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Iran Report: December 13, 1999

13 December 1999, Volume 2, Number 49

KHATAMI SUFFERS A DIPLOMATIC ILLNESS. President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami's question and answer session with students that had been scheduled for 7 December (Student Day) was postponed until 12 December because his office told state television that the president "is suffering from severe influenza." A 7 December editorial in the pro-Khatami daily "Guzarish-i Ruz" said: "the president's influenza is not an acceptable or convincing excuse for delaying the question-and-answer session with students."

A year ago Khatami was sick too, but he still visited his young supporters on Students Day. This year the students have even more questions, especially after the conviction of Hojatoleslam Abdullah Nuri took away the 2nd Khordad movement's number two man (after Khatami). So why is the president silent now? The editorial asked if he is hiding behind a barricade the way the conservatives are, and if Khatami is silent, who will answer the students' questions. (Bill Samii)

NEW PUBLICATIONS AMIDST CLOSURES AND TRIALS. Mahvash Jafari, director-general in charge of the Iranian press at the Islamic Culture and Guidance Ministry, announced that the Press Supervisory Board has issued licenses for 21 new publications, the Islamic Republic News Agency reported on 7 December.

The two dailies that were licensed are "Rai Mardom," proposed by the Members of Parliament in Different Periods, with Yadollah Eslami as its editor-in-chief; and "Jahan-i Islami," proposed by the Association of the Forces Following the Line of Imam, with Seyyed Hadi Khamenei as its editor-in-chief. Ali Hekmat, editor in chief of the recently-banned "Khordad," said "Khordad" may be replaced by "Fath," with Yadollah Eslami as its managing director, "Iran News" and "Arya" reported on 8 December. "Bayan" began publication on 8 December, and its publisher is Hojatoleslam Ali-Akbar Mohtashemi-Pur, a Khatami adviser who previously served as Interior Minister and Ambassador to Syria. Effectively, "Bayan" is replacing "Salam," which was closed in July. Islamic Culture and Guidance Minister Ataollah Mohajerani said that the Press Supervisory Board issued 201 publication licenses since 21 March, IRNA reported on 29 November.

"Arya" director Mohammad Reza Zohdi appeared in court on 8 December to face complaints from the intelligence department of the armed forces, the Law Enforcement Forces, the Basij, the Antisacreligious Acts Office (Amr be Maruf va Nahi az Monker), the Ministry of Intelligence and Security, Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting, and the "Tehran Times." The complaints included disclosure of classified information, implying that the LEF supports a political faction, publicizing the Freedom Movement (Nehzat-i Azadi), and publishing derogatory articles about the Islamic Republic and about the Supreme Leader, and writing that the MOIS is involved in torture.

Regarding the Basij and MOIS complaints, Zohdi was found guilty, but in light of his defense and a promise to print an apology, he only received a warning. IRNA reported on 9 December that the jury was split on the complaints from the LEF and "Tehran Times." Zohdi was cleared of the complaints lodged by the intelligence department of the armed forces and IRIB. A verdict will be issued within a week. (Bill Samii)

SANEI CRITICIZED AGAIN. Ayatollah Yusef Sanei, who last week criticized the conviction of Hojatoleslam Abdullah Nuri, was in turn criticized by a group of seminary students, according to the hardline daily "Qods." In an open letter, they wrote "You argued why the judge was indifferent to the people's views when issuing the verdict (against Abdullah Nuri). But you too adopted similar positions during your term as public prosecutor."

Some of Sanei's other actions this year, which show him as a moderate, albeit conservative, figure, have earned criticism. In November he called for a 40 day period of silence regarding the conviction of the students responsible for an allegedly blasphemous play published in the "Mowj." In September, when there was a public debate over the role of violence in Islam, he said: "Islam is strongly against resorting to whips and clubs as a means of force in conflicts, disputes and battery and it prohibits such practices," according to IRNA.

During a June lecture, Sanei criticized the Judiciary and called for an end to Ayatollah Hussein-Ali Montazeri-Najafabadi's house arrest, at which point students and other scholars staged a protest (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 7 June 1999). And in July, he suspended his lectures to protest the violent repression of student demonstrations (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 12 July 1999).

Some of Sanei's views, however, are still quite conservative. He told teachers and students at Tehran's Medical Science and Health Services University, according to the 27 June "Iran Daily:" "Although dancing is not, by nature, unlawful, the dancing of men and women together is not allowed. For instance, a woman may dance for her husband at home and in my view, there is no reason why it should be Haram. But if enticing music is used and/or it disturbs the neighbors, then it would be definitely unlawful." (Bill Samii)

CLERICAL ARSONIST SENTENCED. Hojatoleslam Mohammad Javad Emami was sentenced to eight years imprisonment by the Special Court for the Clergy for a July arson attack, "Kayhan" reported on 6 December. The Madrasah-yi Sadr-i Bazaar-i Isfahan, which is run by Ayatollah Hussein Mazaheri, was attacked on 28 July, eliciting statements of condemnation from President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami and Qom's top theological institution (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 9 August 1999). When the arsonist's arrest was announced in August, "Kayhan" reported that he was affiliated with "one of the extremist political factions in Isfahan" (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 23 August 1999). It is not known if this is a reference to the Ansar-i Vilayat, the Mehdi Hashemi gang, or another local organization. (Bill Samii)

GERMAN-IRANIAN BUSINESS CONTACTS NOT ENDANGERED. German businessman Helmut Hofer, who was tried in Tehran for having extramarital relations with a Muslim woman, but was then detained for having "contact with suspicious elements," is now facing trial for insulting a prison guard. Only cynics could think that Hofer's continued imprisonment has anything at all to do with the current trial in Berlin of Hamid Khorasandi or the continued imprisonment in Germany of Kazem Darabi. Some observers, however, have reached that conclusion, while others are hoping that these cases will not endanger business opportunities. So far, they do not appear to have done so.

Khorasandi's trial started on 24 November. He was arrested in July for trying to infiltrate Iranian opposition groups on behalf of the Iranian government, which has denied a connection with him (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 2 August 1999). Kazem Darabi is being held for his part in the 1992 murder of Iranian dissidents in Berlin � the Mykonos case.

It seems there are a few cynics in Germany. Secretary General Guido Westerwelle of the Free Democratic Party said Tehran is trying to "exert pressure with a German citizen," Berlin's ADN news agency reported on 6 December. "Frankfurter Allgemeine" said on 28 October that Hofer is a "hostage," and "as long as Hofer is tormented in a way that is reminiscent of the most brutal dictatorships in this century, [Iranian President Mohammad] Khatami should not be welcome in Germany." Willfried Penner, chairman of the German parliamentary interior affairs committee, said Hofer was a victim of "state hostage-taking," and he was a being held until Darabi is released, AFP reported on 16 October.

Fereidun Verdinejad, chief of the Islamic Republic News Agency, seems to have a similarly cynical nature. In an editorial in the 27 November "Iran Daily," which is IRNA's English-language publication, Verdinejad suggested that it is no coincidence that Khorasandi is being tried by the same court that heard the Mykonos case. He went on to write that Bonn should "substitute dialogue for the 'battle of courts' and allow judiciaries in both countries to maintain their independence." Verdinejad warned that "the war of heavy indictments will only play into the hands of Tel Aviv and Washington."

Some people are concerned that the Hofer case might harm business opportunities. State Secretary Steinmeir, chief of the German Chancellor's Office, warned against "endangering" Iranian-German relations with "speculations and inconsiderate comments," reported Hamburg's "Welt am Sonntag" on 17 October. So far, there seems little danger of that.

Germany's Veba Oil & Gas signed a deal with the National Iranian Oil Company, Royal Dutch Shell, and LASMO, with a 20.9 percent financial interest, for an offshore oil exploration project in the Caspian Sea. A German business delegation was in Mazandaran Province to discuss trade in fruits, vegetables, flowers, and other plants, IRNA reported on 1 November. At the end of October, about 100 industrialists and representatives of major German and Iranian companies attended the export promotion seminar sponsored by the German Economy Ministry and the Iran-German Chamber of Commerce. At the beginning of the month, more than 100 German firms were represented at Tehran's international trade fair. It was seen as especially significant that Khatami spent almost an hour at the German pavilion, leading to speculation that he would visit Germany soon.

Investment insurance may hinder German investment in Iran more than the Hofer trial does. Hermes' ceiling for trade and economic transactions with Iran is set at 30 million marks, according to a 2 October report from Iranian state broadcasting, and this is hindering German investment. Mujtaba Khosrotaj, head of the Exports Promotion Center of Iran, protested the increase in Iran's riskiness, saying it was unjustified and should be revised, IRNA reported on 4 October. (Bill)

IRAN MAY ORDER MORE NUCLEAR PLANTS. The completion of the Bushehr Nuclear Power Plant is worrisome for some countries, but for the two primary parties � Russia and Iran � the project is extremely important. Although firms from some countries, such as Ukraine, have been persuaded to avoid the Bushehr project, one Czech firm still is eager . Nor is Iran reluctant to resort to illegal methods to get the nuclear-related goods it wants.

Speaking to leaders in Russia's defense, oil, and gas industries in Tomsk, Atomstroikeksport Director General Victor Koslov predicted that if Russian firms meet their deadlines and quality standards in manufacturing nuclear power plant equipment, Iran, China, and India may double their orders, ITAR-TASS reported on 6 December. When Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov visited Tehran last month, he discussed "prospects for developing economic cooperation �, primarily in nuclear power engineering," ITAR-TASS reported on 28 November.

The Iranian side already has indicated its interest in more orders. Russian Nuclear Power Minister Yevgeny Adamov said that Iran has reaffirmed its intention to commission additional power units, ITAR-TASS reported on 27 November. Russia's role gained in significance after Assadollah Sabouri, deputy head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, announced on 8 December that China is no longer working with his country on nuclear projects due to political considerations.

The Iranian side also seems satisfied with the quality and timeliness of work being done at Bushehr. Iranian Vice-President for Atomic Energy Qolam-Reza Aqazadeh-Khoi said "the project is at a good level, and we are fully on schedule," Interfax reported on 18 November. Aqazadeh said that 26 percent of the work is complete, per the schedule. He added that Ukrainian firm Turboatom withdrew from the Bushehr project because it thought it could not make the deadlines, but Adamov suggested that Western pressure on Ukraine's leadership forced Turboatom's withdrawal.

Such developments have led the White House to continue blacklisting ten Russian organizations for cooperating with Iran's nuclear and missile research. Originally, seven Russian scientific organizations were blacklisted, but earlier this year three more institutes were added to the list.

Czech firms still are interested in participating in the Bushehr project. ZVV Milevsko is scheduled to supply the Bushehr project with ventilation and air-conditioning equipment. The Czech government has pressured the company to withdraw from the project, CTK news agency reported on 27 November. Milevsko general director Stanislav Kazecky explained: "One does not reject a deal worth one billion crowns [about $28 million], especially not in current times. Since the company has an annual turnover of two billion crowns, the deal for half the sum is virtually a matter of life and death."

Dual-use items have reached Iran through Sweden, where the law forbids the export of military and strategic equipment to Iran. On 25 November, Ehsan Amuzandeh, an Iranian-born Swede, was sentenced to four months in jail for smuggling, attempted smuggling, and forgery. Amuzandeh had sent a hydrogen thyraton tube, which can be used for triggering nuclear devices or for eye-surgery, to Iran, after ordering the equipment through a pizzeria he owns. "We started to wonder why a pizzeria would export electronic equipment to Iran," Jan-Ingmar Karlsson of the Swedish commercial fraud agency said, according to an October AP report. Amuzandeh purchased the equipment from an American firm, Richardson Electronics of Illinois, telling them it was for a university project. (Bill Samii)

OIC VISITS RUSSIA. As the Russian military dropped leaflets on Grozny, the capital of Chechnya, warning residents that they would be considered terrorists and would face destruction from massive artillery and air attacks unless they evacuated the city by 11 December, a delegation from the Organization of the Islamic Conference arrived in Moscow.

Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi was part of the delegation, and on arriving in Moscow on 6 December, he said, according to Iranian state television: "The Chechen crisis is a domestic Russian problem but in view of the concerns expressed by the Islamic world over this continuing crisis, we hope to be able to address the problem of the refugees in our meetings with senior Russian officials." He added, according to IRNA, that reconstruction and institution-building for the war-damaged areas will top the agenda. To this end, the OIC delegation met with the chairman of the Council of Muftis of Russia, Mufti Sheikh Ravil Gainutdin, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, and Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov.

Kharrazi told Iranian state television that "The meetings provided a suitable opportunity for conveying the concerns of the Islamic world to Russian officials." He added: "The OIC considers the issue of Chechnya as one which falls within the framework of Russia's territorial integrity and internal affairs."

At a 7 December news conference marking the end of the delegation's visit, Kharrazi said, according to IRIB: "The Islamic world is concerned about the continuation of military activities which are exerting too much pressure on Muslims. Therefore, we must try to bring such operations to an end. The first thing which must be done is to bring military activities to an end and establish peace and calm in the region. Thus Islamic countries are ready to exchange views with Russian officials through suitable and practical ways in order to bring the war to an end. That is because the way Russian officials deal with the current crisis in Chechnya is at the center of attention of Islamic countries as well as the people in the Islamic world."

Sources at the Russian Ministry for Civil Defense and Emergencies told ITAR-TASS that Iran and Saudi Arabia proposed opening offices in the northern Caucasus. Iran also proposed sending two planeloads of humanitarian items every week. Russian officials, however, have been stopping Iranian trucks at the Daghestan border and forcing them to turn back, "Tehran Times" reported on 6 December.

On 7 December the OIC delegation flew to Makhachkala, the capital of Daghestan, and after visiting some nearby villages, flew to Vladikavkaz, North Ossetia. In this phase of the trip, the delegation met with President Magomed Magomedov of Daghestan, President Ruslan Aushev of Ingushetia, and President Aleksandr Dzassokhov of North Ossetia. The OIC communiqu�, issued the next day, said "it considered the military operations to be disproportionate," and "aggravation of the situation � hindered � long-term peace and stability." The communiqu� went on to say, according to IRNA, that the following items "need to be considered:" "termination of military operations;" "release of prisoners and hostages;" dialog and negotiation; reinvigoration of the accord that ended the 1996 war; return of refugees and displaced persons; a general amnesty; and reconstruction of Chechnya.

Aleksei Malashenko of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace's Moscow Center told an RFE/RL correspondent that the OIC statement is sufficiently mild for Russia. "[Russia] understands very well that its geopolitical future depends a lot on [its relations with Muslim countries]. And the Islamic countries themselves are maintaining respectful relations with Russia. [The OIC visit and these factors], all of this, plays into Russia's hands and breaks through the wall of condemnation that is surrounding Russia's position regarding Chechnya." (Bill Samii)

DENY, THEN ACCUSE: IRAN AND HAMAS. "Iran is encouraging terrorist activity involving Hizballah, Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and Ahmed Jibril's PFLP-GC [Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine � General Command] with the intention of destroying the hopes of all Arabs and Israelis to achieve a comprehensive peace," State Department spokesman Jamie Rubin said at a 29 November briefing. "These baseless allegations against the Islamic Republic of Iran after 20 years have not gotten anywhere," Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi said on 30 November.

Unidentified U.S. officials, cited in a 4 December "Washington Post" report, said there is "growing evidence of active Iranian support for Hamas," much of which is channeled through Jordan. U.S. officials and their regional counterparts also suspect that "Iran is encouraging the growth of alliances," giving as an example joint training between Hamas and Hizballah in Lebanon in coordination with the PFLP-GC. These factors have led U.S. officials to the conclusion that the Iranian terrorist threat is growing, according to the "Washington Post," and British and German counterterrorism officials have formed similar assessments.

An anonymous Iranian Foreign Ministry official said "such vicious claims are raised to justify the failure" of the Middle East peace talks, IRNA reported on 5 December. The source added that "Iran's policy towards the Zionist regime and the so-called peace talks" remains unchanged. The Iranian policy was spelled out by Iran's permanent representative to the U.N., Hadi Nejad-Husseinian, according to a 30 November IRNA item. He said that "a comprehensive and just solution to the Palestinian cause rests in restoration of the rights of Palestinian people, return of homeless people to their homeland, determination of their own fate and thorough liberation of all occupied lands."

Iranian officials are trying to avoid the subject. In fact, the moral support they provide for Hamas indicates strongly that Iran also is providing material and logistical support (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 9 August 1999). Secretary of State Madeline Albright raised this subject during her visit to Saudi Arabia on 6 December. (Bill Samii)

BAKU UPSET BY IRANIAN SUBVERSION IN AZERBAIJAN. Azerbaijani accusations about Iranian subversion are a fairly regular occurrence, as are complaints about Tehran's persecution of ethnic Azeris. A recent development is the complaint by ethnic Azerbaijanis that the Baku government is cooperating with Tehran. But at the same time, Azerbaijan's Ministry of National Security is complaining about Iranian attempts at subversion inside Azerbaijan.

At the end of November, the Baku-based National Liberation Movement of Southern Azerbaijan issued a statement that it was going underground because of the frequent attacks on its leader, Piruz Dilenchi. Dilenchi had claimed that he "had been subjected to threats, persecution, and pressure by the Iranian regime and its mercenaries in Azerbaijan," "Azadlyg" reported on 20 October, and specifically, they had tried to beat him up on 14 October. At that time Dilenchi had requested protection from Azerbaijani law-enforcement agencies. It then transpired, "Zerkalo" reported on 28 October, that Dilenchi's attackers were affiliated with President Heidar Aliev's Special Directorate. This, and the fact that Dilenchi's telephone service had been cut off, indicated to "Zerkalo" that the "Iranian and Azerbaijani special services [are] working together against P. Dilenchi."

Another accusation of official collusion between Iran and Azerbaijan appeared on 23 November. Referring to the presidential pardon granted to four former leaders of the Islamic Party of Azerbaijan [IPA] -- Haji Mirhasan Jafarov, Haji Alikram Aliyev, Haji Vagif Gasymov, Haji Hajiaga Nuriyev, "Zerkalo" suggested that it might have been the result of collusion. The newspaper speculated that this was a "goodwill gesture" meant to elicit a reaction from Tehran. They had been convicted for treason and cooperation with Iran's Ministry of Intelligence and Security.

In early-November, Azerbaijan's Ministry of National Security reported the arrest of an individual affiliated with the MOIS and Makhir Javadov, whose extradition from Tehran the Azerbaijani authorities are seeking on charges of plotting a coup (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 1 February 1999). A man identified as Pirkhoda (a.k.a. Barkhuda Novrus Oglu Suri) was arrested for smuggling narcotics, cigarettes, and petrol. Pirkhoda confessed to encouraging Azerbaijani citizens to engage in criminal activities, the "Azerbaijan" newspaper reported on 5 November. Pirkhoda also confessed to recruiting Azerbaijani agents to distribute 2,500 leaflets with pictures of Javadov. The Iranian embassy in Baku rejected these accusations. Then an Iranian businessman in Baku, A. Moinzadeh, claimed that Pirkhoda was kidnapped from Iran by Azerbaijani authorities.

In September, Samir Adygozalli of the Great Nations Party claimed that the MOIS was working against him through Fikret Husseinli, a member of the party's Supreme Council, according to AzadInform. Adygozalli made similar claims in the spring (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 29 March 1999).

There also have been Iranian accusations of hostile intelligence operations being launched from Azerbaijan. Former Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Velayati said on 28 October that Israel is trying to establish bases in Azerbaijan and Turkey so it can lay siege to Islamic states, according to IRNA. Such claims were rejected by Israeli newspapers, such as the 1 November "Haaretz," and by Israeli officials. Israeli Ambassador to Azerbaijan Arkadiy Mil-Man, in an interview broadcast by ANS-TV on 3 November, said such claims were "absurd" and stemmed from "the febrile imagination of some people." (Bill Samii)

TEHRAN CRACKS DOWN ON AZERBAIJANIS OF IRAN. Tabriz-based Iranian-Azeri academic Mahmoud Ali Chehragani (Johragani), who advocates Azeri national rights, said his supporters were arrested and threatened with torture by Iran's Ministry of Intelligence and Security. He went on to say, in a December interview with RFE/RL's Azeri Service, that he wants to compete in the February 2000 parliamentary election, but he is certain that this will not be permitted.

The National Liberation Movement of Southern Azerbaijan has made a great deal of the supposed persecution of Chehragani. In mid-October, the NLMSA claimed that Chehragani was arrested by the Tabriz Ministry of Intelligence and Security, but Chehragani himself rejected this claim in an interview with the Turan news agency. He did say, however, that his passport was confiscated, medical services were denied to him, and he needed money for an operation. On 15 October a pro-Chehragani picket was held in front of the Iranian embassy in Baku. In late-October the NLMSA said the Iranian mass media is slandering Chehragani in advance of the parliamentary elections.

The NLMSA is not the only promoter of Azeri rights in Iran. The Council of South Azerbaijan Turks Freedom and Independence sent a letter to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe in which it urged European countries to pressure Iran to observe the rights of its ethnic Azeris. The letter said eight underground organizations created the National Council with the aim of defending Azeris' national rights and right of self-determination. According to the letter, the National Council is pursuing eventual unification of northern and southern Azerbaijan.

After RFE/RL's Azeri Service broadcast a report about this letter, it was accused of trying to "sow discord among Iranian Azeris" by the 29 November "Tehran Times." "Tehran Times" warned: "The mischievous attempts of the radio may pay off in other countries, not in Iran." (Bill Samii)