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Newsline - January 5, 2007

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuhisa Shiozaki, who is the Japanese government's chief spokesman, told reporters in Tokyo on January 5 that his government is not considering an alleged Russian proposal recently reported in the Japanese media aimed at settling the decades-old territorial dispute between the two countries, the "International Herald Tribune" reported. (see "RFE/RL Newsline," December 14 and 15, 2006, and January 3, 2007). He stressed that "the Japanese government has not offered such a proposal, nor is it considering such a proposal," according to which the two sides would reportedly agree to partition the disputed Kurile Islands on the basis of land area rather than according to the number of islands. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Andrei Denisov allegedly made the proposal to a Japanese delegation in November. Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Aso told a parliamentary committee in Tokyo on December 14 that Russia could keep 75 percent of Etorofu, the largest island, and that 25 percent of it and all of the other three islands -- Habomai, Shikotan, and Kunashiri -- could go to Japan. He and his government later distanced themselves from those remarks. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and some other Russian officials also rejected Aso's suggestion. Lavrov further warned Aso against sending "mixed messages." PM

U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters on January 4 that the recent gas dispute between Minsk and Moscow shows that Russia uses energy for political purposes, reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," January 3, 2007). He noted that the Russian authorities "are trying to use their energy resources as a political lever and most especially with neighbor[ing] states. We saw it with Ukraine last year. We saw it with Georgia. We see it with Belarus now. [All this offers a] lesson about the importance of maintaining and developing multiple sources of energy supply, as well as multiple means to convey those energy supplies." Referring to the ongoing dispute between Minsk and Moscow over oil, McCormack said that the regime of President Alyaksandr Lukashenka is trying to "keep its skim while...[re]exporting this oil. It's just another example [of the] rotten core of this regime, [which uses]...resources for the personal profit of the leadership" (see Part II). PM

Farida Sultanly, who is a spokeswoman for the National Assembly of Azerbaijanis of Georgia, was quoted by the Azerbajiani website on January 5 as claiming that selected Azeri-populated villages in the Marneuli, Gardabani, Dmanisi, and Bolnisi raions of southeastern Georgia receive electricity only for four hours per day, and gas supplies to those villages have been totally cut, while neighboring Georgian-populated villages enjoy uninterrupted supplies of both gas and electricity. She added that the Azerbaijani population has been particularly hard-hit by recent 300 percent increases in the price of petroleum products and firewood. Georgia's Azerbaijani minority, which numbers up to 500,000, has for decades complained of discrimination at the hands of the Georgian leadership. LF

An opinion poll conducted by the "Georgian Times," the findings of which were summarized on January 4 by Caucasus Press, named Adjar government Chairman Levan Varshalomidze as the best leader of a Georgian region. In an analogous poll of 376 respondents last summer by the weekly "Kviris palitra," Varshalomidze also ranked as the most popular regional leader, according to Caucasus Press on August 21. But members of the Kmara! (Enough!) youth movement that spearheaded the demonstrations in early 2004 that culminated in the ouster of former Adjar leader Aslan Abashidze registered their disenchantment with Varshalomidze one year ago, according to Caucasus Press on February 6. And Avtandil Gadabakhadze, one of the co-founders of Our Adjara, which likewise campaigned for Abashidze's dismissal, was quoted by Caucasus Press on January 5 as alleging that Adjara is pursuing a policy at odds with that of the Georgian leadership. Gadabakhadze claimed that "the Varshalomidze clan is flourishing and people are appointed to senior posts only if they are close relatives or friends of members of this clan." LF

Laurens Kogonia, police chief in Abkhazia's southernmost Gali Raion, rejected on January 5 as untrue Georgian and Russian media reports that one member of the Georgian Interior Ministry Rapid Deployment Force was killed and a second injured early on January 5 when a group of seven or eight armed Abkhaz opened fire from Gali on a Georgian police checkpoint on the opposite side of the Inguri River that marks the internal border between the unrecognized Republic of Abkhazia and the rest of Georgia, reported. Kogonia said the Georgian died in a shoot-out on Georgian territory with "a Georgian criminal grouping." On January 4, Ruslan Kishmaria, the Abkhaz administrator of Gali Raion, described the situation there as stable, Caucasus Press reported. Also on January 4, Gali police released a Georgian suspect detained eight days earlier in connection with the December 26 shooting of an Abkhaz police officer (see "RFE/RL Newsline," December 29, 2006). LF

Representatives of Abkhazia's Armenian minority have asked the unrecognized republic's leadership to allocate them five mandates in the new parliament to be elected in March, the Georgian television channel Rustavi-2 reported on January 4. The legislature numbers 35 deputies, all elected in single-mandate districts. According to Armenpress on June 19, 2006, Armenians account for some 60,000 of the total Abkhaz population, which numbers between 215,000-220,000. Caucasus Press on December 29 reported the creation of a new Abkhaz political party named Union of Citizens of Russia, which will field candidates in the parliamentary elections. The union aims to represent not only the Abkhaz, but also Abkhazia's Armenian and Cossack communities. LF

President Nursultan Nazarbaev met on January 3 with representatives of the country's Russian, Slavic, and Cossack organizations, Kazinform reported. "I will do all that I can so that in the future the role of the Assembly of Peoples of Kazakhstan is strengthened, and so that representatives of all nationalities are represented in parliament and in the power structures of our nation," Nazarbaev commented. He also noted that Russian, Slavic, and Cossack organizations have "played a big role in establishing our country's independence." DK

Five former members of the Popular Front, which fought on the government side in Tajikistan's 1992-97 civil war, have received prison terms ranging from 13 to 15 years, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reported on January 4. The country's Supreme Court found the five -- Ismoil Boyev, Mahmadrahim Turakhonov, Shodmon Jurayev, Gulmurod Pirmatov, and Kholmahmad Gulov -- guilty of the murder of 19 residents of the village of Tilloobod in December 1992 and January 1993. The five men were arrested in the spring of 2006 in Rudaki district, where Gulov had served as a police captain from 1992 until his arrest, Avesta reported. DK

Acting President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov announced on January 3 that he plans to introduce freer access to the Internet and educational reforms if he is elected to the presidency in the February 11 election, Reuters reported on January 4. "I consider that the international network Internet and new communications technology must be accessible for every citizen," Berdymukhammedov said. Internet access in Turkmenistan is highly restricted at present, and the watchdog group Reporters Without Borders has listed the country as one of 13 "enemies of the Internet." Berdymukhammedov also said that the number of years children study in schools, which had been reduced under President Saparmurat Niyazov, could be increased to 10, with gifted children sent to study in European countries, as well as Japan and China. Berdymukhammedov also promised a review of pension payments, which were cut under Niyazov. DK

Britain's Oxus Gold announced in a January 3 press release on the company's website ( that an Uzbek court has ruled that the company's Amantaytau Goldfields (AGF) joint venture does not have to pay $208 million in tax fines and penalties. The press release noted that AGF, in which the Uzbek government holds a 50-percent stake, is still appealing $17 million tax claims by local authorities. Prior to the December 28 court ruling, Oxus agreed to sell a 16 percent stake to Zeromax, a company which is reportedly connected to the Uzbek government (see "RFE/RL Newsline," December 5, 2006). DK

Rights activist Yelena Urlaeva and Ikhtiyor Hamroev, the son of rights activist Bakhtiyor Hamroev, have both been the victims of recent attacks in Uzbekistan, the independent news agency reported on January 2 and 4. On January 2, reported that Hamroev, who is serving a prison term in Jizzakh province for hooliganism, was beaten by prison guards on December 27. His father, Bakhtiyor Hamroev, accused the Uzbek authorities of masterminding the beating, saying that "they want to break me by tormenting my son." Urlaeva was reportedly attacked by four women in Tashkent on January 4; she refused hospitalization after receiving treatment at a clinic. A colleague of Urlaeva from the Human Rights Alliance of Uzbekistan said that the attack might have been an attempt to prevent Urlaeva from taking part in a planned January 5 demonstration in defense of Umida Niyazova, a rights activist and journalist who was detained at Tashkent airport on December 21. DK

Belarus on January 3 imposed a transit fee of $45 per ton on Russian crude oil shipped through Belarus's oil pipelines to Europe, Belarusian and international news agencies reported. The move is a response to the imposition by Russia in December of a duty of $180 per ton of Russian crude oil exported to Belarus as of January. Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka signaled that he intends to demand more payments from Russia. "The government of the Russian Federation, the Russian leadership, promised us a solution to the oil problem," Reuters quoted Lukashenka as saying on January 3. "We have done everything they wanted. The time has come for them to keep their promises. If it does not happen, we have the right to act in the same way, to be free in our decisions. I mean to raise the issue of the Russian Federation paying for Russian oil transit across Belarus, to pay for the land used for oil and gas pipelines, as well as for Russian Federation property here." Nearly 80 million tons of Russian crude oil was reportedly pumped westwards through the Druzhba (Friendship) pipeline system last year. JM

Belarus on January 4 pledged to keep pumping Russian gas to Europe without interruption, Belapan reported, quoting Foreign Ministry spokesman Andrey Papou. "Belarus rigorously abides by its international commitment to the freedom of transit through its territory. The actions by the Belarusian side by no means restrict transit supplies of oil to third countries," Papou said in a statement. He stressed that that Minsk's move to impose a transit duty on Russian oil was in line with the Energy Charter Treaty, which he noted does not ban "measures to protect national interests regarding purchases of energy materials and the restoration of violated rights under international agreements." Meanwhile, Russia's Economic Development and Trade Ministry said the same day that the imposition of the transit duty runs counter to trade and economic agreements between the two countries. "A duty may only be imposed on the goods that are either manufactured or consumed on the territory of the country that imposes the duty," the ministry's press office noted. JM

U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack told journalists in Washington on January 4 that in imposing a duty on Russian crude oil transit, the "rotten core" of the regime of President Alyaksandr Lukashenka are trying "to keep their skim" in Belarus's oil deals with Russia (see According to McCormack, Belarus's lucrative import of duty-free crude oil from Russia and reexport of refined products to Europe personally benefited "those around the leadership of the Lukashenka regime." McCormack also said Belarus's forced sale of half of its gas-pipeline network to Russia is "a lesson about the importance of maintaining and developing multiple sources of energy supply." JM

Alyaksandr Lukashenka has issued a decree introducing a mandatory insurance program for agricultural crops, cattle, and poultry, Belapan reported on January 4. Under the edict, all farms are required to pay premiums to Beldzyarzhstrakh, the largest state-run insurance company, for providing insurance coverage starting January 1, 2008. The measure is reportedly aimed at creating favorable conditions for the development of the agricultural sector and the protection of farms' property interests. JM

The Prosecutor-General's Office has notified Anatol Lyabedzka, chairman of the opposition United Civic Party, that it has rejected his appeal to launch an investigation over President Lukashenka's statement that the 2006 presidential election was rigged, Belapan reported on January 4. Speaking to a group of Ukrainian reporters in Minsk in November, Lukashenka claimed that he actually won many more votes than announced by the election authorities (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 24, 2006). "Yes, we falsified the last election. I have already told the Westerners [about this]. As many as 93.5 percent of voters voted for President Lukashenka. But they said this was not a 'European' result. So we made it 86 [percent]," Lukashenka admitted in November. The Prosecutor-General's Office replied to Lyabedzka that it does not have evidence of election falsification. "Interestingly, I had appealed directly to the prosecutor-general but received the reply from a departmental chief. This means that the office's top-ranking officials are reluctant to assume responsibility for the rule of law in the country," Lyabedzka told Belapan. JM

Viktor Yushchenko has vetoed a bill passed by the Verkhovna Rada in December to prolong the moratorium on farmland sales by one year, until January 1, 2008, Ukrainian media reported on January 3. Yushchenko said in his veto that prolonging the land-sale ban would only widen the use of legal loopholes and shadow-economy schemes in redistributing farmland in Ukraine, as well as limit the constitutional right of citizens to dispose of their property. The Verkhovna Rada needs 300 votes to override a presidential veto. Lawmaker Mykhaylo Pozhyvanov from the pro-presidential Our Ukraine bloc told UNIAN that he thinks that parliament may mobilize enough votes to reject the land-sale veto. JM

Bosnia-Herzegovina's Presidency on January 4 named Nikola Spiric as the new prime minister and asked him to form a government, dpa and AP reported the same day. The decision to name Spiric, a Bosnian Serb, ended three months of negotiations after inconclusive elections on October 1 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 2, 3, 4, and 20, 2006). The seven parties that won seats in the elections have agreed to distribute the cabinet positions among themselves, and parliament is expected to approve Spiric's appointment next week, AP reported. "I will do everything to make every day better for this country and its citizens," Spiric said. "Bosnia-Herzegovina is facing huge challenges in the next four years and I intend to talk less and work more." BW

Bosnia-Herzegovina's High Representative Christian Schwarz-Schilling has said that his mandate, scheduled to expire in July 2008, could be extended, AKI reported on January 3. Schwarz-Schilling said the extension may be necessary to complete political reforms and because of increasing threats from Republika Srpska to demand independence should that status be granted to Serbia's breakaway Kosova province. Such threats "are being taken very seriously by the international community," Schwarz-Schilling said. The high representative was also critical of Republika Srpska Prime Minister Milorad Dodik for threatening such linkage (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 19 and 20, 2006). Dodik "has thus caused great irritation and has shaken the trust of the international community in Bosnia-Herzegovina, the politicians, and their readiness to work constructively on the common constitution," Schwarz-Schilling said. Comparing the situations in Kosova and Bosnia is "completely wrong," he added. BW

A report in the Vienna-based daily "Die Presse" said UN special envoy to Kosova Martti Ahtisaari will propose "supervised independence" for Kosova, Reuters and UPI reported on January 4. Ahtisaari plans to unveil his proposal shortly after Serbia's January 21 elections. Reuters quoted an unidentified UN official as saying it is "quite likely" Ahtisaari will brief the Contact Group on January 26, and then personally present the document to Serbia and Kosova. According to UPI, unidentified Western diplomats told "Die Presse" that the Contact Group plans to meet again in Vienna on February 26 to reach agreement. The UN Security Council is expected to make a final-status decision in March. Citing Kosovar media reports, Reuters reported that to appease Russia, the proposal will stop short of recommending full independence, but leave the possibility open for individual states to recognize Kosova. The official added that Ahtisaari might make this clear in a separate report to new UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. BW

In an implicit argument against Kosova's independence, Vojislav Kostunica on January 3 asked UN Secretary-General Ban to protect the integrity of Serbia's borders, Reuters, UPI, and AKI reported the same day. "It must be made clear that it is unacceptable and impossible to redraw Serbia's internationally recognized borders against its will and to create another Albanian state on 15 percent of Serbia's territory," Kostunica wrote to the new secretary-general, according to a statement from his office. Kostunica said granting Kosova independence would be a flagrant violation of international law. The UN Charter, he wrote in his letter, protects the "integrity of internationally recognized states" and is valid for all states of the world. "And by that simple principle [it] must apply for the Republic of Serbia," he wrote. BW

Serbia's Hague Coordinating Council head Rasim Ljajic said on January 3 that negotiations for a Stabilization and Association Agreement (SAA) with the EU could resume as early as March if a new government led by President Boris Tadic's Democratic Party (DS) takes power in Belgrade, B92, and Beta reported the same day. Ljajic added, however, that an SAA will only be signed after war crimes fugitive Ratko Mladic is arrested. Ljajic leads the Sandzak Democratic Party and is running for a seat in parliament on the DS party list. "A new government led by the Democratic Party will have to show resolve to have Ratko Mladic arrested," Ljajic said. "If Mladic is turned in by June, the agreement could be concluded shortly [after that]. Mladic in The Hague is the sole prerequisite for the conclusion of the SAA and that is final," he added. The EU suspended SAA negotiations with Belgrade in May over Serbia's failure to arrest Mladic (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 4, 2006). BW

Anka Vojvodic, Montenegro's first ambassador to Serbia, presented her credentials to Serbian President Tadic on January 4, AP reported the same day. Vojvodic, a 55-year-old former judge who was born in Belgrade, met with Tadic and other officials on her first day on the job. "I believe that Vojvodic will contribute with her work to the further development of good, brotherly relations between Serbia and Montenegro," Serbian Foreign Minister Vuk Draskovic said. Following a referendum in May, Montenegro declared independence, dissolving its union with Serbia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 22 and 23 and June 5, 2006). Serbia has yet to name an ambassador to Montenegro. BW

By more than doubling the price of natural gas supplies to Belarus in 2007, Moscow has deprived Minsk of a lavish and much-needed subsidy. Cheap gas -- along with duty-free Russian crude oil refined and reexported by Belarus -- was largely responsible for the country's official double-digit economic growth during the past several years.

But on December 31, 2006, in Moscow, Belarus and Russia's state-controlled gas monopoly Gazprom signed a new deal, securing Russian gas supplies to Belarus and Russian gas transit across Belarus for 2007-2011.

Under the contract, Belarus is to pay $100 for 1,000 cubic meters in 2007 compared with $46.68 in the previous 2 and 1/2 years. The gas price for Belarus is to gradually increase to the European market level by 2011.

So will the gas price hike put an end to the "economic miracle" in Belarus? Since Belarus imports some 20 billion cubic meters of Russian gas per year, at first glance it doesn't look good. The country's gas bill in 2007 will be higher by some $1 billion compared to last year.

But this financial burden will be significantly alleviated by the money Gazprom is to pay Belarus this year for its 50 percent stake in Beltranshaz, Belarus's gas pipeline operator. Gazprom agreed to pay $2.5 billion for half-ownership of Beltranshaz in equal installments over the next four years.

And, additionally, Belarus has increased the price of Russian gas transits via its territory from $0.75 in 2006 to $1.45 for 1,000 cubic meters per 100 kilometers for the following five years.

Belarusian independent economic expert Leanid Zlotnikau argues that the gas-price hike will not hit Belarus very hard. "Taking into account this year, the losses of our economy will amount to $500 million," Zlotnikau says. "Taking into account only this and nothing more, these are not big losses, because our gross domestic product amounts to some $32 billion-$34 billion."

Tatsyana Manyonak, a Minsk-based journalist focusing on economic issues, also says that in 2007 the government will be able to cushion the blow. "Now it is necessary to revise all budget figures, all investment programs. But the Belarusian government had foreseen this situation. Therefore, in late 2006 it created a Fund of National Development, into which some $600 million had to be paid until the end of last year," Manyonak says.

But economists predict that in subsequent years, when the gas bill becomes much heavier, Belarus may find itself in trouble. Another economic expert from Minsk, Leanid Zaika, estimates that the new gas price could at least double inflation in Belarus in 2007: "This [price hike] may affect prices and increase the inflation rate from 5-6 percent to 12-14 percent, or even higher. Everything will depend on whether the new expenses will be covered entirely by economic entities."

The government has already announced that the main brunt of the gas price increase will be absorbed by corporate consumers, which will now have to pay $150 per 1,000 cubic meters of gas. Their electricity and heating bills will also grow by more than 50 percent this year.

As for individual consumers, the government predicts that the annual increase in their housing and utility payments will amount to some $5-$6 in 2007.

But Zaika says that there is a more unpleasant development in store for the Belarusian authorities than the gas price hike and the forced sale of Beltranshaz to Gazprom. In December, the Russian government slapped a duty of $180.7 per ton on crude oil exported to Belarus as of January. Russia claimed it was losing billions of dollars every year by allowing its firms to send duty-free oil to Belarus's two refineries in Navapolatsk and Mazyr, which then reexported refined products to Europe.

Belarus halted crude-oil purchases from Russia as of this month and has proposed to split with Moscow profits from its exports of refined Russian oil on a 50-50 basis if Moscow lifts the duty. The proposal has most likely been rejected by Moscow because on January 3 Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka imposed a transit fee on Russian oil of $45 per 1 ton.

If Moscow has its way regarding crude oil exports to Belarus, Zaika estimates that Belarus's losses may be much heavier than those linked to gas. "We will be stripped of that part of the revenues that were received in the form of duties on refined oil, taxes on profit, and excises. The budget revenues will be less by some $200 million every month at the minimum," Zaika says.

With Belarus's 2007 consolidated budget revenues projected at some $19 billion, such a financial loss could cast doubt on the officially projected economic growth of 9 percent and inflation of 7 percent in 2007.

After signing the gas deal in Moscow, Belarusian Prime Minister Syarhey Sidorski said the country will have to hunt for resources in order to maintain economic development. But Belarus has no gas or oil or coal deposits.

To avoid paying for Russian energy supplies with strategic assets like Beltranshaz, one of Belarus's only options might be to reform the country's economy. That would mean privatization of the major industries and possibly also reforming the country's collective farm system.

It could also mean tapping into the human resources that are being restricted by the country's Soviet-style political and economic management. More economic freedom could mean more political freedom --something many Belarusians would welcome.

(RFE/RL's Belarus Service contributed to this report.)

Shaukat Aziz paid a one-day visit to Kabul on January 4, during which he met, and held a joint news conference with, Afghan President Hamid Karzai, the Karzai's office announced ( Aziz said that Pakistan "will increase" its economic assistance to Afghanistan from the current $250 million to $300 million. Additionally, Aziz said "Pakistan will assign a commission to work with the Afghan Regional Peace and Prosperity Jirga Preparation Committee on the modalities and preparation of the jirga." Karzai and Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf agreed during a September visit to the White House in Washington to use jirgas involving tribes from across the Afghan-Pakistani border to help stop insurgent and terrorist activities along the border areas of the two countries (see "RFE/RL Newsline," December 14, 2006). It is not clear whether Afghanistan and Pakistan are holding a joint jirga or if separate councils will be held in each country, as has been reportedly proposed by Kabul. AT

During their news conference in Kabul on January 4, President Karzai and Prime Minister Aziz differed on Pakistan's decision to partially fence and mine its border with Afghanistan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," December 29, 2006), state-run Afghanistan National Television reported. Islamabad is "exploring many ways to prevent the comings and goings of rebels and terrorists [between Afghanistan and Pakistan], and one of these methods is to fence the border," Aziz said in response to a question. He affirmed that those who legally cross the border will be able to do so "and there would be no problem for them" under Pakistan's plan. Saying that Afghanistan's stance on the issue is "very clear," Karzai added that "mining and fencing the border will not prevent terrorist activities, but will divide peoples and tribes." According to Karzai, the best way to eliminate terrorism is to "close down the source of terrorism, its financing, and training centers." Karzai also said that unless the "process of burning down schools" and the killing of elders in Afghanistan stops, his meeting with Aziz "will not have yielded positive results." Kabul holds Islamabad responsible for not preventing, and even for supporting terrorist and subversive activities in Afghanistan -- a charge which Pakistan has repeatedly rejected. AT

Canadian forces stationed in Kandahar Province will begin broadcasting radio programs over an FM station, the Mashhad-based Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran reported on January 4. Called Rana ("Light" in Pashto), the programs will be produced in Canada and broadcast by satellite. The programs will include news and entertainment, but also broadcast information about the operations of the Canadian military and the activities of the Canadian-led Provincial Reconstruction Team in Kandahar. The radio station is designed as a means of communication between Canadians and the local population, the report added. A lack of coordination between Afghan civilians and NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) forces -- to which the Canadians belong -- has led to a number of civilian deaths and subsequent pressure on the Karzai administration (see "RFE/RL Newsline," January 3, 2007). On January 3, NATO acknowledged it is trying to do more to avoid civilian deaths. It is not clear when the broadcasts will begin. AT

Afghanistan's Ministry of Information and Culture on January 3 criticized "humiliating scenes" in the recent Indian-produced film "Kabul Express," Afghanistan National Television reported. According to a ministry statement, the film contains "words and behavior against a particular tribe, or rather against the whole of the Afghan people," without identifying the tribe in question. The ministry has decided to ban the film in Afghanistan. The film, which depicts two Indian journalists travelling in Afghanistan, was released in December. AT

Gholamreza Aqazadeh, the head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization, said in Tehran on January 4 that Iran's bid to acquire nuclear technology is the most "prominent" development in the last 300 years, but added that the "great powers" now agree Iran must stop nuclear fuel-production activities, ISNA reported. He said "from the day we began activities in a continued and essential way," Iran has been pressed to halt work relating to the manufacture of nuclear fuel. The process could, at some stage, be used in bomb-making activities. "Today there is an international consensus," he said -- including "even China and Russia" -- on the "red line" that Iran must end such activities, "and differences are only over national and regional interests." He said that in past negotiations, EU negotiator Javier Solana told his Iranian counterpart, Ali Larijani, that Iran has gained technology that made it a regional power and the West wishes to interact "with you, but we still do not trust you." Aqazadeh said Iran now has "more than 250 tons of uranium hexafluoride," a product from the early stages of the uranium-enrichment process, that is kept in "tunnels" he said are "rare in the world." VS

Mahmud Ahmadinejad praised the people of the city of Shadegan in the southwestern Khuzestan Province on January 4 for what he said was past resistance to the "rotten British," and he urged the country's "firm resolve" in the face of "rotten powers" allegedly obstructing Iran's progress, ISNA reported. He accused the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) of creating problems and obstacles in Iran's legal activities. "This method you have adopted will lead to...rejection and lawlessness.... It will mean countries will" either not join the IAEA or reconsider their membership, he said. Countries that want "peaceful nuclear technology" will have to resort to "secretiveness," he said, and the message the IAEA is sending countries "that [have] done everything on the basis of the law" is that "they should either leave the agency or be secretive." The IAEA is reviewing its technical cooperation with Iran following a December 23 UN Security Council resolution to ban transfers of parts and know-how to Iran's nuclear and missile programs, Reuters reported on January 3. The IAEA governing board may meet in mid-January to decide if the agency needs to further restrict current cooperation, which Reuters reported is mainly in areas like nuclear safety, waste management, or related medical research. VS

Kazem Jalali, a Shahrud parliamentary representative and member of the parliament's National Security and Foreign Policy Committee, said in Tehran on January 3 that Iran's "approach" remains interaction with the IAEA, even if "the day may come when Iran will leave the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) and no longer cooperate with" the IAEA, ILNA reported. He said any talk of leaving the NPT only contributes to U.S. efforts to mobilize international opinion against Iran. Another legislator, Nureddin Pirmoazzan, said the same day that unless Iran's Foreign Ministry acts to stop the "resolutions train" moving against Iran, legislators will consider questioning Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki in parliament, which could lead to a vote on his dismissal, ILNA reported. Separately, National Security and Foreign Policy Committee chief Alaeddin Borujerdi has rejected a report that claims he recently said Iran is ready to launch a missile carrying a satellite, the Fars news agency reported on January 3. The allegation was made by a man Fars named as Delfani, from the Qom Seminary News Center; he said Borujerdi talked about the missile while speaking to seminarians at the Ayatollah Borujerdi school in Qom on December 28, and that there is a tape of the speech that proves it. VS

Turkey is reportedly facing an energy shortage as Iran first reduced and then halted natural-gas exports to its northern neighbor, RFE/RL's Radio Farda reported on January 4. Gas pressure in Iran-to-Turkey pipelines has been falling for 40 days, the broadcaster stated, and gas stopped flowing early on January 3. Turkish media have accused Iran of disorganization and of reneging on agreements to pipe natural gas to Turkey; Turkey's Energy Ministry has announced that the country will face a crisis if Iran does not resume exports, Radio Farda reported, citing Turkish media. Iran has had to meet its own sharply rising demand for heating fuel this winter. Turkey is now allowing private firms to import natural gas -- reversing a previous directive -- and looking for alternate state suppliers, Radio Farda reported. VS

The Iraqi government announced on January 3 that it has questioned two guards in connection with the unauthorized video of the execution of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein (see "RFE/RL Newsline," January 3, 2007), international media reported the same day. "Justice Ministry guards were being questioned. The investigation committee is interrogating the men. If it is found that any official was involved, he will face legal measures," Sami al-Askari, an adviser to Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, said. Meanwhile, U.S. military spokesman Major General William Caldwell stressed on January 3 that the United States had no role in Hussein's execution, but said it would have handled it differently if it had been involved, international media reported. "At this point the government of Iraq has the opportunity to take advantage of what has occurred and really reach out now in an attempt to bring more people back into the political process and bring the Sunnis back," Caldwell said. SS

The Iraqi government on January 4 delayed the execution of two top Hussein-era officials, Barzan Ibrahim al-Tikriti and Awad al-Bandar, international media reported the same day. The executions were scheduled to take place on January 4, but Sami al-Askari, an adviser to Prime Minister al-Maliki, said they will be carried out after the Eid al-Adha festival, which ends on January 6. A senior official from al-Maliki's office, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the execution was postponed "due to international pressure." The execution of Hussein on December 30 and the subsequent unauthorized video of guards taunting him before he was hanged drew international condemnation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," January 3, 2007). On January 4, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour appealed to Iraqi President Jalal Talabani to stop the executions of al-Tikriti and al-Bandar, adding that she has concerns over the fairness of their trial. "International law, as it currently stands, only allows the imposition of the death penalty as an exceptional measure within rigorous legal constraints," Arbour said. Al-Tikriti is Hussein's half-brother and a former intelligence chief. Al-Bandar was the chief judge of the Iraqi Revolutionary Court. SS

In an interview with "The Wall Street Journal" on January 3, Prime Minister al-Maliki announced he has no plans to seek a second term. He said he longs to leave his position even before his term ends, adding that his job has been complicated by sectarian divisions. "I didn't want to take this position," he said. "I only agreed because I thought it would serve the national interest, and I will not accept it again." Al-Maliki's tenure has been marred by factional strife and rumors that the United States has lost faith in his ability to lead. In a November 8 memo, U.S. national security adviser Stephen Hadley expressed grave doubts about al-Maliki's ability to control Iraq's sectarian violence (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 30, 2006). Al-Maliki was sworn in as prime minister in March 2006 as a compromise option, after Sunni and Kurdish parties pressured Ibrahim al-Ja'fari, the United Iraqi Alliance's original choice, to withdraw his nomination, citing his purported weak leadership. SS

Twin bombings on January 4 in Baghdad's Al-Mansur district killed 13 Iraqis and wounded more than 22, Al-Sharqiyah television reported the same day. A police source said a roadside bomb targeting a group of people lined up to receive fuel exploded, and when rescue teams arrived at the scene, another car bomb exploded. Meanwhile, Al-Sharqiyah reported that unidentified gunmen attacked the U.S. Consulate in Al-Hillah with mortars. An Iraqi police source said nine mortar shells fell on the U.S. Consulate compound at the Babil Hotel in northern Al-Hillah. No casualties were reported and the United States has not issued a statement concerning the attack. SS

A member of the Al-Anbar Salvation Council announced on January 4 that it has killed an Al-Qaeda in Iraq commander in Hit, state-run Al-Iraqiyah television reported the same day. A local tribal chieftain and a leading member of the council, Hamid Farhan al-Hayis, said Fadil Awad al-Zanburi and four of his aides were killed in an armed operation, but he did not say when. The Al-Anbar Salvation Council, which was formed in September, is a coalition of tribes in Al-Anbar Governorate that aims to cleanse the region of groups linked with Al-Qaeda (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 19, 2006). SS

AP announced on January 3 that it has received a videotape showing four U.S. citizens and an Austrian who were abducted in November in southern Iraq. All five men appeared to be uninjured in the video, which was reportedly shot approximately two weeks ago. Three of them said they were being treated well. The video was attributed to the National Islamic Resistance in Iraq (the Furqan Brigades). U.S. Embassy spokesman Lou Fintor said the State Department is in touch with the families of the U.S. captives, and the embassy is working with U.S.-led forces and the Iraqi government in an effort to gain their release. The men, all of whom worked for a Kuwaiti-based company called the Crescent Security Group, were kidnapped on November 16 while escorting a 49-truck convoy near the southern Iraqi town of Safwan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 20, 2006). SS