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Iran: Distrustful Of Russia, Legislators Want Nuclear Diplomacy

President Ahmadinejad has been firm in guiding Iran's nuclear policy (file photo) (AFP) Supreme National Security Council Secretary Ali Larijani arrived in Moscow on 24 January to discuss the nuclear issue and a late-December Russian proposal that Iran enrich uranium on Russian territory. Such a proposal -- in fact, all international treaties, protocols, contracts, and agreements -- must secure legislative approval, per Article 77 of the constitution.

To date, most members of parliament have shown little enthusiasm for Moscow's idea. The legislators' comments seem to reflect distrust of Russia, as well as the quest for national autonomy and self-reliance. Instead, there appears to be a preference for continued negotiations with the international community.

Distrust Of Russia

Soon after the Russian proposal was made, Tehran's Said Abu Talib described it as a "dirty trick," "Kayhan" reported on 28 December. He explained that the proposal was made when the Europeans were in a weak position. He expressed resentment that Russia has worked on the Bushehr nuclear plant for many years and has consistently overcharged Iran.
A letter from 221 legislators showed their support for the steps taken by the government to safeguard Iran's nuclear rights.

"Russia's proposal is a devious and distorted suggestion," said Mashhad representative Javad Aryan Manesh according to the 28 December "Kayhan."

Shiraz's Mohammad Nabi Rudaki, the vice chairman of the National Security and Foreign Policy Committee, initially rejected the Russian proposal. "We announce to the Russians that we want the uranium-enrichment program in our own country," he said according to the 28 December issue of the weekly "Ya Lisarat al-Hussein." He advised the Russians to stop following the U.S. lead.

Rudaki subsequently said the Russian proposal deserves serious consideration, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 3 January. Nevertheless, he went on to say: "Producing nuclear fuel in Iran, putting the Natanz nuclear facility into operation under the auspices of the International Atomic Energy Agency, and thereby generating nuclear energy for peaceful purposes are now a national wish and demand in Iran."

"We mustn't put ourselves in Russia's hands," Bushehr representative Shokrollah Atarzadeh said in the 3 January "Aftab-i Yazd." Atarzadeh called for expanding the scope of negotiations beyond the EU-3 (France, Germany, and the United Kingdom), and he added that Italy had fulfilled many Iranian equipment needs during the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq War. Distance between Iran and other countries results in a vacuum that Russia can fill, and it leaves Iran with few options.

Kazem Jalali, rapporteur of the National Security and Foreign Policy Committee, expressed concern on 15 January that Russia is beginning to adopt the U.S. and European approach of denying Iran control of the nuclear fuel cycle, IRNA reported. He noted delays in the completion of the Bushehr nuclear reactor as evidence of this. "We have always told the Russians that a number of people in Iran do not consider you as a reliable partner; if you deliver Bushehr nuclear power plant [in a] timely [fashion] you will erase the bitter memory from the minds of Iranians and prepare the ground for future cooperation," Jalali added.

Reliance On Diplomacy

Given the overall lack of confidence in Russia, Iranian parliamentarians are calling for the negotiating process with the international community to continue. But they also have shown that their patience has limits.

Whether or not the Foreign Ministry likes it, Tehran representative Imad Afruq said in his 1 January pre-agenda speech that the nuclear issue has become politicized, "Sharq" reported on 2 January. Without "active diplomacy" and employment of all the country's resources, he continued, Iran cannot enhance its negotiating position.

Boin-Zahra representative Qodratullah Alikhani said in the 3 January "Aftab-i Yazd" that negotiations with Europe are preferable to the Russian proposal. Iran must insist on its principles in these negotiations, he said, adding that this still has a chance for success.

"This is a complicated issue and requires a policy and diplomacy based on compromise, not challenge and harsh words," National Security and Foreign Policy Committee member Mahmud Mohammadi said in the 3 January parliamentary session, "Jomhuri-yi Islami" reported the next day. Mohammadi said President Mahmud Ahmadinejad's administration is not committed to the 2004 Paris Accord, and it can therefore end Iran's voluntary suspension of enrichment-related activities at any time.

Bonab representative Rasul Sediqi-Bonabi said in his pre-agenda speech on the same day that "America, which has raised the flag of opposition to Iranian nuclear activities, has the most shameful record of nuclear activities in the world," "Jomhuri-yi Islami" reported on 4 January.

Deputy speaker of parliament Mohammad Reza Bahonar demanded "active and progressive diplomacy," as well as exposure of "the West's human rights violations" as a way of defending Iran's rights, "Sharq" reported on 7 January. Bahonar called for a new effort by the Foreign Ministry.

Iran is not interested in negotiations that will deprive it of the right to use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, parliamentary speaker Gholam-Ali Haddad-Adel said in the 15 January legislative session, "Sharq" reported on 16 January. He went on to attack the West and Israel. He said, "If European countries and, especially America, are so concerned about global peace, they had better explain why they are silent about Israel's nuclear arms and facilities. Why do they equip the false Israeli government with hundreds of nuclear warheads, when Israel is not committed to any international regulations?" He warned the Europeans that the days of colonialism are over and they cannot dictate terms to Iran.

Supreme National Security Council Secretary Ali Larijani briefed the National Security and Foreign Policy Committee on 22 January about everything relevant to the nuclear issue and what to expect in the future, state radio reported. Speaking afterwards, committee rapporteur Kazem Jalali said that the country's "principle" is that it is trying to "attain its nuclear rights fully and it has made dialogue the rule." However, he added, the talks must be productive.

Call For Resumption Of Nuclear Activities

"We request the government put the Natanz nuclear facility into operation because this is the rightful demand of the people and the parliament," Isfahan representative Hassan Kamran-Dastjerdi said in his 4 January pre-agenda speech, "Jomhuri-yi Islami" reported the next day.

Less than a week later, on 10 January, Iran broke International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) seals at the Natanz enrichment facility. The IAEA and many countries expressed unhappiness with this development, although Iran described its actions as "research" only. According to the "Los Angeles Times" on 11 January, Iranian officials said they only plan on a "small-scale pilot program feeding uranium hexafluoride gas made from yellowcake into a centrifuge cascade at Natanz to be spun into enriched uranium."

A letter from 221 legislators showed their support for the steps taken by the government to safeguard Iran's nuclear rights, "Kayhan" reported on 12 January. The letter was read aloud at the 10 January session, and it asserted that Iran has undertaken many confidence-building measures over the last few years. The pause in research activities, it continued, undermined the morale of Iranian scientists. The letter concluded: "we parliamentary representatives hereby declare our decisive support for the decision made by the honorable government of the Islamic Republic of Iran regarding the resumption of nuclear research activities."

Uninformed Legislators

There have been slight hints of dissent. This dissent is not connected with nuclear activities, per se, but with a perceived sense of exclusion from the decision-making process. At least two members of parliament have complained that the legislature is not being kept formally apprised of the status of the nuclear talks. Akbar Alami, who serves on the National Security and Foreign Policy Committee, said, "The Majlis [parliament] is either completely in the dark or at best it is among the least informed state institutions about such subjects," "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 10 January. Alami complained that members of the legislative president board have a condescending attitude toward their colleagues.

Another member of the National Security and Foreign Policy Committee, Ali Ahmadi, noted that he and many of his colleagues stay informed through informal contacts because the committee has not been briefed formally, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported. He noted that parliamentary speaker Gholam-Ali Haddad-Adel is a member of the Supreme National Security Council but that he does not keep the committee informed about the negotiations.

The Structure Of Iran's Government

The Structure Of Iran's Government

INSIDE THE ISLAMIC REPUBLIC: Iran is a theocratic Islamic republic governed under a 1979 constitution that was revised in 1989, when presidential powers were expanded and the prime minister's post was abolished.
Appointed -- not elected -- offices and bodies hold the real power in the government. The supreme leader, who serves as a chief of state would, is appointed for life by an Islamic religious advisory board that is called the Assembly of Experts. The supreme leader oversees the military as well as the judiciary and appoints members of the Guardians Council and the Expediency Council.
The Guardians Council -- some of whose members are appointed by the judiciary and approved by the parliament -- works closely with the government and must approve political candidates and legislation passed by the parliament. The Expediency Council is responsible for resolving legislative disputes that may arise between parliament and the Guardians Council over legislation.
The president, who is popularly elected for a four-year term, serves as the head of government. The legislative branch is made up of a 290-seat body called the Majlis, whose members are elected by popular vote for four-year terms...(more)


RFE/RL's coverage of Iran.