December 13, 2006, Volume 9, Number 46
MIXED RECEPTION FOR IDEA OF SIMULTANEOUS PARLIAMENTARY, PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS. Lawmakers voted on December 3 to hasten a decision on a bill for holding Iran's next presidential and legislative elections simultaneously, Fars News Agency, the Iranian Labor News Agency (ILNA), and Radio Farda reported. Out of 206 parliamentarians who were present at the session, 156 of the 184 who voted expressed backing for the bill. The stated reason for holding simultaneous elections is reducing public expenditures and contributing to political stability. "Iran" newspaper reported on November 20 that legislators' signatures were being collected for a bill requiring the holding of simultaneous presidential and municipal council elections, also as a way to reduce expenses.
Speaker of parliament Gholam-Ali Haddad-Adel said on December 6 that he opposes the proposal that presidential and parliamentary elections be held simultaneously, Mehr News Agency reported. Haddad-Adel said he favors holding simultaneous elections, but it should be a major poll and a minor one, such as the presidential and Assembly of Experts polls, or the parliamentary and municipal council polls.
Haddad-Adel also encouraged voters to turn out for the elections on December 15, the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) reported. (Bill Samii)
UNITY ELUDES FUNDAMENTALISTS IN TEHRAN. Deputy parliament speaker Mohammad Reza Bahonar said on December 3 that "fundamentalists" (osulgarayan) -- a term referring to the younger generation of conservatives -- have not achieved unity on which candidates to back in the upcoming municipal-council election for Tehran, "Farhang-i Ashti" reported on December 4. He added that there are two or even three candidate lists, and there is the possibility of all three being published in the coming days. Bahonar said that if several lists appear, his Islamic Society of Engineers will not declare a specific choice but will confine itself to encouraging members to vote. (Bill Samii)
AMERICAN VISITORS TO BE FINGERPRINTED. The Guardians Council, which must confirm all legislation's compatibility with Islamic law and with the constitution, approved a law on December 2 that requires the fingerprinting of all U.S. nationals when they enter Iran or when they apply for an Iranian visa, IRNA reported.
Seyyed Ahmad Musavi, the vice president for legal and parliamentary affairs, said the executive branch opposes this legislation, "Iran" reported on November 20. "The United States government does not like the Iranian nation," Musavi was quoted as saying, "but we do honor all those that are invited to Iran." (Bill Samii)
MEDIA, WATCHDOG SPOTLIGHT INTERNET CENSORSHIP IN IRAN. Media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) noted on December 5 that the Iranian government is blocking access to the youtube.com video-sharing website and "The New York Times" website. RSF added that access to wikipedia.org, an online encyclopedia, was blocked for several days in early December, and access to the Kurdish version of "Wikipedia" was blocked for several months.
"The Guardian" reported the same day that amazon.com and the Internet Movie Database (imdb.com) were blocked, too. Saying the blockages are not "airtight," "The Guardian" reported that skilled operators can get around the government-imposed obstacles. The British daily added that the government now requires bloggers and website operators to register officially. (Bill Samii)
STUDENT ACTIVISTS CALL FOR SUPPORT. The Iranian student organization known as the Office for Strengthening Unity called on Iranians to demonstrate against what it terms a second Cultural Revolution on Students Day, December 6, Radio Farda reported on December 4.
Cultural Revolution is a reference to the purging of professors from the universities in the early 1980s, and those events are being compared to more recent dismissals of professors and administrators from the universities. The latter events coincide with the reported blocking of admissions for activist students who refuse to renounce political advocacy.
The Office for Strengthening Unity statement referred to the death of students when hard-line forces attacked the Tehran University dormitory in July 1999, and it called for the release from prison of political activists, Mansur Osanlu of the Tehran bus drivers syndicate, and equal rights for men and women.
University students who were barred from continuing their studies due to their political activism held a protest in front of the parliament building in Tehran on December 5, Advar website reported. The student activists reportedly are asked to sign a pledge that they will abstain from involvement in politics, and, if they refuse, a star is placed next to their names. Historically, top scholars had stars placed next to their names.
While several reformist members of parliament met with the demonstrators, conservative legislator Mehdi Kuchakzadeh denounced them. "The university is no place for American mercenaries," he said. "You are sabotaging the university."
Hundreds of students demonstrated in Tehran on December 6, Students Day, in an event called "The University Is Alive" that was organized by the Office for Strengthening Unity, Radio Farda reported. Demonstrators demanded independence from government-run student organizations and criticized restrictions on the matriculation of student activists.
Mohammad Hashemi, a spokesman for the Office for Strengthening Unity, told Radio Farda on December 6 that representatives from many student groups participated in the demonstration, including Kurds and Turks. Security forces cordoned off the Tehran University campus and restricted access to it, but Hashemi said there were no clashes or arrests. (Bill Samii)
UNIVERSITY STUDENTS DOWN WITH FOOD POISONING. Dozens of female students at Yazd University have been hospitalized since November 27 with signs of poisoning, Radio Farda reported on December 3. The symptoms include diarrhea, dizziness, fever, and vomiting. Student activist Amir Eshaqi told Radio Farda that the women's dining hall at Yazd University is separate from the men's dining hall, and about 400 women got sick eating there. University authorities, however, say that approximately 50 women have fallen ill. The authorities also have questioned whether the illness is from eating in the cafeteria, and they suggest dirty water could be the source of the illness. (Bill Samii)
TURKISH MEAT EXPORTS HEADED FOR IRAN. Tehran and Yerevan signed a memorandum of understanding on December 1 in which Armenia agreed to export 6,000 tons of beef and 2,000 tons of lamb to Iran annually, the Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA) reported. The memorandum was signed during Agricultural Jihad Minister Mohammad-Reza Eskandari's visit to Armenia.
Almost two weeks earlier, 22 legislators asked the agricultural jihad minister, as well as the commerce and economic affairs ministers, to halt increases in the prices of foodstuffs, "Iran" reported on November 20. Higher costs for red meat, chicken, eggs, and fruit, are affecting vulnerable segments of society adversely, the legislators said. (Bill Samii)
IRAN WANTS TURKEY TO CONTROL FEMALE IRANIAN VISITORS. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan left Tehran on December 3, having arrived the previous evening, international and local news agencies reported. He met during his visit with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, President Mahmud Ahmadinejad, Expediency Council Chairman Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, and other officials, reportedly to discuss regional affairs and bilateral relations.
Iran's presidential press office reported on December 3 that the two sides agreed that the value of bilateral trade should surpass $10 billion, and President Ahmadinejad said Iran could supply energy to Europe via Turkey. Erdogan said that bilateral trade is in excess of $6 billion and that Turkey is eager to purchase natural gas from Iran, according to Fars News Agency.
An aspect of Erdogan's trip that received little publicity related to tourism. The Iranian government called on Turkey to enforce rules for Islamic clothing for women -- the hijab -- at hotels in Anatolia that are frequented by Iranians, Turkish newspapers reported on December 7, according to Radio Farda. Should Turkey fail to comply with this demand, the newspapers continued, then Iran will no longer permit direct flights to Anatolia. The Iranian request came during Erdogan's meeting with First Vice President Parviz Davudi, Radio Farda reported. Davudi told his guest that one million Iranians visit Turkey every year, and he went on to express concern that images of scantily clad Iranian beachgoers have appeared in the Turkish media. (Bill Samii)
SHRINE CITY TO GET IRAQI CONSULATE. The Iranian cabinet has granted permission for the opening of an Iraqi consulate in the northwestern city of Mashhad, Fars News Agency reported. Mashhad is an important pilgrimage site for Shi'a, because the tomb of the Eighth Imam, Imam Reza, is located there. The custodian of the shrine, the Astaneh Qods Razavi, is a wealthy conglomerate that in addition to earning revenues from the pilgrimage traffic, owns agricultural lands, factories, and real estate. The cabinet also approved the temporary transfer of an Iraqi consulate from the southwestern city of Khorramshahr to Ahvaz. (Bill Samii)
IRAN REACTS TO IRAQ SURVEY GROUP RECOMMENDATIONS. A noteworthy aspect of the long-awaited report from the Iraq Survey Group, a bipartisan panel headed by former Secretary of State James Baker, which came out on December 6 is the prominence it gives to Iran, which is mentioned dozens of times (http://www.usip.org/isg/iraq_study_group_report/report/1206/index.html). But the White House showed little interest in this advice, and Tehran indicated publicly that it would not be receptive to an American opening.
"Iran has the most leverage in Iraq" of any neighboring state, the report notes. It urges Washington to launch a "new diplomatic offensive" that includes all the countries that are interested in Iraq's stability, "including all of Iraq's neighbors." The report advises engaging Iran and Syria, adding that Iran should stop the influx of arms into Iraq, respect Iraq's sovereignty, and influence Iraqi Shiites positively. The Iranian nuclear issue, the report continues, should be dealt with by the 5+1 group (China, France, Great Britain, Russia, and the United States, plus Germany).
White House spokesman Tony Snow said on December 6 that the executive branch has "ruled out" direct bilateral talks with the Iranian government about Iraqi affairs, Reuters reported. There is no chance of such talks taking place, he said, "Unless Iran verifiably suspends its enrichment and reprocessing activities."
Rather than engaging Iran and Syria on Iraq, the "Financial Times" reported on November 29, Washington would like to empower Iraq's Sunni Arab minority. The White House has called on pro-Western Sunni regimes to support Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and to end their backing for Iraqi insurgents. Egypt. Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, meanwhile, are encouraging the U.S. to weaken Iran and Syria by paying greater attention to the Arab-Israeli peace process. The Arab states believe Iran and Syria are exploiting this topic, as well as the Lebanese and Iraqi affairs, to expand their influence.
Prior to the release of the Iraq Survey Group's report, Iranian Supreme National Security Council Secretary Ali Larijani said in Dubai that a withdrawal of "occupation forces" from Iraq would be seen favorably, "The Washington Post" reported on December 6. Subsequently, a "triumphalist" Larijani said, "Iran would definitely extend the hand of assistance and would use its influence to help solve the problem." Larijani said the U.S. should recognize Iran as the primary regional power.
Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki said during a December 7 visit to the Netherlands that the United States does not need to negotiate with Iran or any other country regarding Iraq, state television reported. Mottaki said, "It appears that at least some American officials have realized the errors in their policy in Iraq." Mottaki described his solution: "The Iraqi issue will be resolved by the withdrawal of the American military forces."
Iraqi Ambassador to the Netherlands Siamand Banaa took exception to Mottaki's comments, AP reported on December 6. Mottaki reportedly said that "the U.S. administration so often refers to Iran's nuclear capability as a threat against regional and international peace." It is the United States, however, that invaded Iraq without the UN Security Council's approval, Mottaki continued, and "set off the most dangerous security challenge in the Middle East." He also said the U.S. military presence in Iraq is behind the violence there.
Banaa pointed out that Iran benefited greatly from the ouster of former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, and he encouraged Mottaki to "avoid cynicism and hypocrisy." Banaa dismissed Mottaki's analysis and encouraged him to avoid joining "the 'America is always wrong' brigade."
An anonymous Iranian government official and two anonymous figures close to Iranian government policymakers believe Mottaki's comments reflect a real desire to engage with the U.S., Time.com reported on December 9. There is a consensus among Iranian decision makers that it is in Iran's interest to restore relations with the U.S. and to discuss topics of mutual interest, as long as the U.S. accepts the Islamic revolution and treats Iran respectfully. Some of the officials, according to the American publication's anonymous sources, also believe Iran is in a strong position because its regional influence is growing while the U.S. is trapped in Iraq and Afghanistan.
In Shahr-i Rey, near Tehran, on December 7, Expediency Council chairman Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani said that the U.S. intended to encircle Iran by invading Afghanistan and Iraq, IRNA reported. The unintended consequence of its actions, Hashemi-Rafsanjani continued, is that the U.S. is besieged not only in the Middle East but also in the White House. (Bill Samii)
IRAN WORKS ON INDEPENDENT NAVAL-ROCKETRY CAPABILITY. Seyyed Mohammad Hussein Musavi, head of the Fajr industrial complex in Iran's southern city of Shiraz, announced on December 4 that his facility builds three types of launchers for naval rockets, IRNA reported. He described mass production of an 11-tube rocket launcher that can lock onto a target in less than 10 seconds even in rough conditions. He added that Iran produces RPG-7 rocket launchers and SPG9 rocket launchers. Every stage of the process is domestic and supervised by the Defense and Armed Forces Logistics Ministry, he added. (Bill Samii)
CONCERNS IN LEVANT ABOUT IRAN'S INTENTIONS. "The Christian Science Monitor" on December 4 cites the Lebanese newspaper "Al-Mustaqbal" as reporting two days earlier that "the Syrian-Iranian camp, led by Hizballah, has begun to implement a plot for a coup" in Lebanon.
Some observers have suggested that Damascus is behind the current political crisis in Lebanon in an effort to avert an international tribunal's investigation of the February 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri.
Meanwhile, "The Jerusalem Post" reported on December 3 that intelligence secured by the Israeli "defense establishment" asserts that long-range missiles and advanced antitank missiles supplied by Iran and Syria are being delivered to Hizballah. The missiles are said to be replacing those used or destroyed during the summer conflict between Hizballah and Israel. The information, combined with concerns triggered by the possible collapse of the Lebanese government, reportedly led Israel to raise its state of alert in the northern region bordering Lebanon. The missiles and other supplies are stored in parts of southern Lebanon that are designated as off-limits to UNIFIL and the Lebanese armed forces, "The Jerusalem Post" reported, adding that Hizballah personnel are continuing their activities in the same area.
Lebanese parliamentarian Saad Hariri defined the political crisis in his country as "a real coup against Lebanese legitimacy" and a "Syrian scheme sponsored by Iran," "Al-Sharq al-Awsat" reported on December 6. The Lebanese crisis is connected, in part, with UN demands for the disarmament of the country's militias. Hizballah is the main organization that has yet to disarm, and the Hizballah leadership has defended its actions on the grounds that it is protecting Lebanon from Israel. Hariri said Hizballah's weapons were tolerated when the organization was resisting Israel, but he warned against turning the weapons against internal opponents.
Hariri said the Syrian government seeks the downfall of Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Siniora. Several days of street demonstrations organized by Hizballah and its allies are meant to gain the party a greater say in the country's politics; the confessional system gives Shi'a, now believed to be the majority, a disproportionately small share of political offices. Hizballah seeks more cabinet seats. (Bill Samii)
MOSCOW AND CAPITOL HILL UNHAPPY WITH AFGHAN NARCOTICS. Viktor Cherkesov, head of the Russian Federal Drug Control Service, and a delegation arrived in Tehran on December 4, IRNA reported. Amir-Hussein Motahar, deputy chief of Iran's Drug Control Headquarters, expressed the hope that their meeting might result in closer cooperation between the two countries, while Cherkesov noted that Russia and Iran have a common interest in controlling the flow of drugs. The discussions will focus on the growing of opium in Afghanistan and the resulting export of narcotics, as well as cooperation in multilateral forums.
Motahar also told reporters of a counternarcotics facility in Iran that directs the efforts of 60,000 people, and the country's construction of canals, fences, and walls along the eastern border.
The same day, Brigadier General Behnam Shariatifar, the chief of Iran's Border Guards, said in the northwestern city of Gorgan that difficulties with the porous eastern border are mostly resolved, IRNA reported. He attributed the change to "appropriate and comprehensive investments," including the construction of static defenses. Shariatifar described the installation of "advanced radar systems" in the future, saying this will give Iran total control over the border.
Cherkesov said on December 5 that coalition forces in Afghanistan have not acted to rein in the drug trade, ITAR-TASS reported. Not only are their measures inefficient, Cherkesov charged on the second day of a visit to Tehran, but "on the contrary, we witness a rise in production and smuggling of heroin." Cherkesov said both Moscow and Tehran believe the coalition armed forces should be more proactive in countering illegal drugs.
The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) would like to see the Pentagon do more, too, the "Los Angeles Times" reported on December 5. The military tends to ignore drug bazaars and takes little action against trafficking syndicates, and it tends to reject DEA requests for transportation, the daily reported. The military reportedly considers drug control a law-enforcement problem and fears alienating the locals who earn a living from the trade, the "Los Angeles Times" reported.
In a letter written one day after "The Los Angeles Times" article about a lack of cooperation appeared, Undersecretary of Defense Eric Edelman promised in a letter to Rep. Henry Hyde (R-Illinois) that the situation would improve, the newspaper reported on December 8. Edelman wrote to the chairman of the House International Relations Committee, "We have taken your concerns seriously and will work more closely with DEA to make use of this important capability." (Bill Samii)
A DEFIANT TEHRAN WATCHES CONSENSUS ELUDE 5+1 GROUP. Officials from the so-called 5+1 Group (China, France, Great Britain, Russia, and the United States, plus Germany) met in Paris on the evening of December 5 to discuss the possible imposition of sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program, which they suspect has military objectives. By the end of the week, it became clear that the effort to achieve consensus necessitated serious compromises, and according to a British newspaper -- the "Financial Times" on December 9 -- European diplomats believe a decision will be reached before Christmas (December 25). The Iranian government, meanwhile, continues to assert that the nuclear program will be used only for civilian purposes, such as electrical power generation. Tehran maintains, furthermore, that these international measures are illegal and they will be ineffective.
Moscow appears to be the main obstacle to the adoption of a wide-ranging sanctions regime. Indeed, Russia is building the $800 million nuclear reactor at Bushehr, in southern Iran, and Iran is an important market for Russian armaments. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, possibly fearing the adverse impact of sanctions on his country's Iranian business interests, said in Brussels on December 5 that "broad sanctions" would not be "proportionate" and would "harm the situation," Radio Farda reported.
Washington is taking a more robust approach to the sanctions issue. "I think the reason to pass a resolution in the Security Council is to increase the cost to Iran of its illegitimate behavior -- the political and economic cost," Radio Farda quoted Under Secretary of State Nicholas Burns as saying in Brussels, "and to take away any possible technical, or scientific, or political, or financial support that they might get from private companies, from private research institutions for what they're trying to do."
The French government appeared to be pushing for the imposition of sanctions against Iran, Reuters reported on December 6. The gathering failed to decide on the draft resolution, apparently because of Russian foot-dragging. An anonymous European diplomat told Reuters, "The gap between Russian and U.S. positions is still huge."
French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy acknowledged the difficult task facing the six countries, RFE/RL reported. He said in Paris on December 6, "we have to propose sanctions that all the international community agrees on but, at the same time, they have to be proportionate and reversible." He added that the objective is to tell Iran to "come back to its senses, come back to the international community" rather than being isolated, and to offer the possibility of developing its civilian nuclear program. Douste-Blazy also said, according to Reuters, that there is an urgent need to decide on a course of action because "the credibility of the United Nations Security Council is at stake."
By the end of the week, it was being reported that a compromise draft resolution was distributed among ambassadors from the six powers, and it will be introduced formally on December 11. The document's new wording focuses on activities directly connected with making nuclear weapons. As a sop to Russia, restrictions relating to the Bushehr nuclear facility were removed.
Not surprisingly, the Iranian government is advising against the imposition of sanctions, and top officials are maintaining a defiant stance.
President Mahmud Ahmadinejad led the way. "If you continue making efforts to halt the progress of the Iranian nuclear program and if you take any step against the Iranian nation's rights, either in propaganda or international bodies," he said during a December 5 speech in Mazandaran Province, which borders the Caspian Sea, "the Iranian nation will consider this an act of hostility," Radio Farda reported.
Speaking to an audience of young people on December 9, Ahmadinejad dismissed the pending sanctions. "They have backed down from military sanctions to empty sanctions; they must know that the nation of Iran will not withdraw from its inalienable right and is persistent towards its nuclear rights," ISNA reported. He added, "we have scored great successes and are only one step away from nuclear climax," IRNA reported.
In Manama on December 8, Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki said there is no legal basis for referring the Iranian case to the UN Security Council, and the imposition of sanctions would not affect Iran's determination, Fars News Agency reported.
Conservative Iranian dailies adopted a similar tone. "5 + 1 = 0: The Seventh Collapse of the Group of Six" was the front page headline of "Kayhan" on December 7. It said the five permanent members of the Security Council, plus Germany, have failed to achieve consensus on Iran's "peaceful" nuclear program.
Columnist Ali Yusefpur wrote in the pro-government "Siyasat-i Ruz" on December 9 that Iran is "the final winner in the nuclear energy field." Yusefpur wrote that the Iranian officials have countered American plots. (Bill Samii)