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Iran Report: August 28, 2006

August 28, 2006, Volume 9, Number 32

IRAN AVOIDS DIRECT ANSWER, BUT READY FOR 'SERIOUS TALKS.' Iran responded on August 22 to an international proposal on Tehran's disputed nuclear program by saying it is ready for "serious talks." Iranian Supreme National Security Council Secretary Ali Larijani gave representatives from China, Russia, Britain, Germany, France, and Switzerland (representing U.S. interests) a written response to an international incentives package at a meeting in Tehran. The proposal is aimed at persuading the Islamic republic to abandon its controversial uranium-enrichment program and other sensitive activities.

Details have not yet emerged of the statement that Larijani, Iran's top nuclear negotiator, gave to diplomats. But Mohammad Saidi, a top official in the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, provided strong hints at the nature of the response.

Saidi said today that the international proposal has "fundamental and serious ambiguities." He added that although suspension of Iran's uranium enrichment is no longer an appropriate precondition, Tehran is willing to hold talks, Mehr News Agency reported. Saidi also criticized aspects of the proposal that emphasize deterrence and ignore nuclear cooperation.

Iran has also rejected the possibility of suspending uranium enrichment, Fars News Agency reported. Iranian officials have been saying the same thing for months. Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi gave a strong hint at the Iranian stance in his August 20 press conference, when he said Iran is not considering suspension of its enrichment activities.

Larijani also reiterated that Tehran sees moves to take its case to the UN Security Council as "illegal."

Consistent Line

The offer from the five permanent members of the UN Security Council (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) plus Germany was followed in late July by Security Council Resolution 1696, which calls on Iran to halt sensitive nuclear activities by the end of August or face the possibility of economic and political sanctions.

Iran thus finds itself in a position that it has avoided for years through a combination of diplomacy and deception. This situation can be attributed to the hard-line ideology of President Mahmud Ahmadinejad's administration and the support it is receiving from Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

The hard-line sentiments were strengthened when Ahmadinejad announced on April 11 that Iranians have "enriched uranium to the enrichment level required by nuclear power plants," state television reported.

More recently, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on August 21 that "arrogant powers, led by America," fear Islamic countries' progress and are trying to block Iran's scientific and technological development, state television reported. Therefore, he continued, Iran will continue its nuclear pursuits.

What Was Offered

European Union High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana gave the proposal to Iranian officials in Tehran on June 6. The proposal called on Iran to cooperate fully with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), "suspend all enrichment-related and reprocessing activities," and "resume implementation of the Additional Protocol [of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT)]."

In exchange, the six countries would suspend Security Council talks on the Iranian nuclear program. Moreover, they would back Iran's right to have a peaceful nuclear program that conforms with its NPT obligations. Construction of light-water reactors in Iran, furthermore, would be backed. Future cooperation would include a nuclear cooperation agreement between Iran and Euratom, cooperation on the management of spent nuclear fuel and radioactive waste, and assistance in nuclear-related research and development. Other issues included assurances on the provision of nuclear fuel, including enrichment at a joint facility in Russia.

The June proposal mentioned political and economic incentives, too. There would be a regional security conference. Iran would be fully integrated into the international economy -- including membership in the World Trade Organization (WTO) -- and there would be a trade and cooperation agreement with the EU. Restrictions would be lifted on the sale of European and U.S. manufactured parts for civilian aircraft. A long-term Iran-EU energy partnership would be created, and restrictions on the use of U.S. telecommunications equipment in Iran might be eliminated. There would be cooperation in the high-technology and agriculture sectors, too.

Where To Now?

If Iran continues its uranium-enrichment activities and does not comply with Resolution 1696, the Security Council could impose commercial or diplomatic sanctions -- per Chapter 7 of the UN Charter. The overseas travel of Iranian officials could be restricted and their assets frozen; there could be restrictions on Iranian sports teams' participation in international competitions; and there could be major economic embargoes.

It is unlikely that there will be much enthusiasm on the Security Council for any serious sanctions. Resistance will come primarily from Moscow and Beijing -- in part due to their geopolitical competition with the United States. China, furthermore, gets much of its energy from Iran. European powers get oil from Iran, and the country is a significant market for European goods.

There is concern that Iran would respond to sanctions by restricting oil exports. Indeed, Iran accounts for some 10 percent of global oil reserves and is OPEC's second-largest producer. Yet Iran is heavily reliant on its oil revenues, which account for 40-50 percent of the state budget and 80-90 percent of total export earnings. Petroleum Minister Kazem Vaziri-Hamaneh has dismissed use of the so-called oil weapon, although other officials have mentioned it.

Iranian withdrawal from the NPT is another possible response by Tehran. President Ahmadinejad hinted at this possibility in February, and doing so now would conform to his confrontational foreign policy style. Alaedin Borujerdi, chairman of the legislature's national security and foreign policy committee, said on August 21 that NPT compliance would no longer apply if pressure on Iran continued, the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) reported.

Military action against the Iranian nuclear program is a remote possibility. Tehran has responded to this risk with a new doctrine of asymmetric warfare. Iran also reportedly has links with Iraqi insurgents who could act against coalition forces. Additionally, Tehran believes U.S. forces are already overstretched with Iraq and Afghanistan and cannot commit to another military confrontation.

Iran also has engaged in saber-rattling, although this may be intended to reassure a domestic audience rather than frighten a foreign one. Iran displayed the new Fajr-3 missile, torpedoes, and other weapons during war games in the Persian Gulf, Straits of Hormuz, and Sea of Oman in late March and early April. These exercises allowed Iran to show its naval forces' area-denial capabilities. Iran is currently holding five-week long military exercises in 16 provinces.

Where Did Things Go Wrong?

The Iranian nuclear program got under way even before the Islamic Revolution of 1978-79, and it has taken a long time for it to reach the stage of a UN Security Council resolution.

It was not until August 2002 that an opposition group revealed the existence of a uranium-enrichment facility at Natanz and a heavy-water plant at Arak; it was not until June 2003 that the IAEA said Iran is not in compliance with the NPT. Yet in the following years, Iran continued to negotiate with Europe and avoid referral to the Security Council.

No international consensus on the gravity of the situation emerged until September 2005, when the IAEA confirmed that Iran had resumed uranium conversion at Isfahan.

The current situation can be attributed to the newfound emphasis on ideology in foreign policy, according to Hojatoleslam Hassan Rohani. Rohani is currently the supreme leader's representative on the Supreme National Security Council, and for 16 years he was the council's secretary. In that position, he was Iran's lead nuclear negotiator from October 2003 until his replacement in August 2005.

Rohani said in late July that the country is paying a heavy price at the moment, and he spoke out against critics of the diplomatic process who failed to understand the value of the concessions Iran was receiving from Europe, "Etemad" reported on July 23.

Rohani met with President-elect Ahmadinejad for the first time shortly after the 2005 election. Asked later if there are any differences between the incoming administration and that of President Mohammad Khatami, Rohani conceded that there might be "some differences of opinion" regarding the suspension of uranium enrichment, "Sharq" reported on July 14, 2005. Nobody opposes talks with Europe, he continued, "but there may be some differences of opinion...with some other issues."

In the 2005 interview with "Sharq," Rohani stressed that Iran must avoid worrying other countries and isolating itself. "We have to interact with the world for the sake of our country's development," he said. "If what we envisaged for the next 20 years is to see a developed Iran ranking first in the region from the scientific, technological, and economic aspects, can we achieve this objective without interaction with the industrial world?"

Rohani went on to note the significance of Europe, Russia, Japan, China, and other industrialized states, and he emphasized the importance to Iran of diplomacy and the danger of isolation.

By now, it is obvious that Rohani's advice was ignored, and he is not impressed. Several months ago, Rohani referred to "upstarts that have no experience and track record," "Etemad" reported on June 15.

How the Ahmadinejad team reacts next will color Iran's relations with the world for years to come. (Bill Samii)

IRANIAN NUCLEAR DEMANDS YIELD VARIOUS RESPONSES. Supreme National Security Council Secretary Ali Larijani said on August 24 that the Iranian response two days earlier to an international proposal meant to resolve the controversy over its nuclear program should eliminate the other side's concerns and also protect Iran's self-perceived right to use nuclear energy, IRNA reported. Larijani said Iran is amenable to the resumption of negotiations and anticipates the views of its interlocutors.

Official details on the Iranian response have not been made available yet, but Larijani said, "Iran's response partly deals with the favorite topic of the 5+1 group [China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, the United States, plus Germany], namely the security arrangements of the region." He added, "Given the present sensitive conditions of the region, Iran is prepared to assist promote sustainable peace in the region."

When Tehran submitted its official reaction on August 22, it expressed a readiness for "serious talks," even though it refuses to meet one of the prerequisites for talks, namely, stopping enrichment. This has yielded various reactions in different capitals.

French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy said on August 23 in Paris that Iran must cease the enrichment of uranium if it wants to resume the nuclear negotiation process, LCI Television reported. Douste-Blazy said, "I want to reiterate France's readiness to negotiate, but I repeat, as we've said before and as Mr. Larijani knows full well, that a return to the negotiating table is tied to the suspension of uranium-enrichment activities."

The White House made clear on August 23 that it is underwhelmed by the Iranian response to the international nuclear proposal, RFE/RL reported. "The response," White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said, "falls short of the conditions set by the Security Council which require the full and verifiable suspension of all enrichment-related and reprocessing activities." Perino said the White House will consider the Iranian response, nevertheless, and it is "closely consulting with the other members of the Security Council on the next steps." Anonymous "U.S. and European officials" said the Iranian response does not fulfill UN Security Council Resolution 1696 -- which calls for a cessation of uranium enrichment and reprocessing activities -- either, "The Wall Street Journal" reported on August 23. Their countries are deciding if they should push for sanctions against Iran.

An anonymous Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said on August 23, "China has always believed that seeking a peaceful resolution to the Iranian nuclear issue through diplomatic talks is the best choice [to solve the issue] and in the interests of all parties concerned," Xinhua reported. In Tehran on August 23, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi said his country's response to the international proposal contains "very positive and transparent signs," IRNA reported.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mikhail Kamynin said in Moscow on August 23 that the Iranian response to the international proposal deserves careful attention, according to the ministry's website ( He referred to possible "nuances" and "constructive elements."

Also on August 23, a delegation of Iranian officials arrived in order to inspect Russian nuclear facilities, RFE/RL and "The Moscow Times" reported. The delegation includes Atomic Energy Organization of Iran official Mahmud Jannatian, and it is expected to visit the Kalininskaya nuclear power plant, located in the city of Udomlia between Moscow and St. Petersburg. The power plant utilizes the VVER-1000 reactor, which is the model installed at Bushehr in southwestern Iran. Among the topics of discussion will be personnel training and nuclear-fuel deliveries. The Iranians are expected to visit Kalininskaya for two days and then go to another reactor outside Moscow, RFE/RL reported. (Bill Samii)

IRAN MARKS RELIGIOUS DAY. Iran's official Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) congratulated the Iranian people on August 22, the day of Mab'ath, which is the anniversary of the day that the Prophet Muhammad had the first of his revelations. Some Iranians mark the holiday by gathering in mosques and other holy places. August 22 also coincides with Mi'raj, the day when the Prophet ascended to heaven on a winged horse named Buraq.

Princeton University scholar Bernard Lewis noted the religious significance of August 22 in an editorial in "The Wall Street Journal" on August 8 in which he also noted it was the date by which President Mahmud Ahmadinejad promised a response to the nuclear proposal submitted to Iran by the international community. "This might well be deemed an appropriate date for the apocalyptic ending of Israel and if necessary of the world," Lewis wrote. He added a cautionary note, however, saying, "It is far from certain that Mr. Ahmadinejad plans any such cataclysmic events precisely for Aug. 22." (Bill Samii)

SUPREME LEADER'S ADVISER DISCOURAGES NUCLEAR CONCESSIONS. Former Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Velayati, who now serves as Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei's foreign policy adviser, said on August 22 that Iran's nuclear accomplishments are more important than the adverse publicity they have garnered, the Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA) reported. He therefore dismissed the international pressure Iran faces, and he added that this is inevitable, saying, "You can be sure that whatever we try to do in the sphere of advance technology will be confronted by influential states in the world." Iran should disregard international pressure, he said, adding that the nuclear issue is not open to "international debate." (Bill Samii)

IRAN TESTS MISSILES DURING WAR GAMES. The Zarbat-i Zolfaqar war games began on August 19 in Iran and are scheduled to take place in 16 provinces in the south, southwest, and west, RFE/RL and other news agencies reported. The exercises could last up to five weeks, Military Chief of Staff Brigadier General Musavi told state television on August 17.

General Alireza Afshar, deputy commander for cultural affairs and defense propaganda at the general headquarters of the armed forces, said on August 17 that "the reason for conducting these war games is to deter the enemy from daring to threaten or put pressure on the Islamic Republic of Iran," Fars News Agency reported.

On August 20, spokesman Brigadier General Kiumars Heidari told IRNA that the 250-kilometer-range Saqeh surface-to-surface missile was tested successfully.

Brigadier General Mohammad Hussein Dadras, commander of the regular ground forces, said in Zahedan on August 21 that the war games are going well, IRNA reported. Ground forces are engaging airplanes and helicopters, and unmanned aircraft have been used for this as well. Speaking in Sistan va Baluchistan Province, Dadras said other stages of the exercises will take place sequentially in 15 other provinces. Dadras went on to say that the Iranian military can assess the strengths and weaknesses of its opponents, and it can counter attacks with a variety of missiles. Turning to the nuclear issue and the possibility of sanctions, Dadras said Iran owes its current capabilities to the earlier imposition of sanctions. (Bill Samii)

U.S. INTELLIGENCE ON IRAN FOUND LACKING. There are "significant gaps in our knowledge and understanding of the various areas of concern about Iran," according to an August 23 report from the U.S. House of Representatives' Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence ( Among the areas of interest, the report mentions Iran's nuclear weapons program, the question of chemical and biological weapons, and the ballistic-missile threat. The report also considers Iranian destabilization of Iraq and support for terrorism outside Iraq. The report recommends improving analysis, improving coordination on Iran-specific issues, and improving coordination on counterproliferation issues. It calls for enhanced human intelligence capabilities and augmented linguistic capabilities ("More staff who speak Farsi at a native or professionally proficient level"). Other recommendations are stronger counterintelligence efforts, the definition of goals, and the development of metrics. (Bill Samii)

IRAN SEIZES ROMANIAN OIL RIG IN PERSIAN GULF. An Iranian naval vessel opened fire on an offshore drilling rig belonging to the Romanian Oil Services Group (Grup Servicii Petroliere; GSP), on August 22 and arrested the crew, Rompres reported. The crew comprised 19 or 20 Romanian oil workers and seven Indian catering staff.

GSP press officer Radu Petrescu said the seizure relates to a dispute over payment of fees. "For almost two years now we have been operating with two oil rigs in the Persian Gulf for the Iranian oil company, but in the last six months, our beneficiary defaulted on his contractual clauses, specifically he failed to issue a new bank letter of credit for the current year," Petrescu said. The attack came after the Romanians terminated the contract. Petrescu added that a second rig, "Fortuna," was towed to Sharjah safely a few days ago.

Petrescu said later that Iranian soldiers and police were aboard the rig, as were representatives of the firms with which there is a dispute -- Oriental Oil and PetroIran.

Still later the same day, Iran's ambassador to Bucharest, Ali Akbar Farazi, was summoned to the Romanian Foreign Ministry and told that the use of force to resolve a commercial dispute is unacceptable, Rompres reported. Farazi said he has not succeeded in obtaining information from Iran because of the national holiday.

Romanian presidential adviser Sergiu Medar said, "This is a trade litigation, to which Iran has responded too toughly," Bucharest's "Gandul" newspaper reported on August 23. GSP Chairman Gabriel Comanescu said his firm will sue PetroIran, "Evenimentuel Zilei" reported on August 23.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi said on August 23 that the affair has not been reported accurately, IRNA reported. He said the Romanian company illegally removed some drilling equipment, and the police foiled its plan to conduct "its second robbery."

An editorial in Bucharest's "Ziua" daily on August 23 referred to "the first large-scale act of terrorism against our country."

President Mahmud Ahmadinejad and his Romanian counterpart, Traian Basescu, held a telephone conversation on August 23 in which they discussed the incident, state television and IRNA reported on August 24. The two officials reportedly agreed that occasonal misunderstandings of this sort are inevitable, and they also concured that the incident will not harm the two countries' relations. Ahmadinejad reportedly assured his coutnerpart that this is merely a commercial misunderstanding and is not an act of hostility against Romania, Rompres reported.

According to Iranian television, GSP wanted to lease the oil rig at rate that surpassed the existing contract, whereas PetroIran claimed the three-year lease obviates a price hike. (Bill Samii)

HIZBALLAH ENVOY IN IRAN SAYS GROUP WON'T LEAVE SOUTH OR DISARM. Speaking in Tehran on August 20, Lebanese Hizballah envoy Seyyed Abdallah Safi-al-Din said his organization will disarm only when the Lebanese government can guarantee that Israel will never attack Lebanon again, Mehr News Agency reported. "But, so far no such guarantees have been given," he added. Several UN Security Council resolutions call for the disarmament of all Lebanese militias. Safi-al-Din said the most recent UN resolution -- 1701 -- is "unjust." The resolution also requires that only the Lebanese Army and UN peacekeepers should be in southern Lebanon, but the Hizballah envoy dismissed this, saying, "The deployment of the Lebanese army in the south of the country will not prevent the presence of Hizballah in the south."

Safi-al-Din went on to mention the objective of destroying Israel and said, "The Zionist regime is not a legitimate regime; its government did not come into being in normal ways." He said the justification for Israel's existence is its service as America's regional policeman, but its existence is no longer justified because Israel was defeated in its conflict with Hizballah.

Lebanese Tourism Minister Joseph Sarkis, a member of the Christian Lebanese Forces, believes Iran is discouraging Hizballah from disarming, Argentina's "La Nacion" newspaper reported on August 22. Sarkis said Hizballah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah should return his arsenal to Iran or make it part of the Lebanese army. Sarkis said the Lebanese people oppose war -- "Only Hizballah wants it, and that is because Iran wants it." He added, "[Hizballah] destroyed the country with its war and now, with money from Iran, is replacing the government and the State."

Sheikh Nabil Qawuq, the Hizballah official in charge of the Southern Lebanon region, thanked Iran on August 18 for "supporting Lebanon's right to resist," Al-Manar television reported. Speaking at a funeral for two Hizballah combatants and 27 civilians in the village of Qana, he added, "We are proud that Iran stands by the Lebanese people who are defending their land."

The same day in Tehran, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi said, "The Iranian government's cooperation with the Lebanese government and that country's resistance movement is quite transparent and in accordance with the international norms and relations among governments," IRNA reported. Assefi said Iranian support for Hizballah is "merely of humanitarian, spiritual, and political nature, and that movement is needless of other types of assistance." (Bill Samii)

PARLIAMENT PASSES ANTICORRUPTION LEGISLATION. Legislation passed on August 23 requires all state officials -- including legislators, managing directors, and judicial officials, as well as members of the cabinet, Guardians Council, Expediency Council, and Assembly of Experts -- to submit annual financial statements to the State Inspectorate, Radio Farda reported. Noted Iranian human rights activist and lawyer Mehrangiz Kar told Radio Farda the measure seems superficial, because the judiciary already has the authority to prosecute corruption cases. She added that it is a sign of how bad official corruption has become in the country. (Bill Samii)

IRAN SEEKS INVOLVEMENT IN NORWEGIAN ENERGY SECTOR. Iranian Deputy Petroleum Minister Hadi Nejad-Husseinian met in Stavanger on August 21 with Norwegian Petroleum and Energy Minister Odd Roger Enoksen to discuss the possibility of Iranian involvement in Norway's oil and gas sector, IRNA reported. Enoksen reportedly expressed a similar interest in the Iranian energy sector. Norwegian firms such as Norsk Hydro and Statoil are already developing Iran's oil and gas fields, while Norwegian energy-services firms are heavily involved there, too. Helge Lund, Statoil's chief executive officer, said on August 21 that the South Pars gas field is his firm's main interest in Iran, Dow Jones Newswire reported. (Bill Samii)

GASOLINE IMPORTS REACH IRAN. The National Iranian Oil Company's managing director, Gholam Hussein Nozari, said on August 22 that a $2.5 billion shipment of gasoline has reached Iran and this should be enough for five months, Mehr News Agency reported. The Iranian government recently decided against the imposition of gasoline rationing despite heavy subsidies to keep gasoline prices low. (Bill Samii)

HUNDREDS OF ISFAHAN TEXTILE WORKERS CLAIM BACK WAGES. Ebrahim Fathian, who represents Isfahan Province workers, said on August 23 that 300 employees of the Rahimzadeh textile factory in Isfahan are owed six months wages and benefits and 500 workers at the Simin-i No textile factory in Isfahan have not been paid or received benefits since March 21, the Iranian labor News Agency (ILNA) reported. Fathian said the Rahimzadeh textile factory has not been able to pay wages, buy raw materials, and resume production, because it has not received the 15 million rial ($1,700) credit it was promised -- presumably by the central government. Fathian attributed the situation to privatization and a downturn in the textile business. (Bill Samii)

JAILED WRITER'S CONFESSION HAS A FAMILIAR RING TO IT. Iranian officials say prominent writer and philosopher Ramin Jahanbegloo has confessed to pursuing nonviolent revolution in the country. Colleagues and human rights activists had expressed concern when Jahanbegloo was arrested in late April that he might be coerced into a confession. Their fears were realized on August 17, when Iran's prosecutor-general was quoted as saying Jahanbegloo admitted to plotting a "velvet revolution" and apologized for his "mistakes." This method has been used in the past by the Islamic republic in order to discredit its critics.

Harvard- and Sorbonnes-educated Ramin Jahanbegloo is the most prominent intellectual to have been arrested in Iran in the past year.

A researcher on Iran for the NGO Human Rights Watch (HRW), Hadi Ghaemi, tells RFE/RL that the country's judiciary is trying to silence critics by charging Jahanbegloo with plotting against the establishment: "The goal is to create fear among activists and intellectuals in Iran so that they know that even someone like Jahanbegloo -- who was not involved in political issues -- can be charged with instigating a velvet revolution. They want others to be careful."

For many, Jahanbegloo's detention and his "confessions" in custody are reminders of a familiar pattern in the Islamic republic's clampdown on critics. Activists, journalists, and intellectuals are jailed and denied access to lawyers or family members.

Within a few weeks or months, they issue purported letters of confession or appear on state television to confess and repent. Their crimes often include attempting to overthrow the Islamic establishment and maintaining ties with unspecified "enemies" of Iran.

But many observers have questioned their authenticity. And right advocates have rejected them as a farce.

Iranian activists have also come forward to expose the nature of such "confessions," drawing on their own experiences. They have said that they were forced to make false confessions under extreme duress.

Political prisoners have also claimed they were pressed into writing letters incriminating themselves or confessing to charges as dictated by their interrogators.

One case included several online journalists who were arrested in 2004.

Weeks later, they appeared on television to say they had been encouraged by foreign enemies to tarnish Iran's image.

Five days later, in a meeting with government officials, they retracted their confessions. They said they had been made were under physical and psychological pressure.

Journalist and blogger Omid Memarian was among those who withdrew their confessions. He tells RFE/RL that confessions by prisoners under duress, and who are denied contact with the outside world, are worthless: "Especially for intellectuals like journalists and professors, prison is very destructive -- their statements [under custody] have no weight. They would say anything in order to free themselves from the conditions they are facing. In solitary confinement, individuals reach a point where they believe things can never be normal again, so they repeat whatever the interrogators say. I think that until Jahanbegloo is freed in a normal situation, whatever he says has no legal value."

News of Jahanbegloo's "confessions" was first reported by hard-line publications, including the newspaper "Resalat."

That daily suggested in late July that a tape of the confessions was being shown in what it described as "cultural circles."

"Resalat" claimed Jahanbegloo said he was in contact with individuals in Canada and that he was on a mission to participate in a Czechoslovak-style "velvet revolution" in Iran.

Weeks later, Prosecutor-General Qorbanali Dori-Najafabadi announced in mid-August that Jahanbegloo had acknowledged his involvement in a revolutionary plot.

Some have speculated that Jahanbegloo's confessions might be shown on television.

A spokesman for Iran's hard-line judiciary (Jamal Karimirad) recently suggested as much to journalists.

Prosecutor-General Dori-Najafabadi then claimed that Jahanbegloo had agreed to the broadcasting of his confessions. He added cryptically that "whether they are [actually] broadcast or not is another matter."

Journalist and former prisoner Memarian insists Iranian officials are testing the waters: "As in past years, news of the confessions is first spread through certain circles; then they check with society to gauge reactions. Then, based on those reactions and a calculation of its pros and cons, they broadcast it. It's the same now. It seems that officials who are behind [Jahanbegloo's confessions] have not learned their lesson. The topic of coerced confessions has really lost its effect, and people don't believe it. I think it actually harms the judiciary."

Human Rights Watch's Ghaemi says he thinks broadcasting the confessions will further damage Iran and its credibility on human rights issues: "I think there are individuals inside the Iranian [establishment] who know that these confessions do not solve any problem. In fact, it has been proven that they are not credible and have no validity. So maybe those who think about it logically know that no one will be convinced -- it will only damage the human rights situation in Iran and the way [Iran] is viewed abroad."

Jahanbegloo's arrest has been condemned by human rights groups, who have called for his release.

The European Union and Canada have expressed concern over his fate.

Activists in Iran, the United States, Britain, and several other countries held a three-day hunger strike in July to call for the immediate release of Jahanbegloo and all of Iran's political prisoners.

Jahanbegloo is a noted scholar who has published books in several languages on issues that include modernity in Iran, and Indian independence leader Mahatma Gandhi and his teachings on nonviolent resistance. He also has interviewed international figures, including the Dalai Lama. (Golnaz Esfandiari)