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Iran Report: March 8, 2007

Iran: Activists Arrested Ahead Of International Women's Day

By Golnaz Esfandiari

Noushin Ahmadi Khorasani (undated file photo)

March 5, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- More than 30 Iranian women have been arrested in Tehran for protesting against government pressure being put on women's rights activists.

The women had gathered outside a court in Tehran on March 4 to show their support for four women's rights activists who went on trial that day for organizing a protest last summer against discriminatory laws. Reports say many of the protesters and the activists are now in jail.

The arrests are the culmination of a year of increasing pressure on women's rights activists, who have been arrested, summoned to court, threatened, and harassed. Their protests have also been disrupted -- in some cases violently -- and their websites have been blocked.

MORE: Coverage in Farsi from Radio Farda.

Trying To Silence Activists

Some observers believe the arrests are aimed at intimidating activists who were planning to hold a gathering on March 8 to mark International Women's Day and to protest injustice against women.

The move is also seen as an attempt to silence activists who have been fighting for equal rights.

Many of those who had called for holding a protest in front of the parliament on March 8 are now in jail.

Iranian rights groups report that between 30 and 34 women who were arrested are being held in Tehran's Evin Prison. Among them are four top women's movement leaders: Noushin Ahmadi Khorasani, Parvin Ardalan, Sussan Tahmassebi, and Shahla Entesari.

Right To Freely Assemble

They went on trial on March 4 in connection with a June gathering against laws that they consider discriminatory against women. Charges against them include acting against Iran's national interests and participating in an illegal gathering.

The four leaders were arrested after they left the court and joined other women who had gathered outside Tehran's revolutionary court. They were reportedly holding banners that said: "Holding peaceful gatherings is our absolute right."

Shahla Entesari (

Activists say the Iranian Constitution ensures the right to holding a peaceful gathering. Yet police forces disrupted the activists on March 4 and drove the women away in minibuses.

Peyman Aref, a student activist in Tehran, told Radio Farda that police used force against demonstrators.

"They were threatened and they were also beaten up," Aref said. "The crowd -- [which] included more than 50 people -- tried to resist by sitting on the ground and not reacting to the beatings. Finally, around 10:00, female police came and the activists were arrested."

Reaction To Activists' Campaigns?

During the June demonstration, which was also violently dispersed by police, some 70 people were arrested. All of them have since been released.

An Iranian rights group, the Student Committee of the Human Rights Reporters, said today that the families of some of those arrested on March 4 gathered in front of Evin Prison and called for their release. Authorities have said they are investigating the case.

Azadeh Kian, a lecturer in political science and an Iran researcher at France's National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS), believes women's rights advocates are being targeted in connection with two campaigns they have launched in recent months.

One campaign aims to end the practice of stoning to death convicted adulterers. Authorities, however, deny that stoning sentences are being carried out.

Another campaign aims to gather the signatures of one million Iranians who are in favor of changing discriminatory laws and to present these signatures to the parliament. Islamic laws as applied in Iran deny women equal rights in divorce, child custody, inheritance, and other areas.

Kian tells RFE/RL that the campaigns have been well received, leading to concern among Iranian leaders.

'Intolerance For Human Rights'

Parvin Ardalan (undated file photo)

"The goal of women's rights activists is to gain the support of women from different classes who are in favor of changing the laws but have so far not joined the women's movement," Kian said. "This leads to concern among some of those in power in Iran about the implications of these actions. I see the arrests of activists [on March 4] in this relation; it shows that more and more women want changes in laws and also that women's issues are in fact becoming more and more political."

Human rights groups have expressed concern over the pressure and persecution of women's rights advocates, including those who are calling for reform legislation.

Kian says that by arresting peaceful activists, Iranian leaders are demonstrating their intolerance and lack of respect for human rights.

"It shows once more that under the Islamic establishment, especially under the current government, there is no respect for human rights principles," Kian said. "These women were arrested even though they had not committed any violent or armed action against the establishment. None of the demands of these women are against Islam. This shows that the current government is not ready to accept even the slightest opposition."

The Center of Human Rights Defenders, cofounded by Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi, today described the March 4 arrests as "illegal" and called on authorities to release all of those arrested.

Major Powers Fail To Settle Differences On Iran Resolution

The UN Security Council

March 4, 2007 -- Major powers have failed to settle all their differences over a second UN sanctions resolution against Iran for its nuclear work.

However, the U.S. State Department said they remain committed to passing one soon.

The State Department statement was issued after the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany held a conference call to discuss a new UN Security Council resolution against Iran.

(Reuters, AFP)

Washington Sends Mixed Signals To Tehran, Europe

By Charles Recknagel

The "USS John C. Stennis" was recently moved into the Persian Gulf region

March 2, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- As the UN Security Council again begins to wrestle with how to answer Iran's refusal to stop uranium enrichment, Washington continues to reserve the right to take unilateral action. U.S. officials say no options are off the table.

That gives rise to much speculation about whether the U.S. will ultimately strike Iran. But, for now, U.S. strategy remains centered on diplomacy.

"We hope that they [Iranians] take that pathway of negotiation," U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters in Washington on February 26. "There is an offer out on the table. Secretary [of State Condoleezza] Rice has reiterated that over the past couple of days in some very strong statements that she has made. But we are equally committed to sending the message to the Iranian government, [that] should they choose not to proceed down that pathway, then there will be consequences, and those consequences will be diplomatic isolation from the rest of the world."

Analysts say Washington's mixed messages -- stressing diplomacy while reserving "all options" -- is not accidental but strategic.

He was restating Washington's strategy toward Tehran as the Iran nuclear impasse reached a new highpoint with the expiry of the UN's February 21 deadline for Iran to stop uranium enrichment. Tehran ignored that demand.

'All Options'?

But not everyone in the administration has been stressing diplomacy. U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney reminded Iran on February 24 that "all options" remain open should Iran continue to reject the UN's demands.

"We've worked with the European community and through the United Nations to put in place a set of policies to persuade the Iranians to give up their aspirations and to resolve the matter peacefully, that's still our preference," Cheney told journalists during a trip to Australia on February 24. "But I've also made the point, the president has made the point that all options are still on the table."

Although Cheney did not specifically discuss military strikes, his remarks were widely interpreted in the media amid as indicating the standoff could escalate into a conflict.

Analysts say Washington's mixed messages -- stressing diplomacy while reserving "all options" -- is not accidental but strategic. By hinting at the possibility of military action, Washington underlines the seriousness of its concerns.

The purpose may be to increase the pressure on Iran and to convince Washington's European allies that they need to join in tougher diplomatic steps now to make Iran back down.

Europe Moving Slowly

James Phillips, a foreign policy expert at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, says European states share Washington's concerns about Iran's nuclear activities and want to solve the stalemate peacefully. But Europe does not move as rapidly as Washington might want.

U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney speaking on Iran in Austrailia on February 23 (epa)

"I think in a sense that the Europeans see the EU-3 [Britain, France, and Germany] initiative with Iran as a way to restrain the U.S. more than Iran, by staving off a U.S. military effort," Phillips says. "But unfortunately, the Europeans have not lived up to their own rhetoric on Iran. They have declared an Iranian nuclear weapon to be beyond the pale, but then they don't follow through with major significant economic sanctions to support that position."

The EU-3 initiative is an offer to Iran to give up uranium enrichment in exchange for trade and other incentives.

The EU-3 all have substantial trade ties with Tehran, and that gives them influence with Iran that Washington does not have.

But Washington, which has no ties with Tehran, would like the Europeans to make their offer impossible to refuse, and one way to do that might be to warn they could cut back trade relations if Iran remains defiant.

Analysts say Europe remains far from issuing such warnings. But the EU states are gradually adopting a tougher line toward Iran, something Washington welcomes and encourages.

Engagement Or Isolation?

"A few years ago, you would find very few people assuming that any point we would find the European Union or the EU-3 actually advocating sanctioning Iran in the UN Security Council," says Thomas Valasek, a policy expert at the London-based Center for European Reform. "And yet we have gotten to precisely that point. The European position has certainly hardened in the course of negotiations with Iran and, I think, largely as a result of not seeing tangible results coming out of the negotiations."

Still, Valasek says, there remain fundamental differences in how European capitals and Washington regard Iran.

"There is a limit to how far Europe will go in tightening the screws and it is in a far, far different place from where Washington is currently," he says. "I really do not see -- beyond the sort of targeted narrow sanctions that you have seen coming out of the UN Security Council resolution [number 1737, passed on December 23], which of course the EU-3 have all endorsed. Beyond that I don't really see much more room for further tightening."

According to Valasek, Europe's "limit" is set by both economic considerations -- bilateral sanctions also hurt the states that impose them -- and strategic ones. He says the EU believes engagement -- which comes through trade -- is more persuasive than isolation.

The question now is how far Washington can bring the EU-3 toward a harder stance on Iran as the five permanent UN Security Council members plus Germany try to forge a new resolution.

The U.S. State Department said in a statement on March 1 that all parties are making "progress" toward imposing further multilateral sanctions against Iran.

The sanctions under discussion are reported to include travel bans on Iranian officials who are associated with nuclear and missile programs.

U.S.: Ex-UN Ambassador Warns Iran Against Nuclear Assumptions

Former U.S. envoy to the UN John Bolton

March 2, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- John Bolton spent nearly 1 1/2 years as Washington's ambassador to the United Nations. Radio Farda's Alireza Taheri spoke with Bolton, who said he favors "regime change" in Iran and does not expect the government in Tehran to give up voluntarily on sensitive nuclear work.

RFE/RL: The aircraft carrier the "USS John C. Stennis" recently joined the "USS Dwight D. Eisenhower" in the Sea of Oman. Many analysts argue that the real aim of any massive military presence of U.S. forces in the region cannot be, let's say, defeating insurgents in [Iraq's] Anbar Province. They suspect that the main -- and probably the only -- aim of U.S. forces' presence in the region is a sort of preparation for attacking Iran. Do you agree?

John Bolton: The aircraft carriers are there because of the circumstances that the coalition faces in Iraq and because of normal rotation of assets. But I think as well that the government in Tehran has to take seriously the U.S. position that 'all options are on the table' if Tehran does not cease uranium enrichment as required by the UN Security Council resolution [1737].

RFE/RL: Russia and China have so far been reluctant to punish or sanction the Iranian government to the extent that Washington wishes. Now Iran has openly defied and ignored UN Security Council Resolution 1737. How far would Beijing and Moscow go to support the U.S. position in tackling the Iranian case?

Bolton: I think Russia and China have been protecting the government of Iran from the full effect of economic sanctions. And I think that has weakened the possibility of the Security Council really imposing effective sanctions on the government of Iran. That's not a good thing for the Security Council, and what it means is that the United States and others who are concerned about Iran's pursue of nuclear weapons will go outside the Security Council. Because if the council can't act, we can't allow that inability to act interfere with our responsibility to protect American citizens and our friends and allies.

RFE/RL: Nuclear activities in Iran have preoccupied U.S. policymakers to the point that Washington has become a target of criticism by human rights activists. They say the United States has practically shelved the human rights situation in Iran.

Bolton: I certainly hope that's not what people think, because I know in the United States concern about the human rights situation inside Iran is very intense. And in fact, especially among the Iranian-American community, knowledge about the conditions inside Iran and concern about conditions there is very, very strong. So although the nuclear threat and Tehran's support for terrorism are the most critical national security issues, I think the human rights situation in Iran remains very much on the U.S. mind.

RFE/RL: Some critics of Washington's stance vis-a-vis Iran say the United States has softened its stance by agreeing to sit at the same table with Iran at the March 10 Iraq Security Conference. Some analysts have described this agreement as a crack in the wall between Tehran and Washington.

Bolton: Actually, this conference that's being announced is something that comes from the government of Iraq; it is one of their suggestions. It is modeled on the compact for Afghanistan that was quite successful some years ago, and where all of the regional powers with borders on Afghanistan participated. So I don't view these conferences as dissimilar from that. It's really not intended to be a way backdoor for the United States to talk to Iran. It really is about [Iraq] and our desire for a better life for the people there.

RFE/RL: Do you think the U.S. pressure is having any effect on Iran?

Bolton: I don't see any real prospect that the current government in Tehran is ever going to give up the pursuit of nuclear weapons voluntarily. They certainly have paid no attention to the resolutions of the International Atomic Energy Agency [IAEA] or the near-unanimous resolutions of the UN Security Council. And if they continue to pursue that course of action -- which it certainly looks like they are -- then I think we have no alternative than to take other steps. I personally think that the government there will continue to pursue nuclear weapons as long as it's in power -- which is one reason why I would like to see regime change in Tehran. I'd like to see a truly democratic government [that is] really reflective of the will of the Iranian people in control in Tehran rather than the current regime.

RFE/RL: You just mentioned "other steps." What other steps? A military strike, as President George W. Bush has said time and again...would remain on the table as an option in tackling the Iranian nuclear crisis?

Bolton: I think the president is quite serious when he says he's not taking any option off the table. And, in fact, Vice President Dick Cheney said a few days ago -- echoing Senator [John] McCain [Republican, Arizona] -- that while no one really looks forward to the use of military force, the only thing worse than military force is this regime in Tehran with the control of nuclear weapons. So I think that if the Iranian government really understood how strongly the United States feels about the possibility of the use of military force, that actually might contribute to the government changing its policies. But if Tehran doesn't plan to change its policy, then I think that's certainly an option that the United States should not take off the table.

RFE/RL: But the Iranian regime deeply believes that U.S. forces are bogged down in Iraq and that, therefore, Washington is not in a position to stretch its forces and, by attacking Iran, start a new military campaign in a highly volatile region.

Bolton: I don't think the military option, with respect to the Iranian nuclear program, would involve forces on the ground. I think it would involve the destruction of the nuclear facilities. And that can be done in a variety of other ways. So if I were in the government in Tehran, I wouldn't be counting those chickens just yet.

Iran: Officials Put Positive Spin On IAEA Report

By Vahid Sepehri

Soltanieh said the IAEA report demonstrated the "peaceful nature" of Iran's nuclear program (file photo)

March 1, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Although the February 22 report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said Iran is not in compliance with UN demands to suspend nuclear fuel-making activities, several Iranian officials are saying the report has positive aspects and confirms that Tehran has not broken any nonproliferation rules.

Ali Asghar Soltanieh, the Iranian envoy to the IAEA, welcomed el-Baradei's report on February 23 "as evidence of the peaceful nature of Iran's program," "Kargozaran" reported.

Mohammad Saidi, a deputy head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization, stressed the same day that the report stated that Iran has given "full access to [IAEA] inspectors" recently. He said el-Baradei referred in his report to the "important point" -- that Tehran has abided by the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) and there are no signs of "deviation" in Iran's activities.

The same point was highlighted by the government daily "Iran" on February 24, in a report headlined the "Peaceful nature of Iran's nuclear activity was stressed in el-Baradei's report." Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki also told the press on February 24 that the IAEA confirmed Iran's cooperation and added that there is no evidence of "deviation" to nonpeaceful use of in its nuclear activities, Mehr reported.

Legal Arguments

Along with highlighting positive comments in the report while ignoring the negative ones, officials have also adduced legal arguments to justify Iran's nuclear activities.

Saidi, of the Atomic Energy Organization, said on February 23 that Iran has not halted uranium enrichment -- as demanded by the UN Security Council in its December resolution -- because doing so is contrary to its "rights," and goes against the NPT (which Iran has signed), and "international laws." Saidi added that Tehran will discuss and resolve "outstanding issues" in its nuclear case if it is removed from the UN Security Council and returned to the IAEA.

Supreme National Security Council Secretary Ali Larijani enlarged on that idea on February 27 by saying that the Additional Protocol to the NPT, which allows for tighter checks by UN inspectors, could be implemented again if Iran's dossier is removed from the Security Council.

Larijani referred to the report's findings that Iran has installed 3,000 centrifuges -- which spin uranium in order to enrich it -- as part of the fuel-making process, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on February 28. The centrifuges are seen as a step toward Iran's goal of industrial-scale enrichment to make nuclear fuel, an activity the international community wants stopped.

Larijani said the IAEA was informed of the centrifuge installation, so there is nothing unusual about it. "Iran is pursuing its nuclear program in line with the schedule it has given the IAEA," he said.

IAEA's Friendlier Confines

There may be a perception among some Iranian officials that the IAEA is more easily managed than the UN Security Council, and that it is staffed by politically neutral -- if not relatively friendly -- technicians and technocrats. By contrast, those officials see the UN Security Council as a place where the United States is dominant -- a waiting room of fateful happenings that are beyond Tehran's control.

Ali Larijani (right) sees positives in the IAEA report (epa file photo)

Such a perspective sees the IAEA as a "business-as-usual" kind of place, where ongoing discussion of legal clauses and technicalities -- the minutiae Iran seems to love -- gives Iran the time it believes it needs to argue its case without having to stop its program.

Saidi said on February 23 that the IAEA report indicates there are no deviations "in legal or technical terms." IAEA envoy Soltanieh said the same day that the report referred to an absence of uranium-reprocessing activity -- an early stage of fuel making -- and "this proves the serious contradictions in the Security Council resolutions that have asked Iran to suspend its reprocessing activities."

Expediency Council Chairman Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani said on February 23 that the Western powers, China, and Russia are probably preparing "tough action" following the IAEA report. His passing reference to the report indicates the other view of Iranian officials -- that such reports serve political ends -- and perhaps suggests a rejection of the actions of international community as not to be taken seriously.

Question Of Trust

Such reactions by Iranian officials show a certain contradiction in how they view the controversy over Iran's nuclear program, as well as a divergence in the nature of the dispute. There are legal and technical points at stake, as the Iranians keep saying, but the underlying issue is one of suspicion -- or rather trust.

The leaders of the international community -- namely, the five permanent members of the UN Security Council -- are suspicious of Iran's nuclear activities because they are also suspicious of "the revolution," Iranian officials often say.

So while Iranians say there is no proof of "deviation" -- or none has been found that constitutes irrefutable evidence of deviation in some hypothetical court -- their calls for unconditional talks show that they have accepted the fact that this small detail itself cannot resolve the issue to their benefit.

While Iran's nuclear dossier is both legal and technical, the contradiction is that laws and their application are not generally regarded as subject to negotiation.

Political hostility -- perhaps exemplified by Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad's periodic calls for Israel's destruction -- is seen as fueling the suspicions of the international community. That leads to renewed calls for negotiations to resolve the issue.

The mixing of the legal and political issues in this controversy is illustrated by remarks that Larijani made on February 27: "Referring the dossier from a professional international [organization, the IAEA,] to a political situation [like the UN Security Council] has tied our hands for extra cooperation with the IAEA."

Withdraw Iran's nuclear dossier from the Security Council, he said, and Iran could resume implementation of the NPT's Additional Protocol, allowing closer inspections of its nuclear facilities. The protocol is well and good, he seems to say, but do us a favor first and then we might do one for you.

Iran: Neighbors Worried About Possible War

A U.S. amphibious assault ship operating in the Persian Gulf (file photo)

March 1, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- As the conflict over Iran's nuclear program continues to heat up, many in the region around Iran are concerned about the prospect that the verbal sparring could escalate into armed conflict.

According to an informal survey of citizens and activists in Iraq, Armenia, and Georgia -- three countries either bordering Iran or near by -- people are concerned about the prospect of war.

The most common scenario being discussed centers around the United States or Israel disabling Iran's nuclear facilities with a preemptive military strike.

Preemptive Strike

Most people questioned believe such a strike would lead to war.

"I suppose in the case of a war, Armenia would suffer. Armenia would definitely endure famine, illness, human and material losses, and other harsh consequences of war."

"I expect that America will strike Iran, and if it does strike Iran, the situation will not be favorable to Iraq or to Iran's other neighbors," said one man in Irbil, the capital of Iraq's Kurdish autonomous region, which borders Iran. "This is because the war will be big, and there is the possibility that Iran would use a nuclear strike, resulting in major problems for America, Iraq, and Iran."

Another Irbil resident said the question of a strike on Iran's nuclear facilities is not a question of "if" but of "when" -- and that U.S. interests in Iraq and elsewhere will be targeted as a result.

In Georgia, Tbilisi resident Guram Janjgava expressed similar fears.

"Of course this will harm us," she said. "There's simply no question about it. We are close to Iran. The Americans are far away -- they are our friends; it's the only strong friend Georgia has. But we would still be harmed. America is far away; Iran is our neighbor."

Another Tbilisi resident foresaw dire economic consequences in the event of war and said that Russia's role in the region should not be discounted.

Refugee Fear

In Armenia, Iranian-Armenian Caroline Zaqaryan predicted that war would result in an influx of Iranians across her country's border.

"If there is a war, Iranians and Iranian-Armenians living in Iran will move to Armenia in greater numbers," Zaqaryan said. "I am for the Iranian-Armenians to come; it's our motherland. But it doesn't seem so good to me when I see that there is an increasing number of Iranians living and studying in Armenia. If 3 million out of the 27 million of Iran's population come to Armenia, Armenia will become Iran. I suppose in the case of a war, Armenia would suffer as well, since Armenia is a neighboring country. Armenia would definitely endure famine, illness, human and material losses, and other harsh consequences of war."

Hot Air?

But not everyone questioned considered war as a foregone conclusion. Some see the increasingly hostile rhetoric as part of an effort intended to bring about an end to Iran's nuclear program.

A young Syrian-Armenian man in Armenia, Saroh Sargisyan, said Europe's influence and Iran's strength would ultimately serve to deter an attack on Iran.

An Iranian military exercise last month (Fars)

"I don't really believe that war will break out, since Iran is a quite powerful country in terms of economy, population, riches, as well as resources and capabilities," Sargisyan said. "It won't be easy for the United States to wage war against Iran, especially in the presence of the European [Union]. Besides, there is an issue of the change of the U.S. president [after the November 2008 election], and we can't anticipate the attitude and actions of the next president toward the nations of the east. I suppose there won't be any war. War will cost billions and cause enormous harm in terms of both human and material losses."

Some opinions went to the other extreme. A Baghdad resident, Ilham Kamal, said some in Iraq believe that Iran "deserves such an attack." He said some of his countrymen believe it would serve to lessen Iran's influence in Iraq.

But most people questioned voiced caution.

"I suppose the situation in Iran is quite strained and there are many reasons for this, since the statements made by the Iranian government are rather aggressive, as much as the U.S. policy toward Iran. However, I think the issue should be settled diplomatically, through negotiations," Armenia's Armine Hyusyan said.

Haleem al-Qaddu, the head of the Minorities Council in Iraq, seconded that view.

"We hope that such an attack does not take place, since it is in nobody's interest, and it is in nobody's interest to have a new war in the region," he said. "The region is suffering from wars, and is suffering from the serious security situation; there are many security problems that threaten U.S. interests, that threaten the Iraqi people, in addition to the serious threats to the Iranian people and the Iranian government. As a result, we hope that sanity prevails, as I have already said, and that such military are abandoned in favor of peaceful options and to diplomatic dialog to solve the problems between the Iranian government and the United States."

Or, as Georgia's Bachuki Bachukishvili puts it: "Do we want war now? Do we want to become a military base? I know one thing -- you cannot fight evil with evil."