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Iran Report: August 30, 1999

30 August 1999, Volume 2, Number 34

U.S. UNAPPROACHABLE AND ITS GRAIN UNAFFORDABLE. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced that private exporters sold 50,000 metric tons of U.S. corn to Iran during the week ending on 5 August. The purchase is to be delivered before 31 August, Reuters reported on 12 August. The last sale of U.S. corn to Iran was in 1994/1995.

As further evidence of Iran's inability to feed its own citizens, this news was humiliating. For example, the English-language "Tehran Times" editorialized against the transaction on 15, 16, 17, and 24 August, arguing about dependency and supporting other "Third World" producers. The Friday Prayer leader in Astara, Hojatoleslam Mohammad Ali Sadeqi, said the spread of such rumors was an "enemy plot" spread by Washington so it can claim to have "secret ties with Tehran," the official daily "Iran" reported on 21 August.

Making such a report even more unwelcome is that it coincided with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's statement, reported by state broadcasting on 16 August, that Iran seeks normalized relations with most countries, but that "the policy of detente is meaningless vis-a-vis the Zionist regime and America." Urumieh Friday Prayer leader Qolamreza Hassani explained that such views now are religiously institutionalized. He said: "chanting slogans such as 'Death to Israel' and 'Death to America' is an essential part of our prayers," "Khordad" reported in May.

President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami, meanwhile, accused the U.S. of trying to "demonize Islam and create the impression that the Islamic Republic of Iran was a great enemy," as well as committing "many injustices" against Iran, state television reported on 16 August.

In contrast, Deputy Foreign Minister Mohsen Aminzadeh said discussion about relations with the U.S. should be left open, according to a report in "Neshat" on 22 August. Aminzadeh protested the same day the "Neshat" report appeared that he was misquoted and his comments were distorted, according to state broadcasting.

Commerce Ministry Deputy Minister Abdol-Hussein Vahaji denied that Iran imported any U.S. agricultural products, although there are no legal prohibitions against doing so, "Tehran Times" reported on 25 August. The concern expressed by "Tehran Times" over the possibility of purchasing U.S. grain, therefore, seems unnecessary.

Further consolation should be a report from the 6 August "Middle East Economic Digest." It said that the U.S. sales will not have insurance support from Washington, because Washington prohibits dealing with Iranian banks. Also, Iran may not be able to afford U.S. prices and freight costs.

Other countries are keen to fulfill Iranian requirements. France sold between 900,000 and 1 million metric tons of wheat to Iran from late-June through early-August, Reuters reported on 11 August. Also, Iran bought over a million tons of Canadian wheat, Reuters reported on 25 August.

Such news is causing great irritation to congressional representatives from farm states. Senator Pat Roberts (Kansas-Republican) said in a letter to President Bill Clinton and USDA Secretary Dan Glickman that without financing from USDA's credit program for overseas buyers -- known as GSM-102 -- U.S. wheat "is simply not competitive against Canada and the EU." Roberts said the lack of financing makes a "sham" of the decision to allow Iran to buy U.S. agricultural products, according to Reuters on 25 August. Senator Byron Dorgan (North Dakota-Democrat) said "[Clinton] needs to insist that the Treasury Department come up with regulations that allow his policy to work," Reuters reported on 26 August. (Bill Samii)

ESPIONAGE TRIAL DELAYED. Suspects in an alleged espionage ring that includes 13 Jews have been turned over to the Judiciary for trial, "Tehran Times" reported on 28 August. Malcolm Hoenlein, executive director of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations had said that the starting date was 19 August, Associated Press reported on 17 August, as did the World Jewish Congress in a Reuters report. Iranian judiciary spokesman Fotovat Nassiri Savadkuhi, however, told Reuters on 18 August that "no trial will take place this week."

Iran and Israel tried to settle the issue through an informal and clandestine communications link that was established four years ago, according to Tel Aviv's "Haaretz" on 19 August. Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and Security officer Hussein Sadrzadeh warned Hamid Sabi, his London-based intermediary with the Iranian Jewish diaspora, that Shiraz's 3,000 Jews "are far more religious than the rest of the Jews in Iran and they parade their Orthodox Judaism in public in a way we cannot condone. [Also,] they are in contact with Jewish religious elements of Iranian origin in Israel and in the U.S."

This warning was passed on, through other intermediaries, to Parviz Yashyai, "head of the Tehran Jewish community." He relayed the message to Shiraz's Jewish leadership, "Haaretz" reported, but they ignored Yashyai because of his alleged collaboration with the MOIS. After the Shiraz Jews were arrested, Sadrzadeh promised that the affair could be settled if it was kept quiet. But segments of the exile Iranian Jewish community ignored this advice and informed the media.

When the arrests were made public, many different approaches to the Iranian leadership were tried. Much effort was concentrated on Expediency Council chairman Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani's office, according to "Haaretz." Its faxed reply was neither clear nor encouraging. That in turn was interpreted to mean that the Jewish lobby should exert pressure for the approval of loans from the World Bank and Japan to Iran. The recipients of this message realized that if they cooperated in this case, Iranian Jews would be in danger every time the government wanted something.

In early-August Jewish groups held demonstrations at the Iran Air terminal of a Paris airport. The Iranian government voiced its objections to this incident, as did Iran's Jewish community, IRNA reported on 2 August. A statement from Iran's Assyrian association asked the French government to "stand up to the Zionist conspiracies and not allow such provocative and dangerous moves to bring about the deterioration of old ties between the two governments," IRNA reported on 9 August.

Meanwhile, an internet petition,, continues to collect signatures for the release of the 13 Jewish prisoners. The Muslim prisoners are not mentioned on this site. (Bill Samii)

NEW STATISTICS ON 'MINORITIES.' The National Liberation Movement of Southern Azerbaijan claims to have "secret" Iranian government statistics on the Islamic Republic's ethnic makeup, Baku's Turan news agency reported on 21 August. According to these statistics, out of an Iranian population of about 70 million, there are 29 million Azeri Turks, 2 million Turkic Qashqai, and 3 million Turkmen. On the basis of these statistics, approximately half of Iran's population is Turkic-speaking. There are, in addition, 7.5 million Kurds and 3.5 million Arabs, according to the Turan report. The National Liberation Movement is citing these statistics to bolster its complaints that the Iranian government does not allow use of Turkic languages for teaching, publishing, and broadcasting.

Complaints about the language situation are not isolated to irrredentists in the Republic of Azerbaijan. There are complaints from Tabriz about the misuse of Azeri-Turkic by Iranian state broadcasting (IRIB). State television's "professional acrobats and wheeler-dealers," Tabriz's "Fajr-i Azerbaijan" reported on 19 May, delight in "making a parody of our language." The situation had better improve, according to the East Azerbaijan Province daily, because "our patience, together with our ability to withstand humiliation and ridicule, is exhausted."

A professor at Tabriz University complained to Baku's ANS television on 23 August that he and his colleagues no longer speak the language properly, "because we are used to Persian and English." A student in Tabriz said: "our mother tongue is being eliminated. Turkic is being cluttered with Persian. Turkic is being cluttered with many Arabic words. On the other hand, with English words." (Bill Samii)

GERMANY'S DUBIOUS INVESTMENT. Germany's Lurgi Zimmer chemical engineering company says it has "won a deal to build a polyester granulate factory in Iran." 84 percent of the factory's output will serve Iran's textile industry, the German news agency dpa reported on 23 August. Lurgi Zimmer will pay over 50 percent of the cost, but it has not won much of a prize, if the example of another German firm is anything to go by. Iran's textile sector is facing serious problems right now, and being a German businessman in Iran is not very safe anymore.

German Engineering firm Zahrandfabrik Friedrichshafen AG (ZF) signed a contract in the late-1980s with S.S. Charkheshgar of Tabriz to build gearboxes for commercial vehicles. Production started in the early-1990s, according to "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" on 4 August. Although the facility has a production capacity of 42,000 units, it only produced 10,000 gearboxes last year. This year, the staff work only a few hours a day. It does not look like the situation will improve, because Iran's only producer of commercial vehicles is for sale.

Matthias Boddenberg, business manager of the Iranian-German Chamber of Commerce and Industry, which has 300 German and 900 Iranian members, described some of the problems for "Sueddeutsche Zeitung." He said: "There is no legal or planning security for investors in Iran." ZF chairman of the board Klaus Bleyer pointed out that Iran's state-run economy "can make life extremely difficult for foreign companies."

Nor is it very secure to rely on the textile sector as the main purchaser of the company's product. "The textile sector has problems that have reached crisis conditions," "Keyhan" reported on 14 February. Jamshid Basiri, head of the Iranian Textile Industries Association, said the volume of textile exports had decreased by 60 percent by the end of 1998 ("RFE/RL Iran Report," 5 April 1999). Two factors harming the textile sector are corruption and mismanagement. Another is insufficient legal, regulatory, and infrastructural support from the government. Hashem Zand Miralvand, managing director of Kerman Weaving Company -- affiliated with the Oppressed and Disabled Foundation -- said other problems in the textile industry are "over-staffed factories and outdated machinery," "Iran News" reported on 25 August.

German businessmen in Iran have been targeted by assassins at least once. In February Deutsche Bank representative Heinrich Lembirt Heims was taken from his car and executed. The government's half-hearted attempts to solve the case were met with skepticism by the Iranian media ("RFE/RL Iran Report," 22 February 1999). And the case of Helmut Hofer, a German businessman whose trial on charges of illegitimate relations with a Muslim woman has been continuing for months, is another warning to German investors. Hofer's imprisonment appears to be connected with that of Iranian national Kazem Darabi in Germany. The greater the number of Germans in Iran, the more potential influence Iran has over Germany.

Officials in the Lurgi Zimmer firm may think these risks are tolerable. Its $164 million investment may be guaranteed by Germany's Hermes investment guarantee agency, which recently renegotiated Iranian debt. But it remains doubtful that the German personnel working in Iran will be so sanguine, since foreigners have been targeted by kidnappers and anti-Western extremists in the last year. (Bill Samii)

PAKISTAN AND IRAN SIGN MEMORANDUM OF UNDERSTANDING. Pakistan's internal affairs and narcotics control minister, Chaudhury Shujat Hussein, visited Iran during the week of 23 August. Coming on the heels of an alleged shooting at the Pakistani Embassy in Tehran and the unresolved murders of Iranians in Pakistan and Afghanistan, the visit could have been tense. But it passed amicably, and after signing a Memorandum of Understanding, Hussein traveled to Khorasan Province to visit shrines in Mashhad.

Setting the mood for Hussein's official visit was Iranian Islamic Culture and Guidance Minister Ataollah Mohajerani's trip to Islamabad on 29 July. During that trip an agreement was reached on "promoting the true image of Islam," dpa reported. An agreement on cultural, scientific, and technical cooperation was also signed.

The MOU signed in Tehran dealt with "combating drug trafficking, strengthening border guards, expanding border trade, and timely exchange of information between the two countries," the Islamic Republic News Agency reported on 25 August.

Hussein met with Expediency Council chairman Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, President Mohammad Khatami, Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi, and Interior Minister Abdolvahed Musavi-Lari. A common topic in all these meetings was the bringing to justice of Sepah Sahaba Pakistan terrorists who murdered the Iranians in Pakistan, according to IRNA reports. Hussein stated that a special anti-terrorist court was established to deal with these cases.

Khatami stressed in his meeting with Hussein that good relations between Iran and Pakistan can benefit the entire region, while expressing the belief that restraint in Pakistan-India relations will benefit the region, too. Hussein expressed his government's support for Khatami's concept of "dialogue among civilizations."

Both Khatami and Kharrazi regretted the Afghan conflict's impact on that country's people and expressed hope that its factions can enter into negotiations and implement resolutions adopted by the 6+2 group (Afghanistan's neighbors, Russia, and the U.S.). At the signing of the MOU, Hussein said "Pakistan does not support Taliban, but due to the long border between the countries, movement of families and people across the border is prevalent."

Hussein was being economical with the truth. United Nations envoy Lakhdar Brahimi said recently that he saw "numerous Pakistani advisers and soldiers in Kabul," the "Christian Science Monitor" reported on 26 August. Also, Ahmad Shah Masud, a senior commander of the Afghan forces fighting the Taliban, said Pakistani forces "have been engaged in fighting which took place in the regions of Jabal os Seraj, Charikar, and Bagram," according to Iranian state broadcasting on 3 August. (Bill Samii)

ADVOCATES OF VIOLENCE CONFRONTED. Speaking before the Tehran Friday Prayers on 6 August, Ayatollah Mohammad Taqi Mesbah-Yazdi, who is the Tafresh Prayer Leader and a member of the Assembly of Experts, said about Islam's enemies: "They presented principles such as tolerance and compromise as absolute values while violence was introduced as a non-value." Mesbah-Yazdi believes that "the taboo -- that every act of violence is bad and every act of tolerance is good -- must be broken." Opponents of violence -- "even some of the elite" -- have been "deceived and entrapped" by "foreign propaganda," he said. Mesbah-Yazdi believes that "The enemies of Islam must also feel the harshness and violence of Islam."

The targets of violence were effectively identified as "outsiders" by Ayatollah Mohammad Emami-Kashani, member of the Expediency Council and the Assembly of Experts, during the 6 August sermon. Two weeks later Guardians Council Secretary Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati eliminated any questions during the first Friday Prayer sermon. He did so by breaking down the issue in terms of insiders and outsiders (khodi and qeyr-i khodi).

Outsiders, Jannati said, are "ultimately in love with foreign powers. ...they favor the judgment of foreign states...[they] gain honor by affiliating themselves to the aliens or the enemies." Sometimes people swear they are insiders, but they only do this to deceive. They do not follow the "guardianship of the pious" or Islamic government. They are, therefore, outsiders.

The issues is not violence, according to Jannati, it is "the issue of political movements and links with the enemy." What do the foreign enemies want? Jannati said that they want Iranians to "tune to their radio stations, believe whatever they say, and disregard what our own people say."

The views on outsiders and violence got some public endorsement. Parliamentarian Mohammad Javad Larijani, for example, interpreted Mesbah-Yazdi's comments as a discussion of "Islam's instructions on the extent of the government's authority to carry out its right to punish." Larijani said, according to "Neshat" on 16 August, that the "discussion has nothing to do with trying to promote the concept of violence."

"Kayhan" editorialized on 5 August that an insider is "someone whose heart beats for Islam, the revolution and the Imam," while outsiders are those who have "separated their path from the line of the Imam, the system, and the people who, by relying on 'citizens' rights,' want to introduce themselves as equal partners." Opponents of Mesbah-Yazdi's views were denounced by "Jebheh" on 14 August as followers of "American Islam."

Opponents of violence were outspoken, too. Seminary lecturer Hojatoleslam Mohammad Ayazi said, "Neshat" reported on 9 August: "What the theoreticians of violence are propagating is nothing but bullying, intimidation, despotism, and monopolism. ...Those actions which are taking place in the name of religion have nothing to do with religion." Isfahan's Friday Prayer leader, Ayatollah Jalal Taheri, said "Violence, with any motive, is condemned in Islam," "Iran" reported on 21 August.

Ayatollah Seyyed Hussein Musavi-Tabrizi and Hojatoleslam Mohammad Javad Hojjati-Kermani challenged Mesbah-Yazdi to a debate, "Iran News" reported on 23 August. Musavi-Tabrizi said that if a person kills another on the pretext that the Prophet or the Imam has been insulted, "then society will descend into chaos," "Khordad" reported on 25 August.

A discussion on the viability of violence had appeared in Tehran's "Kiyan" on 17 July. Ayatollah Mohammad Mojtahed Shabestari said there is violence in Islamic societies because their political structures are based on outdated traditional principles. "Despite all the cultural, social, and economic changes, these individuals and groups wish to maintain their former condition. As the former condition cannot be recreated, this will lead to violence, especially in the name of religion and piety."

Hojatoleslam Mohsen Kadivar said, in the same article, that both traditionalism and modernism can breed violence. The violent person, Kadivar said, is essentially dissatisfied and sees the deity as harsh, vengeful, and merciless. Such people do not see the world as preparation for the afterlife, they believe people who have committed offenses must be punished "here and now." Those who resort to violence are pessimistic about human nature and believe it can be changed only through "intimidation, fear, and terror -- through coercion," Kadivar said.

Kadivar continued, saying that violent people are dogmatic and absolutist, and they see "rationality, understanding, and learning" as unimportant. When it comes to politics, "they attach no importance to laws," nor do they attach any "value to people's votes and views." Because they believe God determines social and political developments, and "God has placed the authority for such things in the hands of a particular individual...any involvement by the people in political or social issues is a form of transgression."

Kadivar then identified the conditions under which violence will occur. "If the government has not emerged out of the people." "If certain individuals believe that they have a special mission." If the system is centralized and autocratic. If there is a kind of "class distinction, or political, social, and cultural apartheid." "If there is no supervision and the government is not held responsible." "If a government demands absolute obedience from its citizens."

Shabestari added that if a society does not take human rights seriously, "even the law itself can become a means for the resort to violence and can justify violence."

What can eliminate the violence? Hojatoleslam Seyyed Kazem Hussieni-Mianji, Friday Prayer leader of Khorramabad, said: "We must cease the tension through understanding and national consensus...we must replace animosity and resentment with compassion, kindness, and understanding," "Iran" reported on 26 August. (Bill Samii)