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Iran Report: August 1, 2006

August 1, 2006, Volume 9, Number 28

LEBANESE LEGISLATOR REGRETS IRAN AND SYRIA USING HIS COUNTRY. Saad Hariri, leader of the Future Trend bloc in the Lebanese parliament and the son of assassinated former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, says the current conflict in his country is "not Lebanese," the British "Al-Hayah" newspaper reported on July 26. The battle, he said, "was brought to the Lebanese arena by Syria and Iran for the sake of their interests." "Israel is our enemy," Hariri continued, "and we have fought and resisted before any Arab state and before any Persian state." If Syria wants to fight Israel it should open a front on the Golan Heights, Hariri recommended.

Prime Minister Fuad Siniora said in a July 20 interview with "Corrierre della Serra, "Hizballah answers to the political agendas of Tehran and Damascus." On the same day, however, Siniora's office said he was misquoted and his comments were taken out of context, AP reported. Druze leader and Lebanese parliamentarian Walid Jumblatt condemned violations of his country's sovereignty, France's "Liberation" newspaper reported on July 19. He added that Hizballah's "entire military infrastructure is the product of its sponsors, Syria and Iran." Under these circumstances, he continued, one cannot believe the Hizballah leadership because it is being "exploited, manipulated."

Chibli Mallat, a law professor at Lebanon's St. Joseph University and a presidential candidate, commented in "The Daily Star" on July 14 that "the Syrian and Iranian leaderships have been stoking the flames in Lebanon to deflect domestic pressures."

President Emil Lahud met with Iranian Ambassador Mohammad Reza Sheibani on July 19 in Beirut and expressed gratitude for the Islamic Republic's support, the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) reported. (Bill Samii)

'WE LOVE MARTYRDOM.' Groups of Iranian volunteers left Tehran for Lebanon recently, despite government discouragement and denials of responsibility. The country's top clerics, meanwhile, have been unanimous in their support for Hizballah and in encouraging financial contributions and other forms of support for the organization.

"We love martyrdom and are ready to go to Lebanon and Palestine with our bare hands to help the resistance, be it in relief work or even martyrdom," a young man said as he prepared to depart Tehran for Lebanon on July 26, the official Iranian Al-Alam television reported.

The man was reportedly part of a group of volunteers organized by the Pro-Justice Student Movement. The Al-Alam correspondent noted that the Turkish authorities might not let the volunteers -- "They call themselves living martyrs," he said -- enter their country on the way to Syria. There were approximately 60 volunteers of all ages, AP reported on July 27, and they will join 200 who preceded them.

Volunteers Stopped At Border

The Pro-Justice Student Movement and another organization, the Commemoration Headquarters for the Martyrs of Islam's World Movement, had announced on July 15 and 16 that they would be sending volunteers to Lebanon. But General Mohammad Hejazi, commander of the paramilitary Basij, said dispatching suicide bombers to Lebanon might be well-intentioned but it does not help Iran or Hizballah. Hejazi also denied an official connection with the volunteers.

This caravan of volunteers did not get far, as the authorities stopped them at the Bazargan border crossing near the eastern Turkish town of Gurbulak on July 28, AP and the Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA) reported. Spokesman Ali Komeili explained, "The authorities said we could not pass through the border as we were wearing a kind of uniform." The students began a sit-in.

Although these volunteer actions do not have an official imprimatur, Iran is openly dispatching other forms of aid to Lebanon. Iranian Deputy Health Minister Moayed Alavian led a delegation to Beirut on July 21, the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) reported. Alavian said Iran will provide medical care and pharmaceuticals and added that two planeloads of aid have arrived in Damascus and are being sent to Lebanon.

The fifth consignment of Iranian aid destined for Lebanon arrived in Damascus on July 23, IRNA reported. The two aircraft carrying medicine and medical equipment from the Red Crescent Society came on the heels of four other aid shipments, Iranian Charge d'Affaires in Syria Ghazanfar Roknabadi said. "This is apart from our political support for the Islamic resistance movement against the assault of the Israeli regime," Roknabadi added. He described the provision of ambulances and food, and he said more ambulances, food, and medicine will be sent to Lebanon.

Clerical Encouragement

Iran's leading clerics are encouraging their countrymen to support Hizballah financially and in other ways. A joint statement from four of Iran's top clerics -- Grand Ayatollahs Nasser Makarem-Shirazi, Mohammad Fazel-Lankarani, Lutfollah Safi-Golpaygani, and Javad Aqa-yi Tabrizi -- said they will allocate a percentage of the funds they receive to the Lebanese people, Mehr News Agency reported on July 23. Makarem-Shirazi and Nuri-Hamedani added that other religious funds could be used to help Palestinians and Lebanese. Nuri-Hamedani explained: "This would be permitted as a means of strengthening the oppressed people of Lebanon, the Hizballah resistance front, as well as the oppressed Palestinians who are engaged in an Islamic jihad to defend themselves against diabolical and arrogant powers."

Grand Ayatollah Seyyed Ezzedin Zanjani condemned on July 25 the Israeli activities in Lebanon and Palestine, provincial television reported. He called on Muslims and Islamic governments to remain united and to assist "the pious and heroic Lebanese combatants." Also in Mashhad on July 25, the Khorasan-i Razavi branch of the Imam Khomeini Relief Committee said it is ready to collect people's contributions for the Lebanese and Palestinians.

Ayatollah Ebrahim Amini told officials of the Iranian national airline in Tehran on July 27 that Israeli actions in Lebanon and Palestine resemble the crusades, ISNA reported. He said the United States is allied with European governments in an effort to destroy Islam. "What they want is not limited to the destruction of Hizballah," Amini said. "They want to destroy all Islamic nations and governments." Amini denounced countries that cooperate with Israel.

Islamic Culture and Communications Organization head Ayatollah Mohammad Ali Taskhiri told the clerical community on July 27 that the Islamic world is waiting for the clergy to provide Hizballah with "all-out support," ISNA reported. He said the clerics must inform people using any means at their disposal, from the pulpits to the print and broadcast media.

Grand Ayatollah Hussein Nuri-Hamedani complained on July 27 that some Egyptian and Saudi clerics have encouraged "the global arrogance" with their religious decrees, ISNA reported. Sheikh Abdullah bin Jabreen, a Saudi Wahhabi, issued a fatwa against Hizballah and announced it is illegal for Muslims to support or pray for it, UPI reported on July 21. The governments in Cairo and Riyadh have called on Syria to limit its support for Hizballah. Now that Hizballah has stood up to Israel, Nuri-Hamedani said, Muslims must support the organization.

In The Basement Or In Damascus?

Iranian government spokesman Gholam Hussein Elham said on July 24 that the Islamic Republic will not send military personnel to Lebanon to participate in the current conflict, IRNA reported.

According to U.S. observers, Iranians are already there. Ambassador Henry Crumpton, the State Department's coordinator for counterterrorism, said on July 25, "I am confident that Iranian operatives are inside Lebanon right now with Hizballah," Reuters reported. Crumpton referred to Iran as "the paymaster" that spent "hundreds of millions of dollars" on arms and other forms of support for Hizballah.

Iran has greater influence over Hizballah than Syria does, Crumpton said, but it does not control the group. Iran is "clearly directing a lot of Hizballah actions," he said, and "Hizballah asks their permission to do things, especially if it has broader international implications."

If this is an accurate assessment, then it may explain Supreme National Security Council Secretary Ali Larijani's arrival in Damascus late on July 26. Mehr News Agency and Reuters reported he is to discuss regional developments with Syrian officials. Larijani also is expected to meet with Hizballah Secretary-General Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, "Ha'aretz" and "The Jerusalem Post" reported on July 27, citing Kuwait's daily "Al-Seyassah." Nasrallah reportedly made the hazardous overland trip to Damascus in civilian -- rather than in clerical -- clothing.

There also were Israeli reports that Nasrallah was sheltering in the Iranian Embassy in Beirut. The Israeli "Ma'ariv" newspaper reported on July 26 that according to anonymous intelligence officials, Nasrallah is hiding in the embassy basement, which has become his "refuge and operations room." Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi told reporters in Tehran on July 26 that there is no truth to this "Israeli lie," IRNA reported. (Bill Samii)

FEELING LEFT OUT IN TEHRAN. Speaking in Rome on July 26 after a conference on Lebanon, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said, "It is important that we work with the countries of the region to find a solution, and that should also include Iran and Syria," RFE/RL reported. However, neither country was represented at the conference. Participants were Egypt, France, Italy, Jordan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, the U.K., the United States, the UN, and the World Bank, Reuters reported. Also in attendance were Canada, Cyprus, Germany, Greece, Spain, and Turkey; the EU was represented by Javier Solana and current EU chair Finland; and the Vatican was there as an observer. Prime Minister Fuad Siniora and four cabinet members represented Lebanon.

Iranian officials predicted that excluding them and the Syrians would be a mistake. Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi said, "They should have invited all the countries of the region, including Syria and Iran, if they want peace," The Guardian" reported on July 26. (Bill Samii)

AHMADINEJAD WARNS THAT A MIDDLE EAST STORM IS BREWING. During his July 25 visit to Dushanbe, Mahmud Ahmadinejad said the Israeli attack on Lebanon will not yield positive results and could cause bigger problems, Radio Farda reported. "To attack another country in this way will not solve anything, instead it will make the problems more complicated," he said. "Those who think that by oppressing a nation they can create a foothold for themselves are making a big mistake." He appeared to threaten that the conflict will escalate, saying, "There is an expression in Persian: 'He who raises the wind will get a hurricane.' And this hurricane is just round the corner in the Middle East and it will be harsh and destructive for the enemies of humanity."

At the Ahvaz city hall on July 25, meanwhile, Ali Zu'aytir, Hizballah's representative in Iran, gave a speech in which he said, "In order to implement its satanic design, the world arrogance has placed the protection of the Zionist regime's interests atop its Middle East agenda," Khuzestan Provincial television reported. Zu'aytir said "the Zionists" want to disarm Hizballah. "In the first place, our [Lebanese] Hizballah intends to solve the problems which Lebanon is facing and we cannot say if resistance will end or not," he added. "We shall resist as long as our problems with that usurper regime exist." (Bill Samii)

AHMADINEJAD VISITS TURKMENISTAN AND TAJIKISTAN. Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad met with Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov in Ashgabat on July 24 for talks centered on the expansion of mutual cooperation, IRNA reported. Ahmadinejad called ties between the two countries "very good." For his part, Niyazov said that the talks were "successful and fruitful," ITAR-TASS reported. IRNA reported that bilateral trade volume was $1.2 billion in 2005 and $600 million in the first half of 2006.

Ahmadinejad held a second round of talks with Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov in Ashgabat on July 25, reported. The discussion focused on energy issues, with the two sides agreeing to form a joint task force to work out proposals in a month's time on hydrocarbon shipments. Iran, which is set to buy 8 billion cubic meters of natural gas from Turkmenistan in 2006, plans to buy 14 billion cubic meters in 2007. During Ahmadinejad's visit, the two sides also signed seven cooperation agreements, MNA reported.

Ahmadinejad met with Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov in Dushanbe on July 25 for talks on bilateral relations and regional issues, IRNA and RFE/RL's Tajik Service reported. Ministers from the two countries signed five memoranda of understanding and cooperation agreements in the course of the visit.

Ahmadinejad and Rakhmonov attended a ceremony on July 26 to mark the formal opening of the Anzab tunnel, IRNA reported. The tunnel, which is located 80 kilometers outside Dushanbe, links the Tajik capital with roads leading north. Ahmadinejad called the tunnel project a turning point in Iranian-Tajik relations. "The implementation of this big dream is evidence of the two nations' desire to boost their relations and start larger development projects," Tajik television quoted him as saying. According to IRNA, Iran provided $21 million in financing for the $40 million project.

At a press conference on July 26 in Dushanbe with his Tajik counterpart President Rakhmonov, President Ahmadinejad proposed the establishment of a Persian-language television network for Afghan, Iranian, and Tajik people, IRNA reported on July 26. Ahmadinejad said that the Tajik side has "welcomed" the television initiative "so it should be discussed with Afghan authorities." Iran currently broadcasts programs to Afghanistan in both Dari (Afghan Persian) and in Pashto. It is not clear if the proposed television network would be in Iranian Persian or it would also include segments in Dari or Tajik. While Dari is one of the official languages of Afghanistan, traditionally Afghan authorities have viewed Iranian cultural influences, including in the field of language, with suspicion. (Daniel Kimmage, Amin Tarzi)

STONING SENTENCES RESUME. Iranian courts have resumed handing down stoning sentences for women after a three-and-a-half year lull, Radio Farda reported on July 27 (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 23 December 2002). Ashraf Kalhori, 37, who has already served five years in prison for adultery and her role in the murder of her husband, has now been sentenced to death by stoning; the sentence is supposed to be carried out in two weeks. Kalhori's lawyer in Tehran, Ms. Shadi Sadr, told Radio Farda that she has filed an appeal in an effort to change the verdict through the judicial system. Kalhori has also written a letter to the chief justice in Tehran, Sadr said, asking for clemency. Another Tehran lawyer, Farideh Ghayrat, told Radio Farda that death by stoning is legal under Iran's penal code, but that women's rights lawyers in Iran are questioning whether it is justified under Islamic law. (Bill Samii)

STUDENT ACTIVIST BEGINS HUNGER STRIKE. Khalil Bahramian, the lawyer for a student activist who has been imprisoned for almost seven years, said on July 25 that he is no longer allowed to receive visitors, ILNA reported. The lawyer said he went to visit his client, Akbar Mohammadi, at Evin prison on July 24, and the authorities said because Mohammadi is on a hunger strike visitors are barred. Bahramian added that Akbar and his brother, Manuchehr, are in poor health. (Bill Samii)

LAWYER SENTENCED TO PRISON. The Tehran Revolutionary Court sentenced attorney Abdolfattah Soltani to five years in prison and also barred him from practicing as a lawyer or holding public office for an additional five years, ILNA reported. Soltani was the attorney for several people accused of spying on the Iranian nuclear program, and he was imprisoned for seven months before being released in March. Soltani told ILNA he was acquitted of espionage but found guilty of revealing classified documents and of antigovernment propaganda. (Bill Samii)

EDITOR'S JAIL SENTENCE LIFTED. The Tehran Penal Court initially sentenced Abdul Rasul Vesal, the former editor of "Iran" newspaper, to four months in prison for the publication of an offensive cartoon and fined him another 2 million rials ($225) for publishing false information, reported on July 17. However, ILNA reported on July 17 that payment of the fine was in lieu of the prison sentence. The cartoon allegedly insulted teachers, "Sharq" reported on July 5. (Bill Samii)

ISFAHAN FACTORY WORKERS ON STRIKE. Employees of a knitting and weaving factory in Isfahan continued demonstrating for a third day outside the legislature in Tehran on July 25, ILNA reported. Workers at the Simin-i No factory say they are owed five months of wages and, furthermore, management is ignoring them. They say Isfahan parliamentary representative Hassan Kamran and Tehran's Alireza Mahjub are following up on the case. (Bill Samii)

SOUTHWESTERN BOMBERS SENTENCED TO DEATH. The Ahvaz Revolutionary Court on July 25 passed sentences on 19 people for their alleged involvement in bombings in Khuzestan Province, ILNA reported. Attorney Javad Tariri, who represented two people, said 10 people have been sentenced to death for being "at war with God" (mohareb) and endangering national security. Three others have been sentenced to internal exile for 10, 15, and 20 years on identical charges. Another three defendants received five-year sentences for membership in an illegal group that seeks to undermine national security; one received five years for carrying explosives; and one received a one-year sentence for propagating against the system. The 19th defendant was acquitted, Tariri said.

Many ethnic Arabs live in the southwestern province, which borders Iraq. In the past, demonstrators in the southwest have objected to the quantity of Arabic-language broadcasts by state media, and they have also objected to the overall quality of the broadcasts. A ceremony marking the increase in Arabic programs on Khuzestan Province television took place on July 15, the station reported. Mr. Assefi, the Khuzestan Province TV station's manager, said difficulties with the signal in the northern part of the province have been resolved. He added that station personnel are serious about improving program quality and are conducting related audience research. (Bill Samii)

SECURITY MEASURES CONTINUE IN EASTERN IRAN. Colonel Mohammad Javad Ithna-Ashari said on July 18 that security personnel operating out of the Fath military base in Sistan va Baluchistan Province have freed 35 hostages and arrested five of their captors, IRNA reported. This operation broke up a gang responsible for narcotics smuggling and people-trafficking, in addition to kidnappings, IRNA reported.

The commander of Iran's national police force, Brigadier General Ismail Ahmadi-Moghaddam, said in the Luristan Province city of Khoramabad on July 26 that 40 kilometers of Iran's eastern border has been sealed and a total of 400 kilometers will have been sealed by December, Fars News Agency. He explained that this is being done through physical impediments as well as through the use of human resources and electronic and aerial surveillance. Successful border control will contribute to interdicting narcotics traffickers and fuel smugglers, he said. Ahmadi-Moghaddam was speaking at the introduction of the province's new police chief, who was identified only as Qassem-Nasri. Outgoing police chief Hojatoleslam Qassemi was thanked for his 34 years of service. (Bill Samii)

NEW CLERICS HEADING FOR EASTERN PROVINCES. Khorasan Razavi Provincial Governor-General Mohammad Javad Mohammadzadeh introduced his new adviser on clerical affairs, Hojatoleslam Seyyed Marvian-Husseini, on July 17, provincial television reported. Mohammadzadeh said the clergy's role in managing the country is "substantial, fundamental, and irreplaceable."

The same day, Hojatoleslam Maadi, head of the Friday Imams' Policymaking Council for Khorasan Razavi, North Khorasan, and South Khorasan provinces, said the provinces would be getting more clerics soon, provincial television reported. Maadi said there would be changes in the Friday Prayers staffs and related offices by September 23. He added that the three provinces do not have enough prayer leaders. By March 20, 2008, he continued, North Khorasan will have 12 instead of six Friday Prayer leaders, South Khorasan will have 10 instead of six, and Khorasan Razavi will have 50 instead of the current 38.

Late last year it was reported that the administration of President Ahmadinejad was spending a great deal of money on religious institutions, but Friday Prayer leaders answer to the Supreme Leader's office and, presumably, that is the entity that pays their salaries. (Bill Samii)

AZERI NEWSPAPER SHUT DOWN IN IRAN. Tabriz-based "Nada-yi Azarabadegan" Editor Abolfazl Vesali was sentenced by the East Azerbaijan Province press court on July 24 to six months in jail and the newspaper's license revoked for six months, ILNA reported. Vesali said he was accused of inciting the public with the materials he published, and he spent 45 days in jail despite reportedly having posted bail. The court has already sealed the newspaper's offices and taken the furniture, Vesali said, adding that he will appeal the sentence. Vesali criticized the provincial press union for its failure to speak out on his behalf. The daily was shut down on June 1 over its reporting in connection with ethnically based riots that took place in May, ILNA reported on June 2.

Azerbaijan National Independence Party leader Etibar Mammadov appealed on July 24 to Azeris throughout the world and to the various political forces within Azerbaijan to join forces in a movement to support the embattled Azeri minority in Iran, reported. He argued that an upsurge of protests among Iran's Azeris, which began two months ago in response to the publication of cartoons depicting Azeris as cockroaches creates new and favorable conditions for the unification of Azerbaijan and "southern Azerbaijan," as he described the predominantly Azeri-populated regions of northwestern Iran. But the online daily observed on July 25 that pro-Iranian Islamists in Azerbaijan are likely to seek to undermine any such broad-based movement, which would in addition enrage Tehran. (Bill Samii, Liz Fuller)

IRANIAN MILITARY ASKED TO STOP ATTACKS ON PKK. Murat Karayilan, a top official of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), suffered a leg wound in an Iranian artillery barrage in northern Iraq in late June, NTV reported from Istanbul on July 15. Karayilan and other wounded PKK members were treated at a hospital near Baghdad. The Iranian and Turkish armed forces have been cooperating on operations against the PKK and affiliated organizations for several months.

Iranian military attacks against PKK positions in northern Iraq are displacing noncombatants, Iraqi Kurdistan's Interior Minister Uthman al-Haj Mahmud said on 22 July, Al-Sharqiyah television reported the next day. The official said an Iranian artillery and rocket barrage forced residents of eight villages to flee. He called for a resumption of dialogue to resolve problems with the PKK.

Iran's ambassador to Ankara, Firuz Dolatabadi, said on July 24 that the United States and Israel are supporting the PKK, Istanbul's NTV reported. Dolatabadi added that Iran and Turkey are cooperating in the fight against the PKK. The U.S. State Department lists the PKK (also known as Kongra-Gel) as a "foreign terrorist organization," as does Iran. (Bill Samii)

IRAN CALLS FOR NEW ENGLISH-LANGUAGE NEWS CHANNEL. Ali Darabi, the deputy director for parliamentary and provincial affairs at Iranian state radio and television, announced in Arak on July 20 that the Islamic Republic is going to start an English-language television news channel, Mehr News Agency reported. He explained that Western media is boycotting the real news on events in Lebanon and Palestine. He said state radio and television broadcasts on 96 channels in 30 languages. Darabi said the U.S., which he referred to as "the arrogance," has hegemonic objectives: "By bringing to power and toppling its lackeys, the arrogance attempts to hatch utmost plots against Islam and the revolution, the example of which is the coming to power of Taliban, Al-Zarqawi and now Al-Muhajir in Iraq which has doubled the number of Shi'a martyrs in Iraq." (Bill Samii)

AGGRESSIVE MEASURES TO PREVENT BIRD FLU. Homayun Hamidi, head of the Veterinary Department in the West Azerbaijan Province city of Maku, said on July 16 that avian flu has not been detected in the area, provincial television reported from Urumiyeh, and that preventative measures are in place. In the first three months of the Iranian year -- which began on March 21 -- 70,000 trucks entering the country at the Bazargan border crossing have been disinfected. Red meat, chicken, and fishmeal entering Iran from Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan have been checked at Bazargan as well.

One day earlier, Anushiravan Mohseni-Bandpey, deputy chairman of the legislature's Health Committee, said reports of humans infected with bird flu in Mazandaran and Gulistan provinces have not been confirmed, Fars News Agency reported. Veterinary officials are destroying infected birds, he added, and the Health Ministry is trying to find the source of the infection. Hussein Hassani, director of Iran's Veterinary Organization, said on July 15 that almost 380 birds were tested and none were infected, Fars reported. He said a three-month operation to destroy migratory birds in the provinces bordering the Caspian Sea began in June, but added that there have been no cases of bird flu. (Bill Samii)

BOND ISSUE NEEDED FOR COMPLETION OF TEHRAN AIRPORT. Minister of Roads and Transport Mohammad Rahmati announced on July 9 that a 500 billion rial (approximately $57 million) bond issue will be made public to help fund completion of the Imam Khomeini International Airport, Mehr News Agency reported. Rahmati added that an investment of 1 trillion to 11 trillion rials is needed to complete the airport's first phase. All international flights can be transferred to the new airport if the first phase is completed, Rahmati continued.

Construction of the airport began in 1994 and it was to be completed by 2000, but its inauguration did not take place until February 2004. Operations were supposed to get under way in May 2004, but a dispute involving the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps caused further delays. A limited number of airlines began using the airport in April 2005; Tehran's Mehrabad Airport remains in use. (Bill Samii)

IRANIAN CONTRACTORS BUSY IN VENEZUELA. Deputy Minister of Housing and Urban Development Manuchehr Khajeh Dalui said on July 12 that Iranian contractors are building 10,000 residential units in Venezuela and could build another 30,000, the Mehr News Agency reported. The two countries are discussing a joint 150,000 unit construction project, he added. Khajeh Dalui said Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has welcomed Iranian involvement in his country's construction sector. (Bill Samii)

TEHRAN INSISTS THAT INDIA, PAKISTAN PAY MORE FOR GAS. Iranian Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki announced on July 23 in Tehran that there are "difficulties" in the fulfillment of a contract to supply India with natural gas, India's PTI news agency reported. The original contract -- to supply 5 million tons of liquefied natural gas (LNG) over 25 years -- set a maximum price of $3.25 per million British thermal units (MBTU). Now, Iran reportedly wants $5.1 per mBTU. India is insisting that Iran meet its commitment, and it is adamant that the deal will not be renegotiated.

Also on July 23, Iranian Petroleum Minister Kazem Vaziri-Hamaneh warned that Tehran will not sell gas to India and Pakistan at the price they are proposing, Fars News Agency reported. He reportedly added that the agreement has not yet been finalized. "If the Indian side is not ready to buy our gas at its real price, we have no obligation to sell it at the price lower than the real one," Vaziri-Hamaneh said, adding that India and Pakistan should forget about the lower price.

Iranian government spokesman Gholam Hussein Elham said on July 24 that talks on the sale of Iranian natural gas to India are continuing, IRNA reported. (Bill Samii)