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Iran Report: February 6, 2006

6 February 2006, Volume 9, Number 4

WHO WILL FINANCE PALESTINIAN AUTHORITY? Western governments have made it clear that they are unwilling to finance a Palestinian Authority that includes Hamas, as long as Hamas refuses to renounce violence or recognize Israel's right to exist. This could have a serious impact on the Palestinian Authority (PA), which receives some $1.1 billion from the European Union annually, and last year received more than $70 million from the United States. In addition, donors have given a total of $6 billion over the past 11 years. Also at stake are Israeli transfers of tax rebates and other funds to the PA, which amount to roughly $40 million a month, the "Wall Street Journal" reported on 30 January.

At least one Arab columnist has suggested that Tehran could be an alternative source of financing, because it has been more resolute on the Palestinian question than Arab governments have been.

Renouncing Violence

"We're looking to Hamas to renounce violence," British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said on 30 January. "We also want to see Hamas recognize the reality of the two-state solution endorsed by the Security Council of the United Nations."

Speaking on January, President George W. Bush said that "the Hamas party has made it clear that they do not support the right of Israel to exist. And I have made it clear, so long as that is their policy, that we will not support a Palestinian government made up of Hamas."

Meanwhile, according to Iran's official Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA), "reliable Palestinian sources close to Hamas" said on 31 January that European and U.S. diplomats have met with Hamas leaders both secretly and publicly. IRNA reported that at least five such meetings have taken place since Hamas won the Palestinian parliamentary elections on 25 January, including one between three former U.S. ambassadors and Sheikh Nayef Rajoub, a Hamas leader elected to the Palestinian assembly.

These meetings were presumably made in an effort to persuade Hamas to modify its stance. Nevertheless, Hamas has remained defiant. The "New York Times" reports that Hamas's bureau chief in the Syrian capital Damascus, Khalid Mishaal, said on 28 January that Hamas will not recognize Israel. Scholars and experts on Hamas told the newspaper that the organization is extremely unlikely to give up its beliefs and stated positions -- including the call for Israel's destruction and the Islamization of Palestine.

The satellite television station Al-Jazeera reported a senior figure in Hamas, Musa Abu Marzuk, as saying on 29 January that the organization will not accept Western demands that it renounce violence and recognize the state of Israel. But Abu Marzuk rejected the suggestion that Hamas must either compromise with the West or join the camp of Iran, Syria, and Hizballah. "You know very well that we are open to both East and West," Abu Marzuk told his interviewer. "We are open in our relations to this camp that you have called the other camp. We are also open to the West... The question of Palestine needs everyone."

A Call For Funding

Bir-Zeit University's Professor Nashat Aqtash is Hamas's "communications manager," the man responsible for organizing outreach and media relations for Hamas's candidates in Ramallah and Jerusalem. He downplayed the possibility that financing for the PA would end and hinted at alternative sources in an interview that appears in the 3 February edition of Milan's "Il Giornale." "The victory had been planned for some time... money is never a problem for them," Aqtash said. "Knowing them, they will have thought of alternative funding. At worst, there is the Iranian money, but I do not know if it is going to be to the advantage of you Westerners to make a gift of the Palestinian question to Tehran."

Egyptian Intelligence Chief Umar Suleiman also suspects that Iran could fund the Palestinians. "We know that others are ready to help the Palestinians financially," Suleiman said in the 2 February edition of "Corriere della Sera." "I think that Iran will do so."

Meanwhile, a 30 January article in the London-based Arabic newspaper "Al-Quds al-Arabi" by editor in chief Abd al-Bari Atwan said the U.S. threat to end its financial support for the Palestinian Authority is "the worst kind of political blackmail." An aid cutoff could create problems in delivering services to the Palestinians, the article continued, adding that there are alternatives. "These might be Iran, which wants to plant a stronger foot in Palestine against the U.S. threats," Atwan wrote. Explaining why he would prefer to see Iranian backing for the PA, Atwan said, that "we realize that Arab regimes will not rush to help Hamas financially because they are disappointed by its victory first and because they follow Washington's orders second." Al-Atwan made the same point on Al-Jazeera on 26 January. "As for the U.S. refusal to cooperate with Hamas, let it go to hell," he said. "Hamas does not want that cooperation. If Europe does not want to send money to Hamas, let Hamas go to Iran. Let it take money from Iran if the Arabs do not want to give it the money."

The extent of Iranian financial assistance for Hamas is not publicly known. Tehran only acknowledges the provision of moral and political support.

In an interview in 2003, Matthew Levitt, then a specialist on terrorist funding at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, estimated that Hamas received $10-20 million from Iran. A similar amount -- "we're talking about the low tens of millions of dollars," according to Levitt -- comes from the government, charities, and wealthy elites in Saudi Arabia. A third source, according to Levitt, are charities that operate in the Middle East, Europe, and the United States.

Support From Tehran

Tehran hailed the Hamas victory in an official Foreign Ministry statement on 25 January. Top officials echoed that attitude in subsequent days. According to Hamas, Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad phoned Khalid Mishaal on 29 January.

Iran's former president, Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami, sent a congratulatory message to Mishaal on 30 January, adding that the pro-reform Militant Clerics Association, which he heads, was also pleased with the outcome of the elections.

"We are happy about Hamas's victory in the Palestinian elections," Ali Larijani, secretary of the Supreme National Security Council, on 1 February. He said that the countries that back democracy in the Middle East -- "including America which tries to establish it in the region within its greater Middle East plan" -- must support Hamas.

Asked whether Iran provides financial support to Hamas, Larijani said "there is no doubt that we give Hamas moral support. Hamas is our friend."

Speaking at an open session of the Iranian parliament on 29 January, Parliamentary Speaker Gholam-Ali Haddad-Adel hailed Hamas's victory. Haddad-Adel described this as a vote for democracy and vengeance for the Israeli assassinations of Hamas leaders Sheikh Ahmad Yassin and Abd al-Aziz al-Rantisi in 2004. Haddad-Adel said the United States must choose between backing the Palestinians or the Israelis. Subsequently, on 1 February, 210 Iranian parliamentarians released a statement praising Hamas's victory.

It is far from clear if these Iranian expressions of support will be translated into actual funding for the Palestinian Authority. It is still possible that Western powers and Hamas will reach some sort of compromise. But if such a compromise is not reached, then the government of President Ahmadinejad may find that it is not just financing Hamas but the entire Palestinian government. (Bill Samii)

IRAN'S LEBANESE ENVOY REJECTS DRUZE ACCUSATIONS. Iran's ambassador to Beirut, Masud Edrisi, on 30 January dismissed allegations of Iranian interference in Lebanon made by Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, who heads the Progressive Socialist Party, Radio Farda reported. Jumblatt visited Iran in April 2005; since December, he has been vocal in condemning Iran's role in his country's affairs and alleging that Hizballah is an Iranian cat's paw (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 3 May 2005 and 23 January 2006).

In an interview that appears in the 30 January edition of the "The Daily Star," Jumblatt asserts that Lebanon is a hostage in "deals that start in Lebanon and end in Tehran at the expense of our ambitions for freedom." He goes on to say that the invasion of Iraq made Iran more powerful than before, and that Lebanon is the weakest link in an alliance stretching "from Iran to Syria to Lebanon." Jumblatt said there had been "enough" of Hizballah's defense of Iran, citing Iran's role in ending the Israeli occupation.

Ambassador Edrisi said Iran adheres to its principles in its relations with Lebanon, and that support for Hizballah is one of those principles, Radio Farda reported. Edrisi described Iran's backing of Hizballah as support for Lebanese resistance against the United States and Israel. He added that Syria and Iran are united against Washington and Tel Aviv. (Bill Samii)

ANOTHER EXPLOSION IN SOUTHWEST IRAN. An explosion near a swimming pool in the Kianpars area of the southwestern city of Ahvaz on 28 January did not cause any casualties or damage. Six people died as the result of two bombings in Ahvaz on 24 January.

In a Khuzestan TV talk show on 26 January, the deputy governor-general of Khuzestan Province for political and security affairs, Mr. Farrokhnejad, attributed the bombings to foreign powers who want to make Iran seem unstable. He also accused Iranian expatriates in London who, he claimed, are stirring up ethnic issues on satellite television programs. He said 40 people had been arrested in connection with these and earlier bombings, and that their trials will begin in the next two weeks.

Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki told his British counterpart, Jack Straw, in London on 1 February that Iran has documentary evidence that Britain was involved in the 24 January bombings in Ahvaz, IRNA reported. Straw reportedly dismissed Mottaki's claim.

Mottaki also called for a timetable for the withdrawal of British troops from the southern Iraqi city of Al-Basrah. In a similar vein, he called for a timetable for the withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan, alleging that their presence is contributing to regional instability. (Bill Samii)

BALUCHIS RELEASE IRANIAN HOSTAGES. Radio Farda reported on 29 January that eight Iranian border guards who were kidnapped in late-December have been released. An armed Sunni group in Iran's southeastern Sistan va Baluchistan Province calling itself Jundullah (God's Soldiers), and headed by Abdulmalik Rigi, claimed to be holding nine men (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 23 January 2006). Interior Ministry official Ali Jannati said nobody was released in exchange for the border guards' freedom. In a previous interview with Radio Farda, an individual identifying himself as Abdulmalik Rigi said he wanted to exchange his hostages for four of his imprisoned comrades. (Bill Samii)

JAILED TEHRAN BUS DRIVERS ON HUNGER STRIKE. Radio Farda reported on 29 January that members of the Tehran bus drivers' syndicate who were imprisoned on 28 January have gone on hunger strike. Members of the drivers' families, students, and other participants in the demonstration were also detained. Gholam-Reza Mirzai, external affairs chief for the syndicate, told Radio Farda that the drivers do not have political objectives. They want to be able to select their own representatives for negotiations over contracts and to have the syndicate officially recognized; to have the right to pursue collective bargaining; and to want their colleagues freed. He added that workers hired on short-term contracts should be taken on as full-time employees. Iranian human rights activist Abdul Karim Lahiji told Radio Farda that the government's actions against the bus drivers are illegal and should be reported to the UN. He also noted that Tehran Mayor Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf has pledged that the authorities would not interfere with such demonstrations. (Bill Samii)

KURDISH ACTIVIST CLAIMS SHE WAS TORTURED IN PRISON Roya Tolui, a prominent Iranian Kurdish women's rights activist, who was recently released from prison on bail, says she was brutally tortured and forced to make confessions while confined. Tolui, the editor in chief of the monthly "Rasan" magazine and the founder of the Association of the Kurdish Women Supporting Peace in Kurdistan, was arrested last August following unrest in several Iranian Kurdish cities. The charges against her include "acting against national security" and "disturbing public order." Tolui told Radio Farda that Iran's Islamic establishment should be condemned because of serious human-rights abuses.

Roya Tolui and several other Kurdish human-rights activists were jailed following protests in several Kurdish cities against the killing of a young Kurdish activist, Shivan Qaderi, by Iranian security agents in July.

Protestors had called on the government to arrest Qaderi's killers and put them on trial. During some of the protests government buildings and offices were attacked. Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported that during the protests government forces killed at least 17 people. Many others were arrested.

In August, HRW called on the Iranian government to conduct a full and impartial investigation into the "violent response" to the protests in Kurdish cities. HRW said that the government opened fire on demonstrators protesting the killing of Qaderi.

Local journalists and activists, including Tolui, had reportedly criticized the wave of repression that followed the unrest.

Tolui, who had been summoned to court on several occasions in connection with her human-rights work, was arrested in her home in Sanandaj on 2 August.

Human Rights First, a U.S.-based rights group which campaigned for the release of Tolui, describes her as a vocal critic of the Iran government's policies on minority and gender issues. The Writers in Prison Committee of the International PEN had also expressed serious concern about Tolui's arrest and called for her release.

She was released in October after having spent more than two months in prison, including 17 days in solitary confinement, she said.

Tolui told Radio Farda in a 27 January interview that authorities brought many charges against her ranging from "acting against Iran's national interest " to " disturbing public order."

"In total they brought [at least 10] charges against me. Anything not considered a crime against others was a crime when it came to me, for example the publication of my book in the Kurdish language in Iraq's [Al-Sulaymaniyah] was considered a crime. There were other charges, the most important of which is acting against national security and also giving interviews to different foreign radio stations was considered propagating lies against the establishment."

Tolui, who is currently outside Iran, added that her interrogators put pressure on her to confess that she was one of the main organizers of the protests that erupted in the wake of Qaderi's murder in Sanandaj and other Kurdish cities.

"They wanted me to make a [written] confession, they were forcing me to confess. I wrote that I will speak only in the presence of my lawyer and they laughed at me. I wrote that this is against human rights and that I had the right to see my lawyer. They lost their patience and they ordered that my children should be brought in and they threatened me and said that they will burn my children alive in front of my eyes."

Tolui added that she was also subjected to physical torture that included beatings. She did not want to elaborate. Her claims of torture cannot be independently verified.

"During the night of 6 August, Kurdistan's deputy prosecutor, Amiri [no first name available], personally tortured me in the most brutal ways and subjected me to such behaviors that cannot be expressed."

Tolui told Radio Farda that she was later transferred to a prison where convicted murderers and drug traffickers are held. She claims the transfer was a move aimed at putting her under more pressure. But she added that, despite her difficult time in jail, she refuses to be silenced.

She says the international community is focusing its attention on Iran's controversial nuclear activities while more attention should be paid to human rights abuses that are occurring inside the country.

"I was tortured and I want to complain about it to all of the world's human rights organizations," she said. "I say the Islamic Republic should not be taken to the UN Security Council only because of its nuclear issue but our main problem -- the main issue of the Iranian people -- is the abuse of their rights and pressure from the regime."

Tolui is one of the signatories of a letter signed and published last year by women's rights groups, personalities and activists that calls for a change in Iran's Constitution in order to guarantee equal rights for women and men.

Tolui says she is now concerned that her fate could create fear and concern among other women's rights activists who are fighting for more rights and freedom.

"Its very difficult for me to talk about [what I went through]," Tolui said. "I'm partly worried that women who are actively involved in the women's movement would fear that they could face torture in case of arrest. But my message to all Iranian women who fight for their rights is that their struggle should [continue] with courage."

Human rights organizations and activists say torture is prevalent in Iran's prisons. In July, Iran's hard-line judiciary acknowledged -- in an unprecedented report -- that human-rights abuses, including torture, have in some cases taken place in prisons and detention centers. (Golnaz Esfandiari, Farin Assemi)

VISITING TAJIK PRESIDENT SIGNS AGREEMENTS IN TEHRAN. Presidents Mahmud Ahmadinejad and Imomali Rakhmonov, who arrived in Tehran on 16 January, signed eight memorandums of understanding on 18 January, IRNA reported. The texts related to banking, the construction of dams and power plants, energy cooperation, standards for goods and products, transportation, and cooperation between the two countries' foreign ministries.

Rakhmonov and the Tajik delegation were also granted an audience with Supreme Leader Khamenei, state television reported. Khamenei reportedly stressed Iran's ability to train students and researchers from Tajikistan, citing the country's "nuclear knowledge."

Rakhmonov met with Ahmadinejad and Parliamentary Speaker Gholam-Ali Haddad-Adel on 17 January. Ahmadinejad said there is unfulfilled potential in bilateral cooperation. Rakhmonov and Haddad-Adel reportedly discussed the expansion of parliamentary ties, and Rakhmonov said his country could benefit from the Iranian legislature's experience. The two sides discussed potential economic and commercial cooperation, and they referred to the construction of the Anzab and Shahrestan tunnels and the Sangtudeh power plant.

Meanwhile, the Turkmen-language service of Iranian state radio reported from the northeastern town of Gorgan that Rakhmonov's visit will enhance bilateral Iran-Tajikistan ties. "Expansion of Iran-Tajik relations will serve the interests of both countries because Iran possesses essential experience in the engineering and construction spheres and is ready to put its experience at the service of other countries," the report said, adding that the two countries could cooperate in fighting drug trafficking and organized crime, as well as in the reconstruction of Afghanistan. (Bill Samii)

IRANIAN TRADE DELEGATION ARRIVES IN UZBEKISTAN. An Iranian delegation led by Commerce Minister Masud Mir-Kazemi met in Tashkent on 9 January with Uzbek Foreign Economic Relations, Investment, and Trade Minister Alisher Shayhov, reported. The Iranian delegation is in Uzbekistan to attend the seventh session of the Uzbek-Iranian commission on trade, economic, and scientific cooperation. The Iranian officials discussed opportunities for greater investment and bilateral cooperation in the transport, aviation, and agriculture sectors. In a separate meeting with Uzbek Prime Minister Shavkat Mirziyaev, the Iranian delegation also called on Uzbekistan to ease visa restrictions, eliminate trade barriers, and increase the number of Uzbek Airlines flights to Iran. (Richard Giragosian)

ARMENIA REACHES NEW ENERGY ACCORD WITH IRAN. A new bilateral memorandum of understanding on energy cooperation was signed in Tehran on 2 February during the latest session of the Armenian-Iranian intergovernmental commission, Arminfo and Armenian Public TV reported. The new accord formally endorsed plans for the construction of the second section of the natural-gas pipeline between the two countries, for a third electricity transmission line, and for the modernization of the fifth unit of Armenia's Razdan power station. The meeting also resulted in an agreement to establish cultural and education centers in each country. (Richard Giragosian)

BRUSSELS NUCLEAR TALKS PRODUCE DIFFERING INTERPRETATIONS. Supreme National Security Council official Javid Vaidi, who represented Iran in 30 January nuclear negotiations with the EU-3 (France, Germany, and the United Kingdom), announced afterward that he is happy with their outcome, IRNA reported.

French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy said in Brussels on 30 January that the talks produced "nothing new," AFP reported. Douste-Blazy added, "The negotiating process has reached an impasse and the involvement of the [UN] Security Council is needed to ensure that the requests -- many times repeated -- of the [International Atomic Energy Agency, or IAEA] are respected," Reuters reported.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said Iran offered "no new proposals," dpa reported.

Austrian Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik, speaking on behalf of the rotating EU Presidency, said on 30 January that "we are gravely concerned by the decision of Iran to resume enrichment-related activities and call upon Iran to reinstate the [IAEA] seals [on uranium-enrichment equipment] and to reestablish a full, sustained, and verifiable suspension of all enrichment-related and reprocessing activities," RFE/RL reported.

An EU statement said that the bloc is looking ahead to the meeting on 2 February of the IAEA's governing board, dpa reported. Before the meeting in Brussels began on 30 January, EU High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana said, "The position of Iran has to change. They know how to change, they know what they have to change," RFE/RL reported. (Bill Samii)

NUCLEAR WATCHDOG REPORTEDLY FINDS EVIDENCE OF IRANIAN MILITARY ACTIVITIES. An IAEA report released to governing board members on 1 February describes evidence of links between the Iranian military and the country's nuclear program, "The New York Times" reported on 1 February. The briefing reportedly claims Iran's Green Salt Project ("green salt" is a reference to uranium tetrafluoride) did work on uranium processing, high explosives, and missile-warhead design. This appears to be the first time that the IAEA has linked a purportedly civilian fuel-production program with the military. The report is apparently based partially on intelligence from the United States -- specifically a laptop computer secured in Iran (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 28 November 2005). Some of the information also came from a document provided by Tehran that described procedures that only have a weaponization application. According to the IAEA report, Tehran consistently dismisses the agency's allegations as "baseless," while it promises later "clarifications." (Bill Samii)

MILITARY CONFLICT CONSIDERED AS NUCLEAR CRISIS ESCALATES. Foreign ministers of the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States), plus Germany, decided on 31 January that Iran should be reported to the council for its nuclear activities. Effective action will not be possible until after the March meeting of the governing board of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). However, it has created a new atmosphere of confrontation between Iran and a number of its previous allies -- now apparently siding with the United States. While there are increasing threats heard from Tehran, Western pundits are mentioning the use of force more frequently.

Tehran Seems Surprised

The decision to report Iran to the Security Council was accompanied by media suggestions that being "reported" is not as harsh as being "referred." In fact, the term "refer" is not used in the IAEA's statutes in this context. Article II, paragraph B4 of the IAEA statutes says the IAEA will "submit reports on its activities annually to the General Assembly of the United Nations and, when appropriate, to the Security Council," and it adds, "the Agency shall notify the Security Council." Article XII, paragraph C states: "The inspectors shall report any noncompliance to the Director General who shall thereupon transmit the report to the Board of Governors. The Board shall call upon the recipient State or States to remedy forthwith any non-compliance which it finds to have occurred. The Board shall report the non-compliance to all members and to the Security Council and General Assembly of the United Nations."

The Iranian response was swift, ranging from defiant to threatening. Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki said on 31 January that if Iran is either reported to or referred to the Security Council it will cease its cooperation with the IAEA, state television reported. He added that voluntary Iranian compliance with the Additional Protocol of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, which allows for intrusive inspections by the nuclear watchdog, would be the first victim.

Ali Larijani, secretary of the Supreme National Security Council, also adopted a threatening tone. He said on 31 January that although this is not a "referral" to the Security Council, "I believe they should be more careful in what they do," state television reported. Larijani went on to call on the Europeans to continue their negotiations with Iran, because a Security Council referral marks the end of diplomacy.

Previously, Larijani warned during a Moscow press conference on 25 January that Iran would resume industrial-scale uranium enrichment if it is referred to the Security Council, Interfax reported.

Gholamreza Aqazadeh-Khoi, head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization, said on 31 January that the grounds for referring Iran to the Security Council do not exist, ISNA reported.

Reporting Iran to the Security Council is a "tyrannical act," Expediency Council Chairman Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi- Rafsanjani said on 31 January, and trying to restrict Iranian access to the peaceful use of nuclear energy is a "vice." He continued, according to ISNA, by saying that "we must not allow bullying powers to use sacred terms such as freedom, people's rights, and combating terrorism to attain their illegitimate aims."

Tehran University professors gathered at the Allameh Amini Hall on 31 January and protested against Western propaganda about the nuclear program, IRNA reported. One of the speakers, Dr. Karami of Allameh Tabatabai University, claimed that the West objects to Iranian nuclear pursuits because it wants to retard the country's development. A statement released after the event called on the IAEA to help developing nations.

In the southwestern city of Ahvaz, Khuzestan Province scholars gathered at Shahid Chamran University to participate in a similar protest, provincial television reported. In a letter to IAEA Director-General Muhammad el-Baradei, they said all countries should have equal access to nuclear technology and criticized "Western double standards."

The Oil Weapon

Regional oil exports would be attacked if sanctions are imposed, Mohammad Nabi Rudaki, a member of the Iranian legislature's National Security and Foreign Policy Committee, said in the 24 January "Aftab-i Yazd." "Oil is exported from Iran and the Persian Gulf territorial states to Europe, America, and East Asia; the Strait of Hormuz, the Persian Gulf and, in the case of a referral or an air or economic embargo, not even one drop of oil will be exported from this region," Rudaki said. "The Islamic Republic of Iran is able to hinder oil exportation from the coasts of the Persian Gulf and our own oil if Europe fails to handle the nuclear case wisely and imposes unfair or economic sanctions on Iran."

But speaking at a 31 January OPEC meeting in Vienna, Iranian Oil Minister Kazem Vaziri-Hamaneh sought to assuage concerns about such a threat. He said Iran would not cut its exports, AFP reported, as OPEC decided to maintain a production ceiling of 28 million barrels a day. "There is no link between the oil and the nuclear issue," Vaziri-Hamaneh said. "We have no reason to stop our exports." OPEC President Edmund Daukoru added that the Iranian official reassured him that oil production will not be shut down.

A Military Solution?

The international community has made it clear, through its actions, that it wants to continue pursuing a diplomatic solution to the crisis. Pundits and commentators in many Western newspapers and news magazines, meanwhile, are saying that it is time to consider using military means to eliminate the perceived threat of a nuclear-armed Iran. Other pundits are warning that the Iranian nuclear problem does not have a military solution and argue that the consequences of military strikes would be far-reaching. They add, furthermore, that U.S. military commitments in Afghanistan and Iraq preclude another one in Iran.

The White House wants to stay the diplomatic course, but it also refuses to rule out the use of force. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said on 30 January: "Going to the [UN] Security Council is not the end of diplomacy [with Iran]. It is just diplomacy in a different, more robust context. But, the president of the United States doesn't take his options (eds: including military action) off the table and, frankly, I don't think people should want the president of the United States to take his options off the table," RFE/RL reported.

Joseph Cirincione, senior associate and director for nonproliferation at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, is the coauthor of "Deadly Arsenals." He challenged the military option in a recent article in which he concurred with U.S. Ambassador to the UN John Bolton's assertion that this is a test for the Security Council. A failure by the council to stop Iran, he continued, would weaken the nonproliferation regime and the UN system. Military action, he wrote, could backfire.

Cirincione explained his stance in a 25 January interview with Radio Farda: "President [Mahmud] Ahmadinejad's government is very unpopular at the moment. The Islamic regime has had problems for years now, but the new hard line president's actions, for example trying to ban Western music and crack down on how people behave, what they listen to, and what they watch has made him an unpopular figure inside Iran except for this issue of the nuclear problem. This is a nationalist cause for the Iranian people."

Cirincione continued: "If the U.S. or Israel would attack Iran -- even a limited strike on facilities such as the uranium- conversion plant at Isfahan -- it would inflame the Iranian public, it would inflame the anger throughout the entire Muslim world. [It is] the one thing that could turn this government from an unpopular government into a highly successful government."

Robert Hunter, a senior adviser at the Rand Corp. and U.S. ambassador to NATO from 1993 to 1998, also argues against the use of force. He told Radio Farda on 24 January that the Iranian government must be made aware of the danger it faces. Hunter added that Ahmadinejad's denial of the Holocaust and calls for Israel's eradication were not only "the height of stupidity" but were "extremely dangerous" as well.

Hunter went on to tell Radio Farda: "Having said that, what I am most worried about is that Iran and the West, particularly the United States, may be getting now on to a track which will take them one step after another, unless one side backs down, in the direction of war. And I don't think anybody really wants that to happen and can imagine that. So we need to find some means to step back from that particular brink and I think that takes both sides to do it."

American Public Unsure

Public perceptions are likely to affect the course of action Western governments choose, and at this point more and more people are willing to back military action against Iran. A "Los Angeles Times"/Bloomberg survey found that 57 percent of the 1,555 adult Americans polled "favor military intervention" if the Iranian government pursues a program that could be used for the manufacturing of nuclear arms, the "Los Angeles Times" reported on 27 January. Most respondents expressed dissatisfaction with the course of the conflict in Iraq, but this does not seem to have affected their enthusiasm for other regional commitments. Some respondents told the "Los Angeles Times" that they see Iran as a bigger threat than Iraq under Saddam Hussein. Responding to a similar question one year ago, only 50 percent of respondents favored using the military in Iran.

A "Washington Post"-ABC News poll, on the other hand, found that only 42 percent of Americans favor bombing Iranian nuclear sites, "The Washington Post" reported on 31 January. Some 54 percent oppose this course of action and 70 percent of respondents said they back international economic sanctions in an effort to stop Iran's alleged pursuit of nuclear weapons. (Bill Samii, Fatemeh Aman)

IRAN MARKS REVOLUTION'S ANNIVERSARY. As Iran commemorated the Ten Days of Dawn -- the anniversary of the 1979 Islamic revolution -- the country's officials on 1 February appeared united in reacting defiantly to a decision by the foreign ministers of the council's five permanent members (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States), plus Germany, to report Iran to the UN Security Council.

Iran's ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Ali Asqar Soltanieh, said in Vienna on 1 February that Iran is on the verge of industrial-scale uranium enrichment, dpa reported. "Right now, material for enrichment is sealed," he said. "If we are referred [to the Security Council], 50,000 machines will be made ready to produce tons of enriched uranium. The Iranian parliament would have no choice: all cooperation with the IAEA would stop."

On 1 February in Tehran, legislators said in a letter to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan that every country has the inalienable right to use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, IRNA reported. The letter added that countries that already have nuclear weapons are trying to retard other countries' scientific advancement and development, and it is they who are causing the current crisis. The letter urged Annan to do all he can to ensure that world peace and security are not jeopardized.

Another 1 February letter from 211 legislators to the executive branch advised against submission to "the bullying of world powers," Mehr News Agency reported. The speaker of the Iranian parliament, Gholam-Ali Haddad-Adel, added that the government must resume uranium enrichment if the situation does not change, IRNA reported. He referred to the legislature's passage of a bill in late November that obliges the government to suspend measures it had implemented previously in an effort to build international confidence should Iran be referred to the UN Security Council. This would include suspending the Additional Protocol of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, as well as the resumption of uranium enrichment.

During a visit to the southern city of Bushehr on 1 February, President Mahmud Ahmadinejad reacted to the previous day's decision by European countries to report Iran to the UN Security Council and to U.S. President George W. Bush's State of the Union address. "We consider nuclear energy to be the right of the Iranian nation. And as a servant of the nation, we shall stand firm until the full realization of this right," state television quoted Ahmadinejad as saying. "One of the arenas in which the enemies oppose the progress of our nation is the arena of science and technology."

During his State of the Union address, Bush said Iranians are "held hostage" and repressed by a "small clerical elite." The Iranian regime sponsors terrorism and is "defying the world with its nuclear ambitions."

Bush also reached out to the Iranian people. "America respects you, and we respect your country," Bush said. "We respect your right to choose your own future and win your own freedom. And our nation hopes one day to be the closest of friends with a free and democratic Iran."

Ahmadinejad did not care for this, state television reported, and said, "[Bush] accused the Iranian people of violating human rights. He accused the Iranian nation of opposing freedom. Those whose arms are smeared up to their elbows in the blood of other nations...are today accusing our nation of violating human rights and freedom. God willing, we shall drag you to trial in the near future at the courts set up by nations."

The next day, Ahmadinejad told a rally in Tangestan that "nuclear energy is essentially enrichment" and rejected calls for Iran to again suspend activities related to uranium enrichment, IRNA reported. IAEA Director-General Muhammad el-Baradei said in Vienna on 2 February that Iran's decision to resume limited enrichment activities might prompt skepticism of the peaceful nature of its program, Reuters reported.

Ahmadinejad accused "enemies" of trying to deprive Iran of its right to run a nuclear program. "They are so shameless that they want to deprive us of our legal right to have nuclear technology so that they can then sell us nuclear energy at some exorbitant price," IRNA quoted him as saying. "Who do you think you are trying to set limits for the independent Iranian nation?" he added. "They propose that we have [enrichment] outside Iran. They think they are dealing with a nation of a few hundred years ago.... What will we do if they refuse to give us fuel one day?" He asked how Iran could trust any foreign state to supply its fuel when "30 years ago, you took our payments for aircraft parts but will not deliver them to us."

Earlier on 2 February, Ahmadinejad told an audience in Jam that "the great powers" must abandon their nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons, ISNA reported. He went on to blame those states for provoking a global arms race. "Why must there be an arms race" wherein "weak countries" must "build armies," instead of spending on welfare and education?" Ahmadinejad asked. He said Iran has an "active foreign policy" to defend its interests and is popular abroad, while "those who claim to preside over the world are more hated every day. If they want to know who is more hated, they should circulate a little among people of different countries," ISNA reported.

Meanwhile, IAEA governing board members were in Vienna on 2 and 3 February to discuss a resolution on the Iranian nuclear program and the possibility of reporting Iran to the UN Security Council for suspected nonproliferation violations. Soltanieh, the Iranian ambassador to the IAEA, told BBC News 24 in Vienna on 2 February that any referral or reporting of Iran's dossier to the Security Council is "the wrong course" and reflects the views of "perhaps 20 or so" IAEA members, not those of many more nonaligned members. He said he is "100-percent sure" that there will be no consensus on a resolution to report Iran. Soltanieh said referral would oblige Iran to "retaliate" and adversely affect cooperation with the IAEA. This, he said, would mean ending "voluntary" cooperation and prevent the implementation of the Additional Protocol to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) that Iran has not formally ratified concerning closer inspections of nuclear installations. Soltanieh said referral would not immediately prompt Iran to abandon the NPT or cease all cooperation with the IAEA, but he predicted the government would be obliged to implement a law to end spot checks if Iran were referred to the Security Council.

Meanwhile, Defense Minister Mustafa Mohammad-Najjar told a gathering of military and police officers in the southern port of Bushehr on 2 February that Iran's armies are ready to meet any threat, ISNA reported. "The armed forces have such a high level of readiness [that] they will deal their crushing blows to the aggressors, like a thunderbolt," in responding to any attack, he said. Mohammad-Najjar was in Bushehr for the opening of a multipurpose jetty, ISNA reported. (Bill Samii, Vahid Sepehri)

IRAN REPORTED TO UN SECURITY COUNCIL. The International Atomic Energy Agency's 35-member governing board voted on 4 February to report Iran to the UN Security Council, international news agencies reported. The only countries that voted against the resolution were Cuba, Syria, and Venezuela. Algeria, Belarus, Indonesia, Libya, and South Africa abstained.

In order to reassure the international community that its nuclear program is "exclusively peaceful," the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said that Iran should suspend all activities related to uranium enrichment and reprocessing; reconsider building a heavy water reactor; ratify and implement the Additional Protocol of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), and until that time, act as if the protocol is in effect. The resolution also urges Iran to comply with earlier IAEA calls for improved transparency by providing access to individuals, procurement documentation, dual-use equipment, and military workshops.

The Security Council is unlikely to act before March, when its permanent members will meet to consider the issue. This gives Iran an opportunity to behave more cooperatively. "The Washington Post" on 4 February cited Western diplomats who said sanctions are not being considered yet. The British ambassador to the IAEA in Vienna, Peter Jenkins, said on 4 February that the resolution "sends a further strong message to the Islamic Republic of Iran," Radio Farda reported. "It's a message of concern at developments in Iran since early January, and of continuing lack of confidence in Iran's nuclear intentions."

Legislation passed by the Iranian legislature in November 2005 calls for a resumption of all enrichment-related activities should the country be referred to the UN Security Council. "Iran has stopped all voluntary measures it had undertaken in the past two-and-a-half to three years," Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki said on 4 February. "We have no commitment to the Additional Protocol any more and our activities will continue our peaceful; nuclear activities based on the NPT."

On the same day, President Mahmud Ahmadinejad sent a letter to the head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization, Gholamreza Aqazadeh-Khoi, in which he called for suspension the country's "voluntary implementation" of the Additional Protocol, state television and IRNA reported. However, the letter continues, Iran's cooperation with the IAEA will continue within the framework of the NPT and the Safeguards Agreement, as will the country's peaceful nuclear activities.

Ahmadinejad said on 5 February in Tehran that he will not permit inspections of military installations, state television reported. Ahmadinejad added that there will be a pro-nuclear rally on 11 February, which coincides with Ashura, the commemoration of Imam Hussein's martyrdom. (Bill Samii)