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Iran Report: June 19, 2006

June 19, 2006, Volume 9, Number 22

IRANIAN OPIUM CULTIVATION MAKES A RETURN. Iranian authorities capture more opiates than any other country in the world, but officials there say they have yet to develop a counternarcotics strategy. That approach has arguably contributed to the fact that opium cultivation, once thought to have been wiped out in Iran, has resumed. Moreover, drug-related security problems are increasing. It is more than merely a policy problem, as Iranian officials say unemployment is a major reason why people turn to poppy cultivation and drug smuggling. Without a counternarcotics strategy -- and until the country reins in double-digit unemployment and rampant underemployment -- Iran will be unable to win its war on drugs.

The head of Iran's Drug Control Headquarters, Fada-Hussein Maliki, told visiting Afghan Interior Minister Moqbal Zarar on June 13 that profits in the narcotics trade surpass those in the oil business. Maliki warned of the connection between narcotics and terrorism, according to the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA). Maliki also told his Afghan guest that Iran has controlled the drug problem through "prudent policies."

Yet in a meeting earlier the same day with a delegation from the British House of Commons, Maliki pledged that Iran would develop policies to combat drug smuggling and abuse, IRNA reported. Maliki said the counternarcotics campaign must be reformed.

Such policy-oriented efforts have been an issue in Iran for some time, but Maliki's statement suggests that they remain unresolved. Indeed, in late May he promised that a policy would be forthcoming and the campaign would be reformed, according to IRNA on May 20. Maliki added that relevant laws would be amended.

Interdiction Efforts

Protecting Iran's eastern borders and preventing the entry of drug smugglers has been a government priority for many years, but it is a difficult task. The frontier with Afghanistan and Pakistan is more than 1,800 kilometers long, and the terrain is extremely rugged. There is a perception that security efforts have diminished recently, and Iranians were outraged by grisly attacks on motorcades traveling through the southeast in March and again in May.

Iranian national police chief General Ismail Ahmadi-Moqaddam said in early April that Afghanistan and Pakistan cannot secure their borders. He also accused "the narcotic drugs mafia in those countries" of being "officially guided and supported by the Americans," "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on April 10. A few days later, Iranian and Pakistani officials met in the city of Quetta in southwestern Pakistan to discuss tightening border security, IRNA reported on April 12.

Around the same time, the Rasul-i Akram base at which police, military, and other security agencies in southeastern Iran's Sistan va Baluchistan Province will coordinate their activities was established in the city of Zahedan, state television reported on April 13. During the inauguration ceremony, police chief Ahmadi-Moqaddam said drugs are at the root of problems in the east and that opium cultivation in Afghanistan has worsened since 2002, according to "Aftab-i Yazd" of April 15. Ahmadi-Moqaddam warned that the establishment of the new base would not solve all the problems.

After the second highway attack, in early May, Iranians' anger over eastern insecurity picked up. Zahedan parliamentary representative Hussein-Ali Shahriari warned that if the central government could not provide security, locals would establish vigilante groups, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on May 14. Shahriari noted that violence in the province was not a recent development -- 35 people were killed in a 2004 incident, and 11 were killed in 2005. Shahriari accused the United States of encouraging ethnic differences in an effort to worsen the situation.

There was also talk in Iran's legislature of interpellating the interior minister, Hojatoleslam Mustafa Pur-Mohammadi, and of questioning provincial security, law enforcement, and intelligence officials, "Etemad" reported on May 15. Deputy speaker Mohammad Bahonar said that if the police could not establish security, then the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps would be asked to do so.

Qasem Rezai, deputy commander of the Rasul-i Akram base, said later in May that the prevalence of drug trafficking and other forms of crime is due to the absence of jobs, "Aftab-i Yazd" and "Iran" reported. Rezai warned that "one cannot create security with guns." He added that security forces were in control during the day but the bandits owned the night.

Opium Cultivation

The U.S. State Department's Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement determined in 1998 and 1999 surveys that a "negligible" amount of opium was being cultivated in Iran. The report did not rule out the possibility of cultivation in more remote areas, and reports suggested opium was being cultivated along the border with Turkey.

Opium-poppy cultivation appears to be making a comeback. In Iran's southwestern province of Kohkiluyeh va Boirahmad, there were late-April reports of opium cultivation. One local complained that "in many parts of the province, poppy is openly cultivated and authorities show almost no reaction," "Siyasat-i Ruz" reported on April 24. Another local said poor people resort to opium cultivation because their needs and demands are ignored.

Mohammad Movahed, who represents the province in the national legislature, suggested that people from other parts of Iran are behind the phenomenon, "Siyasat-i Ruz" reported on April 27. Movahed cited the large number of educated but unemployed young people, and argued that "unemployment in the province should be taken seriously." He claimed that young people have told him "explicitly that this matter has made them resort to drug dealing."

Movahed said President Mahmud Ahmadinejad's administration would be more effective creating four realistic provincial job-creation projects than creating 70 different ones.

Nor is Kohkiluyeh va Boirahmad, in the southwest, the only place where opium-poppy cultivation occurs. National police chief Ahmadi-Moqaddam said poppy planting has been going on in various regions "for several years," according to "Siyasat-i Ruz" of April 27.

The deputy secretary-general of Iran's Drug Control Headquarters, on the other hand, said on April 26 that the "mass cultivation" of opium has been eradicated, according to IRNA. He called claims of opium cultivation fabrications, except in some cases where it takes place in remote regions.

Regardless of the government's efforts or talk of "isolated" opium cultivation, the situation appears to be worsening. A Health-Care Organization official noted in Aftab-i Yazd" on April 19 that drug abuse is increasing twice as fast as the population growth rate. Subsequent statements and incidents appearing in the Iranian media hint at the same conclusion.

The secretary of the national pharmacologists association, Seyyed Jamal Vaqefi, said in late April that up to $200 million worth of pharmaceuticals is smuggled into Iran every year, IRNA reported on April 24. He said those drugs are available in many unregulated locations, and he claimed that Iranians consume an excessive amount of drugs.

During a May 16 legislative session, lawmakers from Tabriz and from Taft, Mohammad Reza Mirtajedini and Jalal Yahyazadeh, respectively, said that fake tablets of the drug ecstasy were responsible for the recent deaths of four schoolgirls, "Resalat" reported. They said the tablets were made from rice pesticide.

Between June 3 and June 9, Iranian police seized more than 5 tons of drugs across the country, IRNA reported on June 13. Moreover, 295 smugglers and 465 addicts were turned over to the judiciary. (Bill Samii)

FEMALE DEMONSTRATORS IN TEHRAN BEATEN AND DETAINED. Police and security forces, including baton-wielding female agents, beat mostly female demonstrators gathered in central Tehran on June 12 to call for equal civil and legal rights for women in Iran, RFE/RL's Radio Farda reported the same day. One unnamed participant told Radio Farda that "a very large crowd" of demonstrators included older women, girls, and boys. Another witness told Radio Farda that police surrounded the crowd, then began to break up the gathering, apparently before the protest event had formally begun, beating participants and arresting some people, many of whom were driven away in minivans to unspecified locations. "There has been a lot of fighting, [and] people were chanting slogans," the witness told Radio Farda. The source said police commanders and plainclothes agents were directing the forceful response from a nearby mosque.

A security official said on June 12 that the organizers of the event did not have a permit and it was therefore illegal, IRNA reported. Ali Jahanbakhsh, director-general for political and police affairs of the Tehran Governor-General's Office, said that any group that wants to hold a rally or other demonstration must first obtain a permit from the Tehran Governor-General's Office.

Noted Iranian human rights activist and lawyer Mehrangiz Kar said at RFE/RL headquarters in Prague on June 12 that the authorities were aware of plans for the demonstration before it took place, and the organizers received court summonses.

The Office for Strengthening Unity (Daftar-i Tahkim-i Vahdat, DTV), a politically active student organization, has denounced suppression of the women's rights event, Radio Farda reported on June 13. The DTV called for the immediate release of the arrested participants, particularly its own members. They include: Bahareh Hedayat, Shahla Entessari, Masumeh Loghmani, and Atefeh Yusefi. DTV spokesman Reza Delbari told Radio Farda that all the detainees were sent to Evin prison.

Justice Minister Jamal Karimi-Rad said in Tehran on June 14 that "most" of the people arrested at the Tehran rally "are presently free, and a limited number remain under arrest" while an "interrogator is pursuing investigations with them," the Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA) reported the same day. Karimi-Rad said student detainees have been released so they could study for coming university exams.

A journalist arrested that day, Taraneh Bani-Yaqub, has also been released, RFE/RL's Radio Farda reported on June 14. She was one of four reporters arrested on June 12 while covering the protest; another, Lila Farhadpur, was released hours later, Reporters Without Borders stated on its website on June 13. It was unclear whether the two others the group reported as detained -- Bahman Ahmadi-Amui and Jila Bani-Yaqub -- have been released. (Bill Samii, Vahid Sepehri)

REFORMERS URGED TO UNITE FOR POLLS. Hadi Qabel, a member of the reformist Participation Front, told the Iranian Labor News Agency (ILNA) on June 11 that he was certain reformers will agree on a limited number of candidates for elections to the Assembly of Experts -- a senior body of clerics -- due on November 17. He expressed hope that a consensus would end existing divisions among reformist parties, and allow for a reformist alliance in local council elections after the Experts polls.

A former deputy interior minister, Mahmud Mirluhi, told ISNA the same day that divisions have been the principal cause of reformist defeats in the country's last three elections. A consensus, he said, is "the only...suitable strategy" for reformers if they wish to compete in coming elections, while continued discord is a "gift to...rivals." He said that Expediency Council chief Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, a key regime official usually considered a conservative, is now a reformer. "Given the conduct of conservatives, Hashemi's sidelining and recent Qom incidents, he must be placed in the reformist camp," he said. Rafsanjani was heckled -- apparently by right-wing radicals -- as he spoke in Qom on June 5. (Vahid Sepehri)

CENTRAL BANK ANNOUNCES UNEMPLOYMENT FIGURES FOR PREVIOUS YEAR. A new report from the Central Bank of Iran states that the national unemployment rate was 12.1 percent as of March 20, 2006, Fars News Agency reported on June 5. The overall population was 68.6 million and the working population was 22.3 million. (Bill Samii)

ACADEMICS WARN OF NEGATIVE ECONOMIC TRENDS. Fifty academics have written to President Ahmadinejad warning him about the state of Iran's economy and criticizing economic policies as inflationary and against set economic plans, RFE/RL's Radio Farda reported on June 15. New York-based academic Siamak Shojai told Radio Farda that a group of people who have been neutral or technocratic since Iran's 1979 revolution have for the first time engaged themselves in the public sphere. Shojai described the move as an important step toward identifying some of Iran's problems. "For the first time...a number of academics and specialists that have worked as technocrats in these years have come forward," he said. In their letter, Shojai told Radio Farda, the economists highlighted grievances like excessive state intervention in business and employment regulations as well as noting increased imports and government spending, but also pointed to broader issues that have led to economic problems.

A deputy head of Iran's state customs authority told Fars News Agency on June 11 that Iran will raise tariffs on a number of imported goods in a move that it quotes a prominent businessman as describing as contradictory with Iran's stated bid to join the World Trade Organization (WTO). Mahmud Beheshtian suggested import duties will be raised on mobile telephones, household durables, clothes, textiles, meat, fruit products such as juice concentrate, and sugar, Fars reported. In the case of silk, he said, the increase is tenfold. But Masud Daneshmand, a businessman and member of the Iran Chamber of Commerce and Industry, told IRNA that such moves threaten to sidetrack Iran's accession to the WTO and contradict its public welcome of WTO observer status. Higher duties are an injustice to Iranian consumers, Daneshmand said, and the government can back domestic producers through other means, such as long-term, interest-free loans.

Separately, the agriculture jihad minister -- who oversees Iran's rural-development programs -- informed legislators on June 11 that Iran intends to be self-sufficient in rice production "in the next three years," ISNA reported. Mohammad Reza Eskandari said every Iranian currently consumes an average 36-37 kilograms of rice per year.

Iranian officials, traders, and businessmen met in Tehran on June 13 to discuss Iran's decision to hike tariffs on some 1,000 imported goods in the Persian year to March 20, 2007, Radio Farda reported on June 14. The tariffs are intended to protect Iranian jobs when many Iranian manufactures cannot compete with equivalent imports, Radio Farda reported. It quoted the head of the Tehran Chamber of Commerce, Alinaqi Khamushi, as telling Industries Minister Alireza Tahmasbi that "we should not be afraid of the facts...90 percent of our products are no longer competitive."

Tahmasbi said in Tehran on June 13 that Iran does not consider high tariffs a long-term means of boosting or improving domestic production, ILNA reported the same day. But he said tariffs in Iran were lowered in recent years without proper study beforehand. It may take Iran up to a decade to join the World Trade Organization, he said, and meanwhile, many countries impose tariffs on imported manufactures or have protective or "antidumping" regulations, "but Iran does not have this mechanism," ILNA reported. (Vahid Sepehri)

EXILED OPPOSITIONIST SAYS IRGC TURNING TO BIG BUSINESS. Prominent Iranian oppositionist Mohsen Sazegara told Radio Farda on June 11 that the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) has become increasingly involved in large-scale economic and construction projects in the past 15 years and is moving away from its initial mission as a popular army to defend Iran and its post-1979 revolutionary regime. He said the most recent example is a $1.3 billion project -- signed last week between the IRGC and the National Iranian Gas Company, which is affiliated with the Oil Ministry -- whereby the IRGC will build a pipeline to transport gas from Asaluyeh in southern Iran to the eastern Sistan va Baluchistan Province.

The IRGC is reportedly implementing 247 other "economic projects," Radio Farda added, quoting IRGC commander Abdolreza Abedzadeh. Sazegara, who was imprisoned in Iran in 2003 for his open advocacy of a secular, democratic system, said the IRGC's power and close ties to the state effectively nullify domestic competition for projects. The IRGC has become a "full-blown party" involved in various private and public activities, he told Radio Farda. (Vahid Sepehri)

TEHRAN NOTES 'POSITIVE' ASPECTS OF INTERNATIONAL NUCLEAR PROPOSAL. Iran's ranking nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, said in Cairo on June 11 that the offer by six major powers on its nuclear program, which may include technology transfers and other incentives in exchange for a freeze by Iran on sensitive fuel-making activities, is "positive" but sections on uranium enrichment need clarification, Reuters reported the same day. Iran has repeated that it has a right to make nuclear fuel. Critics want Iran to drop the fuel-making process because of its potential bomb-making applications.

In Tehran on June 11, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi said Iran will examine Western proposals "and prepare our proposals," for which no deadline has been set, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on June 12. He said Iran accepts some of the proposals it has read and considers others "ambiguous" and others "unnecessary," the daily added. Iran will not drag out this process, Assefi said, but it needs time to examine the proposals. The contents of the Western package of proposals have not been officially disclosed.

A member of the Iranian parliament's national security and foreign policy committee, Rashid Jalali-Jafari, said in Tehran on June 11 that Iran will not "cross its red line" -- that is, the cessation of uranium enrichment -- unless any suspension is temporary and limited "and does not endanger Iran's national interests," ISNA reported the same day. Many Iranian officials have rejected a suspension of enrichment outright. Jalali-Ja'fari said that Iran has "absolutely no intention of setting aside this technology," but he added that if Western proposals "are such that the suspension of enrichment helps national interests," there would be "no problem" accepting suspension "for a short time."

Parliamentary speaker Gholam-Ali Haddad-Adel said separately that Europe's "return to negotiations is a victory for Iran, Europe, and international bodies," ILNA reported on June 11. He said the return to talks shows Europe's "independence," while the resolution of international crises through diplomacy boosts the credibility of international bodies. Iranian officials, he said, will certainly respond to recent EU proposals on Iran's nuclear program, ILNA reported.

Government spokesman Gholam-Hussein Elham said in Tehran on June 12 that Iran's positions on the nuclear fuel cycle and "peaceful nuclear technology" are "clear," and that "we have said our country has attained this technology, and this is a recognized right" of Iran, ISNA reported the same day. He said Iran will not discuss its "evident right" with the five permanent members of the Security Council plus Germany, the states most actively involved in the effort to curb Iran's nuclear program. "That is because it is not acceptable in international norms for a country to negotiate over its evident, legal, and recognized rights, and this is not negotiable," he said, adding that Iran could discuss "shared concerns" about its program.

Iran, Elham added, is examining its own nuclear dossier proposals to the great powers and will make statements at an unspecified date. He separately dismissed safety concerns over the Bushehr nuclear plant being built on the Persian Gulf. Gulf neighbors have in the past expressed concern over its environmental impact. Elham said Western and Eastern specialists have participated in the project and "the highest standards" have been respected, ISNA reported.

An unnamed U.S. State Department official told Reuters in Vienna on June 12 that Iran must not be allowed to examine "indefinitely" a recent proposal concerning its nuclear program while at the same time continuing to pursue sensitive fuel-making and related activities. He was speaking on the sidelines of a meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) governing board, which met the same day to discuss Iran's program. He added that ministers from the Group of Eight (G8) industrialized countries will likely discuss "where we stand on Iran" at a scheduled meeting on June 29-30, Reuters reported.

Also on June 12, IAEA Director-General Muhammad el-Baradei said Iran needs to improve its cooperation with the UN nuclear inspectorate, and he urged Iran to help clarify remaining questions on its nuclear program, Reuters reported. Reuters also quoted the EU High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana as saying in Luxembourg on June 12 that he hopes to contact Iran by June 17-18 to learn its views on the nuclear proposal.

In a related matter, the European Union is to present the IAEA with a document noting that "concerns" persist over Iran's contested atomic program and urging Iran to "respond positively" to a recent package of proposals designed to encourage Tehran to curb sensitive nuclear activities, AP reported, citing a draft of the document. The document threatens possible "further the UN Security Council" if Iran "remains defiant," but mentions no possible use of force, AP added.

The U.S. envoy at the IAEA, Gregory Schulte, speaking in Vienna on June 14, also threatened "further steps" if Iran "chooses not to negotiate" over its program. AP noted that the language by both parties was intended to avoid provoking Iranian intransigence as it mulls over the proposal.

Manuchehr Mottaki said in a telephone conversation with Italian Foreign Minister Massimo D'Alema on June 14 that the EU proposals are a step forward in the dispute and that Iran is carefully considering them, IRNA and ANSA reported. D'Alema told ANSA that he thinks direct talks with Iran could help persuade it to accept the proposals. Mottaki was in Madrid, where he met with Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos, AFX News reported. He said at Madrid airport that the resolution of Iran's disagreement with the international community will require efforts to assure "a country's right to develop a certain type of energy" but also to resolve other states' possible concerns, ANSA reported.

In Tehran the same day, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi said he is hopeful about the prospects of talks with the EU if "reason predominates," Fars News Agency reported. Assefi claimed that "most of the international community now supports Iran's nuclear activities." Not only has the United States failed to create a consensus against Iran, Assefi argued, but "a consensus has taken shape against America's positions toward Iran," reported.

Meanwhile, Nonaligned Movement (NAM) states are to reissue a previous statement supporting Iran's program, Reuters reported on June 14. A May 30 statement by NAM members backed Iran's fuel-making activities, Reuters reported. It quoted Iran's envoy at the IAEA, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, as saying in Vienna on June 14 that "we really appreciate it" and that "NAM support for us" in the past three years has been "very valuable." (Vahid Sepehri)

SCHOLAR SUGGESTS IRANIAN WEAPONS PROGRESS UNDERESTIMATED. Graham Allison, director of the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government, writes in the June 13 issue of "Yale Global Online" that "the American intelligence community may be seriously underestimating Iran's progress toward a nuclear bomb." Allison claims inaccurate assessments of Iraq's alleged weapons capabilities have led to excessive caution regarding Iran, and he describes as worrisome the unanimity of the intelligence community that Iran is unlikely to have a nuclear weapon until the next decade. Before the Iraq war, he says, the community was fairly united in its belief about Iraqi weapons efforts.

Allison says he questions the assumption that an Iranian freeze of overt nuclear activities would solve the problems, and he asks whether success in the open activities is necessarily connected with success in the clandestine ones. Allison also asks if Iranian scientists have passed an intellectual "point of no return." Allison raises the possibilities that Iran has purchased highly enriched uranium internationally and is already building bombs or that it has purchased nuclear warheads internationally and is placing them on its Shihab-3 missiles. (Bill Samii)

SUPREME LEADER PRAISES NUCLEAR ACHIEVEMENTS. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei praised Iran's scientific achievements in a speech to nuclear-industry officials in Tehran on 15 June and said development of the country's nuclear technology is far more important than oil discovery and extraction, ISNA reported the same day. Iran earns the bulk of its revenues through the sale of crude oil. Khamenei said Iran will not "give in to...pressures" exerted by Western powers who fear Iran will develop nuclear weapons and will continue its nuclear program.

Iranian Atomic Energy Organization chief Gholamreza Aqazadeh addressed the same gathering, saying his organization has formed several research and specialist training centers for new personnel, ISNA reported. (Vahid Sepehri)

NEW SIGNALS COULD HINT AT NUCLEAR PRESSURE FROM MOSCOW, BEIJING. Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad on June 16 called a package of international incentives aimed at persuading Tehran to abandon sensitive nuclear activities "a step forward." The comments come one day after Ahmadinejad met with the Russian and Chinese presidents on the sidelines of a Eurasian summit in Shanghai. Moscow and Beijing have resisted Western efforts to seek UN Security Council sanctions against Iran, but recent events suggest they are also pressing Tehran to make some concessions to international concerns.

President Ahmadinejad's encouraging assessment of the incentives package was accompanied by less clear language about when Iran will formally respond to the offer.

"We see this [package] overall as a step forward, and I�ve asked my colleagues to carefully consider it," Ahmadinejad said. "God willing, we will express our views within the framework of the national interests of the Islamic Republic of Iran."

Ready For Dialog?

The comments are Ahmadinejad's first public response to the package, and come less than 24 hours after talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Putin had emerged from that June 15 meeting claiming that Iran was "positively" assessing the offer.

Putin also said Ahmadinejad had assured him that Iran was ready to resume dialog on its controversial nuclear program.

The package of proposals is backed by the five permanent members of the UN Security Council (Britain, China, France, Russia, and the United States) plus Germany.

It reportedly contains a number of industrial and economic incentives, including the possible lifting of some U.S. trade sanctions against Tehran. It is also believed to include the supply of at least one light-water nuclear reactor to Iran.

U.S. officials have warned that if Iran turns down the incentives, it could face "the weight of the Security Council," which could push for sanctions.

Today in Shanghai, President Ahmadinejad rejected the threat of sanctions to pressure his country on the nuclear issue.

"I think the word 'sanction' should be removed from the political [lexicon]," Ahmadinejad said. "Sanctions should not be used as a threat or as a tool for exerting pressure."

Ahmadinejad -- who has repeatedly invoked national pride in defending Iranian nuclear activities -- said his country supports "constructive talks on equal footing."

Some Skepticism

Ahmadinejad also said that Iran is not seeking to develop nuclear weapons.

Despite similar comments by Iranian officials, Western countries are concerned that Iran could use enriched uranium, for producing nuclear bombs. The United States have accused Tehran of a covert nuclear weapons program. The UN's nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), says Iran has failed to convince it that its nuclear efforts are purely peaceful in nature.

Today, Chinese media quoted President Hu Jintao as telling Ahmadinejad that while China understands Iran's concern over its right to a peaceful nuclear program, "the critical point" is "to build mutual trust between Iran and the international community."

President Putin said after the meeting with Ahmadinejad on June 15 that any country, including Iran, has a right to use nuclear technology. But he added that countries must do it in a way that "does not arouse the concerns of the international community on the nonproliferation issue."

Mounting Pressure

Ahmadinejad did not disclose the details of his talks with Putin or Hu. But he said "our views and positions on many issue are close, or even identical."

Russia and China, which each have significant economic interests in Iran, have pressed for negotiations to defuse the standoff with the United States and Europe over Iran's nuclear program.

Both countries have called on Iran to seriously consider the current offer.

Chinese President Hu reportedly said the package of incentives provides a "new opportunity for the settlement of the issue."

The U.S. ambassador to the IAEA, Gregory L. Schulte, has called on Iran to respond positively to the offer and suspend its uranium enrichment.

The United States and the other five countries that agreed on the package have not set a concrete deadline for Iran to respond.

EU foreign policy chief Solana said on June 14 that he has held "constructive" telephone conversations with Iran�s top nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani.

Solana had officially conveyed the package of incentives to Iran during a visit to Tehran on June 6.

Agencies report that EU leaders gathered at an EU summit in Brussels are expected later today to call on Iran to take the "positive path" and give an "early response" to the package.

On June 15, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jintao said that Iranian officials might need "some extra time" before they can formally react to the proposals.

Iranian officials have said they will respond in "due course" while stressing that talks should be "unconditional." (Golnaz Esfandiari)

TURKEY DEPORTS IRANIAN AZERI LEADER. Mahmudali Chehraganli, one of the leaders of the Southern Azerbaijan National Awakening Movement that claims to represent Iran's large Azeri minority, was apprehended on June 9 by Turkish police on the grounds that his life was allegedly in danger and deported to Azerbaijan, his country of choice, reported on June 10. Chehraganli reportedly arrived in Turkey on June 5 from the United States, and told journalists there he planned to travel to Baku on June 16, whereupon Iran's ambassador in Baku, Afshar Suleimani, commented that he does "not think that the Azerbaijani authorities will issue him a visa and permit him to carry on his work here."

According to an unconfirmed report by the opposition newspaper "Yeni Musavat" on June 11, Azerbaijani National Security Ministry officials arrested Chehraganli in Baku late on June 10, together with his daughter who was accompanying him, and put them both on a plane to Dubai.

Chehraganli told in a June 13 interview that he arrived legally in Baku, having obtained a visa, but was subsequently detained by security officials who demanded that he leave the country immediately, and after being taken with his family directly to Baku airport, he decided to fly to New York, where the Movement has an office. Chehraganli said that his arrival in Baku "disturbed someone, and the Azerbaijani government acted in accordance with the wishes" of the Iranian authorities.

However, Azerbaijan's Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov denied on June 12 that Chehraganli was constrained to leave Baku on June 10, reported. Mammadyarov said Chehraganli left Azerbaijan of his own volition after consultations with persons Mammadyarov did not name. The Azerbaijani National Security Ministry similarly denied on June 12 that Chehraganli was deported. (Liz Fuller)

SAUDI, IRAQI OFFICIALS VISIT TEHRAN. Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal was in Tehran on June 12 to meet with President Mahmud Ahmadinejad and Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki to discuss regional politics, the nuclear dossier, and Iraq, ISNA reported. Al-Faisal said after his meeting with Mottaki that "Saudi Arabia supports the peaceful resolution of Iran's nuclear issue" and is grateful that Iran has declared it is not pursuing nuclear weapons. Ahmadinejad later told him the two states should cooperate in "energy management" and activate a joint committee to oversee various areas of bilateral cooperation. He said Iran and Saudi Arabia should work with Iraq's government to promote security and progress in Iraq, ISNA reported.

Separately the same day, Ahmadinejad met with Iraqi Vice President Adil Abd al-Mahdi in Tehran, ISNA reported. Ahmadinejad said "intelligence and sympathy" have helped form a new Iraqi government and are the key to future successes. With such qualities, he said, Iraqis will prevent "the occupiers" from achieving their goals of "pillaging Iraq's resources and the continuation of insecurity." Al-Mahdi said he hopes for an expansion of Iraq-Iran ties and Iran's participation in unspecified water, electricity, and oil projects, ISNA reported.

Mottaki said in remarks in Madrid published in "El Pais" on June 15 that there is a "dirty plan" afoot to "create, back, and continue ethnic and religious confrontations in Iraq and other parts of the Islamic world." He said Iran supports "all Iraqis," whatever their ethnic or religious affiliation, and their participation in Iraq's government. Unfortunately, he said, "terrorist groups" have been created "with the financial and military backing of...specific countries now making propaganda of fighting them under the banner of the war against terrorism," reported. He did not specify what country he was referring to. "There are no good or bad terrorists," Mottaki said. He urged the Iraqi government to take measures to end terrorism on its territory, and said he hopes a date is set for the departure of foreign coalition forces from Iraq. (Vahid Sepehri)

SYRIAN MILITARY DELEGATION SIGNS AGREEMENT IN IRAN. Major General Hussein Firuzabadi, chief of the joint staff of Iran's armed forces, met on June 13 in Tehran with the visiting Syrian Defense Minister General Hassan Turkmani, IRNA reported. Firuzabadi said Iran is ready to cooperate with Syria, particularly in the area of defense industries. He also praised Syrian resistance to Israel. The Syrian delegation arrived in Iran the previous day.

Iranian Minister of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics Mustafa Mohammad-Najjar met with Turkmani on June 12, Syrian Arab Television and IRNA reported. According to Syrian television, the two sides discussed bilateral cooperation, and they described their defense and military links as a model for the region and a contributor to peace and stability. Regional topics of discussion included Iraq, its government, and its territorial integrity, as well as Palestine. Turkmani said the Syrian and Iranian armed forces must be prepared to confront the unnamed "joint enemy," and he expressed support for Iran's nuclear ambitions. Mohammad-Najjar, according to IRNA, emphasized Iranian support for Syria and said: "Syria's security is considered as part of the security and national interests of Iran. We find ourselves bound to defend it."

The Iranian and Syrian defense ministers on June 15 signed an agreement to strengthen their "strategic" relationship, provide a vigorous response to "disorder and insecurity" in the region, and form an ongoing joint-defense committee, ISNA reported the same day. At a subsequent news conference, Mohammad-Najjar said the Syrian delegation's visit conveys a message of solidarity between Islamic states. He said he and Turkmani discussed Iran's support for "the Lebanese resistance," presumably the Hizballah, ISNA reported. "We shall continue to support the resistance, and the people of Palestine," he said. Mohammad-Najjar suggested that Iran is not unduly concerned by "America's threats," and said regional peoples have come to realize these are "merely psychological operations...[but] these threats will not get anywhere, and we shall maintain our course." Iran, he said, will continue missile "development and research" as part of a defensive policy of deterrence.

Both ministers stressed that their states consider their respective security a mutual concern. Turkmani said Iran and Syria are forming a common front against Israeli threats. "We work to mobilize movements and forces against America and Israel," Turkmani said. "We have always consulted, and keep consulting, with Iran in this regard."

General Karim Qavami, head of Iran's regular air force, met with Turkmani in Damascus on June 7, SANA reported. (Bill Samii, Vahid Sepehri)

AHMADINEJAD ENCOURAGES PALESTINIAN 'RESISTANCE.' President Mahmud Ahmadinejad met on June 11 in Tehran with visiting Palestinian Foreign Minister Mahmud al-Zahhar, Tehran television and IRNA reported. Al-Zahhar, who is a senior member of Hamas, was advised by his host, "You [Palestinians] should intensify your resistance as it is the key to winning the battle against bullying and spurious powers," IRNA reported. Ahmadinejad went on to say that the Hamas-led government should also concentrate on developing Palestine and exposing the misdeeds of the "Zionist regime," both agencies reported.

Ahmadinejad said the Islamic community should support the Palestinian government, and he emphasized Iran's support for that government as it tries to "liberate the holy Qods [Jerusalem]." Ahmadinejad criticized Western support for Israel, IRNA reported.

Al-Zahhar expressed gratitude for continuing Iranian support. Tehran pledged to assist the Hamas-led government financially after the United States, EU, and Israel said they would withhold support pending Hamas' renunciation of violence and its recognition of Israel's right to exist. (Bill Samii)

PUTIN SAYS GAZPROM COULD FINANCE PLANNED IRANIAN PIPELINE. Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad told his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin at the meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) in that Chinese city on June 15 that the two countries should work together to set gas prices, RIA Novosti reported. "We can closely cooperate from the standpoint of setting natural-gas the interests of global stability," Ahmadinejad argued.

Addressing reporters in Shanghai on June 15, President Putin said that Gazprom is prepared to help build a proposed natural-gas pipeline linking Iran to India through Pakistan, international news agencies reported. He specifically mentioned the possibility of financial help and called the project, which the United States opposes, "perfectly feasible" and "perfectly profitable." Iran, India, and Pakistan have been negotiating for months about the proposed $7 billion pipeline project. (Patrick Moore)

TAJIK BORDER-GUARD CHIEF MEETS WITH IRANIAN OFFICIALS. The head of the Tajik border guards, Colonel General Saydamir Zuhurov, returned to Dushanbe on June 14 after concluding a three-day official visit to Iran, Asia-Plus reported. Zuhurov met with Islamic Revolution Guards Corps commander Major General Yahya Rahim Safavi, in Tehran to discuss the expansion of bilateral cooperation in border security and the counterterrorism and counternarcotics efforts. (Richard Giragosian)