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Iran Report: February 22, 2006

22 February 2006, Volume 9, Number 6

ISLAMIC REVOLUTION ANNIVERSARY MARKED IN TEHRAN AND OTHER CITIES. The anniversary of Iran's 1979 Islamic Revolution was commemorated in Tehran on 11 February, Iranian news agencies reported. The official Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) described a sunny but cold day, and the Islamic Republic of Iran News Network, the official 24-hour news channel, showed thousands gathering at the capital's Azadi Square, where they reportedly expressed their backing for the country's nuclear program and condemned the U.S., Israel, Denmark, and the Mujahedin Khalq Organization. They also expressed support for Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and the ruling system of Vilayat-i Faqih (Guardianship of the Supreme Jurisprudent).

A resolution issued at the end of the Tehran rally stressed that Iran will not give in to international pressure and will pursue its "right" to use nuclear energy peacefully. The resolution condemned the publication of cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad, describing them "as a sign of hostility and hard-heartedness towards Islam," and it called on Islamic states to cut relations with Denmark and expel their Danish ambassadors. Furthermore, the Hamas victory in the Palestinian elections was welcomed and support for Palestinians was expressed, as the occupation of Iraq was criticized.

Khuzestan Provincial television showed 11 February rallies in the city of Ahvaz. Chanting in Arabic and Persian, demonstrators condemned the publication of cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad in September and burned a Danish flag. They also condemned the U.S., Israel, France, and the United Kingdom. Demonstrators also expressed support for the country's nuclear program. Asked why she was at the rally, a girl responded, "To say down with America," while a man said, "I have a message for George [W.] Bush, the president of the United States: we hate you, we hate you forever!" According to the television station, rallies took place in other provincial municipalities, including Andimeshk, Behbehan, Dezful, Haftgel, Izeh, Mahshahr, Masjid Suleiman, Shush-e Danial, and Susangerd.

Isfahan provincial television also described rallies in that province's cities. In Isfahan, one group of demonstrators carried an effigy of President Bush. The rally took place in the city's Imam Square and was described as bigger than in previous years. According to Isfahan TV, rallies took place in other provincial municipalities including Ardestan, Fereidunshahr, Golpayegan, Kashan, Najafabad, Natanz, and Semirom. (Bill Samii)

FRANCE PROTESTS ATTACK ON ITS TEHRAN EMBASSY. Students gathered outside the French Embassy in Tehran on 12 February to protest against the publication of cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad, IRNA reported. The demonstrators, who were described by IRNA as "furious," chanted "Death to America," "Death to Denmark," and "Death to Britain," and they also carried banners that read "Nuclear energy is our undeniable right." According to IRNA, police were in full control of the situation and prevented the demonstrators from trespassing on French property.

International news agency photographs from the evening of 10 February showed the exterior of the embassy in flames after demonstrators threw Molotov cocktails and other incendiary devices.

Substitute Tehran Friday Prayers leader Hojatoleslam Ahmad Khatami said in his 10 February sermon that the Europeans welcome such incidents, state radio reported. He added, "they are themselves putting gasoline cans in the basements of their embassies." This means, Khatami continued, "they deliberately want their embassies to be set ablaze so that they can cry out as if they are victimized." Therefore, he advised against attacking embassies.

The French Foreign Ministry on 13 February summoned the Iranian charge d'affaires to complain about the 10 February attack on the embassy in Tehran, "Le Monde" reported on 15 February. Paris believes the Iranian authorities did not protect the embassy sufficiently, and it reminded the Iranians of their obligations as a host government. (Bill Samii)

BIRD FLU CONFIRMED IN IRAN. A 14 February State Veterinary Organization statement confirmed the first case of the H5N1 strain of bird flu in Iran, Mehr News Agency reported. This was determined following lab tests after the deaths of 135 swans in the northwestern Anzali Marsh. Health Minister Kamran Baqeri-Lankarani said on 14 February that avian flu has not been detected in flocks of domestic birds or in the poultry industry, and the Anzali cases occurred in isolated areas. In order to prevent the spread of the disease, Baqeri-Lankarani called on people not to hunt in the marshes and not to sell dead birds. He reassured people that cooking kills any contamination so eating prepared chicken and eggs is safe. (Bill Samii)

IRANIAN JEWISH LEADER CRITICIZES AHMADINEJAD�S HOLOCAUST DENIAL. The head of Iran's Jewish community, Haroun Yashayaei, has sent a letter complaining to President Mahmud Ahmadinejad over his Holocaust denial comments. Yashayaei said the remarks have shocked the international community and struck fear within Iran's small Jewish community.

In the letter, Yashayaei describes the Holocaust as one of the most obvious and saddest events of the 20th century, saying: "How is it possible to ignore all the undeniable evidence existing for the killing and exile of the Jews in Europe during World War II?"

Yashayaei's letter marks the first time an Iranian Jewish leader has openly criticized President Ahmadinejad's denials that the Holocaust took place. Yashayaei also criticizes the holding of "different Holocaust denial seminars" and said that such actions will not achieve anything for the Iranian nation or for the world's Muslims or Palestinians. He says, "it just soothes the complexes of racists."

Ahmadinejad has on several occasions in recent months expressed doubt about the Holocaust of Jews under Nazi Germany, even calling it a "myth."

The latest denial came during his 11 February speech marking the 27th anniversary of the revolution, when he said: "We have proposed that if you [Jews] didn't lie then you should allow a group of independent and fair researchers to come and talk to people in Europe, see the documents [on the Holocaust], and inform the nations about the results of their research on the myth of the Holocaust."

Iranian Jewish Society head Yashayaei says in his letter, which is dated 26 January, that the holocaust is not a myth but remains "an infected wound for Western civilization."

Yashayaei compares the Holocaust with atrocities such as the 1988 massacre of Kurds in Halabche with chemical weapons and the 1982 killing of Palestinians in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps. He says none of these events can be considered a myth.

Ahmadinejad's dismissal of the Holocaust as a myth and his call for Israel to be relocated to Europe or Alaska have been strongly condemned by a number of countries, including the United States and the EU.

In Iran, some observers had warned that Ahmadinejad's anti-Israeli remarks could damage Iran's national interests. The only Jewish parliamentarian in Iran, Maurice Motamed, told RFE/RL's Radio Farda on 11 February that Jews around the world are offended by claims that the Holocaust did not take place.

"Denial of such a great historical tragedy that is connected to the Jewish community can only be considered an insult to all the world's Jewish communities."

Motamed added, however, that the anti-Holocaust comments will not have a negative impact on Iran's Jewish community and its members.

"The Iranian Jews have been present in this country for a long time, for some 2,700. During these 2,700 years they have always been in full understanding with the society, they've lived in friendship and brotherhood, so therefore I don't think that bringing up such an issue could damage the Jewish community in Iran."

In April, Motamed criticized state television for broadcasting anti-Semitic programs and said that some of the programs hurt the feelings of Jews and led to their emigration.

Some 85,000 Jews lived in Iran before the Islamic Revolution. Now they number between 25,000 and 30,000.

Ahmadinejad is not the only Iranian official to deny the Holocaust and make anti-Israeli comments. Not recognizing the legitimacy of Israel and supporting the Palestinian cause has been the official policy of the Islamic Republic since its founding in 1979.

But observers say Ahmadinejad has surpassed other Iranian officials by using almost every occasion to make inflammatory comments regarding Israel's existence and the Holocaust.

In recent months, the number of discussions and seminars devoted to the issue of the Holocaust have also increased in Iran.

Iran's plan to hold an international conference to examine the scale of the Holocaust has already been condemned by Israeli and EU officials, including British Premier Tony Blair, who lashed out at the planned meeting as "shocking, ridiculous, and stupid."

In his letter, Yashayaei also criticizes the holding of "different Holocaust denial seminars" and said that such actions will not achieve anything for the Iranian nation or for the world's Muslims or Palestinians. He says, "it just soothes the complexes of racists."

It is not clear whether Ahmadinejad has responded to the letter. (Golnaz Esfandiari)

AHMADINEJAD ADDRESSES HOLOCAUST AND CARTOONS. Mahmud Ahmadinejad again raised the controversial subject of the Holocaust in his 11 February speech at Tehran's Azadi Square, state television reported. Referring to the publication of cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad in a Danish newspaper, he said "a few disgraced Zionists" have insulted the prophet, and "some weak governments that owe their existence to the Zionists' support," are behind this case. Ahmadinejad asked why some Western governments defend insulting the prophet in this way, whereas "questioning the Holocaust myth and questioning the formation of a fake regime that has occupied Palestine is a crime." Ahmadinejad said "the usurper Zionist regime" has used the Holocaust to blackmail the West, displace and murder Palestinians, and justify its "crimes." He asked, "How is it that insulting prophets is acceptable in your country but any study or research about the myth of the Holocaust is forbidden?" Ahmadinejad added that the "real" Holocaust is taking place in Palestine and Iraq. (Bill Samii)

QOM AUTHORITIES CRACK DOWN ON SUFIS A major clampdown on the mystical Sufi tradition in Iran follows signs of growing official intolerance by the government of President Mahmud Ahmadinejad.

In what observers say is an unprecedented crackdown, authorities in the Iranian city of Qom have arrested over 1,000 followers of the mystical Sufi tradition of Islam.

The Iranian government had been showing signs of increasing antipathy towards Iran's Sufi community, but experts say the scale and violence of the clashes on 13 February is unheard of.

The deputy governor of Qom, Ahmad Hajizadeh, said 1,200 worshippers -- also known as dervishes -- were arrested as police sought to close a Sufi house of worship. Hajizadeh said 100 people, including more than 30 police officers, were injured in the clashes.

Officials in Qom say the Sufis had illegally turned a residential building into a center of worship and had refused to leave it.

Some of the dervishes were armed, they add.

Representatives of the dervishes deny the charges and say they are being targeted due to the increasing popularity of Sufism.

Figures produced by sources close to the Sufi groups and human rights activists also differ from official accounts. They put the number of the arrests at 2,000 and say that 350 people were injured.

Following the clashes, the authorities demolished the house of worship as well as the homes of two leaders of the group.

Sufism is based on the pursuit of mystical truth and Sufis believe that mystical practices involving dance, music, and the recitation of Allah's divine names can give them direct perception of God.

Although Sufi Muslims strictly observe Islamic practices and beliefs, some conservative Muslim clerics see it as a danger to Islam. Some even argue that Sufism is a deviation of Islam.

In Iran, there have been always some tensions between Sufism and more orthodox traditions of Islam.

However, observers say these tensions have worsened since the establishment of an Islamic republic, some 27 years ago, and state tolerance for Sufi groups has diminished.

Never before, though, has there been an attack as strong as seen this week, says Abdol-Karim Lahidji, vice president of the Paris-based International Federation of Human Rights.

"Unfortunately under the years of the rule of the Islamic government we have seen limitations on non-Muslims -- above all, Baha'is, Jews, and also Christians -- and on Sufi groups, and their meetings have been disrupted," says Lahidji, but "it is unprecedented in the modern history of Iran that a Sufi group should be treated" as it was in Qom.

Seyyed Mustafa Azmayesh, a Paris-based scholar who specializes in Sufism, says that the Qom clashes mark "a new phase�between dervishes and fanatics -- a phase of violent encounter -- because until now only the leaders of [Sufi] groups were under pressure. Now, though, there is a confrontation with ordinary people who are facing pressure merely because they are dervishes."

The Qom worshippers belong to the Nematollahi Gonabadi order of Sufism, one of the largest Sufi groups in Iran and a strand of Sufism that Azmayesh represents outside Iran.

Azmayesh says that pressure on Sufis -- and "especially on the Nematollahi Gonabadi order" -- has increased "a lot" since the hard-liner Mahmud Ahmadinejad succeeded Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami as Iran's president in June 2005.

"Now unfortunately, when the pressure groups and fanatics want to repress the Sufis, those who enforce the laws are not stopping them," says Azmayesh.

Several anti-Sufi books have been published in Iran over the past year and several clerics have also harshly condemned Sufism, Azmayesh says, noting that the recent clashes in Qom erupted after a speech by a cleric, who blasted Sufism and called for restrictions on the Sufi community.

Iran's hard-line daily "Kayhan" on 14 February quoted senior clerics in Qom as saying that Sufism should be eradicated in the city, while the Reuters news agency reported that in September one of Iran's hard-line clerics, Grand Ayatollah Hussein Nuri-Hamedani, called for a clampdown on Sufis in Qom.

Qom is considered to be one of the centers of Shi'a Islam.

The governor of Qom, Abbas Mohtaj, has reportedly accused the dervishes of having links to foreign countries.

However, Azmayesh believes that Sufis are being targeted because of their "more open interpretation of Islam" and also because Sufism is picking up more followers.

"More than before, people are running away from a totalitarian interpretation of the religion, they are having doubts, and they have lost faith in the work of those who consider themselves custodians of religion," he maintains. "By contrast, they feel very close to the Sufi teachings and its customs, which are based on love."

Azmayesh says there is currently an "inverse trend" in Iran: "as mosques empty, [Sufi houses of worship] are expanding and being filled."

Iranian officials have said that the arrested dervishes will be interrogated and those who were not among the "main elements and instigators" will gradually be released. Some have already been freed, many of them women. (Golnaz Esfandiari)

AHMADINEJAD ON NUCLEAR CONTROVERSY AND NPT. President Mahmud Ahmadinejad discussed the nuclear issue in his 11 February speech, Radio Farda and state television reported. Ahmadinejad said Iran's fossil-fuel supplies will be exhausted soon and the country wants to use nuclear technology for agriculture, medicine, and other fields. He said Iran has given international inspectors access to the country's nuclear facilities but, after roughly three years, "we finally realized that they were basically opposed to Iran's development." Ahmadinejad said that Iran has been committed to the peaceful use of nuclear energy and has operated within the framework of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). "However," he continued, "if we see that, despite our respect for these regulations you want to violate the rights of the Iranian people, you should understand that the Iranian nation will revise its policies."

Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi on 12 February tried to assuage concern stemming from Ahmadinejad's apparent threat to withdraw from the NPT, Radio Farda reported. He stressed that Iranian policy calls only for the peaceful use of nuclear energy, and reiterated Iran's interest in continuing talks within the framework of international regulations. (Bill Samii)

CENTRIFUGES START SPINNING. Visiting International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) officials removed their seals from equipment at the Natanz nuclear facility, Fars News Agency reported on 13 February. Later that day an anonymous "informed source" told Fars that the injection of uranium hexafluoride into some of the centrifuges at the Natanz facility has begun. The news agency reported that 164 centrifuges were under seal and eventually they all will be put to use.

Supreme National Security Council official Javad Vaidi confirmed in Tehran on 14 February that activities at the Natanz nuclear facility have commenced, IRNA reported. He was adamant that uranium-enrichment activities will take place on Iranian territory, but added that Iran is still willing to alleviate concerns about possible military applications of its nuclear program. He said Iran is willing to negotiate with any international actor. On the same day, Atomic Energy Organization chief Gholamreza Aqazadeh-Khoi told state television that Tehran has advised the International Atomic Energy Agency and the European Union that Iran has only started nuclear research. At this stage, he continued, there is no intention to begin industrial-scale enrichment activities. The research that is taking place, he said, does not have industrial applications. (Bill Samii)

CENTRIGUES AND POLITICAL SPIN? Iran confirmed on 14 February that it has started small-scale uranium enrichment work at its Natanz facilities. To reach industrial-scale production levels would take "some time," according to Javad Vaidi, the deputy secretary of Iran's Supreme National Council as, in 2003, Iran voluntarily suspended all research at its nuclear facilities at the request of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

This statement comes shortly after Iran's ambassador to the IAEA, Ali Asqar Soltanieh, said in an interview for the U.S.-based Arms Control Association on 23 January that "we have decided at this juncture not to start full-scale or so-called commercial industrial scale enrichment, which goes to more than 50,000 centrifuge machines with the capacity of 30 tons [of low-enriched uranium] per year."

Later, on 3 February, a day after the IAEA's board of governors' special meeting referred Iran to the UN Security Council, Soltanieh told Austria's "Die Presse" that Iran could build 50,000 centrifuges and produce tons on low-enriched uranium.

On 7 February, Fatemeh Aman of RFE/RL's Radio Farda asked David Albright, president of the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) in Washington, D.C. if he believed Iran's claim to have 50,000 centrifuges.

David Albright: No. It'll take them 10 to 20 years -- at least -- to put in 50,000 centrifuges. They don't even know how to put 100 together and operate them successfully, let alone build that number. So I think it's just a threat. If you remember, Iranian officials said this same work was research, nothing beyond research, just what people would do at a university. Now, one or two weeks later, they call it "installing 50,000 centrifuges." So what this means is that they just choose words to suit their propaganda, essentially, and it was convenient for them to call it research before the [IAEA's] board of governors meeting to try to trivialize it; they want to now call it "installing 50,000" centrifuges to exaggerate it and threaten us.

RFE/RL: Yes, but they said before that if Iran is referred, or even reported, to the UN, they would start full-scale enrichment at Natanz. That's what they said.

Albright: Yes, but they're doing the exact same thing they were doing a week ago. They're preparing to restart making or assembling centrifuges. They've got to do a lot of work to learn how to operate a 164-machine cascade. [It] will probably take six months to a year to master just that operation. They then have to start expanding the pilot plant. So it's going to take them several years to get to the point where they could put together a couple thousand centrifuges, and they may very well could fail, because they have many technical hurdles that they have to overcome, some of which they don't even know about yet.

RFE/RL: Then, Dr. Albright, why is everybody so worried, if they are so far from doing anything.

Albright: The reason people are concerned is because of what Iran does. It doesn't cooperate with the IAEA. It now just reduced cooperation further with the IAEA today [Iran on 6 February refused to allow the IAEA to conduct snap inspections]. It makes these kind of threats. They're not telling the truth in many cases about what they're planning to do. And so there's [a] worry that they plan in secret to build an enrichment plant for highly enriched uranium for nuclear weapons. And whether that happens in one year, three years, five years, the time to do something is now, before they get close to nuclear weapons, and so it's important for the international community to start putting pressure on Iran. And if they won't give up these activities to enrich uranium, then, they'll have to just accept that they will live isolated. And what I would say is [that the] lack of urgency removes any need to talk about military options, but the diplomacy needs to actually be accelerated because Iran is reducing its cooperation with the IAEA.

RFE/RL: Hans Blix [the UN's former chief weapons inspector] told me the other day that Russia's proposal, basically, is a guarantee that Iran would not go beyond the level of 3 percent enrichment.

Albright: The Russians, yes. But the Russian offer is based on Iran not building any enrichment facilities inside Iran. If they enrich in Russia, then they wouldn't have any enrichment facilities inside Iran, and then there would be assurance -- not complete assurance; you'd still need very robust inspections but you'd gain assurance -- that they're not building this centrifuge plant in secret, and Iran would get the fuel it needs for its power reactor.

RFE/RL: How can they cheat while they are taking Russia's proposal, if they take it?

Albright: They could cheat if they build a centrifuge plant in secret. They have components for probably at least 2,000 centrifuges already done, and they could take those, hide them, and then turn them into centrifuges. So the Russian deal has to be accompanied by safeguards in Iran that have the Additional Protocol [an addendum to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty that relates mainly to nuclear research and the assembly of nuclear technology], and probably what we'd call "additional protocol plus," additional measures Iran would take until confidence built up.

RFE/RL: But they have only a few hundred operational, I mean, working...

Albright: They don't have a few hundred operational [centrifuges], but they've got them in parts; they're disassembled. They have a couple thousand at least in disassembled form that they're now moving to assemble, I believe. So it'll take a while. They can do about 70-100 a month at the current pace. They could speed it up, but basically it's going to take them a while.

RFE/RL: But does Iran have the industrial capability?

Albright: The trouble with these kinds of programs in nations like Iran is that, yes, much of the industry doesn't work, but when they put their mind to it, they devote the resources, they can get it to work. It just takes a long time. And the best example is Pakistan. I mean, they had no capability -- industrial -- in the 1970s when they started their gas centrifuge plant, but they succeeded in the end.

RFE/RL: Sure. If they have enough time, and money, they will be able to.

Albright: They have enough money. They have the know-how now, because [Dr AQ] Khan [the father of Pakistan's atomic bomb] gave them the designs, gave them the books to manufacture centrifuges, helped them during the 1990s. So they learned enough. It's a question if they have enough time. And so we'll see. The U.S. government and a lot of people believe that Iran doesn't want to be isolated -- let me put it this way, the Iranian regime doesn't want to be isolated -- and it doesn't want to be subject to sanctions. So we'll see if those things, or the threat of those things, change Iran's behavior.

FRANCE DECRIES IRAN'S 'MILITARY' NUCLEAR PROGRAM. French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy said in an interview broadcast on France 2 TV on 16 February that the only explanation for Iranian behavior is that the country is pursuing a military nuclear program, Radio Farda reported. "Today, it's very simple: no civilian nuclear program can explain Iran's nuclear program," he said. "So it's a clandestine, military, Iranian nuclear program." Tehran's failure to heed the world's message to "see reason, suspend all nuclear activity and uranium enrichment," Douste-Blazy continued, explains international unity on the issue.

An unidentified French Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said the same day that France does not oppose Iran's having a civilian program, according to the ministry's website, but "the sensitive nuclear activities currently being carried out in Iran in conversion and enrichment cast doubt on their peaceful and civil nature." She said it is up to Iran to reduce tensions and restore confidence by completely and fully suspending its reprocessing and enrichment activities.

In a reaction to the French statement, Supreme National Security Council Secretary Ali Larijani told France Inter Radio on 16 February that Paris should speak from a position of leadership rather than echoing Washington's views. Unlike the United States and United Kingdom, he continued, France is very popular with the Iranian people. Larijani appeared to call on France to serve as a mediator, saying, "Instead of heightening the tension, diplomats should look for a solution to the problem." He continued: "I consider France to have a positive role. I think France is capable of entering on the scene, but not with such statements." (Bill Samii)

IRAN-RUSSIA DELIBERATIONS POSTPONED. Iranian government spokesman Gholam-Hussein Elham announced on 13 February that Tehran-Moscow talks on the possibility of Iranian uranium-enrichment activities taking place on Russian soil are on hold, Radio Farda reported. Representatives from the two countries were scheduled to meet on 16 February, and they met in Moscow in late-January. "The question of negotiations is still open and the time of the negotiations is another issue," Elham explained. "These will take place in view of the new circumstances that were created and the [Iranian] government's determination to seriously pursue a peaceful [uranium-] enrichment program inside the country. We believe that the [Russian] plan needs to be adjusted according to the Islamic Republic's policies and we are pursuing this aspect."

Elham added that Iran's decision on continuing adherence to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) will reflect Europe's behavior. He said Iran has acted within the NPT framework and has even surpassed requirements in an effort to eliminate any ambiguities, state radio reported. Iran will remain committed to the NPT if Europe, the IAEA, and other entities recognize Iran's right to have access to nuclear technology, Elham continued.

Iranian officials have posed a series of preconditions that could cripple the negotiations slated for 20 February in Moscow before they even begin, the daily "Kommersant" and Deutsche Welle reported on 15 February (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 February 2006). Tehran reportedly wants to limit the joint uranium-enrichment venture with Russia to two years, during which time Iranian experts would have free access to the Russian facilities. After two years, the project would reportedly be transferred to Iran. In the meantime, Tehran would expect Moscow to veto any UN Security Council resolution calling for sanctions against it.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mikhail Kamynin said on 14 February that nuclear discussions with Iran will take place in Moscow on 20 February, RIA Novosti reported. The Iranian ambassador to Moscow, Gholamreza Ansari, said the Iranian leadership believes Moscow's proposal for the enrichment of uranium for Iranian use on Russian soil is encouraging, ITAR-TASS reported. He hoped that "shortcomings" in the proposal will be addressed at the upcoming meeting.

In Yerevan, Iranian Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki described Moscow's proposal as a good start that needs some fine-tuning, Interfax reported. He added, according to RIA Novosti, that Iran is willing to provide guarantees that it will use nuclear energy only for peaceful purposes. Mottaki insisted on Iran's right to use nuclear energy. He complained that the United States was the first country to use nuclear weapons, but does not want other countries to use the atom for peaceful purposes. (Patrick Moore, Bill Samii)

WHITE HOUSE DESCRIBES ACTIVE IRAN POLICY. U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said during 15 February testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that the United States will reach out to the Iranian people directly, according to a fact sheet from the State Department spokesman's office. The 2006 U.S. budget allocates at least $10 million to support political dissidents, labor leaders, and human rights activists, as well as NGOs that are trying to establish networks in Iran. The White House will seek an additional $75 million to create a round-the-clock Persian-language television service and to improve radio transmission capabilities; and $5 million will go for communication with Iranians through public diplomacy and the development of independent Persian television and radio. The White House will seek an additional $15 million for work with NGOs and democracy-promotion entities, labor unions, and political groups; and $5 million for outreach through student and visitors programs. (Bill Samii)

PARLIAMENTARY SPEAKER HADDAD-ADEL VISITS CUBA, VENEZUELA. Parliamentary speaker Gholam-Ali Haddad-Adel arrived in Cuba on 16 February, after spending four days in Venezuela. Upon his arrival in Havana, Haddad-Adel praised Cuban resistance to U.S. pressure for 47 years, IRNA reported. His Cuban counterpart Ricardo Alarcon said the two countries are at the vanguard of the battle with "U.S. imperialism" and advised that they continue to support each other. Alarcon, whose country voted against reporting Iran to the UN Security Council for its allegedly suspicious nuclear activities, also condemned efforts to prevent a people from using nuclear energy peacefully, "Prensa Latina" reported. Alarcon described Iran as a long-suffering victim of imperialist provocation, like Cuba. Haddad-Adel praised Cuban leader Fidel Castro and then toured the Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology.

Haddad-Adel and his Venezuelan counterpart Nicolas Maduro spoke out on 16 February in Caracas against the proliferation of nuclear weapons, IRNA reported. At a 15 February meeting with Maduro, Haddad-Adel said the two countries' "strategic unity" is based on their pursuit of independence and is a reaction to U.S. bullying, IRNA reported. Haddad-Adel invited Maduro to the upcoming Iranian conference on the Palestinian Intifada.

Venezuela is one of the few countries that voted against reporting Iran to the UN Security Council for its suspicious nuclear activities, and on 14 February Haddad-Adel thanked Caracas for its support, "El Universal" reported. He offered to reciprocate by backing the Venezuelan position on international issues.

In Washington on 15 February, Congressman Dan Burton (Rep-Indiana), chairman of the House International Relations Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere, released a statement referring to Haddad-Adel's Venezuelan visit and expressed concern that Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is reaching out to terrorist organizations and terrorism-sponsoring states "like Iran." Such alliances, Burton said, "will be viewed as a serious and direct threat to the national security of the United States as well as to the world." He urged the Latin Americans to reconsider their actions. (Bill Samii)

NIGERIAN MILITIA LEADERS ACCUSED OF SEEKING TRAINING IN IRAN. In early February, Nigerian security forces arrested the leaders of an Islamic militia called Hisbah and alleged that they sought "training as a terrorist group" in Libya and Iran, according to court records described by AFP on 15 February. The government of Kano state, however, rejected the charges. The largest state in Nigeria, Kano has adopted Shari'a Islamic law. Hisbah is described by some observers as an Islamic militia in Kano that is to be used against the Shi'ite minority, while others refer to hisbah as a vigilante group. Therefore, it is unlikely that Iran would be a training sit for the militia, although Iran has worked to gain new converts in Nigeria (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 3 May 2005). (Bill Samii)