EU REPORTEDLY MULLS RUSSIAN PLAN ON IRAN NUKES
The European Union is willing to consider a Russian proposal to resolve the longstanding deadlock over Iran's nuclear program, Reuters reported on 22 November, citing unidentified diplomats. Under the Russian plan, Iran would be allowed to continue converting uranium ore but would ship it to Russia for enrichment, a system that, in theory, would prevent Iran from producing weapons-grade uranium. An unidentified diplomat from the EU-3 (Britain, France, and Germany -- which are negotiating with Iran on behalf of the EU) told Reuters: "We are considering a meeting in December in Vienna. The Iranians would have to say they want to meet and talk about the Russian proposal." "We will probably come back to this issue after the IAEA board meeting," the diplomat was quoted as saying, referring to the 24 November meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency's (IAEA) board of governors. BW
RUSSIAN PRESIDENT DOWNPLAYS SIGNIFICANCE OF GOVERNMENT RESHUFFLE
President Vladimir Putin downplayed the significance of his recent government reshuffle, saying on 22 November that it came about because Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov wanted to make the government more efficient, RIA-Novosti and Interfax reported the same day. "Fradkov had repeatedly insisted on increasing the number of his deputies because he said the original lineup of his government did not allow Cabinet leaders to effectively address the tasks they faced," Putin said. Putin's promotion of former Kremlin Chief of Staff Dmitrii Medvedev to first deputy prime minister and Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov to deputy prime minister set off a flurry of speculation about who might succeed Putin (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 November 2005). The newspaper "Moskovskii komsomolets" even speculated on 18 November that the move could be a prelude to Putin stepping down before his term expires in 2008 to smooth a successor's path to the Kremlin. BW
PUTIN GIVES NEW KREMLIN ENVOYS A PEP TALK
Speaking in Magadan as he returned from his three-day visit to Japan, President Putin said on 22 November he has high expectations for his newly appointed presidential envoys to the Far East and Volga federal districts, RIA-Novosti reported the same day. Putin said he hopes his new envoy to the Far East, former Kazan Mayor Kamil Iskhakov, will effectively implement a decentralization of power in the region and manage local issues effectively. Putin said his new envoy to the Volga district, Aleksandr Konovalov, "has worked in this district for many months and knows it well. He can resolve the tasks he has been faced with." Iskhakov and Konovalov were appointed to their posts as part of a government reshuffle earlier this month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 November 2005). BW
PUTIN SAYS MAJOR CHANGES IN THE NUCLEAR SECTOR ARE IN THE OFFING...
President Putin said on 22 November that Sergei Kirienko, the newly appointed head of the Federal Atomic Energy Agency, will be responsible for implementing major changes in the nuclear industry, RIA-Novosti and Interfax reported. Kirienko was appointed head of the nuclear agency after being replaced as the Kremlin's envoy to the Volga Federal District (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 November 2005, and End Note 16 November 2005). "This may come as a surprise, but Sergei Kirienko has not been brought into the government to become a nuclear expert. That would not be enough," Putin said. He added that Russia must remain a nuclear power, but that changes must be made in the industry's organization. He did not elaborate. BW
...AS NEW NUCLEAR ENERGY CHIEF LAYS OUT PLANS
In an interview with "Moskovskii komsomolets" on 22 November, Atomic Energy Agency head Kirienko announced plans to build a new generation of nuclear power plants and to expand exports to Southeast Asia. "The old stations were built quite a long time ago and will gradually be taken out of service. They should naturally be succeeded by new-generation stations," Kirienko said. "The Russian atomic industry has a great deal of innovative capital. It is even now completely competitive by the most rigorous international standards," he added, saying the industry is ready "if not for a breakthrough, then for a surge." Regarding expanding exports to Southeast Asia, Kirienko said: "We must not miss the opportunity. In a sense, we need to expand abroad, above all to areas of Southeast Asia, where huge energy resources are required." BW
RUSSIA HOPES GOOD RELATIONS WITH GERMANY CONTINUE UNDER NEW GOVERNMENT
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on 22 November that Moscow hopes to continue good relations with Germany under its new Chancellor Angela Merkel, Russian news agencies reported. "We base our hopes on the stable and deep roots of Russian-German partnership," RIA-Novosti quoted Lavrov as saying. He added that "consistent relations" are in both Moscow's and Berlin's interests. Russia enjoyed warm relations with outgoing German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, but Merkel is widely expected to take a tougher line with Moscow over human rights and the war in Chechnya. The Kremlin press service said on 22 November that Putin congratulated Merkel and invited her to Moscow, Interfax reported. "I hope for the continuation of dialog, and taking the opportunity I would like to invite you to Russia," Putin said. BW
RUSSIA AND IRAQ TRY TO DEPOLITICIZE OIL NEGOTIATIONS
During talks between Foreign Minister Lavrov and his Iraqi counterpart Hoshyar al-Zebari in Moscow on 21 November, the two sides pledged to separate politics from the issue of renewing Russia's oil contracts, "Kommersant-Daily" reported the next day. Al-Zebari said Iraqi authorities plan to establish a joint commission to look into renewing the contracts without politicization. "Of course, the Iraqi government is responsible for the contracts that were concluded with Russia during the rule of Saddam Hussein. But we are in favor of settling those issues by technical means, to remove the political aspect," al-Zebari said. Lavrov said in the talks that Russia is interested in cooperating with Iraq in the energy sector (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 November 2005). BW
IVANOVO OBLAST LEGISLATURE CONFIRMS PUTIN'S CHOICE FOR GOVERNOR
The Ivanovo Oblast legislature on 22 November confirmed presidential nominee Mikhail Men as governor, Interfax reported the same day. Men previously served as deputy Moscow mayor and has chaired both the Moscow sport committee and the city's committee for contacts with religious organizations. Incumbent Governor Vladimir Tikhonov, whose term expires on 27 December, was plagued by scandals and came under criticism from Putin. In September, presidential envoy to the Central Federal District Georgii Poltavchenko proposed nominating an outsider to administer the region, since there was no consensus among the local elite regarding who should replace Tikhonov -- and settled on Men (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 September 2005). BW
NGO BILL PASSES FIRST READING IN DUMA BY WIDE MARGIN
The State Duma on 23 November overwhelmingly passed in the first reading a controversial bill restricting the activities of foreign and domestic human-rights organizations and charities, Russian and international news agencies reported. The bill, which passed 370-18, requires all nongovernmental organizations operating in Russia to re-register and increases state supervision of them. An NGO can be refused registration if its goals, tasks, or activities violate the Russian Constitution, promote extremism, or aid money laundering, RIA-Novosti reported. "We must toughen control over the activities of certain organizations, including some foreign NGOs," said Vladimir Pligin, chairman of the Duma's Committee on Constitutional Legislation and State Development. The legislation also bars representative offices of foreign NGOs from working in Russia and restricts domestic organizations' ability to accept foreign cash or employ non-Russian workers. The bill, widely seen as a response to alleged NGO activities in support of Ukraine's Orange Revolution and Georgia's Rose Revolution, has been broadly criticized by rights activists (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 June and 18 November 2005). The bill had 15 sponsors, including members of Unified Russia, the Liberal Democratic Party, the Communist Party, and Motherland, gazeta.ru reported on 23 November. BW
RUSSIAN PRIME MINISTER POSTPONES TRIP TO UKRAINE
Prime Minister Fradkov postponed a planned visit to Ukraine on 23 November, reportedly because Moscow and Kyiv could not reach agreement about payments for gas, ITAR-TASS reported. Industry and Energy Minister Viktor Khristenko told the television news program "Vremya" on 22 November that the visit was postponed due to a failure "to achieve specific accords on forms of cooperation in the gas sector." Ukraine currently buys Russian gas at a heavily discounted price in barter arrangements, but Russia is seeking to change the arrangement to monetary payments. Despite the postponed visit, Fradkov will meet with Ukrainian Prime Minister Yuriy Yekhanurov in Moscow during a session of the council of the heads of Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) governments on 25 November. BW
MOSCOW'S ENVOY CALLS ON CHECHENS TO VOTE
Presidential envoy to the Southern Russia Federal District Dmitrii Kozak appealed to voters in Chechnya on 22 November to cast their ballots in the "extremely important" parliamentary election on 27 November, ITAR-TASS reported. Chechen Central Election Commission Chairman Ismail Baikhanov told journalists in Moscow on 21 November he expects voter turnout on 27 November to be between 60-70 percent, ITAR-TASS reported. In a recent opinion poll conducted in Chechnya, 72 percent of respondents said they believe that Chechen First Deputy Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov will determine the outcome of the ballot, according to annews.ru, as cited on 23 November by kavkazweb.net. "Newsweek-Russia" No. 43, predicted that the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia will win 70 percent of the seats, the Union of Rightists Forces (SPS) 15 percent, and the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (KPRF) 15 percent. LF
COUNCIL OF EUROPE OFFICIAL URGES PARTICIPATION IN ARMENIAN REFERENDUM
In a statement posted on 22 November on the Council of Europe's website (http://www.coe.int), Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) President Rene van der Linden called on Armenians to participate in the 27 November referendum on a package of constitutional amendments, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Noting that "the revision of the constitution is a major political event that will affect the lives of all Armenian citizens," van der Linden warned that "failure of this referendum due to a too low turnout...would be a major setback for Armenia's progress in fulfilling some of the most important commitments" it made on joining the Council of Europe. A minimum of one-third of Armenia's estimated 2.4 million registered voters must approve the amendments for them to pass. An earlier referendum on constitutional changes two years ago failed due to insufficient support (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 May 2003). Armenian President Robert Kocharian said on 22 November that "life will go on," and the regime will continue to implement reforms even if voters comply with opposition demands not to participate in the vote and the proposed amendments are not approved, Reuters reported. LF
EU ENVOY VISITS AZERBAIJAN
Heikki Talvitie, the EU's special envoy for the South Caucasus, met in Baku on 22 November with opposition leaders, Central Election Commission (MSK) officials, Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov, and President Ilham Aliyev to discuss the outcome of the disputed 6 November parliamentary election, Azerbaijani media reported. Eldar Namazov, co-founder of the opposition alignment Yeni Siyaset (YeS), told Talvitie that the authorities' continued refusal to correct falsified results may impel the population to radical protests, echo-az.com reported. Talvitie told journalists before his departure that despite some serious irregularities, he believes the 6 November election was better than previous ballots. He specifically praised the use of indelible ink to mark voters' fingers to preclude multiple voting. Talvitie also praised the opposition's commitment that its ongoing protests against the falsification of the ballot will be exclusively peaceful. He said "technical consultations" on Azerbaijan's participation in the EU's New Neighbor Policy program will begin "soon." The International Crisis Group in its 21 November assessment of the Azerbaijani election argued that the EU should not embark on such talks with the Azerbaijani government unless the MSK systematically investigates election violations and revises the outcome of the ballot. LF
OIL WORKERS STRIKE IN AZERBAIJAN
Up to 2,000 employees of company McDermott Caspian Contractors Inc. (MCCI), a subsidiary of the U.S. oil company McDermott International, staged an eight-hour strike on 22 November to protest alleged discrimination, Turan and day.az reported. The workers claimed that Azerbaijani employees are paid far less than Indians and Filipinos employed at the same Baku facility, and they do not have insurance. They also protested against the government ban on establishing trade unions in foreign companies. The protesters met on 22 November with management to discuss their demands for higher wages, and vowed to stage a second strike next week if those demands are not met. MCCI builds oil rigs for Western companies prospecting in the Caspian. LF
GEORGIAN PARLIAMENT VOTES TO CONSIDER WITHDRAWAL FROM CIS
The Georgian parliament approved by majority vote on 22 November a proposal by the opposition Democratic Front faction to begin reviewing whether it is expedient for Georgia to remain a member of the CIS, Georgian media reported. Faction leader David Berdzenishvili argued that Georgia has gained nothing from being a CIS member. Parliament speaker Nino Burdjanadze argued that the CIS has exhausted its potential; at the same time she admitted that Georgia could face difficulties as a result of leaving the CIS, such as having to pay higher prices for Russian gas. She stressed that the debate does not the mark the beginning of Georgia's withdrawal from the CIS. But in Moscow, some Russian politicians expressed alarm: Aleksei Mitrofanov (Liberal Democratic Party of Russia) predicted that within 12 months of quitting the CIS, Georgia would co-opt the U.S. to launch a military campaign to restore its control over the breakaway republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and he advocated a preventive strike against Georgia similar to the U.S. bombing of Belgrade in 1999, rustavi2.com reported. LF
GEORGIAN PRIME MINISTER MEETS WITH U.S. OFFICIAL
Zurab Noghaideli met in Tbilisi on 22 November with U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Matthew Bryza to discuss energy issues and approaches to resolving the South Ossetian conflict, Georgian media reported. Caucasus Press quoted Bryza as saying that a solution to that conflict will take some time, and should encompass demilitarization and the restoration of mutual trust, followed by economic rehabilitation and a decision on South Ossetia's status vis-a-vis the central Georgian government. Bryza praised Noghaideli's talks in Kazakhstan last week on the purchase of Kazakh gas, stressing that diversification of energy supplies is a necessary precondition for Georgia's energy independence. Kazakhstan agreed last week to sell Georgia 2 billion cubic meters of gas in 2006 at a price of $68 per 1,000 cubic meters, Caucasus Press reported on 21 November, but that agreement could be sabotaged if Russia increases its tariffs for the use of its export-pipeline network. Georgian Energy Minister Nika Gilauri was to meet in Moscow on 23 November with Gazprom officials to discuss the tariffs issue. LF
GEORGIA DEMANDS RUSSIA HAND OVER FUGITIVE EX-MINISTER
The Georgian Foreign Ministry summoned Russian Ambassador Vladimir Chkhikvishvili on 22 November and handed him a protest note deploring the broadcasting on 19 November by a Russian television channel of an interview with former Georgian National Security Minister Igor Giorgadze, Caucasus Press reported. Giorgadze fled Georgia 10 years ago after being accused of masterminding the August 1995 car bomb attack on then-Georgian parliament Chairman Eduard Shevardnadze. Giorgadze's whereabouts are unknown, but he regularly gives interviews to Russian media. The Georgian Foreign Ministry demanded his immediate arrest and extradition to Tbilisi. LF
GEORGIAN DEFENSE MINISTER ANTICIPATES RECONQUEST OF ABKHAZIA WITHIN FIVE YEARS
Irakli Okruashvili told the independent television channel Imedi on 22 November that he thinks it will take a maximum of five years to restore Tbilisi's control over the breakaway republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, Caucasus Press and ITAR-TASS reported. Two days earlier, President Mikheil Saakashvili declared that restoring control over Abkhazia is Georgia's fundamental task. Abkhaz officials, including Foreign Minister Sergei Shamba and Security Council Secretary Stanislav Lakoba, dismissed Saakashvili's statement as "populist" and unrealistic, Interfax and Caucasus Press reported on 21 November. LF
KAZAKH PRESIDENT PROPOSES LEGISLATION TO PRECLUDE SPLIT IN SOCIETY
Addressing a formal gathering in Astana on 22 November to mark the 10th anniversary of the founding of the Assembly of Peoples of Kazakhstan, President Nursultan Nazarbaev said the country's laws should be amended to preclude an "open confrontation" between political parties like the one that he claimed -- in an allusion to the upcoming presidential ballot in which he is seeking reelection -- is currently emerging, Interfax reported. Nazarbaev said any such efforts to split society could endanger the country's statehood. LF
INVESTIGATION OF KAZAKH OPPOSITIONIST'S DEATH CONTINUES
Kazakh Interior Minister Baurzhan Mukhamadzhanov briefed journalists on 22 November on the ongoing investigation into the death of former Emergency Situations Agency head Zamanbek Nurkadilov, khabar.kz reported. Mukhamedzhanov said an inspection of Nurkadilov's home showed no signs of forced entry by an intruder, and that Nurkadilov was reportedly extremely agitated the day before his death. He said neither suicide nor murder can be ruled out. Nurkadilov, who broke with President Nazarbaev and joined the opposition last year, was found dead on 12 November with two bullet wounds in his chest and one in his head (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 and 15 November 2005). LF
KYRGYZ BROADCASTING HEAD DENIES CENSORSHIP BY AUTHORITIES
Kyyas Moldokasymov, who is director of Kyrgyzstan's National TV and Radio Corporation, denied on 23 November that the country's leadership exerts any pressure to censor the content of programming, akipress.org reported. Moldokasymov was responding to a statement made earlier that day by Internews, claiming that a television feature by journalist Dinara Suymalieva was taken off the air at the insistence of the Kyrgyz president's office. Moldokasymov said the feature in question contained statements that violate the law on the media. He also claimed that it contained derogatory comments about the Kyrgyz national epos "Manas" and about Kyrgyz novelist Chingiz Aitmatov, and that it referred to the Kyrgyz as "a people without a history." LF
TAJIK POLITICAL PARTIES LOOK AHEAD TO PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION
The Social Democratic Party of Tajikistan has embarked on consultations with other political parties about the possibility of fielding a single candidate in the presidential election due in November 2006, Asia Plus-Blitz reported on 23 November, quoting party Deputy Chairman Shokirdjon Khakimov. Khakimov predicted that incumbent President Imomali Rakhmonov's National Democratic Party of Tajikistan will use all political and economic leverage at its disposal to ensure a victory for its candidate, who will probably be Rakhmonov. Also on 23 November, Mukhuddin Kabiri, deputy chairman of the Islamic Renaissance Party, said his party "may" field its own candidate in the 2006 presidential election, but has not yet embarked on formal discussions of whether or not to do so, Asia Plus-Blitz reported. LF
BELARUSIAN CHIEF BANKER BOASTS OF STRONG NATIONAL CURRENCY
Belarusian National Bank Chairman Pyotr Prakapovich told President Alyaksandr Lukashenka on 22 November that the Belarusian ruble has been "steadily strengthening" throughout this year, Belarusian Television reported. "The exchange rate of the Belarusian currency has been set up on a firm foundation -- on economic growth and continued increase of our foreign exchange and gold reserves," Prakapovich said. "The hard-currency reserves of the National Bank have exceeded $1.5 billion according to the national exchange rate." The official exchange rate of the Belarusian ruble in Minsk is 2,150 per $1. JM
SPLIT BETWEEN BELARUSIAN WRITERS WIDENS
The leadership of the Union of Belarusian Writers (SBP) on 22 November spoke in favor of excluding those SBP members who took part in last week's foundation of a rival organization -- the government-sponsored Union of Writers of Belarus (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 November 2005), Belapan reported. SBP Chairman Ales Pashkevich said 53 of his organization's 582 members participated in the convention of the rival union, but none of them has so far filed an official request to quit the SBP. JM
UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT CALLS FOR ORANGE-REVOLUTION UNITY...
President Viktor Yushchenko on 22 November called on his supporters not to give up hope for the 2004 Orange Revolution that installed him in power and to back his efforts to implement revolutionary ideals, Ukrainian and international media reported. Yushchenko spoke for nearly an hour to a crowd of 100,000 that gathered on Kyiv's Independence Square to celebrate the first anniversary of the Orange Revolution. Commenting on the sacking of Prime Minister Yuliya Tymoshenko's cabinet in September, Yushchenko said that "private ambitions" were behind the accusations of corruption that triggered the sacking and a subsequent split in the Orange Revolution coalition. Yushchenko concluded his speech with a call on the forces that backed his presidential bid to reunite and win the 2006 parliamentary elections. "I swear to each of you -- I am ready to do everything I can for our unity," Yushchenko pledged. His speech was sporadically interrupted by shouts "Yulya," an informal form of "Yuliya," from the crowd. JM
...AS DOES SACKED PRIME MINISTER
Speaking from Kyiv's Independence Square rostrum on 22 November, Tymoshenko made an ardent appeal to Orange Revolution adherents to pool their efforts and win the 2006 parliamentary elections, Ukrainian and international media reported. "I am certain that just as we supported Viktor Yushchenko in the presidential election, we must now unite to elect a prime minister who will embody everything we fought for," Tymoshenko said during her 20-minute address. "I want to dismiss all the rumors that it is Tymoshenko versus Yushchenko.... This cannot be so, because this is the president that you and I helped bring to power. We did it together." According to Tymoshenko, the constitutional reform that will take effect next year is to "practically strip the Ukrainian president of powers and give extraordinary powers to the prime minister and the people who will form a parliamentary majority." Touching upon her dismissal from the post of prime minister, Tymoshenko said without expounding further that it was a "temporary" win for the "clans." JM
BLOOD TESTS REPORTEDLY CONFIRM THAT UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT WAS POISONED WITH DIOXIN
Presidential spokeswoman Iryna Herashchenko told journalists on 22 November that President Yushchenko's family has been notified that recent tests of Yushchenko's blood samples confirmed the presence of dioxin in his body, Interfax-Ukraine reported. "According to preliminary information, the results the forensic medical examination received on 9 November 2005 show the presence of dioxin in Yushchenko's body. All official statements will be made by investigators and the Prosecutor-General's Office," Herashchenko said. "The tests showed that the dioxin concentration in Yushchenko's blood exceeds the natural amount by 1,000 times," Herashchenko added, according to ITAR-TASS. Earlier this month Yushchenko submitted samples of his blood for tests by domestic and foreign specialists to pursue the criminal case into his alleged poisoning during last year's presidential election campaign. JM
U.S. STRESSES NEED FOR BOSNIAN CONSTITUTIONAL CHANGES...
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told the members of Bosnia-Herzegovina's three-man Presidency in Washington on 22 November to transform their country into a "stronger, energetic state," RFE/RL reported. She noted that the constitutional changes to which the three have pledged themselves in principle are "an historic step forward...[that] is essential if Bosnia and Herzegovina are to reach the full goal of integration into Euro-Atlantic institutions." The members of the Presidency -- Croat Ivo Miro Jovic, Muslim Sulejman Tihic, and Serb Borislav Paravac -- did not make any specific commitments in their statement issued before their meeting with Rice, only saying that they have begun a process that "will enhance the authorities of the state government and streamline parliament and the office of the Presidency." They acknowledged that further reforms of the constitution are necessary to meet the criteria for EU membership (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 November 2005). PM
...AND FOR INDICTEES TO BE ARRESTED
U.S. Secretary of State Rice also told the three members of Bosnia-Herzegovina's Presidency in Washington on 22 November that it is crucial that Bosnian authorities track down remaining indicted war criminals, including Bosnian Serbs Radovan Karadzic and his former commander, General Ratko Mladic, RFE/RL reported. She repeated U.S. policy that failure to arrest such fugitives will block Bosnia's membership in NATO. Rice praised a statement from Bosnian Serb leaders that committed to bringing war criminals to justice. Rice also reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to reaching a just final settlement in Kosova. PM
LEADING BOSNIAN SERB INDICTEE'S WIFE REPEATS CALL FOR HIS SURRENDER
Ljiljana Zelen-Karadzic, the wife of Radovan Karadzic, appealed to her husband on national television on 22 November to surrender to the Hague-based war crimes tribunal, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. "It is very painful and difficult for me to ask you this but, nevertheless, with all my heart and soul, I beg you to surrender. It will be a sacrifice [on behalf of] us and our family," she said. She added that she hopes that he is "alive and well and are able to make decisions by yourself." She stressed that she is "begging you to make this decision and to do it for the sake of all of us. In all my despair and powerlessness, it is the only thing I can do. I beg you." Zelen-Karadzic made a very similar televised appeal to her husband in late July (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 29 July and 12 August 2005). PM
MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT RULES OUT UNIFICATION WITH ROMANIA
President Vladimir Voronin said in a televised statement on 22 November that Moldova has no intention of unifying with Romania, ITAR-TASS reported the next day. "There are two independent states. Romania's president and I have agreed that Moldova and Romania will meet each other as independent and sovereign states in the European Union," Voronin said. Voronin also dismissed a statement made by his Romanian counterpart Traian Basescu suggesting that the people of those two countries make up one ethnic group: Romanians. "Last year's population census in Moldova found that 94 percent of the country's indigenous residents regard themselves as Moldovans, and not as Romanians," Voronin said. In the same speech, Voronin stressed that the conflict in the breakaway Transdniester region should be settled according to Moldovan law, ITAR-TASS reported on 23 November. BW
REPORT ACCUSES GAZPROM OF INSTIGATING MOLDOVA'S ENERGY CRISIS
The Russian state-controlled natural gas monopoly Gazprom instigated Moldova's energy crisis to gain control over a major power plant, dpa reported on 21 November, citing a report by Infotag that quotes anonymous sources. Gazprom colluded with KazRosGaz -- a 50:50 joint venture between Kazakh monopoly KazMunaiGaz and Gazprom --to spark the crisis and wrest control of Moldova's main power station Moldavskaya GRES, the report alleges. Earlier this month, a major power plant in Moldova's breakaway Transdniester region cut off energy supplies to other parts of Moldova, causing blackouts (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 November 2005). Gazprom has offered to deliver gas to the power plant in exchange for turning ownership over to Gazprom and KazRosGaz, the agency reported. Gazprom officials declined to comment on the reports, which could not be independently confirmed. BW
IRAQI RECONCILIATION CONFERENCE ENDS WITH PLEDGE TO MOVE FORWARD
Iraqi delegates to the 19-21 November Arab League-sponsored meeting on national reconciliation in Cairo vowed at its conclusion to undertake a series of trust-building measures ahead of a broader conference slated to be held in Baghdad early next year.
While the meeting promises to help move Sunni Arabs into the political process, it is unlikely to do much in terms of lessening the insurgency. Shi'ite delegates to the meeting refused to enter into any dialogue with Ba'athists or armed groups.
The position of armed groups loyal to the deposed Ba'ath Party remains unclear. Ayham al-Samarra'i, who claims close relations with such armed groups, said last week that the groups will not lay down their arms "until peace and accord are established in the country." Al-Samarra'i also contended that armed groups are willing to enter into talks with the United States, but not with the Iraqi government.
Sunni Islamist insurgents, whose ultimate goal is the establishment of an Islamic state in Iraq, have no interest in entering into negotiations with the Iraqi government, which they view as illegitimate.
Fugitive Jordanian terrorist Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi's Tanzim Qa'idat Al-Jihad fi Bilad Al-Rafidayn (Al-Qaeda Organization of Jihad in the Land of the Two Rivers) criticized the Cairo conference in a 20 November statement posted to the Internet on 21 November.
The statement called the conference a sellout sponsored by Arab states "which have been terrified by the spirit of jihad that runs through the [Arab community]."
"The goal is to drag Sunni Muslims into accepting the results of their filthy 'political' game, and to surround the jihad project whose results have become clear and whose flags are looming on the horizon," the statement said. "As for the [Shi'ites] with whom they want us to hold dialogue, we will be tough when calling them to account. For they have made up their minds, unified their front, and declared war on monotheism [referring to the Sunni jihad movement] and its people.... The only possible dialogue between us and them is the dialogue of the sword and seas of blood which they will pay for the crimes they have committed."
Delegates said the Cairo meeting laid the groundwork for future talks, with all of them pledging to cease blaming one another and to not use religious, political, or media platforms to incite hatred or division.
In a closing statement, delegates expressed their commitment to the unity, sovereignty, and independence of Iraq, and acknowledged that while resistance "is a legitimate right for all peoples, terrorism is not legitimate resistance," RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq (RFI) reported.
For Sunni Arabs, the meeting served as a step toward achieving several of their demands. Most notably, the Iraqi government acknowledged Sunni Arab resistance as legitimate, but it stopped short of condoning it. "Even though resistance is a legitimate right for all peoples, terrorism is not legitimate resistance. We thus condemn terrorism and the acts of violence, murder, and abductions that target Iraqi civilians and civil, governmental, and humanitarian organizations, national wealth and houses of worship and call for confronting this immediately," the final statement said.
Sunni Arabs also obtained a commitment from the government for "the creation of a program to end the mission of the multinational forces" in Iraq. Government leaders, however, maintained after the conference that any pullout of multinational forces would be contingent upon the security situation in Iraq. "The troops' pullout depends on the security situation in Iraq and we are continuously training the Iraqi forces so that they can fill the vacuum left by the coalition forces once they leave the country," Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Ja'fari told reporters in Cairo on 21 November, RFI reported.
Delegates also agreed on the need to release "all innocent prisoners not convicted by a court" and to investigate all "allegations of torture and bring those responsible for [torture] to justice."
Muhammad Bashar al-Faydi, a member of the Muslim Scholars Association, a Sunni organization, told MENA that the association objected to the wording of the final statement, which identified Iraq as a democratic and federal. "Those added words would imply an approval of the content of Iraq's constitution, which the [association] has boycotted," al-Faydi told MENA.
Association spokesman Muthanna Harith al-Dari told Al-Arabiyah television on 21 November that the meeting "delivered a message to the entire world that Iraq has returned to its Arab fold by meeting at the Arab League headquarters in Cairo."
The conference appears to also have succeeded in carving out a greater role for the Arab League in Iraq's affairs, with the final statement calling on Arab states to establish a diplomatic presence in Iraq, forgive foreign debt, and provide humanitarian and reconstruction aid. For Sunni Arab league member states, the meeting's outcome signified an assurance on the part of Iraq's Shi'ite-led government that Iraq would not disavow its connection to the Sunni Arab world.
The final statement also called for the establishment of a preparation and monitoring committee comprised of Iraqi political forces, Arab League, and UN representatives. Arab League Secretary-General Amr Musa told reporters in Cairo on 21 November that the conference succeeded "by 70 percent" in solving differences among the Iraqi powers and factions.
NEO-TALIBAN ABDUCTORS MURDER INDIAN HOSTAGE
Qari Mohammad Yusof, purporting to speak on behalf of the neo-Taliban on 22 November, said that the Indian national abducted recently by militants has been killed, Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 and 22 November 2005). AFP the same day quoted a neo-Taliban source it identified as Yusof Ahmadi -- presumably the same person -- that "we killed the Indian road worker with Kalashnikov shots, based on our earlier ultimatum." The district head of Khashrod in Nimroz Province, Hashem Alekozai, confirmed to RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan on 23 November that the body of the Indian hostage, identified as driver M. R. Kutty, has been found. Neo-Taliban militants apparently abducted Kutty, along with three Afghan employees of the Indian government-owned company Border Roads Organization in the southern Nimroz Province on 19 November. They later threatened to kill their Indian hostage if his employer did not pull out of Afghanistan within 48 hours. Indian officials refused to halt the road-construction company's activities in Afghanistan. Reports on 22 November said one of the Afghan hostages, a driver, was released unharmed. Afghan Interior Ministry spokesman Mohammad Yusof Stanezai told AFP that the Afghan driver, who was released on 21 November in Nimroz, "is being questioned by intelligence." AT
AFGHAN LEADER MEETS WITH AUSTRALIAN PREMIER
President Hamid Karzai met in Kabul on 21 November with visiting Australian Prime Minister John Howard, the official Radio Afghanistan reported. The two leaders discussed Australia's assistance to Afghanistan in the areas of reconstruction, counterterrorism, and counternarcotics. Prior to meeting with Karzai, Howard paid a visit to Australian Special Forces currently deployed in southern Afghanistan as part of the U.S.-led coalition, Radio Australian reported on 21 November. Howard hinted that his country might be prepared to send an additional 200 or so troops to lead a Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) in southern Afghanistan, according to Radio Afghanistan. AT
THIRD IRANIAN OIL MINISTRY NOMINEE REJECTED...
President Mahmud Ahmadinejad's third nominee for petroleum minister, Seyyed Mohsen Tasaloti, failed on 23 November to win a vote of confidence from the parliament, state radio reported. One hundred thirty-nine deputies opposed his nomination, 77 backed him, and 38 abstained. During the debate that preceded the vote, objections were raised to Tasaloti's perceived lack of experience and professional expertise, and there were questions about his personal life. Legislators complained that Tasaloti does not believe in the existence of an oil mafia and has no program for combating the phenomenon. They also raised allegations that Tasaloti backed the reformist Mustafa Moin in the 2005 presidential race, although Ahmadinejad rejected those concerns, saying, "We believe that elections are free and by secret ballot, and we don't have the right to make someone's vote the criterion for assessing them." Parliamentary speaker Gholam-Ali Haddad-Adel said it is almost unprecedented not to have a cabinet minister three months after the president is sworn in, and he suggested that the Guardians Council and Expediency Council must decide how to proceed. BS
...ON HEELS OF INCREASING OPPOSITION
The 31-member central council of the conservative parliamentary majority faction failed to back Tasaloti at a 22 November session to review his nomination, Fars News Agency reported. The conservative faction on 22 November designated parliamentary speaker Haddad-Adel, deputy speaker Mohammad Reza Bahonar, Tehran representative Ahmad Tavakoli, and Mashhad's Hojatoleslam Mohammad Reza Faker to discuss the situation with President Ahmadinejad. Seyyed Jalal Yahyazadeh, who represents Taft and Meybod, said that the Intelligence and Security Ministry must investigate allegations that Tasaloti has a U.S. Green Card, Fars News Agency reported. Ahmadinejad, meanwhile, canceled a 23 November visit to Ilam Province, Fars News Agency reported the previous day. No reason for the cancellation was offered, but it could have been connected with a desire to attend the session at which voting on Ahmadinejad's nominee takes place. BS
TEHRAN PROFESSOR TO HEAD IRAN'S STOCK EXCHANGE
Ali Salehabadi, a 27-year-old with a doctorate in economics who teaches financial management and engineering at Tehran University, is the new secretary-general of the Tehran Stock Exchange, Iranian state television reported on 21 November. The exchange's board of directors endorsed the appointment. Salehabadi's dissertation at Imam Sadeq University was on the topic of "establishing a stock-index futures market" with an emphasis on "jurisprudence and the necessities of the capital market." He has also written on "speculation in the stock market from the Islamic perspective" and the "Islamic justification for derivative instruments." Adnkronos International's website (http://www.adnki.com) suggests that Salehabadi worked for the Imam Khomeini Foundation and was chosen because he holds radical economic views. BS
IRANIAN REFORMIST PARTY DENOUNCES CURRENT NUCLEAR POLICY
Mohsen Armin, spokesman for the reformist Mujahedin of the Islamic Revolution Organization, said on 22 November that the party discussed the nuclear issue at its latest meeting, ISNA reported. Reformists were criticized for purportedly fearing the United States when they advocated signing the Additional Protocol of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) as a confidence-building measure three years ago, he said. Nevertheless, the reformist government went ahead with this and precluded the international community's reaching an anti-Iranian consensus. Moreover, he continued, Iran took advantage of U.S.-European differences and began negotiations with the EU-3 (France, Germany, and the United Kingdom). The current administration's "adventurous policy" has brought Europe and the United States together and elicited a hostile resolution from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Armin added. Armin predicted that Washington will not push for a resolution at the upcoming IAEA meeting because it is working on building a consensus with Russia and China. The Mujahedin of the Islamic Revolution Organization, Armin said, discourages using the nuclear issue in factional disputes and encourages emphasizing the national interest. Armin said his organization calls for a reversion to the previous national policy. BS
CZECHS REBUFF IRANIAN LEGISLATORS
Jiri Otcenasek, an official at the Iranian Embassy in Prague, said on 22 November that a visit by Iranian legislators to the Czech capital has been postponed, CTK news agency reported. Otcenasek said the "official position" is that the visit was "canceled" so the Iranian legislators would not miss a vote, but he did not specify the subject of the vote. CTK reported that it had obtained information that the Iranians actually canceled their visit because senior politicians -- apart from their counterparts from the Czech lower house -- did not plan to meet with them. The Iranians unsuccessfully sought meetings with Czech Prime Minister Jiri Paroubek and other politicians, according to CTK. BS
IRAQI PRESIDENT MEETS IRANIAN SUPREME LEADER, JUDICIARY CHIEF
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei met Iraqi President Jalal Talabani in Tehran on 22 November, IRNA reported. Khamenei said Iran is proud of Iraq's progress and independence and the potential for cooperation is unlimited. Khamenei predicted that the United States and United Kingdom will withdraw from Iraq with a bitter taste in their mouths. Khamenei denounced perceived U.S. efforts to damage Iran-Iraq relations and said, "Attempts of certain elements to satisfy the U.S. are doomed, because Iraq and its neighbors will remain in the region forever, but, U.S. presence there is temporary." Talabani also met judiciary chief Ayatollah Mahmud Hashemi-Shahrudi on 22 November, IRNA reported. Shahrudi was adamant that Iraq take into account an Iranian indictment against ousted Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 26 October 2005). Talabani reportedly pledged his cooperation. Hashemi-Shahrudi called for attention to "cultural and moral issues" and added, "The Iraqi youth [should] be guarded against the influence of the Western culture." BS
IRAQI VICE PRESIDENT SAYS GOVERNMENT PREPARED TO HELP INSURGENTS WHO WANT TO DISARM
Iraqi Vice President Adil Abd al-Mahdi said on 22 November that the government is prepared to "help" insurgents seeking to lay down their arms and work toward reconciliation, AFP reported the same day. "We are not bent on revenge. We will help any party wishing to disarm," al-Mahdi said. He added, however, that "the government will strike back forcefully against all acts of violence and terrorism." Al-Mahdi's comments came just two days after Iraqi President Jalal Talabani suggested at an Iraqi reconciliatory meeting in Cairo that he is prepared to hold talks with "those who call themselves the resistance" if they contact him. "To those who took up arms to end the occupation, we say that the solution will not come through weapons but through political dialogue and democratic means," Talabani said in Cairo, where he attended an Arab League-sponsored meeting of Iraq's rival factions (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 and 22 November 2005). BW
CAR BOMBER KILLS AT LEAST 22 IN NORTHERN IRAQ
A suicide car bomb killed at least 22 people, including 10 police officers, in Kirkuk on 22 November, international news agencies reported the same day. The bomber detonated a car packed with explosives adjacent to a group of police vehicles shortly after sunset on the main road leading south from Kirkuk to Baghdad, Reuters reported. Reuters quoted police officials as saying that the death toll is expected to rise because many of the injuries are severe. Also on 22 November, a mortar round exploded during a ceremony outside the town of Tikrit attended by U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad. One person was injured in the blast, which took place outside one of deposed President Saddam Hussein's palaces. Khalilzad was at a ceremony there to turn the complex, formerly used as a headquarters for the U.S. military, over to Iraqi officials. One policeman was killed and two others were injured when an explosive device targeting their patrol between Basmaya and Al-Suwayra detonated on 23 November, dpa reported the same day. BW
TEN U.S. SOLDIERS, 139 INSURGENTS KILLED IN FIGHTING NEAR SYRIAN BORDER
Ten U.S. soldiers were killed in combat during a 17-day offensive against insurgents along the Iraqi-Syrian border that concluded earlier this month, dpa reported on 23 November, quoting military officials. The offensive, called Operation Steel Curtain, was launched in the towns of Husaybah, Al-Karabilah, and Al-Ubaydi to prevent insurgents from operating in the Euphrates Valley and the western Al-Anbar province, military officials said. In the operation, 139 insurgents were killed and 256 others detained. The Iraqi Defense Ministry said 57 Iraqi soldiers were wounded in the operation. BW
GUNMEN IN MILITARY UNIFORMS KILL SUNNI TRIBAL LEADER AND SONS IN BAGHDAD
Gunmen wearing Iraqi army uniforms shot and killed a 70-year-old Sunni tribal chief and three of his sons on 23 November, international news agencies reported, quoting relatives of the victims. The assailants reportedly arrived in 10 military-type vehicles at the home of Sheikh Fadel Sarhid Ali in Baghdad's Al-Hurriyah district, AFP reported. They then shot Sarhid and three of his sons while they slept. An unidentified Defense Ministry official denied that Iraqi troops were involved in the incident, and suggested that the perpetrators were terrorists in disguise, Reuters reported. "Iraqi Army uniforms litter the streets, and any terrorist can kill and tarnish our image, killing two birds with one stone," the official said. Some Sunni officials have accused the Shi'ite-dominated Interior Ministry of sanctioning death squads run by Shi'ite militias that attack Sunnis. The government has consistently denied the allegation. BW
IRAQI OFFICIAL SAYS AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL TO PROBE TORTURE CASE
Interior Ministry Undersecretary Hussein Kamal has said a special delegation from Amnesty International will come to Baghdad to investigate allegations of the torture of prisoners by Iraqi officials at the Al-Jadiriyah detention center, dpa reported on 23 November, citing a report in the "Al-Mashriq" newspaper. "A delegation from Amnesty International will arrive in Baghdad in the coming few days," Kamal told "Al-Mashriq." "The world organization is going to supervise the investigation ordered by Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Ja'fari last week." Reports have claimed that at least 173 Sunni Iraqi prisoners were mistreated at the Al- Jadiriyah detention center, but Interior Minister Bayan Jabr said on 17 November that the allegations were exaggerated (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 November 2005). BW