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Iran Report: May 26, 2006

26 May 2006, Volume 9, Number 18

OFFICIALS REMAIN FIRM ON IRAN'S ENRICHMENT RIGHTS... Judging by the statements of Iranian officials -- from the president and foreign minister, to legislators, spokesmen and diplomats -- Iran is determined to develop its ability to make nuclear fuel, and will not trade what it says are its rights for EU incentives to persuade Tehran to curb sensitive nuclear activities. Western states are concerned Iran may misuse fuel-making knowledge to make nuclear bombs.

President Mahmud Ahmadinejad said on state television on May 14 that any Western proposals requiring an end to "peaceful activities" by Iran would be worthless and "not valid," Reuters reported. "We want nothing more than our legal right," he said in Arak, central Iran, on May 17, ILNA reported. "We shall not accept any suspension or halt" to enrichment and related activities, he added. Iran, he said, is no "four-year-old child," to give up "gold" for "a few nuts and a chocolate." In Indonesia on May 10, he called Western doubts on the peaceful nature of Iran's program "a big lie," and said Western states merely wish to monopolize the market for nuclear technology, AP reported. He told students in Jakarta on May 11 that Western states don "the mask of concern" over Iran's program when they have "arsenals full of nuclear and germ weaponry," ISNA reported. How could they "oppose nuclear weapons when they build them?" he asked. Likewise, if nuclear power is a "good thing," he said in Arak on May 17, then "legally it is for everyone."

Ahmadinejad's defiant words included admonishment to Western states. Speaking in Arak on May 17, He urged them not to discredit the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) -- the UN nuclear inspectorate -- and the Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), with their conduct, and thus deter states from joining the treaty, ILNA reported. In the central Iranian city of Ashtian on May 18, he urged Western states to "open their eyes and see realities," ISNA reported. He said the same day in nearby Zarandieh that those grieved by the progress of other states "suffer from some mental illness, and must...heal themselves," ISNA reported. He denounced the materialism of Western leaders who, he said, have forgotten God and lost their way: he urged them to return to monotheism and "the path of the prophets," ISNA reported.

Other officials echoed the president. On May 15, Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki told European envoys in Tehran that Iran would reject demands for "a suspension or halt" to enrichment-related work, ISNA reported. He said Iran's advances were an "irreversible" reality, and the EU must make proposals based on "realities," ISNA reported.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi said in Tehran on May 14 that Iran's rights are "entirely clear" within the NPT "and consist of having peaceful nuclear technology in all its aspects," the daily "Aftab-i Yazd" reported the next day. He urged "negotiations and negotiations" as the solution to the impasse, and "if the other side thinks it can attain results with pressures and threats, it is mistaken." The best incentives for Iran, he said on May 16, were the "implementation without discrimination" of NPT provisions, Fars reported.

Heshmatollah Falahatpisheh, a legislator and member of the National Security and Foreign Policy Committee of parliament, said after a visit to the Natanz nuclear plant on May 15 that "nuclear research in Iran cannot be suspended with any deal, treaty, or protocol," he said. (Vahid Sepehri)

...AS EU STATES CONSIDER INCENTIVES FOR IRAN. In spite of such statements, EU states have been discussing a package of incentives to persuade Iran to abandon fuel-making activities. These may include the provision of a light-water nuclear reactor -- suited to electricity production but less to bomb-making activities -- Reuters reported on May 16, citing unnamed diplomats in Berlin. IAEA Director-General Muhammad el-Baradei welcomed on May 11 the decision to choose incentives over punitive measures, and was hoping for an end to the "war of words," agencies reported. His optimism must have taken a battering from Iranian statements the following days. Representatives of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany were to meet in London on May 19 to present the package, but the meeting was postponed to May 23, if not later, AP reported on May 17, citing unnamed diplomats.

Separately, four IAEA inspectors were to visit Iran on May 19 to inspect the uranium-conversion facility in Isfahan in central Iran "and another installation," Fars News Agency reported on May 16, quoting an "informed" source. The source said the inspectors would stay a week for a routine inspection under NPT regulations. Iran's top nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, met with el-Baradei in Vienna on May 19 and reportedly assured him Iran would continue cooperating with IAEA inspectors in line with standard NPT provisions, AFP reported. (Vahid Sepehri)

OIL, WESTERN DISAGREEMENTS HELPING IRAN - ANALYST. John Calabrese, an analyst at Washington's Middle East Institute, told RFE/RL's Radio Farda on May 10 that Iran's considerable oil revenues and international fears that oil prices could rise further if the UN imposes sanctions on Iran are helping Iran in the current diplomatic crisis.

Fragile relations between the United States and Russia have also helped Iran conclude that this is a good time to push its positions over the dossier, Calabrese said. This supposed confidence was evident in an undated but recent meeting between Iranian parliamentarians and a senior nuclear dossier official, Ali Hosseini-Tash. He told the parliamentary National Security and Foreign Policy Committee that Iran is not in as grave a situation as "America states," ILNA reported on May 8, citing a legislator at the meeting, Heshmatollah Falahatpisheh.

Iranian government spokesman Gholam-Hussein Elham said in Tehran on May 8 that Iran would not be the only state to suffer if it is subjected to sanctions for violating nuclear nonproliferation rules, ISNA reported. "One cannot imagine" that sanctions would "be entirely harmful to us and others will not be harmed," he said. He said sanctions might even boost "domestic production" and help the economy. "We are already under sanctions...what could be added to these sanctions?" he asked. On May 16, Iranian Central Bank Governor Ibrahim Sheibani said on the sidelines of a Tehran seminar that if there are sanctions, Iran would have no problems "in financial terms and with foreign exchange," ISNA reported.

On May 8, legislator Ali Zadsar urged Iran's economic ministers to curtail trade ties or even end "large contracts" with Russia, China, and France if they cooperate with the United States on Iran's dossier, ISNA reported. He said these states make "very great profits" from the "blessing" of commercial transactions with Iran. (Vahid Sepehri)

NUCLEAR OFFICIALS IN MOSCOW FOR TALKS. Two deputy-heads of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization, Mohammad Saidi and Mahmud Jannatian, went to Moscow on May 10 for talks with Russia's Atomic Energy Agency head Sergei Kiriyenko, the daily "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on May 11.

Saidi told ISNA in Moscow on May 11 that he discussed the accelerated completion of the Bushehr nuclear plant, and suggested round-the-clock work to make up for construction delays. He said the plant is "92 percent" complete and if Russian and Iranian contractors collaborate on making certain "parts," it could "become operational in the minimum time."

He said he conveyed Iran's dissatisfaction with Russian delays in sending fuel for the reactor, which he said Russia is contractually obligated to do. He told ISNA he hoped this would be done "at the first opportunity," but there is no "precise time yet for when fuel will be sent." A joint team was to examine technical aspects of construction in the following 20 days, and inform Iranian and Russian authorities of a timetable for the plant's completion, Saidi said. He told Mehr agency on May 10 that Russia is interested in building two 1,000-megawatt nuclear plants for Iran, for which Iran is preparing relevant tender documents to be released in the coming months. (Vahid Sepehri)

IRAN REJECTS EU-GCC STATEMENT. Foreign Ministry spokesman Assefi rejected on May 17 a closing statement issued in Brussels by a joint EU-GCC ministerial meeting expressing concern over the environmental impact of the Bushehr plant being built on Iran's Persian Gulf coast, and calling on Iran to respect all IAEA resolutions, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on May 18, citing "Al-Khaleej" and the Iranian Foreign Ministry's press office.

GCC ministers also discussed the United Arab Emirates' (U.A.E.) ongoing dispute over three Persian Gulf islands held by Iran, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported. Assefi said Iran's nuclear program is "transparent," peaceful, and regulated by the NPT. He said public opinion expects such meetings to highlight the "danger posed" by Israel and "the accumulation of that regime's nuclear weapons." The islands -- Abu Musa and the Greater and Lesser Tunbs -- are indisputably Iranian, he declared, and past contacts with the U.A.E. have merely sought to clear up "misunderstandings" about Abu Musa. He said Iran believes interference by "third parties" and the "repetitive terms" used in "such statements" do not convey "goodwill" and will not help resolve this "misunderstanding," "Aftab-i Yazd" reported.

Oman's foreign minister was to visit Iran "in the next few days" on behalf of the GCC to discuss a peaceful resolution of Iran's nuclear dossier, Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal told Reuters in Washington on May 17. (Vahid Sepehri)

PRESIDENT DENOUNCES ISRAEL AGAIN. President Ahmadinejad told students in Jakarta, Indonesia, on May 11 that if Western states do not believe Iranian statements "on Israel, when we say it will soon disappear, they should stop supporting it and see what happens," ISNA news agency reported the same day. He said Israel was "created on the basis of threats" and would "be destroyed if Westerners did not support it." To hide Israel's inherent "weakness," he said, Western states "have started a psychological war and are accusing us of violence." Ahmadinejad said Western powers created Israel firstly "to get Jews away from Europe.... They forced many Jews to emigrate through anti-Semitism, especially in Great Britain." Secondly, he said, they sought a "permanent threat" and a "stick" to wield against Middle Eastern states. If the West believes in its democratic ideals, he said, "let them hand Palestine over to [Palestinians], and allow [its] Muslims, Jews, and Christians to determine their country's fate," ISNA reported.

IRANIAN POLITICIANS REACT TO LETTER TO BUSH. Iranian politicians reacted to a letter from President Ahmadinejad to U.S. President George W. Bush, with most praise coming from the president's conservative sympathizers. The letter was apparently given on May 8 to the Swiss Embassy in Tehran, which handles U.S. interests.

Several legislators welcomed the "initiative" of writing the letter. Javad Jahangirzadeh told "Aftab-i Yazd" daily on May 9 that it could be "positive" should it reduce U.S. "confrontation with Iran." Mahmud Mohammadi told the semi-official Mehr agency on May 9 that the letter was a "good initiative" sent at the wrong time. "The best time for this was when the president attended the UN General Assembly," he said (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," September 20, 2005). Bandar Abbas representative Shahriar Moshiri said Ahmadinejad should have consulted with parliament and the Expediency Council, a political arbitrating body, before writing. "If this letter has little effect, it will be because of the self-centred and stubborn approach they have taken," he said, referring to Ahmadinejad and his advisers. Ismail Gerami-Moqaddam of the minority reformist faction told ISNA on May 10 that the letter is mostly about the past, and makes no "specific request" regarding Iran's nuclear dossier. Former Foreign Ministry adviser Sabah Zanganeh told ILNA on May 9 that the letter showed Iran is an actor -- not just a "recipient of orders and opinions" -- in international affairs.

Parliamentary speaker Gholam Ali Haddad-Adel said in parliament on May 10 that the letter should not be seen as a move to renew ties with the U.S., severed in 1979, but showed the U.S. that Iranians are a cultured, peaceful, and religious nation, ISNA reported. Former President Mohammad Khatami said in Tehran on May 10 that such diplomatic initiatives should take state "interests and overall policies" into consideration, ISNA reported. "I am not really informed of the system's present strategy" for contacts with the United States, he said, but "the president must follow [Iran's] overall policies."

Unqualified praise came from senior conservative cleric Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, who said in a sermon on May 12 that the letter was exceptional and a "Divine inspiration." "Children should read it. It should be read in schools and universities and [state television] should repeatedly read it out," ISNA reported on May 16. "When was such a letter written either inside the country or abroad that could have amazed everyone quite like this?" His praise prompted skeptical reactions from some legislators, and a response by former parliamentary speaker and head of the reformist National Trust Party Mehdi Karrubi, who said such extravagant praise was unseemly for a Muslim theologian, and would discredit the Shi'a clergy and undermine people's religious faith, ISNA reported on May 16. No president since 1979 had been praised in this way, he said. (Vahid Sepehri)

...AND SOME URGE DIALOGUE. Ali Akbar Velayati, a former foreign minister and current foreign-policy adviser to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, told a seminar in Tehran on May 18 that this is a good time for Iran to "haggle" with the United States, because Iran enjoys a stronger regional position, with friendly forces in power or key positions in neighboring Iraq and Afghanistan, ISNA reported.

"We have at no time until now had such powerful means for haggling [nor] the influence we have now in Iraq and Palestine," he said. "Now that we have the power to haggle, why do we not haggle?" He said Iran's official policy on Iraq is "reconstruction," and Iraq's dismemberment does not serve Iranian interests. Separately, a liberal opposition group, the National Front, has issued a statement calling on Iran's government to engage in direct talks with the United States, RFE/RL's Radio Farda reported on May 18. Group member and statement signatory Davud Hermidas-Bavand told Radio Farda that Iran's national interests make this dialogue necessary. The United States, he said, has effectively thwarted Iranian interests abroad, and forced it to make costly concessions to certain states. VS

IRANIAN NAVY CHIEF DENOUNCES FOREIGN POWERS IN GULF. The head of Iran's regular navy, Sajjad Kuchaki, said on May 9 that "the Persian Gulf has today become the center of the presence of supraregional and occupying states because they believe energy consumers...must also control the energy supply route," ISNA reported the same day (without saying where Kuchaki made his remarks).

Kuchaki said Iran needs new tactics to defend the country against "enemy" threats and provide a deterrent. Iran's ships should have a dual military and commercial use, he said. "A force consisting of military, nonmilitary, and popular forces in the sea" should ensure "naval power and a deterrent strategy against enemy aggression," he said. "A strategic method must be created for all naval bodies, because old methods have lost their utility and will not guarantee our victory against America. The strategy of the God-oriented human must be adopted," ISNA quoted him as saying. (Vahid Sepehri)

IRAN PLANS NEW GULF FLIGHTS, AIRPLANE PURCHASES. The head of the international airport on the Iranian Persian Gulf island of Qeshm said there will "soon" be direct flights from the island to the U.A.E. capital Abu Dhabi, ISNA reported on May 18. Ali Naqavi said the island is currently linked by 12 daily flights to Dubai, and four weekly flights to Ras Al-Khaimah, two other member states of the U.A.E. Separately, the head of Iran's Civil Aviation Organization, Nureddin Rezai-Niaraki, said on May 17 that Iran is to buy 70 passenger planes by the end of the Persian year to March 2008, the "Aftab-i Yazd" daily reported on May 18. He said Iran currently has 130 passenger planes, and intends to increase its fleet to 200, adding various plane models. He added that the organization has advised domestic airlines to buy small to medium-sized planes for use in Iran's smaller, provincial airports. VS

FOREIGN-EXCHANGE RESERVES REACH $50 BILLION. Ahmad Mojtahed, the head of the central bank's Monetary and Banking Research Center, said in Tehran on May 9 that Iran's foreign-exchange reserves were $50 billion at the end of the Persian year on March 20, IRNA reported. He gave promising export and inflation figures for the year as well. Nonpetroleum exports were worth "an unprecedented" $10 billion, he said, up 13 percent from the preceding year, and inflation fell to 12.1 percent. He said a reduction in state-sector economic activity will help curb inflation. On May 16, Central Bank Governor Ibrahim Sheibani said in Tehran that Iran keeps its reserves "in different parts of the world," ISNA reported. (Vahid Sepehri)

BANK, MINISTER: IRAN WASTES ELECTRICITY. The head of Tavanir, the state electricity firm, has disputed a World Bank report classifying Iran as the world's fourth-most wasteful electricity consumer, and said the report lacks a "precise scientific basis," Fars reported on May 9. Mohammad Ahmadian said 18 percent of electricity produced in Iran is lost during distribution, not 16 percent as the World Bank stated. But he said the bank should not have qualified this loss as wastage, as it is an inevitable part of power distribution in Iran and elsewhere. He said electricity was lost in Iran due to the country's extensive territory, "illegal diversions," and an aging power-distribution network, IRNA reported.

The waste seems to be at the consumption end. Energy Minister Parviz Fattah said in the northern city of Gilan on May 12 that Iran's electricity consumption grew "by 9.5 percent last year," and compared that to a 2-3 percent consumption growth in the EU, ISNA reported, without specifying if he was referring to 2005, or the Persian year to March 20, 2006. "Our disorderly and unpredictable consumption is out of control," he said, adding that the power supply system is "not prepared for the excess consumption expected" in coming summer months. (Vahid Sepehri)

OBSERVERS COMMENT ON INVESTMENT INSECURITY IN IRAN. Two Iranian observers spoke to RFE/RL's Radio Farda on May 9 about the difficulties of doing business in Iran. Bahaeddin Adab, a former reformist legislator and member of a group of construction companies, said investors have no "legal security in the full sense of the word," Radio Farda reported.

He said state officials daily publicly threaten to arrest "the economically corrupt. Well, who are these people?" He said the judiciary should provide business with legal backing, and observed that entrepreneurs have been vilified in Iran since the 1979 revolution. "Unfortunately, in the past 27 years, they have kept saying capitalists are bloodsuckers and...parasites," he said. Economist Jamshid Asadi told Radio Farda that "private investment has its hands tied in economic competition," and business belongs to those with connections in government. "They are the ones who can more easily import, tenders [and] it is difficult to compete with people backed by state and military officials."

Tehran Mayor Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf was more positive. He told a seminar on investment opportunities in Tehran on May 9 that Iranians living abroad and foreign investors should invest in the capital's construction projects and turn Tehran's "many" investment opportunities "into reality," IRNA reported. He promised to remove "the existing bureaucracy to attract investment," but said suitable legislation was also needed. (Vahid Sepehri)

WAGE INCREASES BRINGING JOB CUTS IN IRAN? A wave of job losses and unpaid wages have angered Iranian workers, and some are blaming a government decision to raise the minimum wage last March for the layoffs, Radio Farda and Iranian agencies reported on May 15. The broadcaster cited several examples of workers angered by wages unpaid for as long as 22 months (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 16, 2006). Observers and officials have given various causes for job losses or endemic unemployment, including recent mandatory wage increases, illegal imports, and the presence of Afghan migrants. Legislator Qasem Azizi blamed the government for sharply raising wages after March 20 and forcing employers to lay off workers to save costs, ISNA reported on May 14. Who could afford a mandatory 25 percent wage increase, he asked, when firms face competition, price freezes, and stagnant sales? A textile-industry representative said on May 9 that government-imposed pay raises have led textile factory owners to sack 10,000 workers since late March.

Price freezes constitute one of the means Iran is using to control inflation, and the president is reportedly hopeful the inflation rate will soon drop to an annual 11 percent, the lowest in years, Radio Farda reported on May 16. The broadcaster noted Iran is financing imports and maintaining a fixed exchange rate with the help of oil revenues, also to control inflation. On May 16, Finance Minister Davud Danesh-Ja'fari told a seminar in Tehran that cutting inflation is a crucial government policy, and the efforts of several governments have cut inflation from around 50 percent a year in the 1990s to 12.1 percent in the Persian year ending March 20, 2006, Fars reported. Danesh-Ja'fari said Iran -- in contrast to industrial states -- reduces interest rates to cut inflation and encourage "productive investment." (Vahid Sepehri)

PRESIDENT TO REVERSE DECISION TO LET WOMEN INTO SPORTS STADIUMS? Government spokesman Elham said in Tehran on May 8 that President Ahmadinejad will reconsider a decision to allow women into sports matches after Iranian Supreme Leader Khamenei disagreed with Ahmadinejad, saying that senior clerics objected and believe such a move would encourage indecent behavior among youth (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 27, 2006), the daily "Aftab-i Yazd" reported the next day. "The president has said that the supreme leader instructed us to reconsider out of respect for senior [religious] authorities, and on the basis of his order and the leadership's opinion, the decision has been reconsidered," he said. Khamenei occasionally intervenes to resolve controversial affairs and he has the final say on state affairs. Iran's religious laws discourage proximity or intimacy between members of the opposite sex unless they are married or close relatives. VS

HEALTH MINISTRY: 70,000 HIV-POSITIVE IN IRAN. Mohammad Mehdi Guya, the head of the disease management center at the Health Ministry, said on May 8 in Tehran that the ministry's "estimate is that right now 70,000 people in the country are infected with HIV," the virus that causes AIDS, IRNA reported the same day. Officially, there are 13,040 HIV-positive registered people, of whom 12,336 are men. He added that 63.4 percent of those infected had contracted the virus through drug use, and only 7.2 percent through sexual intercourse. He said infection rates are rising and the average age of those infected is going down, adding that there is a shortage of trained personnel to provide relevant medical care. "Unfortunately society has a negative view" of AIDS and this "has meant we have been unable to identify many infected people," IRNA reported him as saying. VS

BOMBS EXPLODE IN WESTERN IRAN. Two bombs exploded on May 8 in Kermanshah -- a town in western Iran with a large Kurdish population -- damaging government buildings and injuring seven people, RFE/RL's Radio Farda and news agencies reported the same day.

No group has claimed responsibility for the bombings, Radio Farda reported, but it noted that western Iran, home to the country's Kurdish population, has been the scene of Kurdish unrest and some violence in the past year (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," August 23, 2005, and February 6, 2006). Separately, the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), a militant group, recently vowed to retaliate against Turkey and Iran following incursions into Iraq by Iranian and Turkish troops to fight PKK-affiliated forces (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 2, 2006).

The explosions took place within an hour of each other, one in the Kermanshah district governor's office, and the other in a regional trade chamber, Radio Farda reported. On May 10, Javad Jafari, the Kermanshah provincial governorate's head of security affairs, told IRNA that police and security forces had obtained "clues" about the explosions. While nobody had claimed responsibility for the bombs, he said, it is clear to "relevant forces that the [culprits] were guided from across the border," IRNA reported. (Vahid Sepehri)

POLICE CHIEF SAYS U.S. THREATENS EASTERN FRONTIER... The national chief of police, Ismail Ahmadi-Moqaddam, said on May 10 that U.S. troops in Afghanistan constitute "the greatest source of threat to the country's eastern borders," and that "destabilizing [Iran] is the first stage of their sinister aims" against Islam, ISNA reported. He said Iran's enemies "have begun a Cold War against us," though they "are not visibly mobilizing any armies." This war, he said, includes the activities of bandits in eastern Iran that are "backed by foreign forces." He included satellite broadcasting and the Internet, which "are all guided from across the frontier," in this "cold, psychological war," and urged the government, as a security measure, to create jobs for people living near the country's borders, ISNA reported.

He was echoed by the parliamentary representative for Zahedan in the southeastern Sistan-Baluchestan province, who said on May 13 that locals would take charge of their own security if the government fails to bring security to the bandit-ridden province bordering Pakistan. Hussein Ali Shahriari told ILNA that "there is no sense of any security acceptable to the people," in spite of government efforts. He said British, American, and Pakistani secret services are "more active than before," presumably in fomenting insecurity. "We are seeing moves to create insecurity, not just in Sistan-Baluchistan, but in the [western] Kurdistan and Khuzestan provinces and other frontier areas. The enemy is trying to use ethnic divisions to sow discord," he said. (Vahid Sepehri)

...AS BANDITS MURDER PASSENGERS IN SOUTHEAST. Perhaps hours after Shahriari's comments, bandits murdered 12 passengers on a road between Bam and Kerman, in the southeastern Kerman Province, agencies reported. An estimated 30 bandits, dressed in police uniforms and ethnic Baluchi clothing, reportedly blocked traffic after 8:00 p.m. and ordered passengers out of four cars before tying them up and shooting them, ILNA and Fars News Agency reported, quoting Kerman Province Governor Muhammad Raufinejad and a 14-year-old survivor. Kerman's deputy governor for security affairs, Abolqasem Nasrollahi, told ILNA on May 14 that there was no evidence that a militant group perpetrated the killing. The killing was followed by contradictory statements by officials on the capture or killing of some of the culprits: it was not clear however if any were killed.

Interior Minister Mustafa Purmohammadi said on May 14 that this was a "commandeered mission" comparable to previous incidents (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," May 5, 2006), ILNA reported. He vowed on May 15 to respond. On May 19, he said in Qom, that the "enemies of the revolution" were trying to frighten the public with "acts of sabotage and terror," ISNA reported. The government "will do everything it can to end...terrorism and crush bandits," he said. But he admitted on May 15 that security needs more resources, ILNA reported, and that about half of Iran's frontier is uncontrolled. On May 14 deputy-speaker of parliament Mohammad Reza Bahonar said the Supreme National Security Council should discuss sending troops to help police fight insecurity and "plots," ILNA reported. Purmohammadi said even troops would "need equipment, bases, and roads to safeguard borders," and "a lack of necessary resources" is the main obstacle to creating security. He said "terrorist activities and organized crime" are threatening Islamic states, and "the enemy has bluntly declared it is waging a soft war against [Iran], but we shall make vigorous efforts to counter their actions." He said the government intends to have full control of Iranian borders within four years, ILNA reported on May 15.

The killing has put increased pressure on Purmohammadi, whose performance as minister has been criticized by many legislators. Tehran representative Imad Afrugh said on May 15 that "the responsibility for all the insecurity in the country lies with the interior minister, and he must answer for this," ILNA reported. Afrugh said it is not acceptable that bandits could "so easily move around, block the road, and provoke such a calamity," referring to the attack. "More than 100 legislators" were reportedly ready to sign a motion to interrogate and perhaps sack Purmohammadi for reasons including persistent insecurity, ILNA reported on May 14, citing an unnamed legislator.

Separately, the reformist Democracy Party issued a statement in Tehran on May 15, saying the ministry should deal with "terrorist incidents," not busy itself altering election regulations "under the influence of certain right-wing legislators," ISNA reported. Iranians expect the ministry to assure their security, it stated, especially "given the appointment of experienced security and military forces to various positions in that ministry." It added: "if the...minister is unable to assure the people's security, he should resign." (Vahid Sepehri)

OFFICIALS WANT PAKISTAN TO HELP END BANDITRY. On May 17, Prosecutor-General Qorban Ali Dorri-Najafabadi said it was clear Pakistani help is needed to "uproot" banditry in the area, ISNA reported. "There is a current [in eastern Iran] called Zarqawi, and similar groups, with certain foreign backing and provocation behind them.

These are known currents," he said, and "also exist in Pakistan," Dorri-Najafabadi added. He urged "friendly forces," presumably in Pakistan, not to support them "directly or indirectly" as "that would serve neither their interests, nor those of their country or the region." He claimed Iran is in a "delicate" situation, because the United States "intends to create problems for Iran this year." He said it would distract Iran with problems in the east "so it cannot attain its other aims in the region." Dorri-Najafabadi urged Intelligence Ministry involvement in the fight against drug trafficking, and separately deplored an increase in the smuggling of arms and illegal alcoholic drinks into Iran. He said more than 27,000 weapons were smuggled into Iran in the year to March 2006, up from about 3,300 in 2000, Fars agency reported.

The same day in Tehran, Foreign Ministry spokesman Assefi said "we are talking to the Pakistanis and other people" to enlist their help against banditry in eastern and southeastern Iran, ISNA reported. Insecurity here threatens "all countries, not just Iran," and needs cross-border cooperation, he said. (Vahid Sepehri)

MINISTRY BUSTS CRIMINAL GANGS... Iran's Intelligence and Security Ministry announced on May 18 that it arrested 18 members of two gangs involved in kidnapping, extortion, and armed robbery in Iran's southern provinces, ISNA reported the same day.

The ministry said the arrests were made in stages, with the cooperation of provincial security and intelligence agencies in the Fars, Hormozgan, Yazd, and Sistan va Baluchistan provinces. It said it has caught "the last member" of one gang that engaged in extortion from rich people in the southeastern Kerman Province over the past two years, after he escaped "a few days ago from a shoot-out." VS

...TRIBAL CLASH BRINGS 'CHAOS' TO CITY. On May 8, "armed clashes between two tribes" in the town of Gachrasan in the southwestern Kohkiluyeh va Boir Ahmad Province killed one, injured five, and "brought chaos to the city...and more violent clashes are expected in the future," Gachsaran representative Ali Jafari told ILNA on May 14.

He said shops have been shut since then -- some shopkeepers were involved in the violence -- and teachers and pupils have been afraid to go to school. Jafari said this is an oil-producing region and authorities must assure its security. He added that the provincial police chief dismissed Gachsaran's police chief on May 13, ILNA reported. VS

SUPREME LEADER DENOUNCES MASS MEDIA. Ayatollah Khamenei denounced the mass media on May 16 for forming a "one-way road" serving the interests of "the owners of media empires," large companies, and "imperialist powers," ISNA reported the same day.

He told an audience of radio managers and producers that the media today "are entirely owned by those who dispose of the greatest armament factories and most destructive atomic bombs." They report as their owners see fit, he said. "Today the interest of the owners of money and power require the equate Islam with terrorism and present America as the manifestation of human rights and democracy," Khamenei said. "Suddenly these media make bird flu, which has not killed 1,000 people across the world, a headline item but say nothing about the killing of 120,000 Iraqi...civilians," he said. If an explosion kills "a few Zionists" in Israel, he said, "they present that as a calamity," but they ignore "the daily killing" of Palestinians or Israeli declarations "that it will assassinate Palestinian militants." Now, Khamenei added, the media find it expedient to claim that "Iran is trying to gain access to nuclear weapons." VS

PARTY CHIEF: IRAN'S CONSERVATIVES HAVE WORK TO DO. Mohammad Nabi Habibi, secretary-general of the conservative Islamic Coalition Party, told a party conference in Tehran on May 11 that the "fundamentalists" may have won the last set of municipal, parliamentary, and presidential polls, but "work has in a sense just begun," Fars news agency reported the same day. He urged greater cooperation between "prominent fundamentalist personalities and formations," and said the government should not make promises it cannot fulfill. "We expect councils, parliament, and the government not to make ill-considered or unfeasible promises to the people, especially when these are beyond the system's financial abilities," lest they provoke "very worrying and brittle" consequences, he added. Failed promises, he said, will cause "a divide between government and the people." The cabinet's intermittent trips to provinces -- during which President Ahmadinejad promises local people state monies and assistance -- are positive, he said, "if the promises made...are subject to precise scientific and practical studies." He said Iranians want respect for religious values, justice, and service from the government. (Vahid Sepehri)

OBSERVER EXPECTS RESTRICTED POLLS IN IRAN. Political activist Said Madani told Radio Farda on May 11 that he thinks it unlikely conservatives controlling key state bodies will allow a free run for reformers or moderates in two coming elections, for municipal councils and the Assembly of Experts, a clerical assembly that appoints and oversees the work of Iran's supreme leader.

The Assembly of Experts polls are to be held on November 17 and municipal polls perhaps at the same time (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," May 12, 2006). Madani said conservatives controlling parliament and the presidency intend, as in the past, to vet electoral aspirants for the two elections to ensure entry for those they consider genuine regime loyalists, especially to the Experts Assembly. "It is unlikely that in these conditions they will be more flexible than before over the presence of nonconservative forces," he said, adding that they may become more restrictive. "There are signs of this already," he said, as indicated by some legislators' proposal to transfer parliament's constitutional power to oversee municipal elections to the Guardians Council, which oversees all other elections and vets aspirants. "General conditions show the preconditions for free elections do not exist," he concluded.

In the central city of Qom on May 12, former parliamentary speaker Karrubi urged the Guardians Council -- which supervises electoral procedures and must confirm their results -- to hold "clean and correct elections," "Aftab-i Yazd" reported the next day. "If the elections are held correctly, you will reap its benefits, and if someone's right is violated, you have to answer for it," he said. He was opening an office of his National Trust Party in Qom, the first outside Tehran. (Vahid Sepehri)

IRANIAN WRITERS URGE DETAINED COLLEAGUE'S RELEASE. A group of 621 writers and activists signed an open letter urging the release of Iranian-Canadian scholar Ramin Jahanbegloo, detained on espionage-related charges (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 5 and 6, 2006), Radio Farda reported on May 14.

The letter says the charges against Jahanbegloo are confused, and asks how a writer could access classified information. The signatories asked the Iranian government if it was proud of its reputation of hostility to writers, and how it could speak of peace and dialogue abroad when it treats its writers this way. Former Tehran University dean Muhammad Maleki told Radio Farda on May 14 that Iran's government resorts to arrests "whenever it wishes to create fear among activists." Separately, the Defenders of Human Rights Center, an Iran-based rights group run by Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi, expressed concern on May 14 over the arrest and "list of accusations" against Jahanbegloo, AFP reported. VS

BUS DRIVERS WRITE TO IRANIAN PRESIDENT. Employees of Tehran's main bus company wrote to President Ahmadinejad asking for the government to respect labor rights -- including the right to form an independent trade union -- which they said are enshrined in Iran's Constitution, domestic laws, and international treaties, Radio Farda reported on May 17. Many of the company's workers went on strike in December over wages and the arrest of colleagues (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," January 9 and February 6, 2006). Separately, nine women reportedly beaten by police at a Tehran demonstration to mark International Women's Day in March (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," March 14, 2006) and six witnesses are taking police to court over the incident, Radio Farda reported on May 17. Participant Khadijeh Moqaddam told Radio Farda the gathering was peaceful and legal. She said lawyer Shirin Ebadi will represent the plaintiffs. VS

MAN ARRESTED OVER JUDGE'S MURDER. A man suspected of killing Iranian judge Masud Moqadas in 2005 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 5, 2005) was arrested in Abu Dhabi and has been sent back to Iran, Iranian news agencies reported on May 13 and 14.

The man, identified as "Majid," was reportedly arrested while trying to reach the U.S. Embassy in Abu Dhabi, ISNA quoted Justice Minister Jamal Karimi-Rad as saying on May 13. He was interrogated upon arrival in Tehran. Majid's 20-year-old nephew, a suspected collaborator, was arrested on May 14, ISNA reported, citing a Tehran interrogator. He told ISNA that initial investigations suggested the two did not belong to any political group, and the killing was a result of a personal vendetta. (Vahid Sepehri)