June 12, 2006, Volume 9, Number 21
IRAN RESUMES URANIUM ENRICHMENT. On the very day that Tehran received an international proposal intended to resolve the continuing crisis over the Islamic Republic's nuclear program, Iran resumed some of its problematic nuclear activities. Most of Iran's top officials say the international proposal will be considered carefully, but some legislators and other officials have already refused to stop controversial uranium enrichment.
A Mysterious Offer
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reported that Iran resumed uranium enrichment on June 6, when it began feeding uranium hexafluoride gas (UF6) into its 164-centrifuge cascade. According to the IAEA report, work on two more 164-centrifuge cascades is continuing. An anonymous Iranian official acknowledged this development on June 9, the Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA) reported. He said these activities are intended to improve Iran's technical capabilities, and a 3,000 centrifuge cascade should be ready by March 2007.
Precise details have not yet emerged on the package of incentives and sanctions formulated by the 5+1 group (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States, plus Germany) at its early-June meeting in Vienna. Nevertheless, it is believed that one of its demands is that Iran suspend all uranium enrichment and reprocessing activities, according to AFP on June 5.
European and U.S. diplomats said in "The New York Times" of June 6 that incentives in the proposal include a commitment to support a civilian nuclear program and to help build light-water reactors. Other incentives, according to the daily, are support for Iranian membership in the World Trade Organization, the sale of Airbus and Boeing aircraft parts, and U.S. participation in negotiations with Iran. Less is known about disincentives, particularly the possibility of military action. According to "The New York Times," disincentives include a ban on international travel for Iranian officials involved in the nuclear program and a freezing of Iranian finances in other countries.
Anonymous U.S. and European officials say the proposal allows for Iran to enrich uranium domestically, "The Washington Post" reported on June 7. The sources said that in order to reach the point of domestic enrichment, Iran must suspend its current nuclear activities while the IAEA ascertains the peaceful nature of the Iranian program. The UN Security Council must also be convinced that Iran is not pursuing a nuclear-weapon capability, according to "The Washington Post." If correct, the package would represent a significant change from earlier demands that Iran forsake uranium enrichment entirely.
The proposal also contains an offer for light-water reactor technology that can be used for electricity generation, "The Wall Street Journal" reported on June 7, as well as cooperation on nuclear research and development. Some of the proposed technology is patented in the United States and built in Europe. The paper adds that it is currently illegal to provide U.S.-patented products for the Iranian nuclear program, regardless of where they are manufactured.
Indifference To U.S. Participation
Another aspect of the proposal is Washington's willingness to participate in direct multilateral talks with Tehran. Tehran's reaction to this possibility was reserved.
Mohammad Javad Saidi, deputy chief of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, on June 2 downplayed the significance of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's proposal two days earlier that the United States would participate in nuclear talks with Iran, ISNA reported.
"Iran has not asked the U.S. to participate in the nuclear talks," Saidi said, adding that the preconditions set out by Rice -- suspension of uranium-enrichment and reprocessing activities, full cooperation with the IAEA, and implementation of the Additional Protocol of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) -- are unacceptable. "It would be almost impossible to accept the preconditions set by America," he said. "We are interested in taking part in any discussions that stress our legal right, irrespective of who is at the other side of the negotiating table -- be it Russia, China or others," Saidi said.
In a June 3 speech at the tomb of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, father of Iran's Islamic revolution, President Mahmud Ahmadinejad said that UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan has asked him to take his time considering the international proposal and not publicize it, state television reported. Ahmadinejad said Iran will reveal all the details eventually, and it "will record all the talks word for word" to keep people apprised. Iran's ultimate decision, he continued, will be based on the national interest.
Iran is willing to negotiate, Ahmadinejad said, but considers its "nuclear rights -- the use of the technology of nuclear-fuel production and nuclear technology for peaceful purposes -- to be part of our self-evident and legal rights and we will not negotiate about our self-evident rights with anyone." Possible topics for negotiations, he continued, are "mutual concerns," world peace, and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.
European Union High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana arrived in Tehran on June 5, and one day later he submitted the proposal to Iranian officials.
After meeting with Solana on June 6, Iranian Supreme National Security Council Secretary Ali Larijani said the talks went well and the proposal will receive careful consideration, Radio Farda reported. He said, "We had constructive talks with each other. They presented proposals which they had worked on before. These proposals include positive steps and they also include some ambiguities that should be removed."
Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki met with Solana next, and he expressed similar views, state radio reported. "It has been decided that we will carefully examine the package we've received," he said. Mottaki continued, "It has even been recommended that we shouldn't hurry.... Hence, we will examine it, without hurrying but carefully. We will [then] give our proposals to the European side." Solana sounded enthusiastic, too, Radio Farda reported, saying: "We had a very good meeting with Dr. Larijani, with the ministers now. I think the atmosphere was very good. We are going to try to continue."
Reluctance To Compromise
Some Iranian legislators are unenthusiastic about the package of incentives, "Kayhan" reported on 7 June. Hamid Reza Haji-Babai said that any call for the suspension of uranium enrichment is unacceptable. The only negotiable matter, he said, relates to allaying European concerns over the diversion of nuclear technology to military use. Another parliamentarian, Heshmatollah Falahat-Pisheh, said Iran rejects the suspension of its nuclear activities as a precondition to receipt of the proposed incentives. He said Europe's record on cooperation does not engender confidence. It is unclear whether the parliamentarians are familiar with the details of the 5+1 proposal.
Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, head of the powerful Guardians Council, spoke about the international proposal in his June 9 sermon at the Tehran Friday Prayers, which was transmitted across the country by state radio. "They are still trying to deprive us of many concessions," he said. "This package of incentives that they are offering us is of no use to the Iranian nation and it is only good for themselves." He told Iranians to stand for their rights and added, "We must achieve 3.5 to 5 percent enrichment. They have to accept this." (Bill Samii)
IRANIAN LEADERS SAYS COUNTRY DOESN'T NEED NUCLEAR WEAPONS. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said in a June 4 speech at the tomb of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini that U.S. propaganda is trying to convince the world that Iran wants nuclear weapons, state television reported. He described these alleged claims as "a sheer lie." Khamenei said Iran does not need a nuclear bomb, adding that "using nuclear weapons is against Islamic rules" and the costs of building and maintaining such weapons are "unnecessary." "Unlike the Americans, who want to rule the world with force, we do not claim to control the world and therefore do not need a nuclear bomb," he added.
Speaking in Tehran on June 2, President Ahmadinejad dismissed Western concerns about the possibility of Iran obtaining nuclear weapons, Fars News Agency reported. For Westerners, he claimed Iranian access to nuclear technology means "the access of the world's independent states to this advanced technology." Western pressure, he added, "will not bear results." (Bill Samii)
MARKETS REACT TO NUCLEAR CONTROVERSY. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said in a June 4 speech at the tomb of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini said the world needs Iran's gas supplies, state television reported. "Beware that if you make the slightest mistake over Iran, the energy flow through this region will be seriously in danger," Khamenei said.
The energy and financial markets reacted quickly. Crude oil prices reached $73.15/barrel on June 5 and oil futures are at $73.84/barrel, Bloomberg reported. U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice downplayed Khamenei's statement, noting that Iran is heavily dependent on oil revenues. Khamenei's statement and fears over the threat to oil supplies also affected stock markets, AP reported on June 5. Major stock indicators fell, including the Dow Jones industrial average, Standard & Poor's 500 index, and the NASDAQ composite index. The prices of oil stocks Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil fell as well.
Just as quickly, oil prices fell in response to Iran's promise to consider the 5+1 group's proposal, AP reported on June 7. Continuing uncertainty, however, will contribute to oil price fluctuations. Khamenei's veiled threat to disrupt energy supply routes prompted U.S. Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman to say on June 6 that under such circumstances, the United States would use its emergency oil reserves. (Bill Samii)
HOW ADVANCED REALLY IS IRAN'S NUCLEAR PROGRAM? The international community is pressing Iran to give up uranium enrichment -- a technology that can produce fuel for peaceful nuclear reactors or, at high levels of enrichment, material for nuclear weapons. Central to the international community's position is the belief that Iran has not made great progress in mastering this difficult technology. But Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad announced on May 24 that "Iran possesses, from [start to finish], the nuclear-fuel cycle for peaceful uses" -- in other words, that it is now pointless to try to stop Tehran from acquiring skills it already has. RFE/RL correspondent Charles Recknagel spoke with nuclear expert Shannon Kile of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute in Sweden.
RFE/RL: There seem to be conflicting reports from international experts and the Iranian government regarding just how much progress Iranian engineers have made in mastering uranium enrichment. What is your opinion?
Shannon Kile: It appears that the enriched uranium that Iran produced and that was trumpeted by Ahmadinejad a few weeks ago was actually made from Chinese-supplied uranium hexafluoride. So I think the preponderance of evidence suggests that Iran is still probably having a lot of technical problems, and they're a long way away from having mastered the complete nuclear-fuel cycle as was claimed.
RFE/RL: One of the challenging stages of mastering this technology is, as you mentioned, domestically producing uranium hexafluoride. That is the precursor gas that must be spun at high speeds in centrifuge cascades to produce enriched uranium. How well is Iran doing in producing its own uranium hexafluoride, as opposed to working with an apparently limited amount of material from the outside?
Kile: In terms of the uranium-conversion process, they still seem to be having trouble producing uranium hexafluoride, and they are having trouble making that of a sufficient purity that they can run [it] in their machines.
RFE/RL: And how well are they doing in constructing their own centrifuge cascades?
Kile: My understanding is they're having a lot of trouble getting the cascades to operate, to get the machines to run together. The ones that they have gotten to operate have operated at a very low level of efficiency. This is technically quite difficult to master. It's not something that you can simply do overnight. But the Iranians do seem to be having more than the usual start-up problems.
RFE/RL: Iran initially conducted much of its uranium-enrichment program secretly at a facility in Natanz, south of Tehran. The international community learned of that facility in 2002 and today the Iranian government says it is the peaceful centerpiece of its plans to produce low-enriched uranium fuel for its planned nuclear energy reactors. What will the Natanz facility ultimately look like?
Kile: [The Iranian authorities] have actually supplied the design plans to the [UN's] International Atomic Energy Agency, as they're now required to do in fulfillment of their safeguards obligations [under international treaties]. It will be quite a large plant. There will be about 50,000 centrifuges and how much enriched uranium that can produce [is] hard to say because the efficiency of the centrifuges is not really known yet. But it would clearly be enough to be able to produce enough [highly enriched uranium] for a nuclear weapon in fairly short order, if that's the route that they chose to go.
RFE/RL: Iran has announced plans for a commercial nuclear-energy program that calls for multiple reactors generating up to 20,000 megawatts of electricity. Would the Natanz facility be able to produce enough uranium fuel for such a program? Or, as some Western experts say, are there inconsistencies in Iran's plan that continue to raise doubts about just what purpose Natanz serves?
Kile: The fuel facility at Natanz, the enrichment facility, would not be anywhere close to being able to supply enough fuel for a program that large. It could supply enough basically for [the current nuclear-reactor plant that Iran is building to generate 2,000 megawatts of electricity near] Bushehr. [Also], Iran does not have sufficiently large reserves of natural uranium. It would have to import it from the outside. So, when the Iranians talk about having an indigenous, independent nuclear-fuel-cycle capability, one really has to question that. Because there simply isn't going to be enough there to be able to make enough fuel for the program that they've put forward as what they're going to actually develop.
DATE SET FOR CANDIDATES TO REGISTER FOR NEXT ELECTION. Candidates for the November 17 Assembly of Experts election can register from September 7-15, the Interior Ministry announced on June 6, according to state radio. The 86-member assembly has a wholly clerical membership, but the candidacy of women and laymen has been advocated unsuccessfully. (Bill Samii)
U.S. CLASSIFIES IRAN AS HUMAN-TRAFFICKING OFFENDER. Iran is classified as a top-level offender in the struggle against human trafficking, according to an annual survey prepared by the U.S. State Department that was submitted to Congress on June 5 (http://www.state.gov/g/tip/rls/tiprpt/2006/). Afghan, Bangladeshi, and Pakistani boys are reportedly trafficked through Iran to work in Persian Gulf states as beggars, camel jockeys, and laborers. Afghan females are trafficked into Iran for forced marriages and sexual exploitation, the report adds, while Iranian females are trafficked internally for the same reasons, as well as involuntary servitude. Iranian officials reportedly punish victims of trafficking "with beatings, imprisonment, and execution," according to "credible reports." The State Department report also notes that Iran is increasing its cooperation with Afghanistan, Pakistan, and other neighboring states in its effort to fight trafficking. Iran is now ranked as a tier 3 country, the worst classification, whereas it was a tier 2 previously. This is because victims of trafficking are punished there. (Bill Samii)
IRAN, AFGHANISTAN, PAKISTAN DISCUSS BORDER SECURITY. Iranian Foreign Minister Mottaki announced on June 3 that officials from Tehran, Kabul, and Islamabad recently held talks on security problems in southeastern Iran, PakTribune.com reported on June 6. He said these discussions occurred during President Hamid Karzai's late May visit to Iran, when Mottaki visited Kabul in December, and when Iranian Vice President Parviz Davudi and Mottaki visited Islamabad in late May. Iran's Ambassador to Islamabad, Mohammad Ebrahim Taherian, said on May 31 that Iran came up with the idea of holding trilateral talks on security issues, Mashhad radio's Dari-language service reported. Kabul has welcomed the proposal, he said, but Islamabad has not responded. Iran asserts that those responsible for violent incidents in the southwest are based in cross-border sanctuaries. Moreover, Iranian Interior Minister Mustafa Pur-Mohammadi said in "Aftab-i Yazd" on May 30 that arms trafficking is another problem originating along the eastern borders. The prevalence of arms in Iran, he said, contributes to the crime rate. (Bill Samii)
CENTRAL GOVERNMENT ALLOCATES FUNDS FOR SOUTHWESTERN PROVINCE... Hojatoleslam Seyyed Ahmad Musavi, the vice president for legal and parliamentary affairs, announced on June 8 that the cabinet the previous day approved approximately $23 million for use in the southwestern Khuzestan Province, Ahvaz television reported. The money will be utilized to help development and strengthen links with the national economy, Musavi said.
Also on June 8, Ahvaz television reported that locals are suffering from the 50-degree Celsius heat due to frequent power outages. "The electricity was cut off four times the day before yesterday," one local woman was quoted as saying. "When there is blackout, we have neither electricity nor water, because our water reaches us through electric pumps."
Several weeks earlier, the substitute Friday Prayer leader in Ahvaz, Hojatoleslam Mohsen Heidari, urged the legislature to approve the funds allocated to the province by the government, provincial television reported. Heidari described this as "a serious step toward solving the existing problems in Khuzestan." Southwestern Iran has seen unrest in the past year, partly in connection with ethnic grievances but also stemming from local anger over perceived underdevelopment. (Bill Samii)
...AS TRIBAL UNREST IS SETTLED. A three-year dispute between the Zargani and the Hamidi tribes of Ahvaz has been resolved, provincial radio reported on June 6. Originally a dispute over a fishpond, the situation deteriorated in September 2004, with the two tribes participating in sometimes fatal tit-for-tat shootings and beatings (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 23, 2004). Participants in the arbitration council included Friday Prayer leader Heidari, Assembly of Experts representative Ayatollah Kabi, Ahvaz parliamentary representative Nasser Sudani, and tribal notables. (Bill Samii)
BAKU WARNED AGAINST INVITING AZERBAIJANI LEADER. Afshar Suleimani was quoted on June 7 by day.az as saying he believes the recent pickets staged by ethnic Azeri students in Iran over the publication of a controversial cartoon were justified (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 23, 24, 26, 30, and 31, 2006). The cartoon, published in an official newspaper, constituted an ethnic slur and triggered mass protests in Tabriz and other towns in northwestern Iran. Azerbaijani media have claimed that 40 people died and some 12,000 have been arrested as a result of the protests, according to echo-az.com on June 3 and 6.
Questioned about the anticipated arrival in Baku of Mahmud Chehraganli, the leader of the Southern Azerbaijan National Awakening Movement, Suleimani said he does "not think that Azerbaijani authorities will issue him a visa and permit him to carry on his work here."
On June 7, however, day.az quoted Chehraganli, who is currently in Istanbul, as having told a press conference that he will arrive in Baku on June 16.
Meanwhile the progressive wing of the opposition Azerbaijan Popular Front Party plans to stage a rally in Baku on June 9 in support of Iran's large Azerbaijani minority, day.az reported on June 8.
The Baku city prosecutor's office has brought criminal charges against two newspapers, "Den" and "New Fact," for abuse of office and inciting interethnic and interfaith animosity, Turan and day.az reported on June 3. The two papers reportedly published a collage featuring deceased Iranian leader Ayatollah Khomeini, which Azerbaijan's prosecutor-general deemed insulting to the Iranian leadership and clergy. Sheikh-ul-Islam Allakh-shukur Pashazade, who is Azerbaijan's most senior Muslim cleric, branded the publishers of the collage "heretics" and said they have brought shame on the Azerbaijani people, day.az reported on June 2. Press Council Chairman Aflatun Amashov said his council has received frequent complaints that "Den" publishes articles that are libelous, day.az reported. (Liz Fuller)
QUESTIONS PERSIST OVER IRANIAN-AZERI UNREST. In the face of repeated reports in the Azerbaijani media suggesting that Azeri protesters were killed amid protests in Iran, the Tabriz city prosecutor said on June 2 that no one was killed, the Iranian Labor News Agency (ILNA) reported. Identified only as Firuzi, the city prosecutor said 153 of the 253 people arrested have been released. Firuzi acknowledged that some people were injured with pellets, but he added that "law enforcement personnel do not use pellet guns."
Also on June 2, Ardabil Friday Prayer leader Hojatoleslam Hassan Ameli said alleged extremists behind the recent disorder "committed a major crime," ILNA reported. The violence against people and property, Ameli continued, portrays Azeris in a bad light and is a disservice to them. He urged the justice system to deal with the perpetrators quickly and decisively.
The clandestine Turkmensahra Freedom Organization of Iranian Turkmen declared solidarity with Iranian Azeris in a June 1 statement, APA news agency reported. Azeris and Turkmen share Turkic-language roots, and the statement noted that "Persian chauvinists" are working against the language. The recent protests, the statement continued, were not triggered by an isolated incident but have been building up for many years. (Bill Samii)
INTELLECTUALS PROTEST DISCRIMINATION. Prompted by late May ethnic unrest in the country, 777 Iranian writers and other activists have signed an open letter calling for respect for minorities' constitutional rights, ILNA reported on June 5. The letter referred to the constitution's Article 15 (Persian is the official language, but regional and tribal languages can be used in the press and mass media, and they can be used for teaching literature in schools), Article 19 (there should be no discrimination, regardless of ethnic group or tribe), and Article 48 (provinces must not be discriminated against in terms of natural-resource exploitation, public-revenue utilization, and economic activities, so they can all grow at an equitable rate).
The signatories also urged authors, artists, historians, journalists, politicians, and public speakers to avoid chauvinism when expressing themselves. They wrote: "We demand laws that strictly ban any insult against the language, culture, and religion of Iranian ethnic groups such as Azeris, Kurds, Baluchis, and Turkmen; and to consider sanctions against those who insult them regardless of the offenders' position."
Media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) announced in a June 2 press release that six journalists in northern Iran have been detained in connection with the recent unrest in the area. Individuals detained on May 27 are the weekly "Ava-yi Ardabil" editor, Vahid Daragahi, and the weekly "Araz" editor, Ali Nazari, and its managing editor, Reza Kazemi. Ali Hamed Iman, who has been writing for local publications and was managing editor of the now-banned "Shams-i Tabriz" newspaper, was arrested on May 28. The other two -- Orouj Amiri and Amin Movahedi -- were arrested on May 25 and 26, RSF added. (Bill Samii)
GANJI URGES ACCOUNTABILITY AT HOME, RESTRAINT ABROAD. Iranian journalist and rights activist Akbar Ganji continued his current international tour with an appeal for greater openness and accountability from officials in Tehran. But while he vowed to maintain his battle against abuses at home, he warned international critics that they should not seek to impose their will on Iran.
Ganji told journalists in Moscow on June 6 that he is determined to keep up his struggle for "democracy and human rights," and that "I will return to Iran, [and] I will continue to express my critical views regarding all issues."
Ganji spent the past six years in prison for articles implicating senior Iranian officials in the deaths of intellectuals and dissidents. He was released in March, and was in Russia to accept the World Association of Newspapers' Golden Pen of Freedom award.
Ganji has challenged the legitimacy of Iran's Islamic establishment. He has also said that democracy cannot be achieved under the country's current political system.
Ganji conceded that he might well face imprisonment again, but he called it the price one must pay "for democracy, freedom, and human rights." He also suggested that other critics of the Iranian establishment have been under even greater pressure than he has.
"I don't have much to say about my prison term, because in Iran there are people who faced a worse situation than me," Ganji said. "Some of our intellectuals were murdered in an organized manner; some were murdered in prisons. My dear friend, [journalist Said] Hajjarian is now paralyzed as a result of an assassination attempt. Several million Iranians have been forced into exile -- they live in Europe and America. I think they have paid a heavier price than me."
He is clearly unafraid of wading into the political thick of things -- or of adopting controversial stances. Asked about the international dispute over Iran's nuclear program, Ganji called it the duty of all intellectuals to oppose the "militarization" of the world, although it might seem a "far-fetched" goal.
He said intellectuals should also condemn governments that move in that direction.
"I'm not an official with secret information or knowledge of who is telling the truth [about the nuclear issue]," Ganji said. "As a journalist, not only do I not support Iran having nuclear weapons, but I also want other countries that have atomic weapons to be disarmed. By no means do we want a confrontation between Iran, the West, and the U.S. We journalists and intellectuals bring the voice of peace from Iran to the world. And we also believe that the Iranian government should be transparent."
...And Demanding Information
Ganji argued that Iranian officials -- first and foremost -- should be forthcoming toward their fellow citizens. Iranians have a right to know what is going on with the nuclear issue, he insisted.
"Intellectuals and journalists and Iranians should have the right to express their critical views regarding the government's nuclear project," Ganji said. "Unfortunately, today in Iran, [authorities] do not allow any [criticism] of the nuclear issue to be published. It is as if there were only one voice in Iran regarding this issue, and that is the voice of the government. But this is not the case; in fact, many of our intellectuals and academics disagree with the government's nuclear policies."
Ganji said the situation has worsened in recent months. He cited increased censorship of journalists, book bans, and increased state pressure targeting dissidents, academics, and students.
Seeking Moral Support
But he also stressed that his criticism of the Iranian leadership does not translate into automatic support for actions against it.
"In any case, we should support our country," Ganji said. "I am against the Iranian government and its policies. This is one thing. But it is a different thing to call for the destruction of my own country. If a confrontation like that in Iraq happens in Iran, it could ruin my country. No Iranian desires such a thing. We oppose the Iranian government, and we fight against it. But we will do it by ourselves. What we need is the moral support of civil-society institutions around the world."
He went on to warn that democracy cannot be imposed on his country by force. "We have to establish democracy in Iran," Ganji said. "Democracy cannot be brought from outside. We have to do our best -- [to] struggle to make our country democratic." (By Golnaz Esfandiari with contributions from RFE/RL Tajik Service Moscow correspondent Rasul Shodiev)