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Newsline - August 24, 2006

August 24 is an official day of mourning for the 170 people who died on August 22, when a Pulkovo Airlines flight from the Russian Black Sea resort of Anapa to St. Petersburg crashed near Donetsk in Ukraine, leaving no survivors, reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 23, 2006). The investigation at the site of the crash is nearly complete, and the authorities in Moscow hope to have information from the flight data recorder and voice recorder soon, Ekho Moskvy radio reported. PM

Most speculation in the Russian media on August 24 about the cause of the crash near Donetsk centers on complications from a storm, including but not limited to lightning, reported. The daily "Kommersant" on August 24 quoted an unnamed official of the Interior Ministry, which has counterterrorism experts on the scene, as saying that terrorism remains a possible explanation but seems unlikely. He argued that the debris from the plane would have been scattered over a large area had a bomb exploded on the plane during flight, whereas the wreckage has in fact been found in a compact area. Eyewitnesses reported that the plane was intact when it went down. "Moskovsky komsomolets," however, said that the apparent absence of a report from the plane to flight controllers of a fire on board or other accident suggests that the plane crashed due to a sudden development, which would not exclude terrorism. "Novye izvestia" argued that the pilot lacked experience in flying in storms and that all pilots are under pressure from the airlines to conserve fuel. The "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" quoted Sergei Mironov, who is speaker of the Federation Council, as saying that Russian airlines need more modern planes. PM

The Moscow City Court announced on August 24 that it has issued a formal arrest warrant for Valery Zhukovtsov, who is the third of three young men who is in custody and has confessed to involvement in the August 21 bomb blast at the Cherkizovsky market that left 10 dead and 49 injured, reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 21, 22, and 23, 2006). On August 23, Vladimir Novitsky, who is legal director of the nongovernmental organization (NGO) Moscow Human Rights Bureau, told Reuters that the Cherkizovsky market incident marks a "new level" in racist attacks. He argued that previous incidents involved youths attacking dark-skinned people on the street, whereas the latest one suggests a form of organization and planning more reminiscent of terrorist cells. He stressed that "what we are talking about is a group that was deep underground and used techniques that amount to terrorism. This is of course a new level of preparation compared to the attacks by skinheads, which are usually just opportunistic. This is a cause for concern." Novitsky believes that the group of three young men might not be "an isolated case.... You cannot rule out that there are more such groups out there." PM

Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi told reporters at his vacation home in Tuscany on August 23 that Russian President Vladimir Putin is "thinking about" possibly sending peacekeepers to Lebanon, reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 7, 14, and 15, 2006). Prodi, who has offered Italian leadership for such a force, has discussed that possibility in a telephone conversation with Putin. Prodi added that Putin "has started talking to his collaborators and will give us an answer in the coming days." PM

Swedish Prime Minister Goran Persson was quoted by Britain's "The Independent" on August 24 as arguing that it would be "foolhardy" to build the planned North European Gas Pipeline (NEGP) running from Vyborg to Greifswald, which is a major project of the Russian authorities and Gazprom. Persson argued that "when you build such a large pipeline on the bottom of the Baltic Sea, you stir up a lot of sediment at the bottom, where there are mines, poisons, and other things that have been dumped over decades. You risk setting off a major environmental disturbance on top of all the other environmental problems the Baltic Sea has." He also believes that the project would destroy the Swedish island of Gottland. Persson argued that the pipeline should be built on land, but did not address the shared desire of Russia and Germany that it should bypass the Baltic States, Poland, and Ukraine (see "RFE/RL Newsline," December 12, 2005, June 19 and 26, and July 14, 2006). PM

"The Independent" further quoted a spokeswoman for the NEGP on August 24 as saying that the company knows where the dangerous areas of the Baltic floor are and will avoid them. "The route does not even come close to known ammunition dumps," she added. Environmentalists maintain that there are at least 60,000 tons of chemical weapons there. In addition, they point out that some Soviet chemical weapons stores were simply thrown off of ships and never mapped or documented. The NEGP enjoys broad support within the German political class, and German business is generally very eager to expand contacts with Russia. Former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder heads the stockholders' oversight body for the NEGP, and Matthias Warnig, who heads Dresdner Bank's operations in Russia, is the NEGP's chief executive. Warnig worked for the former East Germany's Stasi secret police in Dresden at the same time in the 1980s that President Putin was a young KGB officer there, although Warnig denies having known Putin then. PM

On August 23, the Moscow City Court sentenced Andrei Dumenkov to 12 years in a high security prison on charges of high treason and espionage, Interfax reported, citing sources in the Federal Security Service (FSB). According to the FSB, it was "informed [in 2004] that Dumenkov had been looking for an opportunity to buy state secrets in order to hand them over to the representatives of German special services." He allegedly had a particular interest in unspecified "state-of-the-art missiles." Police detained him at a Moscow railway station on August 3, 2005, prior to his planned emigration to Germany, and found unspecified classified documents in his possession. The FSB said on August 23, 2006, that he "confessed during the investigation," RIA Novosti reported. It is not clear what Dumenkov's occupation is or how he had access to military secrets. "The Moscow Times" reported on August 24 that its calls to the FSB for more information went unanswered. This is the first publicized spy conviction for some time involving Germany, which the Kremlin considers one of its closest "partners." PM

The Russian gas monopoly Gazprom has told Bosnia-Herzegovina that it will cut off its gas supplies, all of which come from Russia, on October 1 unless Bosnia makes progress in paying off the $104.8 million in debts it accumulated before the end of the conflict there in 1995, "The Wall Street Journal in Europe" reported. A spokeswoman for Energoinvest, the Bosnian energy company that is 76 percent government-owned, told the daily that the cutoff "would be a very big problem for industry and for people here. Winter is at our doorstep." She added that "it isn't possible to pay [the debt before October]; they know that." Gazprom subsidiary Gazeksport told the paper in an e-mail that Bosnia "has been told officially that the question of extending the current contract will be examined alongside concrete proposals on the repayment of debts. Negotiations will continue into September." The daily noted that "Gazprom has rejected critics' views that it plays the role of an enforcer for the Kremlin's political aims, saying it acts on market principles and aims to boost profits." PM

Relatives of seven men killed two years ago in a property dispute, apparently at the behest of businessman Ali Kaitov, then the son-in-law of Karachayevo-Cherkessia Republic President Mustafa Batdyev, have addressed an appeal to Tatarstan's president, Mintimer Shaimiyev, the text of which was posted first on and reposted on August 23 on (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 10 and 12, 2004 and June 16 and August 22, 2005). The relatives explain that the 16 men on trial for the killings plan to try to persuade Shaimiyev that the murders were committed in self-defense and to ask him to persuade the Russian authorities they should be acquitted. The relatives appeal to Shaimiyev not to be taken in by that argument, and solicit his help and advice to ensure that justice prevails. LF

A group of unidentified gunmen opened fire on August 23 in Karabulak, northeast of Nazran, on the car of local police chief Akhmed Murzabekov, reported. Police in a patrol car accompanying Murzabekov returned fire, but failed to apprehend the gunmen. Murzabekov was hospitalized with gunshot wounds that are not life threatening. LF

Alliance of National Democrats head Arshak Sadoyan announced at a press conference on August 23 the completion of a program of measures that he believes could prevent the incumbent authorities from falsifying the outcome of the parliamentary election due in April 2007, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Those measures, which Sadoyan estimated would cost $2.5 million to implement, include electronic control over the voting process, training some 25,000 people to act as observers or candidates' representatives, and nationwide election-related broadcasts. He said those measures, which will be made public next month, have been submitted for approval to outgoing U.S. Ambassador John Evans and to the OSCE, the UN, and USAID, and that they could be financed from the $6.5 million that the United States earmarked earlier this year for Armenia for election-related assistance. LF

Tigran Torosian, who succeeded Orinats Yerkir Chairman Artur Baghdasarian as Armenian parliament speaker three months ago (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 2, 2006) provided details on August 23 of spending cuts that he claims will save some 3 million drams ($7,500) every month, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Torosian said 40 of the 501 parliament staff positions have been abolished. He also said that an audit revealed "unjustified" allocations of parliament funds by Baghdasarian, including one of 30 million drams to an NGO that promotes Armenian-Russian cooperation. Torosian stopped short, however, of open accusations of embezzlement. LF

The Committee to Protect the Rights of Farhad Aliyev -- the former economic development minister arrested last October on charges of plotting a coup d'etat -- has appealed to the ambassadors in Baku of the United States, the United Kingdom, Norway, Germany, France, Italy, Greece and Turkey, reported on August 23. Former Interior Ministry official Haci Mammadov testified last month at his ongoing trial that a gang he headed killed opposition journalist Elmar Huseynov in March 2005 at Aliyev's behest. The appeal suggests that Mammadov implicated Aliyev in that murder on orders from a third party, and recalled that Aliyev himself responded with a statement in which he claimed he was warned that Huseynov's death would be attributed to him unless he pled guilty to the coup charges against him (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 27, 2006). The appeal noted that Azerbaijani NGOs have appealed to President Ilham Aliyev (who is not related to Farhad) to give the green light for a new investigation, with the participation of the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation, into Huseynov's killing, and it appealed to the ambassadors to monitor that investigation and the case against Farhad Aliyev. LF

Sergei Shamba, who is foreign minister of the unrecognized Republic of Abkhazia, took issue on August 23 with a statement made the previous day in Tbilisi by visiting U.S. Senator Richard Lugar (Republican, Indiana), who is chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Caucasus Press reported. Georgian media quoted Lugar as saying on August 22 that Washington backs Georgia's efforts to secure the withdrawal from the Abkhaz and South Ossetian conflict zones of the Russian peacekeeping forces currently deployed there (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 23, 2006). Shamba slammed that statement as "populist." On August 23, the Abkhaz Defense Ministry accused Georgia of laying land mines in the upper reaches of the Kodori Gorge, a move it claimed violates the 1990 Treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe, Apsny Press reported. LF

Soso Baratashvili, who represents Georgian oppositionist Irakli Batiashvili, told journalists in Tbilisi on August 23 that the alleged telephone conversation between Batiashvili and former Kodori Gorge Governor Enzar Kvitsiani that was broadcast last month by the pro-government television station Rustiavi-2 was edited in such a way as to incriminate Batiashvili, Caucasus Press reported. On the basis of that doctored tape, the Georgian Prosecutor-General's Office charged Batiashvili with treason on the grounds that he allegedly encouraged Kvitsiani to revolt against the Georgian authorities and failed to inform the Georgian authorities that Kvitsiani planned to do so (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 31, 2006). Baratashvili made available to journalists the full transcript of the telephone conversation as recorded by the Georgian Interior Ministry, RFE/RL's Georgian Service reported. LF

The Rubezh-2006 (Border-2006) Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) military exercises began on August 23 in Kazakhstan's Mangistau province, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. The exercises, which are intended to test the CSTO's collective rapid-deployment force, involve 2,500 personnel, more than 60 armored vehicles, 50 artillery pieces and mortars, 40 aircraft and helicopters, and 14 warships and support vessels. The exercises will last until August 27. The CSTO comprises Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. DK

Maulen Ashimbaev, deputy head of Kazakhstan's presidential administration, told a conference on Kazakh-U.S. ties in Almaty on August 23 that "boosting and expanding cooperation with the United States meets Kazakhstan's national interests," Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. Ashimbaev noted that Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev will visit the United States in late September. Deputy Defense Minister Bulat Sembinov called Kazakhstan "a key partner of the United States and other countries in achieving peace and stability in the region." U.S. Ambassador to Kazakhstan John Ordway stated that the United States supports Kazakhstan's accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO) and intends to bring more investment to Kazakhstan. Ashimbaev noted that the United States has accounted for 30 percent of foreign direct investment in Kazakhstan, or $12 billion. Bilateral trade in 2005 was $1.87 billion, Kazinform reported. DK

Russia's Agriculture Ministry announced on August 23 that it has banned the import and transit of all animals and animal products from Kyrgyzstan because of an "unclear epizootic situation," reported. The ban also applies to equipment that has been used to breed and slaughter animals. News agency reported that several cases of brucellosis and foot-and-mouth disease have been recorded in Kyrgyzstan in 2006. DK

A civil court in Tashkent ruled on August 23 to close the Uzbekistan offices of U.S.-based Crosslink Development International, reported. Uzbek prosecutors argued that the NGO failed to provide information on its programs, bypassed the banking system to issue loans, and engaged in missionary activities. Judge Khayriniso Hakimova agreed. The closure is the latest in a long series of similar court cases that have seen most Western-funded NGOs evicted from Uzbekistan in recent years. DK

Forty-one Andijon refugees were preparing to return home after spending several months in the United States, RFE/RL's Uzbek Service reported on August 23. The returnees were due to board an Uzbekistan Airways (Ozbekiston Havo Yollari) flight on August 24 at New York's JFK Airport and are expected back in the Uzbek capital on August 25. A source in the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Geneva identified as Elen Saux confirmed that the 41 refugees are planning to leave the United States on August 24, reported. "This comes as a big surprise to us, but we can't interfere if refugees want to return," Saux commented. A group of 12 Andijon refugees returned from the United States in mid-July (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 18, 2006), reportedly with safety guarantees from Uzbek officials, although rights groups have expressed doubts about the circumstances of their return. DK

Belarusian investigators have launched a probe into the death of Vytautas Pociunas, security adviser to the Lithuanian consulate in Hrodna, Belapan and BNS reported on August 23. Pociunas, an officer of the Lithuanian state security service, was found lying dead outside a hotel in Brest, southwestern Belarus, in the early hours of August 23. According to preliminary findings by Belarusian investigators, Pociunas may have fallen out of a hotel window. "Our experts are present in Belarus, and the most important thing is that nothing is being concealed. There is alarming information but I hope that cooperation between the Belarusian [investigators], our experts, and diplomats will help find the truth and provide all answers," BNS quoted Lithuanian Prime Minister Gediminas Kirkilas as saying on August 24. JM

President Viktor Yushchenko, Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, parliamentary speaker Oleksandr Moroz, other high-ranking Ukrainian officials, and former President Leonid Kuchma attended a prayer service at the St. Sofia Cathedral in Kyiv on August 24 that inaugurated official functions to celebrate the 15th anniversary of Ukraine's independence. Speaking in front of the cathedral after the service, Yushchenko said, among other things, that "there will be no alternative to the Ukrainian language as the state and official-communication language [in Ukraine]." Yushchenko stressed that Ukrainian is "the language of our freedom." Due to the tragic crash of a Russian commercial airliner in Ukraine on August 22, the government resolved to postpone all festivities connected with the independence anniversary until August 26. On August 24, 1991, an extraordinary session of the Verkhovna Rada of the Ukrainian SSR proclaimed the Act of State Independence of Ukraine. JM

President Yushchenko said on August 23 that he has decreed that a new investigation be opened into the death of Ukrainian politician Vyacheslav Chornovil (1937-99), a Soviet-era dissident and an ardent advocate of Ukraine's independence, Interfax-Ukraine reported. Yushchenko was speaking during an unveiling ceremony for a monument to Chornovil in Kyiv. "I just want to say that the investigation of this murder is a matter of dignity and professional commitment for Ukraine's government and law-enforcement agencies," Yushchenko noted. Chornovil was killed in a car crash in Kyiv Oblast on March 26, 1999. A number of politicians characterized Chornovil's death as suspicious, but an investigation launched at the time concluded that the crash was indeed an accident. JM

Serbian Foreign Minister Vuk Draskovic has sharply criticized remarks by an Albanian official calling Serbia, Montenegro, and Macedonia "unnatural creations," AKI reported on August 23. The Kosovar Albanian-language daily "Epoka" on August 22 also quoted Koco Danaj, whom it identified as a political adviser to Albanian Prime Minister Sali Berisha, as saying that all Albanians living in the region should unite to form a "natural Albania" by 2013. The Serbian Foreign Ministry rebuked Albania for what it called its "expansionist" aspirations. "The message was sent through the prime minister's political adviser, so that if it causes furor...they can claim it was Danaj's personal opinion," Draskovic said in a statement issued late on August 22. "However, it is neither a 'personal stand' nor a testing of the water, but an official strategy." No mainstream Albanian political party in the Balkans formally endorses the concept of a Greater Albania. Draskovic may be seeking to boost his poor standing in Serbian opinion polls in the run-up to elections expected either this year or in 2007. BW

In the same August 22 statement, Draskovic said that if Kosova wins independence then it will lead to the creation of a "Greater Albania" that will destabilize the Balkan region, AKI reported on August 23. "Isn't it finally clear that breaking up the territorial integrity of Serbia, by giving Kosovo the status of independence, will directly lead to a Balkan drama of dangerous and unforeseeable dimensions?" Draskovic said. "As foreign minister of Serbia, I ask the Contact Group for Kosovo, the European Union, United States, NATO, the UN Security Council, and [UN envoy] Martti Ahtisaari this." Draskovic said that a Greater Albania will likely come into existence while "the Balkan states, whose territory is threatened first and foremost, sit twiddling their thumbs." BW

Deputy Prime Minister Ivana Dulic-Markovic said on August 23 that with Belgrade closing in on war crimes fugitive Ratko Mladic, it will not be necessary to negotiate his surrender, B92 reported the same day. "I am encouraged with what's been done, in that I trust there truly is the political will and an excellent level of cooperation between various services working on arresting and extraditing Mladic," she said. "Therefore, the government will not negotiate with him." Dulic-Markovic is the second Serbian official this week to insist that Belgrade is not and will not negotiate the Bosnian Serb wartime commander's surrender (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 22, 2006). BW

U.S. Ambassador to Serbia Michael Polt said on August 23 that Belgrade must do more than talk about capturing Mladic to satisfy the international community's demands, B92 reported the same day "I believe you are familiar with my statements where I have explained and stressed the difference between an action plan and action itself," Polt said. "We expect the Serbian government to honor its international obligations. More than that, we look forward to the day when all this is left behind," he added. BW

NATO and European Union troops raided the homes of supporters of war crimes fugitive Radovan Karadzic on August 23 in an effort to pressure his support network, Reuters reported the same day. U.S. troops blocked off parts of Pale, Karadzic's wartime stronghold east of Sarajevo. They then searched the home of military commander Jovan Skobo, who is believed to be helping hide Karadzic. "Mr. Skobo is believed to be linked to the support network of Radovan Karadzic that allows him to remain at large," Reuters quoted Derek Chappel, a NATO spokesman in Sarajevo, as saying. Elsewhere in Pale, Italian Carabinieri police searched the houses of wartime commander Radomir Kojic and his brother-in-law Radoslav Ilic, Reuters reported, citing Bosnia's SIPA agency. They also raided Kojic's hotel at nearby Mount Jahorina. BW

Police in Prishtina on August 23 arrested 70 ethnic Albanian pro-independence demonstrators protesting the visit of UN envoy Martti Ahtisaari to Kosova, dpa reported the same day. The protesters are members of a pro-independence group called Vetevendosja (Self-Determination), which opposes talks with Serbia. Unidentified police officials told dpa that 15 protesters were arrested in front of the Kosovar Assembly and 55 were detained in front of the UN Mission in Kosova headquarters, where Ahtisaari was holding talks with officials. Ahtisaari arrived in Kosova on August 22 for talks with Kosovar officials in an effort to jump-start final-status negotiations (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 22, 2006). In a statement, Vetevendosja said "police used force" to break up the demonstrations. BW

Iran responded on August 22 to an international proposal on Tehran's disputed nuclear program by saying it is ready for "serious talks." Iranian Supreme National Security Council Secretary Ali Larijani gave representatives from China, Russia, Britain, Germany, France, and Switzerland (representing U.S. interests) a written response to an international incentives package at a meeting in Tehran. The proposal is aimed at persuading the Islamic republic to abandon its controversial uranium-enrichment program and other sensitive activities.

Details have not yet emerged of the statement that Larijani, Iran's top nuclear negotiator, gave to diplomats. But Mohammad Saidi, a top official in the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, provided strong hints at the nature of the response.

Saidi said on August 22 that the international proposal has "fundamental and serious ambiguities." He added that although suspension of Iran's uranium enrichment is no longer an appropriate precondition, Tehran is willing to hold talks, Mehr news agency reported. Saidi also criticized aspects of the proposal that emphasize deterrence and ignore nuclear cooperation.

Iran has also rejected the possibility of suspending uranium enrichment, Fars news agency reported. Iranian officials have been saying the same thing for months. Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi gave a strong hint at the Iranian stance in his August 20 press conference, when he said Iran is not considering suspension of its enrichment activities. Larijani also reiterated that Tehran sees moves to take its case to the UN Security Council as "illegal."

The offer from the five permanent members of the UN Security Council (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) plus Germany was followed in late July by Security Council Resolution 1696, which calls on Iran to halt sensitive nuclear activities by the end of August or face the possibility of economic and political sanctions.

Iran thus finds itself in a position that it has avoided for years through a combination of diplomacy and deception. This situation can be attributed to the hard-line ideology of President Mahmud Ahmadinejad's administration and the support it is receiving from Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

The hard-line sentiments were strengthened when Ahmadinejad announced on April 11 that Iranians have "enriched uranium to the enrichment level required by nuclear power plants," state television reported.

More recently, Khamenei said on August 21 that "arrogant powers, led by America," fear Islamic countries' progress and are trying to block Iran's scientific and technological development, state television reported. Therefore, he continued, Iran will continue its nuclear pursuits.

EU High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana gave the proposal to Iranian officials in Tehran on June 6. The proposal called on Iran to cooperate fully with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), "suspend all enrichment-related and reprocessing activities," and "resume implementation of the Additional Protocol [of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT)]."

In exchange, the six countries would suspend Security Council talks on the Iranian nuclear program. Moreover, they would back Iran's right to have a peaceful nuclear program that conforms with its NPT obligations. Construction of light-water reactors in Iran, furthermore, would be backed. Future cooperation would include a nuclear cooperation agreement between Iran and Euratom, cooperation on the management of spent nuclear fuel and radioactive waste, and assistance in nuclear-related research and development. Other issues included assurances on the provision of nuclear fuel, including enrichment at a joint facility in Russia.

The June proposal mentioned political and economic incentives, too. There would be a regional security conference. Iran would be fully integrated into the international economy -- including membership in the World Trade Organization (WTO) -- and there would be a trade and cooperation agreement with the EU. Restrictions would be lifted on the sale of European and U.S. manufactured parts for civilian aircraft. A long-term Iran-EU energy partnership would be created, and restrictions on the use of U.S. telecommunications equipment in Iran might be eliminated. There would be cooperation in the high-technology and agriculture sectors, too.

Conversely, if Iran continues its uranium-enrichment activities and does not comply with Resolution 1696, the Security Council could impose commercial or diplomatic sanctions -- per Chapter 7 of the UN Charter. The overseas travel of Iranian officials could be restricted and their assets frozen; there could be restrictions on Iranian sports teams' participation in international competitions; and there could be major economic embargoes.

It is unlikely that there will be much enthusiasm on the Security Council for any serious sanctions. Resistance will come primarily from Moscow and Beijing -- in part due to their geopolitical competition with the United States. China, furthermore, gets much of its energy from Iran. European powers buy oil from Iran, and the country is a significant market for European goods.

There is concern that Iran would respond to sanctions by restricting oil exports. Indeed, Iran accounts for some 10 percent of global oil reserves and is OPEC's second-largest producer. Yet Iran is heavily reliant on its oil revenues, which account for 40-50 percent of the state budget and 80-90 percent of total export earnings. Petroleum Minister Kazem Vaziri-Hamaneh has dismissed use of the so-called oil weapon, although other officials have mentioned it.

Iranian withdrawal from the NPT is another possible response by Tehran. President Ahmadinejad hinted at this possibility in February, and doing so now would be in keeping with his confrontational foreign-policy style. Alaedin Borujerdi, chairman of the legislature's National Security and Foreign Policy Committee, said on August 21 that NPT compliance would no longer apply if pressure on Iran continued, IRNA reported.

Military action against the Iranian nuclear program is a remote possibility. Tehran has responded to this risk with a new doctrine of asymmetric warfare. Iran also reportedly has links with Iraqi insurgents who could act against coalition forces. Additionally, Tehran believes U.S. forces are already overstretched with Iraq and Afghanistan and cannot commit to another military confrontation.

Iran also has engaged in saber-rattling, although this may be intended to reassure a domestic audience rather than frighten a foreign one. Iran displayed the new Fajr-3 missile, torpedoes, and other weapons during war games in the Persian Gulf, Straits of Hormuz, and Sea of Oman in late March and early April. These exercises allowed Iran to show its naval forces' area-denial capabilities.

The Iranian nuclear program got under way even before the Islamic Revolution of 1978-79, but it was not until August 2002 that an opposition group revealed the existence of a uranium-enrichment facility at Natanz and a heavy-water plant at Arak; it was not until June 2003 that the IAEA said Iran is not in compliance with the NPT. Yet in the following years, Iran continued to negotiate with Europe and avoid referral to the Security Council.

No international consensus on the gravity of the situation emerged until September 2005, when the IAEA confirmed that Iran had resumed uranium conversion at Isfahan.

The current situation can be attributed to the newfound emphasis on ideology in foreign policy, according to Hojatoleslam Hassan Rohani. Rohani is currently the supreme leader's representative on the Supreme National Security Council, and for 16 years he was the council's secretary. In that position, he was Iran's lead nuclear negotiator from October 2003 until his replacement in August 2005.

Rohani said in late July that the country is paying a heavy price at the moment, and he spoke out against critics of the diplomatic process who failed to understand the value of the concessions Iran was receiving from Europe, "Etemad" reported on July 23.

Rohani met with President-elect Ahmadinejad for the first time shortly after the 2005 election. Asked later if there are any differences between the incoming administration and that of President Mohammad Khatami, Rohani conceded that there might be "some differences of opinion" regarding the suspension of uranium enrichment, "Sharq" reported on July 14, 2005. Nobody opposes talks with Europe, he continued, "but there may be some differences of opinion...with some other issues."

In the 2005 interview with "Sharq," Rohani stressed that Iran must avoid worrying other countries and isolating itself. "We have to interact with the world for the sake of our country's development," he said. "If what we envisaged for the next 20 years is to see a developed Iran ranking first in the region from the scientific, technological, and economic aspects, can we achieve this objective without interaction with the industrial world?" Rohani went on to note the significance of Europe, Russia, Japan, China, and other industrialized states, and he emphasized the importance to Iran of diplomacy and the danger of isolation.

By now, it is obvious that Rohani's advice was ignored, and he is not impressed. Several months ago, Rohani referred to "upstarts who have no experience and track record," "Etemad" reported on June 15. How the Ahmadinejad team reacts next will color Iran's relations with the world for years to come.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai delivered the keynote address at the Second National Conference on Counternarcotics in Kabul on August 22, the Afghan Ministry of Counternarcotics announced. "We must kill poppy, or poppy will kill us," Karzai warned in his speech to 600 delegates from across Afghanistan. He said poverty cannot be made an excuse for planting opium poppies, citing the examples of Nangarhar and Paktiya provinces, which, according to Karzai, "have given honor to Afghanistan." Nangarhar has successfully stopped the cultivation of opium poppies, while Paktiya never planted poppies, Karzai said, "yet farmers are prospering in both provinces." Afghanistan held its First National Conference on Counternarcotics in December 2004 and mapped a counternarcotics strategy for the country, leading to the passage in December 2005 of a counternarcotics law and the launch in January 2006 of its National Drug Control Strategy. The current conference coincides with the launch of Kabul's "pre-planting campaign" to encourage "farmers to avoid poppy cultivation" and focus their efforts on planting legal crops (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," January 16, 2006). AT

The security chief of Paktika Province's Gayan district and four policemen were killed in an ambush on August 22, Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) reported on August 23. An unidentified provincial official told AIP that Taliban fighters carried out the attack. The slain security chief was not identified by name. AT

One of four Canadian soldiers attached to the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and reported injured when a suicide attacker struck his convoy in the city of Kandahar on August 22 has died, CTV reported on August 23 (see "RFE/RL Newsline, August 22, 2006). New reports suggest that the bystander who was also reported injured -- a young Afghan girl -- has died. Hours after the blast, a Canadian soldier fired on a vehicle that was reportedly approaching the area around the bombing, killing an Afghan teenager and seriously wounded another. AT

Ghulam Mohammad Gharib, head of the Ulama Council in Helmand Province, has condemned the methods by which the Taliban kill or injure their captives, Kabul-based Tolu Television reported on August 23. "The cutting off of heads, hands, legs, noses, ears, or other forms of torture inflicted on the human body are against Islam," Gharib said, adding that his council condemns such acts. The neo-Taliban have in the past decapitated captives and desecrated the bodies of their victims. AT

French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy said on August 23 in Paris that Iran must cease the enrichment of uranium if it wants to resume the nuclear negotiation process, LCI Television reported. The previous day, Iranian Supreme National Security Council Secretary Ali Larijani responded to an international proposal meant to alleviate the current crisis over Iran's nuclear activities by saying the country is ready for "serious talks," even though it refuses to meet one of the prerequisites for talks, namely, stopping enrichment (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 7 and August 23, 2006). Douste-Blazy said, "I want to reiterate France's readiness to negotiate, but I repeat, as we've said before and as Mr. Larijani knows full well, that a return to the negotiating table is tied to the suspension of uranium-enrichment activities." BS

The White House made clear on August 23 that it is underwhelmed by the Iranian response to the international nuclear proposal, RFE/RL reported. "The response," White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said, "falls short of the conditions set by the Security Council which require the full and verifiable suspension of all enrichment-related and reprocessing activities." Perino said the White House will consider the Iranian response, nevertheless, and it is "closely consulting with the other members of the Security Council on the next steps." Anonymous "U.S. and European officials" said the Iranian response does not fulfill UN Security Council Resolution 1696 -- which calls for a cessation of uranium enrichment and reprocessing activities -- either, "The Wall Street Journal" reported on August 23. Their countries are deciding if they should push for sanctions against Iran. BS

An anonymous Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said on August 23, "China has always believed that seeking a peaceful resolution to the Iranian nuclear issue through diplomatic talks is the best choice [to solve the issue] and in the interests of all parties concerned," Xinhua reported. In Tehran on August 23, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi said his country's response to the international proposal contains "very positive and transparent signs," IRNA reported. BS

Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mikhail Kamynin said in Moscow on August 23 that the Iranian response to the international proposal deserves careful attention, according to the ministry's website ( He referred to possible "nuances" and "constructive elements." Also on August 23, a delegation of Iranian officials arrived in order to inspect Russian nuclear facilities, RFE/RL and "The Moscow Times" reported. The delegation includes Atomic Energy Organization of Iran official Mahmud Jannatian, and it is expected to visit the Kalininskaya nuclear power plant, located in the city of Udomlia between Moscow and St. Petersburg. The power plant utilizes the VVER-1000 reactor, which is the model installed at Bushehr in southwestern Iran. Among the topics of discussion will be personnel training and nuclear-fuel deliveries. The Iranians are expected to visit Kalininskaya for two days and then go to another reactor outside Moscow, RFE/RL reported. BS

Romanian President Traian Basescu has been unable to reach his Iranian counterpart, Mahmud Ahmadinejad, in his effort to obtain clarification regarding an incident the previous day, Bucharest's "Gandul" newspaper reported on August 23. In that incident, which could relate to a contractual dispute, Iranian naval forces reportedly fired on a Romanian oil platform in the Persian Gulf, seized it, and are holding the crew (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 23, 2006). Romanian presidential adviser Sergiu Medar said, "This is a trade litigation, to which Iran has responded too toughly," "Gandul" reported. Romanian Oil Services Group (Grup Servicii Petroliere) Chairman Gabriel Comanescu said his firm will sue PetroIran, the firm with which it is having a dispute, "Evenimentuel Zilei" reported on August 23. Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Assefi said on August 23 that the affair has not been reported accurately, IRNA reported. He said the Romanian company illegally removed some drilling equipment, and the police foiled its plan to conduct "its second robbery." An editorial in Bucharest's "Ziua" daily referred to "the first large-scale act of terrorism against our country." BS

Legislation passed on August 23 requires all state officials -- including legislators, managing directors, and judicial officials, as well as members of the cabinet, Guardians Council, Expediency Council, and Assembly of Experts -- to submit annual financial statements to the State Inspectorate, Radio Farda reported. Noted Iranian human rights activist and lawyer Mehrangiz Kar told Radio Farda the measure seems superficial, because the judiciary already has the authority to prosecute corruption cases. She added that it is a sign of how bad official corruption has become in the country. BS

There are "significant gaps in our knowledge and understanding of the various areas of concern about Iran," according to an August 23 report from the U.S. House of Representatives' Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence ( Among the areas of interest, the report mentions Iran's nuclear weapons program, the question of chemical and biological weapons, and the ballistic-missile threat. The report also considers Iranian destabilization of Iraq and support for terrorism outside Iraq. The report recommends improving analysis, improving coordination on Iran-specific issues, and improving coordination on counterproliferation issues. It calls for enhanced human intelligence capabilities and augmented linguistic capabilities ("More staff who speak Farsi at a native or professionally proficient level"). Other recommendations are stronger counterintelligence efforts, the definition of goals, and the development of metrics. BS

Kurdish witnesses told the court of chemical attacks in 1987 against their villages in the months preceding the start of the Anfal campaign during the third session of the Anfal trial on August 23, international media reported. Several women said the attacks left them blind and burned their throats. All recounted being transferred to detention centers in Irbil following attacks on their villages, and all testified to being separated from male family members, who were taken away and never seen again. The defense questioned the witnesses as to claims that their villages sheltered Iranian soldiers at the time of the attacks. The witnesses denied having any knowledge of such claims. A Kurdish peshmerga fighter also testified, leading defendants and their lawyers to question the peshmerga's alliance to the state of Iraq. Sabir Abd al-Aziz al-Duri claimed that the Kurds had an agreement with Iran to shelter Iranian fighters in the area that was bombed. "I have neither heard nor seen anything on this issue," the witness responded. The trial has been adjourned until September 11 at the request of the defense. KR

Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki praised the performance of Iraqi security forces in protecting Shi'ite pilgrims during the anniversary of the martyrdom of Imam Musa al-Kazim at an August 23 press briefing in Baghdad, Al-Sharqiyah television reported the same day. Speaking to reporters following a meeting with Interior Minister Jawad al-Bulani, al-Maliki said: "I came [to the ministry] to thank all personnel, starting with the minister and ending with the smallest security man in this ministry, for what they have achieved. I hope that this role will continue, increase, and assume its real dimension, on which we place great expectations for the success of our security plan and in confronting those who want to sabotage this country, those who work for deviant parties inside [Iraq] and abroad." He added that he does not intend to overmilitarize the country, but rather to build up a sufficient number of forces capable of protecting the population. KR

The Kuwaiti Foreign Ministry summoned Iraqi charge d'affaires Hamid Ra'uf Shrayfi on August 23 after armed gunmen on the Iraqi side of the border opened fire on a Kuwaiti border patrol last week, KUNA reported on August 23. Kuwait's acting Foreign Undersecretary Ambassador Muhammad al-Rumi told Shrayfi that he hopes armed groups will not be allowed to engage in acts that are detrimental to the good relations shared by Kuwait and Iraq. Iraqis clashed with Kuwaiti border guards last year while demonstrating against the erection of a barrier by Kuwaiti authorities along the border (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 26, 2005). KR

Hoshyar Zebari told reporters at an August 24 press briefing in Baghdad that some politicians and the media inside Iraq are exaggerating alleged border violations by Iraq's neighbors, Al-Sharqiyah television reported. Zebari gave the example of media reports earlier this summer about Turkish forces amassing troops on the border with Iraqi Kurdistan. "These reports were not accurate," he said. "There was some troop buildup, but it was within [Turkey's] own border." He said other reports that Turkey was shelling Iraqi Kurdish villages would normally be followed up by the Foreign Ministry but only after the information was confirmed by the Defense or Interior ministries, the National Intelligence Service, and other agencies. Also, Zebari told reporters at an August 23 press briefing in Baghdad that Iraq will soon open 30 new embassies around the world, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq reported. KR

Two professors working at Diyala University, Muhammad al-Tamimi and Karim al-Sa'di, were gunned down by insurgents this week, prompting students and faculty to stage a one-day demonstration against the targeting of academics, "Al-Zaman" reported on August 23. Iraq's Health Ministry announced on August 10 that some 300 academics have been killed in Iraq since 2003, while more than 4,000 have fled the country under threat of attack. Diyala University was forced to suspend its postgraduate-studies program at two colleges this month because of staff shortages, "Al-Zaman" reported. KR

President Jalal Talabani and Foreign Minister Zebari told reporters at separate press briefings on August 23 that they are willing to testify against Saddam Hussein and his six co-defendants at the Anfal trial, international media reported. Both men are Kurds. Talabani told reporters in Baghdad that he would appear before the court "if asked," AFP reported. Zebari told reporters that he is also willing to testify because he was an eyewitness to the Anfal campaign against the Kurds, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq reported on August 23. KR