts of Abadan on 25 January, the official reaction was stronger.

Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi said: "America must apologize to compensate for the violation of the airspace of the Islamic Republic of Iran." He also said "America's government is required to compensate Iran for damage resulting from the violation of Iranian borders." The Swiss charge d'affaires was summoned to receive Iran's "strong protest," reported the "Tehran Times."

On 27 January, Kharrazi sent a letter to U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, in which he protested against the missile strike. Annan was urged "to take proper measures" to prevent similar events in the future. The letter questioned the coincidence of two missile strikes occurring in such a short period of time. The U.S. government was held "directly responsible" for any damage the missiles caused.

Conservative parliamentary speaker Ali Akbar Nateq-Nouri blamed the Foreign Ministry, saying that if they had "acted seriously" when Khorramshahr was hit Abadan would not have been hit this time. He told the parliament: "The Americans should know that they bear responsibility for such rash acts and that Iran's patience has limits."

On 27 January, 220 parliamentarians urged the Supreme National Security Council and the Iranian government to take "'necessary deterrent measures in the face of plots by the enemies of the Islamic Revolution, the U.S.-U.K. strike on Iraq and the landing of several missiles in Abadan and Khorramshahr."

The conservative "Resalat" newspaper said on 27 January that such missile strikes did not bode well for national security. It also wondered why American missiles always land accidentally in Iran. "Jomhouri Islami" commented that the U.S. must apologize and Iranian officials must react more strongly now than they did in December if recurrences are to be avoided. The daily's editor told the "Tehran Times" that he thought the missile attack was "just a test to see the Iranian reaction." (Bill Samii)

NEITHER EAST NOR WEST -- BUT WEST IS WORSE. The Iranian government and media have been silent on Russia's use of the Kabala radar station in Azerbaijan. Nor have they commented on the presence of Russian military units throughout the Caucasus. But the Iranian response to rumors that a U.S. military base might be established in Azerbaijan was swift and vocal.

At the beginning of January "Azernews-Azerkhabar" reported that Russian air defense artillery forces situated in Azerbaijan have established a special unit to "monitor U.S. and other military movements." The Kabala radar station lets the Russians "identify all flying objects over an area stretching from the Indian Ocean to the Middle East." The new equipment at Kabala, say Azerbaijani ecologists, poses an environmental hazard due to high radiation levels and there is an "alarming" increase in related illnesses nearby. Despite the information the facility provides, Russia is behind on its payments. Iran reacted to this news with silence.

A few weeks later, Azerbaijani State Foreign Policy Adviser Vafa Guluzade announced that his country might bolster "military cooperation with the West" in reaction to the delivery of Russian anti-aircraft missiles to Armenia, reported Baku�s "Zerkalo" newspaper on 23 January. Guluzade proposed the establishment of an American base in Azerbaijan. He said: "The U.S. military bases could guarantee security for Azerbaijan. If this depended on me, I would deploy a U.S. Air Force squadron on the Apsheron peninsula within 15 minutes." The chief of the Azerbaijani presidential cabinet, Eldar Namazov, confirmed his country's readiness to host a U.S. military base, reported "Turan" press agency on 25 January. A U.S. official said, "We have no such plans. It's not something we are considering at this time," reported the "Journal of Commerce" on 28 January.

This news elicited a more vocal Iranian reaction. Joint staff chief Major General Hassan Firouzabadi said at a 24 January flag-raising ceremony that "the Israelis and the Americans are approaching us from the north," reported "Jomhouri Eslami." He went on to make a veiled warning about "Shiite Azeris with Iranian blood in their veins" inhabiting the region where the base might be established. "Resalat" wrote on 25 January that U.S. bases in Azerbaijan were meant to isolate Iran and Russia and undermine the relationship between the two countries. On 26 January, "Iran" newspaper editorialized: "the political geography of the region will not admit countries such as the U.S. and Israel." "Quds," on 28 January, commented that suggestions of permitting a U.S. base indicate Baku's failure to protect its sovereignty.

Iran's Russian allies also entered the fray. Roman Popkovich, chairman of the Duma Defense Committee, said there is "no need" for NATO or American bases on Azerbaijani territory, reported "TASS" on 26 January. He saw the whole affair as "an attempt to influence decision-making in Russia." Russian military analyst Pavel Felgengauer, writing in "Segodnya" on 26 January, explained that the pro-Iranian lobby in Moscow shares interests with the defense industry. Iran has purchased fighters, bombers, submarines, missile systems, and other weapons "at an aggregate cost of $4 billion," although just a little over $1 billion of that was paid in cash and the rest was in oil swaps and mutual debt offsets. It is even rumored that Russian President Boris Yeltsin signed a directive that loopholes should be found in agreements with U.S. so military-technical cooperation with Iran can continue, Felgengauer wrote. (Bill Samii)

BP AMOCO ACTS QUICKLY, BUT CAUTIOUSLY. On 18 January BP Amoco announced that it will not join a $19 million Iranian oil exploration project with Royal Dutch/Shell Group and Lasmo PLC. A BP Amoco spokesman said his company is interested in future Iranian projects, but because the two firms merged on 31 December, more time is needed to reassess their regional strategies. According to Bloomberg News, another reason BP Amoco is taking a more cautious approach towards Iranian projects is concern about U.S. economic sanctions which bar investment in Iran.

Apparently, BP Amoco did not need much more time to complete the assessment of its regional strategy. On 25 January the company confirmed its submission of a "technical proposal for the long-term development of the Bangestan reservoir" to the National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC), a company spokesman told Reuters. This would encompass production enhancement and secondary recovery at the onshore Ahvaz, Abu Teimour, and Mansuri fields. The "Middle East Economic Survey" reports that there are seven bidders for the Ahvaz project.

BP Amoco also said it wanted to steer clear of exploration in Caspian waters over which there is a dispute between Azerbaijan and Iran. On 10 December, Azerbaijan's Foreign Ministry condemned the Royal Dutch/Shell and Lasmo proposal to explore in disputed waters as "illegal," "unilateral," and "inadmissible," reported "RFE/RL Newsline." Azerbaijani State Foreign Policy Adviser Vafa Guluzade said on 18 December, according to Turan, that exploration of these waters by Iran or companies signing with Iran violates the boundaries of the Azerbaijani sector.

"Oil and Gas Journal" reported that the State Oil Company of the Azerbaijan Republic (SOCAR) then announced a tender for exploration of the D-43, D-44, and D-74 offshore oil fields, which may be in the disputed area. Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliyev admitted it is not clear whether or not these fields fall within the area Iran plans to explore. "Hart's Daily Petroleum Monitor" said the counter-tender went to SOCAR, Turkey's TPAO, and BP/Statoil. Petrofina and Exxon may get the shares originally intended for Shell and LASMO.

Aliyev was more explicit when he made the threat which may have dissuaded BP Amoco from participating in the Caspian exploration project with Iran, Royal Dutch/Shell, and Lasmo. According to "Oil and Gas Journal," Aliyev "reportedly warned that the signing of the agreement might make it more difficult for Shell and Lasmo to win contracts in Azerbaijan." He warned the companies "officially" before they signed the accord with NIOC, Aliyev said, but they ignored him.

In a related matter, Iranian Vice President Hassan Habibi, during a meeting with Turkmen Transportation Affairs Deputy Premier Khudaykuly Khalykov in Tehran, urged a prompt settlement of Caspian Sea boundary issues, reported IRNA on 24 January. "The longer it takes for the issue to be settled," warned Habibi, "the higher the chance for foreigners to intervene in the region." (Bill Samii)

REYSHAHRI: MEHDI HASHEMI GANG BEHIND ASSASSINATION ATTEMPT. One of the reasons Hojatoleslam Mohammad Mohammadi Reyshahri urged creation of the Special Court for the Clergy in 1986 was so that Hojatoleslam Mehdi Hashemi could be prosecuted and eventually executed for fomenting rebellion against the state (see RFE/RL Iran Report, 11 January 1999). Reyshahri has just retired from his position as the Special Court's prosecutor and still has many other professional responsibilities, but he has not lost his interest in the long-dead Hashemi.

At the 25 January ceremony introducing Hojatoleslam Gholam Hossein Mohseni-Ejei as the new prosecutor for the Special Court for the Clergy, reported "Tehran Times" and "Iran News," Reyshahri said Mehdi Hashemi's gang was behind the January attack on Hojatoleslam Ali Razini, head of Tehran province's Justice Department. The best thing his successor could do, Reyshahri said, was to prove this, according to "Kar va Kargar." He admitted, however, that there was no actual proof yet.

Mohseni-Ejei has the appropriately conservative background to follow in Reyshahri's footsteps. In September, Mohseni-Ejei said jailed journalists from the banned "Tous" newspaper could face the death sentence because they would be deemed "mohareb," or "at war with God." In July, he sentenced Tehran Mayor Gholamhossein Karbaschi.

Razini himself is no angel, if an August article in "Tous" newspaper is to be believed. According to this article, Central Bank Governor Mohsen Nourbakhsh sent a letter to President Mohammad Khatami in which he reported that bank inspectors traced the transfer of approximately $11.7 million from a Justice Ministry account to Razini's personal account. The inspectors learned that interest from those deposits was put into another of Razini's personal accounts. (Bill Samii)

OIL SMUGGLING UNNECESSARY. Official Iranian organizations, such as the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, have long been active participants in smuggling Iraqi oil through Iranian waters for off-loading at the United Arab Emirates for transshipment. (see RFE/RL Iran Report, 21 December 1998). But the managing director of the port and shipping authority Mokhtar Kalantari, in a 20 January interview with IRNA, indicated that the smuggling operation will soon be streamlined physically and bureaucratically. Kalantari said Iraqi oil can be shipped out via the Iranian port of Bandar Imam Khomeini. In exchange, Iraq-bound goods had to be shipped through the Iranian port and then over land. In this way, Iraq can import 3-5 million tons of goods annually. (Bill Samii)

RAFSANJANI STILL LOOKING OUT FOR KARBASCHI. Expediency Council Chairman Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani has met several times with Attorney General Ayatollah Morteza Moqtadai to plead the case of Tehran Mayor Gholamhossein Karbaschi, the "Tehran Times" reports. Karbaschi was found guilty of, essentially, corruption, and was sentenced accordingly in July. He appealed and received a reduced sentence in December. This sentence is being appealed, too. Hashemi-Rafsanjani has intervened consistently on Karbaschi�s behalf (see RFE/RL Iran Report, 4 January 1999). (Bill Samii)

THE BASIJ IS POLITICAL. A Basij commander told "Jahan-i Islam" on 23 January: "Who said the Basij should not interfere in politics? Mister, we are political. To the same amount that we are military, we are political, too. The Basiji has the right to interfere in politics ..." But Interior Minister Hojatoleslam Musavi-Lari believes otherwise. "Hamshahri" on 28 January quoted him as saying: "Statements that some commanders make are bitter for me. ... if military and security commanders want to interfere in political and factional matters, they should resign from their positions." (Bill Samii)

FALSE REPORTS ON MONTAZERI'S FREEDOM. The "Tehran Times" on 28 January said that the restrictions on Ayatollah Hussein Ali Montazeri have been lifted, as "Asr-i Azadigan" had reported earlier (see RFE/RL Iran Report, 25 January 1999). Montazeri�s house has been under police guard and surveillance for a year, and access is limited to only close cohorts and relatives. In an interview the same day with the RFE/RL Persian Service, Hojatoleslam Ahmad Montazeri, the ayatollah's oldest son, said: "The National Security Council ratified [the decision] two months ago, but it has not been applied yet." Asked when the ruling would be implemented, he said: "I don't think they plan on carrying out the decision very soon."

And the family is particularly angry about several "Kayhan" articles which accuse Montazeri of having blood on his hands, say he is gullible, and make allegations about Mehdi Hashemi's gang being active in the Ayatollah's office. Ahmad Montazeri said: "This is a groundless slur. Mr. Mehdi Hashemi himself did not work in the Ayatollah's office even for one day. So how can the remnants of his group be there?" (Bill Samii)

MUNICIPAL ELECTIONS DETERIORATE INTO FACTIONALISM. The 26 February municipal elections, on which the moderate camp had pinned a great deal of hope after its poor showing in the October Assembly of Experts election, may prove to be another exercise in factional politics.

But government officials are trying to put a positive face on the course of events. Interior Minister Abdolvahed Musavi-Lari reported on 20 January that committees approving candidates for the elections have rejected only 3 percent of the applicants. And the main reason he gave for the rejection of candidates was that they held government positions already and were therefore ineligible. He failed to mention that Intelligence Ministry officials are exempt from this rule. He also failed to mention that interest in the election has been substantially lower than the government had envisioned: far less than the hoped-for one million have registered, and in some places no one has registered. Musavi-Lari "expressed delight" with how well the process is going.

But in three towns near Isfahan, the head of the Central Election Supervisory Board, Ali Movahedi Savoji, announced , there will be no elections due to problems with the selection bodies, reported the official daily "Iran." In a 26 January interview with "Abrar," Savoji complained: "The qualification of 11,000 candidates has been rejected ... without any legal basis."

Some of the rejected candidates in Tehran are prominent moderates (by Iranian standards), reported "Salam." These include former interior minister and "Khordad" publisher Abdullah Nouri; managing director of "Sobh-i Imruz" and Khatami adviser Saeed Hajjarian; former hostage-taker and member of the Office to Foster Unity Ebrahim Asgharzadeh; and presidential adviser Jamileh Kadivar. "Salam" reported that women's rights advocate Azam Taleqani and Liberation Movement of Iran member Abolfazl Bazargan, the son of the late LMI founder and former Prime Minister Mehdi Bazargan, were rejected, too.

According to "Tehran Times" on 28 January, the candidacies of the presidential advisers were rejected because they did not resign from their positions early enough: it must be "at least two months before the registration date." The boards which determine candidates' eligibility are believed to be packed with conservative officials, while the prominent rejected candidates are seen as moderates, liberals, or Khatami allies.

People in Gilan Province have already decided that the election will be a factionalized affair. The provincial deputy governor-general for political affairs, Mohsen Mohammadi-Moin, said 150 people have withdrawn their candidacy out of concern about factionalism, reported "Kar va Kargar" on 28 January. (Bill Samii)

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