8 March 2006, Volume 9, Number 8
FORMER NUCLEAR NEGOTIATOR REMAINS COMMITTED ON NATIONAL AMBITIONS. In an unusually revealing speech to state officials, Hassan Rohani -- formerly Iran's top nuclear negotiator and secretary of the Supreme National Security Council for 16 years -- has spoken about every aspect of the country's nuclear negotiations. His revelations -- including concerns of referral to the UN Security Council and skepticism about Russia's intentions -- were recently published in "Rahbord," the journal of the Strategic Research Center affiliated with the country's Expediency Council. This speech does not mark a change in Iran's stance or in Rohani's, but it is highly significant ahead of the 6 March meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Board of Governors.
Defending Iran's 'Rights'
Rohani, who now serves on the Supreme National Security Council as a representative of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, complained during a 2 March speech in Yazd that Iran does not have nuclear weapons but is subject to international pressure, the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) reported. Pakistan, North Korea, India, and Israel, he continued, do have nuclear weapons but are left alone. Rohani went on to say that Iran's stance on the nuclear issue is decided by the state's top officials, and it does not vary on the basis of changes in the executive branch. Rohani made the same point in an earlier speech, "Sharq" reported on 20 February, saying, "Iran's general policies do not change with new governments."
Nonetheless, Rohani has been critical of President Mahmud Ahmadinejad's foreign-policy team and its diplomatic efforts -- as have other Iranian political figures. There may be more to this than concern about Iran's international standing. Rohani's negative assessment could be attributed to political rivalries with younger hardliners associated with Ahmadinejad -- Rohani is more of a centrist and is close to Expediency Council Chairman Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani and another member of the council, former president Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami.
The Problem With Secrecy
Rohani described every aspect of the nuclear negotiations in a speech to the Supreme Cultural Revolution Council that was subsequently reproduced in the 30 September 2005 issue of "Rahbord." A date for the speech is not provided, but it clearly preceded the August inauguration of Ahmadinejad because it refers to Rohani as the "secretary" of the Supreme National Security Council and it refers to Khatami as the president.
Iran began work on mastering the nuclear fuel cycle in 1987-1988, Rohani said, but efforts to purchase technology from the Soviet Union and China were unsuccessful. Iran, therefore, turned to the black market for its needs. What Iran did not realize, Rohani continued, was that some of the second-hand equipment it purchased was highly contaminated -- meaning it had traces of uranium that was 70-80 percent enriched. Rohani explained that enrichment in excess of 25 percent has a potential weapons-related application. The IAEA suspects Iran purchased some enriched uranium from the former Soviet Union, he added, because tests found that this was the source of the contamination.
Information was sometimes withheld from the IAEA, Rohani said, but this differs from lying. "No, we have not lied. In all cases, we have told them the truth. But in some cases, we may not have disclosed information in a timely manner."
In the summer of 2003, the Islamic Republic recognized the need to "present a complete picture" of its early nuclear activities in order to avoid being reported to the Security Council. Failure to do so could be interpreted as a lack of cooperation. Furthermore, Rohani said, the nuclear watchdog had secured information about the Iranian program from many sources, such as Russia and China. In one case a student's dissertation contained information about previously undisclosed nuclear tests, while in another case a scholar's paper was published in an international journal.
Libyan information about the nuclear black market, in general, and P2 centrifuges, specifically, also shed light on Iranian activities. This specific information undermined European confidence in Iran's trustworthiness.
Dealing With Europe
In 1999-2000, Rohani said, Tehran decided to upgrade the nuclear program and granted the country's Atomic Energy Organization "a freer hand with new credits and a more liberal spending procedure, new facilities, and special regulations," which allowed it to bypass "bureaucratic and regulatory labyrinths." In July an August 2002, he continued, questions arose over the nature of the nuclear program and whether the country was in violation of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). At that point it was decided that nuclear issues must be addressed at a higher level in the Iranian government -- the Supreme National Security Council got involved for the first time.
After the September 2003 meeting of the IAEA, Rohani continued, there was real concern that Iran would be referred to the Security Council. When the foreign ministers of France, Germany, and Great Britain came to Tehran the next month, they promised to resist American pressure for a Security Council referral if Tehran was completely forthcoming on its nuclear program. It was at that time that Iran agreed to comply with the Additional Protocol of the NPT and suspend some of its nuclear activities, but Rohani added that the "system" -- in other words, top officials of the regime -- had already decided to do this.
"Of course, all the agreements that we made with the Europeans were agreements that the system had embraced beforehand," Rohani told his audience. "That is to say, even if we did not reach an agreement with the Europeans, we still would have unilaterally declared that we would sign the Additional Protocol.... Decisions had been made beforehand that we would unilaterally take those steps even in the absence of an agreement with the three [European] countries. Nevertheless, we made a deal. The deal was for us to take those steps in exchange for some commitments by the Europeans."
Another suspension agreement was concluded in Brussels in February 2004. Over time, Rohani said, according to "Rahbord," the Europeans concluded that Iran only agreed to suspend activities where it no longer had technical problems. He acknowledged that the Isfahan Uranium Conversion facility was completed in the interim, and yellow cake can be converted into uranium hexafluoride and uranium tetrafluoride there. He added, "As far as technology is concerned, we are in better shape than we were last year." Iran is able to manufacture more parts and assemble equipment, and some 350 centrifuges were built between September 2003 and the date of his speech.
The expansion of the European Union and the addition of mostly pro-American countries to its membership presents Iran with a more difficult situation, Rohani said in his 2005 speech. "When it comes to the fuel cycle, the Europeans are as determined to see us not have it as the United States," he added. As for all the European incentives and offers to Iran, he said, they are of "no immediate benefit to us" and they "take a long time to conclude."
Russia is no better, he continued, because it says Iran's desire to have the fuel cycle does not build confidence. Russia's view is, he said, that "the insistence on having the fuel cycle in and of itself undermines trust." The Russians have concerns about Iran that are not shared by China, Rohani said, and this makes the Chinese a bit easier to work with.
Iran's nuclear negotiations are the most serious in its history, Rohani said. "So far, we have been successful," he said. "We also have reached a good technical level." Addressing the involvement of China, Russia, South Africa, and the Non-Aligned Movement in the diplomatic process, he added, "Our political situation today is also better than it was a year ago."
It is almost nine months since Rohani made that speech. He is unlikely to repeat that positive assessment today -- less than one month after the IAEA Governing Board voted to report Iran to the Security Council. (Bill Samii)
NUCLEAR GODFATHER, LEGISLATORS CALLS FOR TALKS WITH U.S. Akbar Etemad, founder of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization and the agency's first chief, announced recently that the Russian uranium-enrichment proposal will not resolve the Iranian nuclear standoff, Mehr News Agency reported on 24 February. He recommended direct talks with the United States as a solution.
Kazem Jalali, rapporteur of the legislature's National Security and Foreign Policy Committee, said in the 2 March "Aftab-i Yazd" that Iran might as well eliminate the intermediaries and negotiate directly with the U.S. He explained that both the Europeans and the Russian appear to be acting in line with U.S. desires, and furthermore, they are taking advantage of the lack of alternatives to improve their negotiating position. He said such talks would be feasible if the U.S. accepts the principle of Iran using nuclear technology peacefully, but added that the U.S. seems to take a completely politicized stance on all issues.
Urumiyeh legislator Javad Jahangirzadeh told "Aftab-i Yazd" that Iran has already made clear the circumstance under which it will talk to the U.S., but it is unrealistic to expect the U.S. to change its behavior. Jahangirzadeh said he does not foresee a rift between Washington and the Europeans, and the involvement of Moscow and Peking has not helped.
Isfahan representative Hassan Kamran was less enthusiastic about talks with the U.S., telling "Aftab-i Yazd" that those who suggest this should submit their resignations. (Bill Samii)
U.S.-IRAN POLICY ENTERS DELICATE PHASE AS IAEA MEETING LOOMS. The Board of Governors of the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency, or IAEA, will meet in Vienna on 6 March and could decide whether to report Iran to the Security Council for possible sanctions for resuming its suspected nuclear weapons program. Britain, France and Germany -- known as the EU-3 -- have been negotiating with Iran for more than a year in hopes of persuading it to end the program. The United States, meanwhile, is playing a secondary role in the talks, but at the same time, U.S. President George W. Bush says he has not ruled out the possible use of military force to confront Iran's suspected nuclear ambitions.
To Joseph Cirincione, there is -- or at least should be -- a single, path in dealing with Iran's nuclear program: go through the United Nations.
It appears that the EU-3 and the United States have begun following that path, according to Cirincione, the director of the Nonproliferation Project at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a Washington policy research center.
Cirincione tells RFE/RL that there are three steps in how the UN may act. The first is to wait at least a month after the IAEA's 4 February decision before the Security Council takes any action at all. Cirincione says he doesn't expect such action before mid-March.
At this point, Cirincione says, the Security Council probably will simply repeat the IAEA's statement that Iran should end all uranium enrichment. He says if Iran ignores that, the pressure on Tehran will increase.
Finally, Cirincione says, the Council might impose what he called "targeted sanctions aimed at the Iranian leadership." He says they would include banning some travel and restricting access to some international bank accounts.
But Cirincione says imposing even such mild sanctions would have to be considered very carefully because of the close political and economic ties that Iran has with Russia and China -- two Security Council members with veto power over any council resolution: "That step is going to be the most controversial. That's why everybody [the United States and the EU-3] wants to proceed slowly to make sure that the Security Council stays united on this, and that Russia and China are comfortable with each step being taken."
One possibility that Cirincione rejects is military action, despite the U.S. insistence that such an option remains viable: "There is no good military option here. While it's possible to just blow up something in Iran, this would have almost no support by [from] any other country in the world with the possible exception of Israel, and would provoke a huge backlash in the Muslim world, rally the Iranian public around what is otherwise an unpopular government, and jeopardize the already fragile U.S. position in Iraq. The U.S. really has no choice but to go with the kind of patient diplomacy that they've sketched out over the past few months and that has a chance of working."
But another weapons expert disagrees. He is David Albright, who served as a weapons inspector in Iraq during the 1990s and now is the president of the Institute for Science and International Security, another Washington think tank.
Albright tells RFE/RL that he believes the United States is seriously considering military action, even though he agrees with Cirincione that any attack on Iran would be politically and diplomatically disastrous for the Bush administration.
Meanwhile, Albright says, the EU-3 don't want that kind of help from the United States, but instead something more positive. He says the Europeans believe a military strike would only be a replay of the Iraq war: "There's a general expectation that's growing [among the EU-3 governments] that the U.S. needs to put on the table what it is Iran needs to do so that the military option is not on the table. And some in the administration say, 'No, no, the military option's on the table until this regime disappears, and we have democracy.' Which is essentially what they did in Iraq. [The Americans argued that] whatever happened didn't matter because Saddam was still in power."
Albright contrasts the negotiations with Iran with the six-party talks on North Korea's suspected nuclear weapons program, which have yielded some progress. Besides the two Koreas, these talks include China, Japan, Russia, and the United States.
Albright points out that in the Korea negotiations, the Bush administration had a clear policy strategy. With Iran, however, he says, it appears Washington has no real strategy yet, and that could lead to the exact opposite of what the United States and the EU-3 want: "If you're going into a crisis, I mean, there are key questions, [such as] under what conditions would Iran be offered a security guarantee? Bush offered it to North Korea, under certain conditions. What are they for Iran, except 'regime change'? But that's not a policy. Iran looks at that and says, 'Boy, we'd better get nuclear weapons.'"
There has been some question about how the IAEA may present its case against Iran to the UN. On 4 February the agency chose to "report" Iran to the Security Council. Some have suggested it may strengthen the complaint by "referring" Iran to the Council.
Both Cirincione and Albright say there is no practical difference between the two terms. But Albright notes that the Russian government -- which recently has been negotiating a possible uranium-enrichment deal with Tehran -- seems to see a distinction.
Albright says the Russians may see a "referral" as having more legal weight than mere "reporting." He says "referral" might be perceived as giving the Security Council more authority to take harsher measures against Iran, including authorizing military action. But he says such UN authorization is highly unlikely under the current circumstances.
Both Albright and Cirincione agree that whatever the fine distinctions, if the IAEA were to take action, it would be to "report" Iran to the Security Council, thus forestalling complaints from Russia. (Andrew Tully)
RUSSIA-IRAN NUCLEAR TALKS FAIL TO YIELD RESULTS. Russian Atomic Energy Agency chief Sergei Kiriyenko arrived in Iran on 24 February to discuss Moscow's proposal that Iranian uranium for use in Iran be enriched on Russian soil, and when he left two days later no progress appeared to have been made. In the interim, however, Iranian officials feigned interest in the Russian proposal, with Deputy Foreign Minister Mahdi Mostafavi saying on 24 February that the proposal is close to being completed, Mehr News Agency reported.
After meeting with Iranian Atomic Energy Agency Organization chief Gholamreza Aqazadeh-Khoi on 25 January, Kiriyenko said, "No progress has been made on our offer to transfer Iran's uranium enrichment to Russia but negotiations are continuing," the Iranian Labor News Agency (ILNA) reported.
Kiriyenko told a 26 February news conference in Bushehr that the two sides agreed to continue their nuclear talks in Moscow in the coming days, Interfax reported. According to a 26 February report on the website of the British daily "The Independent," however, Iran has effectively scuppered the deal by putting a precondition that probably calls for enrichment on Iranian soil.
Sergei Kiriyenko said on 27 February after returning to Moscow from Iran that the central issues regarding the Iranian nuclear program have yet to be clarified, the "Financial Times" reported. He noted that "a lot of work still needs to be done, and we have agreed that the talks will continue in Moscow in the very near future," international media reported. He added that "the talks are not simple, they are complicated, but I would like to repeat that I am confident that a diplomatic solution is possible." The London-based daily quoted unnamed European diplomats as saying that any agreement that Kiriyenko might have reached with his hosts is likely to be technical or minor in nature. The paper added that the question of Iran's demand to enrich uranium on its own territory remains unresolved.
Regardless of the outcome of negotiations in Moscow, Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki said in Tokyo on 28 February, Iran will not stop its current uranium-enrichment activities, Kyodo World Service reported. Moreover, he said, Iran intends to commence full-scale enrichment activities eventually. In the short term, he continued, Iran could settle on a compromise that might result in the enrichment of Iranian uranium on Russian territory. The country's "final target," he said, is uranium enrichment in Iran. Mottaki said the Russian deal must be specific about where and how long it will take. The suggestion that Iran suspend enrichment activities for 10 years is "too long," he said. Mottaki insisted in a speech to Iranians living in Japan that Iranians see enrichment as a right, IRNA reported, and that the country's officials will not compromise on this issue.
The secretary of the Supreme National Security Council, Ali Larijani, his deputy Ali Husseinitash, and Atomic Energy Organization head Aqazadeh-Khoi arrived in Moscow on 1 March.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Kislyak said later that day that the five hours of nuclear discussions with the visiting Iranian officials were "constructive and earnest," but some issues await resolution, Interfax reported. Larijani said the discussions will continue and emphasized that Iran will not forgo enriching uranium on its own territory, even if it does agree to the proposal that it use uranium enriched in Russia. "I want to say that the enrichment process is the sovereign right of any state," he said. "States with a peaceful nuclear program must not be deprived of this right."
Larijani said in Moscow on March 2 that the United States wants to block a possible Russian-Iranian deal on uranium enrichment, international news agencies reported. He argued that U.S. insistence on referring Iran to the UN Security Council for possible punitive sanctions is hindering an agreement.
The latest round of talks between Iran and Russia on a proposal to enrich Iran's uranium on Russian soil ended earlier that day without any visible breakthrough. There was no date given for the next round. (Bill Samii, Patrick Moore)
NUCLEAR TALKS IN VIENNA UNPRODUCTIVE. Ali Larijani, secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, and foreign ministers and top diplomats from France, Germany, and the United Kingdom met in Vienna on 3 March to discuss the escalating crisis over the country's nuclear program, news agencies reported. The meeting comes at the Iranians' request, AFP reported on 2 March, with Larijani saying that he wants to meet with the Europeans ahead of the 6 March International Atomic Energy Agency meeting.
The meeting failed to achieve anything after two hours of talks, Reuters reported. The European officials and EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana said the Iranians did not offer any new ideas, adding that the European side repeated its position that Iran stop uranium enrichment and related activities. The Europeans were not completely dismissive, however. The British Foreign Office's John Sawers told Reuters, "We heard a new tone. It was more constructive. But there wasn't the essential move of substance we were looking for."
Larijani and an Iranian team were in Moscow on 1 and 2 March to discuss a Russian proposal that might have resolved the impasse over uranium enrichment. The Gazeta.ru website reported on 2 March that the Moscow talks "ended in failure." Iranian state radio reported on 2 March that the Moscow talks failed because Moscow's "insistence" on reiterating the Western stance. "During the talks, the Russians were strongly under the influence of the American policy," state radio reported. This alleged attachment to U.S. policy, the radio report concluded, undermines Russian policy in the Middle East and no country will take Russia seriously in the future. (Bill Samii)
MOSCOW EAGER TO SEE BUSHEHR NUCLEAR-PLANT COMPLETION. Russian Atomic Energy Agency chief Kiriyenko said on 25 February that his country is keen to see the Bushehr nuclear power plant completed as soon as possible, ITAR-TASS reported, and he sees no political factors blocking this objective. Kiriyenko and his Iranian counterpart Aqazadeh visited the Bushehr facility on 26 February, ITAR-TASS reported. An anonymous source told the Russian news agency that although Russia is eager to finish the project this year, as planned, there are technical difficulties. He cited wiring as an example, saying 2,000 kilometers of it needs to be laid, but only 200 kilometers can be laid each month and they only started in January. The Russian added that safety will not be ignored in order to hurry completion. Aqazadeh said at a press conference in Bushehr that documents for the construction of two new 1,000-megawatt power plants will be ready in one month, Islamic Republic of Iran News Network reported. These will be built in Bushehr, too, he said. (Bill Samii)
CONSENSUS THAT RUSSIA AND THE WEST ARE NOT IRAN'S FRIENDS. In responding to Western allegations that Iran may be seeking nuclear weapons, Iranian politicians have revealed their mostly negative perspectives of the West. Qualities they most frequently associate with liberal democracies are falsehood, double standards, and a colonial instinct or desire to dominate. Their disenchantment has come to include Russia, often seen as a more benign international partner, but which has recently moved closer to Western positions on Iran's nuclear dossier. This distrust suggests that continued negotiations on the nuclear issue could be a pointless process, at worst or, at best, suggests that a negotiated solution will require a very delicate diplomatic touch.
Officials often tell Western states not to talk down to Iran or make threats. President Mahmud Ahmadinejad -- speaking in Bushehr, Iran on 1 February � said the Western "discourse belongs to the Middle Ages," the Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA) reported, referring to an age of hierarchies.
Iran insists its nuclear dossier is a matter of international "law," technicalities, and "rights." It sees persistent Western suspicions as motivated by hostility and opposition to the progress of developing states. That hostility is clear to officials who claim intermittently that fear of defeat is the only reason the West has not attacked Iran. Army chief Ataollah Salehi said in Bushehr on 17 February that if the enemy "thought it might defeat us," it would have initiated an attack in the Persian Gulf, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported.
Western states "do not want Iran to be independent," Prosecutor-General Qorban-Ali Dori-Najafabadi said on 3 February, and they are "taking vindictive decisions against us," ISNA reported. Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, a leading conservative cleric, told a Tehran congregation on 17 February that Western threats and even violence could not deter Iran's bid to have nuclear energy.
He accused the West of backing Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein in his war against Iran in the 1980s, saying the war "ended to our advantage and you were disgraced, and everyone in the world found out how criminal you are." What "world is this," he asked, when "they tell us you cannot do research?"
Legislator Jalal Yahyazadeh said on 12 February that "the states pressuring us today are trying to form a nuclear OPEC" -- a cartel controlling fuel supplies -- ILNA reported. They want "the right to access energy only for themselves, so that when fossil fuels are finished they can attain their colonial aims." Nonaligned members of the International Atomic Energy Agency's (IAEA) board of governors that voted on 4 February to report Iran's dossier to the UN Security Council "should know," he said, that Western states "will one day turn on them."
Singling Out Straw
Great Britain is a prominent villain in the historical imagination of Iranians and a symbol of foreign treachery. Legislator Heshmatollah Falahat-Pisheh said on 12 February that the history of recent Iran-EU talks shows that British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw has taken the "most divergent positions...and actually every time he has adopted a moderate stance, we have seen harsh and aggressive conduct," ILNA reported. Straw's conduct, he said, should "not cause any optimism in our foreign policy." Iran gave up talking to the EU when it realized it was just killing time, he said.
Deceit and falsehood recur as perceived Western traits. Legislator Alaedin Borujerdi said on television on 3 February that the West has stirred up such a "scandal" over Iran's program as to lead "our friends" to suspect Iran really does intend to make nuclear bombs.
Conservative politician Hamid Reza Taraqi said on 17 February that clearly the best foreign policy for Iran is to rely on itself, not on Eastern or Western states, as "it has been proven that neither can be relied on or trusted.... One should pay greater attention to states that have proven their true independence [against] global arrogance and imperialist policies," Mehr reported.
Little Confidence In Russia
More recently, there has been a growing skepticism toward Russia, a state more frequently immune to insults by Iran's nomenklatura. Russia has had generally good relations with postrevolutionary Iran. This may be for a persistent left-wing or radical streak in Iran's polity, born as it was of a mass revolution, and which is perceptible in the cordial relations it enjoys with such other states as China, North Korea, Cuba, and, most recently, Venezuela. But the skeptical remarks indicate a growing acceptance that essential interests -- not values or loyalties -- move interstate relations. This is increasingly clear to Iranians after negative votes at the IAEA, which Russia has joined or not opposed.
Lawmaker Mohammad Reza Mirtajedini said on 14 February that Russia "only follows its interests," as shown by its vote to report Iran to the Security Council, Mehr reported. Its proposal for joint Iran-Russian uranium enrichment in Russia, as a safeguard measure, "is not sincere," legislator Javad Sadunzadeh told Mehr on 17 February. Heshmatollah Falahat-Pisheh said on 18 February that the Russians "know better than anyone" that Iran's program is "clean" but are trying "by mediation to gain concessions and consolidate their own position," Mehr reported. "Russia does not have the necessary goodwill and authority, and one should not rely strategically on [its] proposal," he said. Legislator Javad Jahangirzadeh observed the same day that Iranians' historical memory of Russia is "full" of bitterness, Mehr reported. Its enrichment proposal, he said, is "more disgraceful than the Turkmenchai and Gulistan" treaties that forced Persia to cede Russia its Caucasus territories in the early 19th century.
The proposal violates Iran's sovereignty, legislator Javad Jahangirzadeh said on 19 February. "The age of humiliating collaboration with old colonial powers is over...Asia is implementing America's views with its own hand," he told ILNA. Reformist deputy Nureddin Pirmoazen told ISNA the same day that the Russians have a "dual role" and "a thousand faces to serve their own interests." History "has shown the Russians cannot be trusted," he said.
Reformists Advocate Wit
Reformist politicians on the sidelines of power agree that Iran has nuclear rights, but say these are better served with wit and diligence, not provocation. Former President Mohammad Khatami said on 15 February that Western states are "undoubtedly" unfair, "because there are three nuclear powers in the region and Israel has nuclear bombs, but they are pressuring Iran. This discrimination...is...generally the result of American pressure."
But he urged Iran to use "good sense" here. Former legislator Mohammad Kianush-Rad told ISNA on 15 February that "radical" positions, presumably by Iranian statesmen, are fuelling "tensions and spreading distrust" toward Iran. Liberal former minister Ezzatollah Sahabi urged "patience" and "confidence-building" in negotiations on 15 February, ISNA reported, while former parliamentary speaker Mehdi Karrubi told ISNA on 12 February that "we must...defend our rights...by remaining respectful to others."
There is an uneasy mixture of realism and idealism in the discourse of Iranian officialdom. In contrast to alleged Western double-talk, Iran invokes the truth, the law, science, progress, and justice when speaking of its nuclear program. And yet it is obliged to sit and talk to states it believes have no morals or principles. It may be that to resolve such discrepancies, the Islamic Republic has practically enshrined the idea of "expediency:" a short-term compromise -- an apparent bending of principles -- to serve higher, immutable ideals. A sense of expediency is the realism of a state its partisans believe is working God's purpose on earth. This outlook is illustrated in reported remarks by a former conservative deputy foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Larijani, who said a few years back that Iranian negotiators would, if state interests demand it, go to the depths of hell to negotiate with the devil.
So as the state speaks of absolutes and of "red lines" over enrichment, its negotiators may -- now and in coming months -- expect to reach an acceptable compromise not unlike the half-way price Iranians agree to pay after haggling in a market. (Vahid Sepehri)
TEHRAN ASSESSES IAEA REPORT POSITIVELY. An anonymous member of Iran's nuclear negotiating team said on 27 February that Tehran expects a positive report from International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director-General Muhammad el-Baradei, IRNA reported.
The IAEA report says that Tehran has been less than cooperative and that the agency is not ready to conclude that undeclared nuclear activities are not taking place in Iran. "It is regrettable and a matter of concern that the...uncertainties related to the scope and nature of Iran's nuclear program have not been clarified after three years of intensive agency verifications." The report also says that Iran plans to build 3,000 centrifuges and is setting up "process tanks and an autoclave" to feed gas into the centrifuges, a process that would enable Iran to go beyond small-scale uranium enrichment. The report said Iran plans to start installing the centrifuges in the last three months of 2006. The report calls for Iran to resume its suspension of enrichment and reprocessing activities, to halt plans to build a heavy-water reactor, and to immediately ratify the Additional Protocol of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, which is intended to strengthen safeguards against the development of nuclear weapons.
Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki said on 28 February in Tokyo that the IAEA report emphasizes the peaceful nature of Iran's nuclear program, AFP reported. About half the report, Mottaki continued, calls for Iranian assurances that the peaceful nature of the program will not change.
Hojatoleslam Hassan Rohani, the supreme leader's representative at the Supreme National Security Council, said at a March 1 meeting of clerics in Yazd that Iran is facing pressure over the nuclear issue because the international community wants to hinder the country's development and independence, ISNA reported. "The pressures forced on us are all because the enemies fear the region and Islam," he said. "Our sin is that we confess that God has created us intelligent and that we want to stand on our own feet." Rohani said Iran has cooperated with inspectors from the IAEA, answering all their questions and making all facilities accessible.
Contrary to Rohani's assertion, the February 27 IAEA report on Iran suggests Iran's cooperation has been underwhelming. It concludes by saying that even after "three years of intensive agency verification," uncertainties about the nature and scope of the nuclear program remain. Elsewhere in the report there are references to the quest for further clarification on topics, as well as instances where Iran "declined to provide" information, declined to make people available, and "declined to discuss" some subjects. (Bill Samii)
MORE BOMBINGS IN SOUTHWESTERN IRAN. A series of bombs struck the southwestern province of Khuzestan on 27 February, Iranian news agencies reported. IRNA reported two bombings, in Abadan and Dezful. In both cases, the bombs were placed in the restrooms of government offices. Fars News Agency reported a third, in Molashieh, near the city of Ahvaz. There are conflicting reports on casualties. Abadan parliamentarian Abdullah Kabi said that the incident in Abadan injured one person, ISNA reported. IRNA reported that four people were wounded in the attacks. However, IRNA also quoted Interior Minister Hojatoleslam Mustafa Purmohammadi as saying on 27 February that the blasts did not cause any casualties.
Purmohammadi said the bombers were connected with the persons behind deadly bombings in Ahvaz in January, and he cited claims by the Ministry of Intelligence and Security that foreign governments were linked to those bombings. Abadan legislator Kabi said the United States and Britain are involved, ISNA reported. There have been a number of violent incidents in the province since spring 2005. According to the British Ahwazi Friendship Society, local prisons are "overflowing" due to a crackdown on local opposition activists and tribal leaders.
Minister of Intelligence and Security Hojatoleslam Gholam-Hussein Mohseni-Ejei announced on 1 March that more than 10 people have been arrested in the last week in connection with bomb explosions in Ahvaz, IRNA and state television reported. Mohseni-Ejei added that Iran's foreign enemies hired the bombers, and seized documents indicate that they received logistical support from abroad. (Bill Samii)
SOUTHWEST IRAN BOMBERS DEATH EXECUTED. Two men, Ali Afravi and Mehdi Navaseri, were executed in the southwestern city of Ahvaz on the morning of March 2 for their involvement in fatal October bombings there, Fars News Agency reported. Khuzestan Province Deputy Governor-General Mohsen Farokhinejad said on March 1 that the executions are to be carried out in public in the same place -- Salman Farsi Avenue -- where their bombs went off, provincial television reported. Farokhinejad added that the other five people involved with the bombings will be imprisoned.
Khuzestan television also reported on March 1 that "a documentary film showing parts of [the bombers'] confessions" will be broadcast that evening. That 30-minute program showed nine men confessing, saying they were in touch with Iranians in Canada and Britain who instructed them to create insecurity. One of the bombers, Awdah Afravi, said he was told that a man like Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi, the leader of Al-Qaeda in Iraq, was being sought, but he did not know who that is.
Ahvaz governor-general Amir Hayat Moqaddam ANNOUNCED said on 28 February that two people involved in recent bombings in the city will be executed in the next few days, Fars News Agency reported. Judiciary official Hojatoleslam Raisi announced the same day that the Supreme Court has confirmed the bombers will be hanged, ISNA reported. Mehran Rafii, a provincial public affairs official, said on 20 February that state television will show all seven bombers by the end of the week, Mehr News Agency reported, but that has yet to happen. The Ahvaz public prosecutor, Iraj Amirkhani, said investigations into bombings carried out in the city in June and October 2005 are continuing, ISNA reported on 28 February. (Bill Samii)
TRAVEL BAN FOR IRANIAN KURDISH ACTIVISTS. A Revolutionary Court in the northwestern Iranian city of Sanandaj has imposed travel bans on three Kurdish activists, Radio Farda reported on 28 February. The three are the journalist Jalal Qavami and two civil rights activists, Said Saedi and Roya Tolui. The authorities had previously held Qavami for 65 days for his alleged involvement in unrest in July 2005 that followed the shooting by security forces of a young Kurd named Shavaneh Qaderi ("RFE/RL Iran Report," 23 August 2005). Qavami's attorney, Nemat Ahmadi, told Radio Farda that he objects to the travel ban. (Bill Samii)
LEGISLATORS DISPUTE NEED FOR CRISIS BUDGET. Soon after President Mahmud Ahmadinejad submitted his budget in mid-January for the coming year (21 March 2006-20 March 2007), some Iranian legislators called for the creation of a "shadow budget" that could be used if international concern over the nuclear issue and referral to the UN Security Council led to the imposition of economic sanctions. The Plan and Budget Organization has started to draw up a "shadow budget," "Etemad" reported on 25 February, but not all legislators cited in the newspaper believe it is necessary. They said the modifications already made to the draft budget are sufficient, and they added that the budget's excessive reliance on oil revenues is a bigger concern. Reformist legislator Iraj Nadimi said talk about a shadow budget reflects the executive branch's serious preparation for an economic crisis. Another parliamentarian, Adel Azar, warned that creating a shadow budget would have a psychological impact and could create the impression of a crisis.
The legislators began debating the budget on 1 March, and they approved its general outlines on 2 March, IRNA reported. 161 legislators voted in favor, 31 voted against, and seven abstained. The amount of spending in this budget surpasses the amount in the previous year's, "Sharq" reported on 2 March, because the priority is to get money to the public and to create jobs. The administration's priority, the article continued, is that the masses and its allies must be contented and satisfied. The article went on to warn that the budget will fail to satisfy people and will actually contribute to inflation and worsen the current situation. (Bill Samii)
FEMALE SOCCER FANS FRUSTRATED. Iran beat Costa Rica 3-2 in a 1 March soccer match, but a group of ticket-holding female fans did not get to see the game, Radio Farda reported. One of the young ladies told Radio Farda that a Tehran Province official told the women that they would be transported to the match on special buses. Indeed, the official swore to God and the Prophet that they would be taken there. But when the bus got underway, she continued, it took them to another part of the city. The game was over by the time the women made their way to the stadium. One of the women told Radio Farda that they now realize that they are second class citizens in Iran. Adnkronos International reported (www.adnki.com) reported that security forces prevented the women who had gotten there earlier from entering the grounds. (Bill Samii)
SUSPECTED JIHADIST SAYS HE RECEIVED SUPPORT IN IRAN FOR HIS BID TO ENTER AFGHANISTAN. A Moroccan national identified only by the initials "B.A." has reportedly told Moroccan investigators that he received funds from Iranian officials for his attempt to cross into Afghanistan, the Casablanca daily "Al-Sabah" reported on 27 February. B.A., who is suspected of having links with a Moroccan organization called Al-Tawhid wa'l Jihad, was deported from Syria to Morocco where he is awaiting trial on criminal and terrorism charges. B.A. has said that after the September 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States he traveled to Iran in order to cross into Afghanistan, where he had hoped to join Al-Qaeda terrorists. However, in compliance with an order by Osama bin Laden that foreign fighters should return to their home countries, he tried to go back to Morocco through Syria, where he was arrested and deported to Morocco. B.A. claims that during his stay in Iran he received $1,000 from Iranian officials managing a guest house in Mashhad for volunteers intending to cross into Afghanistan. (Amin Tarzi)
IRAN CHOOSES DATE FOR INTIFADA CONFERENCE. Hojatoleslam Ali-Akbar Mohtashami-Pur, secretary-general of the International Conference to Support the Palestinian Uprising (Intifada) series, confirmed on 27 February that the next conference will be held on 14-16 April, Mehr News Agency reported. Tehran hosted the conference in 2001 and 2002. He also said, according to IRNA, that Iran will provide financial support for the Palestinian Authority. The United States and Israel have asserted, since Hamas won the Palestinian parliamentary elections in late January, that they will not fund a Hamas-led government until the organization renounces the use of violence and recognizes Israel's right to exist. (Bill Samii)
ISRAEL TO BLOCK IRANIAN FUNDING FOR PALESTINIANS. An unnamed Israeli "senior diplomatic official" said Israel will block the Iranian provision of money to a Hamas-led Palestinian Authority, "The Jerusalem Post" reported on March 1. The day before, Hamas political bureau chief Khalid Mish'al was quoted by the London-based Arabic daily "Dar al-Hiyat" as saying that Iran has agreed to provide the Palestinian Authority with $250 million. Another Hamas official, Musa Abu Marzuk, denied this, saying Iran promised "to support the Palestinian people in general, without specifying the kind or amount of support," "The Jerusalem Post" reported on February 28. Hamas spokesman Sami Abu-Zuhri confirmed on February 28 that Iran will provide financial assistance, Jiji Web news Service reported, although he would not confirm Mish'al's claim. Mish'al reportedly secured a pledge of financial assistance to the Palestinian Authority during his February 22 visit to Tehran ("RFE/RL Newsline," February 23, 2006). The United States and Israel have made clear, since the Hamas election victory in late January, that they will not fund a Hamas-led government until the organization renounces the use of violence and recognizes Israel's right to exist. (Bill Samii)
GEORGIAN PRESIDENT DENIES PRICE FOR IRANIAN GAS WAS EXORBITANT. Mikheil Saakashvili has denied in an interview with Ekho Moskvy that Georgia paid $250 per 1,000 cubic meters for the gas it imported from Iran in late January while gas supplies from Russia were temporarily disrupted after the main Russia-Georgia gas pipeline was blown up, Caucasus Press reported on 28 February. Georgian Energy Minister Nika Gilauri and Economic Development Minister Irakli Chogovadze both declined on 1 February to specify the exact price paid for the Iranian gas; they and other government ministers ignored a subsequent request from parliament to clarify the issue, "Akhali taoba" reported on 17 February. Saakashvili said in his Russian radio interview that the price was lower than the $110 Tbilisi previously paid for Russian gas. (Liz Fuller)