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Newsline - January 18, 2006

Sergei Lavrov told reporters in Moscow on 17 January that caution is in order in dealing with the question of Iran's nuclear activities, adding that "the absolute priority in this matter is to ensure the inviolability of the nuclear weapons nonproliferation regime," RFE/RL and RIA-Novosti reported. He also said that "Iran should do much more than it has done, and our common efforts [with France, Germany, the United Kingdom, the United States, and China] should aim for a solution that provides answers to all the questions." Lavrov said that it is not appropriate to raise the possibility of sanctions at present. "First of all, we must do everything to get as much information as possible, within the IAEA framework, professionally, on the basis of inspections that are under way in Iran, to allow us to find answers to questions regarding Iran's past nuclear program," he said. Lavrov stressed that Russia wants to "proceed without any sudden moves," as President Vladimir Putin recently suggested (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 January 2006). PM

A high-level Israeli diplomatic team arrived in Moscow on 17 January without publicity in an effort to persuade Russian officials to refer the Iranian nuclear issue to the UN Security Council, reported. The Israeli delegation reportedly included National Security Council chief Giora Eiland and Gideon Frank, who heads Israel's Atomic Energy Commission. The visit was planned in December. PM

Deputy Prime Minister and Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov told reporters in Obninsk in the Kaluga Oblast on 17 January that the status of a Crimean lighthouse, which is disputed between Russia and Ukraine, was specifically covered "in a special section of a 1997 basic agreement.... So, when Ukraine says that this lighthouse is not mentioned anywhere, it is not true," "Moskovsky komsomolets" reported. He stressed that "since the facility is named and listed in an international treaty, its fate can only be decided within the framework of intergovernmental agreements. No decisions made by municipal or village courts can apply to such facilities" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 January 2006). PM

Ivanov said in Kaluga on 17 January that more priority must be given to high-tech weapons rather than to the nuclear deterrent, RIA-Novosti reported. "At present, more than 50 percent of the state defense [spending is for] the nuclear deterrent. This is not right, although we will continue to pay particular attention to this component, maintain its high level, and develop it even further.... In the future, we will prioritize high-tech weapons," he stressed, adding that the military should not be "skewed" toward any particular component (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 January 2006). Meanwhile in Nizhny Novgorod, where several arms factories are located, presidential aide Aleksandr Burutin said that "a new state arms program for 2006-2015 is being drawn up" aimed at modernizing the military. And in Moscow, Air Forces commander General Vladimir Mikhailov said that "work on building the fifth-generation plane is going according to schedule." He stressed that despite unnamed "specific military and economic conditions...Russia will continue to be a leading aircraft-manufacturing power." PM

President Putin signed controversial legislation on nongovernmental organizations into law on 10 January, but the move was not reported in the official "Rossyskaya gazeta" until 17 January in an apparent effort not to have the matter cloud German Chancellor Angela Merkel's recent visit to Moscow, "The Moscow Times" reported (see End Note, "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 January 2006). The law will come into force on 10 April. Asked why "Rossyskaya gazeta" waited a week to publish the announcement, Deputy Editor Timofei Kuznetsov said that it is "not a pressing law. It does not come into force from the moment it is published, but within 90 days [of being signed]." PM

Deputy Prime Minister Aleksandr Zhukov said on 17 January that the inflow of private capital in 2005 exceeded outflow for the first time since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, "Izvestiya" reported. The net inflow was $300 million, which contrasts with some unspecified previous years, which saw a net outflow of up to $25 billion, he added. Zhukov said that of the $77 billion brought into Russia by the private sector last year, only $16.7 billion was direct investment. An additional $39 billion, however, was in the form of loans taken out abroad by Russian companies. Rosneft, Sovkomflot, Russian Railways, Transneft, and Alrosa borrowed a combined total of $28 billion. PM

Denis Ignatiyev, a spokesman for the Russian state-owned gas monopoly Gazprom, confirmed in Moscow on 17 January that Gazprom has offered to peg the cost of the natural gas it supplies to Armenia at the level of $56 per 1,000 cubic meters in return for the handover of a thermal power plant in Hrazdan, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Gazprom had announced last month that it planned to raise the rate to $110 per 1,000 cubic meters. The Hrazdan plant is currently being modernized by a state-owned Iranian company, after which it will generate electricity on the basis of Iranian natural gas to be supplied through a pipeline that is scheduled for completion by the summer of 2007. Its capacity will be close to that of the Medzamor nuclear power plant, which currently generates up to 40 percent of Armenia's electricity. Armenian Prime Minister Andranik Markarian said in Yerevan on 13 January that Armenia would not cede any further facilities to Russia to preclude the planned increase in natural-gas prices to $110 per 1,000 cubic meters (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 January 2006). Markarian reasoned that it would be more economical to raise an international loan to cover such a price increase. LF

U.S. Ambassador John Evans met on 17 January with President Robert Kocharian to discuss U.S. concerns over the conduct of the 27 November referendum on draft constitutional amendments, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. A statement subsequently released by the U.S. Embassy said the two men discussed unspecified concrete actions to be undertaken by the Armenian government to demonstrate its continued commitment to strengthening democratic institutions and ensuring that the parliamentary and presidential elections to be held in 2007 and 2008, respectively, are free and fair. Washington has already made clear that the release of further funds to Armenia from the Millennium Challenge Account program is contingent on such actions. LF

Namiq Feyziyev, one of the young Azerbaijani opposition activists who launched a hunger strike on 28 January to protest the expulsion of two of their number from Baku colleges, was hospitalized on 17 January, reported the following day. He is the fourth hunger striker to require hospital treatment. The fifth of the original five hunger strikers is continuing his fast; three others have joined him, taking the places of their hospitalized colleagues. The Ministry for Youth, Sport, and Tourism has appealed to the young men to end their "undemocratic" protest, reported on 18 January. LF

The Center for Monitoring Elections presented to journalists on 17 January the findings of the monitoring of the 6 November parliamentary elections that it conducted with financial and technical support from U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the National Democratic Institute, and the Norwegian Helsinki Committee, and reported on 18 January. The center deployed more than 100 monitors in 115 of the total 125 constituencies. It noted widespread procedural violations and discrepancies between protocols from individual constituencies and data from the Central Election Commission, and calculated on the basis of protocols from district election commissions that the opposition Azadliq bloc won no fewer than 40 parliament mandates. LF

Eduard Shevardnadze told journalists in Tbilisi on 17 January he considers it inadvisable to sell to Russia the main gas pipeline linking Russia and Armenia via Georgia until the Baku-Tbilisi-Erzerum gas pipeline is completed and operating, Caucasus Press and ITAR-TASS reported. U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Matt Bryza said in Astana on 12 January that Washington does not consider the sale of the pipeline to Russia expedient, but Georgian Prime Minister Zurab Noghaideli responded the following day that Georgia's decision will be dictated by state interests, Caucasus Press reported. Noghaideli added that Gazprom rejected a proposal by Tbilisi in December 2005 to create a joint venture on a parity basis to operate that pipeline. LF

In a statement released on 17 January and posted on, the Foreign Ministry of the unrecognized Republic of Abkhazia called on the Georgian government to curtail the activities of what it termed Georgian "terrorist" groups operating in Abkhazia's Gali district. It implied that the Georgian government is encouraging those activities in order to discredit the Russian peacekeeping force deployed in the conflict zone and thus bolster Tbilisi's argument that the Russian peacekeepers should be replaced by an international force. The statement further reaffirmed Abkhazia's categorical refusal to condone any revision of the peacekeepers' mandate, and it called on the international community, the UN Observer Mission in Georgia, the Russian Federation, and the five-country Group of Friends of the UN Secretary General to condemn what it termed aggression against Abkhazia. LF

Minister for Conflict Resolution Giorgi Khaindrava told journalists in Tbilisi on 17 January that he sees no point in the continued presence in the South Ossetian conflict zone of the Russian peacekeeping contingent currently deployed there, Caucasus Press reported. He hinted that he will recommend to parliament next month that the legislature insist on the peacekeepers' withdrawal. Speaking at a press conference in Moscow the same day, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov acknowledged that the Georgian parliament has accused the peacekeepers of "every conceivable mortal sin," but stressed that their mandate does not require them to assume police functions, according to a transcript posted on the Russian Foreign Ministry website ( Lavrov implied that any Georgian demand for the Russian peacekeepers' withdrawal would need to be weighed against the ongoing need to preclude a resumption of hostilities. LF

"RFE/RL Newsline" on 17 January incorrectly identified the party affiliation of Siyavush Novruzov. He is a member of the ruling Yeni Azerbaycan (New Azerbaijan) party.

Opposition leader Ghalymzhan Zhaqiyanov, who was released on parole on 15 January (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 January 2006), gave a news conference in Almaty on 17 January, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. Saying that his political position remains "unchanged," Zhaqiyanov stressed that he is "still absolutely convinced that democratic reform is necessary for the normal development of our society, of our country." Commenting on President Nursultan Nazarbaev's 4 December landslide reelection, Zhaqiyanov said, "I think all of us understand the meaning of the 91 percent [of the vote for Nazarbaev]. Perhaps those who are in power today and who consider this outcome a success will look differently at the same 91 percent after some time, in the future." Zhaqiyanov stressed that political change is "epochal and complex." He continued, "I hope the elected president delivers on the promises he gave before, during, and after the election in 2005." DK

Jusupbek Bakiev, President Kurmanbek Bakiev's brother, has stepped down from the position of deputy director of the Agency for Community Development and Investment, RIA-Novosti reported on 17 January. In an interview with on 17 January, the younger Bakiev stressed that he was offered the position through the World Bank, not through any help from his brother, but said that he resigned after charges of nepotism surfaced in the press. "I don't want to play into the hands of those who wish the president ill and envy him," Bakiev said. He noted that he stepped down from the position of deputy governor of Jalal-Abad province after his brother was elected president in 2005 to avoid "incorrect understanding of my work in the executive branch." reported that two of President Bakiev's other brothers, Adyl and Marat, are, respectively, Kyrgyzstan's trade representative in China and Kyrgyzstan's ambassador to Germany. DK

Tuigunaaly Abdraimov, head of Kyrgyzstan's Central Election Commission, told a press conference in Bishkek on 17 January that an initiative group founded by Topchubek Turgunaliev, head of the Erkindik (Freedom) Party, has failed to gather the 300,000 signatures needed to trigger a nationwide referendum to dissolve parliament, reported. Abdraimov said that Turgunaliev's group managed to collect slightly fewer than 200,000 signatures over the stipulated two-month period. He noted that Turgunaliev has the right to make another attempt to gather 300,000 signatures over two months if he chooses to begin the process again. DK

Fayzullo Abdulloev, deputy head of Tajikistan's Drug Control Agency, said on 17 January that drug seizures in Tajikistan totaled 4.6 tons in 2005, an 18 percent drop on the previous year's total, Reuters reported. Abdulloev said that the drop in seizures was not connected to the handover of the Tajik-Afghan border from Russian to Tajik border guards in 2005, arguing instead that Afghan opium-poppy production declined. Abdulloev specifically addressed the border-guard issue, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reported. "Unfortunately, during the first six months of 2005, the Russian guards along the Tajik-Afghan border did not seize a single kilogram of heroin," he said. "The 239 kilograms that we noted were discovered and confiscated by Russian border guards in cooperation with [Tajikistan's] Drug Control Agency and on the basis of its information. Since Tajik guards took over the guarding of the border, drug seizures rose considerably in the second half of the year." DK

China and Turkmenistan are readying an agreement to build a pipeline to transport Turkmen natural gas to China, ITAR-TASS reported on 17 January, citing Turkmenistan's Foreign Ministry. Zhang Guobao, deputy minister of China's National Development and Reform Commission, is due to arrive in Ashgabat on 18 January for talks to draft the agreement, which is expected to be signed when Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov visits China in April. Niyazov told a cabinet meeting on 16 January, "Gas will be pumped to China from the right bank of the Amudarya River," the news agency reported. He said that the proposed pipeline will have an annual throughput capacity of 30 billion cubic meters of gas. DK

Anatol Lyabedzka, leader of the opposition United Civic Party, has been allowed to travel abroad, Belapan reported on 17 January. Earlier this month, Lyabedzka received a new passport from a district police office in Minsk and found that the document lacked a stamp permitting foreign travel (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 January 2006). The foreign-travel ban prompted Lyabedzka to petition Alyaksandr Paulouski, head of the State Border Troops Committee, and the KGB leadership to restore his constitutional right to free movement. Lyabedzka reportedly threatened that he would picket the KGB headquarters daily until the ban was lifted. JM

President Viktor Yushchenko said in a recent interview with the "Financial Times" that Ukraine will not change the ownership of its gas-transport system in a bid to settle the dispute over Russian gas supplies, Ukrainian news agencies reported on 17 January, quoting a transcript of the interview that was disseminated by the presidential press service. "Our gas-transport system belongs to Ukraine, and Ukraine will not consider changing this status," Yushchenko said. JM

President Yushchenko also said in the interview with the "Financial Times" that the constitutional reform adopted in December 2004 was illegal, violated "procedural norms," and should have been submitted to a national referendum, Ukrainian news agencies reported on 17 January. "In view of this logic, I'm going to make several steps," Yushchenko said, according to the transcript of the interview from his press service. "I think it's not the right time now to do anything, since it could destabilize the situation before the [parliamentary] elections. But the constitution should unambiguously be defended with the participation of ;the] people, in a referendum, by mobilizing democratic forces." Yushchenko did not reveal when such a referendum might be held. He already signaled last week that he will seek a referendum on the constitutional reform that limited presidential powers in favor of the parliament and the cabinet (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 January 2006). JM

Serbia's Interior Ministry on 17 January issued an arrest warrant for leading businessman Sreten Karic after he failed to report for interrogation, B92 reported the same day. Citing unidentified sources in the Interior Ministry, B92 reported that if Karic is in Serbia he will be arrested and taken into custody. Karic, the former general director of Serbia's main mobile-phone company, Mobtel, and Olga Zilovic, another Mobtel official, have been charged with fraud and tax evasion over a 2003 real-estate deal in which they allegedly evaded $3.4 million in property taxes (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 January 2006). BW

At a rally in Belgrade on 17 January, tycoon-turned-politician Bogoljub Karic denied the bribery charges against him and accused the Serbian government of destroying the country's economy, dpa reported the same day. Widely believed to be Serbia's richest businessman, Bogoljub Karic -- who is the brother of Sreten Karic -- formed the opposition political party Force of Serbia Movement (PSS) last year. He is under investigation for allegedly bribing lawmakers to join the party (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 and 17 January 2006). "[Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav] Kostunica has no problem with the thieves and traitors sitting beside him...he has a problem with me and the PSS," Karic told a rally of several thousand people in downtown Belgrade, Beta reported. BW

Serbian Interior Minister Dragan Jocic said on 17 January that more investigations will be conducted to uncover corruption in the National Bank, Beta and B92 reported the same day. Jocic said the alleged corruption extends beyond Ivica Dacic, the bank's former vice governor, who was arrested on bribery charges on 11 January (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 and 17 January 2006). "There were more people involved, not just Dacic," Jocic said, although he declined to provide further details. Specifically, he said he was unaware whether or not Dejan Mihajlov, the secretary-general of the Socialist Party, was present in Simic's house when the bribe was allegedly taken. "I do not have any information that Secretary-General Dejan Mihajlov talked to Dacic, but I do have information that he has spoken to many people, especially party leaders, several times a day," Jocic told "Politika." BW

Zoran Sami, the speaker of Serbia and Montenegro's parliament, said on 17 January that the federal union needs to be preserved, FoNet and B92 reported the same day, citing "Glas Javnosti." "Such separation opens a Pandora's box of questions regarding borders in the Balkans, and the road toward Europe would be harder and longer for both states," Sami said. "Serbia and Montenegro is the only internationally recognized legal subject, and there would be no foreign investments until the states were fully formed. Also, making two separate countries is irrational and could be very costly," he added. The first formal discussions in Montenegro's parliament about organizing an independence referendum, scheduled to take place on 16 January, were postponed for a week, B92 reported the same day. BW

Bosnian Serb, Croat, and Muslim leaders on 17 January concluded the final round of U.S.-sponsored talks on a new constitution without reaching an agreement, international news agencies reported the same day. "Unfortunately, the parties reached an impasse over several remaining issues related both to the presidency and the parliament," U.S. Ambassador to Bosnia-Herzegovina Douglas McElhaney, who chaired the talks, said in remarks reported by Reuters. "I have to say quite frankly that I'm disappointed," McElhaney added. In November, Bosnian leaders pledged to increase the powers of the central government at the expense of the country's two entities: the Muslim-Croat Federation and Republika Srpska. They managed one reform, expanding the central government from nine to 11 ministers and strengthening the prime minister's powers (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 December 2005). But they could not reach consensus on more ambitious changes, including replacing the collective three-person presidency with a single president and increasing the size of parliament. The reforms were widely seen as an important step toward Bosnia's membership in NATO and the European Union. BW

European Union peacekeeping troops (EUFOR) in Bosnia-Herzegovina discovered more than 3 tons of ammunition on 17 January, dpa reported the same day. The ammunition was discovered during a search in the predominantly Bosnian Serb town of Kozarska Dubica. Acting on a tip from local police, EUFOR searched "a bunker in a forest, discovering hidden caches with two sets of 120mm mortar rounds and some 3 tons of ammunition," EUFOR spokesman Lieutenant James Gater said. BW

An EU official said on 17 January that Brussels is willing to provide Moldova with advice on energy security following Chisinau's dispute with Russian natural-gas monopoly Gazprom, dpa reported the same day. European Commission spokeswoman Pia Ahrenkilde Hansen also said that Brussels welcomes the settlement Russia and Moldova reached on the price of gas supplies (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 January 2006). She added, however, that the EU will not get directly involved in the negotiations. "We will continue to follow developments very closely," Hansen said. "We consider the negotiations between Moldova and Russia...bilateral and it would not be appropriate for us to get directly involved," she added. BW

Rizgar Muhammad Amin, the chief judge on the Iraqi Special Tribunal, which is hearing the case of deposed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and seven of his codefendants on charges of crimes against humanity, told RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq (RFI) in two interviews on 13 January that it is necessary to allow the defendants in the Al-Dujayl trial the opportunity to speak, even though their comments often disrupt the proceedings.

Speaking with an RFI correspondent in Al-Sulaymaniyah, Amin rejected assertions that the trial has been turned into a platform for Hussein and his codefendants to voice their opinions.

"The court has not been turned into a political tribune," Amin said. "Nevertheless, it is not possible to deny that the defendants have -- to a larger or smaller extent -- some relation to politics. I am convinced that justice is democratic in its nature. I am convinced in the freedom of the defendant to speak out or to keep silent, within the limits of law. Swearing is not acceptable. Such occurrence inside courts is, however, something natural. [Swearing] can be witnessed almost daily in courtrooms due to the emotions and conflicts between the parties of the case. But in those cases, they are not seen and heard on television by masses of people."

Amin is reportedly seeking to tender his resignation as chief judge for the tribunal, citing government pressure for a speedy trial, his associates told Western news agencies on 15 January. RFI asked Amin on 12 January about rumors of his resignation, to which he responded, "No comment."

Amin has been widely criticized in the press for appearing too conciliatory in the courtroom, after allowing Hussein and others considerable time to speak out about issues unrelated to the trial. Iraqis have also criticized Amin for purportedly placing too few restrictions on the behavior of defense attorneys.

Asked by RFI why the tribunal allows defense attorney Khalil al-Dulaymi to refer to Hussein as "his excellency, the president," Amin said: "I believe that the way an attorney addresses his defendant is a private issue. It is not a legal issue related to the subject of the case. It does not, either, deny that Iraq now has an elected president, [Jalal] Talabani."

Amin's comments to RFI reveal the tightrope judges must walk between upholding the rules of the court and dealing with public -- and perhaps political -- pressure to the contrary. Speaking about public protests over the court's decision to permit defense attorney and former Qatari Justice Minister Najib al-Nu'aymi to challenge the legality of the court "in the name of the [Iraqi] people," Amin told RFI: "The [defense's] protest falls within the objections allowed to any defendant's attorney. The court must not prohibit the defendant or his attorney from presenting their objections to the case. The court must respond to them in accordance with the law and at the appropriate time."

Sources close to Amin say that government pressure for a quick trial is behind the judge's purported decision to resign. Amin "had complaints from the government that he was being too soft in dealing with Saddam. They want things to go faster," Reuters quoted an unidentified source as saying on 15 January. According to Western media reports, the court has not accepted Amin's resignation and has sent at least one tribunal judge to Al-Sulaymaniyah, Amin's hometown, to convince him to reconsider.

Trial observers fear the public confirmation that the government tried to pressure the tribunal might undermine the legitimacy of the court. Indeed, Amin's resignation would suggest that the court is susceptible to outside pressure, be it political or public. At the same time, few Iraqis -- with the exception of Hussein supporters -- have any interest in letting the proceedings turn into a show trial. The revelation also reflects poorly on the outgoing al-Ja'fari administration, which has been widely criticized for its attempt to control other areas of the government, including the presidency.

While the revelation of political pressure can be seen as a blow to the reputation of the tribunal, it remains unclear what impact the resignation will have on the actual mechanics of the trial. Ja'far al-Musawi, prosecutor-general of the Iraqi tribunal, told RFI on 16 January that there are 66 judges and prosecutors working for the Special Tribunal. "Any judge can replace Mr. Rizgar [Mohammed Amin]" al-Musawi said. "The court has 19 prosecutors and the rest are judges. All of them have been trained to deal with cases as those before the high tribunal. They have received training inside Iraq and abroad taking into consideration there are international criminal courts or similar bodies."

According to some media reports, Amin intends to remain on the panel of five judges overseeing the trial in the event he steps down as chief judge. Other reports indicate that he wants to remain on the tribunal, but not necessarily to continue hearing the trial of Hussein and his codefendants. Should the need arise to appoint a new judge to the trial, proceedings could be further delayed.

Al-Musawi contends, however, that the appointment of a new judge would not affect the trial. Asked by RFI who might replace Amin, al-Musawi said: "It is normal procedure for the president of the court to be the one. There are three panels and Mr. Rizgar [Mohammed Amin] is the chief judge of one. We have 15 criminal-court judges as well as stand-by judges. It is quite normal for the president of the High Criminal Court, who is administratively and financially in charge of the court, to be the one who chooses Judge X for the first panel that is hearing the Al-Dujayl case."

Regardless of whether Amin leaves the tribunal, it is clear the Iraqi government has been put on notice that attempts to interfere with the court will have consequences.

Neo-Taliban spokesman Qari Mohammad Yusof on 17 January rejected media reports that the neo-Taliban claimed responsibility for the suicide attack in Spin Boldak, Kandahar Province, on 16 January, Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) reported. Mohammad Yusof told AIP that not only does the Taliban deny carrying out the attack, it "strongly" condemns it. According to Mohammad Yusof, international media quoted Saber Mo'men, who claimed responsibility for the attack. "There is no Taliban spokesman under this name nor is there anyone by this name in the Taliban movement. This is an attempt to defame the Taliban movement," he said. Soon after the Spin Boldak attack, in which more than 20 civilians watching a wrestling match were killed, Mohammad Yusof called AIP, condemning the attack, while international wire services reported that the neo-Taliban had claimed responsibility for the attack (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 January 2006). In the past, the neo-Taliban has claimed responsibility for attacks that it did not carry out. The conflicting reports may signify the existence of numerous militias using the label "Taliban." AT

Kandahar Governor Asadullah Khaled said on 17 January that evidence suggests that Pakistan was involved in the recent suicide attacks in his province, Kabul-based Tolu Television reported. "Pakistanis were specifically involved in one or two of the attacks," Khaled told Tolu. Funeral ceremonies were held in Pakistan for suicide attackers involved in the recent rampage in Kandahar, Khaled claimed. "We have precise information that the enemies of our country are in Pakistan" he added without providing details. President Hamid Karzai's adviser on international affairs, Rangin Dadfar Spanta, told Tolu that provincial authorities "have very specific experience" and "they give their own opinion." However, according to Spanta, as far as the Afghan government is concerned, "terrorism in Afghanistan has a behind-the-scenes supporter." Without naming the "supporter," Spanta added that there "is undeniable and viable evidence that such sources [of support for terrorism] come from over the Afghan borders." While Afghan authorities have repeatedly blamed Islamabad for supporting the insurgency in Afghanistan or not doing enough to curtail its activities, Pakistani officials have consistently denied any such involvement. AT

Pakistani Minister for Petroleum and Natural Resources Amanullah Khan Jadoon said in Islamabad on 16 January that the proposed Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan (TAP) gas pipeline would promote regional cooperation, the Associated Press of Pakistan reported on 17 January. Jadoon was speaking at a dinner in honor of visiting Afghan Mines and Industry Minister Mir Mohammad Sediq, who was in Pakistan to discuss the TAP project. The TAP pipeline is a $3.45 billion undertaking designed to transport natural gas from the Dawlatabad field in Turkmenistan through Afghanistan into Pakistan and then eventually, if the political climate between Islamabad and New Delhi permits, to India. The initial phase of the project, excluding the pipeline's possible extension to India, would involve the construction of a 1,700 kilometer-long pipeline that could transport up to 20 billion cubic meters of natural gas annually. While Kabul and Islamabad have kept the TAP idea alive and even New Delhi has hinted at possible interest, among the unknown factors is the actual size of the Turkmen gas fields. AT

President Karzai was due to hold a meeting in Tehran on 16 January with Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad and Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov, but the meeting was cancelled because Karzai did not go to Iran, Asia-Plus news agency reported on 17 January. Technical reasons and bad weather were given as the reasons for Karzai's absence from the meeting of the heads of state of three Persian-speaking countries (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 January 2006). However, according to the report, analysts in Dushanbe have linked Karzai's cancellation with the international standoff over Iran's nuclear activities. According to Asia-Plus, Karzai cancelled his visit with Ahmadinejad in order not to jeopardize his relations with the West. AT

President Imomali Rakhmonov met in Tehran on 17 January with President Mahmud Ahmadinejad and parliamentary speaker Gholam-Ali Haddad-Adel, IRNA reported. Rakhmonov arrived the previous evening. Ahmadinejad said there is unfulfilled potential in bilateral cooperation. Rakhmonov and Haddad-Adel reportedly discussed the expansion of parliamentary ties, and Rakhmonov said his country could benefit from the Iranian legislature's experience. The two sides discussed potential cooperation in the economic and commercial fields, and they referred to the construction of the Anzab and Shahrestan tunnels and the Sangtudeh power plant. Meanwhile, the Turkmen-language service of Iranian state radio reported from the northeastern town of Gorgan that Rakhmonov's visit will enhance bilateral Iran-Tajikistan ties. "Expansion of Iran-Tajik relations will serve the interests of both countries because Iran possesses essential experience in the engineering and construction spheres and is ready to put its experience at the service of other countries," according to the report. They also can cooperate in fighting drug trafficking and organized crime, as well as the reconstruction of Afghanistan, according to the report. BS

Iranian officials are to meet with representatives from France, Germany, and the United Kingdom on 18 January to discuss the nuclear issue, Fars News Agency reported the previous day. The Iranians reportedly will insist on the perceived need to enrich uranium on their country's territory. Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki said in Tehran on 17 January that if the Europeans behave appropriately Iran will reply with a "correct and logical reaction." He said Tehran is ready to consider the Europeans' concerns. In Moscow, meanwhile, an anonymous Atomstroyeksport official told ITAR-TASS that the construction and start-up schedule for the Bushehr nuclear plant could be changed. The official said this is a normal development and reflects technological concerns. More than 3,500 Russian personnel are working at the facility. BS

President Ahmadinejad announced in a 17 January letter to the Islamic Culture and Guidance Ministry that Cable News Network (CNN) can continue to operate in Iran, state television reported. The invalidation of CNN reporters' press cards took place on 16 January, IRNA reported, on the grounds that CNN mistranslated a 14 January statement by Ahmadinejad. Ahmadinejad allegedly said Iran has a right to "nuclear technology," but this was translated as "nuclear weapons." CNN reportedly apologized for the mistake. Mr. Khoshvaqt, who heads the Islamic Culture and Guidance Ministry's Foreign Press Department, told Iranian state radio on 16 January that CNN has a record of such errors. "CNN's past performance regarding developments in Iran made us draw the conclusion that this measure [the mistranslation] may have been taken deliberately," he said. "As a result, we decided to stop this network's activities [in Iran] until we are sure that it will be sincere in its coverage of Iran. We are waiting to assess the CNN's future activities." BS

The families of hunger-striking political prisoners at several Iranian prisons have come under pressure from the Intelligence and Security Ministry, a spokesman for the families told Radio Farda on 17 January. Sadeq Naqashkar went on to say that the prisoners -- at Birjand, Gohar Dasht, Karaj, Kermanshah, Sabzevar, and Semnan -- are being treated harshly and several are hospitalized. The spouse of one prisoner, Amir Heshmatsaran, was banned from giving interviews to foreign radio stations. In other cases, the telephone conversations of prisoners with family members are blocked. BS

Iranian charge d'affaires in Baghdad Hassan Kazemi-Qomi said on 16 January that Iran has concurred with the opening of an Iraqi military attache office in Tehran, IRNA reported. "Tehran's agreement was announced following receiving a request made by Iraqi government, aimed at pursuing the objectives of boosting bilateral military cooperation," he said. Kazemi-Qomi said the agreement was reached after Iraqi Defense Minister Sa'dun al-Dulaymi considered border-control issues and the potential role of Iraq's neighbors in molding the country's defense forces. Kazemi-Qomi concluded, "Iran, too, is naturally entitled to open its military attache office in Baghdad in due time." BS

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi said on 17 January that Tehran will look into the alleged killing by Iranian coast guards of an Iraqi soldier and seizure of an Iraqi coast-guard vessel and its crew three days earlier, Al-Alam television reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 January 2006). The incident reportedly occurred when the Iraqis tried to intercept a vessel smuggling oil. Earlier on 17 January, Iranian charge d'affaires in Baghdad Kazemi-Qomi denied that any such incident occurred, Al-Alam reported. Meanwhile, Al-Sharqiyah television from Iraq cited an anonymous Iraqi Foreign Ministry spokesman as saying Baghdad will request the release of the nine detained coast guards when Foreign Minister Hoshyar al-Zebari meets with Kazemi-Qomi. BS

Iraqi officials are testing for the H5N1 strain of bird flu (avian influenza) after a 14-year-old girl died in the Kurdish city of Al-Sulaymaniyah on 17 January, international media reported on 18 January. Heath officials said the victim, identified as Tijan Abd al-Qadir, died in hospital following a two-week illness. She was from the village of Raniyah, located northwest of Dukan Lake and 20 kilometers west of the Iranian border. The lake is a traditional haven for migratory birds flying south from Turkey. Twenty-one Turkish residents have tested positive for bird flu in the past month. The Kurdistan Regional Government tested dead birds for the virus last year; those tests were negative. The Kurdish daily "Kurdistani Nuwe" reported on 14 January that government safety measures adopted to prevent the spread of bird flu in Kurdistan, including guidelines that call for the slaughter and cleaning of birds before they go to market, have not been enforced. Meanwhile, Reuters reported on 18 January that all poultry in the Kurdish city of Zakho, which borders Turkey, are being slaughtered and burned, apparently per government order. KR

Al-Jazeera television reported on 17 January that an armed group identified as the Brigades of Vengeance has said it will kill U.S. journalist Jill Carroll within three days unless U.S. forces release all female detainees in Iraq. The satellite news channel also aired a videotape released by the kidnappers showing Carroll speaking, but no audio was heard. "The Christian Science Monitor," which Carroll was working for at the time of her abduction, released a statement by her father appealing for her release. "Jill is a kind person whose love for Iraq and the Iraqi people are evident in her articles. She has been welcomed into the homes of many Iraqis and shown every courtesy. From that experience, she understands the hardships and suffering that the Iraqi people face every day," the statement said in part. "The Christian Science Monitor" also reiterated its appeal for her release, saying in a 17 January statement that Carroll's abductors "have seized an innocent person who is a great admirer of the Iraqi people. She is a professional journalist whose only goal has been to report truthfully about Iraq and to promote understanding." KR

Armed gunmen attacked a private security team in Baghdad on 18 January, killing 10 Iraqi guards and kidnapping a Malawian engineer, Reuters reported. The victims all worked for Iraqna, a mobile-telephone operator owned by Egyptian-based Orascom Telecom. An official with the Iraqi Interior Ministry told Reuters that the team was traveling in a vehicle convoy when the gunmen attacked them in the Nafaq Al-Shurta (Police Tunnel) area of Baghdad. Iraqna spokesman Shamil Hanafi told Reuters that it believes two of its engineers are missing, one from Malawi and another from Madagascar. KR

The Iraqi government plans to transfer two brigades of peshmerga forces to Baghdad in the coming weeks to help maintain order there, Amman's "Al-Dustur" reported on 17 January. Citing unnamed officials in Al-Sulaymaniyah, the daily reported that the two brigades will operate as part of the Iraqi army forces under a "unified Kurdish command." One brigade will be comprised of Kurdistan Democratic Party peshmerga, while the other brigade will be comprised of Patriotic Union of Kurdistan forces. The daily also cited Iraqi army Chief of Staff Babakir al-Zebari as saying that he believes Iraqi forces are closing in on fugitive Jordanian terrorist Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi. Al-Zebari also reportedly said that two-thirds of U.S. forces could be withdrawn from Iraq by the end of 2006, as Iraqi military readiness increases. Citing al-Zebari, the daily reported that the army intends to purchase its armaments from Russian military factories via Poland. KR