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Newsline - June 7, 2006

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told the State Duma on June 7 that possible NATO membership for Ukraine or Georgia would lead to a shift in the global geopolitical balance, RIA Novosti reported. "We are trying to foresee the consequences of [membership], primarily from the viewpoint of Russia's national security and economic interests and relations with these countries," he added. For its part, the Duma sent a letter to the Ukrainian Verkhovna Rada in a similar vein. "With due respect for Ukraine's sovereignty, the deputies of the State Duma cannot but confirm their extremely negative attitude towards such plans and believe that Ukraine's joining NATO contradicts the agreement on friendship, cooperation, and partnership between Russia and Ukraine dating from 1997 that [outlines] the strategic nature of Russian-Ukrainian relations," the statement said (see Part II, below). It also noted that "close interregional relations unite [Russia] with the Autonomous Republic of Crimea." PM

London's "Financial Times" reported on June 7 that Russia's Kalashnikov rifle producer will build a factory in Venezuela, its first in Latin America. President Hugo Chavez said recently that Mikhail Kalashnikov, the 86-year-old inventor of the weapon, will visit the proposed site of the factory, but did not give any dates for the visit or the start of construction. There has been much speculation in Russian and international media in recent weeks about the proposed factory. An initial shipment of 30,000 Kalashnikov AK-103s arrived in Venezuela recently as part of a deal involving the sale of 100,000 Kalashnikovs (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 10, April 4, and June 5, 2006). Chavez says he needs them to equip a militia necessary to deter or repel any invasion by U.S. forces. Washington and some of Venezuela's neighbors fear that the militia and the Kalashnikovs will be used to consolidate Chavez's rule at home and export trouble to Colombia and throughout the region. Russian officials have said repeatedly that they are willing to sell aircraft to Venezuela. Chavez wants to buy aircraft abroad as part of a massive expansion of his country's military. He has threatened to sell his existing stock of U.S. aircraft to Cuba or China following Washington's imposition of a de facto arms embargo. PM

Russian and Australian officials signed an agreement in Geneva on June 6 paving the way for Moscow's membership in the World Trade Organization (WTO), Russian and international media reported. The United States and Colombia are the only WTO member countries that have yet to sign such an agreement with Russia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 11, 12, and 13, 2006). PM

President Vladimir Putin on June 6 signed into law a measure recently passed by the State Duma erasing over $4.7 billion owed by Algeria to Russia, ITAR-TASS reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 8 and 13, 2006). The write-off is part of a deal that Putin clinched during his visit to Algeria in March, under which Russia forgives Algeria's debt and Algeria buys at least $7.5 billion worth of Russian arms. The debt, against which Algiers has made no payment since 2000, stems mainly from its arms purchases from the former Soviet Union, which began in 1981. PM

Gazprom CEO Aleksei Miller told the World Gas Congress in Amsterdam recently that his company has no intention of ending its monopoly over Russia's pipeline system, as the EU has demanded, the daily "Kommersant" reported on June 7 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 26, May 26 and 30, and June 1 and 5, 2006). On June 5, State Duma Deputies Valery Yazev and Yury Lipatov sent a bill to the parliament entitled "On Gas Export." The text stresses that "the organization or its subsidiary owning the united gas supply system [namely Gazprom] has the exclusive right to carry out natural gas export." Yazev, who heads the Duma's Energy Committee, noted the political nature of his proposal. He believes "that the bill can become one of the arguments of the Russian party at the [upcoming summit of the Group of Eight (G-8) industrialized countries] in St. Petersburg. We don't deny that our position is 'hawkish.'" Echoing recent remarks by Aleksandr Medvedev, who is Gazprom's deputy CEO, Yazev stressed his opposition to EU demands that Russia ratify the "energy charter," which it signed in 1994. Yazev believes "that the energy charter should not be ratified because this document is directly contrary to Russia's interests." The pact would end Gazprom's monopoly over Russia's pipeline system. PM

The Armenian Foreign Ministry has informed its Russian counterpart of its concern over continuing violence against Armenians in the Russian Federation, Deputy Foreign Minister Gegham Garibdjanian told the Armenian parliament on June 6, Noyan Tapan reported the following day. Russian neo-Nazis and skinheads have killed six Armenians so far this year, he said. On June 5, Armenian NGOs staged a protest outside the Russian Embassy in Yerevan to protest the most recent killing, of a 19-year-old Armenian man by rampaging youths on a Moscow suburban train, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. LF

Georgian Foreign Minister Gela Bezhuashvili telephoned his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov on June 6 to discuss preparations and the agenda for the planned June 13 meeting between the two countries' presidents, Caucasus Press reported. Also on June 6, Irakli Alasania, who is Georgian presidential adviser for the Abkhaz conflict, and Georgian Deputy Foreign Minister Merab Antadze met in Moscow with Russian First Deputy Foreign Minister Andrei Denisov and Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin to continue those preparatory talks, reported. Meawnhile in Tbilisi, Georgian Minister for Conflict Resolution Giorgi Khaindrava said on June 6 that the June 13 meeting will be "decisive" for the future course of bilateral relations, and he predicted that Russia may agree to help reach a peaceful solution to Georgia's unresolved conflicts with the breakaway republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. On June 5, and again on June 6, Georgian parliament speaker Nino Burdjanadze proposed that deputies postpone any further discussion of their earlier demand for the withdrawal of the Russian peacekeeping force currently deployed in the South Ossetia conflict zone, Caucasus Press reported. She also asked parliamentarians to refrain from any "harsh assessments" of Russia's policy towards Georgia in the run-up to the two presidents' meeting. LF

Tbilisi has questioned unspecified conclusions of a feasilibity study conducted by a Turkish company into the costs and technical problems involved in building the planned railway link from Kars in eastern Turkey via Tbilisi to Baku, Georgian Railways Director General Irakli Ezugbaya told journalists on June 5 and 6. The study reportedly failed to predict the anticipated volume of traffic and freight along that route. The transport ministers of Turkey, Georgia, and Azerbaijan will assess the feasibility study at a meeting in Tbilisi in late June and try to reach agreement on financing the project. LF

Sergei Bagapsh cautioned on June 6 against too high expectations from the upcoming meeting between Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin, Caucasus Press reported. Speaking in the South Ossetian capital, Tskhinvaili, where he arrived the previous day on an official visit, Bagapsh said Georgia should "blame itself" for having precipitated the crisis in relations with Russia that prompted Saakashvili to ask for such a meeting with Putin. South Ossetian President Eduard Kokoity for his part said Georgia should "finally realize that it has lost Abkhazia and South Ossetia for good," Caucasus Press reported. Bagapsh further stressed that Abkhazia and South Ossetia will continue to build close ties and expand cooperation, reported. LF

Nursultan Nazarbaev told a session of the state democratization commission in Astana on June 6 that the commission should prepare proposed changes to the constitution by the end of the year, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. Nazarbaev said, "If the logic of reforms demands changes to the basic law, we need to do this." Nazarbaev said the most pressing constitutional question is whether the country's form of government should be presidential, parliamentary, presidential-parliamentary, or parliamentary-presidential. Assessing the broader picture, Nazarbaev defined the two "strategic tasks" facing Kazakhstan as "the preservation of high rates of growth in conditions of a diversifying economy, and political modernization," Khabar reported. DK

Kazakhstan's Supreme Court ruled on June 6 to uphold an April 20 decision by an Astana court denying official registration to the opposition party Alga! (Onward!), "Kazakhstan Today" reported. Some 100 Alga supporters held an unsanctioned rally near the Supreme Court while the session was in progress, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. Police detained around 10 activists. Alga leader Asylbek Kozhakhmetov told RFE/RL's Kazakh Service after the ruling, "The Supreme Court's Collegium decided not to satisfy our request on our registration and supported the previous decision of the city court. That means there is no registration [for us]." DK

Ismail Isakov told journalists in Bishkek on June 6 that the closure of the U.S. air base in Kyrgyzstan is not on the agenda in ongoing Kyrgyz-U.S. talks, only the terms of a new agreement for the base, ITAR-TASS reported. Isakov said that the primary issue for Kyrgyzstan is dissatisfaction over the current $2.6 million the United States pays each year to lease the base. A second round of negotiations will begin soon, Interfax reported. Isakov said, "A U.S. delegation has left for Washington to review a number of issues. They will return soon: however, I cannot say anything about the specific date." As the first round of talks ended, reports indicated the Kyrgyz government was softening its initial demand to raise annual lease payments to some $200 million (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 5, 2006). In other comments, Isakov said there is no need for Russia, which maintains an air base in Kant, Kyrgyzstan, to open a second base near the southern city of Osh, ITAR-TASS reported. DK

Kyrgyz legislators who are members of the For Reforms opposition movement said on June 6 they will boycott a meeting with President Kurmanbek Bakiev on June 7, reported. Legislator Kabai Karabekov told the news agency that there is no reason to meet with Bakiev because the opposition has already presented its demands at rallies on April 29 and May 27 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 2 and 30, 2006). Initially, opposition lawmakers said they would boycott the meeting because it would be closed to the media. Bolot Sherniyazov, a member of the For Reforms opposition movement, told RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service on June 6, "Most...members of the movement [For Reforms] demanded that the representatives of mass media outlets be allowed at the meeting. Today the movement's headquarters decided that we will not participate in the meeting because the mass media representatives won't participate in it." DK

The U.S. State Department's 2006 Trafficking in Persons Report, released on June 5, downgraded Uzbekistan from tier 2 to tier 3 -- the report's lowest designation -- for failing to fulfill its commitments to combat human trafficking in 2006. The report called Uzbekistan "a source and, to a lesser extent, a transit country for women trafficked to the U.A.E., Israel, India, Malaysia, South Korea, Russia, Japan, Thailand, and Turkey for the purpose of sexual exploitation." Charging that "the Government of Uzbekistan does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and is not making significant efforts to do so," the report stressed that Uzbekistan has failed to adopt "comprehensive anti-trafficking legislation...[and] did not approve a national action plan on trafficking nor did it provide any financial assistance, in-kind assistance, or logistical support to the country's only anti-trafficking shelter." DK

Alyaksandr Lukashenka on June 6 blamed coaches for the poor showing of the Belarusian national team at the Winter Olympics in Turin earlier this year, Belarusian Television reported. Belarus won just one bronze medal in Turin. "The nation needs victories, the nation needs medals in order to feel as a nation," Lukashenka said at a meeting of the National Olympic Committee, over which he presides. "If there are no results, there will be no jobs for you -- you'll have to look for other jobs. What we do for the development and promotion of sports in Belarus is not done in any other country," the Belarusian president added. JM

The four young people in Salihorsk who went on a hunger strike last week to protest the politically motivated criminal prosecution of their associates (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 2, 2006) decided on June 6 to end their protest, Belapan reported. The four activists of the opposition Youth Front reportedly made their decision following a meeting with opposition leader Alyaksandr Milinkevich, who urged them to end the hunger strike. Some 30 young people are continuing hunger strikes in other Belarusian cities. JM

The Verkhovna Rada gathered on June 7 to resume its first session, which opened on May 25 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 25, 2006), Ukrainian media reported. The Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc, Our Ukraine, and the Socialist Party requested a recess in the session until June 14 to conclude their talks on forging a ruling coalition. The motion was endorsed by 227 votes, after which Our Ukraine lawmaker Mykola Katernynchuk, who presided over the sitting, closed the debate. Lawmakers from the Party of Regions and the Communist Party tried to prevent the vote by breaking the electronic voting system in the session hall but were not quick enough. The three allies in the 2004 Orange Revolution already adjourned the session two weeks ago, citing the need to work out a coalition accord. JM

Our Ukraine lawmaker Anatoliy Matviyenko told journalists in Kyiv on June 7 that Our Ukraine has not agreed to demand of the Socialist Party of Ukraine (SPU) that its leader, Oleksandr Moroz, should become parliamentary speaker in a future coalition of both parties with the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc (BYuT), UNIAN reported. "Our Ukraine should be represented in a democratic coalition in the two leading posts -- those of prime minister and Verkhovna Rada head," Matviyenko added. The BYuT and the SPU have formerly announced that in a potential coalition with Our Ukraine, the BYuT should be offered the post of prime minister and the SPU that of parliament speaker. Asked by journalists whether this disagreement over the two top posts may wreck the process of coalition building, Matviyenko said, "Nothing can disrupt this process because it will be continued in one format or another." Leaders of the ByuT, Our Ukraine, and the SPU held a meeting with President Viktor Yushchenko late on June 6. "They have agreed on main principles [of the coalition] and practically eliminated [their] list of disagreements," Presidential Secretariat head Oleh Rybachuk commented on the meeting. JM

President Viktor Yushchenko said at a news conference in Kyiv on June 6 that the recent decisions of regional legislators to grant Russian the status of "regional language" in several eastern and southern regions are a "gross violation" of the Ukrainian Constitution, Ukrainian media reported. "The state language of the country is Ukrainian.... Article 10 of the Ukrainian Constitution defines a common status of the state language, which is Ukrainian. And no regional or city council has the authority to change the status of any language," Yushchenko said. He added that the Constitutional Court, once it resumes its functioning, will immediately examine this issue. The Constitutional Court is currently nonoperational, because opposition parties in the parliament are refusing to swear in several judges for the court. JM

President Yushchenko also commented on June 6 on the decision of the Crimean autonomous legislature earlier the same day declaring Crimea a territory without NATO, Ukrainian media reported. "This is a political decision that will not change the principles that regulate relations between Ukraine and NATO.... We have a plan of cooperation with the North Atlantic Alliance -- I stress, just as Russia and other CIS countries do -- which is based on several principles in the framework of an Action Plan. The Action Plan includes operational and tactical exercises," Yushchenko said. The resolution to declare Crimea a "NATO-free zone" was supported by 61 lawmakers in the 100-seat Supreme Council of Crimea. The visit of a U.S. naval cargo ship to the Crimean port of Feodosiya last month has sparked continuing anti-NATO protests on the peninsula ("RFE/RL Newsline," June 6, 2006). JM

United Nations Mission in Kosova (UNMIK) chief Soren Jessen-Petersen on June 6 pledged to step up security in the predominantly Serb-populated north of the province, Reuters reported the same day. Jessen-Petersen also dismissed threats from Serbian leaders to sever ties with the UN and ethnic Albanian institutions (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 6, 2006). "I'm not aware of any decision taken," Jessen-Petersen said referring to the threats, which also included calls for Serbian police to return to the region. "I don't think Belgrade is even aware of any decision taken." The UN, he added, is considering how to "enhance security measures and reassure the Serbs that everything is being done." BW

Serbian officials and the family of slain government witness Zoran Vukojevic have given conflicting accounts of the events surrounding his murder, dpa reported on June 6. Vukojevic, a key witness in the trial of those allegedly behind the 2003 assassination of former Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic, was found murdered on June 3 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 5, 2006). Interior Minister Zoran Jocic said Vukojevic was supposed to be a government-protected witness but chose instead to be responsible for his own security. Jocic called the killing an "internal mafia showdown." Vukojevic's family said, however, that he wanted police protection, but suspected the detail assigned to him was connected to the defendants in the Djindjic trial -- particularly to the jailed leader of a secret police unit, Milorad "Legija" Ulemek. BW

Serbian President Boris Tadic on June 6 formally notified key international organizations of Serbia and Montenegro's dissolution, AFP reported the same day. In a letter to the heads of the United Nations (UN), the Council of Europe, and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), Tadic asked that the name of Serbia and Montenegro be replaced with that of the Republic of Serbia. According to the defunct union's constitution, Serbia is considered the legal successor of the union and has inherited its membership of international and financial organizations. Montenegro must apply for membership separately. Montenegro voted on May 21 to dissolve its union with Serbia and declared independence on June 3 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 22 and June 5, 2006). Serbia followed suit on June 5 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 6, 2006). BW

According to a World Bank report, Bosnia-Herzegovina's economy expanded by a healthy 5 percent year-on-year in the first quarter of 2006, dpa reported on June 6. The World Bank attributed much of the success of the war-ravaged economy to the introduction of a value-added tax in January (see "RFE/RL Newsline," December 22, 2005). "In the first quarter of 2006, we see some positive developments, including growing industrial output and narrowing current account deficit," the World Bank's country manager in Bosnia, Dirk Reinermann, said in the report. Industrial output "rose strongly in Bosnia's Muslim-Croat Federation entity, as mining and metal production expanded strongly, benefiting from higher prices for exported metals." In the Bosnian Serb entity, Republika Srpska, "production of most of the industries continued growing," following a number of structural reforms conducted there. BW

In a move designed to assure improvements in the quality of its wine, Moldova announced on June 6 that it plans to reduce the number of wine exporters, ITAR-TASS reported the same day. Valeriu Mironescu, director of the state agricultural agency Moldova-Vin, also said that quality controls will be stricter, including a three-stage inspection process during production, bottling, and transportation. Moldova's wine industry will also upgrade its equipment and stop using certain pesticides. Russia banned the import of Moldovan and Georgian wines in late March, citing health and safety concerns (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 28, 2006). Chisinau and Tbilisi denounced the move as politically motivated. BW

A traffic accident involving a U.S. military truck and several civilian cars in which up to five Afghans were killed in Kabul on May 29 sparked the most serious riots in the capital in years and has raised the question of whether there were spoilers at work or the incident was a spontaneous public reaction to an unfortunate incident.

Details of the accident remain somewhat vague, as does the number of people killed in the accident and the events afterward. What is clear is that a heavy U.S. military truck that was leading a convoy reportedly experienced brake failure and rammed into several cars in the Khairkhana district, in the northern part of Kabul. Immediately after the accident, a hostile mob gathered around the convoy. After an exchange of fire between the crowd and the U.S. forces, the convoy left the area, leaving the inadequate Afghan police force in charge of the situation.

In the aftermath of the accident, a mob estimated at between 200 to 500 people went on a rampage, burning and looting property and marching toward the center of Kabul while chanting slogans against the United States and Afghan President Hamid Karzai. At the end of the day around 20 people were dead and more than 150 injured.

Karzai condemned the firing by U.S. troops on the crowd and also has condemned the rioters, portraying them as insurgents and opportunists. In a televised speech he said he "strongly condemns the coalition forces' firing" on people blocking the path of the U.S. convoy. He said the rioters "destroyed some of our achievements in a matter of hours."

The possibility that the crowd may have fired on U.S. troops has not been debated by either official or unofficial Afghan sources.

Unlike the last major riots that occurred in Kabul a year ago, these disturbances were not premeditated. In May 2005, anti- U.S. demonstrations engulfed Kabul and many other cities in Afghanistan, ostensibly to protest a story in the U.S. magazine "Newsweek" that some interrogators at the U.S. detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, allegedly desecrated the Koran. Last year's riots were very well-coordinated and seemed to have had a well-planned agenda that went beyond the issue of desecrating the Koran.

Many observers concluded that the more recent riots were spontaneous and were sparked by the accident. It is also important to understand that there was enough built-up frustration to continue to fuel the riotous protests beyond the initial destructive day.

While there is no evidence that a particular political group or groupings took advantage of the accident in Khairkhana to pursue their own agendas, the area where the accident occurred is predominately home to sympathizers of Shura-ye Nizar, a group that reveres the slain United Front (aka Northern Alliance) leader Ahmad Shah Mas'ud.

The fact that some of the protesters were seen carrying posters of Mas'ud has led some to believe that the "opportunists" were sympathizers of the Shura-ye Nizar who took the opportunity to publicly demonstrate their dissatisfaction with Karzai and his most powerful supporter, the United States.

Commenting on the riots in Kabul in an interview with Milan's "Corriere della Sera" published on May 30, the former Afghan president and later the official head of the United Front, Burhanuddin Rabbani, said that "the executive is weak, corrupt, and incompetent." Karzai's administration "is losing the support" of Afghans, Rabbani added. The National Assembly's Meshrano Jirga (House of Elders), of which Rabbani is a powerful member, has called for -- among other things -- the open prosecution of the U.S. soldiers involved in the accident.

While it seems highly unlikely that the political opposition to Karzai actually had a hand in the riots in Kabul, it is obvious that the opposition is carefully using its political capital from the disaster.

The armed opposition -- mainly represented by the neo-Taliban -- is still very active in Afghanistan. But Karzai's administration must also be careful of the high level of dissent that exists in areas deemed safe by most people -- as even a small spark can ignite a fire.

Afghan Interior Minister Zarar Ahmad Moqbel and National Security Directorate chief Amrullah Saleh told the upper house of the country's National Assembly on June 4 that "powerful people" had a hand in the May 29 riots in Kabul, RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan reported. Saleh told the Meshrano Jirga (House of Elders) that his department has apprehended 40 people, some of whom have links to "powerful people," adding that the identities of the arrestees and those who ordered the riots will be made public. Responding to criticism regarding the ineffectiveness of the police during the riots, Moqbel told the Meshrano Jirga that his ministry has proof that influential, armed people forced police to release people suspected of destructive activities during the riots (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 30 and 31, and June 1, 2, and 5, 2006). Moqbel said that a total of 100 arrests have been made in connection with the riots. Meanwhile, the speaker of the upper house, Sebghatullah Mojaddedi, has accused unnamed members of the lower house -- the Wolesi Jirga (House of People's) -- of involvement in the riots. That charge is rejected by the Wolesi Jirga. AT

U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Ronald Neumann has rejected demands made by both houses of the Afghan National Assembly that the U.S. soldier driving the truck involved in the fatal accident on May 29 that triggered the riots in Kabul be tried in Afghanistan, "The Washington Post," reported on June 6 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 31, 2006). According to Neumann, the U.S. soldier could not face legal action in Afghanistan because of a 2003 "status of forces" agreement between Afghanistan and the United States. The agreement between Afghanistan and the United States on the status of forces could technically be debated by the National Assembly as it has retroactive rights to debate agreements that went into force prior to the establishment of the parliament in December 2005. AT

A suicide bomber detonated his vehicle next to an oncoming U.S. military convoy in Khost Province on June 6, injuring three U.S. soldiers and killing the bomber, international news agencies reported. A statement from the U.S.-led coalition forces confirmed the incident and noted that two of the soldiers were hospitalized, AFP reported on June 6. None of the injuries appear to be life threatening. Mohammad Hanif, purporting to speak for the Taliban, told the Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) on June 6 that a "Taliban fighter, Agha Gol," carried out the attack. Mohammad Hanif claimed that six U.S. soldiers were killed by the explosion. AT

Three talibs (student of an Islamic seminary school or madrasah) were killed in the south-central Ghani Province on June 6 while trying to affix a bomb to a motorcycle, AFP reported. Ghazni Governor Sher Alam told AFP that the intention of the students was to use the motorcycle for "a suicide attempt somewhere." The madrasah where the incident took place is located in Qala-ye Qazi, a village close to Ghazni city, the provincial capital. Since the beginning of the year around 18 suicide attacks have occurred in different parts of Afghanistan, Pajhwak Afghan News commented on June 6. AT

Purported Taliban spokesman Mohammad Hanif said on June 6 that the Taliban attacked Chak District headquarters in Wardak Province, setting the building on fire, AIP reported. Brigadier General Sobhan Qol, the security commander of Wardak, told AIP that the "attacker did not set fire to the district headquarters," adding that an investigation has been launched into the incident. Wardak is situated immediately west of Kabul Province. AT

European Union High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana submitted to Iranian officials on June 6 in Tehran a proposal that is intended to resolve the continuing crisis over the Islamic Republic's nuclear program, Radio Farda and other news agencies reported. The package of incentives was drawn up by the so-called 5+1 group (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States, plus Germany) when its foreign ministers met in Vienna the previous week, and anonymous European and U.S. diplomats said in "The New York Times" of June 6 that incentives in the proposal include a commitment to support a civilian nuclear program and to help build light-water reactors. Other incentives, according to the daily, are support for Iranian membership in the World Trade Organization, the sale of Airbus and Boeing aircraft parts, and U.S. participation in negotiations with Iran. Less is known about disincentives, particularly the possibility of military action. According to "The New York Times," disincentives include a ban on international travel for Iranian officials involved in the nuclear program and a freezing of Iranian finances in other countries. BS

After meeting with Solana on June 6, Iranian Supreme National Security Council Secretary Ali Larijani said the talks went well and the proposal will receive careful consideration, Radio Farda reported. He said, "We had constructive talks with each other. They presented proposals which they had worked on before. These proposals include positive steps and they also include some ambiguities that should be removed." Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki met with Solana next, and he expressed similar views, state radio reported. "It has been decided that we will carefully examine the package we've received," he said. Mottaki continued, "It has even been recommended that we shouldn't hurry.... Hence, we will examine it, without hurrying but carefully. We will [then] give our proposals to the European side." Solana sounded enthusiastic, too, Radio Farda reported, saying: "We had a very good meeting with Dr. Larijani, with the ministers now. I think the atmosphere was very good. We are going to try to continue." BS

Candidates for the November 17 Assembly of Experts election can register from September 7-15, the Interior Ministry announced on June 6, according to state radio. The 86-member assembly has a wholly clerical membership, but the candidacy of women and laymen has been advocated unsuccessfully. BS

Iran is classified as a top-level offender in the struggle against human trafficking, according to an annual survey prepared by the U.S. State Department that was submitted to Congress on June 5 ( Afghan, Bangladeshi, and Pakistani boys are reportedly trafficked through Iran to work in Persian Gulf states as beggars, camel jockeys, and laborers. Afghan females are trafficked into Iran for forced marriages and sexual exploitation, the report adds, while Iranian females are trafficked internally for the same reasons, as well as involuntary servitude. Iranian officials reportedly punish victims of trafficking "with beatings, imprisonment, and execution," according to "credible reports." The State Department report also notes that Iran is increasing its cooperation with Afghanistan, Pakistan, and other neighboring states in its effort to fight trafficking. Iran is now ranked as a tier 3 country, the worst classification, whereas it was a tier 2 previously. This is because victims of trafficking are punished there. BS

Iranian Foreign Minister Mottaki announced on June 3 that officials from Tehran, Kabul, and Islamabad recently held talks on security problems in southeastern Iran, reported on June 6. He said these discussions occurred during President Hamid Karzai's late May visit to Iran, when Mottaki visited Kabul in December, and when Iranian Vice President Parviz Davudi and Mottaki visited Islamabad in late May. Iran's Ambassador to Islamabad, Mohammad Ebrahim Taherian, said on May 31 that Iran came up with the idea of holding trilateral talks on security issues, Mashhad radio's Dari-language service reported. Kabul has welcomed the proposal, he said, but Islamabad has not responded. Iran asserts that those responsible for violent incidents in the southwest are based in cross-border sanctuaries. Moreover, Iranian Interior Minister Mustafa Pur-Mohammadi said in "Aftab-i Yazd" on May 30 that arms trafficking is another problem originating along the eastern borders. The prevalence of arms in Iran, he said, contributes to the crime rate. BS

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki told reporters on June 6 that he will release 2,500 detainees, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq reported the same day. Those released will be people who have not been charged with crimes or who have been arrested by mistake and will not include "Saddamists [followers of the ousted Iraqi President Saddam Hussein] or terrorists or anyone who has Iraqi blood on their hands," al-Maliki said. A committee will decide who is to be released. The first 500 were freed on June 7, news agencies reported. BAW

Prime Minister al-Maliki told reporters on June 6 that he would have presented his nominees for the country's key security posts on June 4 if there had been a quorum of parliamentarians present to vote, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq reported the same day (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 5, 2006). "I did not want to use my constitutional right to present the names. The country wants political consensus...we will definitely do it [present the nominations] at the next session," al-Maliki affirmed. Rivals within the United Iraqi Alliance, the largest bloc in parliament, had blocked efforts to name the interior and defense ministers, Reuters reported on June 6, citing unnamed political sources. Some members of the alliance outside al-Maliki's Islamic Al-Da'wah Party are skeptical that the coalition government can last longer than six months. A spokesman for the U.S. president said on June 5 that the security posts "are going to be the most contentious and most important appointments [al-Maliki] makes, and it's going to take time," AFP reported the same day. BAW

Gunmen in police uniforms kidnapped at least 50 people in the central Al-Salihya neighborhood of Baghdad on June 5, international media reported the same day. Those kidnapped include shopkeepers and travelers, two of whom are Syrian nationals, AFP reported on June 5. Eyewitnesses said that at least 12 vehicles blocked the streets and gunmen started taking people away randomly. A senior police commander in Baghdad, Major General Rashid al-Fulayah, dismissed suggestions of links between the kidnappers and the government. However, at a June 6 press conference, the Iraqi Islamic Party declared that it has "conclusive evidence" that the police were involved in the kidnapping, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq reported the same day. Prime Minister al-Maliki told reporters on June 6 that a detailed plan about how to increase security in Baghdad is being drawn up, Radio Free Iraq reported the same day. "We will see results in the not-so-distant future," al-Maliki promised. BAW

About 1,500 U.S. troops have been moved from Kuwait to the predominantly Sunni-populated Al-Anbar Governorate, 112 kilometers west of Baghdad, AP reported on June 5. The deployment is alarming Sunni groups. The Iraqi Islamic Party, a member of the Sunni-led Iraqi Accordance Front, the third-largest bloc in parliament, declared on June 6 that it condemns the "threats and preparations against Al-Anbar" and called on the government to adopt a comprehensive security plan rather than select specific regions, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq reported the same day. The party also called on Shi'ite and Sunni clerics to help stop "the bloodshed" in Iraq. Muhammad Bashar al-Faydi, a spokesman for the Muslim Scholars Association, an influential Sunni group, also warned the Iraqi government against launching an assault in Al-Anbar, saying that the "consequences would be very dangerous for Iraqi society and for the government," AP reported on June 5. BAW